ISTANBUL: The Syrian Kurdish opposition bloc has walked away from the Syrian National Council, exposing deep and problematic rifts within the umbrella opposition group just days after international leaders granted the body extra recognition after attempts to unify.
Syrian Kurdish opposition leader Abdul-Baki Yousef, a leading member of the Kurdish Yakiti party in Syria and former member of the Kurdish National Council, charged host country Turkey with “pressuring the SNC” to omit the demands of the Kurdish opposition members in the final constitution document outlining a transition plan for Syria.
The fiercely divided SNC pulled the document together at the last minute under pressure to unite from the “Friends of Syria” group.
The Friends group – which includes Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Gulf states – recognized the SNC as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” falling well short of the recognition as the legal government in exile they had hoped for after the first Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis in February.
“Our goal was to unify with the opposition and come up with a patriotic agreement that makes an umbrella for the whole opposition, but unfortunately the Turkish sponsor was very sensitive toward the Kurdish issue,” Yousef told The Daily Star. “We accuse the Turkish government of putting pressure on the council.”
Yousef said that negotiations ahead of the conference had outlined recognition of the Kurds, but claimed that those points had been removed in the final covenant.
“There was nothing clear about our nationalistic issues. It’s clear that the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood are the majority of the council so they play a main role in the council.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has an old relationship with Turkey, they are allies of the Turkish government,” he said.
“Of course we welcome the Brotherhood’s effective contribution to the revolution and support of individual freedoms and pluralism in Syria ... but their attitude is highly influenced by the Turks, and that’s what we saw clearly displayed in the national charter.”
Kurdish representatives had earlier walked out of unity talks days ahead of the Friends of Syria meeting.
Yousef said in the absence of adequate recognition from the SNC that the Kurdish bloc would continue to negotiate with separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other nationalist entities to secure their demands.
“Of course we are negotiating with the PKK and other Kurdish personnel in the SNC because there is neglect and ignorance toward the Kurdish issues ... This is our land we are part of the Syrian people. We are not refugees here.”
Turkey – home to between 11 and 15 million Kurds, most of whom reside in southeastern provinces – is engaged in a decades-long military conflict with the PKK, resulting in the deaths of over 40,000 people.
Late last month PKK commanders threatened to transform Kurdish areas into a “war zone” if Turkey followed through on threats to establish militarily protected buffer zones in the country. This prompted fears the PKK may capitalize on the hostility they share with Damascus toward Turkey to stir strife in the country.
Ammar Qurabi, a leading negotiator and head of a breakaway Syrian opposition bloc, the National Coalition for Change, pressured the SNC to back military assistance for the Syrian opposition. He struck out at the Kurdish claims, denying Turkey had pressured the council.
“The Kurds need to stop talking about being Kurds and talk about being Syrian. This is not about any kind of sectarianism. We need to act all as Syrians.”