News / Middle East

VOA Reporter Involved in Standoff Between Syrian Troops and Kurds

The leading Syrian Kurdish rebel group said it intends to form a government in Kurdish-dominated northeast Syria, where it has been operating as the de facto government since last year.  Jamie Dettmer was recently in Qamishli, about 650 kilometers northeast of Damascus, where he experienced just how dominant the Kurds have become in this corner of Syria.  Now, safely back in southeast Turkey,  tells about his experience of being the cause of a tense standoff between the Kurdish militia and Syrian military.

JAMIE:  What happened is that someone in the street, when the Syrians tried to seize me and I refused to go with the Syrians, ran to about two streets away to where there was an YPG Kurdish police station and alerted them that the Syrians were trying to capture a Western journalist.  So they came out armed and there was a standoff between about a dozen or so Kurdish militiamen, and as time went on, as more Syrian reinforcements came, I suppose about 14 or 15 Syrian soldiers.

Q:  And were you out on the street?

JAMIE: I had refused to move.  They tried to get my backpack; I had handed over my passport, but I wouldn’t move. Various Kurds were trying to negotiate with the Syrians.  And I was just sitting on the street trying to remain as calm and as polite as possible.

Q: Did it escalate on a very physical level?

JAMIE: No, but what we did have on both sides - on the Kurdish side and the Syrian side - armed men toting their weapons.  No one had tried to physically manhandle me except at the beginning when the Syrians tried to push me to get into their vehicle.  The Kurds had tried to form a semicircle of their militiamen around me.  I had my back to a shop window to try to make sure there wasn't an attempt immediately to nab me.  And then there was just a negotiation, would be one way of putting it, between the Syrians and Kurds, which at the beginning was very angry and there was a lot of shouting.  They then moved away from me, the main leaders who were negotiating what was going on.  And as the negotiation went on, as the confrontation went on, I was getting less nervous.  I could see in the faces of the Kurds that they were not going to hand me over to the Syrians.  I suppose after a while my worry was that I had a lot of armed men around me in confrontation trying to decide my fate and that things could slip out of hand.

Q: At what point did you realize that it was turning around in your favor?  What made you realize?

JAMIE: I think determination and the confidence in the faces of the Kurds made me feel a lot calmer because I could see that they weren’t going to surrender me.  And then, at a certain point the Syrian soldiers started being much more friendly facially towards me.  One or two of them I was talking to were Alawite - some from Homs, some from Damascus and some from Tartus - started to ask me questions - general questions about America - where I came from and at one point they were saying, “We love Americans, but we hate Obama.”  And, I did not feel I was in a position facing armed men to disagree with that position.

Q:  So right at the end, after the hour was over, what happened? Did you just follow the Kurds back?

JAMIE: The Syrian leaders came over, gave me back my passport, apologized for harassing me, saying they were great friends of the Kurds. There were lots of smiles and back-slapping at that point, although the Kurds remained tense.  And then I went with the Kurds back to their military barracks where it was there that various military commanders told me they had heard Syrians were aware that there was at least one American journalist in Qamishli and they were intent on seizing him.  One of the worries subsequently was that they wouldn’t try again to seize me in terms of men in uniform, but there might be an attempt to kidnap me by plainclothes people - shabiha and other organizations they use.  So they remained the rest the day, while I was working interviewing people, I had an armed guard for the rest of the day while I was in Qamishli.

Q: So now that you are in southeastern Turkey, tell me your thoughts on what this says about the stronghold of Kurds in that part of Syria.

JAMIE: What is very interesting is that they are: one, wanting to avoid an armed confrontation with the Syrians because, for example, they don't want Qamishli, their capital, to end up looking like Aleppo, bombed, bombarded and wrecked.  So what they're trying to do is to create their own government structures, their own police structures and just ignore the Syrians.  They control - the Kurds - about 80 percent of Qamishli; the Syrians about 20 percent, the Syrians have the airport road and pockets of the center.  Most of the rest of Syrian Kurdistan is very much under Kurdish control.  They have a very strong sense of direction where they want to go.  They want to be a semi-autonomous country within Syria after all of this.  What I found fascinating was this determination to try to sidestep the Syrian regime, avoid confrontation if they can, but be prepared to defend their geography - their area - whether it be the Syrians or whether it be from al-Qaida.  And they had a series in the last two weeks of victories over al-Qaida, pushing them out of their villages and their towns, although al-Qaida is maintaining pressure on them and is launching car bomb attacks on them.  So, I found it very interesting that they were trying to balance this and have their own way.  But, if they can avoid fighting people, but (at the same time) be prepared to if they have to.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More