Tag Archives: Syrian Kurds

Welcome to the Kurdistan Region of Syria

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

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

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

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

Liberation of Kurdistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erbil Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ankara Alarm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurdistan First

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: 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.

End game for Assad; just the beginning for Kurds

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

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

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

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

Where now for the struggle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurdish card in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.