Can Syria’s Kurds Protect Their Oil Fields?

14/02/2013 RUDAW –  By HEMIN KHOSHNAW – ERBIL Kurdistan Region – Can Syria’s Kurds use the oil reserves in their territories as leverage to strengthen their position after the fall of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime?

Most of the oil-rich places in Syria, including the Rumilan fields, are located in the Kurdish territories, and some people believe that the fields should be protected at all cost as an important insurance for the Kurds in the future. Located in Syrian Kurdistan, Rumilan produces 270,000 barrels of oil a day, more than half of Syria’s total crude output.  Syria’s daily production of 385,000 barrels goes not figure on the global energy map, but its total reserves of 2.5 million barrels are still reportedly 2 percent of the world’s reserves.

Even though most of Syria’s oil lies in Kurdish territories, no oil refineries have been built there: The crude from Rumilan is piped to refineries in Humos and Banyas.

“President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has oppressed the Kurds politically as well as economically,” said Abdulhakim Bashar, secretary-general of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria.  “The natural resources are being transferred to other Arab cities for refining.” The oil fields discovered in Kurdish territories during the 1960s led to major demographic changes in Syrian Kurdistan.  “If it was not for the natural resources, the current boundaries would have been a lot different today.” said oil expert Rebwar Khinsy.  “The Kurdish residents around the oil-rich fields were forced to leave and replaced by Arabs, so it remains to be seen whether the fate of Rumilan will turn out like the disputed oil-rich city Kirkuk in northern Iraq after Assad’s fall,” he said. Bashar said that, “Rumilan has always been part of Kurdistan and it will not become Kirkuk.  There may be a couple of oil fields outside Rumilan where both Kurds and Arabs live.  Other than those, the rest of the Rumilan oil fields are in the heart of Kurdish territories.” Syria’s infrastructure has been badly hurt by the conflict between the regime and opposition forces, which began nearly two years ago.  Some believe it could take at least 10 years to rebuild the country, but add that the infrastructure in the country’s Kurdish regions is still relatively good and was not badly affected by the war.

Salih Muslim,  co-leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD), told Rudaw that, “The Kurds support the fall of the regime, but they don’t want to see the whole country go down.  That’s why they will protect the Rumilan oil fields.”

Abdulmajid Tamir, a member of the Kurdish Youth movement in Syria, believes, “The Kurds must do everything they can to prevent the Rumilan oil fields from being set on fire.”  

He said that the regime might hold its position for several years and the Syrian Kurdistan might stay independent during this time, so it is important for the Kurds to take advantage of this and make preparations to operate Rumilan, as everything is still in place, except for oil refineries. “The attempts by the Islamic radical groups to control Serekaniye (Ras al-Ain) is mostly for Rumilan,” said Razwan Badini, a university professor.  “They try to infiltrate the Kurdish territories through a multi-ethnic place like Serekaniye and finally control a strategic location like Rumilan,” he said.