Syrians protest Kurdish 'occupation, oil theft' in Deir az-Zour

Syrians protest Kurdish 'occupation, oil theft' in Deir az-Zour
Syrians have led five days of protests against the Kurdish YPG forces in the eastern province of Deir az-Zour, claiming they face discrimination and neglect under YPG control.
3 min read
29 April, 2019
Arab residents have accused Kurdish forces of seizing the area's oil wealth [AFP]
Syrians in Deir az-Zour have for almost a week been protesting against the Kurdish forces that have controlled the oil-rich province since seizing it from the Islamic State group, protesters, tribal chiefs and residents said on Sunday.

Demonstrations against the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) began five days ago, Reuters reported, taking place in towns across the province's oil belt, located in the midst of Arab tribal territory east of the Euphrates river.

Many Arab residents of the area feel the SDF has stripped them of their wealth after taking over the lucrative oil trade from IS when it defeated the extremist group in the province in 2017.

“Where is our oil? We won’t accept after today to transport our wealth outside our areas,” read a banner held by protesters in al-Shanan.

Along a major highway which runs from Deir az-Zour to Hasaka and is used by tankers carrying oil, demonstrators burned tires, and residents, protesters and tribal chiefs told reporters that tankers from the nearby Omar oil field - the largest under the control of the YPG - had been turned back by angry locals.

Residents in Husayn, where protests have been particularly well-attended, have chanted: "No to Kurdish occupation".

The Kurdish YPG militia is the main constituent of the SDF, the major US partner in Syria which has led the campaign to drive IS out of its so-called "caliphate" over the last four years.

The YPG is the military wing of the PYD, which asserted autonomous control over three provinces in northern Syria with large Kurdish populations in 2012, but since pushing IS out of its territories under the SDF umbrella, Kurdish forces have also gained control over majority-Arab areas.

Arab residents of eastern Syria have complained that the YPG-led SDF administrations seems to favour the Kurdish majority areas of northern Syria and has neglected Arab areas, where living conditions are poor and many towns remain without electricity.

When the SDF ousted IS from Deir az-Zour, the YPG also gained access to some of Syria's largest oil fields.

By beating Syrian regime forces and their Russian backers to the prize, the YPG also gained a controversial customer.

In recent weeks, it has increased shipments of oil to the Syrian regime as Damascus struggles to deal with acute fuel shortages, caused in part by US sanctions on Iran.

While the YPG formally declined to comment on the protests, two officials told Reuters that talks had begun with tribal elder over demands including an end to arbitrary arrests.

"In SDF prisons, Arabs are 100 percent and Kurds 0 percent. Where is justice?," read another banner in the town of Tayanah on Sunday.

Many also object to the compulsory conscription of young men and alleged discrimination by SDF leadership.

SDF officials have denied discrimination against Arabs, explaining that they had been victims of discrimination by the Syrian regime.

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