Difficult Options Facing the Kurds in Syria / By Omar Sheikhmous

RUDAW OPINION 10.9.2012 – The Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan have suddenly gained the attention of regional and international media as well as regional and international political actors, after many decades of ignoring their plight and conditions under one of the most repressive regimes in the Middle East.

This intensive interest was prompted by the sudden withdrawal of some (though not all) Syrian military and security forces from some Kurdish towns and cities in the region. Some have attributed this to the Syrian regime`s hardly pressed forces in Aleppo, Damascus and other regions, while others consider it part of a devilish plan by Syria and Iran to overturn these Kurdish areas to the pro PKK Party of Democratic Union (PYD) in order to create conflict and division within Kurdish ranks and between them and the rest of the democratic opposition in Syria.

Initially, the taking over of Kurdish political forces of most of their regions in Syria led to a euphoric atmosphere and wide range speculation of the Kurds establishing their own autonomous administration in similarity with Iraqi Kurdistan. Some even went as far as declaring the end of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the redrawal of the map of the Middle East and the possible emergence of a united Kurdistan. But, now, it seems that most of these speculations have proved to be premature. Mainly, because Syrian Kurdistan is not completely free from Assad`s security forces. Their military and political intelligence offices and quarters are still abundant in most Kurdish towns. Though less visible than before, the latest incidents in Amude and Qamishlo have shown that they can still arrest and harass people. Furthermore, this situation has given rise to a number of daily problems of economic, humanitarian and administrative  nature for the Kurdish political forces to deal with.

In this emerging optimistic phase of developments in Syrian Kurdistan after decades of severe oppression by different Syrian regimes since the 1950`s, the Kurds still face a number of very difficult options to deal with in order to determine their future in a free and democratic Syria.

First and foremost they should maintain their unity of ranks and independence of decision based on the interests of the Kurdish people in Syria and its future. No doubt, here, they face a very difficult task after many decades of divisions, different ideologies and visions as well as alliances and orientations. This unity of ranks should not be jeopardized by dominance of any specific party or movement that has adventurous agendas and muddy visions but be based on consensus and dialogue.

Secondly, The Kurdish political forces in Syria will have to choose between joining the democratic forces of opposition that want to overthrow the fascist regime of the Baath and the Assad Clan or becoming part of the new “Axis of Evil“ of Iran, Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon, which is a loosing and catastrophic option. They cannot continue to have a foot in each camp for whatever reason as some organizations still do. The majority of the Kurdish masses within the ranks of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, The majority within the High Council, the Independent Coordination Committees and Civil Society Organisations have made their choice and want to join the rest of the liberation movement for democratic Syria, but some are still hesitant and use different excuses for refraining from taking a clear stand.

Thirdly, The Kurdish forces will have to be realistic in assessing their strength and aims. They cannot function and go it alone. Taking the demographic and geographic situation of the Kurdish regions in Syria, namely Kurdagh (Afrin), Kobani (Ain Al-Arab) and Aljazira (Hassakeh) with enclaves in Damascus and Aleppo, they should refrain from wild dreams of independence or federalism. In Aljazira particulary, they share the region with a large group of Arab tribes and Christians of different confessions (namely: Syriacs, Armenians and Assyrians). They should have a very speedy and serious dialogue with these non-kurdish groups and reach an accord about a joint autonomous administration for this region that is very rich in natural and agricultural resources, before the Syrian Government and some regional powers start muddling in their affairs and create problems among them. The creation of the “Council for Maintaining Civil Peace“ among them that meets regularly in Qamishlo is a very good start, but this will have to develop and be based on solid ground. In Kurdagh and Kobani, local autonomous Kurdish administrations are viable and can be established. Federalism for different regions in Syria can become feasible only if the constituent parts demand it after a long drawn civil war. So far, such a discourse has not emerged among the different opposition groups that aim at toppling the Assad regime. The demand for political decentralization for the Kurds in Syria that has been put forward by the Kurdish National  Council of Syria (KNCS) in the different Syrian opposition meetings is the most realistic option.

Fourthly, the establishment of KNCS in October 2011 and the High Council in July 2012 among the different Kurdish political movements in Syria for maintaining peace and unity in the Kurdish regions were positive steps in the right direction. But, unfortunately, both have so far failed in rallying and mobilizing the majority of the Kurdish masses behind their platforms, like many independent coordination committees, civil society organizations, youth movements and many independent Kurdish cultural, social and political personalities inside and outside Syria. This has been hampered by the sectarian and party political mentality of these organizations. They will have to open up their ranks and become more broad minded if they want to become a force to be reckoned with in future Syrian politics and internationally.

Fifthly, KNCS and the High Council of the Kurds in Syria, by maintaining their independence and refraining from joining the Syrian National Council (SNC) or any other opposition groupings and satisfying themselves with only coordinating their policies and efforts with them, have denied them access to very important resources in international relief aid, financial resources and arms as well diplomatic channels to the international community. This has led to their relative weakness vis-à-vis the rest of the Syrian opposition groupings, especially that they are not getting any substantial direct aid from any other sources that would strengthen their position and balance that shortcoming.

Considering that the Kurdish regions in Syria are facing an increasingly difficult economic and humanitarian situation with an influx of large groups of refugees from Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus; apart from Kurdish refugees that have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey; as well as desperate shortages in food stuffs and fuel for winter and the coming agricultural season for next year`s crops; a very strong effort will have to be made very quickly by these organs in order to alleviate the dire effects of this developing situation. Otherwise, they will face a catastrophic situation on their own.

Sixthly, KNCS and the High Council should think first and foremost in the interests of the Kurdish people in Syria and refrain from unnecessarily antagonizing regional states that have important stakes and interests in Syria after Assad, like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Otherwise, they will endanger the little rights that the Kurds might achieve. They will have to act very responsibly and tread very carefully.

Finally, Since PYD has emerged as the dominant force after the withdrawal of Syrian forces from some towns in Syrian Kurdistan, whether in collusion with the Assad regime and Iran or not, they will have to implement the Arbil Agreement of July 2012 that was brokered by President Masoud Barzani in full and refrain from harassment of the population and other opposition groups in the Kurdish region as in Amude and Qamishlo lately. Their armed checkpoints with unidentified masked men are a provocation to peace and tranquility in the region that has led to a large degree of dissatisfaction among the people. They should follow the positive path that they took in cooperating with Free Syrian Army in Aleppo and work seriously for the overthrow of the Syrian regime.