Plans to Unite Kurdish Armed Forces in Syria

12/09/2012 RUDAW  By SAKAR ABDULLAZADA and NEHOR MUHAMMED – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdish Supreme Council in Syria is planning to establish a military force that would include armed groups from all parties in Syrian Kurdistan. The move follows an announcement by some deserters of President Bashar al-Assad’s army of the creation of a force known as the Syrian National Army (SNA).

The SNA has apparently called on Kurds to join them.

“We are trying to establish an army for Syrian Kurdistan and are seriously working toward that end,” said Ismael Hama, a member of the Kurdish Supreme Council.

The Supreme Council was formed in July after an agreement between various Syrian Kurdish groups was made in Erbil.

The dominant force in Syrian Kurdistan is now the Democratic Union Party (PYD) who politically and militarily controls the Kurdish areas which Assad’s forces have retreated from to fight rebels in Aleppo and other areas of Syria’s Sunni Arab heartland. Many perceive the PYD to be close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting the Turkish state for three decades, demanding political and cultural rights for the country’s Kurds.

Aldar Khalil, a senior leader in the PYD and member of the Supreme Council, told Rudaw that the armed units of his group and other Kurdish parties have agreed to join together as the armed forces of Syrian Kurdistan. So far, the Kurdish Supreme Council has refused to join the opposition umbrella organization known as the Syrian National Council (SNC) as Kurds are highly suspicious of whether its components would grant Kurdish rights in any post-Assad arrangement.

The Kurds have not also allowed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to gain access to Kurdish areas. This refusal to allow any interference has brought them the ire of the FSA and SNA but spared the Kurdish areas from the devastation experienced by much of the rest of the country.

“We try to keep Syrian Kurdistan safe from the conflict and try to not become part of the disputes between various groups,” said Khalil. “The Kurdish question in Syria is a particular and different question. We want to have our own administration like the Kurdistan Region (of Iraq).”

“We do not oppose the Syrian opposition or the SNA. We are part of the opposition but our way of struggle is different,” added Khalil. “We cooperate and offer them humanitarian aid to treat the wounded or help refugees cross Kurdistan’s borders. We want our relations to be political and friendly, not military.”

Earlier this month, around 400 officers and soldiers who had defected from the Syrian Army gathered inside Turkey, near the Syrian border, to establish the SNA. The new army includes the FSA and all other armed groups currently fighting the Assad regime. The SNA is said to be the result of a French-Turkish agreement encouraged by the U.S. and Arab countries.

Khalil said the Syrian opposition “regularly” calls on the Kurds to join the FSA, and now the new army. “But we have told them that although we are all in opposition to the Syrian regime, we do not want them to come to the Kurdish areas because we do not need any armed forces and can protect our areas,” he said.

The PYD’s armed forces had previously said they would not allow any armed elements to operate in the areas they control. The group did not even allow a force of several hundred Kurds who had defected from the Assad army and been trained in Iraqi Kurdistan to return to Syria.

PYD officials say they do not want foreign aid and will not allow the Kurdish areas of Syria to become a battleground. For his part, Ismael Hama, also a senior official at the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria, said he was not aware of the formation of a new army, adding that Kurds would not want to join any such group. “We want to form a Kurdish army and once we do that then we can negotiate with the Syrian National Army,” said Hama. He added that the Kurds hope to continue the Cairo talks with the rest of Syrian opposition to reach a “clear agreement.”