Last update: February 2023
[Main COI reference: Security 2022, 2.7, pp. 143-156; COI Update 2022, 2., pp. 3-8]
The governorate of Hasaka is located in the northeast end of Syria, bordering Türkiye 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. As of February 2022, UNOCHA estimated the population of Hasaka governorate to be of 1 148 643 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.
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, Türkiye 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. The SNA together with Turkish armed forces were reported to be in control of the area between Tall Abyad (Raqqa governorate) and Ras al Ain (Hasaka governorate). The SDF have a military agreement with GoS/Russia, authorizing 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.
Actors: control and presence
All the major actors in the Syrian conflict are present in the governorate of Hasaka where the situation is considered as volatile and unpredictable. During the reference period, most of Hasaka was under the control of the SDF.
GoS maintained its enclaves inside the SDF-controlled cities of Hasaka and Qamishli and are in control of the airport. Russian troops are present with GoS along the borders to Türkiye and on the borders to the areas of Hasaka controlled by Türkiye. Russian ground patrols have expanded to the areas in the countryside in Qamishli. Iranian troops are present along with GoS in the city of Hasaka and in the south-east of the governance. Iranian militias have increased their presence in early 2022 [Security 2022, 1.3.2., p. 21].
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 Ain (Kobane) and its surroundings. Turkish intelligence utilises the SNA to detect and suppress the opposition to Turkish control in the area.
The US-led coalition had a total of 17 stationing points in Hasaka. They control the towns of Rmelan and Shaddada, and the road to the Fish Khabour crossing to Iraq. The Shaddada military base has expanded and has the largest US-military presence in Syria.
ISIL is present in the south and east of Hasaka.
Nature of violence and examples of incidents
In May 2022 the UN security council reported increased hostilities in the northern part of the country, including the district of Hasaka. There were several clashes in the area, especially in Tal-Tamr, Abu Rasain and Ras al Ain (Kobane).
There have been recurrent shelling and armed clashes between the Turkish forces/SNA and the SDF and GoS along the frontlines between the ‘Operation Peace Spring’ area and the SDF-controlled areas in Hasaka and Raqqa governorates. Turkish forces-led attacks on areas controlled by SDF and prominent persons in SDF, increased in 2022.
In March 2022 there were clashes between the SDF and the GoS in Tal-Tamr, leaving two SAA soldiers and two militiamen from SDF killed.
The infighting between different parts of SNA continued. According to UNCOI’s report covering the second half of 2021, people in the Ras al Ain area (Kobane) ‘continued to live amid fear of shelling and improvised explosive devices’, although the region ‘experienced a relatively calm period’.
In January 2022, ISIL was able to conduct a large-scale attack on al-Sina’a prison in Hasaka city. This was their largest attack since ISIL territorial defeat in 2019. According to SDF the attack caused more than 200 persons killed and the temporary displacement of 45 000 inhabitants. During the first half of 2022, attacks by ISIL and counter operations by the SDF occurred. ISIL attacks, including against civilians, were reported in the period from August to October 2022.
Airstrikes, clashes, shelling and rocket fire across the frontlines continued during August and September 2022.
ACLED recorded 1 671 security incidents (average of 24 security incidents per week) in Hasaka governorate in the period from 1 April 2021 to 31 July 2022. The majority of the reported incidents were coded as ‘explosions/remote violence’ (810), while 576 incidents were coded as ‘violence against civilians’ and 285 as ‘battles’. In the period 1 August – 31 October 2022, 387 security incidents were recorded in Hasaka representing an average of 30.7 security incidents per week.
Most security incidents were recorded in Hasaka and Ras al Ain (Kobane) districts. Incidents of violence against civilians were significantly higher in Hasaka district.
Civilian fatalities: data
The SNHR recorded 81 civilian fatalities in Hasaka in the nine months between April and December 2021. In January – October 2022, the SNHR recorded 81 civilian fatalities. This represented seven civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants for the first ten months of 2022.
As of February 2022, the number of IDPs UNOCHA in Hasaka governorate was stated to be 120 246.
UNOCHA recorded approximately 1 000 IDP movements from Hasaka governorate as well as 13 000 movements within the governorate. In the first six months of 2022, UNOCHA registered 2 501 IDP movements from Hasaka governorate and 2 162 IDP movements within the governorate.
In 2021, approximately 1 100 IDP return movements were recorded to Hasaka governorate. In the first six months of 2022, 384 IDP return movements were registered by UNOCHA.
Further impact on civilians
Approximately 85 % of the population live in damaged buildings. Water shortages were reported between August and October 2022. The governorate is largely contaminated with improvised mines and other improvised devices causing heavy damage to civilians. From September 2021 to April 2022, 372 deaths and 144 injuries in connection with landmine incidents were reported. There are demining activities in the areas controlled by SDF.
Looking at the indicators, 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.