Abdul Bary Othman

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
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Interview Location: Turkey
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Abdul Bary Othman was born in 1962 in the Kurdish village of al-Kouwa in Al-Hasakah governorate, 19 km from Qamishli city.

He lived a simple life in his small village, where he made many beautiful childhood memories. “We spent most of our time playing in watermelon fields. Our life was simple, and one outfit for the whole summer was enough for us, he says.

The village did not have a school, so Abdul Bari went with a group of his friends to study in the village of Diwan, about 5 km away, where one teacher taught all subjects from grades 1 to 6. "When the teacher was absent due to illness or emergency, we would walk on muddy dirt roads in winter to a village about twice as far to continue the school day," he says.

The closest Arab village was about 20 km away from Abdul Bary’s village. “During the summer, after harvesting agricultural crops, some Bedouin tribes would come and set up tents to tend animals on our land,” he says. “We had a friendly relationship with the Bedouins. We welcomed them and offered them the use of several facilities. They, in turn, showed us their goodwill by offering some meat and so forth. There was only one car that passed through the villages to take dairy products and sell them in Qamishli, and the villagers’ primary income depended on agriculture and livestock.”

The local communities of Al-Hasakah influenced each other in terms of culture and lifestyle, including food and fashion. For example, Arabs would dance to Kurdish music with Arabic lyrics at weddings. As for women, Kurdish women worked hard all day, taking care of the house and children, milking and feeding livestock, baking bread and farming, in addition to many other arduous tasks. Arab women were also known to play a fundamental social role in the family.

Abdul Bary says that the government was trying to separate the diverse population of the region. “We sensed discrimination in the way the regime treated us, whether Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, or al-Shawi and al-Dayri. As Kurds, we were prohibited from speaking our Kurdish language with our friends at school. The regime intentionally gave Christians certain positions such as mayors and directors in order to appear to the world as a civilized regime that preserved the rights of minorities.”

He adds, “I didn’t sense any tension between members of society in al-Hasakah. We all participated in each other’s weddings and social events. For instance, everyone celebrated the Kurdish Newroz holiday, no matter what their nationality or religion. However, the regime was trying to divide us by accusing the Kurds of nationalism, and the Bedouins or al-Shawis of loyalty to the Iraqi regime, and the Christians of being foreign agents.”

While working on the Euphrates Dam project in the 1970s, some areas in Al-Raqqa governorate were flooded, harming many families who owned the land. The regime moved these families to  live in a Kurdish village on the border with Turkey. Some of them refused to encroach on the Kurdish land in the region, while others agreed and acquired areas that were originally Kurdish. The government built them concrete houses and provided them with infrastructure and services, thus giving them significant power in the governorate.

“We used to call them the ‘inundated’ due to the inundation of their land with the water of the Euphrates. This flawed policy led to tension that remains to this day between the two communities,” says Abdul Bary.

In 2004, the region witnessed a public uprising, which wasn’t a Kurdish movement according to Abdul Bary, but a Syrian uprising with a Kurdish nationalist nature. “The events occurred due to a fight between al-Fotuwa team of Deir Ezzor and al-Jihad team of Qamishli during a football match,” he says. “The Americans at the time had invaded Iraq and considered the Kurdistan region of Iraq to be a safe area. Amid this complex regional climate, the regime feared that the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict would expand to reach Syria and wanted to test the Syrians’ stance on this situation. Thus, the government deliberately ignited the flame of division between Arabs and Kurds so that they wouldn’t unite if the situation in Syria deteriorated following Iraq.”

He adds, “One day before the match, groups of Arab youths rode around Kurdish areas in buses, insulting Massoud Barzani and some other Kurdish leaders in an attempt to provoke the Kurds. The next day, a clash was sparked during the football match between the fans of al-Fotuwa and the Kurdish fans of al-Jihad. The conflict came to a head so the governor of al-Hasakah Salim Kaboul ordered security forces to fire live bullets on Kurds, causing several deaths and injuries. On the day following the events, funerals and huge demonstrations were held, and involved violence and resulted in more deaths and injuries as the security forces interfered and opened fire. A statue of Hafez al-Assad was destroyed for the first time that day in a Syrian city called Amuda.”