Heval Como welcomes us in German, as we enter his office. Many of the Christians in Northern Syria fled to Germany during the war, some returned, some stayed. So, there are many connections to Germany. Heval Como is the chairman of the Christian police Sutoro of the northern Syrian city of Dêrik. After a welcome tea plus a cigarette we immediately get into conversation about his daily work and the situation in the Christian communities of Dêrik.
Sutoro is Syriac and means police. The Sutoro security forces, as well as Asayiş, report to the Ministry of the Interior of the Democratic Federation of Northern and Eastern Syria and work closely together with other organizations. “In contrast to the Asayiş we are responsible for the Christian population. We protect Christian celebrations and gatherings, patrol in their neighborhoods and are available as contact persons for security concerns of all kinds. We see ourselves as responsible for the entire Christian population.” In his office there are symbols of the Sutoro as well as various Christian symbols.
The Sutoro were established in 2012 as internal security forces of the Christian territories. At that time there were no problems in Dêrik, says Como. Quite different than in Qamişlo. But the population there is also much more divided than in Dêrik. The Christians, but also the Kurds, are divided. This is due to the fact that there are considerably more supporters of the Assad regime in Qamişlo, who still control a few streets in Qamişlo. After fierce battles over the Christian districts, however, now a point has been reached where there is a tense tolerance for the Christian self-defense structures. “Everyone remains in his area, the regime has its quarters, the Sutoro and the Asayiş. But if there are problems with the regime, Asayiş and Sutoro support each other and we defend ourselves together”.
Within the population, it took time for the concept of autonomous Christian militias to be understood. “A lot has changed here. At the beginning nobody knew who we are at all. The understanding then came all by itself. We simply did our work and people learned to appreciate us. They saw that we protected their Christian celebrations and assemblies, that we expelled Daesh from Northern Syria. Meanwhile nobody is irritated anymore if we protect the churches and squares. The churches even call us on their own initiative and ask for protection when there is a big event.”
Como also talks about the war against Daesh. Normally, the Sutoro are an internal security organization and not a military one, but if it is necessary to defend oneself against an enemy like Daesh, “Then nobody asks anymore – What is your structure? Are you civil or military? Then the people are fighting together. We fought with the YPG, YPJ, MFS (Christian militia) and the whole Syrian Democratic Forces against Daesh, in Shaddadi, in Raqqa, in Deir Ez-Zor. Everywhere. My son fought too; he lost his leg in Raqqa.”
Here, too, we can see how far the integration of the various population groups into the Democratic Federation of North and East Syria has progressed. The areas in which he and his son fought are not Christian areas. These are mainly in the north of Syria, which were already secured at the beginning of the war. Nevertheless, the Christian militias continued to march with the SDF. His son lost his leg in Raqqa, a predominantly Arab city. The peoples of the Federation defend each other as a matter of course.
So much is certain, Como and his family have made a decision. Against seeking of asylum in a country where they would face nothing but exploitation and marginalization and for the resistance of the peoples. This decision becomes very clear to us, as we discuss the current political situation after the interview. “When Turkey invades, our reaction is clear. We stay and will defend ourselves to the last drop of our blood. The Turkish state of today is like the Ottoman Empire. They don’t differentiate between Kurdish, Christian or Arab, whether you are young or old, a man or a woman. Their goal is annihilation. But as God stands by our side, we will defend ourselves.”