The city of Qamishli in the northeast of Syria has a distinct demographic makeup from the rest of Syria; it contains a high presence of Syriac and Kurds, unlike the rest of Syria which contains an Arab majority.
With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, new political and military movements started appearing on the Syrian scene – allied with, or against the Syrian regime – with the aim of protecting areas neglected by the state.
Qamishli is one such city the Syrian regime withdrew from and remained stationed only in the "security centres" – typically Syrian regime intelligence branches – which led to the increased the rate of theft, murder, and kidnapping.
The security situation inspired young Christian men to form armed groups to protect Christian neighbourhoods, which later started calling itself "Sootoro" in March 2013. The word is Syriac and means "security" or "protection". The group possesses light weapons and special vehicles collected from its associates (other militias).
In terms of structure, Sootoro is a single body but includes several political components like the Syriac Union Party or the so-called Duronoye, the Assyrian Democratic Organization, the Syrian Mother's Youth Caucus, and Christian Civil Society.
The Sootoro started by taking over some houses in Christian areas to construct check-points, and keep overnight watch over area.
Young people started wearing well-known military clothing with Christian slogans and nationalistic slogans, the most prominent being the cross – gone were the political symbols of the Syrian revolution or the Syrian regime.
But when a security delegation from the Syrian regime visited, the flag of the regime was raised and the image of the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad was hung at the headquarters of the Sootoro. This triggered a split between loyalists and opponents of the regime where the pro-Assad faction became subordinate to Syrian security forces, and the faction in opposition to Assad allied with the PYD in Syria.
Shortly after the split, both factions started to attract military and financial support from its supporters. The Assad-allied faction began to deal openly with Syrian security and the other faction affiliated itself with the Kurdish Protection Forces (PYD), and led a process of rapprochement with the Syrian Union Party.
They continued to raise the Syriac flag and Christian slogans without raising the Kurdish flag. They also spread more towards the Christian villages in the Qamishli countryside, such as Qahtaniya, which was essentially controlled by PYD without any presence of the Syrian regime.
The PYD-affiliated faction started receiving heavy weapons and logistical equipment from PYD vehicles and started carrying out military missions with them from joint patrols, raids and other operations. The Sootoro began sending troops for training in Kurdish forces' camps in rural Amouda, the Qandil mountains, and Iraqi Kurdistan. They also had direct contact with the leaders of the PKK in Iraq and in the Qandil mountains.
The existence of both Sootoro groups in the city of Qamishli continued without major issue. The PYD played a role in regulating relations between the Sootoro through its connections with the security branches of the Syrian regime.
As time passed, each wing of the Sootoro grew stronger with its supporters and began to wage military battles and enter into political alliances. The Sootoro employed religion and kept its "Christian-ness" at the forefront to present themselves to the West as representatives for a wide swath of Syrians.
PYD's Sootoro participated in battles fought by the units in Al-Hasakah countryside against Daesh in Arab villages, but prevented the inhabitants of these villages from returning to their homes after the expulsion of Daesh from the area.
The Kurdish units, along with the Sootoro, bulldozed and demolished a number of villages in the area and burned trees as part of an effort to make the area uninhabitable to prevent a return of the original inhabitants to the area. The Sootoro also participated in the battles against Daesh in the neighbourhoods of Aziziyah and Ghazal, in the city of Hasaka.
In addition to the training they receive from the PYD in camps in Syria and from the PKK in camps in northern Iraq and the Qandil mountains, they receives special training from European trainers with military experience who served in European armies. One of the Sootoro trainers, a former member of the Swiss army named Johan Koser, who, along with about 20 Europeans, went to Qamishli to train Christians.
The Sootoro receives support from sympathisers residing in the United States and Europe without any accountability and they refuse to link Sootoro to PYD despite the relationship between them.
Finally, the power of the Sootoro is not an independent force but a Christian armed militia that serves other agendas, either in favour of the PKK, which seeks to establish its own state by occupying large areas and expelling its inhabitants, or by following and supporting the Syrian regime.
The militia is largely ignored, but the neglect of the mushrooming of militias like this can further complicate the situation in Syria.