New tension has emerged in Raqqa, Syria, after being cleared of the Daesh terrorist group, as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the PKK terror group's Syria affiliate, the Democratic People Union (PYD), and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), is reportedly forcing pupils in schools to learn Kurdish. Pressing the Arab locals to learn Kurdish is expected to raise ethnic-based tensions in areas now controlled by the PYD.
This year, schools around Raqqa will teach a new curriculum based on old textbooks but erase the Baathist ideology of Bashar Assad, a decision agreed on by Arab and Kurdish teachers alike.
But an official in the SDF has floated the immediate introduction of Kurdish lessons in Raqqa schools, an idea that makes local officials bristle.
In contrast with other areas under SDF control that have for years taught Kurdish, there are no plans yet to teach the language in mostly Arab Raqqa.
Officials say it would need broad consensus, hinting at concerns that its introduction too quickly would cause unrest. "We wouldn't object to Kurdish teaching. But if it's imposed on schools then there will be problems," said Ahmed al-Ahmed, a teacher in Raqqa.
The YPG has held areas of northeast Syria since early in the six-year-old war that are now under a self-run administration, and Raqqa is likely to join the administration, officials say.
All ethnic groups are represented in local bodies that run majority Arab regions captured by the YPG-led SDF as it ousted Daesh fighters, but critics say the YPG dominates decision-making.
Reuters interviews with SDF officials and local authorities suggest resentment over Kurdish power is brewing over education plans.
Officials in the Raqqa Civil Council, the newly formed local governing body, were taken aback by SDF's decision to teach Kurdish in schools.
"No, that won't happen without consultations with us and agreement in the council," Ammar Hussein, an education committee official, said at its office in the town of Ain Issa. "For now it's in Arabic, with English and French lessons." Echoing several council members, he said Kurdish would be taught only if families requested it, there were enough qualified teachers and the Arab-Kurdish council approved it.
"If the people here agree ... there won't be any objection," said Ali Shanna, another education committee official. "But Kurds know the Kurdish language, why does he need to learn it?" The sensitivity over language has already caused unrest in Hasaka to the northeast, an area controlled for years by the YPG, where a new curriculum is taught in Arabic and Kurdish, both now official languages. The PYD has organic organizational links with the PKK terror group, which operates in Turkey and Iraq, and is also listed as a terror organization by the EU, the U.S. and Turkey.
The PYD has been trying to change the demographics of the area it controls. Emboldened by U.S. military aid, the terrorist group's forced migration of Arabs and Turkmens, as well as arbitrary arrests targeting critical voices and the recruitment of child soldiers, have been covered by international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and KurdsWatch.
The PYD's oppression of rival political voices, including burning down their offices, arresting or kidnapping members, has been voiced as a concern by many Kurds in northern Syria.