Syria’s Kurds Unite Defying Assad and the Opposition PDF Print E-mail

David Pollock, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published today, an important

commentary on the resolve of Syria’s Kurds seeking autonomy and unity defying both Assad and the opposition.


Entitled, “Syria's Kurds Unite against Assad, but Not with Opposition” Pollock has thrown down the gauntlet to the Obama Administration to consider a Federated Syrian alternative protecting the mosaic of minorities in Syria: the Alawi, Kurds, Druze, Christians and secular Sunni.  Given the agreements reached in mid-July by Syrian Kurds under the auspices of KRG President Masoud Barzani forming a Supreme Kurdish Council  could set the stage for recognition of this alternative future for a post-Assad Syria.  Presently an Islamist coalition composed of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia is supporting the fractious Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army seeking to establish a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood dominated central state.  The Obama Administration has given tacit support to this without recognizing the rights of minorities who would comprise a working majority in a Federated Syria.

Pollock in his tag line for this WINEP report notes:

A sudden political shift among Syria's three million Kurds, who now control much of the country's border with Turkey, provides an opportunity for the United States to better coordinate its policy with regional allies and to encourage the Syrian opposition to respect minority rights.

He notes the significant developments that have overcome differences among Syria’s Kurds:

In early July the president of the neighboring Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, Masoud Barzani, summoned Syrian Kurdish leaders from both main rival factions to his headquarters in Salahaddin, Iraq, just outside Erbil, in yet another attempt to hammer out an accord. This time the attempt succeeded, despite reported opposition from die-hard PKK supporters both inside the PYD and among the Syrian Kurdish PKK fighters in the Qandil mountains near the Iraq-Turkey-Syria borders. Underlying this surprising success is the increasingly prevalent perception, even among his erstwhile allies, that Syria's President Assad is losing his grip on power.

The PYD-KNC agreement signed July 11 has not been officially published, but its main points were read out to the author in Istanbul two days later by one of the senior participants in the negotiations. First, the PYD and the KNC will stop fighting each other, and instead join together in a new Supreme Kurdish Council for their region of Syria. Second, the PYD will henceforth focus exclusively on the Kurdish issue inside Syria, not across the border in Turkey -- clearly implying that the party now promises to cease any practical support to the PKK. Third, the newly unified Syrian Kurds will expel Syrian government officials and security forces from their area -- where, until just two weeks ago, many regime institutions had been operating almost normally, despite the turmoil elsewhere in the country.

So far, against all previous expectations, this intra-Kurdish accord is largely holding. Syria's Kurds have stopped fighting against each other. The PYD's break with the PKK is not definitive, but events and interested onlookers are pushing in that direction. And within the past two weeks, Syrian regime forces withdrew or were expelled from one Kurdish town after another, although some skirmishes are still being reported in Qamishli and other eastern border areas. Some local Kurds are helping Aleppo resist the Syrian regime siege, though on the whole Syria's Kurds are now concentrating on securing their own areas.

Pollock presents evidence of the fractious Syrian opposition views of this unified Kurdish minority.  He concludes by suggesting that this development might lead to US and regional recognition of minority rights in the region.  He notes:

It is good news that Syria's Kurds are moving to patch up with each other and with two neighboring U.S. friends -- with the KRG, and even with Turkey -- while turning against Assad's regime. Ironically, however, this important positive shift is also raising tensions with the majority Arab groups inside the Syrian opposition . . . Ideally, Washington should advise Syrian opposition figures that, since they need to attract the country's minorities, their best course is to engage more creatively with those groups -- not try to impose on them some particular "vision" of a future Syria, however "pluralistic." . . . The price, well worth paying, is for Washington to adjust its policy by prodding the Syrian opposition toward greater recognition of Kurdish rights -- and offering increased U.S. support to the Syrian opposition as a crucial incentive.

Looking further ahead, U.S. help in planning for a post-Assad transition should pay urgent attention to deconflicting Arab and Kurdish political claims and aspirations inside Syria. This is every bit as acute an issue as the much more widely recognized Alawite one; the Kurds are about the same percentage of Syria's total population.

We can assure Pollock that the Supreme Kurdish Council would welcome an opportunity to present in Washington, the case for a Federated Syria based on the demonstrated unity and resolve of minority Kurds he has attested to in his analysis.

Since 2006, The Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS) has been an effective advocate for both unity and Kurdish autonomy in a Federated Syria recognizing minority rights. This despite threats against KURDNAS from the Assad regime. It has developed a strong presence in the Kurdish Disapora in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and the Syrian Kurdistan region. Perhaps the reason Kurdish unity in Syria emerged was that the street in the region has been behind the KURDNAS message that finally got through to the leaders of the various factions that formed the Supreme Council.


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