Kurdish wild card in Syria conflict

Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

A Jan. 31 analisys on al-Monitor, "Islamists in Syria Empowering PKK," seems to reflect Ankara's fears. The report says that the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has emerged "as a defender of a secular Syrian state and Kurdish rights." In contrast, the KNC, linked to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, "remains fragmented and virtually irrelevant." The report does acknowledge the existence of the Salahideen Ayubi Brigades, a multi-ethnic group of Kurds, Arabs and Turks, that is allied with the Free Syrian Army, but faults them for "fail[ing] to challenge the PYD/PKK."

Two quesitonable assumptions behind this analysis are that the PKK remains in the camp of the Damascus regime and that the Kurdish militias figting the jihadists are necessarily defending the regime. A Jan. 22 New York Times account, "Defying Common View, Some Syrian Kurds Fight Assad," is also ambiguous on this point, stating: "[W]hile there have been signs that many Kurds remained pro-government, with some pro-PKK fighters clashing with rebels, hundreds of others have joined the Free Syrian Army, as the loosely assembled antigovernment fighters call themselves, Kurdish and rebel leaders say."

Ankara obviously wishes to avoid the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish state in Syria such as exists in Iraq. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted Jan. 26 by Anadolu agency as saying that Kurdish and Alawite states will never be created in Syria, but that a "unitary form of government" will remain after Bashar al-Assad "leaves his post." (Translated by Trend, Azerbaijan) Smacks a little of wishful thinking.


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