Syrian singer Omar Souleyman arrested in Turkey

Local officials have confirmed the performance artist's arrest

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Renowned Syrian singer Omar Souleyman has been arrested in southern Turkey on terrorism charges, Turkish media reported on Wednesday.

The Ilhas news agency said the 55-year-old was detained for reported membership in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a 37-year insurgency against Turkey and is active in north-eastern Syria, where Souleyman is from, through its YPG offshoot.

Police in Sanliurfa province, which lies along the Syrian border, have seized the singer and are holding him for questioning, Ilhas said. A local official confirmed the arrest without providing further details.

The Mezopotamya news agency reported he was arrested during a raid on a house in Karakopru, a district to the north-west of the provincial capital.

He was being questioned after undergoing health checks at a local hospital.

Souleyman, who has performed at international festivals including Glastonbury in the UK and worked with artists such as Bjork and Blur’s Damon Albarn, has lived in Turkey since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict 10 years ago.

Although an Arab and a Sunni Muslim, he has previously spoken out on behalf of all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

His manager told AFP that he was being questioned about local media reports that he had visited an area of Syria controlled by the YPG, which spearheaded fighting on the ground against ISIS with the backing of the US.

Although the YPG is not labelled a terrorist organisation by the West — unlike the PKK, which has been listed as a terror group by the US and EU — Turkey considers it to be inextricably linked to the PKK.

Beginning in 2016, Ankara has launched three military campaigns in northern Syria against the YPG, while also fighting the PKK inside Turkey and northern Iraq.

In recent years, tens of thousands of people have been detained on terrorism charges in Turkey, including members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, which is Turkey’s third-largest political party. It evolved out of the Kurdish movement and has been accused of links to the PKK — charges it denies.

Souleyman’s manager, who asked not to be identified, said he expected the singer to be released later on Wednesday.

With his trademark kaffiyeh and sunglasses, Souleyman’s mix of folk and electronic music accompanied by lyrics in Arabic and Kurdish have won him a cult following around the world.

His YouTube videos have received tens of millions of views and he has also given speeches about life in Syria before and during the war.

Updated: November 18, 2021, 7:48 AM