Syrian Kurdish groups split over autonomy decision

Article Summary
In a move that sparked controversy among Kurdish groups, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced the formation of an autonomous government in three towns in northern Syria.

A day before the launching of the Geneva II conference, political and military Kurdish powers, mainly the Democratic Union Party (PYD), stole the spotlight after announcing the formation of an autonomous government in three Kurdish towns in the north and northeast of Syria — namely Afrin, Qamishli and Malikiyah. This announcement deepened the dispute between Kurdish powers that were divided over supporting or opposing this step.

Some Kurdish towns were in jubilation, and celebratory gunfire was shot into the air to express their satisfaction with autonomy. However, other Kurds saw this new political step as a stab in the back of the Kurdish national movement and its aim to grant Syrian Kurds their legitimate rights.

Those opposed to the autonomous government affirmed that this decision falls under the regime’s policies, which aim at instigating rifts between the Syrian people and deviating Kurds from the path of the revolution. Advocates of this step, however, perceived it as a temporary solution facilitating the affairs of Kurdish residents, especially in terms of defending Kurdish towns against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) attacks.

Al-Hayat investigated the opinions of Kurdish politicians supporting (Aldar Khalil and Bulat Jean) and opposing (Salah Badr al-Din, Mohammed Ismail) this step.

Figures opposed to autonomy

Author and political researcher Salah Badr al-Din affirmed that the call to autonomy has nothing to do with the Kurdish national project. This call did not reflect the aspirations and ambitions of Syrian Kurds, because primarily, it came in as part of the regime’s strategy aiming to cause strife among Syrian factions and isolate them from the revolution.

Badr al-Din noted that all other Kurdish parties (17 parties) did not respond or participate in the project of creating an autonomous government. The project also did not catch the attention of the Kurdish revolutionary youth movement, noting that the latter has led protests in Kurdish towns since the eruption of the revolution. Moreover, moderate Kurds, who make up the majority of the people, in addition to civil society organizations and representatives of Arabs and Christians, did not take part in this project. “Those who participated in the project are a group of ‘thugs’ belonging to an Arab tribe fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA),” he added.

Badr al-Din noted that according to the majority of Kurds, the alternative for this government is “to prioritize the ousting of the regime, the full integration in the revolution and the coordination with its powers, in addition to avoiding unilateral moves without consulting our national partners, be they Arabs or other constituents. Currently, they are the powers that represent the revolution and not the regime.”

Badr al-Din said that the autonomy project did not comply with the main project’s idea promoted by those advocating it. “If it were the case, the PYD wouldn’t have needed to make the decision by itself and impose its ideas by force, while rejecting other parties with different political opinions. Additionally, the parties behind the project are groups affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and are taking on different names. They brought around 3,000 trained militants into Syria and imposed a new de facto situation on the majority of Kurdish towns, through a strong cooperation with the regime and the intervention and sponsorship of the Iranian regime and the Jerusalem Brigade led by Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Their extremism is no different than that of the ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist religious organizations,” he added.

Mohammed Ismail, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (KDP-S) and a member of the Kurdish National Council in Syria, said, “The current circumstances are not appropriate for us, as Kurdish people who are representing a part of the Syrian national movement, which has been struggling for five decades. It is not in the Kurds’ best interest, nor is it appropriate for them to create an autonomous administration in regions where the presence of the regime is strongest. In addition to that, the future of the Syrian Kurdistan cause will be severely damaged, especially after the escalation of the war, i.e., the bloodshed, destruction and displacement. This includes sabotaging the historical relationship between the Kurds and other constituents in Syria, which will raise the ire of 20 million Syrians who will be our compatriots and neighbors. This is what the Kurdish movement has been warning about over decades of struggle, during which the regime sought to turn public opinion against the Kurdish people and their legitimate national rights.”

Ismail stressed that “[declaring] this autonomous region separates the National Kurdish Movement from the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian revolution forces, which represent an essential part of the Syrian people. An autonomous Kurdish region cannot be created without establishing the privacy of these regions, because the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people seek the respect of the privacy of political choices of each component.”

“The Kurdish issue in Syria is out of the international scene, after having been internationalized by the Syrian revolution. It is not in the people’s interest to create a Kurdish autonomous government without international support, in particular that of the countries concerned with the Syrian matter and decision-makers, such as the United States, the EU, the UK, Russia, the Arab League, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. This is in addition to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, where President Massoud Barzani — a leader and a symbol — enjoys international respect and has support from the majority of Kurdish people, including Kurds in Syria and the national movement of the people,” Ismail added.

Supporters of the administration

On the other hand, the head of the media center for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Polat Jean, said: “This administration is not equivalent to Kurdish autonomy. If we say this, we would be unjust to the other components of society. We would be participating effectively and strongly in discussing, developing, establishing and declaring democratic autonomy, which is a temporary one. The temporary phase might be prolonged, depending the situation in the country. This administration was initially established to fill the administrative gap in the region. If we had not filled the gap with this administration, another party would have declared its own administration. This is what happened last summer, when ISIS announced the creation of the Islamic emirate in West Kurdistan and demanded the Kurds to pledge their allegiance to the ISIS, declare repentance and give in to it.”

“The autonomy document is considered a social contract to manage the region, and it can be called ‘the constitution.’ Perhaps tomorrow, other constitutions will emerge within the one state and the people will able to manage their lives politically, socially and administratively in a convenient way that is in line with the general one. For instance, in the United States, each state has its own constitution and laws, in addition to the federal constitution. The same applies to Switzerland and Russia,” Jean added.

“There were no administrative frameworks in the Kurdish areas, and these areas were considered part of another world that is different from Syria, in terms of administration and services and in terms of dealing with human beings. The administration in the Kurdish areas was in the hands of multiple intelligence branches. The only law was the law of starvation, Arabization and displacement. Thus, the Kurds and their partners from other components living in Western Kurdistan are building a new administration for the first time. This is no longer an era when others can decide on your behalf. It is no longer an era of harsh central states or an era of denial of the rights of the various society components or disparate regions,” Jean noted.

In the same context, Eldar Khalil, a member of the governing body for the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM) and a member of the supreme Kurdish body, confirmed that “the project of democratic autonomy is an expression of the real community democracy. Since the beginning of the revolution, particularly on March 30, 2011, we published a project to solve the Kurdish issue in Syria and to move toward democratic pluralism in the country. We believed that the success of the revolution depends on resolving the Kurdish issue and establishing a democratic system, which allows the organization of people and society with all of its components on a democratic basis.”

“We believe that if the Syrian opposition had the minimum standards of democracy and human rights, then it would accept and encourage the development of such a model, because the project does not only belong to the Kurdish people, but to Syria as a whole. Changing the regime is not limited to changing the ruling figures and the president. It must be accompanied with the development of this [model],” he added.

“We are surprised by the opposition’s reactions, which rejects the autonomy. Such reactions raise our suspicion and doubts about whether this opposition is democratic or whether it is trying to control the reins of power, without taking into consideration the democratic rights of others. Yet, we believe that they will understand the true aspect of this project and benefit from this experience, for the sake of Syria’s future. Naturally, the autonomy we're talking about has been ongoing since more than a year and a half in Afrin, Kobani and Al-Jazira,” Khalil said.

He pointed out that the non-participation of the Democratic Union Party in the fight against the regime “stems from our conviction that the approach adopted by the others is wrong. In fact, this approach does not help to overthrow the regime as much as it leads to the destruction of the country, paves the way for chaos and creates the appropriate conditions for the spread of the al-Qaeda organization and its offshoots across the country. We believe in a peaceful solution and in relying on the people’s power to bring about change in the country.”

“For us, relying on the military force is only permitted in cases of defense and protection, as a legitimate right guaranteed by international conventions and laws. But we do not have any intention to split the country, because the democratic autonomy approach and philosophy are the guarantee of the unity of Syria,” he said.

Khalil stressed that his group “represents a third approach in the context of the Syrian revolution. We do not agree with the opposition seeking to gain power through these methods. At the same time, we reject the dictatorial and totalitarian regime that is killing its own people to maintain its authority. Our third approach is that of a democratic society, and we have no intentions to take over power. But we find ourselves partners that must be taken into account in the new administration that will be formed in the future, and we ought to be recognized as a Kurdish people within the new Syrian constitution.”

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Found in: syria, massoud barzani, kurds, kurdish national council of syria, democratic union party, civil war, autonomy
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