Syrian Kurds' Lack of Unity Hurts Their Political Options, Strategies

Article Summary
Syria’s Kurds are far from a monolithic group: The Kurdish National Council disagrees with the PKK-linked Democratic Union Party. The two have different regional and political strengths, and the conflict is resulting in a lack of clear political options and strategies. Rustom Mahmoud reports.

Given its repeated withdrawals from Syrian opposition conferences, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria is set to act as an independent political body which represents Syrian Kurds at the internal, regional and international political levels.

Such autonomy gives the KNC more freedom of movement and expression in terms of its central issue, which is exemplified by the political rights of Syrian Kurds in the future of Syria.

The KNC expresses this inclination through its full "consensus on schizophrenia" with the Syrian National Council (SNC), reached since the Istanbul meeting on  March 27, as a result of the escalation of its internal political conflict with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian-Kurdish affiliate of the PKK. For its part, the PKK is "grappling with an armed action against Turkey since the mid-'80s, to demand national rights for Kurds in Turkey.”

The two parties have different views and policies regarding the visible political future of Syrian Kurds, as well as regarding the position of Syrian Kurds in the regional axis in general, and Kurdistan in particular.

This escalation in the conflict between the two parties to the Syrian-Kurdish political scene has pushed the Syrian KNC to further distinguish itself from the SNC.

Contrary to what is widely perceived, Syrian Kurds have not had a single political position on the Syrian events since they erupted, especially after the Syrian case took on an internal, regional and international dimension a couple of months into its start.

The Syrian-Kurdish political community has expressed several political choices, which were often disparate and contradictory. However, six months into the revolution, two main parties emerged in the Kurdish political arena; the first one was the Syrian KNC, which includes 13 Kurdish political parties in Syria, most of which were gathered under "the Damascus Declaration" for National Democratic Change (2005). Accordingly, these joined the SNC afterward, and the other party is the PYD.

The popular and organizational weight of the two parties is identical, if we put aside the Syrian-Kurdish populace that is not organized in either a party. The KNC is more visible and organized in the Kurdish areas of the eastern province of Hasaka, whereas the PYD is more visible and organized in the northwestern Kurdish region of Afrin.

The proportional weight of the two parties in the rest of the regions which include Kurds, such as in Ein Arab and the cities of Aleppo and Damascus, is equal as well.

Political stagnation

The Syrian-Kurdish community experienced a serious political recession because of the problem of freedoms and the general political situation plaguing the country. However, this community has been witnessing political rivalry between these two powers ever since the start of the events in Syria.

The Syrian KNC has fundamentally determined its political options, which oppose the Syrian regime and voice a need to completely change it. The question of its relationship with the SNC becomes secondary with respect to that option. In fact, its rupture with the Syrian political regime has become decisive, regardless of its relationship with the SNC.

On the other hand, the actions of the PYD on the ground as well as the essence of its political work through its alliance with the forces of the national coordinating body of the opposition make it seem that its final position on the issue of changing the regime is unsettled and non-radical.

The PYD is seeking to take full control of the Syrian-Kurdish community and be in charge of its political choices, believing that this may be supportive and helpful for its central issue, the issue of Kurds in Turkey. To this end, it has been seeking, especially in the last six months, to establish popular societal, cultural, youth, security institutions in different regions that include Kurds in Syria (there are women’s unions, cultural associations, youth organizations, media publications and committees tasked with the people's protection and armed with the minimum level [of weaponry], etc.) There are hierarchical and interconnected institutions that are dominated by the ideology of the PKK and its leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

The deep presence of the party in the Syrian-Kurdish scene, which extends hundreds of kilometers along the Turkish border, will give it a starting point, though not in the pure military sense.

The party is practically doing what the PKK tried to do in northern Iraq, following the collapse of the central authority and the outbreak of the Kurdish uprising there in 1991, which led to the armed struggle with the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani in 1993.

In contrast, the Kurdish parties of the KNC prefer political calm in the Kurdish arena, based on the principle according to which the entire country and the wide non-Kurd political and popular sectors, "understand the Kurdish issue.” Consequently, the solution lies in a constitutional recognition as well as in forms of equality in public and private rights between Syrian citizens.

This is clearly revealed in the KNC’s transitional program, its practices and political discourse. In fact, these parties prefer to achieve Kurdish political objectives amid national Syrian consensus while gathering momentum and granting the Syrian-Kurdish issue some sort of independence from their interactions in other regional countries.

Positioning with the regime

On the other hand, the PYD is affected by the repositioning with the Syrian regime that the PKK hopes to achieve in the regional equation. This party, which committed a political "sin" by confronting the two main regional axes at the beginning of the new millennium, currently wants to re-build a kind of coherence with the Syrian-Iranian axis by taking advantage of the exacerbating split between the Turkish and Iranian parties in their dispute over the Syrian crisis.

The party that started losing its regional balance following the arrest of its political leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 and the Adana security convention between the Syrian and Turkish parties is reconsidering its position in light of the increasing disparity between the Syrian and Turkish parties and given its desire to restore its political ties with its traditional axis. Obviously, this deeply affects the Syrian affiliate of the PKK (the PYD).

By contrast, the KNC parties are seeking to establish strong political ties with the political leadership of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, especially with the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led the region's president, Barzani.

In fact, Iraqi Kurds are the historical opposite pole of the PKK in the Kurdish scene. Also, [the KNC] and [the PKK] have different relationships with Turkey and the US, which places the two parties in two divergent political axes, both at the Kurdish level and the regional level.

However, although the KNC's relationship with Iraq's Kurds is not based on full political commitment, as is the organic relationship between the PYD and the PKK, the KNC understands the difficult tightrope of the Iraqi Kurds, being its only way to express its general policy and its only Kurdish support in its struggle with the PYD.

The KNC forces are aware that their rivalry with the PYD, the most organized and momentous party, needs a separation act from any other Syrian political bloc. The final withdrawal [of the KNC] from the SNC made entering under the umbrella of any other Syrian political opposition group impossible, knowing that there is a difference between joining a Syrian political opposition front and just supporting the revolution.

The council cannot bear the political burden of maintaining the political attitudes and policies adopted by any other Syrian opposition bloc, especially those blocs’ positions related to the Kurdish question. If the KNC remains an independent politically representative body that expresses its views regarding this issue, then it will get more clout and confidence in the Kurdish street.

The conflict between the two Kurdish poles is resulting in a lack of clear political options and strategies that can form a link between the Syrian-Kurdish community and its political elite.

Tension, political populism and the politician's dependence on the opinions of the street, not the opposite, are the political practices adopted by the Syrian-Kurdish community.

Found in: snc, pyd, pkk, kurdish national council of syria, iraqi kurdistan

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