PKK Critical of Syrian Rebels

29/09/2012  By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – RUDAW – The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been criticized by supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of not being able to protect civilians.

But the Kurds are lucky that President Bashar al-Assad has refrained from deploying the same tactics against them that he used in Aleppo, Hama or Homs. Nobody knows if this was part of a deal, or if Assad is too occupied with the rest of Syria. PKK supporters in Syria are mostly critical of the FSA and the help they receive from Turkey; they fear that Turkey could use the FSA against them in the future.

Furthermore, they do not like the Islamist background of most of the Syrian rebels. Therefore, they criticize the FSA for not being able to protect civilians, despite the fact that the PKK rebels also could not do much when the Turkish army forcefully displaced Kurdish villagers in the 1980s and 1990s, or when the Turkish state imprisons hundreds of PKK supporters.

According to Chinese Marxist leader Mao Zedong, guerrillas must “move amongst the people as fish swim in the sea.” As a result, government counterinsurgency campaigns often focus on drowning the fish by destroying the villages or areas from where the insurgents are hiding and being supported. The U.S. army did this in Vietnam when they were fighting against Vietnamese rebels.

This tactic also resulted in the destruction of more than 3,000 Kurdish villages in Turkey, along with 4,500 villages in Iraq and the massacre of the civilian population by the Baath. When rebels of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) moved into Halabja with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and attacked Iraqi military positions, the population also expected attacks. The result was the bombing of Halabja on March 16, 1988 with chemical weapons. Some blame the PUK, although it is more logical to blame Saddam.

Often when insurgents face the firepower of governments they cannot protect civilians, since they are dependent on hit and run attacks. Rebels often cannot hold positions against the might of air bombardments without the support of other countries. However, government reprisals often result in civilians supporting the insurgent movements against the state, which benefits them.

The Syrian population is now facing the same problem. When FSA rebels move into areas, the Syrian government responds with heavy weapons due to the fact they do not have enough combat maneuver units to deal with the rebellion. As a result, most civilians are caught in the crossfire. Some blame the FSA for not doing enough to protect civilians, but there is not much they can do.

This is one of the reasons why the PKK-affiliated party in Syria and other Kurdish parties do not want to become part of the armed rebellion against Assad. By doing so, they would be bombed, as was shown by the bombing of the Kurdish neighborhood Sheikh Maqsood in Aleppo.

Although PKK supporters in Syria claim to prefer a peaceful revolution in Syria, they are not exactly following a peaceful route themselves in Turkey (although the Turkish state is also using violence).  Of course, the PKK is looking after its own interests by staying away from both Assad and the revolution in Syria, hoping to benefit from the chaos without actively contributing to the downfall of Assad or risking the mass-bombardment of Kurdish cities, which would result in most Kurds fleeing Syria. Therefore some of their criticism of the Syrian opposition is unwarranted, but understandable, due to their position of being against both Assad and the FSA.