Syrian Kurds must cut ties with PKK, strike deal with Damascus: President Barzani


Mohammed Rwanduzy  RUDAW / MESOP – 18. Jan 2020

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Syrian Kurdish leadership must continue efforts to reach a solution with the Damascus regime that will guarantee Kurdish rights in the country, but they must also cut ties with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Kurdistan Region’s President Nechirvan Barzani told Al-Monitor on Thursday.

“As a matter of principle we believe that the question of the Kurds in Syria should be resolved within the boundaries of Syria. And yes, of course I believe the regime in Damascus should be more forthcoming than it is now. The Kurds of Syria are part of Syria,” Barzani said in an interview with the media outlet.

“Our advice in the past, present and in the future is for the Syrian Kurds to find a way to reach an agreement with the regime,” Barzani added, criticizing the regime for its lack of willingness to make concessions. “Unfortunately, the Baath mentality is a block.”

Syrian Kurds, who earned global praise for their key role in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), have been pushed into a weak position after being abandoned by their American allies in the face of a Turkish invasion, “Operation Peace Spring,” that was launched on October 9, 2019. The Turkish invasion commenced following US withdrawal from border towns. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) lost two critical border towns of Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) and Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain), and Turkey and its Syrian proxies pushed 30 kilometers-deep into Syrian territory.

The Kurds asked the Syrian government to help defend their land against the Turkish incursion, inviting regime forces back to the northeast for the first time since Damascus pulled out of the Kurdish areas early in the nearly nine-year long civil war.

Ceasefire deals brokered by the United States and Russia put the Turkish invasion on hold, but the situation is still unstable.

Political talks between the Kurdish-led administration and Damascus have hit an impasse. The Kurds want the fragile autonomy they have carved out for themselves to be preserved and their SDF granted special status within the Syrian Army, but the Syrian Regime, in a position of strength after military wins on the ground, has refused to budge.

“There should be constitutional protection of their rights all within the framework of a united Syria. They should be equal citizens and to express themselves freely as Kurds,” said Barzani of the Kurdish population across the border.

An earlier round of talks, launched when the Kurds were in a much stronger position, failed.  The current negotiations are mediated by Russia. Barzani had urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to get involved when he visited Erbil last October.

The positive role Barzani and the Kurdistan Region played were recognized by Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, despite bad blood between Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the ruling party in Kurdish-held Syria.

Turkey justified its invasion of Rojava, as Kurds call northeastern Syria, as a counter-terrorism operation, claiming that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms the backbone of SDF, is affiliated with the PKK, a Kurdish guerilla organization fighting for greater Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey.

The YPG has denied it is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK, but the organization has embraced the ideology of jailed Abdullah Ocalan, revered founder of the PKK.

“I also told them [Syrian Kurds] repeatedly to cut their ties with the PKK in Qandil,” said Barzani. “I always said they did everything to provoke Turkey. Putting up PKK flags and huge portraits of [imprisoned PKK leader] Abdullah Ocalan immediately on the Turkish border.”

He said the SDF “was probably too late” when it made concessions to Turkey’s objections, dismantling defensive fortifications along the border and allowing US-Turkey military patrols in strategic areas. “We had been telling them for years to disassociate themselves from the PKK and try to understand Turkey’s concerns so as to avert this result we have today,” said Barzani.

This has to be done, otherwise there is “little chance of the situation getting any better,” he argued.

Despite his opposition to the PKK, Barzani asserted that the only solution to the decades-long conflict between Kurds and the Turkish state is for Ankara to resume its peace process with the PKK, including re-opening discussions with Ocalan.