Telgraf Interview with Wladimir van Wilgenburg about Syria and Kurds

Telegraf, Suna Köse – London – 26.8.2012 – Kurds make up around 15% of the population in Syria. During the last conference in Cairo on July 2, the Syrian Kurdish parties (all of them) walked out because the Syrian opposition classified them as ethnic group and not as the ‘Kurdish people’ despite of their political disagreements and conflicts. This was because the Syrian opposition parties refuse to mention the word Kurds. Furthermore, all Kurds agree that the Syrian National Council is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and supported by Turkey and they are afraid of them regaining on promises of giving rights to Kurds. This is one of the reasons why the new Kurdish head of the Syrian National Council Abdulbaset Sayda cannot convince the Kurdish parties.

Many Syrian Kurdish politicians see him as a sell-out, similar to Kurds like Ubeydullah Barzani, İsmet İnönü, Ziya Gökalp, and other Kurds, who were originally Kurds, but who worked against Kurdish political parties and identity. Although many Kurds say the Syrian opposition rejects Kurdish demands because of Turkey, this is not completely true. For instance, the Syrian Arab opposition parties themselves do not recognize Kurdish demands and claim the Kurds do not participate enough in the revolution. Although, there are also many Syrian Arabs now who start to support Kurds, like Khalid Abu Saleh from Homs, who was praised by Kurdish demonstrators. But on the other hand, Deir al-Zor sheik Nawaf al-Bashir in media says he is pro-Kurdish, but he refused to write Kurds in conference papers in Cairo conference. This despite the fact, that many Kurds are now helping refugees from Deir al-Zor coming to Kurdish areas.

While in Iraq, after 2003, the Kurds did not stop at Kurdish areas and went all the way to Baghdad and participated heavily in the fighting, the Syrian Kurds refrain from doing this because the West will not protect them if Assad retaliates by bombing Kurdish areas. Most Kurdish parties and individuals agree on this. The Syrian Kurds do not have the support of the US army, or the Turkish army, like the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Deir al-Zor is now completely emptied from its population.

Even although the FSA gets foreign support. The Kurds dont want to flee to Turkey or Iraq, like the Kurds did after the 1991 uprising n Iraq [Although this sacrifice led to Kurdish autonomy in Iraq]. Also despite of their disagreements, most Kurdish parties agree that the FSA should not come to Kurdish areas. But recently, there have been some Kurdish political parties changing this stance and smuggling weapons and arming groups inside the Kurdish areas and they are more willing to work with Turkey. They are against PYD establishing control over the Syrian Kurdish areas.

This while the PYD thinks the best way to ensure the future of Syrian Kurds is to protect them by checkpoints and by organizing them The PYD (Democratic Union Party) is against this, and there were clashes between these groups. Parties who opposed the PYD claim the PYD is working with Assad and kidnapping activists. The PYD denies this and say they just arrest people who are involved in violence, or attack them. The PYD even had fights with the Assad-regime, and Assad denied helping the PKK and said he is just losing control of the Kurdish areas and that therefore organizations like the PKK have more freedom of movement.

Everybody knows if Assad re-establishes control over Syria again, he would resume relations with Turkey and crackdown on the PKK. Moreover, it is true that some activists who were imprisoned, were in fact people attacking PYD-checkpoints (PYD controls Efrin, Kobani, areas in Aleppo, and ‘Kurdish borders’ with Syria-Iraq, but not towns like Qamishli, Amude, or Hassakeh). Although pro-KNC people call them activists.

But often PYD releases these activists within a few days. On the other hand, some people who are classified by activists by PYD, are in fact also armed rebels. Due to these different political party interests, the PYD-Kurdish National Council Agreement from June 11 was never implemented. And the recent clash between a local FSA group and PYD which resulted in deaths, which the KNC blamed on PYD, and PYD blamed on Turkey and FSA, resulted in Barzani hosting meetings between the PYD, KNC and Kurdish parties in order to preserve unity. With this Barzani took quite a risk, since PYD is known to be close to PKK and Turkey could criticize him for this.

The Kurdish parties know if they are not united, it is difficult for them to achieve rights in Syria. One should not forget that even the Syrian opposition have difficulties of finding a common ground, and within the FSA there are several groups with their own policies and interests. So it is difficult for Syrian Kurds to unite. Especially if big countries like Turkey are against Kurdish autonomy in Syria. A document leaked from the Turkish consulate in Erbil about Syria, shows that Turkey wants to prevent PKK/PYD influence in Syria. This is one of the reasons why it will be difficult for the Kurds in Syria to achieve autonomy.

Especially due to the fact that most Syrian Arabs are against Kurdish autonomy. And because most Kurdish areas are not connected. There is a chance for some Kurdish areas to linked to the KRG (by trade, links, not annexation). But many Kurds are living in areas like Aleppo, Damascus, Efrin, and other places that are not connected to Kurdish areas. Unlike in Iraq, the Kurds are more spread over Syria. This makes it also difficult for Kurdish parties to defend Kurds in Damascus, Homs, or Dara (some Kurds are living in Arab-dominant areas). Although they welcome them to come to the Kurdish-controlled areas, they cannot defend them there.

The Kurdish parties tried to control areas in Damascus, but they failed. According to e-mails discussions of the so-called private intelligence company Stratfor that were leaked by Wikileaks, the Kurds and Sunnis may share the desire for regime change, but once the goal of regime change is achieved, whoever is in power, aside from the Kurds, will seek to contain Kurdish separatism. There is also a chance Turkey might start bombing the Kurdish areas in Syria due to the PKK presence. According to the 1998 Adana agreement between Turkey and Syria which led to expelling the PKK-leader Öcalan from Turkey, the Turkish army is allowed to pursue Kurdish rebels Syria up to 5 kilometres without seeking the prior permission of the Syrian authorities. If the PKK/PYD remains strong in Syria in a post-Assad future, then Turkey will either try to prevent Kurdish autonomy or try to force the Syrian authorities to crackdown on the PKK. Similar what Turkey is now doing in the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Now they are regularly bombing the Kurdish areas to pressure the Kurdistan Regional Government to attack the PKK, which they will never do because it will destabilize the KRG since the population is sympathetic to the PKK and their struggle, and PKK has many supported within the Kurdistan region of Iraq. So we will see what happens in the future.