The Syrian Kurds: out of nowhere to where? / By Michael M. Gunter

02 January 2014, Thursday / PROF. MICHAEL M. GUNTER, TENNESSEE TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, Turkish Review  – 2.1.2014

On July 19, 2012, the previously almost unheard of Syrian Kurds suddenly emerged as a potential game changer in the Syrian civil war and its potential aftermath when government troops were abruptly pulled out of the major Kurdish areas. This report explores the precipitous rise of the Kurds in Syria and gives an overview of what transnational and non-state actors have at stake since Syria’s Kurds gained their autonomy

Read a synopsis of ‘Out of Nowhere’ by Michael Gunter (due out from Hurst Publishers in April 2014).

When the Kurds in Syria suddenly became effectively autonomous, the situation also had grave implications for neighboring Turkey and the virtually independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. The rise of the Kurds in Syria may prove to have been the tipping point in changing the artificial borders of the Middle East established after World War I by the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Among pan-Kurdish nationalists, Syrian Kurdistan is often referred to as western Kurdistan or Rojava (the direction of the setting sun). Since this region contains the country’s most fertile areas and is also home to most of its oil reserves, the Kurdish-populated areas of Syria have been well worth struggling for.1  

Syrian Kurdistan in context

Over the past century the Kurds in Syria have faced a form of sequential triple colonialism. First, they suffered under the Ottoman Empire until 1918, then under the French until 1946.2 Subsequently they suffered under the Arabs once Syria gained independence. After coming to power in 1963, the Ba’ath Party proved even more hostile toward the Kurds. Colonialism was not, however, completely negative. The Ottomans reserved priority for their Muslim subjects — including the Kurds. The French on occasion showed favor toward the Kurds and other minorities in order to effectively rule over the Sunni Arab majority. Assimilationist and denialist Arab colonialism has been the most exploitative of the Kurds in Syria since independence in 1946.

After the Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963,3  the Arab nationalist plan to reduce the Kurds was furthered by the creation of an Arab Belt (al-Hizam al-Arabi). The goal of this belt was to expropriate the Kurdish lands along the border with Turkey and Iraq and repopulate the area with “loyal” Arabs (oil had been discovered in the region in 1956). This Arab Belt was to be six-nine miles wide, extending for some 170 miles, and when implemented in 1973 would force dispossessed Kurds to either leave Syria for Lebanon, or move into the Syrian interior. The evacuated Kurdish regions were then given Arab names to further ensure the assimilation of any remaining Kurds.

The theoretical justification for these harsh, discriminatory measures was a clandestine treatise entitled “National, Political, and Social Study of the Province of Jazira,” published by Lt. Muhammad Talab Hilal, a senior Syrian security police officer, in 1963. To exorcise the threat of what Hilal termed “a malignant tumor on the side of the Arab nation,” he recommended the creation of this belt where Arab settlers would replace all Kurds. The Kurds would have their lands confiscated, be stripped of their citizenship, have their employment opportunities restricted, be denied public social services, medical treatment, and schooling. Hilal justified this with the claim that the Kurds “have no history, civilization, language, or ethnic origin.”

The Hilal treatise of course ignores the fact that the borders between Turkey and Syria that now divide the Kurds were only established following World War I. They artificially separated Kurds as they did Arabs. In truth, Kurdish and Arab tribes had contested the region for hundreds of years.

Kurds had come to the region from Turkey in the 1920s. They had been issued with identity cards. These Kurds were already Syrian citizens when the country became independent in 1946. Rendering them stateless was against the principles of international law on nationality rights in cases of state succession (such as the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness) as well as international legally binding human rights doctrines such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by Syria in 1993), and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.4

The goal of this article is to give an overview of what transnational and non-state actors have had at stake since Syria’s Kurds gained their autonomy in July 2012. In particular, starting with a study of historical events since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, it looks at what this could mean for Turkey, the United States, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Iraqi Kurds, and how this could affect the region in general going forward.

Transnational actors: states


Until recently Turkey has taken an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the Kurds, fearing that their national claims would potentially destroy Turkish territorial integrity. Indeed, during the 1920s and 1930s, Turkey crushed three great Kurdish uprisings: Sheikh Said in 1925, Ararat in 1930, and Dersim (renamed Tunceli) in 1938. All Kurdish schools, organizations, publications, and religious institutions were closed. The name “Mountain Turks” (used by Turkey to refer to the Kurds during the 1920 and 1930s) served as a code for these actions and the refusal to even recognize the existence of the Kurds.

Naturally, Turkey also closely monitored Kurdish activities across its borders. That Khoybun — the first transnational Kurdish political party — backed the Ararat rebellion of 1927-30 from its base in Syria reinforced the fear of the Kurds in Turkey. Although the Treaty of Saadabad in 1937 and subsequently the Baghdad Pact (formally known as the Middle East Treaty Organization) in 1955 were on paper fashioned to contain Soviet expansion while also acting as non-aggression pacts, both conventions implicitly obligated Turkey, Iran and Iraq to cooperate on the Kurdish issue. This collaboration included measures to prevent cross-border communication and support among the Kurds and, in general, sought to prevent any joint, transnational Kurdish action that might challenge international boundaries set up following World War I. Syria was certainly a silent partner in both endeavors, and therefore its Kurds were a silent victim.

In August 1944 Mt. Dalanpur (located where Turkey, Iraq, and Iran converge) was the site of a famous meeting of Kurdish delegates from those three states as well as Syria. The participants signed a treaty known as Peyamiani sei Sanowar (Treaty of the Three Boundaries) in which they pledged mutual support, the sharing of resources, and the restoration of the Kurdish language and culture. Although this meeting did not result in any practical Kurdish unity, it did illustrate the existence of transnational Kurdish aspirations and, correspondingly, threats to the states in which Kurds lived. Nearly 70 years later, in September 2013, another pan-Kurdish conference was scheduled to take place in Arbil, but was postponed due to internal Kurdish disputes. Given the Kurds’ growing empowerment, it will be interesting to see what its transnational results will be when this pan-Kurdish gathering finally does occur.

Turkey has intervened militarily many times into northern Iraq because of the Kurdish situation — most recently in 2011. It was not until 1926 that Turkey conceded what is now northern Iraq — or Mosul, the Ottoman name for the province — to Iraq. It is only very recently that Turkey has come to see the possibilities of cooperation with the KRG. It even began formal negotiations with the PKK in January 2013. In November 2013, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also conferred with KRG President Massoud Barzani in Diyarbakır, a highly publicized meeting through which Turkey in effect conferred further legitimacy upon the KRG. These initiatives have already had important effects on the Kurds in Syria, by leading Turkey to take a somewhat less hostile attitude toward the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Ankara has played a key role in assisting the opposition in the Syrian civil war. The Syrian National Council (before it was succeeded by the Syrian National Coalition in November 2012) was founded and largely based in İstanbul. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) maintains its nominal headquarters in southeastern Turkey. However, by indiscriminately supporting the FSA, Turkey also has been aiding Jabhat al-Nursa and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda that are part of the Syrian opposition, but opposed to the Syrian Kurds.5

The PYD, founded in Syria in 2003 by the PKK, has been enjoying de facto autonomy just across the border from Turkey since July 19, 2012. Although it might be one latent reason Turkey decided to open negotiations with the PKK in 2013, the resulting situation in Syria has wrought havoc in Turkey. However, if Turkey intervenes against the PYD, it risks getting bogged down in a quagmire. In addition, the al-Qaeda affiliated groups mentioned above that are supported by Turkey have already fallen into conflict with the PYD. In March 2012, Murat Karayılan, the PKK military leader holed up in a Kandil Mountains sanctuary on the Iraqi-Iranian border, declared, “If the Turkish state intervenes against our people in western Kurdistan, all of Kurdistan will turn into a war zone.” 6 Nevertheless, the PYD has already clashed on numerous occasions with the Turkish-backed al-Qaeda militants referred to above in Kurdish populated areas of Syria.7  

In July 2013, these battles intensified as Turkey’s policy with regard to Syria and the PYD lurched towards crisis.8 Fearing the effect on its own disaffected Kurds, Turkey repeatedly warned the Syrian Kurds, who have raised the PYD flag only 50 meters from the Turkish border, not to declare autonomy.9 Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu declared: “We expect three basic things from the Kurds in Syria. […] Firstly for them not to cooperate with the regime. […] The second is for them not to form a de facto foundation based on ethnic or religious bases. […] The third is for them not to engage in activities that could endanger the security of the Turkish border.”10

In a surprise visit to Ankara in July 2013, Salih Muslim, the leader of the PYD, assured the Turkish authorities that the Syrian Kurds continued to see themselves as part of Syria and posed no threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity. However, he did add that the Kurds in Syria needed to establish “a temporary serving administration until the chaos in Syria is over.”11

Transnational actors: non-state actors


The PYD illustrates the importance of examining transnational actors. This is because it owes its very existence to the PKK. To understand today’s most important Syrian Kurdish political party, one must, therefore, study a variety of inter-related transnational actors, both state and non-state.

Beginning in May 1979, the regime of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad gave the PKK what might be termed a strategic alliance when its longtime leader Abdullah Öcalan, sensing the military coup that was to occur in Turkey in September 1980, first arrived. There are several reasons for this situation, but water was probably the main one. Turkey controlled the flow of the Euphrates River into Syria. As Turkey’s Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) to harness the rivers to the north neared completion, Syria began to use the PKK as a bargaining tool in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a more favorable guaranteed annual water quota from Turkey. Smoldering animosities regarding the Turkish annexation of Alexandretta (in Turkish, Hatay) in the closing days of the French mandate also contributed to Syria’s support for the PKK. Indeed to this day Syrian maps still show Hatay as part of the country.

Many also argue that Syria gave the PKK sanctuary in return for it keeping the lid on Syria’s Kurds. Thus then-President Hafez Assad allowed Syrian Kurds to join the PKK in lieu of serving in the Syrian army. One estimate suggests between 7,000 and 10,000 Syrian Kurds were killed in clashes between the Turkish army and the PKK.12 Indeed Öcalan went so far as to declare publicly in 1996 that most of the Kurds in Syria were refugees from Turkey and thus not Syrian.13 The PKK leader rationalized this cynical position as being merely a temporary, tactical one necessary to pursue the more important struggle against Turkey.

Although some might argue that this tactic would have sown mistrust and even disdain for the PKK among the Kurds of Syria, this was not the case in the long run, as illustrated by the eventual rise of the PYD. The PKK’s armed struggle for an independent pan-Kurdish state fostered sympathy and hope for tangible results — in contrast to the other Syrian parties, which avoided conflict and seemed almost invisible in comparison. Even though the Kurds in Syria avoided armed struggle, the revolts in Turkey of Sheikh Said in 1925, and Ararat in 1927, and in Iraq of Mulla Mustafa Barzani as recently as 1975 were staples of the Kurdish national narrative in Syria. Even before the PKK, Syrian Kurds had joined Kurdish guerrilla movements in northern Iraq. Other factors helping to explain the PKK’s growth included “a feeling of national solidarity, getting away from the social control of the elders, for women, freedom from the patriarchy, [and] individual interests (access to material and symbolic resources).”14

Thus, for almost two decades the PKK was sheltered and permitted to grow in Syria. Öcalan commuted between an apartment in Damascus and various PKK bases in the countryside. For many years the Mazlum (Mahsun) Korkmaz camp in the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon was the most important one until Hafez al-Assad closed it down as a sop to the Turks in 1992. Other camps appeared, however, one being very close to Damascus and which the author visited in March 1998. This site contained several buildings, housed hundreds of guerrillas and even possessed recreational facilities.

However, the dialogue of the deaf between Turkey and Syria over this issue finally came to an end in October 1998, when Turkey threatened to go to war unless Syria expelled the PKK. Under the Adana Agreement, the PKK was shut down in Syria, while Öcalan and most of his guerrillas were expelled. Öcalan was then captured in Kenya by a joint US-Turkish operation on Feb. 15, 1999. At first he was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to life imprisonment.

After almost two decades in Syria, however, a potential base remained among the sympathetic population. In October 2003, the PKK reincarnated its Syria branch under a new name — the PYD. According to one analysis, the newly reformed PKK affiliate played “the central role”15 in the Serhildan or Qamishli riots of March 2004, arguably the formative event for the current Syrian Kurdish awareness.

Salih Muslim (Mohammed) became the new PYD leader in 2010. After release from a Syrian jail, he withdrew to a PKK camp in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq from where the authorities allowed him to return to Syria in April 2011, just as the civil war was beginning.

Although the PYD denies any organic links to the PKK, the PYD is one of the constituent members of the Komo Civaken Kurdistan or Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). This umbrella organization created by the PKK unites it with a host of other Kurdish groups in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and across Europe.

Further illustrating the PKK/Syrian connection, one study found that as of 2007, 20 percent of the PKK’s troops stationed in the Qandil Mountains were of Syrian origin.16 Leadership was also Syrian, with a Syrian Kurd by the name of Fehman Huseyin (or Dr. Bahoz Erdal, his nom de guerre a reference to being a dentist) commanding the Hezen Parastina Gel or People’s Defense Force (HPG), the PKK’s military arm until being succeeded by the more moderate Karayılan, a Kurd from Turkey. Salih Muslim, the leader of the PYD, also said that his party had discussed the first draft of a proposed interim government for the Syrian Kurds with the PKK as well as the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).17

The Iraqi Kurds

Iraqi Kurds have played a crucial role as transnational actors interacting with and influencing Syrian Kurds. This was through the first political parties (the KDP and PUK) and since the creation in 1992 and constitutional recognition in 2003 of the KRG. As Mishaal Tammo, the leader of the Kurdish Future Movement (Party) in Syria, explained: “The Iraqi war liberated us from a culture of fear […] People saw a Kurd [Jalal Talabani] become the president of Iraq and began demanding their cultural and political rights in Syria.”18  

In the late 1950s, while he was still a member of the KDP, Talabani was often in Damascus as the representative of Mulla Mustafa Barzani. The “conservative” Barzani and “progressive” Talabani were rivals and each had had his own partisans within the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (KDPS). Talabani, for example, temporarily convinced the KDPS to change the first word in its name from Kurdish to Kurdistan. The goal of this was to imply that the Kurds in Syria were also part of a transnational entity called Kurdistan. As this terminology may have led Damascus to believe that the KDPS’s ultimate goal was secession it soon reverted to the earlier term. In its early days the KDPS had as part of its program such transnational goals as the fight against imperialism and support for the Kurdish struggles in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.19 There was also the question of whether the KDPS should support Mulla Mustafa Barzani or Talabani — culminating in the KDPS splitting in the 1960s.

In the 1970s, Barzani invited the two KDPS factions to Iraqi Kurdistan in an attempt to reunify them, but this ultimately failed. The Kurdish parties in Syria continued to fragment into what became a confused host of mostly obscure entities. Nevertheless, those parties with links to the PKK in Turkey or the KDP and PUK in Iraq today contain the largest number of militants, finances, and thus, in part, legitimacy. To this day portraits of Mulla Mustafa Barzani can be found in people’s homes. As of the time of writing in 2013, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (PDKS) headed by Abdul Hakim Bashar is the sister party of Massoud Barzani’s KDP. The Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party of Abdul Hamid Darwish plays a similar role with Talabani’s PUK, while the PYD of Salih Muslim is affiliated with Öcalan’s PKK. The PDKS, known as el-Parti (the Party), in reference to its claimed descent from the original KDPS — an assertion that several other Kurdish parties can also make — maintains that it is the strongest. Developments since July 2012 would demonstrate that this accolade is now held by the PYD. However, both the KDP and PUK continue to maintain offices in Syria.

After Mulla Mustafa Barzani died in 1979, his two sons Idris and Massoud eventually reconstituted the KDP. Talabani proclaimed his new PUK in Damascus in 1975. With that the Barzani-Talabani rivalry was renewed. Idris arrived in Damascus in 1979 to establish formal relations with Syria. The PUK opened a radio station (The Voice of Revolutionary Kurdistan) in Syria in November 1980 that began broadcasting to Iraq. Damascus offered these opportunities and sanctuary to both the KDP and PUK for two main reasons. First, the intra-Ba’athist rivalry between Hafez Assad’s Syria and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; and, second, a quid pro quo agreement that, by granting sanctuary, the Iraqi Kurds would not try to foment rebellion among those Kurds in Syria. It was the same game that Hafez al-Assad later played with the PKK.

Thus both the KDP and PUK have maintained offices in Damascus and Qamishli until today. This has allowed the two Iraqi Kurdish parties to hold a gateway in the furthest end of Jazira for journalists and political representatives to pass back and forth between Kurdish areas in Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, since 2003, the KRG has welcomed Kurdish activists exiled from Syria and given them facilities from which they were able to reorganize. Kurdish students expelled from Syrian universities have been admitted in universities in Arbil and Sulaymaniyah.

When Talabani became president of Iraq in April 2005, Kurds living in Damascus played the pan-Kurdish national anthem “Ey Reqib” in celebration.20  

The United States

Given its immense power and continuing involvement in Middle Eastern politics, the United States is clearly also very important in the region and for Kurds with the potential to be the most important. For this reason, the situation regarding the US warrants close analysis.

The US has no grand foreign policy strategy toward the Kurds, due to their living across four states. What is more, these states are clearly important for US foreign policy. The Kurds cause problems for the US when it deals with these more important states. Nevertheless, given its interest in Middle East stability, the US has come to accept that it does owe the Kurds a certain amount of attention and even protection. This has been particularly true in Iraq, given how the Iraqi Kurds supported the US in the 2003 war against Saddam Hussein when others such as Turkey did not. Thus, the Turkish failure to support the US enabled the KRG to establish itself much more effectively than if Turkey had been able to use its influence on the US to prevent it. Indeed the virtually independent KRG in Iraq largely owes its very existence to the US. However, by the time Turkey had regained its influence with the US, the former had begun to see the newly empowered KRG as a valuable de facto ally.

Despite its support for the Iraqi Kurds, however, the US opposes independence. The US feels that this would lead to the partition and end of Iraq and thus lead to greater instability in the Middle East. The US position on this point is all the more adamant given the attitudes of other states in the region that oppose Kurdish independence as a threat to their own territorial integrity. The US tentatively does support the KRG as a way to maintain the political unity of Iraq and satisfy the Kurds. This position, of course, can be inherently contradictory and is a very fine line to implement successfully, especially given the new de facto Turkish-KRG alliance.

On the other hand, rightly or wrongly, the Turkish Kurds are often perceived in the US as too closely tied to the PKK, which the US considers a terrorist organization. As a result, the cause of Turkish Kurds in the US has not fared as well as that of their siblings to the south. All the more so given the longstanding US alliance with Turkey. The US has paid even less attention to the Kurds in Iran. As for the Kurds in Syria, they were clearly off the radar until Kurdish autonomy occurred in July 2012. Subsequently, however, the US has shown little interest because of its deference to Turkish sensitivities and vision of a united Syria contributing to stability. On the other hand, the Syrian Kurds are keenly aware of the all-important role of the US and would dearly like to win its support.

US foreign policy toward the Syrian Kurds

The US had long viewed Syria with caution and hostility as a state sponsor of international terrorism and foe of Israel. This position was formalized by the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA) the US Congress passed on Dec. 12, 2003. The stated purpose of this bill was to end what the US saw as Syrian support for terrorism and its illegal presence in Lebanon, stop Syria’s development of weapons of mass destruction which included chemical weapons, and halt Syria’s illegal importation of Iraqi oil and shipments of military items to anti-US forces in Iraq.

Ten years on from SALSRA and at the time of writing in October 2013, the US has the following priorities in Syria. First, respond successfully to the regime’s probable chemical attack against elements of the opposition on Aug. 21, 2013; second, protect Israel; third, oppose Iran; fourth, curb al-Qaeda; and fifth, maintain Syrian unity.21

The first priority emerged after the Syrian regime’s apparent use of chemical weapons against the opposition in Ghouta, an eastern suburb of Damascus, killing between 500 and 1,400 people. This suspected use of chemical weapons was not a sufficient reason for the US and its Western allies to intervene militarily in Syria — notably because the US had neither an intelligent entry nor exit plan if it did so.

In the event, the US found a way out of the chemical weapons dilemma through a Russian suggestion to have Bashar al-Assad surrender his arsenal to the international community to be destroyed. Although many in the US and the Syrian opposition criticized US President Barack Obama’s UN option as feckless, this not only avoided most of the pitfalls of the US unilaterally bombing Syria, but also provided a legal diplomatic strategy. Only time, of course, will tell how successful this action will prove to be. By this time the UN had issued its report on the chemical weapons attack. While it did not specifically state that the Assad regime was guilty, the report largely implicated it by the rockets and launchers used as well as the direction from which they had been launched.

On the other hand, by opposing Kurdish autonomy in Syria as leading to secessionism and to please its NATO ally Turkey, Washington may find itself weakening a secular Kurdish ally that was successfully combating the al-Qaeda-affiliated enemies of the US. At the time of writing the US has hesitated to give heavy military equipment to the Syrian opposition, fearing that it would fall into anti-Western, Jihadist/Salafist hands. However, by maintaining this position the US could, in effect, be seen to be favoring the Assad regime, which its ally Turkey opposes but its enemy Iran supports.

In July 2013, the US did see fit to denounce the PKK-affiliated PYD for clashes in the town of Amuda in which the PYD killed several Kurds from other parties. By denouncing the strongest Kurdish party battling the Salafists, the US was, however, implicitly supporting al-Qaeda. The PYD itself replied that it had to defend itself against the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nursa brigade.22 Probably in deference to Turkey, the US has also opposed the PYD’s plans to establish some kind of Kurdish administration in the areas of Syria they now dominate.

However, the PYD claims it has been in hopeful contact with the US over the issue.23 Indeed, Salih Muslim has appealed to both the US and Europe to support the Kurds against their common al-Qaeda-affiliated enemy in the Syrian civil war: “I want the American public and the entire world to know that we are trying to stop these jihadist groups, and we want them to stand with us. These people attack innocent civilians and kill children, women and old people simply because they are Kurds.”24   


It is unlikely that the Kurds in Syria will return to the abyss of the forgotten. Their future, however, remains murky and to be determined by the results of the Syrian civil war. Whoever wins, the victor will likely seek to reduce the status of the Kurds to less than it is at present. However, given recent Kurdish empowerment, putting that genie back in the bottle whence it has sprung is impossible. A return to the days of the ajanib is simply unimaginable.

The KRG model would be another possibility if Syria cannot be reconstituted. Within this future, the Kurds in Syria would join the only functioning Kurdish-run semi-autonomous region. Becoming part of the KRG would probably appeal to many Kurds in Syria (with the exception of the PYD), given the KRG’s political and economic achievements in recent years. Given the nature of the drawn borders of the region, it is not wholly inconceivable to picture the Kurds in Syria uniting with the KRG. What is inconceivable, however, is both Turkey and the PYD agreeing. Still, stranger futures have emerged.

1. The leading background source in English on the Kurds in Syria is Jordi Tejel, Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society (London and New York: Routledge, 2009). Also see Harriet Montgomery (Allsopp), The Kurds of Syria: An Existence Denied (Berlin: European Center for Kurdish Studies, 2005); and Kerim Yildiz, The Kurds in Syria: The Forgotten People (London: Pluto Press, 2005). More recently, see International Crisis Group, “Syria’s Kurds: A Struggle within a Struggle,” Middle East Report No. 136, Jan. 22, 2013; and Harriet Allsopp, The Kurds of Syria: Political Parties and Identity in the Middle East (London: I.B. Tauris, forthcoming).

2. For background, see Phillip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism (London: I.B. Tauris, 1987); and Nelida Fuccaro, “Kurds and Kurdish Nationalism in Mandatory Syria: Politics, Culture and Identity,” in Abbas Vali, ed., Essays on the Origins of Kurdish Nationalism (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2003), 191-217. For a useful recent analysis, see: Benjamin White, The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: The Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

3. On the Ba’ath Party, see Kamel S. Abu Jaber, The Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party: History, Ideology, and Organization (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1966); John Devlin, The Baath Party: A History from Its Origins to 1966 (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1976); and Gordon Torrey, “The Baath Ideology and Practice,” Middle East Journal 23 (Autumn 1969): 445-70.

4. For further analysis of these issues, see Peter Malanczuk, Akehurst’s Modern Introduction to International Law, 7th revised ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 169, 215.

5. Jennifer Lang, “Turkey’s Counterterrorism Response to the Syrian Crisis,” Terrorism Monitor 11:4 (July 12, 2013), accessed July 13, 2013, .

6. Jon Hemming, “Kurd Militants Threaten Turkey if It Enters Syria,” Reuters, March 22, 2012, accessed July 22, 2013, .

7. Jennifer Lang, “Turkey’s Counterterrorism Response to the Syrian Crisis,” Terrorism Monitor 11:14 (July12, 2013), accessed July 22, 2013, .

8. Semih Idiz, “Turkey’s Syria Policy in Shambles over Support for Jihadists,” Al-Monitor, July 23, 2013, accessed July 25, 2013, .

9. “Turkey Warns Syrian PYD against Seeking Autonomy,” Today’s Zaman, July 20, 2013, accessed July 22, 2013, .

10. “The Kurds Should Not Be Left Out of the Opposition,” Sabah (Turkey), July 26, 2013, accessed July 26, 2013, .

11. Ibid.

12. Montgomery, The Kurds of Syria, 134

13. Ibid.

14. Tejel, Syria’s Kurds, 135.

15. Ibid., 123. The Yekiti party also played a leading role in the Qamishli uprising.

16.James Brandon, “The PKK and Syria’s Kurds,” Terrorism Monitor 5:3 (Feb. 21, 2007): 4-6. A PKK member who recently surrendered to Turkish authorities claimed that “Syrians constitute the largest number of new PKK recruits.” Fazlı Mert, “Ongoing Civil War in Syria Increases Recruits for Terrorist PKK,” Today’s Zaman, July 25, 2013, accessed July 26, 2013,;jsessionid=10D8CFA8EA9B0C4D39ED3C389B2453AE?newsId=321855&columnistId=0 .

17.“Salih Muslim’s Press Conference before Going to Istanbul,” Transnational Middle East Observer, July 26, 2013, accessed July 26, 2013, .

18. Cited in J. Landis and J. Pace, “The Syrian Opposition,” The Washington Quarterly 30:1 (2006-2007), 53.

19. KurdWatch, “Who Is the Syrian-Kurdish Opposition? The Development of Kurdish Parties, 1956-2011,” Report 8 (Berlin: European Center for Kurdish Studies, 2011), 7.

20. Katherine Zoepf, “After Decades as Nonpersons, Syrian Kurds May Soon Be Recognized,” New York Times, April 28, 2005, accessed July 29, 2013, . In English, “Ey Raqip” translates as “Hey Enemy,” with the added implication that the Kurds are still surviving and on guard.

21. For background, see US Congress Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “Syria Transition Support Act of 2013,” S. Rept. 113-79, 113th Congress, July 24, 2013, accessed Sept. 22, 2013, Http:// .

22. Wladimar van Wilgenburg, “Kurdish Party Rejects US Condemnation of ‘PYD’s Deadly Response,’” Rudaw, July 2, 2013, accessed July 18, 2013, ; and “PYD Press Release: On Statement of U.S. Department of State Regarding Situation in Amuda, Syria,” July 1, 2013., accessed July 18, 2013, .

23. “Salih Muslim’s Press Conference before Going to Istanbul.”

24. Mutlu Civiroglu, “PYD’s Salih Muslim: We Are Awaiting an Invitation for Talks with Washington,” Rudaw, Aug. 17, 2013, accessed Aug. 17, 2013,