Susenbat is notable for being a Kurdish village in the north Aleppo countryside within the Euphrates Shield zone, which is controlled by Syrian rebels with an extensive Turkish presence.
On 3 September 2019, I conducted an interview with the mukhtar of Susenbat about the village and the current situation there. It is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: What is the number of inhabitants of Susenbat and the biggest families in it?
A: Regarding the village, the number of original inhabitants present in the village of course before the revolution and registered in Susenbat was around 4000. The big family in the village- we as clans, as you know: we are the Didan clan, it is the biggest clan present in the village. The Didan clan. There are Arabs: the proportion of Arabs is small. We as Kurds in the village are the biggest proportion.
Q: Do most of the inhabitants speak the Kurdish language as the mother tongue and not Arabic?
A: Dear brother, the language we study is Arabic, not Kurdish, no. We have a Kurdish language particular to us. We speak Kurdish and we speak Arabic but most of the talk normally in the area as there are Arabs and Turkmen, all the groups, so we speak Arabic. It is not necessary that we speak Kurdish. But the family among each other speak in Kurdish.
Q: How is the services and humanitarian situation in the village? Is there no local council serving the village?
A: Dear azizi [term of endearment], our council, we are affiliated with the Qabbasin council- the locality of Qabbasin. We don't have a council in the village. So if there is any service or any issue we head to the Qabbasin council. They are responsible. There is a directorate of the stabilization committee with us for cleaning but we have a problem of sewage going into the same sewage holes. This harms the drinking water.
Q: The electricity is from the private generators?
A: Regarding the electricity we have a private sector: subscription. People of the village, each one pays from his pocket. It has no relation with the local council or anyone giving [electricity] to us for example as the village. We have amperes: for five hours the electricity comes to us in the night on the electricity generator meter. There is no electricity or anything among us: only for five hours in the night and evening it comes to us.
Q: Are there any development or building projects in the village, or are there any projects from aid organizations in the village?
A: If there is any project in the village, the person [responsible for it] builds it as his own expense. There are no associations among us in the village.
Q: What are the biggest problems regarding the humanitarian situation and services in the village? For example is the village in need of repairing the roads, or is unemployment [a problem]? These matters.
A: Dear sir, regarding unemployment, unemployment is present. Regarding services, there are no services: non-existent. We in the village are in need of electricity, water. We are bringing water from tankers from outside the village so that we can drink water. The water-tank: not everyone has a water tank to bring water: they buy. For every water tank, they buy ten barrels or five barrels to drink water. This is the state of services among us. We have just cleaning but the cleaning also, there is great shortcoming with regards to cleaning.
Q: When were you appointed mukhtar of the village? Do you work with the Syrian Interim Government?
A: Of course if we need anything or if something happens, we work with the Interim Government. Of course I work [with it], why not? We have no problem. But there is no one responding to us. Wherever we go, wherever we come, we tell them we want to work for ourselves or for the village, but no one listens to us at all.
Q: But in which year you became mukhtar of the village? After the liberation of the village from Da'esh [Islamic State]?
A: Of course after the liberation of the village from Da'esh, they appointed me as mukhtar of the village through the local council of Qabbasin.
Q: Of course there is a lot of talk about relations between the Kurds and Arabs in the north Aleppo countryside. Were the inhabitants of Susenbat oppressed by Da'esh: for example displacement because they were Kurds?
A: Yes there was displacement by Da'esh. Our relations with the inhabitants of the area- Arabs and Turkmen- we have no dispute. We co-exist with each other. There is even familial relation between us: there is no difference between a Kurdish family, an Arab family or a Turkmen family. There is none of this thing among us.
Q: So the talk of the PKK about displacement of the Kurds by Arabs and Turkmen in the area is false? Also the inhabitants of Susenbat reject the PKK and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces?
A: We have been living with each other- with the Turkmen and Arabs- for hundreds of years. We have no relation with political parties or anything else. We are in our homes. In the days of Da'esh we were displaced yes. But in the days of the Free [Army] no. We are present and there is no difference between us: Turkmen, Arabic or Kurdish. We are in agreement and there is nothing among us. And all the rumours that go out regarding displacement of the Kurds from their area are not true.