Syria: Kurdish-FSA conflict cleaves resistance

Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."

Of course Turkish media made little note of the Kurdish leadership's quick condemndation of this ugliness. The independent Kurdish ARA News reports that Aldar Xelil, co-chair of Democratic Society Movement (Tevdem), the self-governance structure for Syria's Kurdish autonomous zone, said: "The show of bodies of the enemies in such a way in front of the civilians in the streets, as what happened in Efrin today, is disgusting and contrary to our values of humanity. We are not those who terrorize their enemies in such a shameful way. These ways are closer to the traditions of Daash [ISIS], the al-Baath-regime, or a military dictatorship. We feel very ashamed of it."

And while Turkish accounts merely refer to FSA-affiliated forces in the fighting at Ayn-Dakna, ARA News idenifites them specifically: the Sultan Murad Brigade (a Turkmen militia, closest to Ankara of all the FSA factions), the Grandsons of Saladin (a Turkish-backed Kurdish faction, seemingly created to divide Kurds from the PYD and Tevdem), and the Nusra Front (notorious al-Qaeda affiliate, officially not even part of the FSA coalition).

Meanwhile LiveLeak provides graphic video footage of last week's fighting at Qamishli between the YPG's Asayish security force and the pro-Assad National Defense Force, a paramilitary extension of the regime's army. It is not a coincidence that fighting is erupting now between the YPG and both FSA and pro-Assad forces. Both the Assad regime and the more reactionary or nationalist elements of the FSA reject the Kurds' recent declaration of autonomy. The fighting is inconvenient for the FSA propaganda partisans who accuse the YPG of collaborating with Assad. But the Ayn-Dakna spectacle will further fuel charges that the YPG is engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen.

It should be noted that even progressive forces that support Kurdish autonomy in the region have raised concerns about perceived YPG collaboration with the regime and its Russian intervention forces. However, those who thusly condemn the YPG but have nothing to say about FSA-aligned factions collaborating with the ultra-reactionary Nusra Front are not to be taken as seriously.

It should also be noted that the Kurds' "co-existence" agreements with remnant pro-regime elements in their territories, problematic as they are, appear to be non-aggression pacts between enemies. The Kurds, after all, have their hands full fighting ISIS—which is bent on exterminating them. Assad, of course, is pursuing his own war of extermination elsewhere in Syria. But, for now at least (and if only for tactical reasons), his genocidal program is not directed against the Kurds.

The cruel irony is that both those twin war criminals Erdogan and Assad (supposedly bitter enemies) seek to play the Kurds and Arabs off against each other in a divide-and-rule strategy. The ugliness at Ayn-Dakna brings Syria one step closer to "balkanization"—with the grim potential for forced population transfers, ethnic war and interminable border disputes.