Kurdish Divisions Limit Syrian Opposition

By Bakr Sodki, Al-Hayat (Pan Arab) – Al Monitor – 7.12.2012 – The recent developments in the al-Jazeera region of eastern Syria could ignite a civil war between Arabs and Kurds or even worse, between the Kurds themselves. It is unfortunate to see the national forces exacerbate the crisis that the Syrian regime has threatened to ignite on several occasions.

Instead of assuming responsibility for the recent developments and containing the worsening situation, the main figures of the Syrian opposition and Kurdish leaders are continuously blaming one other and nurturing sectarian conflicts.

As the once-peaceful Syrian revolution has turned into an armed conflict, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) avoids any clashes with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK’s armed members have progressively taken control of the regions in north and northeast of Syria, where Kurds constitute the majority of the population. This includes some neighborhoods in Aleppo.

The FSA has adopted a wise policy in their dealings with the PKK, since any clashes with the PKK would also target the Kurds, thus straying from the revolution’s main goal and paving the way for a new civil war. In fact, the FSA cannot claim that the PKK coordinates with the Syrian regime, or that the party’s armed men are the “Shabiha” of the Assad regime. Regardless of these considerations, the PKK remains an important Kurdish party that has supporters within the Syrian community. For Kurds, the PKK still represents a liberation movement that would help them put an end to the oppression they have been suffering since the decline of the Ottoman Empire, at the turn of the 20th century.

However, the picture is totally different when we take a closer look at the PKK and the Kurdish political community. We all know that the PKK is not the only Kurdish political force in Syria. There are other, more important, Kurdish parties that have rallied since fall of 2011 under the umbrella of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria. The Kurdish political forces in Syria are today divided into two main groups, one headed by Abdullah Ocalan and the other by Massoud Barzani. As relations between the KNC and the PKK deteriorated, last summer Barzani called upon both parties to sign the Hawler Agreement. Under this agreement, a higher political entity was constituted in order to prevent any internal Kurdish conflicts. However, the said entity failed in its duty as new conflicts between Kurds erupted several months ago in Efrin, northwest of Aleppo.

The Syrian revolution’s main figures have further nurtured the tensions between the PKK and the KNC. Despite the PKK’s efforts to prevent the Kurdish regions from getting involved in the vicious Syrian crisis, the Kurdish youth resumed their protests in Damascus, Aleppo and the cities of al-Jazira region, calling upon the Syrian regime to step down. In the same context, several Kurdish military phalanges were constituted under the FSA’s umbrella. Moreover, the Kurdish military council was established, following the example of other local military councils in the Syrian provinces.

The “Ashrafieh trap” was a bad omen that contributed to following clashes, mainly in the city of Ras al Ayn. At the end of last October, FSA groups invaded the Kurdish-majority Ashrafieh neighborhood in Aleppo. There followed the first conflict between the FSA and the PKK, targeting the Kurdish Saladin Battalion in particular, which lost six members during the battle. Overall, the fight resulted in 30 deaths, in addition to an unknown number of injured activists.Both parties agreed to call a truce and swap detainees, including the Kurdish civilians who had been detained by the FSA in an attempt to nurture hatred between Arabs and Kurds. The PKK also played a significant role in igniting the crisis. In fact, the party’s main figures preached in Efrin mosques in front of their supporters in order to stir their patriotic fervor and mobilize them against the FSA.

The PKK has always controlled the Kurdish news media to justify its own policies, spread slander and launch “preliminary raids” against the party’s opponents, thus effectively threatening the security of the latter. Through such media, the PKK has been keen to attack the KNC and all of the Syrian revolution’s components. The PKK’s policy focuses on thwarting the Syrian revolution to safeguard the interests of the Assad regime, which kept the Kurdish regions under the PKK’s control. Moreover, the PKK has been engaged in a bitter power struggle with other Kurdish political forces rallying under the KNC’s umbrella. This unequal power struggle between the heavily armed PKK and other unarmed Kurdish parties is quite reminiscent of the internal Lebanese fight between Hezbollah and its opponents. The PKK has practically risen to power in the Kurdish regions, standing against the KNC, which constitutes the unarmed opposition to the PKK.


If the KNC’s policy had been more effective to foil the PKK’s plan, the Kurdish regions would not have fell under the total military control of Ocalan. However, the KNC’s stance on the Syrian revolution has been vague, as the council has experienced an identity crisis, favoring the Kurdish identity over the Syrian one. The KNC has not been loud in its objection to the PKK’s policies and its affiliation with the Syrian regime. On the contrary, the PKK has strongly attacked the KNC and falsely accused the council of working for Erdogan. Such cheap accusations have often been translated into direct violence against Kurdish activists and political leaders, including a series of arrests and oppressive measures to stifle angry protests.

The leaders of the Syrian opposition and Kurdish political parties should be responsible for containing the Arab-Kurdish crisis that is about to erupt. They should all work to topple the Syrian regime as soon as possible, in order to avoid further crisis. It is also necessary to immediately appoint a Kurdish figure to fill the vacant post of the third vice president of the Syrian National Coalition.

Translated by al-monitor.com from Al-Hayat (Pan Arab) alhayat.com