Tell Abyad

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Tell Abyad

تل أبيض
Tell Abyad is located in Syria
Tell Abyad
Tell Abyad
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 36°41′51″N 38°57′24″E / 36.69750°N 38.95667°E / 36.69750; 38.95667Coordinates: 36°41′51″N 38°57′24″E / 36.69750°N 38.95667°E / 36.69750; 38.95667
Country Syria
DistrictTell Abyad
SubdistrictTell Abyad
Control Turkey
Syrian opposition Syrian Interim Government
350 m (1,150 ft)
 (2004 census)[1]
 • Town14,825
 • Nahiyah
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)

Tell Abyad (Arabic: تل أبيض‎, lit. 'White Hill', Kurdish: Girê Spî‎, Turkish: Tellebyad,[2] Armenian: Թել Աբյադ, Classical Syriac: ܬܠ ܐܒܝܕ‎) is a town in northern Syria. It is the administrative center of the Tell Abyad District within the Raqqa Governorate. Located along the Balikh River, it constitutes a divided city with the bordering city of Akçakale in Turkey.

Tall Abyad was captured by the Free Syrian Army in September 2012 during the Syrian Civil War,[3] later being captured by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in January 2014. On 16 June 2015, the town was captured by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the course of their Tell Abyad offensive.[4] On 13 October 2019, as part of the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army captured Tel Abyad and many villages in the district from the Syrian Democratic Forces.[5][5]


In antiquity, Tell Abyad and the surrounding region were ruled by the Assyrian Empire and settled by Arameans. Tell Abyad could have been the site of the neo-Assyrian–era Aramean inhabited settlement of Baliḫu, mentioned in 814 BC.[6] Later, various empires ruled the area, such as the Romans, Byzantines, Sassanids, Umayyads, Abbasids and finally the Ottoman Empire. Tell Abyad remained Ottoman until the end of World War I, when it was incorporated in the French mandate of Syria during the partition of the Ottoman Empire.

The modern town was founded by French mandate authorities to control the border with Turkey, with first inhabitants being Armenian refugees from Anatolia,[7] survivors of the deportations conducted during the Armenian Genocide, with around 250 Armenian families living in the city prior to the Syrian civil war.[8] After Armenians, the Baggara Arab tribe arrived as members of the French Levant army, and decided to stay and settle in the area.[7]


Tell Abyad is the administrative center of the Tell Abyad Subdistrict and the Tell Abyad District.

According to multiple sources, the majority of the inhabitants of Tell Abyad and Tell Abyad District are Arabs,[9] with a Kurdish,[10] Turkmen[11] and Armenian minority.[12][13][14]

Germany-based internet portal Kurdwatch reports that Tell Abyad is mainly populated by Arabs, and estimates that in the environs of Tell Abyad, 15% of the population is Turkmen, 10% Kurdish and the rest being Arabs.[15] Other sources claim that Kurds make at 25%-30%.[16] In addition, there are many Turkmen families residing in the city center.[2] The Kurdish minority is concentrated in the west of the town and two small pockets in the countryside immediately to the east and west of town, while a small pocket of Turkman minority exists to the south of the town.[7]

The Arab residents of the town itself belong mainly to the Baggara tribe. Several Arab tribes live in the countryside surrounding the town; Naim (to the east), Annaza (to the southeast), Jais (to the southeast, south and west) and Hannada (immediate south of the town).[7] The Democratic Union Party (PYD) formed a council of elders in Tell Abyad which has the task to administer the region and which is said to be "a fair representation of the ethnic composition of the town" and the Arab majority population. It consisted of 15 people, of which were ten Arabs, three Kurds and respectively one Armenian and one Turkmen.[15]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

After the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, diverse Islamist opposition groups controlled the town, some under the flag of the Free Syrian Army. On June 30, 2014, Tell Abyad was captured by the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who raised their flag at the border crossing with Turkey.[17] After ISIL defeated the Kurdish forces, the YPG and Kurdish Front, ISIL fighters announced from the minarets of the local mosques that all Kurds had to leave Tell Abyad or else be killed. Thousands of civilians, including Turkmen and Arab families, fled on 21 July.[18][19] ISIL fighters systematically looted and destroyed the property of Kurds and resettled displaced Arab Sunni families from the Qalamoun area (Rif Damascus), Deir ez-Zor, and Raqqa in abandoned Kurdish homes.[19] While ISIL controlled the border towards Turkey in Tell Abyad, it was a major source for supplies coming in from Turkey.[20]

In the June 2015 Tell Abyad Campaign, the town was besieged and in June 2015 taken over by forces of the Euphrates Volcano, the YPG and their allies within the Free Syrian Army.[21]

After the capture of the Tell Abyad district, Kurdish YPG fighters have been accused by Syrian rebels of deliberately displacing thousands of Arabs and Turkmens from the areas they captured from ISIL forces in northern Syria[22][23] — a charge strongly denied by the Kurds.[24] The accusation was not backed by any evidence of ethnic or sectarian killings.[24] The head of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the people who had fled into Turkey were escaping fighting and there was no systematic effort to force people out.[25] A report published by Kurdwatch, an internet portal based in Germany, also accused the PYD of displacements[26]

According to KurdWatch, repressive measures have been taken out in first line against persons with ties to the Islamic State or other political opponents.[15]

However, many of the tens of thousands of Arab residents — namely those tribes that allegedly took part in the expulsion of the local Kurdish population in 2013[27] — who fled the advancing Kurdish force have not returned, for fear of retribution from the YPG.[28]

There were reports that Kurds were forcibly removing the local Arab population,[29] but the accusations were rejected by the United Nations.[30]

According to the Washington Post, Kurds were kurdifying the city after capturing it from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which resulted in tensions.[28] The journal states:

The Kurds formally renamed Tal Abyad with a Kurdish name, "Gire Spi", and proclaim its new identity in signs throughout the town — written in the Latin script used by Turkish Kurds but not readily understood by Syrian Kurds or Arabs. They have also unilaterally detached it from the existing Syrian province of Raqqa and made it a part of their newly formed autonomous enclave, carved from areas traditionally inhabited by Kurds but steadily encroaching also on territories that were historically Arab.

During the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria[edit]

After the capture of Tell Abyad by the YPG from ISIL in June 2015[31], the Tell Abyad canton was proclaimed on 21 October 2015.[32] It was included into the de facto autonomous North East Syria declared by a council including representatives of local Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Armenian communities.[32] The 178-member higher council that governed Tell Abyad, elected mixed-gender co-mayors, as mandated under Rojava rules. The elected co-mayors were ethnic Arab Mansour Seloum (later elected co-chairperson for the executive committee to organize a new constitution for Rojava, and replaced by ethnic Arab Hamdan al-Abad) and ethnic Kurd Layla Mohammed. The latter was 27 years old and the first female mayor of Tell Abyad ever.[33]

On 27 February 2016, Tell Abyad came under attack from ISIL militants. YPG militias and Asayish police forces repelled the attack and eliminated all of the ISIL militants, but more than 40 security forces and around 20 civilians were left dead. A YPG spokesman claimed that ISIL militants had crossed from Turkey to attack the town. Turkey quickly denied this claim. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, there was not any infiltration from the Turkish border but dormant IS sleeper cells and others entered the town on the eve of the offensive dressed in YPG uniforms.[34] There have been multiple other instances of ISIL terror attacks in Tell Abyad, for example on 29 June and 8 July 2016 two bombings that each claimed ten civilian lives.[35][36]

On 15 September 2016, the flag of the United States was raised over several public institutional buildings in Tell Abyad.[37] The United States Department of Defense confirmed that U.S. Special Operation Forces were flying U.S. flags in the town of Tell Abyad to deter Turkish harassment shelling or attacks against Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) there.[38] Notwithstanding, the Turkish military shelled the area on 22 September.[39]

During their control of the city, the Kurdish YPG forces were accused of several serious human rights violations.[40] Many thousands of the city's Arab residents were forced to leave the city and its area. Surrounding villages such as Bir Ashiq were destroyed and their residents prohibited by YPG from coming back. Many thousands of the displaced Arab residents of Tel Abyad have been protesting at the Turkish border near the city to demand the expulsion of YPG forces. Many of them have been trained in Turkey to participate in the advance on the town.[7]

In addition to the accusations of ethnic cleansing during their rule of the area, Kurdish YPG have been discouraging Arabs from staying by imposing tougher conscription policies than it does in other areas. Consequently, YPG measures have been widely rejected by the population Arab majority, especially the prominent Jais tribe. Fabrice Balanche from the Washington Institute stated in 2018.[7]

In administrative terms, Tal Abyad district no longer belongs to the Syrian government province of Raqqa, but to the Kurdish canton of Kobane. Although the population is predominantly Arab, there is no civil council to represent them as in Manbij, Deir al-Zour, Raqqa, and other Arab-majority locales liberated by Kurdish forces. Instead, the YPG’s goal is to fully integrate Tal Abyad into Kurdish territory, which the group still envisions as an autonomous belt along most of the northern border.

In October 2017, it was reported that Tell Abyad was to be included into the Euphrates Region, consisting of the Kobane Canton and the Tell Abyad Canton.[41] Tell Abyad stayed a part of the canton until the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria.[42] The SDF announced the creation of the Military Council of Tell Abyad in June 2019.[43]

2019 Turkish/SNA capture of Tel Abyad[edit]

As part of the Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, Turkey launched airstrikes and fired artillery at SDF position inside the town. Social media images posted displayed Syrians fleeing the town. Two civilians were killed and others were wounded as part of the offensive according to The New York Times.[44]

On 13 October 2019, as part of the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria, Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army captured Tell Abyad, and many villages in the district from the SDF.[5] On October 28, a local council was formed.[45]

Following the capture of Tell Abyad, Turkey imposed direct rule over the town[46] and the Governor of Sanlıurfa has appointed a Turkish led administration to Tell Abyad.[47] The Governorate also stated it would provide a Syrian police trained by the Turkish authorities to the area.[48]


The town was connected with Istanbul and Baghdad through the Baghdad Railway.[49][50]

See also[edit]

Tell Sabi Abyad


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External links[edit]

Media related to Tell Abyad at Wikimedia Commons