Tensions grow between Syrian Kurdish parties over return of Rojava Peshmerga

The Rojava Peshmerga “are honest patriotic Kurds, and they belong to patriotic Kurdish families, whose history of struggle is decent,” one Syrian Kurdish official said.

January 13 2021   03:17 ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Tensions have increased between various Syrian Kurdish parties after discussions about the possible return of the Rojava Peshmerga from the Kurdistan Region to Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).

Officials from different Syrian Kurdish parties made statements to local Kurdish media this week, which could negatively affect future talks between the main Syrian Kurdish parties.

One of those officials was Aldar Khalil, a member of the Co-presidency Body of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In an interview with Ozgur Politika newspaper on Monday,  Khalil claimed the Rojava Peshmerga were “mercenaries working for Turkey,” and that any future role for them in the military arena “is improbable.”

This is not the first time Khalil has made negative comments about the Rojava Peshmerga. In a 2016 interview with Kurdistan 24, he called the Rojava Peshmerga “gangs,” which led to an angry response from supporters of the Kurdish National Council (KNC).

The PYD and the KNC, the two major factions among Syrian Kurdish parties, renewed negotiations in early November in efforts to stand together as a united front after Turkey’s cross-border offensive in northern Syria in October 2019.

The Rojava Peshmerga is the official military wing of the KNC, while the People’s Protection Units (YPG) is close to the PYD.

Abdul Hakim Bashar is a co-founder and former president of the KNC. He formed the party in October 2011 with support from the former president of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani.

In a statement he posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Bashar condemned the recent remarks Khalil made about the Rojava Peshmerga. The former KNC president said Khalil “is fully aware” that members of the Rojava Peshmerga “are honest patriotic Kurds, and they belong to patriotic Kurdish families, whose history of struggle is decent.”

“They have fought in defense of Kurdistan, not against it,” the post continued. “They have fought the enemies of the Kurds, whatever their name might be, and their hands are not stained with the blood of the Kurds.”

Bashar even suggested the KNC halts talks with the PYD until Khalil apologizes to the Rojava Peshmerga “and all honorable Kurds.”

Indeed, KNC head Saud al-Mullah told Kurdistan 24 last week that the return of the Rojava Peshmerga, a military force of about 5,000 Syrian Kurdish fighters who fought against the so-called Islamic State near Mosul, is crucial to any agreement with the PYD.

“So far, the issue of [the Roj] Peshmerga’s return [to Rojava] has not been discussed as we are moving forward step by step,” Mullah told Kurdistan 24.

Read More: Syrian Kurdish leader says return of Rojava Peshmerga crucial to unity deal

In the past, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the PYD-affiliated YPG have refused the return of the Rojava Peshmerga, arguing a military division could lead to a Kurdish civil war, similar to the conflict between Kurdish parties in the 1990s in the Kurdistan Region.

However, the KNC argues that the Rojava Peshmerga, as a native Syrian Kurdish force, has the right to return to Syrian Kurdistan.

It remains to be seen how this decision will affect ongoing talks between the KNC and the PYD-linked Kurdish National Unity Parties (PYNK) who have previously held discussions for at least seven months. But the talks were temporarily halted due to the absence of American officials from Syria because of the recent US elections.

Last week, Democratic Left Party Secretary-General Salih Gheddo, a member of the leadership of the PYNK, told Kurdistan 24 he believes “the dialogue will restart after Joe Biden’s inauguration.”

“At this moment, we are discussing ‘administrative’ subjects on how the KNC will participate as a partner in the Self-Administration,” Gheddo added.

“We have already completed the ‘Kurdish Reference’ [Supreme Body] subject, and we hope that during the next phase of the talks we can reach an agreement on administrative roles and the KNC’s involvement.”

Editing by Karzan Sulaiva