What is happening to the Kurdish population in Syria? Analysis from the Kurdish Federation UK.
Kurdish Federation UK
06 December 2012
Civilians fleeing Ras al-Ain
For the last twenty months Syria has provided the scenery for a longstanding and violent upheaval. News coverage of events taking place in the country has been narrowly focused on the conflict between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian opposition on one side and the Syrian regime on the other.
Northern Syria, or “West Kurdistan” as the Kurds call it, has had very little media coverage during this period. The situation there is an entirely different story. This region of Syria is home to approximately 3 million Kurds. The Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority group within Syria.
Ever since the creation of modern Syria along artificial borders the Kurdish minority has suffered, first under French colonialism and later under the Ba’ath regime. In 1962 the Ba’ath party of Hafez al Assad (father of current president Bashar al Assad) stripped 20% of the Kurdish population off their Syrian citizenship denying them basic rights as citizens.
The Kurds have always sought to free themselves from their oppressors and their attempts have always been ruthlessly crushed and punished as was the case in 2004 when the Kurds initiated an uprising in Northern Syria.
Since the Syrian revolution started in 2011 it has became apparent that the situation has turned into an international chess game with some siding with the Syrian regime; Russia - not wanting to lose its last remaining foothold in the Middle East; and Iran - supporting the minority Shia Alewites currently in power. Others have sided with the FSA and the Syrian National Council (SNC) working from within Turkey and operating as an exile-parliament for Syria while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates supporting and arming the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Claims have been made that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are acting by proxy for the US and its interests in the region. Meanwhile NATO’s lenient stance and its approval for a new missile shield defense system along Turkey’s Syrian border have further worsened already dim expectations for the future of the Kurds in Syria. Syria has thus become the center for a power struggle both domestically and internationally.
There is no doubt a revolution is taking place in Syria and the Kurds are very much a part of it. The rightful and legitimate demands posed by the people of Syria are unilaterally supported by most. However, the Kurds also realize that what started as a revolt against an oppressive system has turned into something else. For the Kurds the revolution has been hijacked and it has now drifted away to a place where their rightful demands have been neglected and firmly opposed every step of the way.
The Kurds are not neutral; they are a part of the opposition to the current Syrian regime, but they refuse to fight in what is starting to look more and more like a sectarian war, and it’s for this reason that the Kurds have opted not to take sides.
Instead the Kurds in Kurdish cities and villages have organized themselves. The largest Kurdish party in Syria; the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in coalition with several other parties and with the help of the newly formed Peoples Defense Units (YPG) have managed without firing a single shot, to call an end to the regimes’ presence in all forms in the Kurdish areas. This was done peacefully and regime officials agreed to leave.
Soon thereafter popular councils were established in Kurdish cities and villages which included people from different ethnic and religious groups living in these cities. Commissions were established to organize civilians to deal with various societal services ranging from education to police forces, distribution of electricity and gas, flour and furnaces to make sure families would not suffer from shortage of food and so on.
Recently people from war stricken parts of Syria; Arabs, Kurds, Christians and Muslims have found shelter and have been accommodated by the Kurds in northern Syria.
The Kurds to this day have never actively sought to participate in any armed clashes although the general situation in Syria is complicated, and trying to navigate ones way between the FSA, the Syrian regime and the states seeking to protect their own interests in the country is a difficult and risky business.
Recently, with the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and Turkey opposing Kurdish gains things have started to take a turn for the worse.
The FSA has officially stated they will not accept “a division of Syria”, and Turkey afraid that the tendencies now manifesting itself in Syria will spread to its own Kurdish minority has started to take action.
Turkey is now harboring and arming jihadist groups affiliated with the FSA to overturn the positive developments taking place in the Kurdish region of Northern Syria. Recently these armed groups with the assistance of Turkish artillery have raided Kurdish cities and villages. Moving in out of the border to Turkey, the YPG is dedicated to protecting its people, having officially stated that its sole purpose is to prevent the Kurdish region from turning into a battlefield, have now consequently been drawn into clashes.
In some instances, like recently in the Kurdish area of Sere Kaniye, these armed groups have taken over neighborhoods and as a result the air force of the Assad regime with the incentive of fighting the FSA, have bombed these Kurdish populated areas killing numerous civilians.
The Kurds are seeking a third path, neither with the regime, the FSA nor with the SNC, they want peace and democracy but constantly efforts are made to drag them into clashes.
The Ba’ath regime in Syria has a well-known heinous human rights record that includes killing, torture, and abduction among other human rights violations. History shows that the Kurds of Syria have too often been the prime victim of these violations.
Despite this; the SNC and the FSA have so far refused to grant any guarantees whatsoever pertaining to protect the basic rights of the Kurdish people in a future Syrian constitution.
The oppression of the Kurds and their struggle for freedom has been suppressed time and time again not just in Syria but also in Turkey, Iran and Iraq where the millions of other Kurds reside. This continuous suppression has created a historical consciousness which gives the Kurds every right to be skeptical and concerned about the potential for further oppression in the future.
It is for this reason the Kurdish people of Syria have chosen a third path where they have taken matters in their own hands so they are able to ensure that neither they nor any other group will ever be oppressed again.