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Tal Abyad Has Declared Autonomy — and That May Worry Turkey

The Syrian border town will now be self-administered, but part of the canton, or province, of Kobane around 40 miles to the west, in a move that's likely to fuel Turkish concerns of Kurdish expansion.
Photo by Sedat Suna/EPA

The Syrian border town of Tal Abyad has declared autonomous rule and been incorporated into Kurdish controlled territory, an official said today, a move likely to fuel Turkish concerns about Kurdish expansion in the region.

The ethnically-mixed town will now be self-administered, but part of the canton, or province, of Kobane around 40 miles to the west, Idriss Nassan of the Kobane regional government told VICE News on Wednesday afternoon. He added that Tal Abyad's new governing body would reflect its ethnic makeup, with equal representation for Kurds and Arabs and smaller presence for Turkmen and Armenians. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace described the town as majority Sunni Arab earlier this year.


"The administration is going to be related to Kobane in general, but they will administer themselves according to their own circumstances related to the components and the traditions of the community group," Nassan said

The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) also reported on the announcement following a meeting in Tal Abyad attended by Kobane officials as well as fighters from the mostly Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and allied Arab rebel groups.

Watch the trailer for the upcoming VICE News documentary, Exiled From Tal Abyad:

A YPG-led force backed by US airstrikes and alliance of opposition fighters captured Tal Abyad from the Islamic State (IS) in June, after fierce fighting temporarily displaced more than 16,000 people. Kobane itself was the subject of a massive IS offensive in late 2014 and almost fell to the jihadists before the YPG pushed back with the help of heavy air support.

In the aftermath of the battle for Tal Abyad, a group of mostly Islamist Syrian rebels, released a joint statement accusing the YPG of pushing Sunni Arabs and Turkmen out of their villages west of Hasaka and Tal Abyad in a "campaign of ethnic and sectarian cleansing," accusations echoed by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc who said there had been signs that the Kurds had been working to "exile" them. YPG spokesmen repeatedly denied these claims.

Related: What We Learned While Embedded With Kurdish Forces Clearing the Islamic State from Hasakah


Securing Tal Abyad allowed Kurdish forces to link two of the three different Syrian cantons under their control; Kobane, and eastern Hasakah. Arinc said at the time he was concerned the Kurds would attempt to unite all of enclaves into one large Kurdish region.

The PYD says it doesn't wish to establish an independent state, but Turkey is wary of a strong Kurdish presence on its southern border, and Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of Turkey's banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which waged a three-decade insurgency on Turkish troops. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also voiced concerns about the Kurdish advance, and has consistently labeled the YPG as "terrorists."

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck

Watch Pushing Back the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 1):