Category Archives: Syria

The many regional dimensions of the Syrian war

Syria was always going to be a special exception to the Arab Spring. In contrast to Egypt and Libya, its religious and ethnic framework, political alliances, strategic location and above all else its potential to instigate heat waves across the region was always going to make regional and foreign powers tip-toe that much more carefully.

However, directly or indirectly, the battle in Syria is hardly restricted to Syrians themselves. A deep underlying proxy war is already taking place in Syria that brings together many influential parties with their own interests in the conflict and the eventual outcome in Syria.

Turkish alarm

Relations between Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Turkey rapidly faded after the start of the revolution. Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and other pro-rebel foreign powers and Turkey itself, have been supporting the rebels indirectly from Turkish territory.

Regional powers have restrained from direct intervention in Syria, but a Syrian mortar attack that landed in the Turkish border town of Akcakale last week killing 5 Turkish civilians, resulting in retaliatory attacks by Turkey for a number of days, showed just how quickly the fire of civil war can burn across a far reaching forest.

Cross border tensions in the north are hardly new and other stray Syrian bullets and mortars have already fallen across the border in Turkey, and in Jordan and Lebanon for that matter, not forgetting the hotly-disputed downing of a Turkish jet reportedly in international waters fresh in the memory.

But the deaths in Akcakale were a red-line and Turkish parliament was quick to authorise symbolic cross-border operations if the needs arise to serve as a strong warning, even if in reality Turkey is far from jumping in to the drums of war.

Matters were hardly helped as further stray Syrian mortars landed in Turkish fields in the Hatay province on Saturday, just days after Syria had offered a rare apology and vowed not to repeat the incidents.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Syria would pay a “big price” and that Turkey would not shy away from war if provoked, stating “those who attempt to test Turkey’s deterrence, its decisiveness, its capacity, I say here they are making a fatal mistake.”

Clearly, Turkey and its allies do not have the stomach for direct intervention at the current time, due to the intense regional escalation it would cause. On another day, Turkey may well have had the pretext to strike back with more fire-power or even declare all-out war, but such a solitary move without some allied coalition would be detrimental to Turkey both politically and in terms of its own stability and security.

UN and NATO response

Both the UN and NATO issued a strong rebuke to Syrian actions.

NATO demanded “the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally” and pressed the Syrian regime to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”

While the UN Security Council strongly condemned the provocations by the Syria regime in rare agreement after hours of negotiations and stated that the incident  “highlighted the grave impact the crisis in Syria has on the security of its neighbours and on regional peace,” and “demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated.”

If it was not for the staunch support of Russia and China, a Western backlash on Assad would have been much more stern and direct. However, the UN text that was issued showed the increasingly difficult predicament of Moscow as it was forced to make concessions over the cross-border crisis whilst trying to maintain calm.

Regional ramifications

The war in Syria has already split the West along Cold War lines and polarised the region. The latest escalation in tensions between Syria and Turkey threatened to introduce a whole new dimension to the Syrian conflict but is not a unique danger.

Clashes have already taken place in Lebanon between pro-Assad and pro-rebel groups inside Lebanon and border skirmishes are not rare as the battle has ubiquitously spilled over. Both Iraq and particularly Lebanon have similar sectarian connotations that introduce vested interests in the Syrian conflict.

The influential Shiite group Hezbollah based in Lebanon and closely aligned with Iran, has reportedly assisted Syrian forces but in spite of stirring of old sectarian wounds in Lebanon, the major factions have shown restraint with the bitter 15-year civil war still etched in the memory.

Baghdad, who is closely entangled with Tehran, has come under pressure from its dismayed US ally for its Syrian position and pressed to cease underhand support of the Syrian regime or allow Iran logistical access to send arm shipments to Syria. While Nouri al-Maliki is careful not to alienate foreign partners, they are clearly in favour of the current regime and not the Sunni dominated rebel movement. Some even ascribe the resurgence of Sunni attacks and groups in Iraq to the deepening sectarian conflict in Syria and the rise of Sunni power in Syria.

Israel with its occupation of the Golan Heights on the direct doorstep of the Syrian conflict, and with Iranian supported Hezbollah on the other flank, knows it can also be easily dragged into the battle.

While the Syrian crisis may have split the Arab world largely under sectarian lines, it is perhaps the Kurdish issue that may prove the most destabilising of all.

The Kurdistan Region has provided a natural helping hand to its Syrian Kurdish brethren, with Syrian Kurds using the security and political vacuum to claim de-facto autonomy and break from the shackles of Arab suppression.

On the other hand, Assad’s forces, weary of Turkish intervention or even the creation of a buffer zone in northern Syria, have strategically ceded Kurdish border areas to avoid bloodshed with the Kurds and to delimit the rebel movement and at the same time create their own buffer zone.

Turkey has already suffered to a great extent with the establishment of the Kurdish region and renewed support of the PKK in Damascus, which was a ploy by Syria to only deter a Turkish incursion but was also a tool to punish the Turks for their support of the Sunni rebel movement.

Turkey is acutely aware, that with PKK attacks on a rapid rise in Turkey and Kurdish passions running high across the Syrian-Turkish divide, a unilateral incursion may open up unwanted new fronts.

A Turkish move into Syria could well see Iran ratchet its increased support for Kurdish rebels or embolden the Syrian forces with renewed military assistance.

With Iraq, Iran and to a lesser extent Lebanon on one side, Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, Jordan and Egypt have promoted and aided the rebel cause through proxy forces while at the same time trying to keep the conflict at arm’s length.

Syrian game changer

No war drives on indefinitely and something will have to give sooner or later. While the West and pro-rebel regional forces have been largely passive, how long can the world view a humanitarian crisis, a growing refugee influx and escalating violence in Syria as an internal issue and without ultimate intervention or the setup of some kind of no-fly zones?

The fall of Assad’s regime in Syria will have far reaching ramifications, may well see the break-up of Syria and drastically alter the political, strategic and sectarian map of the Middle East.

Both within the current crisis and in the aftermath of the war, regional powers will flock to make their stake and influence in the new Syria. Syria is far too important both now and the future to be simply left aside as a distant war.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.

With their time to shine, Syrian Kurds must seize the moment

Many observers often describe the Syrian Kurds as sitting on the fence in the Syrian conflict, waiting on a clear outcome before choosing sides. It may be true that Kurds have not necessarily taken a more natural anti-Assad position but this is more to do with the political climate and strategic ploys than any adoration of the regime.

If Sunni’s feel that they have got a raw deal under the current dictatorship then how must the largely repressed and disenfranchised Kurds feel?

This makes it all the more ironic that Kurds continue to remain divided and are slow in taking measures that necessitate decisiveness to capitalise on the historical opportunities on the table.

It also says much about how the Kurds view the predominantly Sunni Arab nationalist Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Syrian National Council (SNC) when many preside with the mentality of “better the devil you know” due to their lack of conviction for a new Syria.

Then there is the Turkish connection. Clearly, a lot of Syrian Kurds look at both the SNC and Turkey with suspicion. The PKK has a firm fan base amongst Syrian Kurds and coupled with Turkey’s track record with their own restive Kurdish population, they remain sceptical that the autonomy or rights they demand would be enshrined in a new Syria.

Coming off the fence

Sometimes if you sit on the fence for too long waiting to make your move, the fence may break forcing you to unwillingly land on one side.

The Kurds have been widely acknowledged as the wild card in the struggle against Assad and a force with considerable numbers and sway that can tip the scale of revolution.

However, the Kurds have been too disparate, at times too slow, spending much time quarrelling amongst one another and lacking clear leadership.

There are only 2 million or so Kurds in Syria, yet dozens of political parties. The Erbil agreement in July that brought the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNCS) together under the stewardship of Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani was more than a welcome step, but it remains brittle, inconsistent, unbalanced in its implementation and lacking a real nationalist feel.

A cloud still remains on the PYD and with its powerful support base and responsibility as the only real armed group, it must work on enhancing the Kurdish cause in Syria and becoming a real nationalist icon. However, it still remains shrouded under the shadow of the PKK and has hardly taking the bulls by the horns against Assad.

It must not be forgotten, that the Kurdish population in Syria is far by the smallest amongst the four major parts of Kurdistan. Nationalism never really had firm roots in terms of a definitive movement, Kurdish inhibited areas are much more geographically spread-out, and more importantly the Kurds do not have international or regional support for their own autonomous entity let alone from Sunni Arabs.

The Kurdish struggle in Syria must for now be disconnected from Kurdish struggles elsewhere. Kurdish groups and the PYD in particular should deviate away from too much focus on Turkey or the PKK struggle that resides there.

This is a historical moment for Syrian Kurds and all energies must be channelled to overcome constraints and within nationalist goals and not narrow minded party politics.

Ousting or working with the regime?

The Kurds made headlines when they took historic control of some Kurdish towns and districts in July, shortly after the Erbil Agreement. However, it was hardly a whirlwind revolution with an all guns blazing legacy but a largely peaceful transition.

No doubt a deal was made between the Assad government and the Kurdish forces for relinquishment of these areas. At the time, there was much talk of the Kurds seizing Qamishli and other Kurdish towns but months later Syrian Kurdistan remains relatively quiet and subdued.

Assad has much to gain by working and seceding territory to the Kurds and the new Kurdish administration is as much to do with a new Kurdish drive as smart manipulation by Assad.

By ceding control of border territories to the Kurds, Damascus seeks to server a double blow to Ankara. Firstly, it creates a buffer against any future Turkish incursion with Kurdish fighters well positioned and secondly it creates a fertile cross-border ground for the PKK to swing the pendulum in their favour against Turkey.

Assad further continues to create cracks in the SNC by splitting Kurdish sentiment and at the same the withdrawal was calculated by the need for Assad forces to focus energies on the battle against Syrian rebels in the key economic hub of Aleppo.

Finally, as a last measure and bare minimum fall back position for Assad, an Alawite region or even state would be established, with the proviso of a Kurdish region aiding division and establishment of future regions.

Now is the time, not the future

A lot of Kurds seem intent to save their firepower and energy for what they deem the real battle – once Assad is overthrown and a new scramble for power in Syrian ensues akin to Iraq. Kurds seem convinced that once the FSA finish pointing their guns at Assad, they will simply reposition the barrel at the Kurds instead.

While some of these fears and concerns have substance, after all Sunni opposition groups well before the Arab Spring began, hardly supported the Kurdish cause or united with Kurdish opposition groups and remained loyal to Arab unity and nationalism than any promotion of the Kurdish struggle.

The time for Kurds to act is now. Waiting for a clear outcome in the battle leads to an uncertain conclusion. If the rebels advance and beat Assad, then the Kurds will be backed in to an uncomfortable corner and diluted bargaining position and if Assad manages to stay in power, then how can the Kurds trust a dynasty that has seen them suffer mercilessly with thousands not even worthy of a citizenship status.

The Kurds in Syria must unite and set aside there differences for the sake of the Kurdish people, Kurdish nationalism and the decades of pain and tears endured under dictatorial rule. The insistence on promoting party based political agenda will see all Kurds fail.

The Kurds do not need to take sides with the SNC or Assad; the real side they should choose are the Kurds themselves.

Now is the time to charge into Qamishli and oust Assad forces, followed by all Kurdish towns and cities in Syria.

The Kurdish forces, both those loyal to the PYD and those consisting of largely Kurdish defectors from the Syrian army under a united front and can easily assume control of Kurdish population in Syrian. Assad can hardly contain one battle front in Syria, let alone two.

The passive Kurdish stance in Aleppo

Much of the Syrian revolution has congregated around Aleppo over the past several weeks. Aleppo is home to a significant Kurdish population but they have remained largely idle. There are contrasting reports of a new battle field opening in the predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheik Maksoud, with some reports claiming that PKK affiliated militias with leverage in the district had supported regime forces while others stating they had stayed out of the battle.

Whilst, Kurds look at the FSA with suspicion, the Kurdish support is a wildcard that could easily tip the war in favour of the rebels. The Kurds must use this opportunity to drive a hard bargain with the SNC and FSA in return for direct support in ousting Assad.

A continuation of passive Kurdish stance or worse resistance against Syrian rebels in Aleppo gives an undeserving hand to Assad.

Syria is ablaze and will dramatically alter not only the political map of Syria itself but also the whole region. Tip-toeing with peaceful motions, insistence on narrow minded party interest or sitting on the fence is akin to political suicide for the Kurds. Having suffered brutally for decades and waited patiently to rewrite the wrongs of history, the Kurds dare not waste this historical opportunity.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.

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

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

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

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

Natural Allies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurds over Iraqi Arabs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They effectively chose Kurdistan over Baghdad.

Syrian Kurdistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syrian Kurdish foster parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

Welcome to the Kurdistan Region of Syria

For thousands of Kurds in Syria, achieving basic rights and citizenship was a dream let alone witnessing the hoisting of the flag of Kurdistan on the historic soil of their ancestors.

For hundreds of years, Kurdish valour, passion and determination stood up to many forms of tyranny and the sheer force and military might of their oppressors. Often helicopter gunships, tanks, fighter jets and even chemical weapons were no match for the heart and pride of the Kurdish warrior.

After decades out of the limelight, it is the turn of the Kurds of Syria to seize their historic opportunity, to unite and liberate another part of Kurdistan from tyranny and dictatorship. As a series of cities succumb to Kurdish control, Kurds need to ensure that the last Arab troop to leave Kurdistan is the last oppressing force to ever be seen in their territory.

Much like the uprising of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, Syrian Kurds must ensure that the newly hoisted Kurdish flags on-top of government buildings are the only flags that the region will ever see.

Liberation of Kurdistan

As Kurdish forces of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) finally united via the recent Erbil agreement brokered by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, the renewed vigour of the Kurds was on instant show.

The fall of Kobane, in the province of Halab (Aleppo) and close to the Turkish border, served as the first symbol of freedom. This quickly followed with the liberation of Amude, Afrin, Dêrik and the Cidêris district. Kurdish People’s Defense Unions (YPG) alongside the Kurdish citizens, were at the forefront of the liberation.

The battle for these cities was largely without any real confrontation. This is not because Bashar al-Assad’s government sees these areas as non-important. On the contrary, they dare not indulge in a bloody confrontation with a group of determined, passionate and patriotic Kurds, where the outcome was certain defeat. Instead, the Syrian army decided to regroup and focus their efforts in maintaining control of key cities.

With reported clashes in Qamishli, the iconic Kurdish power centre of Syria, it is unlikely that Assad will give up the city without a fight. However, with a united Kurdish offensive and the Syrian army already stretched in Damascus and in other battles with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Damascus can ill-afford a protracted and ultimately costly battle against the growing Kurdish brigades.

The Union of Kurdish Coordination Committees (UKCC) urged the members of the Syrian army to withdraw from the Kurdish areas or face consequences. Indeed some reports indicate that the Syrian army may well withdraw under certain conditions rather than risk a bloody conflict with the Kurds.

At this historical juncture, the Kurdistan Region must continue to support their brethren in Syria, both through a continuation of political efforts to bolster unity and harmony amongst the disparate Kurdish voices in Syria and also through logistical support and aid.

Erbil Agreement

Only a few weeks ago, there was a deep split in Syrian Kurdistan that threatened the nationalist goals of the Kurds, undermined their efforts at a key time to topple Assad and even threatened to break into civil war.

As part of the Erbil agreement, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan formed an agreement for the join-administration of Syrian Kurdistan.

Maintaining unity is perhaps the biggest risk to nationalist goals of the Kurds in Syria. Even Assad is less of a danger that the danger of Kurdish disunity itself.

Through unity, the Kurds become a cohesive force and where their battle becomes one of ethnic and sovereign rights, rather than individual goals of political parties.

Kurdish parties seem to be well aware of the dangers of not fulfilling a united front. The importance of working together was recently echoed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Kurdistan Freedom Party.

Unity amongst such an array of Kurdish views will not be easy but any alternative is simply not an option.

Ankara Alarm

Whilst the Kurds in Syrian and throughout greater Kurdistan looks at the emergence of a Kurdish controlled region in Syria with great pride, Turkey is inevitably alarmed at such developments.

Regardless of greater Kurdish unity in Syria, there is no denying that a major force on the new Kurdish political maps is the PYD which has strong links to the PKK.  The PKK flags on display tell its own story,

Barzani has helped to reposition the PYD focus from one of anti-Turkey and supporting the PKK to one that can focus on the primary and historical objective of liberating Syrian Kurdistan.

PYD has changed its tone for now, but it has left Turkey in a precarious position. Does it remain idle and watch as the Kurds and particularly the PYD carve out a new bastion of Kurdish nationalism, or does it intervene and do something about it?

If Turkey does take military action to intervene then it almost certainly will alienate the Kurds further and may even lead to a greater cross border insurgency. It will also undermine their role as the main sponsor of Syrian oppositional if ironically they are seen to punish Kurds for ousting Assad.

Kurdistan Region on the other hand has the difficult job of keeping Syrian Kurds in tandem with their Region and working on their side and away from one that may incur the wrath of Turkey.

The Kurdistan Region will become the natural foster parent of Syrian Kurdistan and it will be interesting to see how Ankara reacts to this inevitable reality.

However, it may be a small price to pay if the Kurdistan Regional Government can manage to keep the PKK away from dominating the Syrian Kurdistan region.

Kurdistan First

The focus of Syrian Kurds must be on Kurdistan before the nationalist objectives of the Arab dominated Syrian National Council (SNC).

Syrian Kurds will be wary of taking any new power and influence for granted, knowing only too well of the Arab opposition to the idea of Kurdish self-rule let alone de-facto independence.

In this light, it was a wise move by the Kurds to prevent the FSA forces from entering their region and to limit the prospects of confrontation and thus damage to Kurdistan as much as possible,

While the Kurds should continue to do what they can to topple Assad from power, the very future of post-Assad Syria is far from certain.

How the array of opposition voices can be wedged together is a difficult undertaking. There are many echoes of Iraq in the new Syria, and once the euphoria of the eventual fall of Assad wanes, the battle to keep a united Syria will take centre stage.

Much like Iraq, Kurds in Syria would have a pivotal region with a plenty of oil reserves, and will work to safeguard and bolster their region before submitting to the sentiment of Arab nationalism once again.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:, Various Misc.

Syrian Kurds dare not waste historical opportunity

Fist fits, heated disagreements, deep divisions and widespread mistrust and this is before a new government even gets to work in Syria. “They are so different, chaotic and hate each other,” was a statement from an unnamed official of the Arab League that just about summed current plight of the Syrian opposition.

Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has lasted by far the longest out of all of the leaders that have been submerged by the Arab Spring. Assad has held onto power for over 16 months, in spite of fierce international pressure, growing regional anger and a vicious rebellion, through a combination of hard-handed tactics but above all else, a fragmented Syrian opposition front and a lack of a true leadership.

Last week, hundreds of participants and dozens of different movements, gathered in Cairo with hope of forming a unified front against Assad.

The sheer number of parties and voices that were represented across the Syrian spectrum paints its own story. The session resulted in anger, physical fighting and chaos, with a delegate from the Kurdish National Council of Syria storming out of the meeting for failure to recognise the Kurds as a distinct group in a future Syria.

The aim was to unify the Syrian National Council with view to making it a viable and legitimate front in Syria, much in the same as the Libyan Transitional Council was able to successfully maneuverer international intervention and provided a credible representation of the Libyan people.

The failure to entice the Kurds en-masse into the anti-Assad fold, despite numerous overtures from the Syrian opposition, continues to undermine the strength and true cross-national appeal of the council.

International efforts

All the while, in the midst of Syrian opposition bickering, international powers continued to strive to gather momentum in the quest to oust Assad. The Syrian transitional plan agreed in Geneva fell short of expectations, under the now typical obstacle provided by Russia and China.

The Syrian National Council itself was largely disappointed in the outcome and framework of the Geneva plan.

The 100-member Friends of Syria conference this week spoke volumes about the international stance. However, for all the rhetoric and growing international uproar, this has not led to substantial change on the ground.

Assad continues to employ all measures under his arsenal and massacres and reprisal attacks continue unabated.

The defection of a top general this week, provided hope that cracks may start to appear at the top of Assad’s empire, but such false dawns have not been uncommon.

The Kurdish swing

The Kurds have by far the greatest influence to sway momentum in Syria, but are stuck between an Assad dynasty that has provided them with decades of repression and an Arab dominated Sunni opposition, largely backed by Ankara, that they don’t trust.

The Syrian opposition has failed to sufficiently persuade the Kurds, and the Kurdish viewpoint is largely understandable.

If the Arab nationalists that form a part of today’s opposition do not give Kurds the sufficient reassurance they seek over their recognition and rights at a time when they desperately need Kurdish support and are not yet in power, then how will they react in the future once they assume power?

Syrian Kurds only need to look across the border to Turkey to lose hope. Turkey is a major regional power, a Western style democracy and part of the European framework, and yet their Kurds have hardly had a glut of hope and freedom.

This makes it all the worse, as Turkey is the biggest sponsor and host to the Syrian National Council.

The Syrian Kurds, until sufficiently swayed, will keep their feet on both sides of the equation, both in a future Syria without Baathist rule and also in a Syria that continues under Assad rule.

Realising the power that the Kurds have, Assad has largely refrained from attacks in Kurdish dominated areas, provided some freedoms and concessions to Kurds, afforded growing support to the PKK and has at the same time attempted to divide Kurdish sentiment.

The Kurds themselves are divided further between a pro-Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stance and an anti-Turkish camp.

Kurdish demands

The Kurds must remain firm on their demands for recognition and autonomy. If they fail to achieve their nationalist goals at this juncture, who’s to say when the next history opportunity knocks on the door?

Kurds have waited for decades to be rid of the shackles of tyranny and repression and dare not lose this opportunity. As the largest minority in Syria and a major partner in Syria, they must continue to press for autonomy and a status deserving of their numbers and ethnic distinction.

If the Arabs complain of harsh treatment under Assad, just imagine how the Kurds feel after decades of neglect and for thousands, not even basic citizenship rights or outright citizenship for that matter.

However, unless the Kurds get their own house in order, they will fail to achieve their goals. The Kurdish National Council and the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) People’s Council must in one form or another agree on a common stance.

The PYD, with an affiliation to the PKK, have steadily grown in influence and power, and their presence can be felt across a number of towns and villages in Kurdish dominated areas of Syria.

The more that the divide between the Kurds become visible, the more that Assad, regional powers and the Syrian opposition will use this as a cane to reign in Kurdish demands and diminish their influence.

What now for Syria?

For several months, international powers have talked about Assad’s days been numbered and how Assad has lost credibility, yet if the international response does not become more concrete and more affective at directly cutting the arteries that support Assad or if efforts to unify the Syrian opposition do not gather pace, Assad could find himself still clinging onto power in another 16 months.

Ironically, the real bastions of hope on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, are hardly the greatest supporters of the Syrian National Council and had boycotted the Cairo talks.

Tip-toeing by the international community, especially to appease Russia and China will bear no fruit. Through international military intervention in the same was as Libya or through a full blown civil war, Assad’s empire will only crumble under sheer force. The idea that Assad will simply give up power through a democratic transitional process is a fantasy.

Regional and foreign powers are already supplying Syrian rebels with weaponry and logistics support, but a violent conflict with a divided Syrian opposition risks drawing out the war for years.

A brighter future for Syria?

The common conception that ousting Assad will lead to instant harmony and peace in Syria is delusional. International and regional powers must act now to do all they can to strike agreement and unity amongst the Syrian opposition.

Owed to its disparate factions, great animosity, sectarian divides and ethnic imbalance, Syria has all the hallmarks of an Iraq.

Much like Iraq, the real problem for Syria is its artificial creation as a result of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Just like Iraq, the divide has been effectively stitched through barbaric regimes and use of force.

As the aftermath of the Arab Spring has proved, regime change is one thing and practical measures for a better future in those countries is another.

Foreign powers must brace themselves for a long-term hand in Syria. While the Kurds, must persevere with a hard-line negotiation stance and written guarantees and not fall for mere promises that can be backtracked at any time in the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

PKK enjoys new lease on Ankara-Damascus conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurdish card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UN peace plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospects of a buffer zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

End game for Assad; just the beginning for Kurds

Fast approaching a year of uprising and turmoil, the struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is now by far the longest of all in the Arab Spring. The opposition movement in Syria clearly lacked the same national and military clout as in Egypt and particularly Libya, with an opposition that is still relatively localized and maturing as a force. But ultimately it is theindecisiveness and inconsistencies of regional and global powers that has been its Achilles’ heel.

On a regional front, the Syrian issue is complicated by a group of countries that continue to staunchly support Bashar al-Assad’s crumbling regime.

Syria is in many ways different to the countries that have succumbed to the tides of the Arab revolution. Syria finds itself at the heart of the Middle East and its numerous hotspots. It is a fulcrum for activities and tensions in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, a proxy for Iran’s regional ambitions and power mongering, and with an inadvertent hand in the PKK conflict.

This is underpinned by the fact that Syria is a Sunni majority ruled by an Alawite minority. Such are the high stakes in Syria that almost no country in the region has remained silent one way or another as each aims to preserve their sectarian, economic or strategic interests. The predominantly Sunni-based Arab League has been at the forefront of rhetoric against Assad and the galvanization of the resistance in Syria.

Where now for the struggle?

After 11 months of a humanitarian crisis and protests in Syria, those who oppose Assad need to match words with more determined actions. A common UN Security Council resolution is looking as unlikely as ever,  and sooner or later, the powers that are in favor of strong action must decide their next move.

Rhetoric and sanctions only have a limited affect, and regionalpowers cannot remain content on indirect actions indefinitely. The growing humanitarian crisis as Assad continues to pound rebel cities is something that even Russia and China, who staunchly oppose military intervention, cannot ignore.

Assad’s regime has reached a point of no return, and in spite of empty gestures such as the upcoming referendum on a new constitution, the Syrian opposition and regional countries opposed to Assad have come too far in the conflict to let the uprising subside and allow Assad to continue in power.

At the current time, the anti-government forces lack the firepower or territorial advantages that Libyan rebels were able to enjoy. It is commonly overlooked that even though the Libyan opposition had far greater strength than the one in Syria today, only an Allied intervention prevented a mass slaughter in Benghazi as the government forces blew the gates down.

Even then, only weeks of fierce bombardment of Gaddafi forces finally broke the back of the government.

The probable way forward in Syria is now a full blown civil war. Foreign military intervention endorsed by a UN resolution may not happen, but nor will a passive observation of Syria. As the Arab League and supporters of the Syrian uprising continue to apply pressure at the UN, the Arab forces in the region may well find themselves in a position of having to directly thwart Assad in Syria. They may well arrive under the pretext of a peace-keeping force, but their end game is obvious. Some countries are already involved in supplying of arms to rebel forces, and in the short term this will increase.

A “human corridor” that is being seriously discussed as a compromise at the UN may have a two-fold benefit. It provides relieffor the besieged population and also affords breathing space for the rebels,allowing them to regroup and consolidate power.

An intensification of the military conflict threatens to deepen the regional divide, as Iraq, Iran and even Russia may up their support in preserving Assad’s regime.

The Kurdish card in Syria

If the Arabs in Syria thought they had it bad, one must spare a thought for the much repressed Kurdish population. Arabs may have lacked some rights and privileges, but in the case of thousands of Kurds there were literally no rights and condemnation to a state of non-existence.

The Kurdish plight under the hands of Damascus has been largely ignored over the years while Arab nationalism assumed its course. Now regional countries flock to protect a besieged population in Syria under humanitarian grounds.

Ironically, the Kurds have largely taken a backroom role in the conflict owed to a deep mistrust of the Arab opposition groups and Turkey’s long-term plans for Syria. Damascus has attempted to manipulate Arab fears of Kurdish separatism and at the same time Kurdish fears of Arab nationalism.

Turkey has been at the forefront of regional attempts to isolate and punish the Syrian regime while Assad has in return increased support of the PKK to preserve his regional leverage.

The Kurdish opposition groups themselves are divided between various loyalties, and without a united front they may well miss the revolutionary tide and with it an opportunity to play a strong part in the reshaping of Syria.

In this regard, the Kurdistan Regional Government needs to play a strong part in uniting and supporting the Kurdish groups in Syria while at the same time becoming a significant actor in the overall regional quest to oust Assad.

Baghdad may support Syria, but Kurdistan is no Iraq. The Kurdistan Region cannot stay idle to any regional upheaval, and with its growing power in the greater region it can successfully play a strong, strategic role in the new Middle East.

Gone are the days when the Kurds were bystanders as other powers decided their destiny. As one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, the Kurds can be at the forefront of the new destiny of the Middle East.

As for Syrian Kurds numbering over 2 million people, they are hardly a small pawn on the post-Assad negotiating table. They must be unequivocal in their demand for federalism and equal rights or threaten to go their own way. Kurds must no longer accept second best, due to threat of regional powers working to dilute Kurdish nationalism.

It would be most ironic if Arab powers and Turkey liberated Syria, and then launched a crackdown on Kurdish nationalism in a new Syria only because Kurds wanted to enjoy their legal entitlement to autonomy.

The leaders of Kurdistan must work side by side to guide the Syrian Kurds. The majority of Syrian Kurds look to the Kurdistan Region as a big brother and their guardians.

The Kurdish opposition conference in Erbil last month was a largely welcome step. It displayed national solidarity and demonstrated that Kurds are no longer oblivious to cross-border struggles of their brothers. Such manoeuvres must intensify for the good of all Kurdistan. The Kurds may have been divided against their will by force, but no one can prevent unity in heart and spirit.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.

The plight of the Syrian Kurds – the forgotten kindred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: eKurd, Various Misc.