Syria’s Kurds: Missing the chance?
A banner at protest in the Kurdish Kobani reads, “The interest of the Kurdish people is superior to narrow partisan considerations”, expressing the desperation over the conflicts between Kurdish parties.
Rojava yê Kurdistan is usually the name Kurds call the smallest piece of the land divided between 4 countries which is the Syrian Kurdistan where more than 3,000,000 Kurds live in a very strategic and petrol rich area, scattered from the east with the Iraqi borders to the West along with the Turkish borders until the Mediterranean Sea.
The Kurdish population in Syria have, like the Kurds in the 3 other countries which their land has been divided between, lived in very long periods of suffering and faced several killing operations.
But in Syria Kurds have faced something different: “You are not a Kurd nor a Syrian.” This is the attitude towards 300,000 Kurds in Syria who have been stripped of their citizenship.
This simply means that 300,000 Kurds do not exist in the country, they have no right to study, to get a job, marry or any other human rights!
All this has happened to Kurds under the Baathist rule, the “only party” that has controlled Syria since 1963 or mainly since 1970 until now by Hafiz Al-Assad and his son Bashar Al-Assad in row who is the current president of Syria.
The Kurds have always wanted to change this and to put an end to the suffering in Syria, not only to get the Syrian ID but full rights.
The beginning was the Qamishlo Uprising in 2004 when Kurds decided to face Assad. The regime responded brutally by killing and kidnapping hundreds of Kurds. The Arabic population was silent during this assault; instead some Arabic tribes joined Assad’s operation and attacked Kurds.
However, the uprising didn’t succeed and was later controlled by Assad; Kurds realized they could not beat Assad alone.
On March 15, 2011 the city of Dar’aa revolted against the Syrian regime, it was the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Again Kurds were not late to join in on another uprising against Assad.
On March 16, the Kurdish city of Amuda organized a demonstration against the regime. More Syrian cities then joined them and Assad tried to stop them. The movements spread and turned into an uprising after that. Arabs established the Syrian National Council (SNC) as a political representative.
That was not all; as a result of SNC’s failure and disappointing Syrians, defected soldiers from Assad’s regime established an armed opposition or what is called the Free Syrian Army, FSA.
Despite the big failure of SNC to represent the revolution, it seems to be still strongly supported by Ikhwan (the Muslim Brotherhood) and Turkey’s Erdogan.
Turkey rely on its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, to take the rule in the post-Assad Syria. However, some think this will not be easy especially after the disappointment among Syrians who see the SNC as “controlled by Ikhwan” and not capable of fighting for them. Instead they prefer to depend on the armed battalions as the actual opposition to Assad.
Unlike the other Syrian areas, the Kurdish areas in Syria are known as peaceful areas and far away from the war and daily bombarding that have forced many Syrians to flee from their turbulent areas to the peaceful Kurdish areas. Kurds have welcomed them which clearly shows they have no problems with the Arabs but the regime.
PYD & KNC
Kurds in Syria are not united. Basically, they have two representatives: the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which follows the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Kurdish National Council that consists of many Kurdish parties and movements united together under the name of KNC.
A unity agreement known as the “Hewler Agreement” sponsored by the president of the Kurdistan Region was signed by PYD and KNC in Erbil and it led to the establishment of the Supreme Kurdish Commission (SKC) to be the only representative of the Kurdish people. Yet the agreement is not applied and is being violated every day; both parties accuse each other of violating the agreement.
As activists say, the Kurdish people is the only loser of this conflict.
The PYD was described many times as an ally of Assad or anti-revolution party, but the party did actually fight Assad forces many times and suffered casualties. However, PYD doesn’t hide the fact that they may not agree with the way other Syrians oppose the regime and prefer to continue the struggle against Assad peacefully but if necessary will put in “defense forces” against anyone who could attack the Kurds, as they say.
PYD and KNC both express fear of the increasing influence of “Salafi/jihadi” and “Arabic nationalism” among the Syrian rebels.
“They share the same view as the regime when it comes to the non-Arabic population in Syria, if not worse”, Kurdish activists say. But this is not the complete story.
PYD is actually also trying to control the Kurdish areas by force and even provoking their opponents sometimes. The party controls the border gates and takes money from the people who pass the borders, they put up checkpoints, and completely rule the cities. They act as the only ruler of the Kurdish areas.
Despite the few clashes that happened between the PYD and the regime, it wouldn’t be very correct to describe the PYD and Assad as “enemies”, there are many ambiguous things around this case.
Let us take the liberated Kurdish areas as an example. No doubt that the local people have risen up against Assad loyal centers and given them threatening letters to leave their areas but the very strange thing is the way Assad forces left these areas, especially Kobni and Efrin. The regime just left the cities and handed them over to the PYD!
How can it possibly be said that the cities have been liberated from Assad’s regime when its forces can easily come and detain Kurds and with no resistance by the PYD? Do Assad forces even consider these areas liberated?
In fact, the way Assad forces left these areas has caused reason to consider a possible co-operation between the PYD and the regime.
On the other hand, KNC looks more to oppose the regime fully and unlike PYD, they have no armed forces although it supports the new emerging power or what has been called “Syria’s Kurdistan Peshmerge” that include the defected Kurdish soldiers from the Syrian Army primarily and voluntary Kurdish youth. The Kurdistan Regional Government has been training these men in order to create a united Kurdish force with PYD gunmen to defend the Kurdish areas in Syria.
These forces are to enter the Kurdish areas soon; a goal that still faces obstacles because such a move would reduce PYD’s control in the Kurdish areas.
That is why the PYD is not interested in seeing the Peshmerge in the Kurdish areas and remain silent about this issue.
PYD and its allies inside the KNC are trying to stop the Peshmerge from entering Syria to be more exact: PYD allies in the KNC are the Democratic Union Party in Syria’s Kurdistan (PYDKS), the Democratic Progressive Party (PDPKS) and Democratic Kurdistan Party (PDKS, Nassraddin Branch).
The KNC accuses the PYD of ruling alone and violating the Hewler Agreement. In some areas the agreement was declared dead due to PYD’s autocracy, as some KNC members say. PYD has put its flags on official centers, set up checkpoints and controls the borders. PYD has left nothing to the KNC which is clearly against the agreement. The current conditions in Syria are helpful for Kurds to gain a historical chance of guaranteeing their rights in a post-Assad Syria, but the question is: are they going to achieve this?
One would like to be optimistic but must also be realistic. Visits to Erbil, meetings and statements are the headlines of news from Syria’s Kurdistan we read these days. The last one set one month as the deadline of implementing the agreement.
Forget “No friends but the mountains”
I would say there is no real wish among them to apply the agreement, especially the PYD as long as it is the armed force. The reasons to why PYD does not believe in this agreement are in my view several; the agreement has reduced PYD’s control over the Kurdish areas, the party feels that the agreement has been made in favour of KNC and that is has reduced their size.
But I would say this is meaningless, the agreement is a great achievement for the Kurds and provides the best way of ruling the Kurdish areas in the current period. But PYD is trying as much as possible to maneuver and to justify their acts by saying they should protect the Kurdish areas from a Turkish invasion first and before anything else.
Recently, PYD tried to find someone who could help them to stop or at least to reduce the pressure which has been put on them by the Kurdistan Region led by the PDK and this might have made PYD go closer to Talabani’s PUK.
Some Syrian Kurds do really think that PYD is much more interested in the developments that happen in Turkey more than their own conditions in Syria
Because of PKK’s influence on the party some Kurds believe PYD is completely representing the PKK in Syria and is very busy with PKK activities. I do believe that the PYD needs to focus more on the condition of Kurds in Syria and to realize that what is happening in Turkey is different.
It’s very wrong in the current time to connect the Kurdish revolution with PKK’s struggle against Turkey; Syria’s Kurds don’t want to be victims of what is happening in Turkey. PYD should be more independent in its decisions.
The Kurds have been in this situation before. It is very important for the PYD and KNC to realize that the Kurdish demand in the current period is to forget about party interests and to think about the Kurdish interests; Kurdish rights will be guaranteed only if they are united. I cannot think of another way than the Hewler Agreement to organize the Kurds in Syria due to many complications in the Kurdish community there. PYD as an organized party can lead any Kurdish unity opposition democratically since the KNC is still unstable and suffers from power rivalry inside the coalition.
I don’t believe in unity in the meaning of “to be united ideologically”; it’s something against human nature and will never happen between KNC and the PYD. Only the form of unity which is described in the Hewler Agreement is what the Kurds need in these days in Syria’s Kurdistan.
As Kurds, let’s forget this sentence “No friends but the mountains” for a while. We sometimes don’t need enemies to miss chances, we just miss them!
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