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Last update: November 2021

[Main COI reference: Security 2021, 2.7]

General information

The governorate of Hasaka is located in the northeast end of Syria, bordering Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east and the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor to the west and southwest respectively. The governorate is divided into four districts: Hasaka, Ras al-Ain, Qamishli and al-Malikiya. In a March 2021 report, UNOCHA estimated the population of Hasaka governorate to be of 1 127 309 inhabitants.

The Hasaka governorate has an ethnic Kurdish majority. Areas north of Hasaka city are described as either Kurdish or mixed areas, while the southern Hasaka governorate is considered as populated mainly by Arabs. The economy of Hasaka is based on agriculture, and some of Syria’s most important oil fields are situated in the governorate, which has drawn the interest of both internal and external actors.

Background of the conflict

Following the retreat of GoS forces from large parts of northeast Syria in 2012, the Kurdish forces were able to take over Syria’s northeast and established the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, creating their own institutions and security forces. Since 2014, the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG, have become the most essential political and military force on the ground in the US-led coalition campaign against ISIL in Syria.

In October 2019, Turkey launched its ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in order to oust the SDF/YPG from the Syrian side of the border and to establish a ‘safe zone’ for resettlement of Syrian refugees. Following the Turkish-led incursion into northeast Syria in October 2019, the SNA together with Turkish armed forces were reported to be in control of the so called ‘safe zone’ established between Tall Abyad (Raqqa governorate) and Ras al Ain (Hasaka governorate). On 14 October, the SDF concluded a military agreement with Damascus/Russia, authorising the return of some SAA troops to areas near the Turkish border earlier controlled by the SDF/YPG, in order to confront the SNA presence. It is reported that the partial US withdrawal and the Turkish incursion in October 2019 have caused a ‘sense of insecurity’ and ‘ma[de] it nearly impossible for residents of the region to normalise their daily lives’. 

Actors: control and presence

The SDF/YPG is still the main force on the ground in Hasaka governorate. It retains control of vast territory in northeast Syria, well-functioning military forces, oil resources and governance structures. The GoS maintained a limited security presence in northeast Syria, including in the cities of Qamishli and Hasaka in the governorate.

SDF maintains control of all checkpoints located in the SDF-controlled northeast Syria. The GoS maintains its own enclaves or ‘security zones’ inside the SDF-controlled cities of Hasaka and Qamishli that contain various governance and administrative institutions. The SAA has a significant presence in these enclaves and controls the Qamishli airport.

The US-led coalition has 500 personnel on the ground in the governorates of Hasaka and Deir ez-Zor, and according to two reports US has military sites in various areas inside the governorate. It is reported that the US-led coalition has ‘taken several concrete steps to increase their footprint in and around oil-rich areas’ in both Hasaka and Deir ez-Zor governorates.

Russia also has a presence in the governorate and maintains a military police force that conduct patrols in northeast Syria. Russia is reported to maintain military sites in Hasaka governorate. Efforts of Russian forces to establish additional military points were met with considerable resistance by the local and US forces.

Turkish Armed Forces and affiliated armed groups of SNA have troops and military sites in the eastern half of ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area, including the town of Ras al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) and its surroundings. Turkish intelligence utilises the SNA to detect and suppress the opposition to Turkish control in Ras al-Ayn area and Turkey ‘relies’ on Syrian National Police and General Security forces operating in the area.  

It has been reported that ISIL has ‘residual’ presence in northeast Syria and its fighters may be capable, to a limited extent, to extort protection money and set up fake checkpoints.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

During the reference period, there have been reports of recurrent shelling and armed clashes between the Turkish forces/Turkish-backed armed groups and the SDF along the frontlines between the ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area and the SDF-controlled areas in Hasaka and Raqqa governorates. The clashes were reported to rise in intensity at the second half of 2020 and further escalated in the period between January and March 2021. There have been tens of asymmetrical insurgent attacks in the Turkish-controlled ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area since the beginning of 2020, originating from SDF-controlled areas and targeting Turkish-backed armed groups, which resulted in dozens of civilian casualties. These attacks included IED and VBIED attacks, targeted assassinations and the usage of explosives.

During 2020, the Turkish authorities had cut multiple times the operation of Allouk water station which serves as the main source of water for approximately 460 000 people in Hasaka city, Al-Hol and Arisha camps and other parts of SDF-controlled western Hasaka governorate, raising concerns that the water sources were being utilized as a weapon. There were reported also arsons of 436 882 acres of agricultural land between 15 May and 25 July 2020, linked to hostilities between Turkey and the SDF.

In September 2020, OHCHR noted that in the preceding months there was ‘an alarming pattern’ of serious human rights violations, including ‘increased killings, kidnappings, unlawful transfers of people, seizures of land and properties and forcible evictions’ in the ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area (in Ras al-Ayn and Tall Abyad areas) as well as in other parts of Turkish-controlled northern Syria (Afrin in Aleppo governorate). These violations targeted people considered as opponents and/or critics of the Turkish-backed armed groups as well as those considered affluent enough for ransom purposes. Women and children were also abducted and disappeared. In a March 2021 CoI report, a pattern of ‘arrests, beatings, kidnappings and, on occasion, disappearances’, targeting mainly the returnees of Kurdish origin (and also women) that has been observed in Ras al-Ayn area after the ‘Operation Peace Spring’ was also mentioned.

During the reference period, tensions have been reported also between the SDF and the GoS forces deployed in the governorate as well as between their respective allies, the US-led coalition and Russia. These tensions have been linked to the control of northeast Syria’s oil. The tensions between SDF and the GoS rose prominently in late 2020/early 2021 and eventually led to the SDF’s blockade of GoS-controlled enclaves inside Hasaka governorate, blocking the movement of food and medicine, and the arrests of government employees.

During the reference period, ISIL continued its small-scaled operations, targeting mainly local civilian and military leaders. Its attacks included VBIEDs, IEDs, hit-and-run attacks and assassinations. It has been noted that members of security forces and civilians were targeted by these assassinations.

There was also an increase in attacks inside Al-Hol Camp, where suspected ISIL family members are residing - the vast majority women and children - with tens of residents being killed during the reference period. In late March 2021, the SDF with the support of US-led coalition launched an anti-ISIL operation inside the camp, which concluded with the detention of 125 camp residents.

Furthermore, the retreating ISIL fighters ‘left massive contamination of mines of an improvised nature and other improvised devices’ causing heavy damage to the returning civilians in areas under their former influence in Hasaka governorate. The ‘safe zone’ established during Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and covering parts of northern Hasaka and Raqqa governorates is also described as ‘heavily contaminated by mines and improvised devices’ that have led to civilian casualties.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 1 251 security incidents (average of 19 security incidents per week) in Hasaka governorate in the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021. The majority of the reported incidents were coded as ‘explosions/remote violence’ (506), while 374 incidents were coded as ‘violence against civilians’ and 369 as ‘battles’. Higher levels of security incidents were recoded between September 2020 and February 2021.

Geographical scope

Security incidents were recorded in all Hasaka governorate districts during the reporting period, with the highest number of overall incidents being recorded in Hasaka and Ras Al Ain.

Civilian fatalities: data

VDC recorded 125 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 56 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. SNHR recorded 117 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 73 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. For the full reporting period, this represented 181 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 16 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to VDC data; and 190 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 17 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to SNHR.


UNOCHA reported approximately 11 000 IDP movements from Hasaka governorate in 2020, of which, approximately 9 000 occurred within the governorate itself. Approximately 6 000 IDP movements from other governorates to Hasaka were reported, most of which from Aleppo and Raqqa. In the first three months of 2021, UNOCHA registered 3 060 IDP movements from Hasaka governorate, the majority being returns within the governorate.

In 2020, approximately 9 000 IDP return movements were recorded to Hasaka governorate, including from within the governorate. In the first quarter of 2021, less than 800 IDP return movements were registered by UNOCHA.

Further impact on civilians

A policy of ‘demographic change’ is reported to be implemented in the ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area. Specifically, the regions of Ras al-Ayn and Tall Abyad are repopulated with IDPs from other parts of Syria and with families of Turkmen fighters deployed to the area who take over the houses of civilians displaced from their homes or of those who were associated with the SDF and forcibly displaced from the area. It has been reported that civilian houses have been appropriated by the Turkish armed forces in Dawoudiya village, north of Tall Tamer, and utilised thereafter for military purposes. There are also observations of ‘repeated patterns of systematic looting and property appropriation’ by various Turkish-backed armed groups who have even forced some residents, most of them ethnic Kurds, to flee their homes. According to pro-Turkish media, Turkey has launched operations for dismantling the landmines and IEDs and has organised educating programs of landmine awareness for children living in the Operation Peace Spring area.


Looking at the indicators, and in particular the presence of multitude of armed actors and the fragmentation of territorial control, the generally volatile security situation and widespread human rights violations, as well as the overall increase in the frequency of security incidents compared to 2019, it can be concluded that in the governorate of Hasaka, indiscriminate violence reaches such a high level, that substantial grounds are shown for believing that a civilian, returned to the governorate, would, solely on account of their presence on its territory, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat referred to in Article 15(c) QD.