Syrian Kurdish Self-Rule Criticized By Many As Unrepresentative

By Susannah George – Rudaw – 2014-02-21 – BEIRUT — About a month after Kurdish groups in Syria declared self rule, the provisional government has appointed ministers, established courts and set a date for elections. But many of Syria’s Kurds remain skeptical about the venture, concerned that the government does not represent them. “I think the government is more of a political stance than an actual power,” says Nohat Bahlawi, a doctor living and working in the city of Qamishli in Syria’s Kurdish regions, or Rojava.

He says the declaration was flawed from the start because it was not inclusive.  “Personally, I don’t count much on announcing a government from one side,” he said. The one side that Bahlawi is referring to is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the strongest political organization in Syria’s Kurdish regions and regarded as the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PYD has been criticized for declaring autonomy without reaching out to smaller Kurdish political organizations. Its three cantons of Cizire, Kobani and Afrin have been rejected by the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq and by Turkey.  The PYD quickly announced the cantons last month, after it failed to gain a seat at the Geneva II conference, where the Kurds were represented by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).  Abdel Hamid Darwish, head of the rival Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party who represented the SNC at the conference, called the PYD’s declaration of self-rule a mistake.  “They should not have done that. We are friends. We are Kurds,” he told Rudaw.  “Right now, what we’re seeing is a PYD project,” said Lama Fakih, a researcher on Syria at New York-based Human Rights Watch.  Fakih, who has just returned from a trip to Syria’s Kurdish region, says that so far the government there is not inclusive, but that the infant leadership still has time to bring more players to the table. “The success of (the provisional government) will depend on their ability to make it more than that and really make it an inclusive process that involves the largest opposition groups,” she said. Overall, Fakih says she is impressed by what the PYD has managed to achieve in such a short time. In one case, members of the justice ministry have begun rewriting the legal code.  “Even to be at this point where they are rewriting the laws,” noted Fakih, “they’re working pretty diligently to establish this new administration.”

But this pace of change is exactly what’s making some Kurds nervous. Where some see swift progress, others see unelected leaders taking broad liberties.

“Self rule was not an announcement for autonomy, it was just a political maneuver by the PYD, everyone knows this,” says Ossama Ahmed, an opposition activist working in Hassaka.  He says what Syria’s Kurds really need are leaders who will improve living conditions. Looting and violence has slowed trade, making it difficult to get goods into the Kurdish region of Syria. Prices of everything, from food to prescription drugs, have skyrocketed.

Nevertheless, in contrast to the rest of war-torn Syria, in much of the country’s Kurdish-dominated northeast basic services are working, schools are open and security is in the hands of the PYD’s military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The PYD also has successfully fought off efforts by al-Qaeda and other extremist groups fighting against the Damascus regime from bringing the war into Syria’s Kurdish regions. Bahlawi, the doctor in Qamishli, says he, too, wants leaders who will work to improve the daily lives of Syria’s Kurds, but that the current political landscape does not make him hopeful, “Everyone’s priority is just expanding their own power,” he says.