Kurdish Flag-waving Unnoticed in Syria
By Abigail Fielding-Smith, FT
July 28, 2012
Kurdistan flag is raised at the top of governmental
buildings and Baath party buildings in all liberated
in Syrian Kurdistan.
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BEIRUT,— In the tumult of last week as
rebels advanced on Damascus and Aleppo, the hoisting
of the Kurdish flag in a handful of Kurdish towns
and cities in northern Syria (Syrian Kurdistan,
western Kurdistan) was scarcely noticed.
Only Turkey, grappling with a persistent armed
insurgency from parts of its own Kurdish community,
was paying close attention. An article in the
mass-circulation newspaper Hurriyet described the
show of strength by Kurdish groups as a "potential
According to Barzan Iso, a Turkey-based official for
the Peoples Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK), one
of the two main Syrian Kurdish political groupings,
the northern Syrian Kurdish towns of Kobane, Afrin,
Derik and Amude have been "liberated" by united
Such claims have led to speculation that the leaders
of Syria's 2m Kurds, roughly 10 per cent of the
population, are finally coming off the sidelines to
play a part in the Syrian uprising.
In reality, the picture is more complicated and
offers an insight into the tussle of factional and
foreign interests which is emerging in areas from
which President Bashar al-Assad's regime is
According to Mr Iso, police and intelligence
officers abandoned their posts, often without a
fight, after Kurdish forces gave them an ultimatum.
Mr Iso says the areas are now administrated by
"people's defence" units answerable to the two
Kurdish groups -- the PCWK and the Kurdish National
Relations between these two groups are tense. The
KNC, linked to Massoud Barzani, the president of
Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, is more opposed
to the Syrian regime.
The strongest party in the PCWK is the PYD.
Throughout the Syrian uprising the PYD has been
accused by Syrian opposition activists of siding
with the regime for their own factional interests.
It is also linked to an armed Kurdish group that has
been fighting the Turkish government for more than
20 years, the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK).
Earlier this month, Mr Barzani brokered an agreement
between the two Syrian Kurdish groups, and there is
speculation that the PYD has now abandoned its
presumed alliance with the Assad regime.
But for all the talk of a unified Syrian Kurdish
position, most of the areas in question are PYD
strongholds, according to Cale Salih, an analyst at
the International Crisis Group,www.ekurd.net
and the "liberation' has been portrayed as a boost
for that particular faction in the Turkish press.
Abdulbasit Seyda, the head of the Syrian
opposition's main umbrella group, who happens to be
a Kurd, even claimed that the Assad regime, which in
the past has supported the PKK as a card to play
against Turkey, had "handed over" control of certain
areas to the PYD.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister,
acknowledged the growing concern on Thursday,
telling a press conference that Ankara would "not
allow a terrorist group to establish camps in
northern Syria and threaten Turkey".
Some observers argue that the idea of a "takeover"
by either faction is exaggerated and that the
balance of power has not actually changed much in
the Kurdish regions, where the Assad regime has had
a limited presence for some time except in areas
where it has more of a strategic interest, such as
the Kurdish city of Qamishli, near the Turkish
border which remains under its control.
Whatever has happened on the ground, which
restricted media access to Syria makes very
difficult to confirm, the recent assertion of
Kurdish authority in northern Syria has led to
speculation about Kurdish demands in a post-Assad
Although they are long-standing opponents of the
Assad regime, the Syrian Kurds view the
Turkey-backed opposition with suspicion, fearing a
new regime may be just as likely to marginalise
them. Kurdish representatives walked out of a recent
Rumours are rife that a fighting force of about 600
Kurdish soldiers who defected from the Syrian army
to Iraqi Kurdistan and were subsequently trained by
Mr Barzani's government are poised to cross the
border to help secure the Kurdish areas. In a recent
interview with al-Jazeera, the broadcaster, Mr
Barzani admitted that defected Syrian Kurds had been
trained in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Mr Iso denied suggestions that the Syrian Kurds were
hankering after the same degree of autonomy
established by Iraqi Kurds after the fall of Saddam
Hussein, pointing out that the Kurdish areas of
Syria are not contiguous.
He sees no reason for the Free Syrian Army, the main
rebel group, to establish a presence in Kurdish
areas: "Why should the Free Syrian Army be there?"
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