Tag Archives: Syria

Who represents Kurds at Syria peace talks?

Swiftly after the last rebels were evacuated in Aleppo as Syrian forces took full control, a new ceasefire was orchestrated by Russia, Iran, and Turkey intending to a fresh round of peace talks in Kazakhstan. Though, the dominant Syrian Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), along with its military wing, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces, have been excluded from the talks at the insistence of Turkey.

The capture of Aleppo by the Syrian regime and their allies provides a pivotal moment in the Syrian war and a platform for a peace deal. However, vast areas of the country remain not in the hands of Assad or even the opposition but the powerful Kurdish forces.

Turkey’s Syria policy has long been shaped by its fear of an increasingly assertive Kurdish zone on its southern border. In fact, in some ways, this defined its approach to dealing with the Islamic State (IS).

In contrast, the United States has relied heavily on these Kurdish forces as one of the most effective forces against IS. Ongoing US support for what Ankara deems as terrorists has placed Turkey at loggerheads with the US.

With the thawing of ties between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey is enjoying new leverage in Syria, culminating in their intervention last year to curtail Syrian Kurdish aspirations to join their cantons. With the realization that Russia and Iran would not forgo Assad, Turkey’s focus has fast shifted from the removal of Assad to keeping Kurdish aspirations in check and creating a northern zone of influence.

The exclusion of the PYD and YPG in any talks and perhaps even the dismantling of their autonomy was likely a key Turkish condition on any deal with Russia and Iran.

Although the PYD has been excluded from the talks, the Kurdish National Council in Syria (ENKS) will be taking part. Dr. Abdulhakim Bashar of ENKS told Kurdistan24, “the claims that Syrian Kurds are not represented in the peace talks are false.”

The ENKS has played down PYD’s exclusion from the peace negotiations from being linked to Kurdish rights. But, ultimately, PYD has greater political leverage in the region as well as the influence of YPG forces.

This underscores the division among Kurds that undermine their solidarity, unity, and negotiating position in future talks.

Various agreements to unite the ENKS and the rival People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK), an affiliate of PYD, have eroded.

Turkish intervention and takeover of a strip of IS controlled land in the north of Syria, primarily aimed at curbing Kurdish aspirations, is likely to have been launched with Moscow’s tacit approval.

Russia had previously insisted that participation of the main Syrian Kurdish party was vital in any peace talks.

In March 2016, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, critical of Turkish ultimatums at the time, even said leaving the Kurds out of the Geneva talks could endanger Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkish intervention in Syria was not received warmly by Washington as it feared conflict between Kurds and Turks and a focus away from defeating IS.

In recent weeks, tense relations between the NATO allies were visible over a lack of US air support in Turkey’s bid to take al-Bab. Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isık said the ongoing US support for the PYD was leading the government to “question” the use of the strategic Incirlik base by the US-led coalition forces.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was equally damning of the US stance on the Kurds, accusing the US of been engaged in a “fake struggle.” He urged President-elect Donald Trump to “put an end to this vileness, as it is now time for friends and foes to clearly separate themselves from each other.”

As much as Trump will be eager for a deal with the Turks and Russians to end the war, pulling the plug on the Kurdish forces is a significant risk at a crucial time against IS. Moreover, any military moves to curtail the Kurds would merely prolong and intensify the Syrian war.

Autonomy is a red-line for the Kurds, and regardless of which political party represents them in any peace talks, they remain a vital component of the Syrian landscape, and their rights should be ensured if Syria is to find any semblance of peace and stability.

As for Syrian Kurds, without a unified political scene and armed forces, any autonomous region cannot flourish amid hostile neighbors.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

As Turkey frantically jockeys to tarnish Syrian Kurds, can the U.S. afford to abandon the Kurds?

As Kurdish-led forces were rejoicing the capture of the strategically important town of al-Shadadi from the Islamic State (IS), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a frantic mission to pressure Washington to abandon support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and label the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as terrorists.

Erdogan’s call to Barrack Obama was on the back of statements from State Department spokesman John Kirby that refused to blame the YPG for the recent bombing in Ankara that Turkey vehemently insists was carried out by the Syrian Kurds.

Turkey has long insisted that the PYD are a mere extension of PKK and has stuck to the view that the PKK or PYD are no different than IS. In fact, since Turkey formally joined the war against IS after a bombing in Suruc in 2015, it is the PKK that been the subject of Turkey’s rage on “terrorists”.

On the other hand, the Syrian Kurds have proved to be the most effective ground force against IS and have made significant gains in recent months in curtailing vital IS supply routes. At the same time, Turkey has insisted that Washington decides between the PYD and Turkey.

The fact that the U.S. has refused to take sides speaks volumes. The U.S. spent millions of dollars on a training program for so called Syrian moderates that amassed to virtually no gains. The Kurds have demonstrated to the U.S. that they are the ready-made boots on the ground that Washington had craved in vain for so long.

The visit of US Special Presidential Envoy for the Coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, to the Kurdish town of Kobane, the source of the symbolic victory of the US-led air campaign against IS, illustrates the significance of Kurdish support to the U.S.

Even though the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the deadly Ankara bombing, this would have always fallen on death ears in Turkey.

It is not just about a bombing incident, it is about the strategic standing and clout of the Syrian Kurds, who aside from a narrow corridor between Afrin and Jarablus hold almost the entire Syrian border with Turkey, that Ankara is trying to tarnish.

The fact that Turkey sees the PYD as bigger “terrorists” than IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and various other jihadist groups tells its own story. Turkey would tolerate any group on its doorstep than an autonomous Kurdish stronghold.

Turkey’s border has been the lifeline for not just the Syrian opposition but also IS. The remaining IS access to the Turkish border could have been easily sealed by Kurdish forces with coalition air support.

Turkey is already fighting a frenzied new battle against the PKK and the south east of Turkey is threatened with a return to the dark days of the 1990’s with daily curfews and violence.

The fate of the Kurds in Turkey and Syria are intrinsically linked. Without an affective Turkish policy that caters for both realities there will never be peace in Turkey.

As for the Syrian Kurds, what if Turkey succeeds in getting the U.S. to abandon ship and desert their Kurdish allies? The simple answer is that the already uneasy Kurds will merely become fully engrossed in the Russia camp where they already enjoy strong ties.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurds omitted from Geneva III as US and Russian jockey to build bases in Syrian Kurdish territory

As the Syrian war enters its 6th year, months of preparation to cultivate another round of negotiations between Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition could still unravel.

Just days before the talks were due to commence, there is fervent debate on who should attend the talks as well as various other pre-conditions still been set.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that was created in December after a Syrian opposition conference in Riyadh is deemed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey as the only representatives of the opposition.

The age-old problem in Syria’s brutal war is deciding who the opposition is, with literally dozens of groups and just who are the moderates.

Russia has been jockeying for involvement of other Syrian opposition parties that are aligned to their strategy and that the HNC deems as too close to the regime.

But of all the groups, the omission of the Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the most controversial. The PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have proved to be the most effective fighting force on the ground and have made steady gains against the Islamic State (IS).

The Syrian Kurds have been heavily backed under the cover of United States warplanes and are the only group that both the U.S. and Russia can agree on.

Turkey has been ever suspicious of the rising stock of the Syrian Kurds and the ramifications of their increased autonomy.

In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated warnings that they will not tolerate any expansion of Kurdish territory west of the Euphrates and deem PYD as no different to IS or the PKK.

And this is where the contradictions intensify. The remaining IS corridor to the Turkish border can be easily sealed with coalition support and YPG forces. But for an anxious Turkey facing a renewed Kurdish war at home, IS still remains a more manageable entity than Syrian Kurds assuming most of its southern border.

In parallel to the Syrian Kurds facing the reality of no invitation to Geneva III, there have been widespread rumors in recent days that U.S. has been working to expand a disused former airbase in Rmelian, Hassaka, in the heart of Kurdish territory and in close proximity to Turkey and Iraq.

Whilst the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has stated it ‘has not taken control of any airfield in Syria’, other statements were not as definitive as a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”.

Either way, for a concerted move on Raqqa and even Mosul, opposition forces need greater logistical support from the U.S. led coalition than the usual airdrops.

If Ankara was feeling unease with the U.S. reports, then similar reports of Russian troops and a team of engineers in Qamishli looking to expand the airport and build a Russian base there would hardly have helped.

Whilst the US has tip-toed around both its key allies in Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, Russia does not have this problem and after relations nosedived with the downing of a Russian jet in November by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds remain a vital card for Moscow.

Any notion of a Russian military base in Kurdish territory would send a strong warning to Turkey.

It remains to be seen if PYD will attend the peace talks. Both the HNC and Turkey have insisted that if PYD does join, then it would be on the side of the regime. Turkey has even threatened to boycott the talks if PYD becomes part of the “official” opposition.

The differing stances of the Syrian Arab opposition, U.S., Russia and Turkey towards the Kurds will create another time-bomb if the Syrian Kurds are side-lined. Even if elusive peace is achieved, what then for the Syrian Kurds? Do you disregard their strategic importance against IS? Or do you even take moves to take away their autonomy or not include them in a future political framework?

With so many opposition groups and as many ideals and goals, and the crucial Kurdish position, Syrian troubles will continue long after Assad is gone.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As UK and Germany vote for military intervention, the Paris tragedy should not overshadow years of brutal suffering and atrocities in Syria

The vicious Islamic State (IS) coordinated attacks in Paris last month dominated the media and sent shockwaves across Western capitals. Just this week, governments of the United Kingdom and Germany voted to intervene militarily in Syria owed strongly to the events in Paris.

But while media and public discussion has been dominated by the threat of IS, did the Paris attacks really change anything that we didn’t already know?

For a Syrian war fast approaching its 6th year, humanitarian catastrophe, bombings and bloodshed has become a daily reality. Over 7.5 million people have been internally displaced whilst a further 4 million refugees have escaped the country.

Over 250,000 people have been killed in a brutal war with seemingly no end in sight. As tragic as the Paris atrocities were, it should not mask the suffering and deaths of the thousands of civilians in Syria, Iraq and the greater region. No life should be deemed more precious than another.

The Syrian war that began in 2011 is nothing new for Western governments who are only now been prompted to take bold action. IS was as much a threat before Paris attacks as it is now. The brutality and mass hardships in Syria are as much of a reality now as they were for the past 5 years.

Western governments have a tendency to only react when problem reaches their doorstep. Too often the suffering and conflict have been seen as wars in a distant land, not a war that very much implicates them.

United States and European intervention in Syria was too slow and tepid and the greater foreign policy lacked conviction or consistency. Regional powers raced to take sides in the conflict with various interests in the outcome of the war.

IS militants and various other groups were able to roam freely across Turkey’s long porous border with little regard to the ensuing danger that would unfold.

IS were in the ascendancy and gathering strength long before West eventually intervened last year and that was only prompted by IS capture of large swathes of Iraq than their already considerable domination of Syria at the time.

IS atrocities in Syria were quickly introduced to Iraq as thousands of Christians and Yezidis were slaughtered and over 6000 Yezidi girls were imprisoned under the most horrible conditions.

Now, not only is the West subject to a grave threat but also faces swarms of refugees that the European governments are struggling to deal with.

Of course, people point to the danger of terrorist elements amongst the refugees but so many refugees would not pursue perilous journeys in the first place if their homes were not destroyed and their lives shattered.

As brutal as the Paris attacks were, we must see the bigger picture of human suffering and not only react when tragedy strikes close by. Western governments must do all they can to not only implement short-term measures to bring security and stability to their respective states but finally end the tragic suffering of millions of people.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


Russian support and “red carpet” welcomes underscore realities on fate of Assad

Shortly after what the United States deemed as a “red carpet welcome” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after his symbolic visit to Moscow, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov as well as the foreign ministers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia met for talks in Vienna.

With Russia joining the military fray in Syria in recent weeks, this has transformed the calculus on the ground. Whilst Russia has insisted the target is Islamic State and “terrorist” groups, there is no doubt for Russia that the majority of anti-Assad rebel groups fall into the latter category, with Russian air strikes tipping the military balance at a delicate time.

Russian intervention has a number of goals but none more so than to ensure the survival of Assad, preserve Russian strategic interests in the Mediterranean and enshrine the role of Moscow as a key player in the Middle East. In this light, Assad’s recent visit to Moscow, even as Russia reaffirmed the importance of a political settlement to the crippling war, is designed to showcase their commitment that they will not relinquish Assad as part of any transitional government as the West and most of the regional powers demand.

There is clearly a lot of common ground between the US and Russia – keeping the country unified, promoting a secular and inclusive government and eliminating extremist groups. But even that common ground is nothing new. It’s the role of Assad that continues to plague transitional talks even as Lavrov condemned the “fixation” of these countries on the fate of Assad.

Russian and Iran have long insisted that it is up to the Syrian people to decide the fate of Assad, but even as Assad may be open to new presidential elections, it lacks credibility and value if they can only be held in Assad dominated areas once more and when most of the country is in turmoil.

However, there has been a reality brewing for several months in Western circles, that for talks on a political settlement to really succeed, the US and its allies have to ultimately accept that Assad will play a key part in any transitional government. If there was any doubt in that reality, then it has certainly been quashed with Russia’s active involvement in the conflict.

There has been literally dozens of round of talks on resolving the Syrian crisis and almost all have stopped at the fate of Assad. Even the much lauded Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012 suffered as it failed to clarify the role of Assad.

Assad and his allies do not pretend that they can ever assume control of greater Syria, the Russian air-strikes and the counter offensives on the ground by regime, Iran and Hezbollah forces is to ensure that Assad negotiates from a position of strength or at a minimum keeps the Alawite rump-state intact.

Kerry and Lavrov expressed a common goal in defeating IS, but in reality Russian will not seek to bail the US and its allies and actively eliminate IS only for those forces currently busy with IS turning on Damascus once more.

With the brutal Syrian war approaching 5 years, with thousands of deaths and millions displaced, facing the reality that West and regional powers may have to work with Assad in the short-term may be a small price to pay.

After all, what choice do they have? For any upping of rebel support, Russian and Iranian have proven their willingness to counter that in due measure. Assad has proven his staying power. It’s becoming a fruitless cycle and clearly there will be no military victor at this stage of the game.

Even most anti-Assad forces realize even if Assad is removed from the equation, the state institutions must be kept intact.

The ultimate question is how long will Assad be part of a transitional government, months or even years?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the tragic fate of Aylan Kurdi epitomized the suffering of millions and Western failure in Syria

In a tragic conflict where thousands have been massacred and millions displaced under barbaric conditions, a single image sent a more overpowering reminder of the miserable fate and sheer suffering of so many.

The tragic picture of Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year-old Syrian Kurdish boy, washed up face down on a Turkish beach, took the eyes of the world.

Every conflict seems so far away from your step until the sheer reality of humanitarian disaster or conflict hits your door step.

This is the same beach that thousands of tourists flock to escape what they perceive as the stresses and strains of work in Western society. Yet this beach became home to a boy, who was the victim of firstly the humanitarian disaster that has gripped Syria for almost 5 years and secondly of his families unfortunate failed attempt to reach the shores of Greece and later as they had dreamt to a new life in Canada.

Although, the heartbreaking images showed the unfortunate fate of an innocent young boy, the image does not show his 5 year-old brother Galip or his mother, Rihan or the 9 other victims that drowned when same boat overturned.

For Aylan’s father, Abdullah, his children and his wife were his everything, the reason that made the perilous journey worthwhile. Now for Abdullah, who had to agonizingly identify the dead bodies of his family who were later buried in their hometown of Kobane, his life is over.

As a refugee who escaped the Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign of the 1980’s, after been left homeless when our village was razed and living in difficult conditions, I am forever indebted to the opportunity to build a new life in the UK.

Our difficult upbringing in a war zone and not seeing our father for 5 years, who was wounded and later disabled in fighting Saddam’s forces, always brings a stark sense of perceptive. However, it also makes me deeply appreciate that although we endured many difficult years, others were not so fortunate.

The refugee crisis has taken Europe by storm which has only been intensified by the shocking image of the lifeless body of Aylan. However, taking millions of refugees is not a long-term solution either.

European governments must finally address the root cause. While the Syrian conflict has spiraled out of control with genocide, destruction and massacres a frequent theme, Western government policy on the Syrian war has been labored and inadequate.

Cities such as Aleppo and Kobane are almost unrecognizable. But for families such as that of Abdullah Kurdi, they risk their lives for a better beginning as they lose hope at home and yet they find themselves unwelcomed by European governments.

Would they escape their country if their homes were not destroyed and their kids were safe with food and a means of livelihood?

Western governments must do all they can to finally bring peace to Syria and help the millions of people still trapped in dire condition in camps.

The solution is not open doors to millions of refugees – not just from Syria, but Iraq, Libya and many other African conflicts. But solution is not sit idle as conflicts fester and humanity reaches new lows.

One image, as grave and shocking as it may be, should not be needed as a wake-up call to a conflict in Syria that has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives that did not start last week but has been raging violently without an end for almost 5 years.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Lessons of Yugoslavia in the unraveling of the Middle East

The expanding Middle Eastern conflict in recent years and the merging of sectarian and ethnic front-lines may seem like a recent phenomenon, but in reality it is anything but that. The unraveling of the sociopolitical map of the Middle East is a by-product of the gradual end to dictatorships, which were an almost necessary ingredient to hold together the Sykes-Picot inspired Middle Eastern status quo.

Nowhere is this example more prominent than in Syria. The Sunni conflicts in Iraq and Syria are merging as one battle, with communal ties across the borders. The Syrian Kurdish battle and the fight for democratic rights naturally link to the Turkish and Iraqi Kurds across the border, especially the Kurdistan Region. The Shiite powers in Lebanon and Syria are grouping to defend their future and powerbase.

Syria has quickly become a series of war within wars in addition to a proxy battle between regional Sunni and Shiite powers.

With 100,000 dead and millions more people displaced, just when will the Syrian fortunes take a turn for the better? Unfortunately, in most wars, it is when enough devastation of lives, infrastructure, economy and society takes place when ethnic, sectarian or national loyalties are finally exhausted by a stark reality. A reality is that sooner or later, there is no option but to sit at the peace table and negotiate.

There is revived talk of Geneva II been held next month, but such negotiations are only successful when there is the realisation that things can never be the same again. The building of bridges must be based on a new reality. In Syria, it means that the days of a strong man, authoritarian rule and ultimately Bashar al-Assad is over.

Syria will only work with a decentralisation of power much like in Iraq. With artificial created borders comes a pooling of people that is unnatural and unsustainable. The pride of Syrian nationality becomes secondary to significance of ethnic or sectarian identity.

It is not just in Syria where such soft-partitions are inevitable, most countries whose dictatorial rule was ended by the Arab Spring risk this eventuality especially Libya. Most of these countries never tasted true democracy and thus regional splits and boundaries within each state could be masked. Iraq is a prime example, through the electoral polls, Shiites may now be the majority but Sunnis and Kurds would never accept rule of the Shiites by virtue of their electoral clout.

The unraveling of the Middle East needs no greater example than the fall of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia managed to mask numerous ethnic and religious fault lines through the use of force and an iron hand.

The eventual break-up of Yugoslavia was brutal and bloody but ultimately the only solution was outright separation in most cases and soft-partition in some others.

The conflict in Bosnia that started in 1992 and ended with the Dayton Agreement in 1995, effectively split Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Bosniak and Croat federation and a second Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

With the untangling of borders comes a rush to form new identities and to consolidate power. As with Yugoslavia and particularly Bosnia, the result of that is ethnic cleansing and mass population movements.

It took countless lives, atrocities and suffering to finally realise that a negotiated settlement was the only way out of the Bosnian conflict and ultimately this will be the same for Syria. A soft portion of course casts doubts on real unity or the principle of a single state.

This example can be described no better than the recent Bosnian football team triumph that saw them reach the World Cup in 2014 for the first time. Football normally brings the country together but in spite of a truly historic achievement, the reaction of the Serbian entity, whose natural allegiance is to neighboring Serbia, was muted at best. The Croatian elements in Bosnia were hardly more inspiring.

This is the result of borders not reflecting split of ethnicities or sectarian components.

The ethnic group that has suffered the most from the artificial boundaries of the Middle East is the Kurds. With de-facto erosions in the Middle Eastern borders, they have a unique opportunity to build bridges between all parts of Kurdistan.

The Kurds must capitalize when the shape of the Middle East is in a fluid state by leveraging a strong had in the current crises they are exposed to and have significantly influence in. This starts with the protection of the Syrian Kurds and their newfound historic autonomy.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As the Middle-East unravels, Kurdistan displays its new leverage

Increasing Turkish dependence on KRG as a factor of peace and stability in the region. Kurdistan Region is no longer a threat but a ticket for Turkish stability, economic prosperity and to maintain their strategic influence in the ever-changing dynamics of conflict-torn Middle East.

Turks and Kurds have always been natural allies. It may have come decades too late and with much suffering for the Kurdish people later, but Ankara has grown to accept a reality, that was always prevalent, but they chose to mask in the pretext of narrow nationalist pursuits.

That reality is that as a major ethnic group of the Middle East both at present and throughout history, Kurds and Kurdistan have always existed as a key component of the region, regardless of constitutional stipulations, policies of repressive governments or a lack of statehood.

Natural Allies

Turkey spent years threatening the Kurdistan Region and making accusations against them. Now in the ever changing Middle Eastern climate, perhaps it is Turkey that is more in need of the Kurds as natural allies.

Ankara has acknowledged that strong ties with the Kurdistan Region are vital to maintaining stability in Turkey, the surrounding region and the Turkish quest for influence in the new Middle East. Turkish analysts mistakenly observe that their border with the Kurdish territories has increased from 800km to 1,200km. They are wrong. The border of the Kurds stretches much further when you include Iranian Kurdistan and remnants of soviet areas of Kurdistan.

Furthermore, the Kurdish border never “increased”, it is and always has been the same length.

In simple terms, Turkey was always engulfed by Kurdistan. While oppressive policies of the previous regimes in respective countries kept the Kurdish segments largely apart, these borders are been slowly eroded.

The Kurdistan Region is now the national hub of the Kurds and their economic, cultural and strategic centre. Movement between the parts of Kurdistan is becoming easier and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) economic boom and newfound prominence, is a gain for all parts of Kurdistan.

There is already an increasing labour, trade and employment benefits for Kurds outside of the KRG. Turkey needs the KRG to keep peace, stability and diplomatic channels in the parts of Kurdistan they commonly border.

Kurds over Iraqi Arabs?

Turkey is increasingly choosing Kurdistan over Baghdad. At the same pace as Ankara-Baghdad relations have deteriorated, Ankara-Erbil ties have accelerated.

Already boasting billions of dollars of trade between them, new energy deals and oil pipelines, in the face of fierce objections from Baghdad, adds new economic dimensions to already flourishing relations.

Just this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a symbolic visit to Kirkuk. The fact this was the first of its kind in 75 years says it all.

This is the same city that for Turkey was a red-line and the city Turkey had threatened many invasions over. Now the visit was conducted, much to the anger of Baghdad, side by side with Kurds. Long-time Turkish aspirations for influence in the old Ottoman Mosul Vilayet that they historically crave, runs through Erbil, much in the same way as Turkey’s quest to promote Turkmen interests can only be achieved through Kurdistan.

The Iraqi foreign ministry issued a sharp rebuke to Turkey for “violating” its constitution as they claimed that Davutoglu had neither requested nor obtained permission to enter Kirkuk.

Baghdad repeated what Davutoglu already knew. But it’s the Kurds they need in Iraq right now, not Baghdad, hence why Turkey agreed to export Kurdish oil in a historic move, again, against a backdrop of a stern backlash from Baghdad.

The fact that in recent weeks the likes of Chevron, Total and Gazprom joined the rush of oil-giants, on the side-lines for so many years, is also an indicator of Turkish backing of the KRG for such deals.

Oil giants are fed-up of the waiting game with Baghdad and have signed lucrative contracts with the KRG knowing fully well what the Baghdad stance and risks would entail.

They effectively chose Kurdistan over Baghdad.

Syrian Kurdistan

Whilst the public Turkish rhetoric is understandable, if nothing to appease the nationalist hawks and military elite, in reality Turkey can do little to prevent the Kurdish autonomous advancement in Syria.

Much in the same way as it finally warmed to the reality of a Kurdistan government next door in Iraq, Turkey will come to realise that it needs to lure and work with the Syrian Kurds rather than alienate them.

Furthermore, it will be rather ironic, that they promote and support the democratic and freedom struggles of the Sunni Arabs, yet chastise the Kurds, who have suffered a lot worse than Arabs under Baathist rule, for wanting the same.

Too often for Turkey, a nationalistic Kurd has been synonymous with a PKK sympathiser. Most Kurds are nationalists but not all support the PKK.

While there is an undoubted PKK support base in Syria, there is also clearly a multitude of other Kurdish political parties in the mix. It’s not the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) that solely rules the roost as many allege.

The PYD may actually serve as an opportunity and not as a threat to Turkey. Not only can it slowly bring the PYD to its sphere of influence with an affective carrot and stick approach, it can also use it as a way to diminish support of the PKK in Syria and indeed Turkey.

If Turkish Kurds can see that nationalist goals can be achieved in Syria without the PKK, it may well swing sentiments.

The root cause for endless circle of violence between the PKK and Turkey has been the failure of Ankara to address the roots of its problems.

Success against the PKK cannot be achieved by shooting them down from their mountains and strongholds, but it is to prevent their ascent in the first place.

Any military incursion by Turkey into Syrian Kurdistan will have dire consequence. It will further antagonise the PYD into a hard-line stance and certainly tip the scale for Kurdish moderates.

Even the PKK have renewed grounds for striking peace, if they can find a political voice in Syria, it may well change the tune of negotiations in Turkey, affording them with a unique opportunity to break from arms and their image.

Syrian Kurdish foster parents

Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu both warned in a joint statement that “any attempt to exploit the power vacuum by any violent group or organisation will be considered as a common threat.”

Barzani is unlikely to relinquish support and unity with PYD, but the statement serves as a warning to the party, to keep within a political path and uphold the terms of the Erbil Agreement.

Turkey may well accept the PYD as long as the PYD works closely with the Kurdistan Region. Some Turkish circles had expressed surprise at Barzani’s key part in the Erbil agreement that ensured Syrian Kurdish unity, but Ankara will in the background accept and encourage Barzani and the KRG to becoming the foster parents of the Syrian Kurds.

Increasing economic and political Turkish support for the KRG and perhaps even statehood will come under the trade-off that peace and stability can be maintained in Turkish Kurdistan and the surrounding Kurdish areas.

Turkey and Kurdistan may well become a de-facto confederation. It may seem strange and delusional, but how believable was senior Turkish leaders openly referring to the term Kurdistan and giving press conferences under the flags of Kurdistan and Turkey, just a few years ago?

Such strong alliances could well be win-win for Turks and Kurds. Turkey has access to Europe and the possibility of future European Union membership with all the benefits it entails, whilst Kurdistan has access to billions of barrels of oil, are secular Sunni’s like Turkey and form an increasingly important buffer against Shiite influence and in the ever hostile and conflict torn Middle East that is threatening to severely damage Turkish standing in the region.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: 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.