Tag Archives: PYD

As Turkey frantically jockeys to tarnish Syrian Kurds, can the U.S. afford to abandon the Kurds?

As Kurdish-led forces were rejoicing the capture of the strategically important town of al-Shadadi from the Islamic State (IS), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a frantic mission to pressure Washington to abandon support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and label the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as terrorists.

Erdogan’s call to Barrack Obama was on the back of statements from State Department spokesman John Kirby that refused to blame the YPG for the recent bombing in Ankara that Turkey vehemently insists was carried out by the Syrian Kurds.

Turkey has long insisted that the PYD are a mere extension of PKK and has stuck to the view that the PKK or PYD are no different than IS. In fact, since Turkey formally joined the war against IS after a bombing in Suruc in 2015, it is the PKK that been the subject of Turkey’s rage on “terrorists”.

On the other hand, the Syrian Kurds have proved to be the most effective ground force against IS and have made significant gains in recent months in curtailing vital IS supply routes. At the same time, Turkey has insisted that Washington decides between the PYD and Turkey.

The fact that the U.S. has refused to take sides speaks volumes. The U.S. spent millions of dollars on a training program for so called Syrian moderates that amassed to virtually no gains. The Kurds have demonstrated to the U.S. that they are the ready-made boots on the ground that Washington had craved in vain for so long.

The visit of US Special Presidential Envoy for the Coalition against ISIS, Brett McGurk, to the Kurdish town of Kobane, the source of the symbolic victory of the US-led air campaign against IS, illustrates the significance of Kurdish support to the U.S.

Even though the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the deadly Ankara bombing, this would have always fallen on death ears in Turkey.

It is not just about a bombing incident, it is about the strategic standing and clout of the Syrian Kurds, who aside from a narrow corridor between Afrin and Jarablus hold almost the entire Syrian border with Turkey, that Ankara is trying to tarnish.

The fact that Turkey sees the PYD as bigger “terrorists” than IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and various other jihadist groups tells its own story. Turkey would tolerate any group on its doorstep than an autonomous Kurdish stronghold.

Turkey’s border has been the lifeline for not just the Syrian opposition but also IS. The remaining IS access to the Turkish border could have been easily sealed by Kurdish forces with coalition air support.

Turkey is already fighting a frenzied new battle against the PKK and the south east of Turkey is threatened with a return to the dark days of the 1990’s with daily curfews and violence.

The fate of the Kurds in Turkey and Syria are intrinsically linked. Without an affective Turkish policy that caters for both realities there will never be peace in Turkey.

As for the Syrian Kurds, what if Turkey succeeds in getting the U.S. to abandon ship and desert their Kurdish allies? The simple answer is that the already uneasy Kurds will merely become fully engrossed in the Russia camp where they already enjoy strong ties.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Heated discussions, disagreements and distrust, and the tenuous Syrian peace talks have not even begun

The starts of the Geneva III peace talks were delayed twice last week owing to objections from the main Syria opposition represented by the Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC). The HNC finally bowed to pressure from the United States and the United Nations and agreed to attend the talks after “receiving assurances”, even then they insisted they are going “not to negotiate” with the government just yet, but lay the grounds for their demands to the UN.

What makes the situation more complicated is the disparate nature of the opposition, some 15 opposition grounds are represented in the Saud Arabian backed HNC alone, this discounts various other groups deemed too close to the regime or too hardline to play any role in the future of Syria.

The exclusion of no party is more ironic than that of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). They have been pooled with other terrorists not acceptable to join talks such as al-Qaeda afflicted al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS).

Russia has long insisted on the inclusion of the PYD and other opposition parties. Whilst the Syrian Democratic Council that includes the PYD is invited, the omission of the PYD leaders is a grave mistake.

The PYD and its armed wing, People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been supported by US air power as well as Russian forces. A political settlement is unimaginable without the Kurds who control large parties of Syria with autonomous administration and a strong militia force that is spearheading the battle against IS.

Whilst the UN has not set loft goals at the start of the talks and expects the prospect of any agreement to be protracted, it remains to be seen whether it is the opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s regime that will decide the outcome or if it will be US and Russia.

Both the US and Russia have a clear role to play both now and in striking any agreement. There is no doubt that many aspects of the future Syrian framework have already been discussed and agreed between both camps such as the composition of the transitional government and state forces.

The US rhetoric over Assad may be the same but Washington has taken an increasing backseat role allowing Russia to become the dominant actor.

As US tip-toed around military action in Syria, Russia showed little hesitation as they salvaged Assad from the brink with military intervention.

If the notion that negotiation is determined by the state of the battleground, then Assad has the upper hand as he quickly recovers ground. Both Russia and Iran have shown that they will not allow Assad to fall.

The US has long abandoned the view that Assad must go before any peace talks. Ironically, it is now the US that is insisting that it is “important for these talks to continue without preconditions”.

In fact, with streams of millions of refugees streaming across Europe and IS problem becoming a more dominant issue by the day, Washington and its allies are reluctant for any wholesale changes of regime apparatus that will only fuel more chaos and bloodshed.

Without major concessions from the regime and the opposition and the inclusion of the Syrian Kurds, Geneva III will end much in the same way as Geneva II.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Kurds omitted from Geneva III as US and Russian jockey to build bases in Syrian Kurdish territory

As the Syrian war enters its 6th year, months of preparation to cultivate another round of negotiations between Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition could still unravel.

Just days before the talks were due to commence, there is fervent debate on who should attend the talks as well as various other pre-conditions still been set.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that was created in December after a Syrian opposition conference in Riyadh is deemed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey as the only representatives of the opposition.

The age-old problem in Syria’s brutal war is deciding who the opposition is, with literally dozens of groups and just who are the moderates.

Russia has been jockeying for involvement of other Syrian opposition parties that are aligned to their strategy and that the HNC deems as too close to the regime.

But of all the groups, the omission of the Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is the most controversial. The PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have proved to be the most effective fighting force on the ground and have made steady gains against the Islamic State (IS).

The Syrian Kurds have been heavily backed under the cover of United States warplanes and are the only group that both the U.S. and Russia can agree on.

Turkey has been ever suspicious of the rising stock of the Syrian Kurds and the ramifications of their increased autonomy.

In recent days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated warnings that they will not tolerate any expansion of Kurdish territory west of the Euphrates and deem PYD as no different to IS or the PKK.

And this is where the contradictions intensify. The remaining IS corridor to the Turkish border can be easily sealed with coalition support and YPG forces. But for an anxious Turkey facing a renewed Kurdish war at home, IS still remains a more manageable entity than Syrian Kurds assuming most of its southern border.

In parallel to the Syrian Kurds facing the reality of no invitation to Geneva III, there have been widespread rumors in recent days that U.S. has been working to expand a disused former airbase in Rmelian, Hassaka, in the heart of Kurdish territory and in close proximity to Turkey and Iraq.

Whilst the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has stated it ‘has not taken control of any airfield in Syria’, other statements were not as definitive as a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”.

Either way, for a concerted move on Raqqa and even Mosul, opposition forces need greater logistical support from the U.S. led coalition than the usual airdrops.

If Ankara was feeling unease with the U.S. reports, then similar reports of Russian troops and a team of engineers in Qamishli looking to expand the airport and build a Russian base there would hardly have helped.

Whilst the US has tip-toed around both its key allies in Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, Russia does not have this problem and after relations nosedived with the downing of a Russian jet in November by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds remain a vital card for Moscow.

Any notion of a Russian military base in Kurdish territory would send a strong warning to Turkey.

It remains to be seen if PYD will attend the peace talks. Both the HNC and Turkey have insisted that if PYD does join, then it would be on the side of the regime. Turkey has even threatened to boycott the talks if PYD becomes part of the “official” opposition.

The differing stances of the Syrian Arab opposition, U.S., Russia and Turkey towards the Kurds will create another time-bomb if the Syrian Kurds are side-lined. Even if elusive peace is achieved, what then for the Syrian Kurds? Do you disregard their strategic importance against IS? Or do you even take moves to take away their autonomy or not include them in a future political framework?

With so many opposition groups and as many ideals and goals, and the crucial Kurdish position, Syrian troubles will continue long after Assad is gone.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Syrian Kurdish administration – a historic step shrouded in controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Syrian Kurdish anguish a burden for all parts of Kurdistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Ankara must embrace new Syrian Kurdish reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

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Can the Syrian Kurds turn the tide against Assad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Globe: What is your message to Turkey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkish fears of Syrian Kurdish autonomy already a reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurdish Autonomy

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

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

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

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

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

Erdogan’s warning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources:  Various Misc.