The Struggle for Syrian Kurdistan

Al-Monitor Week in Review Posted on July 21.   By: TÜRKÇE OKUYUN 

The leading Syrian Kurdish group, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is close to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) of Turkey, has proposed an autonomy plan for governance in the Kurdish held areas of Syria, reports Wladimir van Wilgenburg for Al-Monitor.

At this stage, the autonomy idea may as yet be an aspiration and a feint toward Kurdish unity. PYD leaders claim they are not seeking to break from Syria.   The plan would include a referendum and elections to be held in the next three months.

Given the war and collapse of state structures in Syria, the Kurdish region of Syria has become a contested arena for both Kurdish national aspirations and regional intrigue.  It is especially a concern of Turkey in its dealings with the PKK.  

Amberin Zaman reports for Al-Monitor that the PYD moves may be related to a leadership shuffle in the PKK that could complicate the fragile Turkish-Kurdish peace process:

“The PKK is pouring much of its energy into Syria. And this is where the picture gets even more blurred. The main reason Erdogan resumed talks with Ocalan was out of fear that Syria and Iran — and Russia, some claim — would boost their support for the rebels in order to punish Turkey for its support for Syrian rebels. How else could the PKK, however briefly, control broad swathes of Turkish territory along the Iran-Iraq border just as they made gains in Syria? The peace process was meant to reverse all this. In exchange for concessions inside Turkey, Ocalan was supposed to put the brakes on ‘Rojava’ or ‘Western Kurdistan,’ as the Syrian Kurds call their territories. And if all went according to plan, the Syrian Kurds would have joined the Syrian opposition.”

The Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is seen as aligned with Turkey in dealing with the PYD, has sought to keep pressure on the PYD by refusing to re-open key border crossings.

The gains of the Syrian military against rebel forces may have forced a re-evaluation by the PKK and PYD in its Syria strategy, as it has sought intensified its own efforts to seize control of Kurdish regions from other rebel forces. 

On July 17 the PYD claimed that it had taken strategic town of Ras al-Ain from Jabhat al-Nusra forces in Syria.

The possibility of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, or a Syrian Kurdish region outside of Turkey’s control, has not surprisingly alarmed Turkish officials bedeviled by the frustrations in Ankara’s Syria policies.

On July 19, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that “It’s not possible to accept any de facto declaration of an autonomous entity in Syria, and that could only lead to further crisis,” blaming the trouble between “Kurds and Arabs, Arabs and Turkmens” on the Syrian government, as Tulin Daloglu reports.

The Siege of Aleppo

Edward Dark, a pseudonym for a Syrian activist living in Aleppo, provides a riveting account of life in the city, which is both divided and under siege by rebel forces:

“I doubt whether the most cynical of Aleppans could have ever, in their worst nightmares, envisaged what the state of Aleppo has become in the last week. A crippling, deadly siege, just as the holy month of Ramadan — a time of pious worship as well as seasonal culinary traditions in this most ancient and tradition-rich of cities — got under way. The main highway into the city, the Aleppo-Damascus highway, was closed due to clashes, as rebels launched a fresh offensive and took the Rashdeen neighborhood at the western limits of the city. This was a vital artery, supplying western Aleppo with all its needs: food, fuel, medicine and goods as well as passenger buses and coaches …

“And so the people of Aleppo remain stuck in this most deadly of paradoxes, caught between the hammer and the anvil, with both sides more than willing to see them starve to death, to achieve whatever sinister goals they have in mind. The rebels — who are supposedly fighting for the freedom of all Syrians — dismiss the residents of west Aleppo as shabiha and regime sympathizers, even though anyone with half a brain knows that the rebel- and regime-held parts of the city are arbitrary and most certainly do not delineate the allegiance of the people who happen to live there. The regime, cynical as ever, does not care about the fate of its own people, and would happily see them die in its campaign to eradicate the ‘terrorists’ or gain a propaganda boost and blame the other side.”

Dark’s account has resonance beyond documenting Aleppo’s misery. It may foreshadow Syria’s future as long as the war continues. There will likely be no “victory” by rebel forces, but rather a broken and divided country, whose populations in contested areas seek to navigate their lives among cynical regime forces, radical Islamists, and a fractious and weak Free Syrian Army. As this column has argued time and again, the illusion of victory by any side should be replaced by the urgency of a cease fire and political transition.

Saudi Maids and the Iraqi Sex Trade

In case you missed it, we bring your attention to two outstanding articles last week.

Madawi Al-Rasheed wrote about the continued plight of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia: “Neither the Saudi authorities nor the domestic workers’ governments are serious about finding a solution that would end the saga of human bondage in this oil-rich country. International labor organisations and global human rights civil societies publish annual reports exposing this hidden tragedy, long kept away from scrutiny and investigation. Foreign governments are eager to continue to receive the migrants’ remittances that allow destitute families to survive and are unlikely to rock the boat, thus becoming accomplices in the plight of their own women domestic workers abroad.”

Wassim Bassem reports from Baghdad on the rise in the Iraqi sex trade: “The number of brothels in Baghdad has increased after being limited to certain areas such as Midan, Kamaliyah and Abu Ghraib. They have become active today in other areas in private homes that hold semi-discreet socializing and sex parties, frequented by clients via a network of relationships of ‘confidants,’ their money and their entourage.”

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