The chilling footage shows a crowd cheering and chanting as Kurdish soldiers march alongside a trailer piled with dozens of bodies. Footage of macabre processions like this carried out by the Islamic State (IS) organisation has previously made the rounds on social media. But this time, the men parading with bodies through the streets of Afrin, in northern Syria, are members of a Kurdish militia.
It could be mistaken for yet another video showing horrors carried out by the Islamic State jihadist organisation (IS), were it not for the yellow and green flag of a Kurdish militia attached to the vehicle. We are not publishing the video, due to its graphic nature, but we’ve shared blurred screengrabs below.
The bodies in the photos are supposedly those of militants fighting for the Islamist group Ahrar ash-Sham (the Islamic movement of the Free Men of the Levant), according to social media posts by people involved in militias close to the YPG, which stands for the “People’s Defence Units”, the main armed branch of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an influential Kurdish political party in Syria.
The Ahrar ash-Sham rebel group is part of Ansar al-Sharia, a joint operations room of about a dozen Islamist rebel factions operating in and around Aleppo. It is supposedly supported by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Tthere have been bloody clashes recently between Ahrar ash-Sham and the YPG in Ayn Daqnah, near Afrin, a district and city in northern Syria, according to the communications divisions of the YPG.
The Kurds said that they killed 88 jihadist militants and that at least 66 bodies were retrieved. According to several Turkish and Kurdish media sources, this “victory parade” took place in Afrin, which also happens to be one of the most important Kurdish bastions in Syria.
In reaction to this footage, Aldar Xelil -- the head of another Kurdish party, the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) -- denounced the act, calling it “shameful” for all Kurds.
“This goes against our values as human beings. We are not people who terrorise our enemies in such a shameful way. Methods like this are how Daesh [Editor’s note: the IS group] operates or the Ba’ath regime [Editor’s note: the political of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him] or military dictatorships. These are not methods we should be employing."
It’s not the first time that Kurdish militias have displayed the bodies of their enemies, employing the same methods as their Islamist adversaries. However, it is extremely rare for Kurdish officials to allow videos of this kind to circulate. Most official videos show positive scenes highlighting the courage of Kurdish fighters or, more recently, YPG female fighters caring for jihadist hostages.
On numerous occasions, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have accused the YPG of carrying out war crimes against civilians including recruiting child soldiers and destroying Arabic or Turkish villages that they win back from jihadist groups.
The head of the YPG, Salih Muslim, called these accusations “unfair and erroneous” in an interview with Al-Media.
The YPG are not considered a terrorist organisation by the US or the European Union, even though they are recognised as a part of the Syrian branch of the Turkish-Kurdish political party, the PKK, which does have a spot on the list of terrorist organisations. Only Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organisation.
Officially, the YPG is not part of groups receiving military support from the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. However, American airplanes have indirectly helped Kurdish militias by carrying out air strikes on jihadist militias, especially during fighting in Kobane.