The Dilemma of Syria’s Kurds

25/08/2012 RUDAW –  By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG – Damascus withdrew its forces from Kurdish areas in a deal with Kurdish parties to prevent a conflict with Syrian Kurds. However, this does not mean that the freedoms that followed will be guaranteed in the future. Syrian Kurds must learn from the experience of Iranian Kurds.

Although some Kurdish parties claim the areas are liberated, the arrest of Kurdish activists in Sari Kani shows that the Syrian regime still has a presence. Although militias affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) control many Kurdish areas, the regime is still be able to drive them out if they want to.

Recently, Al Jazeera reporter Hoda Abdel-Hamid claimed that Syrian Kurds will not easily let go of their new found freedoms. Many Syrian Kurdish activists and politicians see this as a historic opportunity, and suggest that Kurds in Syria aren’t scared anymore.

However, this is far from the truth. For example, after the fall of the Shah monarchy, Iranian Kurdish parties quickly controlled large parts of Iranian Kurdistan. The new Islamic government promised them more rights, but later betrayed them. In the mid-1980s, thousands of Kurds were imprisoned, executed or exiled, and leaders of the Iranian Kurdish movement were killed.

Due to their geographical location, Kurds benefit from unrest and instability in the Middle East, and suffer from strong, stable governments in Damascus, Ankara, Teheran or Baghdad. Therefore, they need outside support in order to achieve some forms of freedom. If, in the future, a new government formed by the Syrian opposition decides to act against the Kurds in the north, Syrian Kurds could end up with nothing if not protected by one of the superpowers. Likewise, if President Bashar al-Assad reasserts control over Syria, it is likely he would make a deal with Turkey and take away newly won freedoms from Syrian Kurds.

The only reason Iraqi Kurds are in the position they are now is because of the United States protected them and overthrew the Iraqi government. Since the U.S. military left the country, they have been afraid of Baghdad.

But the Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria are not so lucky to have support from China, Russia or the U.S. Even if a no-fly zone or humanitarian corridor is established in northern Syria — as was the case in northern Iraq in 1991 — it would probably be headed by Turkey, which does not sound promising for Kurds in Syria (though Turkey has changed, and may accept Syrian Kurdish autonomy without the PKK). Iraqi Kurds were lucky that Turkey did not support the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2003.

Furthermore, demonstrating peacefuly and not fighting against the regime has stopped government forces from bombing Syrian Kurds as they have done in Homs, Hama and other cities. But the Syrian opposition may use this against the Syrian Kurds, and claim they did not do enough and were only looking out for their own interests.

Everybody knows that, without foreign intervention, Assad will not fall, and that peaceful demonstrations do not lead to anything.

Therefore, the Syrian Kurds are facing a political dilemma, and fear that picking one side over the other could cost them in the future. They may be lucky that the new head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) is Kurdish, but this is not a guarantee for the future if he has no power over the armed opposition in Syria.