BEIRUT

Middle East

Syria’s Kurds take another step toward autonomy

  • File - Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) guard a point from attacks by the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Khirbet Al-Banat village, Ras Al-Ain countryside, December 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Rodi Said)

BEIRUT: Syria’s Kurds named a municipal council Tuesday for one of three majority-Kurdish regions in the country’s northeast, two months after they declared self-rule, an official said.

“We have named a municipal government for the Jazeera area,” Saleh Muslim, head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told AFP.

“Soon similar councils will be named for Afrin and Kobani, the two other cantons of the Kurdish regions” in Syria, he said.

In November, Syria’s Kurds announced self-rule across the majority-Kurdish regions in north and northeast Syria, a move blasted as “hostile” by the main opposition National Coalition.

Muslim said the announcement of a 22-member council for Jazeera was “necessary to ensure there is no political vacuum.”

The area known as Jazeera to the Kurds is located in Hassakeh province. Hassakeh city is officially the provincial capital, but Kurds consider Qamishli to be the capital of Jazeera.

Syrian troops mostly withdrew from majority Kurdish areas in summer 2012, focusing their attention on rebel fighters and allowing the Kurds to develop semiautonomy in their areas.

Kurdish fighters, especially those affiliated with the PYD, have since fought fierce battles against extremist opposition groups.

The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) sees the Kurds as “heretics” and an obstacle to setting up an Islamic “caliphate” stretching from Iraq, which borders Hassakeh, to Syria.

The 22-member Jazeera council includes representatives tasked with leading on defense, interior, planning and finance portfolios.

“We can’t wait until there is a political solution for the Syrian crisis to start running affairs on the ground. People have to have their basic needs covered,” said Muslim, who stressed that “the council is not exclusively Kurdish.

“Muslim and Christian Arabs are also taking part. The idea is not for self-rule to be exclusive at all.”

The PYD is the best-armed Kurdish force in Syria, and its detractors accuse it of seeking to dominate the ethnic minority’s future.

“The ones participating are either PYD or people afraid of the PYD,” said Havidar, a Kurdish Syrian journalist and dissident now based in Turkey.

“I am all for this kind of project, but how can they announce a municipal council if they can’t even provide electricity or basic health care for people?” he told AFP.

Activists in Hassakeh, as in most of Syria, frequently report dismal living conditions, shortages and massive flight into neighboring countries.

Havidar added: “I am all for ideas that help guarantee our rights as Kurds. But what the PYD is is not about rights, it is about imposing power through weapons.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2014, on page 5.
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Summary

Syria's Kurds named a municipal council Tuesday for one of three majority-Kurdish regions in the country's northeast, two months after they declared self-rule, an official said.

In November, Syria's Kurds announced self-rule across the majority-Kurdish regions in north and northeast Syria, a move blasted as "hostile" by the main opposition National Coalition.

Syrian troops mostly withdrew from majority Kurdish areas in summer 2012, focusing their attention on rebel fighters and allowing the Kurds to develop semiautonomy in their areas.

The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) sees the Kurds as "heretics" and an obstacle to setting up an Islamic "caliphate" stretching from Iraq, which borders Hassakeh, to Syria.


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