Turkey detains Syrian singer Omar Souleyman on ‘terror’ charges

The singer was taken into custody from his home in Sanliurfa over alleged links to a banned Kurdish militia, sources say.

Syrian musician Omar Souleyman performs during the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo December 11, 2013. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a Hague-based global chemical weapons watchdog working to eliminate chemical arms stockpiles around the battlefields of Syria's civil war won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize in October. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz (NORWAY - Tags: SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT)
Syrian musician Omar Souleyman performs during the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 2013 [File: Tobias Schwarz/Reuters]

Turkish authorities have detained internationally-known Syrian musician Omar Souleyman over alleged links to a banned Kurdish militia, his son, a local security source and Turkish media said.

A search warrant had been issued for Omar Almasikh – the singer’s real name – and Turkish gendarmerie forces detained him from his home in the Turkish southeastern border city of Sanliurfa, a local security source told Reuters news agency.

Police detained the 55-year-old singer and DJ after receiving a tip about his whereabouts, the source said.

Souleyman’s son, Muhammed, confirmed his father’s arrest to the Syrian North Press agency on Wednesday. He said the arrest may have happened due to “a malicious report against him”, adding that his father had no political affiliations.

The singer’s manager – who asked not to be identified – told the AFP news agency that Souleyman was taken for questioning in Sanliurfa, where he has been running a bakery since escaping Syria’s decade-long civil war in 2011.

After beginning his career performing at weddings and other events in northern Syria, Souleyman’s upbeat electronic music attained international fame in recent years. He has released several albums and collaborated with musicians such as Bjork.

The Turkish Demiroren agency and other media also reported his detention. He was taken to hospital for a health check and was expected to be taken to a gendarmerie precinct for questioning, the security source said.

The musician, who hails from the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain – is accused of being a member of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation. It also perceives it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed group, which has waged an armed uprising against the Turkish state since 1984.

Turkey’s military has carried out three cross-border operations against the YPG in Syria and frequently detains people domestically for alleged links to the PKK.

His manager said he expected Souleyman to be released later on Wednesday. But Turkish media said Souleyman was detained on an arrest warrant issued for “membership of a terrorist organisation”, a charge that has seen tens of thousands jailed across Turkey in the past decade.

Local administration officials in Sanliurfa confirmed Souleyman’s detention but provided no other details when contacted by AFP.

Omar Souleyman has said his lively music blends elements of Arabic, Kurdish and other cultures in the region. He has regularly performed in countries including Turkey, the United States and Japan, as well as across Europe.

He performed at a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December 2013, and starred in a benefit concert at the prestigious South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas earlier that year.

The official video for his 2013 song Warni Warni has received nearly 95 million views on YouTube.

Turkey is home to some 3.6 million refugees who fled Syria’s war that has been continuing for 10 years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies