Just as everyone thought an Arab-Kurd war was about to happen in the Jazeera region of Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and a local command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) signed an accord on Feb. 17. The 11-article accord was signed by the FSA's chief of its Hasakah Revolutionary Military Council Col. Hassan Abdallah, the PYD Popular Defense Committees [YPG] representative, Jovam Ibrahim, and the leader of the Democratic Popular Movement (TEV-DEM), Dr. Nasser Hajj Mansur.
Although it has several obscure points, there are aspects that make it more robust than the agreement signed on Nov. 19, which has already been violated several times. It is a local accord that focuses on ending the clashes at Ras al-Ain but it has objectives that go beyond the local conflict. Article 7, which stipulates joint FSA-YPG action toward liberation of towns under the control of the regime, signals uniting against Assad’s forces. This is a first.
Setting up a civilian council to control Ras al-Ain is a serious concession by the Kurds, who have until now allowed the FSA to enter their regions. The presence of Col. Abu Omar and the deputy chief of staff of the FSA Unified Command, Salem Idris, among those supporting the reconciliation gave rise to the perception that the FSA command had approved the accord. But that perception vanished yesterday with a statement by Idris rejecting the accord. On the other hand, the support given by non-PYD factions within the Kurdish YPG, by the representatives of the Kurdish National Council, TEV-DEM and communal leaders, strengthened the Kurdish signature of the accord.
Weak points of the accord
As for the weak points of the accord, above all, the FSA is not a unified entity. Tens of different armed groups who occasionally fight each other use the FSA label. A signature by an FSA commander might mean nothing tomorrow. You can question how binding the signatures of FSA commanders Abdallah and Abu Omar at Hasakah, Deir al Zour and Raqqa are.
The FSA had already declared that the Ras al-Ain clashes had nothing to do with them. This is where the trouble starts. Among those fighting the Kurds are groups that are not under the FSA umbrella, and others who fly the FSA flag. There is another critical point: groups Kurds label as “supported by Turkey” have been kept out of the process, despite the fact that the initial clashes at Ras al-Ain were with them. So now there are three potential groups that could be spoilers of the accord: armed Arab and Kurdish tribal groups that receive logistical help from Turkey, the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra — over which the FSA has no control — and other Salafist groups.
Among those fighting the Kurds are Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar-I Guveran, Gurabat al-Sham, the Farouk Brigade, Ahfad al-Rasul, the Umma Brigade, the Fatah Brigade, the Michel Temmo Brigade and the Azadi Battalion. The al-Jazeera Euphrates Liberation Front, which declared its formation at Urfa, Turkey in December is reported to be giving logistical support to the anti-PYD front.
Fighting groups kept out
I spoke to Nasser Hajj Mansour of TEV-DEM, who has led the negotiations for the Kurdish side from the outset. According to Mansour, groups supported by Turkey, such as the al-Jazeera Euphrates Liberation Front, Ahfad al-Rasul of Idlib and the Michel Temmo Brigade, were excluded from the negotiations, but they have not yet made a declaration against the accord.
Mansour claims that the accord was reached in spite of Turkey. He said: “Turkey tried to block the accord through Ahfad al-Rasul and the Farouk Brigade. The al-Jazeera Liberation Front wanted to fight against it, but we were ready for them and foiled their efforts. The result is what Turkey didn’t want. Turkey doesn’t want the Kurds here to gain any status, although the Kurds here will not be a threat to Turkey. On the contrary, they will strengthen Turkey.” Ankara had already declared that it will not accept the PYD, which it sees as an extension of the PKK, to be the leading actor of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria.
Why is Idris against it?
When trying to understand why Idris rejected the accord only three days after it was signed, one has to bear in mind the influence of Turkey’s current policy on the FSA. The FSA Unified Command chief of staff is a super-structure that the Syrian National Coalition announced at the Antalya meeting to give the appearance of a unified military front. They would not want to upset Ankara by approving the accord.
Idris said the FSA had not tasked anyone to negotiate, and added: “We have reliable information that the PYD is getting support from the terrorist PKK, Iranian Kurds and the Kurds coming from Iraq’s Kandil Mountains. In my capacity as the chief of staff of the FSA Unified Command, I am not recognizing the negotiations at Hasakah and their results.” He also said they will fight against all armed groups supporting the regime. When I asked Abu Mansour about this, he replied: “Abu Omar supported the process. FSA commander Hassan Abdullah has signed it. Christian leader Michel Kilo, who mediated, informed Idris of the developments at Ceylanpınar. Idris is using guarded language to the Turkish media to avoid angering the Turkish public. Let him get up and say it on Al Arabiya [TV].”
So why did the Kurds reconcile? Has the Imrali Process had an effect? Did Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan send a message to the PYD? These questions are for later.