MESOP MIDEAST ANALYSIS: Kurds in Syria and the Old Concept of “Good Kurds” and “Bad Kurds” –  By Dr Janroj Keles – ACADEMIA  

My Critique of the Henry Jackson Society’s Report on “Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian KurdishDynamics After the Erbil Agreement”

Compared to the Kurds in Kurdistan regions of Turkey and Iraq, the Kurds in Syriahave been invisible in political and public spheres in the Middle East for decades.They have been described as “forgotten people” or “the silenced Kurds” in a fewacademic works and articles. Indeed they are the largest ethnic group after the Arabsin Syria

and are the potential catalyst for a possible pluralistic and democratic processin Syria.They have suffered for decades under the policies of the Arab imagined politicalcommunity and their ethnic identity and existence have been denied by “Syrian ArabRepublic”. They have been subjected to ethnic discrimination, political prosecution,displaced as part of Syrian government’s

Arabization policies. After stripping ofSyrian citizenship from 20 percent of Syria’s Kurdish population in 1960, many Kurdswere classified as the ajanib  (foreigners) and maktoumeen (meaning “hidden” or “muted”) and become refugees in their own country for decades before and during theBath regime. However since the Kurdish Serhildan  (Uprising) in 2004 in Kurdish populated Qamishli and so called “Syrian Revolution” in 2011, the “forgotten people”have been receiving increasing attention from the international communities and alsoconsiderable attention from journalists, political analysts and the Middle East“experts” whohave been publishing some interesting reports and articles on theKurds in Syria. But some of these reports and articles are problematical because theylook the Kurds in Syria from the perspectives of dominant nationalistic discourses inthe region e.g. Turkish and Arab nationalism and/or from the perspective of the“common sense” of global powers.

In this sense a recently publishedrepor t[1] entitled“Unity or PYD Power Play?: Syrian Kurdish Dynamics After theErbil Agreement” needs to be read critically because it is biased and political and makes unsubstantial claims about the Kurds in Syria and about Kurdish politicalorganisations in the region. Moreover it attempts to justify and legitimize the hostileintention of Turkish policies toward Kurds in Turkey and Syria in criminalizing anddelegitimizing Kurdish political parties. The authors use an old concept of “goodKurds” and “bad Kurds” without any analytic skill and academic credibility andknowledge of multi-connected, multi-referential relationships among Kurdishorganisations, parties and networks and between Kurdish and Syrian groups, partiesand people.

I would emphasize that I agree with some issues highlighted in conclusion in particular issues related to the KNC [Kurdish National Council] and PYD [Democratic Union Party] that they should find a rational ways to respect their politicaldifferences and share power for a pluralistic and democratic process in the Kurdish populated region. I also firmly agree with the authors that both KNC and PYD should be integrated into the political establishment in the region. However I think the reportis also problematic in various respects. Firstly the report divides the Kurdish political groups sharply into “good Kurds” and “bad Kurds”. This old concept has been used

by the regional countries in the Middle East and also by some “Western” powersreport repeats the same, old and trivial concept.

The “bad Kurds” who are “themilitant”(p6),” terrorist” (p11), “radicals in the PKK linked Democratic Union Party(PYD)” (p5), “the Turkish PKK” (p17) and the “good Kurds” who are “moderateKurds”. It is unclear what the characteristic of “moderate Kurds” (p6) are and howthey are qualified as being “good Kurds” and who decides on which criteria thatcertain groups are “moderate” and others “radical” and therefore need to be isolated

(p24). There is a discourse throughout this report based on creating a “folk devil”, a political group who is labeled as a threat. It does not matter for me whether thisotherized group is PYD or any other political group. My concern is that a particulargroup which has considerable popular support in Kurdistan region in Syria is labeledand its legitimacy questioned because it has ideological and political links with theKurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Secondly I also criticize the report for ignoring multi-connected, multi-referentialrelationships among Kurdish organizations, parties and networks and betweenKurdish and Syrian groups, parties and people as well as between Kurdish leaders, parties and Turkish government. These multi-connected, multi-referentialrelationships influence the political position of differently positioned groups, partiesand even governments. Let me clarify this with an example. On his way back from avisit to Germany, the Turkish Prime minster Mr Erdogan responded to a question

about the “threat” of PYD in Syria and to Turkey as follows: ‘…Barzani… even triedto explain that PYD is not like PKK’ (Barzani … hatta PYD’nin PKK olmadığınıanlatmaya çalıştı bize (Hurriyet, 02 November 2012). This statement shows clearly

that President of Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Barzani mediates betweenPYD and Turkey in an indirect way and attempts to include PYD into the politicalfield in the region. So the division between “bad Kurds “ and “good Kurds” are not asclearly delineated, because of their multiple connection, attachment, loyalties etc.Therefore I find the language used in this report is based on the deictic juxtaposition

and distance rhetoric which attempt to show the “good Kurds” as “moderate” and“bad Kurds” as “threat”. I think that there are no such sharp boundaries in the region.

The political positions of parties and groups in the Kurdish populated region and inSyria are constantly changeable due to local, regional and international conditions,search of security within an instable region and hunger for power.My third reservation about this report is that the accusation of PYD working withAssad regime has been mentioned in this and other reports without any reliableevidence. Instead there is a reliance on suspicions as in the following sentence:

“Nevertheless, the fact that the regime ceded such large swaths of territory to the PYDwithout a struggle raises suspicions that this was a tactical move designed tostrengthen the PYD in order to enervate Turkey, which views any build-up of a PKKapparatus in northern Syria as a direct national security threat” (p11). The onlysupporting statement for this claim highlighted in the report is that “analysts and

scholars have speculated as to whether or not the Assad regime withdrewindependently from Kurdish areas, or whether it did so in direct collaboration with the

PYD” (p11), however there is not any reference to those “analysts and scholars”.

Some Kurdish groups I talked to, see such claims made in Turkish and Arab sources

as a “conspiracy theory” to delegitimize the political production and position of acertain powerful Kurdish political group within Syria and beyond, in particular on the

international level. The report repeats the same “conspiracy theory” without providing

any reliable evidence to its readers. The Christian and Druze communities in Syria

have been blamed by the so called “Free Syrian Army” in a similar way for working

with the regime. I have to emphasize that I do not have any evidence for or against thetruth of this claim. I assume that only after the fall of the regime we will know this.The authors provide space for such accusations made by Syrian-Arabs and highlight that there is a “frustration and anger at the Kurds for not sufficiently participating inour uprising” (p15). However there is no statement of some Kurdish groups who arefor a “peaceful transition from dictatorial regime to a democratic and pluralisticsystem”. There are clearly two different positions. The first one (mainly Sunni-Arabs) believe that Assad regime can be changed by armed struggle, the other one (mainlyheld by minority groups including Kurds, Christians, Armenians, Assyrians andDruze) who distrust the Muslim brotherhood and nationalists and prefer to seek a peaceful rather than militant solution, they are scared both of the regime and also ofthe Islamist opposition.

The report goes further: “The KNC failed to reach an agreement with the SNC, as wasdemonstrated in the July Istanbul meeting, and the PYD refused to even attend”.

However the Kurds I spoke to blame the SNC for blocking the Kurdish active participation in “revolution” because SNC insists to continue the policies of Baathregime in the way in which SNC [ Syrian National Council] has reject the Kurdishdemands for constitutional recognition of Kurdish ethnic group and their politicalrepresentation through autonomy or federalism, secularist, pluralistic and democratic