Tag Archives: al-Assad

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

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.

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.

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.