Syrian Kurds pose problems for Turkey
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye
April 16, 2012
Kurdish demonstrators hold up the Syrian
independence flag during a March 21st protest
against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in
Qamishli, Syrian Kurdistan [Western Kurdistan]. Photo: Reuters
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More than a year after anti-government protests
began in Syria, the Syrian Kurds remain divided over
their role within the opposition Syrian National
Council (SNC), putting Turkey in a difficult
position as it tries to unite the opposition while
maintaining control over its own Kurdish issue.
The crux of the problem was highlighted when the
main Kurdish opposition bloc, the Syrian Kurdish
National Council (KNC), walked away from the SNC
before the second Friends of Syria meeting in
Istanbul on April 1st.
The walk out exposed longstanding rifts, just as
Turkey was pushing for the bickering opposition to
present a united front.
The problem for Turkey is that the Syrian Kurds,
like their brethren in Turkey, demand language
rights, constitutional recognition as an ethnic
group, the rectification of historical grievances
and, for some, autonomy.
Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brotherhood, who
dominate the SNC, have so far refused to include key
Kurdish demands into their vision for a post-Assad
Syria. Turkey has also contributed to the deadlock
over its own concerns for how the Kurdish issue in
Syria could ultimately play out at home.
Turkey's influence has been strengthened by close
ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, who view the
ruling conservative AK Party government as a
The Syrian Kurds are not only wary of Arab
nationalists and the Muslim Brotherhood in the SNC,
they also "don't expect anything good from Turkey,"
Jordi Tejel Gorgas, author of the book Syria's
Kurds: History, Politics and Society, told SES
The deterioration of the Kurdish issue in Turkey
since the much availed Kurdish opening in 2009 has
contributed to the Syrian Kurds' unease. "The
Kurdish opening failed in their eyes," Gorgas told
SES Türkiye, noting a crisis of confidence.
"They [Syrian Kurds] don't see in any sense Turkey
as a 'neutral' player in the region nor a model of
democratisation," he added.
Meanwhile, media and Turkish intelligence reports
indicate that Assad is looking the other way, if not
tacitly supporting the PKK and its Syrian offshoot,
the PYD, against Turkey over its support for the
The PYD holds considerable weight among Syrian Kurds
but its relations with the KNC and SNC remain tense
-- its inclusion within any Syrian opposition would
be opposed by Turkey.
An estimated one-third of the PKK's fighting cadre,
including Fehmen Huseyn (Bahoz Erdal) -- a member of
the PKK's three man executive committee and head of
its armed wing -- are Syrian Kurds. Both the PKK and
PYD have said they would fight Turkey should it
intervene in Syria.
"But not all Kurds in Syria see the PYD as the
legitimate representative of the Kurds, just as the
Kurds as a whole don't see the SNC as the legitimate
representative of all Syrians," Christian Sinclair,www.ekurd.net
assistant director of University of Arizonas Centre
for Middle Eastern Studies, who studies the Syrian
Kurds and has written about Kurdish politics in
Syria, told SES Türkiye.
Sinclair says Turkey, Arab nationalists, the Muslim
Brotherhood and the PYD are all jockeying for
control of the Kurdish agenda. "The Kurdish street
is forced to take a backseat while other groups
decide its fate," he said.
Alan Semo, a representative of the PYD, told SES
Türkiye that their party recently started an
initiative of the Kurdish national movement in
"Our vision for the future is, first, to open the
way for a change in mentality and, second, to
organise the masses, meaning not only Kurds but all
the people of Syria, including the Arabs and all
other ethno-religious and ideological groups," he
said. "We consider our ethnic diversity a colorful
mosaic that adds a distinctive beauty to Syrian
The PYD has been accused by other Syrian Kurdish
parties of being used by Assad to foment divisions
among the Syrian Kurds, including accusations of
attacks by the PYD on anti-Assad protestors in
"Particularly telling is the attitude of the PYD/PKK
in Syria," Gorgas explained. "Ultimately, the PKK
hopes that, should the regime not fall, their
loyalty would bring about political hegemony in the
However, Sinclair says that although relations
between the PYD and Assad could have the appearance
of co-operation "it may be a mistake to view all
their actions so." He explains that up until the
rupture in Turkey-Syria relations last summer, the
Assad regime had taken a particularly hard stance
against the PYD -- but now that has changed.
"There is no reason now for Assad to rein in the PYD
party members or supporters or their activities. He
no longer has friends in Ankara and he's far too
busy trying to quell an uprising. The PYD have taken
advantage of this space to push their own agenda,"
Published by Ekurd.net in cooperation with Southeast
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