Syrian Kurdish Front Divided As Geneva II Approaches

As efforts intensify to prepare for the Geneva II Syria conference, Kurdish groups are increasingly divided over issues relating to representation.

al-monitor Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani speaks in a meeting with Kurdish envoys abroad in Erbil, Sept. 6, 2011.  Photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

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syrian politics, syrian opposition, syrian kurds, pyd, pkk, massoud barzani, kurdish national council of syria, kurdish democratic union party, kdp, geneva ii

Nov 3, 2013

As pressure intensifies for the Geneva II conference to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, cracks on the Kurdish front are getting deeper. The Kurdish National Council — controlled by Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq — prefers to attend Geneva as an adjunct of the Syrian National Coalition.

The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), however, wants to sit at the table as part of the Kurdish Supreme Council, which they had set up with the Kurdish National Council as a result of the Erbil Accord. 

The gap between them doesn’t appear to be manageable. Geneva may well see more than one Kurdish delegation. Kurdish parties are rapidly polarizing as KDP under Barzani and the PKK/PYD.

Abdulhakim Bashar’s SKDP [Al Parti], Mustafa Cuma’s Azadi, Abdulbasit Hemo’s Kurdistan Union and Mustafa Osso’s Azadi, all under Barzani’s influence, have decided to consolidate under the SKDP as an alternative to the PYD. Their weakness is more in Erbil than on the ground. It is not easy for them to challenge the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG. To the contrary, the YPG is getting increasing support from different parties because of its fight against al-Qaeda. It was the YPG that formed a Christian self-defense force at Hasakeh. On Oct. 23., German daily Die Welt reported that Christians are trained in YPG camps.

As the Kurdish parties challenge each other more and more, events contradicting the spirit of the Erbil Accord are occurring one after another. In May, when efforts to create an alternative to the PYD/YPG did not work, Barzani closed the Semelka [Peshabur] crossing [between Syria and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region]. Last week, PYD leader Salih Muslim was not permitted to travel to the US via Erbil. IKYB co-chairman Hamid Derbendi had then said: "Muslim doesn’t need Kurdistan. He can travel via Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus.” 

Then came the YPG’s capture of the Tel Kosher [Al Yaroubia] crossing on the Iraqi border on Oct. 27. Tel Kosher is important because it can alter the economic and political situation in Rojava that is at present unable to use the crossings to Turkey and South Kurdistan [northern Iraq]. Also, this crossing was the main supply route of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) that was controlling that region.

There are claims that Iraqi and Syria forces assisted the YPG in capturing Tel Kosher. I asked Saleh Muslim about it yesterday [Oct. 30]. He rejected the claims. “There have been 25 suicide attacks against Rojava. All the bomb-laden vehicles came from Tel Kosher. The villages in the area either supported al-Qaeda or submitted to its pressures. This had to end. But it wasn’t planned in advance; it happened spontaneously. Iraqi forces knew nothing about it. They might have rounded up the ones who escaped into Iraq,” he said. 

About reports that he had left Rojava via Tel Kosher, Muslim said, "Tel Kosher was captured two days after I left Rojava.” Evading questions about how he left Rojava, Muslim said, "Let’s say that I didn’t fly to Europe via Ankara, Tehran, Baghdad or Damascus." Muslim said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had extended an olive branch by offering 18% representation to Kurds in the parliament, but they had no contact with the Assad regime and they had received no support from it against al-Qaeda.

Asked if there was ground for negotiations with Barzani, Muslim said, "We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the unity of the people. But they are closing the doors on us. What is happening is the outcome of an accumulation of events. For three months, they held back the transformers sent to Rojava. They are delaying medicine shipments. They didn’t let anyone cross for five months. They want the people to rise against the YPG. They themselves are not free. They have relations with Turkey’s Special Warfare Command and take their orders from them. I am not entirely accusing the Turkish government. We informed Turkey of our goodwill and asked it to open the crossings for humanitarian assistance. But the military command issued statements saying, ‘those coming are from the PYD, close Senyurt.’ That was the PYD co-chair Asya Abdullah who was coming as a friend. We know the government does not want this to happen. That is why I am complaining to the Turkish people about those blocking our friendship."

Arab tribes worried about al-Qaeda are slowly leaving their defensive posture and going on the offensive by preferring to work with the YPG that is expanding its area of operations in the oil-rich regions of Rmeilan and Hasakeh. According to Haci Mansur of TEV-DEM there will be joint effort to administer the Tel Kosher crossing. 

The YPG’s image as “defender of the people” strengthens is standing internally and improves the status of the PYD internationally. The Kurdish people can distinguish between the two organizations. Of course, the events that benefit the PYD and the YPG upset those in Erbil who want to influence the Rojava process. There is no other way to explain why the Kurdish National Council wants to be an adjunct of the Syrian National Coalition.

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