Tag Archives: Kurds

Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)

Please note: the interview was conducted in English but translated to Farsi (Persian) for the print edition of Shargh newspaper. The links to the Farsi version are listed below:

http://www.sharghdaily.ir/1394/05/18/Main/PDF/13940518-2367-11-24.pdf (Newspaper Print Edition)

http://tinyurl.com/nmnst2z (Website Edition)

1-Recently, some newspapers near AKP have expressed dissatisfaction about the recent winning of Kurd against ISIS. They believed that Kurds (particularly PYD and PKK) are bigger danger than isis for turkey. What do you think about the arguments? Do you think the argument is the main cause of little support of turkey government of Kurds struggle against Isis? Do you think we can expect change in turkey’s policy toward Kurds struggle against Isis in the next government of the country?

Erdogan and the AKP have been clear that they do not differentiate between the PKK and IS – they see them both as terrorist organisations. But such a labelling does not only affect a party, it is an unfair label on a whole population. The Syrian Kurds have the right to self-defence and PYD has been one of the most affective forces against IS. Who would protect the Kurds if not the YPG?

I don’t expect Turkey to accept PYD with open arms but the people deserve to be protected and should not suffer due to outdated nationalist principles. PYD have not committed massacres or terrorist acts in the same way as IS. Furthermore, how can one say that all Syrian Kurds are PKK affiliated? There are dozens of political parties in Syria, of course, PYD is the main party but Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds is far too narrow.

The fear of PYD\PKK is firmly rooted in Turkish nationalist anxiety. This same fear saw decades of repressive policies against Kurds in Turkey to no benefit but social upheaval and loss of life. You cannot deny 15 million Kurds in Turkey and neither can you deny the 2 million in Syria.

Turkey will not support the Kurds against IS. If they didn’t support at bleak hour of need when Kobane was days from falling when a grave massacre was certain likelihood then I don’t say Turkey bolstering Syrian Kurds now. But PYD and more importantly the Syrian Kurds are not about to vanish.

After such historic gains in Syria after decades of been side-lines, PYD or the Syrian Kurds will not accept a rollback of their gains, in spite of any sabre rattling from Turkey.

2-Recently, President Erdogan said that turkey don’t let to Kurds establish Kurdish government in northern Syria. Do you think the Erdogan warn is serious? Do you think the military intervention of turkey army in Syria in next month will be possible? What would be the reaction of international community on the issue in your opinion?

Erdogan has referred to such red lines since 2012. It didn’t stop PYD from declaring autonomous administrative rule in the 3 cantons or moving relatively unhindered. Turkey has been weary of the raise of the Syrian Kurds since 2011-2012 but in recent months, they have become key actors in the fight against IS and indeed one of the only few trusted groups of the US.

The Kurdish question in Turkey is intertwined by the fate of Kurds in Syria. There are strong connections across the border. This was evident at the mass protests at Turkish inaction over Kobane. The Kurdish struggle in Turkey moved stage to Syria.

Talk of military action has been running since 2012 but has grown in recent weeks; Turkey has a huge amount at stake with any invasion. It will confirm suspicions of sceptics who state that Turkey tolerates IS on its border but will now finally reinforce its border because the more moderate Kurds are making gains?

Any Turkish invasion will be far from plain sailing – Kurds, on both sides of the border, will not stay idle to any Turkish transgression. It will widen the already complicated Syrian war and will all but end the elusive Kurdish peace process in Turkey. PKK will certainly resume armed struggle in Turkey and in case Turkey attacks IS, this will bring great threat and instability to mainland Turkey. There are many permutations but they all end in more bloodshed and disaster.

International community will hardly welcome such a move when the Syrian landscape is already messy and complicated enough and indeed there will be strong jockeying in the background to ensure Turkey does not take such hasty steps.

Syrian Kurds too have their own red lines, they will not declare independence but they will certainly not give up their autonomous rule or allow any Turkish meddling or control of Syrian Kurdistan.

3-We know some Turks voted to HDP too as well as Kurds, How the Turks convinced vote to HDP? Do you think this is a sign of decrease Turkish nationalism sense or this is a sign of increasing pluralism in turkey? What is your assessment about the recent victory of HDP In turkey election?

HDP was successfully in attracting growing number of people who were disenchanted with AKP and who didn’t have the right national forum. A lot of these disillusioned liberals saw in HDP an opportunity to block Erdogan’s attempts to implement a strong presidential system, dilute what they saw as growing power and monopolisation of AKP and at the same time have a voice on the political stage. The HDP electorate also included large sections of minorities and of course large sections of Kurds who turned to HDP after previously voting for the AKP.

Although HDP won a respectable 13% of the vote, this is far from a statement that nationalism is decreasing. Nationalist parties continued to do well. Nationalists continue to be a thorn in the peace process and still dominate the political system in Turkey.

The fact this was the first time that a Kurds entered parliament as a party says it all. It is a significant historical milestone for the Kurds and provides a bridge between the long-time disaffected east and west of Turkey. 13% of the vote is not a meagre figure to be ignored in parliament and Kurds will have a direct influence on political and government affairs.

HDP’s gains can only be good for the Kurds but can also bring a sense of legality and national perspective to the Kurdish question. 80 MPs in parliament cannot be merely branded by the PKK brush – Turkish politics needs to mature beyond the age old narrow nationalist perspective i.e. any Kurdish PM is quickly labelled as a separatist or a PKK sympathiser.

HDP can serve as vital and legally enshrined interlocutors between the PKK and Ankara.

4-What is your assessment about the relation recent HDP victory in turkey’s election with PKK activities in the region? Can we expect the recent victory in turkey will be impact on power of PKK?

As mentioned earlier, the rise of HDP and their entry in parliament can give the peace process the right nation platform. Ocalan and most of the PKK have stated their readiness to convene a party congress with view to the giving up of arms. However, this will not happen without concrete steps been taken by the government – PKK will need to see firm actions and unfortunately, bowing to nationalist pressure, the future government will not easily cave in to demands from what they see as terrorists. HDP position in the political fold may help ensure that a more appealing reform package can be initiated – most Turks are in favour of ending bloodshed and the government must capitalise on a historic opening.

PKK will naturally see the HDP’s electoral success in a positive light but it doesn’t mean that PKK will drop their arms tomorrow just because HDP have broken the 10% threshold in parliament. HDP leadership has in turned made clear the real power to end the armed struggle and give up arms is in Imrali and not with them.

No doubt that HDP success brings a unique opportunity to further the peace process and should not be wasted. HDP can double the number of MPs in parliament, but if the PKK is not satisfied then the HDP influence can only stretch so far. Peace is not achieved by numbers in parliament but concrete actions.

5-What is the effect of HDP victory on Kurdish separatist sentiments in turkey and region? Will be weakened or strengthened?

This depends on the next steps. After breaking the age old constraints of the electoral threshold, the Kurds have a unique position in Turkish politics; especially that HDP now includes many Turkish voters within their ranks.

If the Kurdish region finally believes they have a voice in parliament, they are no longer side-lined, have better integration and can influence Ankara as national partners, then this can be a good sign for unity. Ultimately, the goal of local autonomy will not disappear especially if Kurds in south east increasingly speak with one voice.

If the HDP is somewhat side-lined or broken up under terrorism label as with previous party manifestations or the peace process unravels, as a result of the increased electoral power and not forgetting what events may take place in Syrian Kurdistan, then south east will drop further and further from Ankara’s grasp.

6-Do you think the increasing conflict between HDP and turkey hizbollah will be possible? What will be the relation between HDP and conservatives and religious Kurds in the future?

As the recent deadly shootings have shown in Diyarbakir, historic tension between PKK and Hezbollah supporters is in danger of escalating. The shootings were clear provocations designed to stir tension. The ramp up in tensions depends on how much restraint the parties can show and if they rise to the bait but I doubt it will reach a critical stage. No side will really benefit from such direct confrontation and no side really wants bloodshed to ensure.

HDP has already won significant votes from conservative and religions Kurds in the elections who traditionally voted for AKP. However, this is likely to continue as a key focus if HDP wants to grow in strength and represent a broader spectrum of the Kurdish voter base. AKP has used the religious card to successfully divide the Kurds in the past away from ethnic affiliations.

7-Some report showed that PYD have cooperation with Assad regime in Syria against isis. Don’t you think the US support Kurds in Syria is contradicting with the will of US for Assad falls? What will be impact of the support on the viewpoint of Syria government?

Such allegations of collaboration between PYD and Assad regime have been common place since the PYD took control of the Kurdish zones. But PYD and Assad regime relations have been more about mutual convenience than any real strategic pact. At a time when Syrian forces were already stretched, Assad wisely did not move to open a costly front with the Kurds. There have been various battles between the two sides but never on a systematic level.

At the same time, Syrian Kurds want control of their land and this is their first priority. They haven’t enjoyed great relations with FSA or Syrian National Coalition and attacking Assad forces to help FSA has not been an objective. Kurds have been weary of provoking Assad when they have already gained control of most Kurdish lands. The SNC has not been ready to commit to Kurdish demands in any post Assad era and Kurds have viewed the group with much suspicion. In many ways, it’s been a case of the devil you know for the Kurds than any real support or affiliation with the Assad regime.

US seeks political transition in Syrian and ultimately the fall of Assad but their bigger focus is on IS and not Assad. PYD goal is also a political transition in Syria and a new plural and inclusive constitution that enshrines their autonomy, and priority is not to prop up Assad. Don’t forget that PYD and Assad forces were in conflict long before Syrian civil war ensued.

PYD focus at the same time is IS and defence of their lands. Syrian Kurds are not tied to Assad regime and they will not fight to keep Assad in power.

8-What is relation between PKK and HDP? Demirtaş and Ocalan both are charismatic figures don’t you think in long time we will see conflict between two groups?

Many HDP members have travelled to Imrali and have previously played key roles in the Kurdish peace process. Of course, HDP have connections with the PKK but to say they are one and the same is too narrow minded.

HDP can be affective and legal interlocutors in the peace process. HDP can influence the PKK but ultimately it is not the HDP that decide PKKs next move on the peace process or whether they will give up arms, this power sits with Imrali.

It’s hard to compare the positons of Demirtaş and Ocalan – one is in parliament and one is an isolated prison. They are both significant leaders for the Kurds but from totally different perspectives and platforms.

There is always the possibility of disagreement between the PKK and HDP but by and large and through different means, they represent the same goal – enshrinement of Kurdish rights and bigger voice for the Kurds as national partners.

9-What do you think about the viewpoint of Kurdish peace negotiation prospect after victory of HDP? Do you think it will have a positive impact on negotiation? What do you think about possibility end Ocalan arrested?

The rise of HDP as a power in Turkish politics can only be a good thing for the peace process. This serves as an opportunity to bring the peace process onto a national and legal platform.

HDP have become the natural and legal interlocutors. 80 MPs in parliament can have a major voice on the direction of the peace process.

HDP can have a positive impact on the peace process but ultimately the real decision lies in Imrali. Under nationalist’s pressure, Erdogan toned down his stance towards the peace process and concessions towards the PKK – he became more hard-line.

PKK expects concrete steps from government and although the HDP can push to achieve these concrete steps, it really lies in the hands of Ankara. I don’t see Ocalan under house arrest let alone free, Turkish nationalist sentiment is far too narrow to allow the onset of such a phenomenon that will bring uproar to large sections of Turkish society.

10-What is your assessment about ROJAVA cantons and the performance? Do you think the Rojava can be a model for Kurds in other parts of the region? What are the strengths and weaknesses of ROJAVA in your opinion?

Rojava cantons and the establishment of a Kurdish Region of Syria was an unprecedented milestone for the Kurds in Syria, where previously hundreds of thousands of Kurds didn’t even have basic citizenship and rights let alone autonomous zones and new strategic importance in the region.

But Rojava autonomy is still in its infancy and hardly in the best surroundings with IS and deadly battles. What made the cantons unique was that it was in 3 geographically separate lands, until recently when Kurds took control of Tel Abyad.

Syrian autonomy needs to be backed by a cross party unity – too often the dozen or so Kurdish parties have been divided into pro KRG and pro PKK camps, with PYD dominating control of the cantons

The cantons have a long way to go but autonomous rule cannot be perfected in just a few years. The Syrian Kurds have much progress to make in their rule of their lands but this is hardly surprising. After decades of been side-lined, the current autonomous structure feels a lifetime away from previous repression and Arabisation of Kurdish lands.

It is the Kurdish Region of Iraq that really set the expectation and model of self-rule and not the Rojava cantons. Local autonomy is fast becoming a minimum expectation for Kurds across the region.

11-What is your assessment about the Assad regime reaction to Kurdish autonomy in Syria? Do you think Syria government will be grant autonomy to Kurds because their struggle against common enemy (isis)?

Assad needs Kurdish support, if not real political or military support, than at least that a new front is not opened. Assad’s forces are already stretched and granting Kurds autonomy is far easier than a suicidal new front against the Kurds. Assad has taken full advantage of the mistrust between Kurds and FSA\SNC.

Autonomy is a red-line for the Kurds and a small price for Assad to pay to maintain stability in the Kurdish areas and indeed his seat in power.

12-What do you think about impact of recent HDP victory in turkey and PYD in Syria on the Barzani –Talibani power in Iraq? Do you think HDP and PKK are threat against Autonomous Region of Kurdistan?

I don’t see the rise of HDP or the influence of PYD in Syria a threat to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The KRG and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani would see the success of HDP as a historic and welcome milestone – they have encouraged the peace process in Turkey.

Barzani has personally worked hard for more cross-party unity in Syria with power sharing as per the Erbil agreement between the Syrian Kurdish parties. He would not want to see any PYD domination and other political parties, with many pro-KRG, been side-lined.

The red line for KRG is any meddling in Kurdistan Region internal affairs by PYD but especially PKK. As far as the KRG is concerned, it is not their zone of influence.

13-Some people said Kurds could not reach to recent successes without US supports in Iraq. What do you think about the arguments? What do you think about the possibility of establish a Shiite – Kurdish – US coalition against Isis in Iraq? Do you think the cooperation against Isis will be because more close Kurd – Shiite?

US support for the Kurds has been key but it is not so one dimensional. Ironically, the Kurds have often accused Washington of bias towards Baghdad. US have been obsessed with Iraqi unity and have avoided any actions that may be fuel a breakaway of Kurdistan from Iraq. Indeed on many occasions it has sided with Baghdad over the Kurds to promote the idea of a centralist rule in Iraq.

At the same time, the US relies heavily on Kurdish support against IS as it did against al-Qaeda a few years before that.

Iraq has been increasingly fractured as a state since 2003 and Baghdad policies especially under Nouri al-Maliki have not helped. In fact IS merely took full advantage of sectarian tensions and mass Sunni discontent. Many Sunni groups jumped on the IS bandwagon and notion of what is “IS” quickly become a grey area.

The KRG have been insistent that for any real struggle against IS to succeed, especially in Mosul, that local Sunni forces must have a bigger say. Kurds are keen to see an inclusive make up of Iraqi forces against IS.

Successive disputes with Maliki and now with Haider al-Abadi over national budget and oil exports has put a negative sentiment in the relations. The Kurds will not bail out Baghdad when it feels that Baghdad has consistently failed to deliver on its agreements and promises, has not paid its share of national budget and has not provided Kurds with needed weaponry even when the Kurds are at the centre of the war against IS.

Only a large Iraqi inclusive coalition will entice Kurds to fight in areas south of the Kurdistan borders.

14-What is your assessment about the possibility of establish a Kurdish state in Middle East? What is the obstacle in the way of this? Israel supported for Kurdistan state idea do you think the support of US and EU will be possible, too?

Establishing a Kurdish state has hardly been a secret for the Kurds and is also a goal of the Kurdistan leadership but it’s all about timing. A Kurdish state is inevitable and the Kurdistan Region is practically independent in all but name. If Kurds start selling oil directly en mass as retaliation for lack of budget payments from Baghdad than this removes the remaining noose Baghdad has over the region.

There is growing support for Kurdish independence in the EU and from many members of the US Senate and Congress but Washington will not directly support any Kurdish independence bid. It has reinforced the notion of a sovereign and united Iraq at every turn since 2003, when the Iraq state is anything but united or whole. US has spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a promoting principles of national reconciliation and unity that has never borne fruit.

Turkey has grown warmer to the idea of independence for the Kurdistan Region but will not support such a notion at a delicate time in the region and indeed at a sensitive juncture for the Kurds of Turkey and Syria.

Self-determination is a right that the Kurds will ultimately exercise and formal independence is only a question of when.

15-What do you think about recent Kurds victories on the regional equations? Do you think strengthen of Kurds can lead to essential changes in geographic and demographic in the region? What are the consequences for the region countries particularly Iran, turkey and Iraq? Do you think we should expect the change of borders in accordance with Sykes – Picot agreement?

The Kurds in Iraq are already major regional actors and the rise and prominence of the Kurdistan region in Iraq has been unprecedented. Kurds have become an important economic partner for Iran and particular Turkey and a stable and largely secular entity serves an important role in the fast unravelling and volatile Middle East.

At the same time, Kurds in Syria are enjoying new found prominence. Too often the Kurds were on the scrapheap of the Middle East thanks to large repressive campaigns and the arbitrary Sykes-Picot borders. Kurds are now a driving force in the new Middle East calculus.

Whilst the Sykes-Picot borders will not change overnight, in many ways the present era witnesses the rise of the Kurds. From the shackles to strategic players across the Middle East. The borders between the Kurdish regions in each country are slowly eroding.

The Kurds are a major factor for any long-term stability and peace in the Middle East – they simply cannot be ignored from Syria to Turkey to Iraq to Iran.

First Published: Shargh (Iran)

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

At the forefront of the war on Islamic State, yet Arab suspicions of Kurds highlight failed state

Months of fierce fighting and several hundred coalition air-strikes later, the Islamic State (IS) finds itself largely on the defensive, but as a spate of attacks across Iraq clearly showed in recent days, IS is an adaptive and determined organization that is far from a finished force.

As recent Peshmerga advances around Mosul threatened to choke vital IS supply routes, IS militants launched a series of attacks on Kurdish positions to the south of Kirkuk. The aim of the move was to sow new fear amongst the people and show it can still strike at the heart of Kurdistan but also to divert Kurdish forces from the real IS prize – Mosul.

US-led coalition airstrikes have no doubt been in instrumental in keeping IS militants on the back foot, but the protracted and deadly battles have shown the limitations of airpower without an effective ground force.

Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani highlighted this very point, “The question is: is the policy one of containment, or to dislodge and destroy them?” adding, “In order to totally eradicate them, further action must be taken.”

Barzani rejected any notion of the Kurds spearheading an attack to wrest control of Mosul, to avoid any ethnic battle between Kurds and Arabs.

Such fears speak volumes about the fractured nature of the Iraqi landscape. Whilst Kurdish advances have proved pivotal against IS in recent months including protecting areas where the Iraqi army originally fled, some noises in Baghdad and in segments of the Sunni population have viewed Kurdish advances against IS and their defense of disputed territories with suspicion.

The Peshmerga have lost over 700 men since the start of the conflict with thousands more wounded. They have afforded protection to Arab areas not to mention hosting thousands of refugees. Furthermore, Kurds filled a security vacuum and didn’t oust Iraqi forces from Kirkuk and the like. What would have happened to such cities if IS had a free ticket to roam in or indeed if Kurdish forces were not protecting the city in recent days when IS launched attacks on Kirkuk?

As Barzani explained, “there is no loyalty to a country called Iraq. It really is important to find a formula for how to live together within the boundaries of what is called Iraq. Unless a formula is found, there will be more bloodshed and the country will remain a destabilizing factor in the region.”

And here is the problem, whilst Peshmerga have advanced against IS in the north, it is Shiite militias and not really an Iraqi army that have thwarted IS from the doors of Baghdad in Anbar and Diyala provinces.

A number of Sunni tribes are fighting IS but by large the disenfranchised Sunnis have not been enticed to fight IS forces. On the contrary, prior to the IS advance, Sunni dominated areas of Iraq where gripped with protests and violent skirmishes with security forces and some influential tribes welcomed IS with open arms.

Barzani played down any imminent joined attack on Mosul setting the fall of this year as a more realistic target. For any chance of IS to be eradicated, Iraq needs some semblance of an effective national force including the all-important Sunni components in Mosul.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Nelson Mandela’s virtues of peace, struggle and forgiveness in the Kurdish question

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95, will forever remain an icon of justice, peace, patience and perseverance. His life was a journey against the odds underlined by determination, belief and passion for the cause. In a remarkable transformation, Mandela went from imprisoned activist of 27 years,  18 years of those years in the harsh confinement of Robben Island, to freedom in 1990 and just 4 years later as South Africa’s first black president in the country’s first multi-racial fully representative democratic elections.

Mandela’s primary struggle was against the apartheid system of the all-white National Party of South Africa that oppressed the black population and whose policies “separated” the black and white societies ensuring contrasting lives and conditions.

The case and struggle of Mandela is certainly true for the Kurds. Whether discrimination is on racial, religion or ethnic ground, the end product and crimes are no different.

As the old saying goes “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Mandela may have been despised by the white regime as a “communist” or “terrorist” but for thousands more he was a true revolutionary and a symbol of sacrifice, bravery and determination. Mandela was a true advocate of peace but he was not afraid to use other means when peaceful pleas went unanswered and when oppression against the blacks continued.

Much in the same way as the blacks in South Africa, the Kurds have suffered oppression at the hands of their rulers, often with a second-class label in their lands of forefathers. The Kurds did not desire violence to achieve their means but would the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey really be where they are today without the great struggle of their leaders and people?

There was uproar in many a Turkish circle when the Turkish government turned to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as a key interlocutor of the peace process.

But as Mandela put so wisely – “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

When Mandela became president, in spite of his harsh ordeal, he advocated reconciliation, forgiveness and employed a lack of bitterness or hatred.

In Turkey, the Kurds and Turks can truly turn a new page by embracing the same ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation and swaying away from hatred or animosity. As Mandela put so well himself, “courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

A look at Turkeys past needs a balanced approach. Killings of Turks or Kurds are as tragic as each other. Is a mourning Turkish mother any different to a mourning Kurdish mother?

There can never be reconciliation in Turkey without reflecting on the past. Mandela did not oppress those who did wrong against him or side-line them from his government – after all, that would make him no better than the perpetrator of crimes against him but he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and to ensure the past is not merely swept under the rugs of history but is purposely taking forward to build a better future.

In December 1993, in a symbolic moment both Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, the leader of the National Party at the time, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It highlighted that when it comes to peace, there should be no hero or villain or bitter taste.

Whether it is Nelson Mandela, Massaud Barzani or Abdullah Ocalan, they have all struggled for their people.

Mandela himself was acutely aware of the Kurdish struggle. In 1992, he refused the Atatürk Peace Award citing human rights violations, before later accepting the award in 1999.

In April 2009, Essa Moosa, the lawyer of Mandela on an official visit to Turkey, denounced the criminalisation of the Kurdish struggle for freedom, likening Ocalan’s struggle for the Kurds to that of Mandela.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

The Kurdish angle a paramount part of any Middle Eastern debate

The much heralded “Arab Spring” has swiftly morphed into an Arab nightmare. The successive lauded popular uprisings across the Middle East were to an extent only the end of the beginning and not a quick-fire solution to the complex network of Middle Eastern disputes.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring has been far bloodier, protracted and troublesome than many expected. The new Middle Eastern horizon has brought with it new crises and new rules. One in which the US and the West are struggling to take a view on.

The uprising in Syria has unearthed a deadly civil war that has directly or indirectly sucked in most players of the Middle East. The short-lived euphoria over the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has been replaced by social turmoil and a deep-rooted battle over political Islam that threatens to send Egypt into full blown conflict. The removal of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya was seen as reality straightforward by the West but his removal has witnessed more instability and violence. In Tunisia, an oppositional leader has been assassinated in renewed friction.

All the while in Iraq, sectarian violence threatens to return to levels not seen since the peak of 20007.

The rapid plunging of the Middle East into conflict has drawn many analysts to the roots of conflict, the role of Western powers in sowing the seeds of today’s strife in the aftermath of the First World War and historical vendettas.

But while typically the arguments point to the artificial boundaries of Middle East and sectarian fault-lines, the greatest travesty of the Middle East is often ignored – the failure to give the Kurds, the fourth largest nation in the Middle East, a nation of their own.

Too often the recent Middle Eastern fault lines are ascribed to Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict and secular versus political Islam; somewhat replacing the old focus on the Arab-Israeli struggle.

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq are narrowed to sectarianism. The polarisation of Turkey is generalised as between Islamists and those who uphold the mystical secular foundations of the republic.

Yet it is the selfish and ruthless carving of the Kurdish lands that will always serve as a critical destabilisation factor in the Middle East. The ethnic angle of the Middle Eastern conflict is not just between Jews and Arabs. It’s a travesty that in the 21st century that the Kurds have the unfortunate distinction of been the largest nation without a state.

It’s remarkable that the Kurds have to struggle for even “minority” rights in the lands of the forefathers, yet so much of the world’s focus is on Arab strife and Islamist positioning in governance. The Arabs view the lack of a 22nd state in Palestine as a great injustice whilst the Kurds are often viewed suspiciously or as overreaching when seeking rights. This sums up why equitable dealing of arguments or disputes is non-starter in the Middle East.

Syria is viewed as a confrontation between the Alawite minority and Sunni majority, whilst the Kurds who were roped into the state boundaries are often overlooked.

The redrawing of the Middle Eastern map is not just a necessity but a natural unravelling that would always happen at some point. Iraq is the starting point for such unravelling, with Kurds finally able demonstrate strategic and political clout in terms of new geography.

Yes, the new Middle East is hardly the advert for harmony and communal peace, but all that has been done is to let the cat out of the bag. All the problems and ingredients for conflict where always there, but they were caged and held tightly by dictatorial regimes supported by the West.

The Middle East is at an acute cross road, unfortunately with players intent on resolving differences the region knows all too well – conflict.

Ironically, as the West has found out bitterly in Iraq and Egypt, democracy and religion is not always the perfect tonic. What happens when the people select a party or system of government that the West never wants or fears?

It will take decades for the dust from the new Middle East to settle, but contained for so long it won’t be easy for such a crisis zone filled with high emotion, history and natural resources to take its new shape.

But let there be no doubt – the Kurdish question is central to any prospects of real peace and stability in the new Middle East.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

PKK enjoys new lease on Ankara-Damascus conflict

The Kurdish question is manipulated by Syria as it turns to their old PKK allies to undermine an increasingly hostile Turkey and simultaneously divide the potentially decisive Kurds back home. 

The Arab Spring may have stormed through a number of countries but for Syria it has not been such a straightforward transition.

Syria is not a clear-cut arithmetic as the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt or even Libya. Syria finds itself at the crux of the complicated and intertwined web that is the Middle East and has a hand in a number of historic tensions that continue to plague the region.

It finds itself inhabited by a disenfranchised Sunni majority under the iron fist of minority-Alawite rule for successive decades. It has a powerful hand in the socio-political equation in Palestine and Lebanon and is a major ally of Tehran. To put the icing on the cake, it houses a significant Kurdish minority that has borne the brunt of government brutality and that makes the unfolding of a post-Assad era all the more sensitive.

Over a year since the uprisings first began and Bashar al-Assad continues to cling on to power. Even though the revolt against Assad enjoys popular support from Sunni Arab countries, most Western powers, the UN and particularly Turkey, the fall of the regime is not yet a forgone conclusion.

The Syrian opposition may receive funding and overlying diplomatic support but the Syrian rebels continue to lack real firepower, cohesion and a long-term ability to capitalise on any gains.

It is easy to forget that it was not Libyan rebels that overcame the rule of Muammar Gaddafi but the sheer might of NATO air power.

The prospect of foreign intervention remains the only real game changer in Syria. This looked unlikely with the stern opposition of both veto-wielding Russia and China at the UN table but this could all change as Turkish-Syrian relations take a nosedive with Turkey becoming increasingly engulfed in the Syrian hostilities.

Turkey already plays host to the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and thousands of Syrian refugees and is embroiled in a bitter conflict with Syria’s new friends, the PKK.

The Kurdish card

Aside from regional proximity and Sunni majorities, both Turkey and Syria share a historic Kurdish problem that has been long been a thorn in the sides of the respective countries. Turkish Syrian relations greatly improved after a deal in 1998 whereby Syria withdrew its key support of the PKK and signed the Adana Agreement to preserve cross-border peace. Now with an ever increasing hard-line rhetoric and opposition from Ankara towards Assad’s ongoing rule, Syria has once again turned to the Kurds as a way of hitting back at Turkey, knowing fully well that this is one of the most emotive and sensitive bullets that Damascus can fire at Ankara.

By providing renewed support and rekindling ties with the PKK, Assad gains a key leverage against Turkey whilst simultaneously weakening the Kurdish voice back home.

One of Assad’s and Baathists key strengths has been the manipulation of sectarian sentiments in Syria to consolidate power both in the midst of the current uprisings and over the past decades. Along the same lines, Assad quickly reached out to the Kurds while the uprising was still in its infancy, knowing fully well that a united Kurdish opposition to his rule and active Kurdish participation in the revolt could easily break the back of the regime.

What the Syrian Kurds have been striving for decades, Assad promised in days as he vowed to resolve the case of stateless Kurds and increase freedoms.

The Kurds in Syria now find themselves at crossroads. The ill-fated treatment of the Kurds under the hands of the Baathists is something that the Kurds will hardly forget. However, at the same time, the Kurds are not convinced on their destiny in what will still be an Arab dominated post-Assad era.

Many Kurds feel that the Syrian National Council (SNC), with strong ties and backing from Ankara, is under pressure from Turkey to curtail Kurdish demands, particularly that of autonomy. The SNC has so far resisted key clauses demanded by the Kurds much to the dismay of Kurdish parties.

At the same time, the Kurds are mindful that they may suffer in the hands of Sunni Arab hardliners in a post-Assad era for a lack of direct support to the opposition.

It appears that under the new Syrian-PKK lease of life, the Democratic Union party (PYD), the PKK offshoot in Syria, has been given a platform by Damascus to operate and enhance its influence.

Meanwhile, a swathe of Kurdish parties united under the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) umbrella which is backed by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but in spite of their agenda to promote their demands and support the overthrow of Assad, action has not gained significant motion on the ground.

A more sincere reach out to the Kurds by Western powers, Arab League members and SNC could easily tip Kurdish scales in the battle to overthrow Assad.

The UN peace plan

The six-point plan that was brokered by the UN-Arab League envoy, Koffi Annan that should have led to a withdrawal of Syrian troops and firepower and a subsequent ceasefire, has been tentative at best.

Even if the UN plan, which has already been violated, was to work in the short-term it is always at risk of collapsing. Regardless of any such peace plans, the respective end goals of Assad or the opposition doesn’t change. The opposition and international powers will not rest until Assad leaves, while Assad will not go down without a fight or succumb to Western pressure.

Furthermore, both sides can easily manipulate the current peace plan and breach the peace. Assad forces will use the smallest of provocations to justify the notion of self-defence, while rebels will hardly want to see their hard work undone and return unarmed to their homes. The opposition know that large-scale demonstrations are the easiest and most sensitive way of testing government appetite for peace.

In truth, this is just the beginning of the conflict in Syria and UN peace plans are nothing more than preludes to justify stronger action in the future.

The current situation that awaits Assad is not too dissimilar to that of Saddam Hussein in 1991. In spite of strong opposition within Iraq and fierce diplomatic pressure at the time, a lack of real practical steps by foreign powers meant that the opposition petered out and Saddam lasted another 12 years. This is a scenario that the West is unlikely to want to repeat and the end-game is the quick downfall of Assad one way or another.

While the UN aims for peace, paradoxically there are attempts to arm the rebels and provide significant funding.

Prospects of a buffer zone

The likely scenario that would tip the scales and shatter the current picture in Syria is direct Turkish intervention. Ankara has threated to take action a number of times but hawkish voices grew as Syrian forces killed a number of civilians in Turkey in a cross-border fire exchange, including Turkish nationals.

The idea of a buffer zone has been touted for a while but owed to regional sensitivities and a number of risks were put on hold. However, it is becoming a more realistic possibility with a current spate of events that have angered Turkey and with Ankara’s lack of conviction that Assad will abide by the current peace-plan.

The creation of a buffer zone inevitably involves military deployment on Syrian soil and thus the possibility of direct confrontation with Syrian forces. Such moves may appear unilateral on paper, but will have the full backing of most neighbouring governments and Western powers with Russia likely to remain neutral.

The purpose of creating a buffer zone may appear humanitarian in nature but is intended to achieve nothing but the overthrow of Assad.  How Assad or their PKK allies will react in such an event may lead to intensified hostilities.

Either way, Ankara has go to come to terms with a post-Assad era that invariably means that the Kurds will be granted new freedoms in Syria in one form or another.

With the PKK or Kurdish nationalist question unlikely to disappear in either an Assad or post-Assad era, Turkey may find itself forced to adopt a new long-term hand in Syria.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Kurds – showing a tongue with which to talk, but teeth with which to bite

The Syrian Kurds are in many ways the forgotten kindred of the Kurdish landscape that have suddenly found themselves at a centre of increasing regional and international focus. Indeed, while Kurdistan was forcibly partitioned in the selfish interest of the imperial powers at the time, the Kurdish national identity became increasingly more localised with the respective struggles following suit.

It has become a common future to be labelled as an Iraqi Kurd, Turkish Kurd, Syrian Kurd or Iranian Kurd, which in itself is rubbing salt into the wounds of the Kurds. They were segregated against their will and such labelling based on their new found minority status, may seem as a logical way to distinguish the new Kurdish segments, but it simply aided the assimilation drive of the respective occupying forces.

At a crucial and sensitive juncture of the Kurdistan national renaissance, the Kurds have a unique opportunity to rewrite the wrongs of history. While the borders cannot be redrawn overnight, the mere conception of the Kurds as a disparate force whose influence is limited to their respective state can be changed.

Whether based in Syria, Turkey, Iraq or Iran, a Kurd will always be a Kurd and successive Kurdish policies should reflect a coming together of interests and an alliance of different components for the benefit of greater Kurdish nationalism. The old Kurdish saying that Kurds have no friends but the mountains may have spoken true in yesteryears, but in the new dawn the Kurds have each other.

Millions of Kurds under Baghdad rule

Although the Kurdistan Region finds itself in an enviable position of becoming a prosperous, strategic, political and economic hub, it is at the end of the day only the boundaries of the Kurdistan that has been loosely defined by the Iraqi constitution.

Remarkably, over 40% of the Kurdistan ethnic border lies outside of the Region that form part of the so-called disputed territories.  Yet constitutional articles that govern how the status of these territories is to be resolved has been strategically stalled by Baghdad in order to restrain the rapid advancement of the Kurds.

Four years after the deadline for the implementation of article 140, these Kurds still find themselves no closer to an official return to the Kurdistan Region and to compound matters are at the mercy of insurgents intent on derailing Kurdish grip on these areas.

While most Kurds in the Kurdistan Region enjoy relative stability and welfare, the Kurds outside of the region do not enjoy such privileges. Deterioration in the security of Iraq or any political vacuums in Baghdad such as that experienced today ensures they get caught up in the whirlwind of violence and fear.

The Kurdish and Iraqi security forces have come close to outright fighting on a number of occasions in the disputed areas and Baghdad has frequently opposed the presence of Peshmerga forces in the disputed territories, but at some point the Kurds have to say enough is enough.

The recent spate of bombings across Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salahaddin and especially Diyala provinces continues to highlight the dangers that Kurds endure in the face of hard-line groups and Arab nationalists.

Kurdish complaints at the lack of protection from Baghdad are not new and have regularly called on the KRG to intercede on their behalf.

Baghdad cannot have it both ways – stalling the resolution of disputed territories yet not affording the Kurds the protection they are entitled to under their roof.

It is time for the KRG to intervene more directly in such hotspots and safeguard the wellbeing of the Kurdish citizens. Sitting idle or waiting for the goodwill of Baghdad to take pace will only end in disappointment.

More importantly, the Kurds have to grab the bull by the horns as far as the issue of disputed territories are concerned and set Baghdad key deadlines and milestones, whereby if they fail to deliver then the Kurds will take matters into their own hands.

Kurds too often have been fearful of not upsetting their neighbours with respective Kurdish headaches or straining ties with Baghdad. However, Kurds have done as much as anyone to preserve stability and unity in Iraq and indeed ensure dialogue takes precedence over violence in Turkey. The Kurds should not be any less weary than other nation to enjoy their legal rights and make their own demands and also enact counter measures as they see fit to defend their nationality and region.

This is not to say that productive relations with neighbours is not of paramount importance as this is key for the economic growth of Kurdistan and overall political stability, however it means that the Kurds have to be taken as an important strategic power in their own right and as equal partners at the regional table. To show that the Kurds have a tongue by which they engage dialogue but also teeth by which they can bite.

Plight of Syrian Kurds

Under the increasing limelight are the Syrian Kurds who in many ways are stuck between an Assad regime that has subjected them to systemic repression and Arab opposition groups they distrust.

While neighbouring Sunni countries have flocked to stand up for their brethren that are subject to increasing brutality amidst a fierce government reprisal, the Kurds in Syria have suffered for decades with much of the world turning a blind eye.

When Arabs defend their brethren, the Kurdistan Region should be ready to defend their own. Syrian Kurds look to the Kurds in Iraq as big brothers and it is the duty of Kurdistan region to embrace them with open arms.

As such the awarding of refugee status to 30 Syrian Kurdish soldiers who had defected is a welcome step. The Kurdistan Region should become the natural hub where Syrian Kurds can use to oppose the Assad regime and ensure a new democratic and federalist dawn in Syria ensues.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 to protect its Turkish inhabitants and has played a frequent hand in ensuring Turkmen interests are preserved in Iraq, with many other regional examples that follow suit. The Kurds cannot stay idle at a unique historical opportunity to unite all of Kurdistan in politics, strategy and spirit.

Federalism as a step to unity

The minimum demand of the Kurds in Syria should be federalism. While the Kurds have an undeniable right to self-determination that has been harshly and selfishly deprived, the greatest formula for the overall unity of Kurdistan at the present time is the establishment of federal region across all countries where they find themselves a significant minority.

A future federal state of Kurdistan in Syria will undoubtedly have a strong alliance with Kurdistan Region which will benefit the entire region in promoting long-term stability.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

The hypocrisy of the Arab Spring as the Kurds are left to fend alone once more

If one was to foretell the collapse of three dictatorial regimes in the Middle East at the end of 2010, he would have been portrayed as somewhat of a psychotic. Such is the sheer velocity of the revolutionary whirlwind that has swept through the Arabian terrain that the question on every lip is not whether hardened dictatorial regimes can fall but who is next to succumb under the potent storm.

As fierce gun battles rage across Tripoli, the regime of Colonel Gaddafi is well and truly over and the Libyan people can look forward to a new historic dawn and the rebuilding of their country. In the case of Libya, it wasn’t as much a revolution as a brutal civil war that won the day.  Nevertheless, the end result with crucial NATO backing was just as symbolic.

A short distance across the Middle Eastern plains lies another embattled country and another dictator desperately trying to cling on to power. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has only remained in power for as long as he has under a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis and growing protests due to a sense of double standards from the international community.

It is easy to forget that Libyan protests in Benghazi snowballed into a rebel resistance force with the diplomatic, political and military support and encouragement of the Arab League, U.S. and Europe. The Syrian opposition has not been as directly empowered due to geopolitical considerations, with neighbouring Turkey weary about emboldening the Syrian Kurds and with Tehran, who enjoys strong influence over Damascus, Lebanon and Palestinian territories, anxiously watching developments.

For the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own respective rights and preservation of their culture and identity for decades, this is where the sense of hypocrisy becomes more tragic.

For successive decades, Kurds have endured terrible crimes against their population and acts of genocide and persecution, irrespective of the country they inhabit. Rather than receiving assistance or any semblance of acclaim that recent uprisings have attracted, the Kurds were left to persevere alone while much of the world turned a blind eye.

As Turkey joined the mass hailing of the fall of Gadaffi, pledged millions of dollars to Libya and talked of their moral obligation to Somalia, it was at the same time heavily pounding Iraqi Kurdistan territories in chase of the PKK, resulting in mass destruction of countryside and the much regrettable loss of civilian lives.

This only begs the question of why a Turkish life is considered any more sacred than that of a Kurd. Why do Turks mourn the tears of their mothers and loss of Turkish lives with such national tragedy and rejoice at the death of Kurds or celebrate with sheer nationalism with a backdrop of tears from Kurdish mothers?

The Turkish national forces hailed the alleged death of 100 or so PKK rebels after six days of fierce bombing like a victory against the heart of the resistance. But what does the loss of 100 PKK rebels actually entail? Does this bring Turkey closer to ending their decade old battle against the PKK? Sadly, the answer is no and the loss of more lives and further bloodshed only adds to the 40,000 plus running tally that this battle has taken so far.

As Turkey cuts the branches of its problems, the root only grows stronger.

After promising developments under his tenure, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is sadly proving that he will simply succumb to the wishes of ultra-nationalist brigade that has marred ties with the Kurds since the inception of the republic.

For Turks, the Kemalist ideology that underpins the Turkish state has taken mystical proportions. Under this Kemalist shadow, the Kurds have been perceived as a plague of the nationalist doctrine and thorn in the ideological framework of the republic.

Kurds did not choose to be a part of Turkey, Iraq, Syria or Iran as their existence was selfishly carved by imperial powers. Now Kurds who have inhabited this region for thousands of years are ironically perceived as trespassers in their own land.

As Turkey flagrantly violates Iraq’s sovereignty, it doesn’t feel the need to provide any justification other than the preservation of Turkish rights. With every bombing of Kurdistan and the increasing heavy handed tactics in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, Turkey moves further and further away from peace and the gulf between Turks and Kurds only widens.

A life is sacred whether it is that of an Arab, Turk, Iranian or Kurd. Each ethnicity has the right to live in peace, freedom and within its own national identity. However, the plight of the Kurds has been commonly overlooked by the US and European powers. Such a policy of double standards may have been barely forgivable in yesteryears but in this day and age is an absolute dent in the credibility of any UN charter or institution.

The Kurdish cause has been merely been brushed aside as a terrorist issue. The fundamental issue for Turkey is not 5000 or so rebels but 15 million Kurds. With the Kurdish political process effectively stalled and any semblance of peace with the PKK becoming more of a distant reality, this has placed the general Kurdish population into a difficult and untenable corner.

As soon as Kurds talk of national identity or their fundamental rights or as soon as Kurdish politicians threaten to grow in influence, they are cast aside under the PKK camp.

The Kurds want no more than any other nationality – employment, equality and freedom. With the building of solid and genuine bridges across Turkey there is no reason why the Kurds cannot become a celebrated component of Turkey, especially with the carrot of the EU, than the ubiquitous Turkish conundrum.

The Kurds are here to stay and the sooner that they are embraced with equal rights, the sooner that the greater Turkey can truly excel.

The time for armed resistance and bloodshed is over but Ankara must seriously convince the Kurds that they have genuine intent to treat the Kurds with fraternity and equal rights. With Kurds feeling as trapped as ever between the state and the PKK and with channels of dialogue and democratic openings seemingly closed, unfortunately the situation will only worsen as the camps become more entrenched.

Much like the decade old regimes that are fast collapsing across the Middle East, Turkey must not take it position as a regional power for granted. It can ignore the escalating friction with the Kurdish community at its peril.  This is the same country that went to war with the Greeks in 1974 to defend the rights of Turkish Cypriots and has tried to maneuverer as a modern-day Ottoman incarnation through an increasing father-figure role in the Middle East and frequent rhetoric against repression in Israel, Syria and Lebanon, yet who continue to believe that a Kurdish problem does not exist.

As for Iraqi Kurdistan, their precarious existence could not be better illustrated in recent weeks. Repeated shelling and bombings by both Turkey and Iran is worsened with growing tension in disputed territories to the south.

Remarkably, this is happening under the doorstep of the US forces and more than likely such bombings have been made possible with US intelligence. It also begs the question of why Baghdad has been so tentative in condemning the Iranian and Turkish acts of aggression. After all, isn’t Kurdistan supposedly a part of Iraq?

The bombings have an air of warning about them, not just to the PKK but to the Iraqi Kurds. This is a show of firepower and muscle flexing to demonstrate who is in charge as much of a quest to uproot the PKK.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

For longer suffering Kurds in Syria, the boot is now on the other foot

With protests, government crackdowns and the current crisis for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad deepening by the day, a confident mood is in the air that the once unthinkable may soon be a reality – the end of the Syrian Baathist dictatorship. Nowhere in Syria will this dawn be heralded more than in Syrian Kurdistan.

The ever-changing Middle Eastern political landscape and the current wave of revolutionary doctrine prompting a bold new democratic era may have predominantly Arab colours based but poses a unique opportunity for Kurds in Syria. If the protests and the reformist euphoria were likened to an Arabic spring, then it can certainly have a Kurdish summer ending.

If the Arabs in Syria had reasons for common frustration, grievances and anger at decades of iron-fisted Baathist control, corruption and lack of freedoms just imagine the Kurds.

The Kurds in Syria, although compromising over 10% of the Syrian population, have been left to the scrapheap of Syrian society and a second class status, without cultural freedoms, political representation, investment, access to basic services and for over 300,000 people not even an official existence on the lands of their ancestors.

While the protests and rallies in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dramatic and highly publicised, the Syrian revolt has only slowly reached the coverage it deserves in Western circles. Protests were initially sporadic and localised but a heavy handed response by Assad’s regime coupled with increasing public bitterness and a growing feeling that the Assad’s grip on power is cracking, has added considerable fuel to the Syrian motion.

The Kurds were slow to immerse themselves in the brewing unrest, fearing separatist accusations and a backlash from Arab nationalists, but they are without a doubt the key to the unlocking of the regime. Assad’s government quickly acknowledged this reality with a number of diplomatic and political overtures to the Kurds, including the granting of citizenship to stateless Kurds and promising greater reforms.

When the masses lose fear and have nothing to lose, there is no point of return. As Karl Marx famously proclaimed to the bourgeoisie, “…you have nothing to lose but your chains”, this statement could not be truer for the Kurds.

Having endured decades of repression, systematic discrimination, imprisonments and for a large portion of Kurds not even the basic of citizenship, the time for half-measures or compromise is long gone. The boot is now on the other foot and this is clearly recognised by the Assad government.

With reports of Assad inviting representatives from 12 Kurdish parties for talks, there is no greater indication of the historic leverage that the Kurds now posses.

If the Arabs can bring the Syrian government to its knees, then the Kurds can certainly serve the knock out blow. Assad knows that if he can win over the Kurds and thus a large portion of discontent, then he may be better able to alienate the Arab voices.

Kurds in Syria must not be fooled by symbolic gestures or temporary overtures. The granting of citizenship to stateless Kurds, the end of emergency rule, the release of political prisoners and more cultural rights is not a concession by the Syrian government, it is only giving to the Kurds their basic human rights.

Decades of emotional scars, destruction, repression and systematic denial can not be eroded in mere days. The question for the Kurds, is whether Assad would be promising the same reform and reaching the same hand to the Kurds if he was not on the brink?

Assad is politically wounded and if the Kurds are to apply the dressing and tonic to heal his pain, then this must come at a heavy price.

As the Kurds are approached and courted by contrasting sides of the government and opposition groups, the fundamental goal does not change.

Kurds recently took part in a summit in Turkey amongst other key oppositional leaders, intellectuals and journalists, which was hailed as a success and an iconic stepping stone to uniting opposition forces.

While Arab opposition and discord with successive governments is not new, they have failed to unite under a common voice and vision and importantly have continuously failed to effectively entice Kurds to join the fold. The failure to invite some of the top Kurdish parties to the Antalya conference underpins this mindset.

The Kurds must be clear on their demands and the future they envision for their region. Just as one Arab nationalist may depart, the Kurds would be unwise to assume that only fraternity and union will commence. The price for Kurdish support of either the opposition or the ailing government must come with heavy concessions and the rewriting of the constitution.

The basic demands should include the granting of autonomy, recognition as the second nation in Syria, cultural freedoms and unmolested political representation.

While the US and Western voices of concern and warnings have progressively grown, Washington and European countries have been slow to formulate a policy against Assad and introduce firm measures against the regime to highlight their intent. This is highlighted by the time taken to issue a UN resolution, which is likely to be vetoed by Russia, a key Syrian ally.

In reality, Syria is a sensitive addition to the agenda of the new reformist wave for a number of reasons. At the heart of almost every Middle Eastern political storm or juncture, from Hezbollah in Lebanon, anti-Israeli sentiments, Hamas in Palestinian, insurgency in Iraq and the growing power of Tehran, lays Damascus. A new passage in Syria will turn the pages of history more than has been felt anywhere else in this revolutionary dawn.

As a stable pan-Arab nationalist state, many of the neighbouring Sunni elite particularly Saudi Arabia and Jordan, will be watching with great concern. As with Iraq, Syria has a wide array of sectarian and ethnic mixes and a regime collapse will leave Western and regional powers weary.

Furthermore, Western powers do not have the power of the Arab league and thus intervention will not match that of Libya.

Unlike in Egypt, Syrian security forces which comprise mainly of the Alawite minority are loyalists and Assad continues to have a strong support base across segments of society but particularly the middle classes and those minorities that continue to flourish under his power.

However, as the protests continue to gain momentum and if the Kurds can join in en-masse, even if Assad remains in power, his rule will never be the same again.

There is increasing signs that Turkey, once an arch foe of Syria, is losing patience with the government. However, from a Kurdish perspective the greatest advocates of their rights should be from the KRG, a strategic power a stone throw across the border.

The Kurds have been continuously carved and divided, yet the Kurds often choose to divide themselves into further pieces. A Syrian, Iranian, Turkish or Iraqi Kurd is absolutely no different to any other. Just as their ancestral lands were selfishly carved by imperialist powers, this does not mean you divide hearts, history, culture or heritage.

The KRG must place the Syrian government under pressure to reconcile with the Kurds and ensure the Kurds achieve their elusive rights. The KRG should represent a figure of hope and a role model for the Syrian Kurds not a distant passive brother. What good is a flourishing Kurdistan region in Iraq, if Kurds elsewhere continuously suffer?

Reports that KRG President Massaud Barzani refused to meet the Syrian Foreign Minister in Iraq, on an apparent mission to seek KRG help in reigning in the Syrian Kurds, is a welcome step.

It waits to be seen whether Assad’s plans to meet with the Kurds in addition to establishing a national dialogue committee to appease opposition forces, will make any significant inroads in curtailing the Syrian revolutionary machine, however, the Kurds are in an unprecedented driving seat and anything less than second best and their full entitlement of rights may see them miss out on a great historic opportunity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

al-Assad’s Baathist regime tries to dampen raging fires

Syria issues decree to grant historic citizenship to stateless Kurds and reaches out to the long repressed minority knowing that the Kurds can serve its knock-out blow. However, with the regime reeling, is it a case of too little too late?

If ever a regime was frantically trying to dampen fires before they rage, it is the Baathist Syrian state of Bashar al-Assad. However, a mixture of limited concessions and a conciliatory tone on the one hand and violent suppression of protests on the other hand, has only served to stoke the fires and the regime is choking under its smoke.

As the storms of change have gripped the Middle Eastern landscape in spectacular and unprecedented style, the next country under threat of been swept under the fierce revolutionary waves isSyria.

Growing Arab Syrian protests in recent weeks were met with violent resistance as dozens of protestors were brutally shot. This was only compounded further in recent days by a further public outcry, more deaths at the hand of security forces and more fanatic protests from Deraa, Latakia to Qamishli.

As we have seen withTunisia, Egypt and Libya, once the greater public lose fear and deem that they have nothing to lose, government reprisals do not deter people but ironically only add fuel to the fire.

Al-Assad is fully aware in the exponentially smaller world that any protests that snowball will put the regime squarely in the international eye and an incident in one part of the country will spread like wildfire throughout the rest.

As a result, al-Assad scrambled from outright defiance and violence at the outset to a more moderate and conciliatory tone, sacking a number of governors in places where the crackdown was worst as well his entire cabinet and vowing to push towards reform and listen to the demands of the protestors.

In the past weeks, he has tried to appease a cross spectrum of society from conservative Muslims to Arab minorities and the general public.

Above all, al-Assad is fully aware the greatest danger to his regime is the long disenfranchised and largely repressed Kurdish minority. If the Arab majority in the south had a qualm with the regime and complained with a lack of freedom or state control,  just imagine how the long embittered Kurds must feel.

Although, the Kurds have been largely on the sidelines thus far as they diligently asses how the demonstrations unfold, al-Assad knows that they hold the real gearbox to the Syrian revolutionary machine.

If the Arab majority can bring the al-Assad government to its knees, the authorities know that the Kurdish minority can serve the knock-out blow.

The Kurds were weary of their protests been manipulated as ethnic or separatist demands, but voices of discontent finally grew as demonstrations ensued in Kurdish cities, with the Kurds firmly emphasising their brotherhood with the Arabs.

The government’s anxiety of not stoking Kurdish sentiments could be seen with the largely peaceful way Newroz celebrations were tolerated this year. This is in comparison to previous years where Newroz celebrations were synonymous with government reprisals, arrests and violent dispersal of crowds.

In a bold show of intent, al-Assad even met Kurdish leaders in Hasaka to hear their demands and even more remarkably issued a decree to finally grant citizenship to over 300,000 stateless Kurds.  These Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of citizenship in a special census that was conducted in 1962. Such Kurds not only became the subject of systematic discrimination but were denied even the basic of human rights and left to languish in an invisible existence in poverty.

The Syrian Kurds have had a worse bargain than the current Arab protestors who complain of a lack of freedom, corruption, state dominance and unemployment.  Although, on the surface these concessions by al-Assad may seem historic, the Kurds must not be fooled by such empty gestures of reconciliation.

Citizenship is a basic right of every human being as is access to education, healthcare and employment. However, for nearly half a century the stateless Kurds did not even have this. Any viewing of the granting of citizenship as a major concession is blind sighted. The Kurds that did have citizenship did not fair a great deal better under programs of cultural denial, repression and assimilation.

In the dawn of the new era, there is a growing Kurdish renaissance across the Middle Eastern plains. However, the Syrian Kurds have painfully languished behind.

WhileKurdistanmay have been cruelly and selfishly carved amongst imperial power and regional dictators, the Kurds in this day and age must not allow the borders amongst their ethnic brethren to be entrenched.

Kurdish disunity has long been a nationalist handicap, and even in the respective countries where Kurds reside there are often divisions and lack of a common consensus to drive Kurdish aspirations forward.

With the Kurdistan Region growing in stature, prosperity and strategic standing, it serves as the ideal platform to boost Kurdish nationalist aspirations elsewhere via political and diplomatic channels.

In the not so distant future, greater Kurdistan could well become multi-federal regions. This may be short of outright independence, but nevertheless unique and de facto reunion of all parts ofKurdistanas the borders they are divided by slowly erode.

The Kurds inSyriahold a strong set of cards and must not cave in to token gestures by the Syrian regime. After all, it is this same regime that deprived basic citizenship, denied Kurdish culture and forcibly relocated thousands of Kurds as part of their own systematic brand of Arabisation.

Real and meaningful reform is needed across Syrian but particularly in Syrian Kurdistan. The proposed lifting of the emergency law after almost 50 years is not an enhancement of freedom or reform, but much like the Kurdish citizenship decree only gives the very basic rights back to the people.

Out of the all countries currently reeling from instability in the public domain, the fall of the Syrian regime would be the greatest scalp of the revolutionary wave. Syria is in many ways at the fulcrum of all Middle Eastern affairs. It continues to have a hand in Lebanon and the prominence of Hezbollah, it still very much epitomises anti-Israeli sentiment in the region, has an influential hand with Hamas, it has close ties to Tehran and has been accused numerous times of fuelling insurgency in Iraq.

If the regime of al-Assad is toppled it will have far greater consequences than currently seen anywhere else.

Even the Turkish government, who has slowly becoming instrumental in the region in reminiscence of their Ottoman days, has a weary eye on developments. Turkish officials have whispered more than gentle words of advise in the ears of the al-Assad government and this may well have resulted in the increasing reforms on offer.

Foreign response to the protests and killings thus far has been muted and weak. As the UK, French, US and allied aircraft continue to pound Colonel Gaddafi forces inLibya, the pressing question is what becomes the criteria for foreign intervention?

If violent crackdowns on protestors grow even stronger than today inSyria, would this be any different thanLibya? No doubt that al-Assad judging by his failed quest to appease public sentiment does not want to find out.

He is undoubtedly under pressure in the background from the West,Turkeyand major Arab powers to abide by the demands of the protestors and dampen the voices of dissent.

Al-Assad has appointed Adel Safar, a reformist and former minister of agriculture, to form a new government and it waits to be seen how the Syrian protests unfold.

However, as the Kurds have seen, with the right pressure, lose of fear and mass media coverage, what people try to achieve in decades can be achieved in weeks.

With the Kurds holding such significant advantage, the time is ripe not to settle for second best but ensure real reforms are attained. The danger is that once the situation cools down, the Kurdish aspirations may well become hit once more.

As for the Kurds in Iraq, Kurdistan is already divided. For the sake of propelling and safeguarding Kurdish interests, real reforms must be implemented and opposition and ruling parties must ensure that Kurdish aspirations are not hit by further internal divisions, at a critical and historical juncture for the Kurdish people across theMiddle East.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

The plight of the Syrian Kurds – the forgotten kindred

Repression, misfortune and suffering has been a common feature of recent Kurdish history across the Middle Eastern plains but often the plight of the Syrian Kurds has been the most overlooked and forgotten – quite literally in the case of thousands of stateless Kurds.

While Kurds in both Iraq and Turkey may have had more focus under the international spotlight, the struggle and suffering of the Syrian Kurds goes on unabated as we enter a new year.

The new found prominence and strategic standing of the Kurds in Iraq is a major milestone in Kurdish nationalism, with the gains less notable but nevertheless significant in Turkey, where Kurds are slowly enjoying greater cultural freedoms and more state focus.

Amidst a new passage for Kurds in the Middle East, the Syrian Kurds have lagged behind without the same rights and privileges enjoyed by their ethnic brethren across the mountainous borders.

In spite of increasing pressure from human rights groups and some Western powers in recent years, progress in Syria has been lacking substance and a sense of a genuine desire for reform. Only this week, a report by Humans Rights Watch (HRW) continued to highlight the lack of freedoms and rights in Syria.

In a region hardly noteworthy for freedom and political liberalism, the assessment by the HRW belief that “Syria’s authorities were among the worse violators of human rights last year” spoke volumes.

In the last several years it is fair to say that Kurds in Syria have found new leverage and confidence in protesting against the government and seeking greater reform. Many of these motions including rallies, protests and activist movements have been met with suppression by the Syrian government, often via violent means and at the expense of civilian lives.

In March of last year security forces opened fire to disperse Kurdish Newroz celebrations in the northern city of Raqqa, resulting in many wounded and dozens of arrests. According to HRW, at least another 14 Kurdish political and cultural public gatherings have been harshly repressed by the state since 2005.

Only this week, yet more political activists were mercilessly killed. Two members of the People’s Confederation of Western Kurdistan (KCK) were killed after been ambushed by Syrian security forces, leading to protests and rising anger in Kurdish circles.

Other cases of disappearances, torture and death of activities have not been met with enquiries, explanations or action by the government

The Syrian Kurds more than ever need international assistance and pressure from the main ruling bodies to entrench their campaign for recognition, cultural rights and greater freedoms.

As such a great moral, national and political responsibility falls on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for diplomatic assistance of the fellow Kurds in Syria and pushing for reconciliation between the Syrian government and the disenfranchised Kurdish minority.

The Kurdish movement should be based on the ideals of international law, dialogue and peaceful resolution, the minimum that any ethnic minority deserves in this day and age.

The oppression and systematic coercion of the Syrian Kurds is not new. They have become the ubiquitous victims of Arab nationalist policies since the granting of Syrian independence from France.

Much like Arabisation policies of the fellow Baathist regime in Baghdad, Syrian created an Arab cordon (Hizam Arabi) along the Turkish border, resulting in 150,000 Kurds been forcibly deported and losing their lands and livelihood.

Of the numerous injustices committed against the Kurds, none requires greater attention than the plight of the 300,000 stateless Kurds that many have accustomed to been “buried alive” – living but unable to live a life. As a result of a special census carried out by Syrian authorities in the densely Kurdish populated north-east in 1962, thousands of Kurds were arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship, leaving them without basic rights, subject to systematic discrimination and in poverty.

Subsequently, most denationalized Kurds were categorized as ajanibs (or “foreigners”) with identity documentation to confirm their lack of nationality and furthermore denied access to education, healthcare, judicial and political systems and unable to obtain property, business or even marry. Some further 75-100,000 Kurds, compounded to an even worse status, were labelled as Maktoumeen (“hidden” or “unregistered”), with no identity documents, effectively no existence and having almost no civil rights

In the year 2011, for a country to be able to deprive thousands of its people of nationality and citizenship and openly contravene international law is remarkable. Many of the Western powers and particularly the UN, whose existence is based on upholding such fundamental rights, have not done enough.

The 1962 census is itself a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides the right to a nationality, while Syria is a party to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Prevention of Statelessness.

The Baath Party, headed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has ruled Syria since 1963 after seizing power in a coup and enacting an emergency law which 50 years later is still in force. In this time, political opposition has been widely suppressed with the Arab nationalist ideological framework becoming a mystical cornerstone of the Syrian Republic.

Under the Arab nationalism banner, the Kurds have always been deemed to pose the greatest danger to the regime. After coming to power in 2000 and facing an increasing international spotlight, al-Assad softened the tone towards the Kurds and a number of promises were subsequently made, however, in practice no real steps have been taken.

In fact, as the government drags its heels in implementing concrete steps towards expanding cultural freedoms and resolving the issue of stateless Kurds, the Kurds threaten to become a long-term danger for the establishment.

The Kurds are growing in confidence and for a country that was a long part of the Washington ‘axis of evil’, it can no longer ignore such a fundamental problem on its doorstep.

Syria does not need to look far to see how civil unrest can spread like wildfire. From what started as an almost trivial social disturbance, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was dramatically ousted after a 23 year grip on power, when a small protest lead to country wide chaos. In similar vain, growing protests in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak’s government threaten to snowball. Once the masses have the confidence to take to the streets and challenge the government, no amount of artillery or firepower can withstand people power.

The EU, US and UN must back up their condemnation of a lack of human rights with firm measures. Trade and political relationships should not be promoted when a government openly commits atrocities against its own people and even refuses to grant rights and basic citizenship.

At this critical juncture, it is important for the historically fractured Syrian Kurdish opposition parties to become united and seek regional and international help on their quest for peaceful resolution of their goals.

The KRG evidently require good relationships with the Syrian government but the interests of the Kurdistan Region should not be safeguarded and prioritised, while fellow Kurds are been repressed.

Ironically, while the Syrian government has provided decades of assistant to thousands of Palestinian and more recently hundreds of Iraqi refugees, they have continued to overlook stateless Kurds within their own borders.

The Syrian government needs to look no further than Turkey. A government can not indefinitely ignore the rights and voices of such a significant minority. If not capped and addressed, the problems will only exasperate and grow and bite the government increasingly harder as the years ensue.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.