A look at the views, stances and actions of Syria’s Kurdish population with regard to the current civil war in that country.
As is the case with all the Kurds in the wider Middle Eastern region throughout the years the Syrian Kurds are a discriminated, disenfranchised and stateless people. The government of Syria does not acknowledge their existence and all Kurds within the country don’t have citizenship and have been instead registered as foreigners and treated as such.
Kurdish language and culture have also been suppressed down through the years. In 2011 however in order to quell an uprising by the Kurds the Syrian government declared it would grant all Kurds citizenship, and it did so for an estimated 6,000 — out of 150,000 — of the stateless and discriminated Kurdish minority in Syria.
Conflict between the Kurds and the Syrian regime have been going on for years. Back in 2004 tensions reached a new height when anti-government riots took place in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli. During a soccer match Kurdish flags were raised and the match turned into a brawl over politics. The Syrian police reacted with an iron fist with at least 30 killed in the suppression of this outburst. Since then it hasn’t been rare to see Kurdish demonstrators clash with security forces.
The majority of the Syrian states Kurdish minority population — which consists of about 8% of the country’s total population — are situated in the northeast of the country. The Syrian regime views these areas as highly strategic, in part because most of the country’s relatively limited oil reserves are concentrated there.
When the uprising against the Assad regime began in March of 2011 not many Kurds participated in the anti-regime protests, the ones that did represented a much small percentage of the total Kurdish population -- as compared to the percentage of Syrian Arabs that took to the streets to demonstrate against the regime. The Kurds have been highly skeptical about the Turkey’s support for the opposition given the Kurds distaste for the actions the Turks have taken against Turkey’s Kurds.
The Kurds have explicitly stated this through National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria which encompasses that country’s 12 Kurdish political parties. They boycotted a summit of the Syrian opposition that was due to convene in Antalya Turkey on May 31 2011. Their stated reason for doing so was because “any such meeting held in Turkey can only be a detriment to the Kurds in Syria, because Turkey is against the aspirations of the Kurds, not just with regards to northern Kurdistan, but in all four parts of Kurdistan, including the Kurdish region of Syria."
In fact Kurdish political parties have scoffed at the idea of Turkey asserting that it is railing against the regime given their dismay at the neglected rights of the Syrian people. At the summit in Istanbul in August of 2011 which was convened to and saw to the birth of the Syrian National Council (SNC) one — of only two — of the attending Kurdish political party representatives Shelal Gado stated their reason for not taking part was because in his words “Turkey is against the Kurds … in all parts of the world.” Following that statement he postulated this question: “If Turkey doesn’t give rights to its 25 million Kurds, how can it defend the rights of the Syrian people and the Kurds there.”
Following disputes between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council saw to renewed cooperation between the two parties under the auspices of the creation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee which is now governing the Kurdish territories of Syria.
Occasional clashes took place between security forces and Kurdish activists, however these incidents did not escalate into full blown clashes, on the contrary, Kurdish forces were able to capture towns in the predominately Kurdish populated areas in northern Syria with relative ease. The regime and the Kurds have reached an agreement which saw to the regime forces withdrawing and focusing their might against the rebel opposition forces in other parts of the country.
The lack of Kurdish participation in the ongoing civil war in Syria has been referred to as a ‘tactical decision’ by politicians in the Kurdish opposition Syrian Democratic Union Party.
Last January one member of the PYD was quoted as explaining that there exists “a de factor truce between the Kurds and the government. The security forces are overstretched over Syria’s Arab provinces to face demonstrators, and cannot afford the opening of a second front in Syria Kurdistan. On our side, we need the army to stay away. Our party is busy establishing organizations, committees, able to take over from the Baath administration the moment the regime collapses.”
BBC’s Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathon Marcus wrote a report under the title ‘Will Syria’s Kurds benefit from the crisis?‘ which was an examination of that question. In this article Mr. Marcus states the Kurdish minority could benefit greatly from the chaos in the country. He cites sources that state out of this crisis the Kurds may gain autonomy and their human rights and rights to determination respected rather than tread upon. Turkey has expressed fear over the prospects of this given their already volatile border with their frontier with the northern Kurdish regions of Iraq. The Kurdish question in Syria is already recognized and appreciated as being as important and significant as the Kurdish question in Iraq.
A Senior leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PPK) Cemil Bayik was recently quoted as saying that if Turkey was to militarily intervene against the Assad regime the PKK would fight on the side of the Syrian regime and the Syrian Army against such an intervention. The PPK’s commander Murat Karayilan even went as far as to say that if Turkish forces entered Syria all the Kurdish areas in Turkey would be transformed into a war zone.
An Al Jazeerareport on July 31 2012 speculated that the sight of Kurdish flags in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli where the PKK and the Democratic Union Party are gaining significant control of territory lost by Assad in that part of the country — situated near the Turkish frontier with Syria — must be giving the Ahmet Davutoglu — Turkey’s Foreign Minister — sleepless nights.