Syrian Kurdish moves ring alarm bells in
The national flag of Kurdistan flying over
governmental buildings in Syrian Kurdistan region.
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ISTANBUL,— Concerns are surfacing in
Turkey about the growing influence in Syrian
Kurdistan in the north, of a Kurdish group linked to
Kurdish PKK separatists fighting Ankara, something
Turkey fears may further complicate efforts to solve
its intractable Kurdish problem.
Syria's Kurdish areas have been largely spared the
worst of the violence in the 16-month-old revolt
against President Bashar al-Assad, and Syrian Kurds
see a chance to attain the freedoms enjoyed by their
ethnic kin in neighboring semi-autonomous Kurdistan
region in northern Iraq.
Pictures of Kurdish flags flying over buildings and
being waved by Kurds in western Kurdistan in
northern Syria have attracted wide coverage in
Turkish media and prompted commentators to mull the
possibility that Kurds could carve out an
independent state there.
Kurdish opposition figures say Assad's forces pulled
out of Kurdish areas of Hassaka (Syrian Kurdistan)
and Aleppo provinces, leaving control of them to the
Democratic Union Party (PYD) - linked to the
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has fought a
28-year separatist conflict in Turkey in which more
than 40,000 people have died.
"In some places, the Syrian regime handed over power
to the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and withdrew,"
Abdelbasset Seida, head of the opposition Syrian
National Council (SNC), said after meeting Turkish
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday.
The Syrian towns of Amuda, Derik, Kobane and Afrin
have been reported to be under PYD control. The
reports could not be confirmed due to Syrian
restrictions on media access.
The assertion of control by the PYD, which denies
any association with the PKK, has led to squabbles
and even armed clashes with the other main Kurdish
the Kurdish National Council, and other Syrian rebel
Syrian opposition figures have accused the PYD of
acting as enforcers for Assad, putting down
demonstrations in Kurdish areas and assassinating
anti-Assad activists, most notably Mashaal Tammo, a
charismatic Kurdish leader. He was killed last year
as he organized an anti-Assad political coalition.
Assad's father, the late Hafez al-Assad, for years
sheltered PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan before the
threat of a Turkish invasion in 1998 forced him to
send Ocalan abroad, where Turkish agents eventually
captured him and brought him back to Turkey.
As Turkish-Syrian relations improved, Bashar al-Assad
cooperated with Ankara by cracking down on PKK
elements hunkered down in Syria, but those ties
disintegrated last year after Assad deployed
military forces to crush popular unrest.
'SYRIAN NATIONAL FABRIC'
Turkish officials have not expressed concerns
publicly about the PYD's influence. A foreign
ministry official said Davutoglu warned the SNC
about risks of sectarian conflict or civil war.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay played down the
Syrian Kurdish issue when asked by reporters on
Tuesday whether he was concerned by the raising of
Kurdish flags and if he was concerned that a Kurdish
state could be established.
"We do not have such a concern," he said, rejecting
the idea that Kurds were now in control. "In some
small places there have been flag incidents, but
there is no such thing (as the Kurds being in
Seida, a Kurd, emphasized the national unity of
Syria, where Kurds make up around one million of the
21 million population.
"We have given the necessary orders so that no flag
is raised apart from the flag of Syrian
independence. The Kurds are a part of the Syrian
national fabric," he said.
But Ankara had been unpleasantly surprised by Syrian
Kurdish support for the PKK-linked PYD, according to
Deniz Zeyrek of the Turkish liberal daily Radikal.
"The Turkish side sees this as an 'unexpected
development' and has started taking steps to stop
this becoming a deepening problem for Turkey,"
He said one option was to get Massoud Barzani,
president of Iraq's Kurdistan region, to exert more
influence over these groups or for Ankara, now among
the states calling for Assad's removal, to cultivate
ties with Syrian Kurdish leaders.
Turkey has recently established closer relations
with Barzani and the Kurdish regional government as
it looks to build on growing business and energy
stakes in northern Iraq.
More than 7,000 Syrians have fled growing economic
hardship and instability for Iraq's Kurdistan, which
has been autonomous since 1991 with its own
provincial government and armed forces, but relies
on the Baghdad central government for its budget.
Meanwhile, the Turkish opposition is playing on
fears of Kurdish independence in Syria.
"Now a new Kurdistan is coming. Syrian Kurdistan is
on the doorstep," Muharrem Ince, a leading member of
the main opposition Republican People's Party, told
During his 10 years in power, Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan has thrust through reforms, mainly to
increase the scope for Kurdish broadcasting and
teaching, designed to address the grievances of a
minority of some 12 million people.
However, inspired by the example of northern Iraq,
many Turkish Kurdish politicians are pushing for
Turkish academic Ihsan Dagi said Turkey needed to
clarify its position on the Kurdish problem, having
sent "mixed signals" by holding talks with the PKK
while enforcing security policies.
"Are you ready for a Kurdish state?" he wrote in the
Turkish daily Zaman, saying an autonomous Kurdish
administration would take shape in Syria if Assad
fell and that even an independent "Western
Kurdistan" was possible.
"Kurdish geopolitics are being reshaped in the
region. A 'Greater Kurdistan" is no longer just a
dream for many Kurds. You may look and find the
'first independent Kurdish state' emerging in an
unexpected place - Syria," Dagi said.
The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem,
Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.
Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state,
which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish
state in the south east of the country.
But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights
for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more
than 20 million.
A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK
The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional
self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.
PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in
Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey,
reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action
against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.
Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population
as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural
rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish
language and private Kurdish language courses with
the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish
politicians say the measures fall short of their
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