Salih Muslim’s Ankara Visit Marks Major Policy Change

HEMIN KHOSHNAW – RUDAW – ERBIL, 30.7.2013 – The Democratic Union Party (PYD) has reassured Ankara that his group’s call for a local administration in Syria’s Kurdish regions does not mean that the group is looking to divide Syria. Salih Muslim, leader of the PYD, met with Turkish officials last week, marking a major policy change between two sides deeply suspicious of each other.

Muslim who flew to Turkey from Erbil, told the media that he was in Turkey to allay Ankara’s concerns over Kurdish separatism, and to explain why the Syria’s Kurdish regions needed a  local administration to run their own affairs.

“Kurds will need to have a status in the new order in Syria,” Muslim told Anadolu News Agency. “But what’s in question now is a provisional arrangement until we arrive at that phase. It’s not about making a constitution, but practical rules are necessary.” Muslim told Turkish officials that a local administration would include other ethnic groups such as Christians, Turkmen and Arabs who live in the Kurdish-majority areas in northeastern Syria. “Our thought is to establish a provisional council of 40 to 50 — maybe a hundred people,” he said. “This council will comprise Kurds, Syriacs, Arabs and Turkmens. They will choose the provisional administration from among themselves.”

Since the start of the Syrian revolution against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad more than two years ago, Turkey has been uneasy about the presence of the PYD — which it sees as a branch of its own outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — along its borders.

In turn, PYD officials have accused Turkey of supporting radical Islamic fighters who try to take over Kurdish towns and villages near the border, including the radical Jabhal al-Nusrah, which the Kurds accuse Ankara of backing. Muslim’s visit appears to have eased suspicions between both sides. Speaking to the media, Muslim said that he had conveyed the Kurds’ concern about the radical Jabhat al-Nusrah to Turkish foreign ministry officials. Other Syrian Kurdish parties applauded the meeting between Muslim and Turkey, believing it will help the Kurdish cause in Syria.

Shalal Gado, representative of the Kurdish Left Party in Sulaimani said he believed that it was the successful rout of Islamic fighters by the People’s Defense Units (PYG) – the PYD’s armed wing – in the Kurdish areas that that forced Turkey to meet with Syrian Kurds.

“Until recently most Kurdish leaders believed the YPG is a curse to the Kurdish cause and that that organization is unable to talk to the world,” Gado told Rudaw. “But this visit disproved that perception.” Muslim also told Dicle News that Turkish officials had promised to reopen some of their border crossing and customs points along the Kurdish areas of Syria. Jadan Ali, head of the Kurdish Reform Movement in Syria, said that Turkey has finally realized that the YPG is a force to be reckoned with, hence calling a meeting with Muslim.

“But there are other reasons too,” said Ali. “Turkey sees that the main Syrian opposition groups are getting weaker and that the Assad regime is regaining strength.” Ali said that at this critical phase in the Syrian revolution, Turkey knows that it is better to talk to the PYD than keep it as an enemy. Meanwhile, some Kurdish groups expressed a sense of betrayed by the PYD. Mahmoud Muhammad, representative of the Kurdish United Democratic Party in Syria, said that the PYD had branded all other Kurdish groups as Turkish agents in the past, yet Muslim himself flew to Turkey on an official visit. Muhammad said that his party had declined several invitations from Turkey in the past, insisting on Kurdish unity instead.