Tag Archives: Syria Rebels

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.

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: eKurd.net, 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.