Category Archives: Syria

Kobane massacre shows that double-standards to Syrian Kurdish forces must end

As the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces were celebrating rapid gains against the Islamic State (IS) in the strategically important border town of Tel Abyad and then Ayn Issa, just 50 km from the self-declared IS capital of Raqqa, IS committed one of their worst massacres to date in Kobane.

Disguised as YPG and Free Syrian Army forces, IS units managed to infiltrate the town initiating a number of deadly suicide attacks and then brutally killing at least 146 civilians in a vicious house-to-house hunt. IS fighters managed to occupy a number of buildings and approximately 50 civilians are still held as hostages.

IS intention was never to occupy the town but send out a stark reminder after its recent losses of the damage that it could inflict at a moment’s notice. For the war-ravaged town of Kobane, any sense of normality may never return.

Kobane is a symbol of the Kurdish resistance against IS and one of the few success stories of the US-led coalition that provided pivotal air support and was finally liberated in January after 4 months of intense fighting.

YPG have proved one of the most capable fighting forces against IS but yet find themselves in the tough position where the US has hesitated to directly arm and support and who Turkey merely label as terrorists.

And it is this “terrorist” tag that is becoming an outdated and unfair noose on the Syrian Kurdish population. Turkey has insisted many times that for them both PKK affiliated YPG and IS are the same.

How can the actions of the YPG, which has been instrumental in driving back IS, ever be compared with the mass slaughter of innocent civilians?

More importantly, demarcating a group as terrorists is one thing but a population is another. The Syrian Kurds deserve the support of Turkey and the West. They deserve the right to defend their own lands from massacres such as that in Kobane.

Turkey, other regional powers and US have supported so-called moderate groups within the FSA for years, with US providing arms and training even when the notion of moderates in rebel ranks was as grey or non-existent as ever.

Jaish al-Fatah or the Army of Conquest, the new powerful alliance supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which has made rapid gains in Idlib province in recent months, is augmented by a loose alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. It is all the more ironic that with the immense brutality of the Syrian war, that definition of moderates and Jihadists has become a relative term.

Yet the Syrian Kurdish gains in recent weeks were quickly met with allegations of ethnic cleansing and land-grabbing to create a new Kurdish state. Syrian Kurdish priority is defense of their lands and people than the lofty dreams of a new state that is been propagated to paint the Syrian Kurdish forces as separatists who are only keen on pursuing their own interests.

There can be no great boost to the Kurdish peace process in Turkey than more Turkish support of the Syrian Kurds. The Kurds form a large part of the Turkish state and support of their brethren across the border can only enhance trust and unity in Turkey.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani strongly denounced the attacks on Kobane and urged the US-led coalition to provide greater support to YPG fighters against IS. Barzani stated willingness of the Kurdistan Region to support and aid the Kurds in Kobane and Rojava.

No regional power can stay idle to a human massacre on their door step and international powers must do more to allow the people to defend themselves.

As the recent chilling terrorist attacks in Tunisia on holiday makers, a bomb blast at a Shite –affiliated mosque in Kuwait and an explosion in a chemical factor in France have shown, the battle is far from one confided to Syria and Iraq.

The massacres such that in Kobane are not in a remote far away land, it could easily be on your doorstep.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

US softening stance on Assad epitomizes failed foreign policy

In February, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura controversially claimed in a press that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “…is part of the solution”.

Then a short while later in March, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, caused more controversy when declaring in an interview that “we have to negotiate in the end” with Assad.

While both statements resulted in swift backtracking amidst Syrian opposition and a regional outcry, it appears that Kerry and de Mistura merely uttered a growing acknowledgement in the West and particularly Washington.

In spite of later assurances that the US line on Assad had not changed – that he had no role in Syria’s future and had lost legitimacy to rule, Kerry’s comments merely added to growing scepticism and frustration in Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu likening shaking hands with Assad to shaking hands with Hitler.

US President Barrack Obama, once labelled groups such as the Islamic State (IS) as minor players. Yet a grand coalition, frantic responses as IS steam-rolled through large parts of Syria and Iraq and hundreds of air strikes later, the name on the lips of Washington is IS and not Assad.

Turkey which has been at increasing loggerheads with the US and become disillusioned and bitter with Obama’s foreign policy, finds itself in a difficult predicament as an “official” part of the coalition, yet finds differences with the US over Assad a bridge too far to assume a more active role. In turn, the line from Washington is that Turkey has not stepped up to the plate as a key NATO ally.

Failed US foreign policy

Regardless of the official tone, there is now increasing realisation that whilst Assad is part of the problem, he is also part of the solution.

When Assad alleged that there was indirect contact with the coalition over the operations against IS, the US quickly denied this insisting that Assad’s comments be “taken with a grain of salt.” But the situation must also be judged within the new grains of reality – Assad did not give up power when the regime was on its knees, let alone when they are relatively secure and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is rapidly splintering.

This says much about the sorry state of Western foreign policy. Four and half years into a brutal civil war that has killed over 200,000 and displaced millions under the hands of a regime that clung to power by all means possible, to be in a situation where Assad and his institution is needed to prop up a Syria under the evident threat of a Jihadist takeover, tells its own story.

Obama’s Syrian policy failed to see the bigger picture, a conflict hijacked by Jihadists that was spreading fast across the borders of Syria and that once the bushfire started the effort to contain it, let alone to put it out, would far exceed any efforts in its prevention in the first place. Syria was very much the fertile Jihadist garden which allowed the IS seeds to flourish with Assad’s blessing.

Assad continuously broke red-lines that we quickly reset into greyer lines by Washington. Finally, a largely reluctant US intervened – when yet another red-line surfaced, IS banging on the doors of Erbil and Baghdad.

Strained US-Turkey ties

The lack of intervention in the first pace and now a focus away from Assad has infuriated an Ankara adamant that tackling Assad must be part of any operation against IS. The US has insisted that its hands are full with the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria, but for Turkey, increasingly fed-up with more foot-dragging by Washington, the road to defeating IS can only run through Damascus..

The softening of the US stance towards Assad is hardly through a plethora of options on the table. Put simply, giving the choice between Assad and IS, US would choose Assad over and over again. But choosing the lesser of two “evils” hardly bodes well for American credibility.

From the long-standing assertion that the time has come for Assad to “step aside” to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statements that the time was now for Assad to “to think about the consequences”, the tone changes are subtle but nevertheless discernible.

Kerry gave tentative support for a largely unsuccessful Russian peace initiative between Syrian opposition figures and the regime which saw large segments of the key Syrian opposition figures boycott the talks amidst distrust and skepticism. The fact it was Russia, a chief backer of Assad, leading the peace charge with US nowhere to be seen, highlighted that Washington sees prospects of a real breakthrough as slim and that Assad’s removal is not a priority.

Turkey remains reluctant to meet the Coalitions demands of using Turkish soil for air raids or for Turkey to assist directly in the fight against IS. Turkish bases are highly strategic for a successful campaign against IS, especially Mosul.

Erdogan has shown himself as a dogged, independent and at times unpredictable ally that will not be pushed around by the US or European powers. Erdogan warned months ago prior to a repair mission by US Vice President Joe Biden that the Turkish position will not change unless the US can strike real compromise. The repair mission was ironically by a man who drew the ire of Erdogan with suggestions that Ankara had encouraged the flow of Jihadists along the border.

“From the no-fly zone to the safety zone and training and equipping – all these steps have to be taken now,” insisted Erdogan previously, before reiterating a common stance “The coalition forces have not taken those steps we asked them for…” and that as a result his stance will not change.

With such a significant shared border with Syria, home to the main Syrian opposition groups and the host of millions of refugees, Turkey finds itself at the centre of the conflict one way or another. Yet its lack of an agreed policy with the US speaks volumes on the state of what was already a diminishing relationship.

Turkish annoyance at their US partners could not have been demonstrated better than over the Kurdish town of Kobane. As Erdogan continuously downplayed the significance of the Kobane, the small dusty town unknown to much of the world become a symbol of the coalition fight against IS and one which the US deemed its credibility would be judged.

Kobane was not any Syrian town. It was part of the newly declared autonomous cantons of the main Syrian Kurdish party (PYD) which Ankara accuses of been an arm of the PKK. To the anger of Turkey, the US even provided ammunition and supplies to the Syrian Kurdish rebels with signs of growing cooperation.

The bigger picture

Even if IS is defeated in Syrian, which could take years, the US needs to quickly agree on a plan to deal with the root-cause of IS – Assad.

A grand bargain with Russian and Iran may well be possible to see that regime apparatus remains in place with Assad ‘eventually’ gone. However, such terms can no longer be on the unrealistic Genève Communique of 2012.

Even the new US initiative to train thousands of so called moderate Syrian rebels in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia starting in early spring, is fraught with difficulties. The US made clear that goal of the initiative was to empower rebels to go on the offensive against IS and set the scene for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria. Assad was not even mentioned.

But so fractured is the Syrian landscape that picking out the moderates and vetting individuals is a painstaking task. Indeed, many moderates have slipped into the hands of new Islamist alliances in Syria bewildered at the lack of Western support. And what about the appetite of any newly trained rebels turning their guns on IS under Western pressure whilst Assad, their ultimate priority, simply regroups and gains strengths in the background?

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Ankara with its new independent and assertive role in the Middle East can simply wait on US policy that it remains unconvinced with, as it continues to harbor millions of refugees and an unstable border.

First Published: Daily Sabah

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the battle for Kobane and Peshmerga deployment eroded borders between Kurds

Barely a few weeks ago, Kobane was surrounded on three sides by heavily armed Islamic State (IS) forces and in danger of imminent collapse. Now, Kobane has propelled itself as the symbol of the international battle against IS but more importantly it has placed the Syrian Kurds under great international spotlight.

Few would have imagined that this small dusty town would have brought together in one way or another, Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkey, the US, European Union, Saudi Arabia and various coalition partners.

Events on the ground as well as the political dynamic have transformed to the extent John Allen, the retired US general in charge of overseeing the US campaign against IS, stated that the town is no longer in danger of fallen into IS hands.

This week in a highly symbolic move, 150 Iraqi Peshmerga forces crossed the Turkish border to help in the defense of the town. 150 troops is an important but nevertheless symbolic figure, however the heavy weaponry that accompanies them add to their considerable clout.

Of greater significance is the boost in morale and optimism that Kobane and the local Kurdish population have received with this reinforcement. The journey of these Peshmerga, to rapturous welcome of Turkish Kurds, was also symbolic as it crossed three parts of Kurdistan.

With Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria cheering equally resolutely, the deployment of the Peshmerga forces greatly enhanced Kurdish unity. The deployment also opens a new channel that will not remain closed, if the situation dictates the path is clear for further Peshmerga reinforcements to arrive.

Just weeks ago, Kobane was confounded to a local problem. It is now cross-border Kurdish problem as well as a firm strategic goal of the coalition forces.

Kobane has not been without its ironies. Turkey has faced a backlash over its stance on Kobane. Although it has welcomed Iraqi Kurdish and FSA forces, at the same time it has loathed any support of the People Defense Unit (YPG) forces for their sympathies to the PKK.

In parallel with Peshmerga reinforcements, FSA forces recently entered to support Kobane, a key demand from Turkey to try and give the Kobane battle a more Syrian and anti-Assad feel, than a united Kurdish campaign based on nationalism. Although it won’t transform the historically cautious relations between FSA battalions and Kurdish forces overnight, this latest cooperation may pave the way for a joining of forces to oust Assad once the IS headache is resolved (as Ankara has long demanded)

This week, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahem Davutoglu hit back at growing critics, stating his refusal to be part of a ‘game’ for a few weeks to satisfy American or European opinion.

The battle for Kobane has marked the brave resistance of Syrian Kurdish forces but it has also placed into clear context the strength of IS. On Wednesday alone, there were 10 US led air strikes against IS positions in Kobane with dozens more since the allied campaign intensified in recent weeks.

Yet, even with other front lines in Iraq and other parts of Syria, and an avalanche of air strikes, IS has become weakened but largely prevailed. Literally hundreds of IS armored vehicles and positions have been destroyed – this only shows how much of a force and a problem that IS had become.

It developed tremendous strength over the past 2 years, especially since its conquests in Iraq, but the West ignored this stark reality and reacted too late. Indeed for the YPG, bloody battles with IS over the past year or so, often with little support and recognition, is not new.

Now a vicious war rages against IS in Syria and Iraq. What makes all this a remarkable irony, is that this is only a war within a war. A greater Syrian civil war still rages with over 200,000 killed and with Bashar al-Assad firmly in power, regardless of how the battle against IS now dominates the headlines.

It was the Syrian civil war, security vacuums and lack of a clear Western policy that created IS. Now, with much more investment, intense fighting and a great deal of sacrifice, IS will be defeated but what then for Syria and the other fronts of war?

Defeating IS is one thing, letting them re-spawn is another matter entirely that the West cannot overlook.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally admitted a well-known reality, that the campaign against IS is benefitting Assad even if their long-term target remains his removal from power.

Syrian and IS need a comprehensive solution. Above all, both regional and global powers now need to look at the new realities of the war in Syria. The situation can never return to any pre-civil war era. With every sacrifice and valiant resistance, the Syrian Kurds consolidate their hard fought and deserved autonomy. Kobane could well serve as the iconic bridge that brought all of great Kurdistan together both now and the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the struggle for Kobane transformed the regional dynamic

“I don’t understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there”, bemoanedthe disillusionedTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the US conducted multiple aidrops of military and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

Whilst Turkey has downplayed the significance of the small town, Kobane has become a symbol of the international fight against the Islamic State (IS), placing the credibility of the coalition on the line.

At the same time the fight for Kobane is not just contained to a local struggle against IS militants but the battle reverberates politically and strategically across the region.

Kobane has already had a profound effect on the regional dynamic. Turkey has resisted international pressure to intervene in Kobane or allow Kurdish volunteers from Turkey to enter, labelling the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a “terrorist organisation” that it sees as no different to the PKK or indeed the IS.

Turkey has repeated this rhetoric whilst conversely US military assistance and communication channels to the Syrian Kurds have rapidly increased.

US measures have contradictedthe Turkish line, with the US clearly seeing the Syrian Kurds as key allies in the battle against IS and hardly as a terrorist force.

At the same time, Turkey has tried to strike agreement with the Kurds to allow Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane, even as it opposed the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from joining the fight. Aligning the FSA in a more official capacity in Kobane, would dilute the sense of Kurdish nationalist struggle for Kobane and Rojava and also soften the rising stock of the PKK.

Turkey has worked hard to pressure the PYD to join the FSA to turn the battle as a Syrian national struggle with the wider goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, a Kurdish dominated win in Kobane, will only strengthen Kurdish nationalism, the standing of the PKK and Kurdish autonomy, not to mention the pivotal role of the Syrian Kurds in the battle against IS across Syria. This is the same fate that Ankara has tried to avoid.

As the US has grown closer to the Syrian Kurds, Ankara, in danger of been isolated underintense international spotlight, allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces a passage through Turkey to support Kobane.

This week the Kurdistanregional parliament approved the deployment of up to 200 fighters. These fighters will provide key support to strained YPG forces but is also a symbolic move by the Kurdistan leadership to bolster cross-border Kurdish unity. For Turkey, having FSA and Peshmerga forces on the ground, alleviates it from an embarrassing situation of providing de-facto assistance to the Syrian Kurdish forces, even as they are labelled as a terrorist organisation and ultimately as anenemy.

A key move on the back of the decision to deploy Peshmergafighters this week was the unity agreement negotiated in days of talks in Dohuk between the PYD and rival Syrian Kurdish factions. The split between pro-PKK and pro-KRG Kurdish parties in Syria had severely handicapped the Kurdish struggle and their newfound autonomy.

Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani hailed the agreement, “This agreement brings us together and itself is a significant answer to enemies who did not intend the Kurds to be united.” While PYD leader, Salih Muslim, stated that “All Kurdish people are under attack, so they should be united.”

Previous unity agreements have quickly broken down and if it sticks this time around, it will serve as a major boost for the Syrian Kurdish cantons and perhaps in the way Ankara approaches the region.

Such is the intense international focus on Kobane and the symbol of the fight against IS that even the Syrian government has been quick to stake their part in the struggle, alleging military and logistical support to Kurds in Kobane.

Whoever thought that a small dusty town, unknown to much of the wider world, would bring together the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, IS, FSA, Assad, the US, Saudi Arabia and numerous other international and regional players?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: OpenDemoracy,

How Kobane placed a dark cloud on the peace process in Turkey

Out-gunned, out-numbered and lacking firepower, it was the tenacity and willpower of the Syrian Kurdish forces that prevented an overrun of the Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish border and a likely massacre under the hands of the Islamic State (IS).

As the town of Kobane faced a dire threat under the hands of IS, the situation was made more difficult to stomach for the Kurds on both sides of the border, with the presence of Turkish troops and their heavy armory on the border.

The reluctance of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene in Kobane, even as he previously vowed to prevent the fall of Kobane, puzzled and drew widespread anger amongst the highly suspicious Kurds in Turkey.

Moreover, widespread protests cross Turkey highlight that it isn’t just Kobane that is at risk of falling, it also the tentative peace process that only recent brought a halt to almost 3 decades of conflict.

Ultimately for Turkey, coming to the aid of the YPG forces and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is affiliated with the PKK, would be akin to bailing out and fighting alongside the PKK.

Turkey continues to see Kobane as a PKK versus IS battle and not a Jihadist battle against ordinary Kurds. It simply does not differentiate between PKK or IS who they deem on equal footing.

That stance not only demonstrates the fragile nature of the peace process and Kurdish-Turkish relations, but that the climate for real peace amidst strong mistrust and animosity is lacking.

Turkey has set a number of preconditions before joining the fight against IS, which in many ways is understandable, including the need for a long-term plan in Syria if and when IS can be defeated and a no-fly zone, but this cannot be at the expense of ignoring a perilous humanitarian plight on your door step and to station a huge force on the border, with the bloodshed in clear sight, and then do nothing only adds to the fire.

Either way, as the Kurds have shown, they are more than capable of defeating IS if their fighters are allowed access and weapons at the border.

Turkey could have significantly enhanced its hand with the Kurds in Turkey if it had seen the battle against the Kurds in Syria as a fight against the partners of their nation.

On the contrary, it has long seen the autonomous Syrian Kurdish enclaves as a threat and has often accused the PYD of colluding with the Bashar al-Assad regime, as the Kurds refused to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Whatever the political stance, religious affiliation or nationality when it comes to averting a humanitarian catastrophe differences must be put aside.

The US and Western powers supported the Kurds in Iraq at their time of need including providing crucial arms, and support for the Syrian Kurds, as an effective force in the war on IS, should be no different.

Above all, it would be a real tragedy if the peace process ended in Turkey after the painstaking journey to reach to this elusive juncture.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

After Iraq, West is obliged to support Syrian Kurds at the hands of IS

The rapid and barbaric advance of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq gripped the world’s attention, leading to eventual Western intervention and arming of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, the IS problem has long festered untouched in Syria.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces have been locked in bloody battles with IS militants since 2013 with little support. The fierce battle for Kobane in the Kurdish region of Syria has been raging for several months, but armed with heavy weaponry taking from their spoils in Iraq and regrouping for a major new assault, Syria is on the cusp of yet another humanitarian crisis at the hands of IS.

While the Syrian Kurdish battle against IS has received far less attention and backing than the Kurdish forces repelling IS forces in Iraq, the struggle against IS in that part of the world is just as important and strategic as the ones in Iraq. The Syrian Kurdish struggle against IS not a separate equation but in all reality one and the same.

Thousands of desperate Syrian Kurds fled dozens of villages around Kobane as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, showing initial hesitance, finally authorized the opening of the border as grateful civilians flooded into the Turkish town of Dikmetas.

“IS fighters have seized at least 21 villages around Kobane,” confirmed Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with reports that IS had already cut off water and electricity supplies to the city.

Under a new strategy to combat IS, US President Barack Obama finally agreed to hit IS strongholds in Syria and as such there is no better place to start than preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Kobane.

The same YPG forces helped in the fight back against IS forces in Iraq and in turn they must now be helped by Western and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

With common affiliations to the PKK blighting perception, YPG has been viewed with much suspicion and mistrust, particularly by Turkey who has failed to recognize the bigger picture at times. Reservations from nationalists will lead to a much deeper problem for Turkey with a potent IS across its long porous borders.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey was considering plans for a buffer zone on its border with Iraq and Syria. Although this is a much welcome move, such a buffer zone was needed a long-time ago.

The West saw that Peshmerga forces in Iraq were its natural partners and hand in the push back of IS and provided the lightly armed Peshmerga in comparison with IS much needed weaponry.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani urged Western support against IS in Kobane amidst “barbaric and terrorist acts”. Barzani  stated, “I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobane,” while adding that “IS terrorists … must be hit and destroyed wherever they are.”

In Syria, the same situation as Iraq must somehow be replicated as US tries to bolster moderate Syrian opposition forces. Much in the same way as the Iraqi Kurdish forces have been so vital in pushing back IS, the Syrian Kurdish forces ultimately hold significant sway to any defeat of IS.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the IS gains and advance around Kobane.

The US needs partners it can trust and Syrian Kurds are willing allies. This has proved a difficult reality with deep reservations from Turkey and ties to the PKK, but the situation on the ground needs decisive action and decision making and further US and Western dithering will not only see further atrocities at the hands of IS but the US plan again to defeat IS greatly weakened.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the West and the Syrian opposition handed Assad another presidential term

After thousands of deaths, hundreds of barrel bombs, millions of refugees, wide-scale destruction, starvation and even the use of chemicals, Bashar al-Assad somehow clung on to power.

The fact that after all the trials and tribulations of the Syrian civil war that Assad retains a firm grip on power, is as much about the resilience of the regime and the strong support it continues to retain at home and also abroad through Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, as the large-scale failing of the West and the Syrian opposition.

From the outset of the revolution, Western powers were indecisive and inconsistent in how they should encourage or support the revolution.

Foreign policy decision making, especially from the Unites States was so labored that by time external decisions were made, the picture on the ground had already fundamentally changed.

This is particularly true at the start of the war in 2011 when the Western position was slow and tentative. As the West wavered on their next steps, Islamist forces had long high-jacked the Syrian revolution.

Now from the brink of defeat, Assad awarded himself another 7 years in power. There is no doubt the recent presidential elections were tainted with corruption, but the even then no one can deny that Assad still enjoys support amongst a large section of Syrians.

If fully legitimate, fair and verifiable elections were to be held tomorrow across all of Syria, Assad would certainly not win anywhere near 87% of the vote but would still record a strong showing that cannot be discounted.

This is an ironic reality given Assad’s wide-scale destruction, starvation and reprisal and speaks volumes on the declining faith in the opposition.

Millions more Syrians support the revolution but discouraged by a disunited opposition seemingly too busy fighting amongst themselves or a West that they doubt would ever take real action, prefer the devil that is Assad than the literal ruins of today if it means return of their livelihood, homes or any sense of normalcy .

The elections were widely criticized by the US and EU powers whilst the opposition vowed to step up their campaign. Only last week US President Barack Obama stated that US would “ramp up” support for rebels. While National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently confirmed the US was offering both “lethal and non-lethal” aid to moderate rebels.

While the West implements measures, it is done with a sense of hesitancy and at a sluggish pace. It was clear since the failure of the Geneva talks in February that Assad would not relinquish power, nor would Russia accept his downfall just to open doors to the Western sponsored opposition.

The cue to change foreign policy should have come after a series of American red lines were nonchalantly crossed by the regime, let alone when the Geneva talks had failed.

Piecemeal gestures will not turn the tide and practical game-changing measures will not be endorsed by the West. Unfortunately, the end result is a de facto partition of Syria with the Kurds continuing with their newfound autonomy, Assad consolidating his hold on the Damascus, Homs and Latakia axis and the rebels continuing to fight amongst themselves over swathes of territory around Aleppo, Raqa and the Turkish border.

It was no secret that some western powers prefer a deal with Assad than an Islamist take-over of Damascus but how will Assad vacate power now? Why relinquish power when regime is in its ascendancy and regaining ground when it didn’t fold at its weakest point?

The only thing that will force Assad to negotiate is either a significant turning of the tide in the civil war which of course takes a significant empowering of the rebels by the West or any abandonment of the regime by Moscow or Tehran. None of these are likely to happen.

The end result is more suffering and more destruction as the civil war drags on.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Prospects of Geneva 2, Syrian Kurdish Autonomy and why Syria will never be whole again

As representatives of the Syrian regime and the Syrian National Coalition met in Geneva, the prospects of an agreement to end the bitter 3 year civil war that has killed over 130,000 and displaced millions were dim.

The fiery exchanges at the opening of the conference in Montreaux and the deep reluctance to even meet face-to-face, never the mind the entrenched positions over the fate of Bashar al-Assad, underscored the challenges of securing any meaningful agreement.

Yet in so many ways, getting the opposing sides in the same room was an accomplishment in itself. With every bullet fired, every air strike launched and every death recorded, the animosity only deepens and reconciliation is pushed a step further. The profound emotional scarring cannot be patched in a few days in Geneva, but let there be no doubt, the regime and opposition have no choice but to reach a peaceful settlement sooner or later.

If there was a military solution it would have been achieved months ago. 3 years on, with the forces in a stalemate and with most of Syria lying in ruins and blood, no matter the eventual outcome, how can anyone truly feel victorious? What will they govern with some cities in literal ruin and billions of dollars needed to reconstruct the country?

More importantly, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Syria can ever be whole again. Too much damage has been done and the polarization is now too great for Syria to ever return to any sense of unity.

In this light, it was symbolic and largely missed due to the intense focus on Geneva, that the Syrian Kurds declared administrative autonomy and a provincial governance on the eve of the conference.

The Kurds who have had relative self-rule since July 2012 are increasingly working towards safeguarding and formalizing their new found autonomy. The Kurdish area in Syria, or Rojava as most proudly refer to, is set to be ruled under 3 cantons, Kobani, Efrin and Jazira with an Autonomous Governing Council in each region.

Kurds are already preparing a local constitution and have their eyes on holding elections early this year as well as taking many steps to resume normal life in the region. Anyone would think this is taking place in a distant land, but this is taking place in the same country ruled by Assad and gripped by a deadly civil war.

The growing Kurdish confidence and assertiveness having successfully warded off Islamist forces, naturally unnerves Turkey and other regional players. The Syrian Kurdistan region is effectively governed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) with links to the PKK and protected by the People Defense Units. This only adds to Turkish anxiety.

Yet with the Syrian Kurds stamping their authority, it was ironic that in Geneva the Kurds were refused a separate delegation or had any specific mention. Regardless of any political deal in Geneva, the Kurds are not about to take a step back into the dark days of the past and relinquish their hard fought gains.

With Alawites weary of Sunni backlash in any post-Assad era, there will almost certainly be a de facto sectarian delineation in Syria to add to the ethnic lines that the Kurdish self-rule promises.

The only way Syria can be truly patched is a loose federation where Sunni, Kurds or Alawites govern their own regions.

The problem in Syria is that the opposition is not represented by one group but a spectrum of forces with differing agendas. Take the SNC, they only agreed to attend the peace talks after dozens of their members walked out in protest and even if anything is agreed long-term, they have insufficient sway with the fighters on the ground.

This introduces the likely scenario that if a broader peace agreement was achieved, it would never be comprehensive and thus there is every chance that the opposition and regime forces may turn their guns on other forces, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other Islamic groups that will never accept or recognize any agreement.

Unfortunately for Syria, the fighting has a long way to go before it reaches its course, regardless of any symbolic breakthrough in Geneva.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Disunity weakens the Syrian Kurdish hand in Geneva

When it comes to pivotal international conferences, particularly in Switzerland, the Kurds hardly have a colourful record. It was the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that cruelly deprived the Kurds of an independent homeland that was promised as part of the earlier Treaty of Sevres in 1920. Today the Kurds are slowly regaining control of their destiny, but still suffer from the fate enforced upon them by world powers whilst they were deprived of a voice.

With this in mind, the upcoming Geneva II conference that foreign powers hope will lead to a peaceful political solution to the bloody Syrian civil war is an important platform for the Syrian Kurds.

Yet in spite of intense negotiations in Erbil to mend the Kurdish divide and unite the Kurdish stand in Geneva, unity appears as elusive as ever and it’s becoming increasingly evident that the Kurds will send two separate delegations to the talks, and worryingly one with the Syrian regime delegation.

After decades of repression and confounded to the shadows of the Syrian state, the Syrian Kurds have been great benefactors of the intra-Arab turmoil and afforded a unique chapter in their history.

Yet a lack of unity has been a severe handicap that has threatened to undermine the new Kurdish dawn and historical juncture.

Regional jockeying over Rojava between the PKK, Turkey, Kurdistan Region and neighbouring powers has added to the tension.

The talks in Erbil between the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which is more closely aligned with Massaud Barzani and is expected to attend Geneva talks with the opposition, and the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK), which is spear-headed by the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) that refused to join the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), failed to produce a conclusive agreement despite earlier promise.

The Erbil Agreement of 2012 which united the Kurdish ranks with the establishment of the Kurdish Supreme Committee has all but eroded.

The PYD, who recently declared autonomy, is more closely aligned with the PKK and has been accused of monopolising power and has been the subject of strong criticism from the Kurdistan government,.

The Kurdish differences overshadow the fragile nature of the Kurdish gains in Syria. Thousands of Kurds continue to suffer in Syria and thousands more have sought refuge in the Kurdistan Region while fierce battles continue against Islamist forces.

The ideal position for the Kurds is to attend as a separate united delegation – this sends the strong message that the Kurds are a factor within their own right and not merely as a component of opposition struggle. In other words, fighting for your rights in a broader coalition dilutes the Kurdish cause by the leaving the Kurdish position to one of minority rights. The Kurds were often treated as second-class by Arabs in Syria and deserve a position as a distinct Syrian component. This will ensure Kurds are a separate topic where a separate solution is required with the ultimate goal of enshrining autonomy.

Of course, offering the Kurds such a position at the negotiating tables is likely to be blocked by Turkey, the US and some regional powers.

The need for a united and strong Kurdish position in Geneva is not that Geneva II is likely to herald the lofty goals expected. In contrary, a stubborn regime and a highly disjointed Syrian opposition are unlikely to strike an elusive political transition with such wide starting positions, but such a Kurdish position would be symbolic and send a strong message to the world that Syrian Kurdish rights and autonomy is not the end goal but a starting position.

The recent Erbil talks must continue with hope of bridging gaps, ensuring a share of power and decision making in Rojava, easing the suffering of the population through the opening of the border crossings and above all putting Kurdish national interests above any party or individual interests.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Syrian Kurdish administration – a historic step shrouded in controversy

The Syrian Kurds have suffered more than any other group under decades of Baathist dictatorship. The Syrian civil war opened an unchartered and once unthinkable opportunity for the Syrian Kurds, but the growing Kurdish assertiveness and power has not been without controversy.

The Syrian Kurdish region is dominated both politically and militarily by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their announcement of an interim administration for the growing Kurdish areas under their control resulted in a backlash from many sides.

No doubt self-governance would placate the remarkable turnaround in Kurdish fortunes which on paper is a benefit for all of greater Kurdistan, so why such controversy?

Timing and the actors is of course key at such a delicate juncture in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and beyond. The Syrian revolution is at a sensitive stage but it is factors across the borders that are more pronounced. The Syrian conflict has ramifications across the Middle Eastern divide and this is no different for the Kurds.

Syrian Kurdistan may number no more than 10% of the Syrian population or 2 million people, but disunity with dozens or so parties is plain to see. There is a split of sentiment for the PKK of whom the Syrian Kurdistan population has enjoyed historic ties and groups more closely affiliated with Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The current correlations between the PYD, PKK, Kurdistan Region, Ankara and even Baghdad add to the sensitive mix. Whilst the Kurdistan Region is enjoying increasing prominence in the region and greater strategic, political and economic ties with Ankara, the PKK is a headache for Ankara that in spite of the peace process will not go away.

Ankara’s anxiety and rejection of the unilateral declaration of autonomy by the PYD is no surprise. Ankara naturally prefers a KRG influence that they can trust in Syrian Kurdistan than the region becoming a de facto extension of PKK sphere of influence, that they would find difficult to combat.

Ultimately Ankara cannot ignore developments in Syrian Kurdistan and must at the same time not antagonise the PKK. The rocky peace process needs a jumpstart. Ankara may have taken a number of bold steps, but it won’t take much for emotions to re-spill into armed conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to manoeuvre wisely with the Kurds with fast approaching national elections in Turkey, knowing that the Kurdish vote holds a decisive swing.

President Barzani’s historic visit to Diyarbakir at such a critical juncture was no coincidence. Erdogan needs to sway Kurdish sentiment and the Kurdish vote in 2014 will speak volumes in how the peace process and the PKK conflict will unravel. Greater Kurdish vote for AKP sends a strong message to the PKK.

At the same time, it promotes Barzani as a credible leader of greater Kurdistan, and sends a warning to the PKK leadership.

President Barzani wrote a strongly worded statement upon the declaration of autonomy by the PYD. It is not that Barzani would not want to see a Kurdish region in Syria, in fact this would greatly placate Kurdish power within the Middle East and open a de-facto bridge between Kurds on both sides. It is the fact that it is the PYD who would ultimately hold control and sway over the region, further eroding the Erbil Agreement of 2012.

Barzani lamented the “marginalisation” of other Kurdish parties and the PYDs perceived collusion with the Syrian regime and stated “We only support the steps that have the consensus of all Kurdish parties in Rojava…we refuse to deal with unilateral actions.” Barzani urged all Kurdish parties to return to the principles of the Erbil Agreement as the “best option to strengthen the Kurdish position in Syria”

The relations between the PYD and Syrian opposition forces have been one of mistrust and the Syrian National Council has accused the Syrian Kurds of collaborating with Bashar al Assad many times.

In response to Kurdish plans for a transitional administration, the Syrian National Council labelled the PYD as a “group hostile to the Syrian revolution”, even as the Coalition announced its own plans for an interim government in rebel-held territory.

With growing divide and differing camps, the Syrian Kurds are naturally at risk of wasting this historical juncture.

It must be noted that the PYD enjoys strong support amongst the Kurds and their stock has risen as they have affectively pushed back Islamist forces in Kurdish areas. They cannot be ignored as a major actor. However, the PYD and ultimately Syrian Kurdish region will struggle against a backdrop of animosity from the KRG, Turkey and the Syrian opposition.

The sooner the PYD and KRG can mend their bridges along with other Kurdish parties in Syria the better. At the same time, the PYD needs Ankara. The last thing the Syrian Kurds need is an isolated region. Finally, Syrian Kurds must maneuverer carefully with a future Syrian in mind. They need all the support to ensure self-rule is wrapped in legislation and not controversy. Self-rule is a must and a minimum for the Syrian Kurds.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc