Statement from People Demand Change on Raqqa and Future of Kurdish-Arab Relations

The Raqqa civil society activists discuss what should be done and see if they can come to a consensus about the best strategy for administering northern Raqqa

With regard to the current situation in Raqqa and the future of Kurdish-Arab relations, the situation is without doubt, complicated. My organization is lucky in that we have both staff from Raqqa and the Kurdish areas and we have maintained ties with both sides and I have been discussing this issue for the past two weeks with the civil society actors from both communities.

I have spoken with the Raqqa civil society activists that are based here in Antep and in Urfa. They are convening some meetings to discuss what should be done and see if they can come to a consensus about the best strategy for administering northern Raqqa once its liberated. They will speak with the Raqqa provincial council and see if they also have a strategy for entering back into Raqqa and setting up shop. The biggest issue that all agreed on thus far is that whatever happens, the Raqqa civil society and local governance structures that fled ISIS, the tribes, and those activists and ex-local council officials who stayed during ISIS rule should take control and govern the area.

Raqqa activists — once they reach consensus — will reach out to Kurdish civil society actors to explain what they feel is the best approach on a societal level once Tal Abyad and the other portions of northern Raqqah are liberated and stable and get their perspective on the issue and perhaps hear what it is going to take to get the PYD to cooperate. They will also speak with Abo Essa and the other FSA groups to try and discuss the societal component and why its necessary to understand these ideas so that they can also pressure the YPG regarding this issue. Abo Essa, the tribal heads and I am told, the Americans are the only ones who can pressure the PYD into behaving themselves and thinking about the delicate balance of societal dynamics that will be required in order for a stable Jazeera region to come about.

Northern Raqqa will immediately need a local governance strategy that can take hold and fill the ensuing power vacuum. If this local governance strategy is that of the PYD and there is an attempt to "Kurdify" the area and have a demographic land-bridge between Kobani and Tal Abyad, this nascent alliance between the Raqqa fighters in the FSA and the PYD will collapse in short order and ISIS will be back in no time. Tal Abyad as a town was mixed between Kurds and Arabs and the tribes of Tal Abyad area hate ISIS and never pledged allegiance so if Tal Abyad can become a model for Kurdish-Tribal Arab relations in Jazeera, it would be great. That means there needs to be coordination between three groups: 1) civil society; 2) military and 3) local governance. There needs to be a conflict mediation team as well which will help adjudicate disputes between Arabs and Kurds regarding what happened to the housing of the Kurds from Tal Abyad as many of their houses were taken by ISIS fighters and their families. Again, I have spoken with Raqqa and Kurdish civil society groups and they are all prepared to help with this issue if they have the resources to do so.

So the three main issues facing the northern Raqqa area and specifically Tal Abyad, Suluk and Ayn Essa are the following: 1) what happens to the families of the ISIS fighters who are local — such as in Suluk where some tribes willingly gave allegiance to ISIS — and those who are foreigners to prevent reprisals that will result in some very nasty feuds occurring; 2) what will be the local governance structure that will be put in place and how will it be resourced?; 3) what will be the defense strategy for northern Raqqa in the face of ISIS aggression and how will Burkan Al-Furat prepare for the battle to take Raqqa city; 4) what will be the structure to arbitrate disputes between all sides regarding past grievances (such as kidnappings and killings) and immediate issues such as the housing of Kurdish residents in Tal Abyad.

– Arab sources from around the Eastern villages of Tal Abyad say that until now the YPG has treated the locals with respect, bringing them water and food and leaving people's property alone — for now. Everyone hopes this goodwill will continue. Kurdish sources say they do not believe the YPG wants to fight with anyone in these areas because they need their support in the long-term to fight ISIS and make a stable buffer at the border to prevent further foreign fighters from penetrating the area from the Turkish side.

– People are fleeing the advance of the YPG/FSA but its simply because they do not know the intentions of all parties and they are just scared after four years of fighting.

– The families of ISIS fighters are the plurality of the people fleeing across the border from Tal Abyad into Akcakale, Turkey.

– The YPG and the FSA units are coordinating very well until now and Abo Essa and his people along with the other Raqqa fighters have a good relationship with YPG/PYD because they fought and defended Kobani when no one else would initially come to their aid. So, until now, the relationship is very good.

Please share my comments and analysis with the wider START team. I think its imperative we all get this one right if we are to see a stable region without ISIS in the longterm and that means helping the Arab tribes and the Kurds find a consensus for how they will live and work together going forward. I think there are many of the right pieces who can come together and make this work, but we they need support now, not tomorrow.

People Demand Change is is an international development organization that works to expand and strengthen civil society in the Middle East and North Africa through the provision of aid and support.

President Sasha-Ghosh Siminoff 

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