BEIRUT: As fighting continued Tuesday between anti-government rebels and the Kurdish population in northeast Syria, International Crisis Group released a report contending that the minority’s “fate at present rests in Syria.”
Although describing the conflict as an opportunity for the minority group to “rectify historic wrongs and push for more autonomy,” the Crisis Group emphasized that it is with “Syrians that [the Kurds] must negotiate their role in the coming order and ensure, at long last, respect for their basic rights.”
Crisis Group’s Middle East Analyst Maria Fantappie said the message the report seeks to convey is the importance for Syria’s Kurds to ensure their struggle is part of the greater struggle for citizenship rights in Syria.
For his part, Peter Harling, Crisis Group’s Syria, Egypt and Lebanon project director, said: “For the foreseeable future, the fate of Syria’s Kurds lies in Syria and rests on their ability to manage relations with the surrounding society and an emerging, pluralistic political scene.”
The Crisis Group report concludes: “It would be enormous progress if Kurds could say in hindsight, some years from now, that their decision to join [the Syrian] political struggle earned them a position as full citizens with their rights protected under the constitution.”
However, the report also outlines several obstacles to such an outcome: internal divisions, poor relations with Syria’s non-Kurdish opposition and regional rivalries.
“Syria’s Kurds: A Struggle Within a Struggle” warns Kurdish factions, which are playing an increasingly significant role in the 22-month-old conflict in the country, against becoming entangled in a larger regional battle over Kurdish independence and encourages them to “reach out to a broader Syrian society” and “refrain from stoking fears of Kurdish secessionism.”
Fantappie warned that Syria’s conflict and regional interference in the Kurdish areas “risks creating divides between both the Kurds and the rest of Syria, and within the Kurdish population.”
Long the victims of discrimination under Assad family rule, Syria’s Kurds – particularly the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of Turkey’s PKK insurgent group – took advantage of the regime’s preoccupation with the uprising in the west and south of the country to oust government officials and security forces from Kurdish-majority areas in the northeast in July 2012.
The minority has set up also Kurdish schools and cultural centers, as well as police forces and militias, in these areas.
But, Crisis Group reports, the Kurdish population of Syria has become increasingly fractured, with differences of opinion on goals and tactics as well as “petty rivalries” creating divisions.
On one side there is the militarily strong PYD, with its dependence on the PKK, the report says, while on the other there is a collection of smaller parties without effective military presence in Syria.
Coupled with this has been the rising schism between the Kurdish factions and the mainstream opposition to the regime of President Bashar Assad, the report says. The former are alienated by the latter’s Arab nationalist and Islamic rhetoric, it adds.
“Already there are clashes between the PYD fighters and opposition armed groups. Worse clashes may come,” Crisis Group warned in the media release to accompany the report. The report itself also warns that “open conflict” could break out between the Kurdish factions.
The report also notes that the conflict in Syria, and the Kurdish role in it, has aggravated the fight between the Kurdish populations in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran over the form the Kurdish national movement should take.