Can the Syr­ian Kurds turn the tide against As­sad?

The Kurdish Globe - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS - Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

spare vi­o­lence in Kur­dish ar­eas and to leave their fate in their own hands.

The Kur­dis­tan Re­gion lead­er­ship suc­ceeded in unit­ing the var­i­ous Kur­dish fac­tions last year but an­i­mos­ity and dis­trust in Kur­dish cir­cles re­mains com­mon-place.

How­ever, in re­cent weeks it ap­pears that the Kurds are in­creas­ingly ready to end their neu­tral­ity and fight regime forces. This can be seen with the co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Syr­ian rebels and Peo­ple’s De­fense Units (YPG) in the Kur­dish dom­i­nated Sheikh Makq­sud dis­trict of Aleppo, where Kur­dish fight­ers have helped to choke the vi­tal sup­ply routes of the regime.

The regime re­tal­i­ated for this ap­par­ent change of heart by the Kurds with a deadly airstrike on the dis­trict killing 15 peo­ple as well as at­tack­ing Kur­dish units on the out­skirts of Qamishli, with the Kurds launch­ing their re­tal­ia­tory at­tacks of their own. A bomb­ing just this week of a Kur­dish vil­lage in the oil-rich Hasaka prov­ince killed 11 civil­ians, which the Kur­dish Na­tional Coun­cil called a "se­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion by the regime".

In ad­di­tion, in re­cent days Syr­ian rebel groups have started at­tack­ing army po­si­tions in Hasaka and more im­por­tantly on Qamishli it­self.

It is not clear whether the re­cent Arab-rebel at­tacks in Hasaka is in co­or­di­na­tion with the Kurds, but judged by re­cent events, the Arab rebels are un­likely to have a launched an at­tack that would have risked a Kur­dish back­lash as seen in the past.

If the Syr­ian rebels and Kur­dish par­ties can muster a work­able and long-term un­der­stand­ing, the lib­er­a­tion of Qamishli and in­deed all of north-eastern Syria would form a for­mi­da­ble en­clave against the regime.

The PKK is a card that Syria has ef­fec­tively used against Turkey in the past, and un­sur­pris­ingly Syr­ian sup­port in­creased for the PKK rebels af­ter Turkey be­came key ac­tors in the Syr­ian strug­gle and pro­vided ma­jor sup­port to the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion.

As­sad suc­cess­fully split the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion and even the Kurds. But the re­cent change of Kur­dish stance on the ground and a truce that has taken hold be­tween Is­lamist rebels and the YPG forces is per­haps more linked to de­vel­op­ments in the peace process in Turkey than di­rect changes in Syria.

Turkey is on the verge of his­toric peace with the PKK and sig­nif­i­cant strides have been taken since the turn of the year to end the armed re­bel­lion and find a long-term so­lu­tion to the Kur­dish ques­tion.

The tim­ing of de­vel­op­ments in Ankara is no­tice­able. Turkey, seek­ing to be­came a ma­jor force in the new Mid­dle East that is been laid, is fac­ing the prospect of a de facto Kur­dish state in Syria along­side the al­ready strong and strate­gi­cally im­por­tant Kur­dis­tan Re­gion of Iraq. The Kur­dish re­al­ity on its doorstep has ex­pe­dited the quest for peace. A lack of long-term peace in Turkey would se­verely un­der­mine sta­bil­ity in Turkey and its re­gional in­flu­ence.

The effect of the PKK peace process can be seen with a thaw­ing of ties be­tween Ankara and the PYD. If the PKK suc­cess­fully ends its armed strug­gle, then for Turkey, the PYD and par­tic­u­larly a Syr­ian Kur­dish re­gion will be much more tol­er­a­ble.

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­toğlu re­cently put a list of con­di­tions for any en­gage­ment with the PYD, a far cry from a pre­vi­ous stance of no di­a­logue at all. Al­though the idea of “pre-con­di­tions” has not gone down too well with the PYD lead­er­ship, a level of di­a­logue is in­evitable and some­what nat­u­ral and the con­di­tions set when stud­ied are not real ob­sta­cles. These con­di­tions in­clude not sid­ing with the As­sad regime, avoid­ing “fait ac­com­pli” un­til a par­lia­ment is formed and not sup­port­ing ter­ror in Turkey.

The Turk­ish stance is also linked to its in­creas­ing frus­tra­tion with the pro­longed na­ture of the Syr­ian war and As­sad’s stub­born grip on power. The Kurds, whose ar­eas in­cludes much of the coun­try’s oil wealth, have the strength to turn the tide against the regime and close the one-loop in the north-east of the coun­try that has acted as a breath­ing space for the regime.

All the while, the West con­tin­ues to slug­gishly pon­der their next move in Syria with thou­sands of Syr­ian dy­ing each day. While the Western pow­ers have been far too slow to de­vise a strategy in Syria, Is­lamist groups who have proved the most co­or­di­nated and af­fec­tive against the regime have filled the vac­uum.

As a re­sult of the West’s in­ac­tion, there is now a race be­tween Free Syr­ian Army mod­er­ates and the in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial Is­lamist rebels to take Da­m­as­cus. The Is­lamist groups will now have a seat at the Syr­ian ta­ble in the af­ter­math of the con­flict whether the West likes it or not. Fail­ing that, an­other civil war will mark the end of this one.

As for the Kurds, who are also in­te­gral com­po­nents to any fu­ture Syria, a more con­crete out­reach by Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces and Turkey as well as more recog­ni­tion and sup­port from Western pow­ers could well mean the pen­du­lum can swing against As­sad.

Kur­dis­tan may well be di­vided, but in­creas­ingly the Kur­dish borders are been eroded. Fu­ture har­mony and the at­tain­ment of peace in Turkey are linked to Syria and be­yond. For ex­am­ple, the PKK will likely main­tain a con­di­tion that Turkey does not med­dle in Syr­ian Kur­dish af­fairs or adopt any poli­cies against a fu­ture Syr­ian Kur­dis­tan.

Imagine if Kur­dish au­ton­omy or rights were not granted in a fu­ture Syria and a war broke out, would the PKK and Turk­ish Kurds stand idle? Could Ankara re­ally in­ter­vene in such a sit­u­a­tion without ag­gra­vat­ing the Kurds? Ei­ther way, peace and sta­bil­ity can­not be achieved in any part of Kur­dis­tan, if other parts prove volatile or restive.

A Syr­ian im­mi­grant waves a Kur­dish flag for the Kurd mi­nor­ity liv­ing in north­east­ern Syria dur­ing a protest on 8 Jan­uary 2012 in Sofia against the regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

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