Schoolteachers are forced to sign up on social media platforms for online campaigns and other purposes. And applicants for teaching posts are asked to take a course that is designed to glorify the SDF and its frontmen.
The Arab majority towns and neighbourhoods in northeastern Syria are being subjected to a rapid ideological change unleashed by the SDF, which is dominated by YPG, the Syrian wing of PKK. The PKK is classified as a terrorist group by the US, European Union and Turkey.
The US-backed SDF uses civilian institutions, including schools, in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to tighten its control in the region and gain some degree of acceptance from local Arabs.
Shaheen, a teacher in Raqqa’s countryside town of Tishreen, told TRT World the SDF exerts pressure on them through the Education Office which reports to the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC), an administrative body infiltrated by the SDF.
“Periodically, the RCC’s Education office informs us for demonstrations in the city to support the ideas of PKK, and that usually happens when SDF loses an area in a battle, and sometimes the demonstrations don’t need a specific reason. We just gather and chant pro-SDF slogans,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen said that the SDF fired three teachers, who were his colleagues, from a school in Tishreen in August 2019, and arrested one of them because they refused to participate in SDF-sponsored demonstrations.
"The SDF blackmails us saying we will lose our jobs and salaries, the money we earn to feed our families, if we do not join their campaigns and demonstrations. We don’t care about them at all. We don’t know the leader they are talking about, and we had never heard the Kurdish names they repeat all the time to identify Arab cities like Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayan".
Another teacher named Fatima said the SDF has made it necessary for all applicants to first take a 45-day "closed course", in which they are exposed to the so-called "PKK principles", before they are hired in any of Raqqa's schools.
“Despite me having graduated in history from an official Syrian university, this 45-day course was a prerequisite. I asked them to test my abilities in history if they suspect my degree is fake or something. I didn’t have 45 days to spare for their course because of my responsibilities toward my family. They refused, so I had no other option but to take the course," said the 29-year-old Fatima.
Fatima soon realised that the course was in total contrast with the concept of teaching and learning. Instead, she said, it was all about glorifying the PKK terror group and its leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999.
“I often asked myself and some trusted friends: What do we have to do with all this? Why are we wasting our time?”
“What annoyed me the most was that they didn't even know the people of Raqqa; they tried to use Islam to make us believe in the PKK's thought process. They saw Raqqa and its people as Daesh supporters, so they thought they could make us believe in their ideology by using Islamic terms and examples. In one of the classes, a Kurdish speaking man who could barely speak Arabic, heaped praises of Ocalan and how he has memorized the Quran or gave Islamic lectures in mosques”.
Apart from forcing teachers into submission by deploying various tactics, the SDF pushes them to sign up on social media platforms like Twitter and join the pro-PKK trolls to endorse their agendas and campaigns.
Khalil, a schoolteacher in Raqqa, received instructions from his superiors to create a WhatsApp teachers’ group and circulate the SDF's content on it.
In a recent SDF Twitter campaign led by its spokesperson Ferhad Shami, most of the replies came from accounts that were formed between the month of June and September, which is when the schoolteachers of Raqqa were instructed to create social media accounts.
Khalil said the SDF sought forced consent from teachers before asking them to create social media accounts and spread disinformation through other means of communication.
Several human rights groups have raised concerns over the SDF's continuing attempts to change the demographic makeup of northeastern Syria. In October 2019, a Syrian research centre named Hibr released a report highlighting "violations and demographic change" carried out by the SDF and its factions in northeastern Syria.
Diluting Arab populations with non-Arabs is an essential part of the SDF's playbook. The matters get worse for local Arabs when they are being forced to join the SDF ranks. In June this year, eight Syrian Arabs were shot dead in Manbij region by the SDF during a protest against forced inscriptions.
[Note: TRT World withheld the first names of Shaheen and Khalil and the surname of Fatima to ensure they do not face any kind of reprisal for speaking out against the SDF's repression.]