Many observers often describe the Syrian Kurds as sitting on the fence in the Syrian conflict, waiting on a clear outcome before choosing sides. It may be true that Kurds have not necessarily taken a more natural anti-Assad position but this is more to do with the political climate and strategic ploys than any adoration of the regime.
If Sunni’s feel that they have got a raw deal under the current dictatorship then how must the largely repressed and disenfranchised Kurds feel?
This makes it all the more ironic that Kurds continue to remain divided and are slow in taking measures that necessitate decisiveness to capitalise on the historical opportunities on the table.
It also says much about how the Kurds view the predominantly Sunni Arab nationalist Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Syrian National Council (SNC) when many preside with the mentality of “better the devil you know” due to their lack of conviction for a new Syria.
Then there is the Turkish connection. Clearly, a lot of Syrian Kurds look at both the SNC and Turkey with suspicion. The PKK has a firm fan base amongst Syrian Kurds and coupled with Turkey’s track record with their own restive Kurdish population, they remain sceptical that the autonomy or rights they demand would be enshrined in a new Syria.
Coming off the fence
Sometimes if you sit on the fence for too long waiting to make your move, the fence may break forcing you to unwillingly land on one side.
The Kurds have been widely acknowledged as the wild card in the struggle against Assad and a force with considerable numbers and sway that can tip the scale of revolution.
However, the Kurds have been too disparate, at times too slow, spending much time quarrelling amongst one another and lacking clear leadership.
There are only 2 million or so Kurds in Syria, yet dozens of political parties. The Erbil agreement in July that brought the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNCS) together under the stewardship of Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani was more than a welcome step, but it remains brittle, inconsistent, unbalanced in its implementation and lacking a real nationalist feel.
A cloud still remains on the PYD and with its powerful support base and responsibility as the only real armed group, it must work on enhancing the Kurdish cause in Syria and becoming a real nationalist icon. However, it still remains shrouded under the shadow of the PKK and has hardly taking the bulls by the horns against Assad.
It must not be forgotten, that the Kurdish population in Syria is far by the smallest amongst the four major parts of Kurdistan. Nationalism never really had firm roots in terms of a definitive movement, Kurdish inhibited areas are much more geographically spread-out, and more importantly the Kurds do not have international or regional support for their own autonomous entity let alone from Sunni Arabs.
The Kurdish struggle in Syria must for now be disconnected from Kurdish struggles elsewhere. Kurdish groups and the PYD in particular should deviate away from too much focus on Turkey or the PKK struggle that resides there.
This is a historical moment for Syrian Kurds and all energies must be channelled to overcome constraints and within nationalist goals and not narrow minded party politics.
Ousting or working with the regime?
The Kurds made headlines when they took historic control of some Kurdish towns and districts in July, shortly after the Erbil Agreement. However, it was hardly a whirlwind revolution with an all guns blazing legacy but a largely peaceful transition.
No doubt a deal was made between the Assad government and the Kurdish forces for relinquishment of these areas. At the time, there was much talk of the Kurds seizing Qamishli and other Kurdish towns but months later Syrian Kurdistan remains relatively quiet and subdued.
Assad has much to gain by working and seceding territory to the Kurds and the new Kurdish administration is as much to do with a new Kurdish drive as smart manipulation by Assad.
By ceding control of border territories to the Kurds, Damascus seeks to server a double blow to Ankara. Firstly, it creates a buffer against any future Turkish incursion with Kurdish fighters well positioned and secondly it creates a fertile cross-border ground for the PKK to swing the pendulum in their favour against Turkey.
Assad further continues to create cracks in the SNC by splitting Kurdish sentiment and at the same the withdrawal was calculated by the need for Assad forces to focus energies on the battle against Syrian rebels in the key economic hub of Aleppo.
Finally, as a last measure and bare minimum fall back position for Assad, an Alawite region or even state would be established, with the proviso of a Kurdish region aiding division and establishment of future regions.
Now is the time, not the future
A lot of Kurds seem intent to save their firepower and energy for what they deem the real battle – once Assad is overthrown and a new scramble for power in Syrian ensues akin to Iraq. Kurds seem convinced that once the FSA finish pointing their guns at Assad, they will simply reposition the barrel at the Kurds instead.
While some of these fears and concerns have substance, after all Sunni opposition groups well before the Arab Spring began, hardly supported the Kurdish cause or united with Kurdish opposition groups and remained loyal to Arab unity and nationalism than any promotion of the Kurdish struggle.
The time for Kurds to act is now. Waiting for a clear outcome in the battle leads to an uncertain conclusion. If the rebels advance and beat Assad, then the Kurds will be backed in to an uncomfortable corner and diluted bargaining position and if Assad manages to stay in power, then how can the Kurds trust a dynasty that has seen them suffer mercilessly with thousands not even worthy of a citizenship status.
The Kurds in Syria must unite and set aside there differences for the sake of the Kurdish people, Kurdish nationalism and the decades of pain and tears endured under dictatorial rule. The insistence on promoting party based political agenda will see all Kurds fail.
The Kurds do not need to take sides with the SNC or Assad; the real side they should choose are the Kurds themselves.
Now is the time to charge into Qamishli and oust Assad forces, followed by all Kurdish towns and cities in Syria.
The Kurdish forces, both those loyal to the PYD and those consisting of largely Kurdish defectors from the Syrian army under a united front and can easily assume control of Kurdish population in Syrian. Assad can hardly contain one battle front in Syria, let alone two.
The passive Kurdish stance in Aleppo
Much of the Syrian revolution has congregated around Aleppo over the past several weeks. Aleppo is home to a significant Kurdish population but they have remained largely idle. There are contrasting reports of a new battle field opening in the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheik Maksoud, with some reports claiming that PKK affiliated militias with leverage in the district had supported regime forces while others stating they had stayed out of the battle.
Whilst, Kurds look at the FSA with suspicion, the Kurdish support is a wildcard that could easily tip the war in favour of the rebels. The Kurds must use this opportunity to drive a hard bargain with the SNC and FSA in return for direct support in ousting Assad.
A continuation of passive Kurdish stance or worse resistance against Syrian rebels in Aleppo gives an undeserving hand to Assad.
Syria is ablaze and will dramatically alter not only the political map of Syria itself but also the whole region. Tip-toeing with peaceful motions, insistence on narrow minded party interest or sitting on the fence is akin to political suicide for the Kurds. Having suffered brutally for decades and waited patiently to rewrite the wrongs of history, the Kurds dare not waste this historical opportunity.