Category Archives: Syria

Chilling echoes of Halabja in Syria as the world watches on

The tragic and deplorable chemical attack on Damascus on 21st August 2013 by the Syrian regime brought echoes of the unforgettable Halabja massacre in 1988. Over 5000 innocent Kurdish civilians dropped where they were in an attack that crossed all boundaries, with thousands more injured and suffering life-long ailments.

Yet, as the shocking as the chemicals attacks are in Syria, some of the world looks on with doubt that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would perpetrate such action, even accusing the rebels of “fabricating” the event pointing to the timing of the attacks with UN weapons inspectors having just arrived in the country on their long awaited mandate, mere miles from the affected zone.

But a dictatorship is just that, it will not stop at nothing to cling to power or realize narrow minded goals. Terror is a rule not an exception. More importantly, why would the Syrian regime hoard some of the largest chemical weapon stockpiles in the world if it was afraid to use them? The US and most EU powers have already confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the regime during the bitter conflict.

Going back to Halabja, the West knew very well the chemical might and arsenal of Saddam, after all they were his allies against Tehran. Saddam’s forces reverted to chemical weapons on a number of occasions to desperately repel advancing Iranian forces. The regime had already destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages, terrorized the Kurdish population and committed mass murder, why would they hesitate at other means to annihilate the Kurds?

However, strategic interests of the West at times play a more crucial role in foreign policy than real justice or protection of human rights. In the aftermath of the Halabja massacre, Western governments and media were initially muted. The US intelligence agencies even blamed Iran for the Halabja attack. Ironically, Halabja was used 15 years later by the US and the coalition to justify the overthrow of Saddam.

In Syria, the ever thick and moving “red line” of US President Barrack Obama has been crossed many times. However, Washington has done all it can to avoid becoming embroiled in the complex Syrian conflict.

The fact that the Syrian regime would even contemplate such attacks speaks volumes about their perceived threat of international intervention. This sets an even more dangerous precedent for other so called “rogue states” keeping a close eye on Western response.

If the US and its EU allies finally act, it would be because they are dragged and shoved unwillingly than any real passion for action. Over 100,000 have already died and human suffering in Syria has become an acceptable norm without any concrete international response.

Of course, the dangers of regional spillover will intensify with any Western military response and the risk of an uncertain and Islamist led post-Assad Syria hardly soothes Western hesitancy, but one must place politics, sectarianism and strategic interests firmly to one side when hundreds of innocent children are suffocating to death under toxic gases.

If the Syrian regime has a grain of credibility left then it must urgently allow UN inspectors access to the scene. If they are innocent, then what have they to hide?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Syrian Kurdish anguish a burden for all parts of Kurdistan

In the face of deadly battles between Syrian Kurdish forces and Jabat al-Nusra and other Islamist forces in Western Kurdistan, Kurdish civilians have suffered brutal reprisal attacks and murder across a number of Kurdish towns and villages.

The neighbourhoods of Tel-Abeyd, Sere Kaniye, Tel- Aran and Tel- Hasel amongst others across Kurdish populated areas have been the subject of kidnappings, killings, lootings and terror.

The Kurdish areas have been relatively quiet since the Syrian uprising began but the latest developments not only serve to deepen the conflict between al-Qaeda affiliates and Kurds but increasingly pitch an ethnic battle between Kurds and Arabs, opening another theatre and dimension in the already complex conflict.

The Syrian National Council (SNC) and its leader Ahmed Jabra, as a legally recognised body and the supposed flag bearer for freedom, democracy and the fight against tyranny, has to shoulder the responsibility to condemn the attacks, protect Kurds and ensure Kurds are enticed into the political fold and not alienated in the fight against the Syrian regime.

However, the stance of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and elements of the SNC have hardly taking kindly to the Kurds. They have failed to address the general mistrust and anxiety of the Kurds and have looked at Kurdish gains with great suspicion.

With so many players on the Syrian chessboard, the recent conflict between Islamist forces and Kurds has seen a number of foreign powers weigh into the equation.

It was hardly surprising and somewhat ironic that Russia and Iran were quick to highlight the massacre of Kurds to the world, but this is chiefly in their quest to discredit the Syrian revolution and show the world the dark side of the opposition than any for any true affection for the Kurds. Iran and Russia were distinctively quiet whilst Kurds were persecuted for decades in Syria.

By the same token, the U.S. and its E.U. and regional allies have been rather muted and cautious in the face of the atrocities as it seemingly serves as an embarrassment for the pro-opposition camps and specifically for some Arab states and Turkey that have supported such groups to varying degrees.

In the face of Syrian Kurdish isolation and despair, the statement last week by Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani condemning atrocities and vowing to support Syrian Kurds,  was welcome, bold and the just the tonic to stir sentiment and any notion that Kurds will be bystanders amidst the plight of their ethnic brethren.

Barzani had warned that “If the reports are true, showing that citizens, women and the children of innocent Kurds are under threat from murder and terrorism, Iraq’s Kurdistan region will make use of all of its capabilities to defend women and children and innocent citizens.”

For too long, the forcibly divided Kurds have struggled for national rights within the constraints of localised mechanisms than as a national force or coherent ethnic group. It has become too easy and politically correct to label each portion of Kurdistan with a Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi or Iranian prefix.

The lands may be artificially divided but a fence, border post or de-facto delineation of territory doesn’t change the soil composition, geography, nature or heritage of territory. Do the border fences that randomly separate Nusaybin or Qamishli actually mean that the historic land, the people, or the families on either side are any different?

If there is a massacre of Turkmens in Iraq tomorrow, will Turkey remain idle? Sunni states and Gulf countries flocked to support Sunni rebels in Syria while Hezbollah and Iran rushed to support their Shiite brethren.

Why should Kurds across greater Kurdistan remain idle? The crucial step by Barzani was to ensure a delegation was formed by the Kurdish National Conference Preparation Committee from members across greater Kurdistan – this national response demonstrates a common voice and a united stand but almost underscores the seeds for a Kurdish League.

Washington amongst others was quick to warn Barzani against intervention and it is not clear what measures will be taken by the Kurdistan Region if the current delegation visiting Syrian Kurdistan bring back conclusive proof of massacres and atrocities against Syrian Kurds.

No doubt the Kurdistan Region leadership will warn and increase pressure on the West to act and intervene, but if the response is negative then the leadership must match rhetoric with action.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Ankara must embrace new Syrian Kurdish reality

A year after Syrian Kurds took historic control of their territory, proposed plans for an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan region sent fresh shivers down Ankara.

Any anxiety towards the establishment of de facto autonomy for Kurds is amplified all the more by the PKK connections with the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) that exercises the greatest political and military influence in the region.

Turkey has fought a bitter 3 decade war with the PKK and to see PYD flags proudly hosted atop buildings clearly visible from Turkish soil was difficult to stomach. Turkey rushed to kick-start the peace process with the PKK and Ocalan in the full knowledge that they could soon be swamped with PKK forces enjoying not just mountain passes but theoretically an autonomous area.

However, a dose of reality is greatly needed if Turkey is to achieve its strategic and political goals, away from out-dated ethos or phobias. In the same manner that red-lines, ubiquitous threats and harsh rhetoric towards Iraqi Kurds was in the end replaced with a revised policy and ultimately a strong and flourishing political and economic relations with Kurdistan.

Last year, Ankara refused to even engage or acknowledge the PYD. The historic visit to Turkey by Saleh Muslim, leader of the PYD, in this regard, was certainly a step in the right direction, but Turkey must start to warm to the Kurds and the new political order rather than antagonise them or even choose sides, as many have claimed of their indirect support of Islamists against the Kurds.

The People’s Defense Units (YPG), widely acknowledged as the armed-wing of the PYD, has been pitched in fierce battles with Jabat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups for months. However, fierce battles in recent weeks saw the Kurds gain control of the strategic border town of Ras al-Ayn amongst others.

Muslim was warned in Ankara against taking “wrong and dangerous” by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and intelligence chiefs.  Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also warned the Kurds against any “fait accompli” declarations that would further destabilise and complicate Syria until an elected Parliament is formed in Syria

Ironically, in the same week Ahmet Davutoğlu denounced radical groups, some whom Turkey has supported, for “betraying” the principles of the Syrian revolution.

In spite of the relative positivity in the aftermath of Muslim’s visit, Turkey should have done much more to reach out and entice the Kurds from the outset and worked to include them as vital components of the Syrian opposition and the drive to oust Assad, rather than the frosty treatment and Syrian opposition’s failure to provide firm guarantees to Kurds in the post Assad era.

Stuck between Arabs they didn’t trust, Islamists intent on setting up a base in Syrian Kurdistan with its vital borders crossings and oil resources and a Turkish government ever-wary of more Kurdish leverage and power on their border, Kurds largely leant towards the devil they knew – Assad.

The reality is that Syrian Kurds, with renewed vigour and standing, are not about to go away, with or without Assad. The resurgence of the Syrian Kurds and potential autonomy should if anything be just the tonic to kick-start the peace process in Turkey.

If Turkey fails to implement the peace process in Turkey, then the PKK leverage would always have been a greater hand in Syrian Kurdistan or even a derailing of Ankara goals in the Syrian revolution.

For the Kurds, it is natural to try and preserve their region from violence and destruction and certainly the population has needs and warrant a system of governance. Any attempts at autonomy, temporary or not, is a logical move, however, the region must be for all Kurdish groups and not specially the PYD.

All Kurdish groups must be represented and the people must ultimately decide on their governance. Any unilateral drive by the PYD to assert control or use force for it its aims will severely diminish the legitimacy of the new Kurdistan Region of Syria.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

West must act in Syria for sake of humanity or face a history of ignominy

The tables have drastically turned in the Syria conflict in recent months and Western inaction and indecisiveness has played a significant part.

The U.S. and its European allies have failed the Syrian people and to make matters worse, western diplomats are still bickering internally on how they should respond to the Syrian conflict, when they have had 2.5 years to formulate an approach.

Infamous red-lines have long been crossed, dozens of cities lie in rubble, over 100,000 dead and millions displaced with the rate increasing all the time. Yet the West is still plagued by unease and uncertainty on its moral obligations.

As the Syrian civil war has festered and   decayed, more divisive western policy at the outset would have achieved a far quicker political transition, saved thousands of lives, infrastructure and untold suffering.

Now the conflict has become so messy that even the West is startled to respond. A great example is the proposal to arm selected members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Both Great Britain and France petitioned vehemently for months to end the EU arms embargo in May. Now that they have gotten their wish, they have got frosty feet. Likewise the US announced intent to supply weapons in mid-June after acknowledging that Bash al-Assad had crossed a red-line (the same murky red line that Assad had passed long ago), yet there are no signs of supplies.

The conflict has become so complex and cloudy that Western powers do not believe that their “light” weaponry would make any different. Yet ironically, Russia and Iran have been arming Assad to the teeth with no remorse.

In the time that the West has stood idle, Syrian has become the battleground for who’s who of Jihadists and foreign fighters. The war is no longer about ousting Assad and freeing Syria from dictatorship, it is now heavily sectarian and to a certain extent a proxy battle for a new Cold War with Russia, Iran and China.

With Hezbollah arms deep in supporting Assad, al-Qaeda spear-heading the rebel onslaught, even the Taliban looking to enter the fray,  and add Lebanese, Iranian and Iraqi factions into the mix, Syria has become an even more entrenched minefield.

With Assad fighting back, the rebels literally fighting each other, Islamist forces battling Kurdish fighters and Geneva mark 2 becoming an ever distant mirage, the short-term prospects are bleak.

But the world must forget sectarianism, the new Cold war arena or those jockeying for regional power. The Western powers and the United Nations must act for the sake of humanity if nothing else.

When will enough deemed enough? Just how will history look back on the West and particularly the UN which has been an all but paralysed bystander?

By the time sane powers intervene, there will be little to intervene for. What will Syrians do with no economy, destroyed communities, homes in rubble and their currency worthless?


First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Syrian Kurdish discord threatens to derail historical juncture

While most of Syria has been embroiled in turmoil and large-scale suffering, the Syrian Kurds have been presented with historic opportunities and the building blocks for unprecedented autonomy.

However, clashes with Syrian rebels, frosty relations with Ankara, not forgetting wide disunity, jostle for power and even clashes between rival Kurdish factions, threatens to derail the Syrian Kurdish project.

For some 2 million or so Kurds in Syria, there are dozens of political parties which tell its own story. Even before the start of the conflict in Syria, the Kurdish movement was largely plagued by disunity and lack of leadership. Unlike other Kurdistani constituents in Iraq, Iran and Turkey, the Kurdish struggle never had the same firm nationalist foundations. Today Syrian Kurdistan is at the forefront of the new Syria and the Kurdish nationalist renaissance.

However, growing hostility and struggle for influence is threating intra-Kurdish conflict at the time when all energies should be fixed on consolidating Syrian Kurdish gains and its future role in Syria.

The Erbil agreement of 2012 sought to paper over the cracks and bring a level of coordination and unity between the PKK leaning Democratic Union Party (PYD) led groups and those with closer links to Massaud Barzani and the Kurdistan regional leadership.

However, the accord has been tainted with suspicion and animosity from the start. The PYD clearly has the upper-hand in power and support, with the Kurdish military arm, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), dominated by the PYD.

Other Kurdish parties have worked to readdress the political imbalance. This clear line of contention culminated in a crisis between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leadership and the PYD in recent days after the arrest of 74 members of the Barzani-backed Democratic Party of Syria.

The arrests led to strongly-worded statements from the Kurdistan President and a closing of the KRG border with Syrian Kurdistan.

The statement from Barzani’s presidential office accused the PYD of reneging on the Erbil agreement, marginalising other parties and killing and detaining people.

The statement warned against the PYD to change its attitude and not to “…declare itself the representative of Kurdish people in Syria before elections are held.” Barzani warned the KRG would pursue another course of action if perceived autocratic rule continued.

PYD leader, Muslim Saleh, pointed to disagreements amongst the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which includes the recently formed pro-Barzani Kurdish Democratic Union, for cracks in the Erbil agreement.

Saleh emphasised that the arrested members had received military training in Kurdistan and that they would take action against any armed group not within the PYD led YPG umbrella and that fall under the Supreme Kurdish Council. Saleh welcomed any mediation efforts but warned against Barzani support for rival factions.

There is clearly a mismatch between the PYD’s aim to remain the enforcers on the ground and the KRG and the KNC aim to readdress the balance of both political and military power.

The only way of clarifying the grapple for power is via free and open elections. But even then, without a balanced and unbiased security force, whoever has military power will have a greater say.

Syrian Kurdistan is in great need of the KRG, both for political stability and as an economic and social lifeline. A deterioration of relations within Syrian Kurdistan and with the KRG leadership will be of great detriment to the Region.

The Kurdish military units should unite under one rank and for one purpose, to serve Syrian Kurdish aspirations. Narrow minded political agendas of any party are a backward step in the Kurdish nationalist struggle. With instability and raging civil war on its door step, an uncertain future and hardly firm foundations for its existence or regional backing, Syrian Kurds risk losing a great historical opportunity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Red lines and lack of action – how the bigger picture in Syria is overlooked

With the death toll from the Syrian crisis rapidly surpassing 80,000, over 4 million displaced Syrians forced to live in poor conditions and the human catastrophe deepening on a daily basis, the continued discussions in America and Europe about the trespassing of “red lines” and what action should follow is an insult to the suffering of the Syrian people.

When will the conflict be considered a crisis worthy of firm action? When the whole region is embroiled in the conflict, when the death toll surpasses 100,000 or even 200,000 or when most of Syria lies in rubble?

The point is, whilst the regime’s brazen and clear use of chemical weapons, meant that the US “red line” was crossed a long time ago, no matter what tools or apparatus is used by the ever desperate Bashar al-Assad, whether it is Sarin gas, ballistic missile or cluster weapons, the end result is the same – destruction of Syria and mass civilian casualties.

Just as in Iraq when the debate was side-tracked by search for weapons of mass destructions, the West often overlooked the bigger picture. Saddam Hussein, amongst his far reaching terror, systemically used chemical weapons on a mass scale on the Kurds and was by far worse than any weapon. By the same token, the Assad dynasty has ruled Syria with an iron fist for decades. It is not just the Assad actions of the past two years and the recent death tolls, what about the thousands dead before and immense suffering that his dictatorship has produced?

Syria is clearly a different case to Egypt and Libya, it has firm allies in the region in Iran, Hezbollah and sections of Iraq, not forgetting their chief arms supplier and bastion at the UN in Russia. However, the difficulty in knowing how to act or finding common ground to act should be no reason to remain idle for such a lengthy period of time.

US President Barrack Obama’s seemingly blurring red line and back-pedalling of the White House sends all the wrong signals to Iran, North Korea and beyond.

Last week Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that any red line was crossed long ago. Then less than a week later two car bombs allegedly orchestrated by a group with ties the Syrian intelligence ripped through the Turkish border town of Reyhanli slaying 46 people and resulting in scores more wounded. The Turkish elite warned that a red line was crossed, yet another line, but Turkey is unlikely to retaliate.

While somewhat productive talks took place last week between UK, US and Russia, Russia continues to hold the keys to ending the conflict. The conflict has allowed it to come to the fore in a powerful and influential manner, stamping its authority on the UN and the region, while the US has largely taking a back-stage.

With the EU arms embargo in force, the rebels remain crippled by a lack of arms, as Russia and Iran, for their strategic goals, supply the regime with sophisticated weaponry and Hezbollah lends hundreds of its fighters.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Can the Syrian Kurds turn the tide against Assad?

Syrian Kurds have endured decades of repression and denial and in the case of thousands treatment as virtual foreigners in the lands of their very ancestors. If anyone should have a gripe against the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad it is the Kurds, yet the Kurds have remained largely on the side-lines of the two-year bloodshed in Syria.

While much of the West is locked in debate about ways of ending the immense suffering and the protracted civil war in Syria and speeding-up by Assad’s demise, the Syrian Kurds remain a vital card in tipping the balance of war against the regime.

Division and splinter groups are commonplace throughout the Syrian opposition and it’s no different in Syrian Kurdistan, with dozens of Kurdish parties in the political fold, but with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) continuing to orchestrate the greatest influence and military might.

The Kurds with thousands of well-trained militia would be natural partners to court in the overthrow of Assad, yet ironically Syrian rebel groups, namely Jabhat al Nusra, have been battling Kurdish fighters in the north instead.

Most Syrian Kurds, particularly the PYD with long alleged ties to the PKK, have distrusted Arab opposition groups, especially those with Turkish backing, fearing marginalisation in a post-Assad era or seeing their historic autonomous gains wiped away.

It is for this reason that they have tried to remain relatively neutral in the conflict and facilitated indirect understandings with the regime in Kurdish-dominated areas. It was win-win at the time, as Kurds took historical control of most of their region while Assad was spared a further frontline and likely a further depletion of his forces in a confrontation with the Kurds.

The Kurdish priority was to safeguard Kurdish gains, spare violence in Kurdish areas and to leave their fate in their own hands.

The Kurdistan Region leadership succeeded in uniting the various Kurdish factions last year but animosity and distrust in Kurdish circles remains common-place.

However, in recent weeks it appears that the Kurds are increasingly ready to end their neutrality and fight regime forces. This can be seen with the coordination between Syrian rebels and People’s Defense Units (YPG) in the Kurdish dominated Sheikh Makqsud district of Aleppo, where Kurdish fighters have helped to choke the vital supply routes of the regime.

The regime retaliated for this apparent change of heart by the Kurds with a deadly airstrike on the district killing 15 people as well as attacking Kurdish units on the outskirts of Qamishli, with the Kurds launching their retaliatory attacks of their own. A bombing just this week of a Kurdish village in the oil-rich Hasaka province killed 11 civilians, which the Kurdish National Council called a “serious escalation by the regime”.

In addition, in recent days Syrian rebel groups have started attacking army positions in Hasaka and more importantly on Qamishli itself.

It is not clear whether the recent Arab-rebel attacks in Hasaka is in coordination with the Kurds, but judged by recent events, the Arab rebels are unlikely to have a launched an attack that would have risked a Kurdish backlash as seen in the past.

If the Syrian rebels and Kurdish parties can muster a workable and long-term understanding, the liberation of Qamishli and indeed all of north-eastern Syria would form a formidable enclave against the regime.

The PKK is a card that Syria has effectively used against Turkey in the past, and unsurprisingly Syrian support increased for the PKK rebels after Turkey became key actors in the Syrian struggle and provided major support to the Syrian opposition.

Assad successfully split the Syrian opposition and even the Kurds. But the recent change of Kurdish stance on the ground and a truce that has taken hold between Islamist rebels and the YPG forces is perhaps more linked to developments in the peace process in Turkey than direct changes in Syria.

Turkey is on the verge of historic peace with the PKK and significant strides have been taken since the turn of the year to end the armed rebellion and find a long-term solution to the Kurdish question.

The timing of developments in Ankara is noticeable. Turkey, seeking to became a major force in the new Middle East that is been laid, is facing the prospect of a de facto Kurdish state in Syria alongside the already strong and strategically important Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The Kurdish reality on its doorstep has expedited the quest for peace. A lack of long-term peace in Turkey would severely undermine stability in Turkey and its regional influence.

The effect of the PKK peace process can be seen with a thawing of ties between Ankara and the PYD. If the PKK successfully ends its armed struggle, then for Turkey, the PYD and particularly a Syrian Kurdish region will be much more tolerable.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently put a list of conditions for any engagement with the PYD, a far cry from a previous stance of no dialogue at all. Although the idea of “pre-conditions” has not gone down too well with the PYD leadership, a level of dialogue is inevitable and somewhat natural and the conditions set when studied are not real obstacles. These conditions include not siding with the Assad regime, avoiding “fait accompli” until a parliament is formed and not supporting terror in Turkey.

The Turkish stance is also linked to its increasing frustration with the prolonged nature of the Syrian war and Assad’s stubborn grip on power. The Kurds, whose areas includes much of the country’s oil wealth, have the strength to turn the tide against the regime and close the one-loop in the north-east of the country that has acted as a breathing space for the regime.

All the while, the West continues to sluggishly ponder their next move in Syria with thousands of Syrian dying each day. While the Western powers have been far too slow to devise a strategy in Syria, Islamist groups who have proved the most coordinated and affective against the regime have filled the vacuum.

As a result of the West’s inaction, there is now a race between Free Syrian Army moderates and the increasingly influential Islamist rebels to take Damascus. The Islamist groups will now have a seat at the Syrian table in the aftermath of the conflict whether the West likes it or not. Failing that, another civil war will mark the end of this one.

As for the Kurds, who are also integral components to any future Syria, a more concrete outreach by Syrian opposition forces and Turkey as well as more recognition and support from Western powers could well mean the pendulum can swing against Assad.

Kurdistan may well be divided, but increasingly the Kurdish borders are been eroded. Future harmony and the attainment of peace in Turkey are linked to Syria and beyond. For example, the PKK will likely maintain a condition that Turkey does not meddle in Syrian Kurdish affairs or adopt any policies against a future Syrian Kurdistan.

Imagine if Kurdish autonomy or rights were not granted in a future Syria and a war broke out, would the PKK and Turkish Kurds stand idle? Could Ankara really intervene in such a situation without aggravating the Kurds? Either way, peace and stability cannot be achieved in any part of Kurdistan, if other parts prove volatile or restive.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

A new Syria in a new Middle East

As the West remains idle, Syrians continue to suffer at large

The international community continues to tip-toe around the Syrian crisis, while almost two years into the bloody conflict, the death toll rapidly increases and thousands more refugees are forced to flee across the borders.

Syria may have much greater socio-political, sectarian and strategic connotations than Libya, but the ironies cannot be overlooked. Just when will the United States, the E.U. or the U.N. deem enough is enough?

60,000 deaths, 700,000 refugees and masses amounts of destruction and suffering later and yet the current conflict in Syria is intensifying and worsening by the day.

Failings of the West

The Western powers have greatly encouraged the Syrian revolution and the overthrow of Bashar Assad but have failed to take practical steps that would lead to the ultimate end-goal – the end of the regime.

The current predicament in Syria has echoes of the 1991 uprising in Iraq, which was encouraged and promoted by the US led coalition at the time, but as the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal sliced through Kurdish and Shiite ranks, killing thousands and sending hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees into desperate situations in the process, the West stood largely idle.

The images of bodies of over a hundred executed men, recovered from a river in Aleppo, is a disturbing summary of where Syria finds itself today or in the words of UN special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, the “unprecedented levels of horror” that Syria has reached.

Ironically, as the Syrian conflict rumbles on, Western powers have hailed the impact of the intervention, unity and coordination between NATO, EU, UN and regional African forces in Mali. Such was the deemed urgency that the intervention in Mali was relatively swift and without contention.

Such urgency is needed in Syria, if not for the sake of the rebels, then to alleviate the humanitarian crisis of millions of innocent civilians. It is the duty of all those who believe in democracy and human rights.

International divide

The regional and international divide over Syrian remains great. The Syrian opposition and the Western powers have long insisted that Assad’s days are numbered and any little legitimacy he had left has long evaporated. The current stalemate is owed to those who staunchly support Damascus – Iran, Iraq, China and in particular Russia.

Russia is the key denominator to finding an end to the Syrian struggle and the party that has already vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions.

The West, having recognised the newly formed Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, remain wary of direct military intervention, the setup of a humanitarian corridor or even the arming of the rebels.

The current vicious cycle in Syria is not about to break. There is no way back for Assad now. Syria will never be the same again and outgunned rebels will eventually topple Assad one way or another. The end game is clear, the only thing not clear is when and how many thousands more lives will be sacrificed and how much more suffering the population will endure in the process.

Positive signs

At the recent Munich Security Conference, US Vice-President Joe Biden reiterated that Assad “is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go.” The gulf between US and Russia is one of the reasons for the protracted nature of the struggle.

Russia has been insistent that a transitional plan or negotiations should not have the removal of Assad as a prerequisite. This negates the whole purpose and motive of the Syrian opposition. How Russia can continue to believe that Assad can be part of any future democratic framework or Syrian transition smacks of delusion.

In a symbolic step for the first time, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, held talks with leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Sheikh Ahmed Moaz Al-Khatib. Al-Khatib’s remarks that he is prepared for dialogue with the Damascus regime, created furry among the Syrian opposition. Khatib later back-pedaled and insisted any talks would merely be on the proviso of a peaceful exit of Assad’s regime.

Either way, there is no doubt that the key to the toppling of Assad lies in building positive ties between Russia and the Syrian National Coalition.

As the Syrian conflict rages on, even Russian ranks are increasingly divided, with a stark reality that Moscow does not want to risk burning bridges with a future Syria, in spite of its rhetoric. Just recently, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev hit out at Assad’s lack of reach-out to the opposition and deemed his chances of staying in power as “shrinking day by day”.

A new Syria in a new Middle East

With the Syrian Kurds finally free from the chains of dictatorship and enjoying symbolic autonomy that they are unlikely to relinquish after decades of suffering, Alawites likely to regroup in their strongholds and Sunnis ascending to power, the new fragmented Syria will be a far cry from that of yesteryears.

With the new Syria and the Arab Spring, strategic and sectarian alliances of the Middle East are undertaking a drastic shift. Syrian Kurds will move closer to the Kurdistan Region, Turkey’s Kurdish policy both internally and externally will need a major rethink with the reality of Kurdish autonomy on its southern border, Sunnis in Iraq will naturally move closer to the new Damascus regime just as Baghdad will move increasingly closer to Tehran.

Then there are the ramifications for the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Israel. The shifts in the Middle East are unavoidable. The Western powers and regional forces most move quickly, to harness such inevitabilities in the most constructive way, or risk more turmoil and destruction in a future Syria and the new Middle East.

A continual policy of sticking to the side-lines in the current conflict will greatly encourage extremists in the Syrian struggle and risk the possibilities of war within a war, as dangerously witnessed with al-Qaeda backed elements fighting Kurdish forces in Kurdish populated areas, seemingly on a drive to escalate the Syrian war and pour fuel on Arab, Kurdish hostilities.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.

Globe interview with Saleh Muslim, Co-leader of the Kurdish Syrian PYD

Link to Interview in KurdishGlobe-2012-39-13 (English)

Link to Interview Hawler newspaper (Kurdish) – 18.12.12 Printed in Kurdistan Region (Kurdish Translation)

Syrian Kurds with new found autonomy and historic opportunity find themselves in the limelight and key actors in the Syrian struggle. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is at the centre of the Kurdish struggle in Syria and in the Kurdish quest to capitalise on their new dawn. With rumours and scrutiny facing the party, Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke exclusively with Saleh Muslim, Co-leader of the PYD on a number of issues to set the record straight.


Globe: At times the PYD is portrayed negatively, as a PKK-affiliated party who has not abided by power sharing agreement with other Kurdish parties, does not tolerate other Kurdish armed forces and has even allegedly collaborated with the Assad regime. What is your answer to that?

Muslim: The PYD is a political party established in 2003 and of course we have our way and our philosophy and our strategy for the works. I mean if our philosophy or strategy was the same as classical Kurdish parties, there would be no reason to establish a new party. We established PYD which is different from the classical parties inSyria. We have the philosophy of Mr. Ocalan and his ideas are adapted to the condition and situation ofWestern Kurdistan. Our works is different from a radical party or the philosophy of classic parties. So it’s usual for people who promoting the interest of regional and global powers to attack our party and to blame it, because we are promoting and working for the interest of the people in Western Kurdistan and all Syrians.

In 50 years the Kurdish parties could not submit anything to Kurdish politics or to the Kurdish people ofWestern Kurdistan. They could not organise themselves very well and especially for the critical duration facingWestern Kurdistan. So everything belonged to the PYD, all the responsibilities including defending the people and organising the people fell to the PYD. PYD is doing everything and because of that, we are been attacked not only by the classic Kurdish parties but also other sides that are against the Kurdish people and their struggle.

They are enemies of the Kurdish people. So we are under attack from all of them. There are many rumours and sayings, trying to affiliate us with the PKK where other than the general philosophy we are completely different from them. We have our own leadership, strategy, and work forWestern Kurdistan, we do not have any organic relations with the PKK or affiliations with them. But we support each other like any party, our relation with them is no different to our relations with the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) of Massaud Barzani or PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) of Jalal Talabani.

Globe: Do you have any problem working with other Kurdish parties or power sharing?

Muslim: No, not at all. We would like to share the power with all Kurdish parties. We can do everything together. We have been seeking the co-operation with them since we were established in 2003, where we knocked on all their doors, we met them one by one to build relations and to work together and to make agreements with them but we could not achieve this.

Globe: In terms of the Kurdish forces, do you have any problem in working with other Kurdish forces specifically the “Syrian Peshmerga” trained in Kurdistan Region? Is the force in Syrian Kurdistan, a PYD force or a national force for all Kurds?

Muslim: We have no problem to unite all the armed forces for the sake of the Kurdish people. InWestern Kurdistanyou can have many political parties, many organisations but when it comes to the armed forces, there should only ever be one armed force for the region. Otherwise if you have intra-fighting it’s a massive problem. Because of that, as part of the Kurdish Supreme Council we decided to unify all of the armed forces, including those Kurdish forces inSyriaor those trained inSouthern Kurdistan. We are trying to unify them and this is no problem as the forces belong to the people. They are protecting people ofWestern Kurdistan. Everybody has a right to join it to defend his family and relations. This is never a problem for us. But importantly, any force should only be under one commander.

We don’t refer to such forces trained inSouthern Kurdistanas Peshmerga, they are simply part of the Peoples Protection Unit, the defence units. It’s the same to us and we do not differentiate on the type of forces by referring to these specifically as “Peshmerga”. Those forces are in Syrian right now. Most of them are Kurdish soldiers who had defected from the Syrian Army and they are simply the army of the Kurdish people inWestern Kurdistanprotecting them. An important point, they do not belong to any political party, nor the PYD or even Democratic Society Movement (Tev-Dem). They are established by (Tev-Dem) but they belong to the Syrian Kurdish people, because they take orders from the Kurdish Supreme Council.

Globe: Some have accused you of collaborating with Assad’s regime in Kurdish areas, can you set the record straight on that?

Muslim: We have been fighting this regime since we were established in 2003. We have had our people killed under torture, when the Syrian uprising started in March 2011 we had about 1,500 people under arrest and tortured by Assad’s security apparatus. Because of that we cannot say we have relations with them. But because our strategy is different from other organisations and other parties, they try to find a reason to blame us. Only because we refused to become soldiers for the others as on many other occasions in Kurdish history. Kurds have always been soldiers for others, fighting for them, dying for them and at the end they receive nothing. So we refuse to follow that historical trap. Now they point the blame at us as we refused to be their soldiers. We have no relations with the regime at all, nor would we ever open the hand of the gladiator that is killing us.

Globe: Turkey has been closely observing the new found Kurdish autonomy in Syria with great unease. Do you have any contact with the Turkish authorities? Do you see any threat in a direct Turkish invasion?

Muslim: We are on the side of dialogue with anybody, not just Turkey. Anyone involved in the Syrian conflict or the Kurdish case, we are open to negotiations with them and we do not have any objections. Today, we don’t have any contact with the Turkish authorities but we don’t refuse contact or meetings with them, if the Turkish regime accepts us. As for any invasion, I don’t think international conditions make sense for any invasion, they will not allow such an invasion nor is it convenient for any military intervention inSyria. But the Turkish hand is clearly inSyriafrom the beginning of the uprising. They are trying to be involved and are supporting armed groups to destabilise relatively peaceful Kurdish region and the Turkish intervention has succeeded in turning the peaceful uprising into an armed uprising against the regime. This was only possible with Turkish support of armed groups.

In the Kurdish case, we have already seen what happened inAleppo, Afrin and Sere Kaniye where armed groups have invaded the Kurdish areas fromTurkey. They are supporting them and they are sending them to mix the Kurdish areas and to destroy peaceful situation of the Kurdish areas. Groups such as Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham are all related to the Turkish regime, affiliated, supported and sent by them.

And even in Sere Kaniye when they were going to escape to get back toTurkey,Turkeyclosed the border and said to these armed groups you either have to fight or die. So they didn’t allow them to go back and still those forces are there. Just yesterday there was an air attack by regime forces on those armed groups, but they have nowhere to escape becauseTurkeyclosed the border and they are unable to move out, so they are hemmed in. More than 20 of them were killed yesterday by that air attack.

Globe: What is your message to Turkey?

Muslim: Turkey must step away from their Kurdish phobia. Kurds can live together with the Turkish people, we have no problem with any Turk. We are friends and neighbours with Turkmen inSyriaand the same with the Turkish people. We have no problem with the Turkish people and we can co-exist peacefully. The Turkish government should understand that and build on the brotherly ties between the two nations, instead of been driven by a phobia of Kurds.

Globe: Recently, there has been much violence between FSA, particularly their Islamist wings and PYD forces in Sere Kaniye and within Aleppo itself. Why such hostility and general animosity? What must happen before you will work with the FSA?

Muslim: If they leave us alone, then we don’t have any problem with the Free Syrian Army. They are mostly compromised of soldiers defecting from the Syrian Army and to protect the civilians. But it is only specific armed groups that are fighting and attacking the Kurdish areas even when there are no regime forces in such areas. They are attacking civilians and such groups do not belong to the FSA at all and even the FSA have issued declarations that they are not affiliated with them. They are different groups to the FSA and they are only using the name of FSA, but nobody recognises them as FSA. They belong to the Turkish regime. Especially, in Aleppo, Afrin and Sere Kaniye, these groups were clearly supported by Turkey with weapons, with facilities of movement and they are coming from across the Turkish side.

Any Kurdish peoples captured, such as the leader of YPG who was captured in Aleppo, are taken to Turkey for interrogation by Turkish authorities. Even in Sere Kaniye, the injured and captured people were taken to Turkey and investigated by Turkish authorities. We may not be fighting Turkish soldiers directly, but they are proxy forces instigated by Turkey.

In Syria, you have Kurds, Arabs and other nationalities. If everyone liberated his place then all of Syria is liberated. Kurds cannot go to Damascus and liberate Damascus but we can liberate our part where we live. And that’s what we have done. There are no regime soldiers or forces in Kurdish area, so why would rebel forces attack here?

Globe: What is the wait to liberate Qamishli and all of Syrian Kurdistan from Assad’s forces? What is the next step in your struggle to liberate all of Syrian Kurdistan?

Muslim: For us it’s not a case of liberation. If we push away the Syrian forces, then we are simply living with Syrian people and all Syrians within the Syrian state. For Qamishli, the situation is very sensitive. We are not fighting the Arabs but the Syrian regime. Our liberation is not from Syrian people but from Assad forces only.

While we are concern of fighting between the Kurds and Arabs, in sensitive places like Qamishli and Sere Kaniye and to prevent this sectarian war, we could not afford to attack to regime, as we are worried that some Arabs may side with the regime. We don’t want to end up in a conflict between Arabs and Kurds, as opposed to fighting the regime.

Qamishli is a Kurdish city and the capital of Western Kurdistan and the city is a hub for Kurdish activities.  The plan is still to eradicate Qamishli of regime forces. But at the same time we never reject to live side-by-side with Arabs in Qamishli and we don’t want Qamishli to be a place of fighting between Kurds and Arabs. When the conditions are right and when the Arabs in and around Qamishli leave with those that are against the regime, we will also extend our control to Qamishli.

Globe: The Kurdistan Region is your neighbour and brethren, with growing strategic power and regional influence. Can the Kurdistan Region leadership do more to help the Kurds and political parties in Syria?

Muslim: The Kurdistan regional Government is doing what it is doing in their areas and they are controlling their areas in South Kurdistan. But our conditions are very different. We are not looking for a system like in Southern Kurdistan. So we can have very good relations but we have different conditions and our solution is different from them. Their governance is based on federalism whereas what we strive for is democratic self-governing which is different. We don’t have to draw the border between Syrian Kurdish areas and the Arab areas.

A Kurd can always do more for a Kurd in terms of support. We are one nation, whether in the south, west, north or east. But for each part we have different conditions. We can help each other in the spirit of brotherhood and build our future strategy. What we are looking for in future is Kurdish parts to be unified in a democratic confederation in the Middle East. The Kurdish parts can be a reason to unite the Middle East, much in the same way as Europe came closer together through a union whilst slowly eroding their common borders. Today we have 27 countries all living together. Why can’t we the same thing in the Middle East?

At the point we have the Middle East united in a democratic confederation, at the same time all of Kurdistan will become united. This is our long-term strategy for the Kurdish people.

Globe: What is the absolute minimum that the PYD will settle for in a post Assad Syria?

Muslim: There are two points. One is constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people in Western Kurdistan. And secondly, guarantees for our democratic rights that is included in the constitution. In terms of self-governance model, the name is not important; it could be termed self-governance or democratic federalism. As part of democratic rights, there should be provision of self-protecting defence units such security units, essentially civilians protecting the areas.

The Kurdish case in Syria is different. Everybody is assessing the Syrian situation and talking about the Syrian problem, but nobody is looking at the Kurdish side of it. We are part of the Syrian people, we have our rights and any solution for the Syrian people must also contain a solution for the Kurdish conflict also. It is impossible to have democracy in Syria without solving the Kurdish problem. Everybody should be clear that once there is a solution of the Kurds, only then can democracy be attained in Syria.

Globe: It cannot be overlooked that the majority of Syrian oil is in Kurdish areas and Western Kurdistan is oil rich. Do you have any control over the oil fields at the moment and what’s your view on natural resources that Kurds have never benefited from?

Muslim: Those oil wells are protected by our people over there. And we are still getting fuel from the refineries in Homos and Baniyas, so we protect. Of course in a future Syria, such natural resources need agreement with benefit for local community and a portion of revenues should be spent on the local areas. Revenue sharing will need negotiation and agreement, but it will be managed centrally for all Syrians.

Turkish fears of Syrian Kurdish autonomy already a reality

As the bloody uprising in Syria intensifies by the week, Syrian Kurds have tried to keep a distance from the ever violent conflict by safeguarding the region from fighting and consolidating their newfound autonomy.

Control over parts of the Kurdish region sees a remarkable turn of fortune for Kurds in Syria but has been viewed with great suspicion by Turkey, whose leadership yet again warned that they will not tolerate Kurdish self-rule.

Owed to great distrust between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Kurdish forces predominantly of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Kurds have largely stayed out of the Arab-Sunni revolution, and have prevented the FSA from entering Kurdish controlled areas. The Kurds have in the main tried to leverage strategic positions by cutting deals with both rebels and Assad forces.

However, as the rebel control of areas within Aleppo and the greater Aleppo region grows and with it the supply routes from the Turkish border to key rebel held areas, it naturally trespasses grounds of Kurdish forces and thus the seeds of conflict are evident.

With deep animosity that underscores both camps, Kurds fearing a second marginalization when Sunni rebels assume power and rebels accusing the Kurds of supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the situation was always on a knife edge.

Fighting that erupted in Aleppo’s Kurdish districts and later in the village of Yazi Bagh and near other Kurdish towns close to the Turkish border, threatened to open a second unwanted front in an already complex and increasingly brutal civil war.

Kurdish Autonomy

With the Kurds suffering more than any other group in Syria and natural components of any anti-Assad movement, it is ironic that the Kurds feel like a marginalized part of the Syrian National Council (SNC) or the uprising on the ground. This is partly owed to shrewd manipulation by Assad by bolstering Kurdish power, sowing disunity amongst Kurds and driving a wedge in the opposition but is also down to the failure and lack of significant efforts within the SNC to entice the Kurds.

The Kurds continue to look beyond the present, with the future posing the greatest dilemma. What role will the Kurds be afforded in a post Assad era and what mechanism will be in place to protect Kurdish rights? Can Kurds be sure that they won’t suffer the same fate under Sunni Arab rule?

Some elements of the SNC and the FSA have openly opposed the idea of establishing a Kurdish autonomous entity, while certain groups within the FSA have openly threatened to turn guns on the Kurdish forces once they are finished with Assad.

A stronger Kurdish buy-in and reassurance to the Kurdish community would have certainly expedited Assad’s downfall. And Turkey, a flag bearer of the Syrian opposition, must take some blame for the current friction between Kurds and Arabs.   Turkey’s remarks, anxiety and threats against Kurdish autonomous development, that naturally weights on SNC sentiments, has alienated the Kurds further. It has left the Kurds stuck between Assad, FSA and Turkey.

Unless strong reconciliation efforts takes place between Kurds and Arabs, not only will the “Lebanonisation” of the Syria conflict became ever nearer, but Syria will be finding itself fighting another deadly war after Assad’s downfall.

Erdogan’s warning

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, warnings amidst the increasing power and autonomy of Syrian Kurds is hardly new. He warned previously that Turkey would “not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey”.

This week Erdoğan warned that Turkey would not allow the formation of a Kurdish autonomous region in Syria, in the same way as it has for Iraq. “We cannot let playing of such a scenario here [in Syria]. We told this to Barzani too. We wanted him to know this,” stated Erdoğan.

In spite of the Turkish stance, Syrian Kurds have already attained de-facto autonomy and although not enshrined in legislature, Syrian Kurds are unlikely to revert back after tasting self-rule.

Erdogan’s and Turkey’s clear concern is the PYD and the growing re-emergence of the PKK influence in Syria and Turkey. However, the issue goes much deeper than the PYD and narrow-minded policies of Turkey fail to comprehend the bigger picture in Syria.

There are dozens of Kurdish parties, many with representation in the SNC and who Turkey have enjoyed dialogue, and while the PYD has the upper hand at present, control of Kurdish regions is not exclusively in the hands of the PYD.

More importantly, what can Turkey, or for that matter the Kurdistan Region, do to prevent Kurdish autonomy in Syria? Of course the Kurdistan leadership has strong influence on the Syrian Kurds, but the fact of the matter is that Syria Kurds under democratic rights cannot have rules or conditions imposed on them from inside Syria let alone from Turkey.

Kurdish autonomy in Iraq was also a frequent Turkish red-line but Turkey had no choice but to succumb to geopolitical realities on its doorstep. In one way or another, Turkey will have to accept also a Kurdish region in Syria.

Aside from the rhetoric, there is little Turkey can do to prevent Kurdish autonomous advancement in Syria. If it intervenes directly both now and in the future, it will spark a deadly cross border battle with Kurdish forces. The PKK in particular would work hard to safeguard Kurdish gains in Syria, and solidify its growing influence. Any war in the Kurdish areas of Syria would mean even greater violence in Turkey.

It makes Turkey’s position all the more ironic, on the one had it supports the rebels against dictatorship and promotes a free Syria, and on the other hand it tries to subdue the pluralistic dimension of Syria.

Turkey must work harder to entice Kurdish moderates and stop its exclusive focus on the PYD. There are dozens of Kurdish parties and with an autonomous Kurdish entity an unavoidable reality it should build relations with parties and individuals that it can work with and trust.

The starting point should be Turkey’s strong denouncement of growing Arab-Kurd violence, to reassure Syrian Kurds of Turkey’s support and build more alliances with Syrian Kurdish parties.

When you cannot directly prevent a reality, you should do your best to influence it to your advantage. For this Turkey must lean heavily on the Kurdistan Region leadership. Barzani can have a strong influence on the PYD and the autonomous Kurdish region in Syria and dilute the PKK influence on the region.

If the Kurds become stuck between distrusted Sunni rebels, an unbalanced SNC, a hostile Turkey or a distant Kurdistan Region, then their natural protectors become the PKK.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.