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Analysis

Syrian Kurdish Alliance: Grounds, Obstacles

Thursday 7 May 2020
Syrian Kurdish Alliance: Grounds, Obstacles

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Alwaght- On Monday, Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news network reported that the Americans are leading efforts to settle the differences among various Syrian Kurdish factions in the cities of Hasakah and Kobani, an effort seeking to unite and strengthen the ranks of the Damascus opposition in the north and east of the country. 

But the records show that the meddling of big powers in Syria is based on transient interests and would never meet the demands of the Syrian Kurdish groups. 

A record of Syrian Kurds’ alliances                                                    

The Syrian Kurds account for about 10 percent of the Arab country’s population. The historical roots of the Syrian Kurds’ challenges are deep in the colonial era. After negotiations, a deal was struck between Turkey and France that gave the Kurds a specific region on the linked Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi borders. The region then was split into the three provinces of Hasakah, Raqqa, and Aleppo. 

When oil was discovered and produced a couple of decades ago in the Kurdish regions, the Kurdish identity was tied to the oil issues. Foreign countries’ interventions led to the separation of the Kurdish groups who each developed their own goals and interests, many of them conflicting. At least 37 Kurdish parties are still active in the Arab country. 

When the civil war began in 2011 in Syria, some Kurdish parties pushed for establishing a united front against the central government in Damascus. In 2015, they agreed to unite their Supreme Kurdish Committee (SKC). The SKC was made of the two key actors Kurdish National Council (KNC) and People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK)

The PCWK contained parties that themselves were subjects to the two big parties Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM). The two parties are of close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), though the latter denies that it meddles in the Syrian Kurdish affairs. The leadership of the two parties includes Saleh Moslem, Asiah Abdullah, Anwar Moslem, Farhad Talu, and Talal Muhammad. When the SKC was formed, people like Aldar Khalil, Abed Khalil, Isa Hassu, and Hedyah Ali were picked as its leaders. 

With regard to the ambiguity about the future of the power of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and also his opposition, the Kurdish leaders believed in a third party, not tied to Assad or the Arab opposition. This mindset led to the formation of an idea the PKK and PYD supporters call “Rojava revolution.” Rojava advocated self-management in political and social affairs in western Kurdistan. A couple of years later, in 2016, the Syrian Kurds, led by the PYD, announced the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. The autonomous region contained three important unified cantons of Island, Kobani, and Afrin. It sought a political transition in association with all Syrian parties.

But the new federation was not well received by the public. Severe criticism was directed against it. Many Western countries that inwardly supported it said that they do not advocate it as the federation met negative reactions from other Syrian groups and also the regional powers. 

The inter-Kurdish alliances, as experience proves, are short-living. A short time later, the self-management Kurdish administration in western Syria collapsed. The SKC shortly later lost its charisma for the public. Even the fate of the past agreements, like Duhok deal that was signed between Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and the supporters of the Turkish-jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, is now shrouded in mystery. 

After the US President Donald Trump in mid-October 2019 said he was removing his forces from northern Syria and also the anti-Kurdish Turkish military operation a couple of days later, a crisis more serious than before hit the Syrian Kurds. In late October they in a political shift reached an agreement with Damascus according to which the Syrian regular army took control of some Kurdish-held towns like Tall Tamr. 

Kurdish reunion: backgrounds and obstacles 

Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds and also the Turkish assault on them in the north drew strong criticism against White House’s erratic policy in Syria. The Syrian Kurds who already leaned to Damascus sought a way for internal unity with the support of some regional powers. 

Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) since the early months of the last fall started his attempts to open a new front in eastern Syria. Aware of Trump’s bargaining spirit, Kobani sought financial sources for the new front from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He sought to attract financial and military resources from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and political support from Washington by promising to act against Axis of Resistance, a camp containing Iran and its regional allies like Lebanese Hezbollah. 

To this aim, he met with the Arab Deir ez-Zor tribes as well as Saudi and Emirati officials. Following the meetings, Saudis agreed to fund training for Arab militias dubbed Al-Sanadid and also the “Elite Forces” affiliated with Tomorrow Movement, led by former Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Asi al-Jarba. This marked the first stage of the SDF’s new strategy to reorganize the Kurdish body after Turkey’s operation in the north. 

Earlier, Kobani in comments about the cooperation with Damascus had said "we do not trust their promises. Let us be honest, finding who to trust is a very difficult job."

The US after making sure that the Kurds and Arab tribes are financially supported by the Arab allies is now trying to play the role of their backer in the north and east without paying any costs. Recently, the Americans have been focusing on an Intra-Kurdish agreement to change the political and military equations in Syria’s east and north. 

Before the Turkish military operation in East Euphrates, Saudi Arabia sent its Arab affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan to Deir ez-Zor. He met the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria in the US State Department Joel Rayburn and William Robak, the US envoy to the international coalition in Syria, and also a number of tribal leaders. 

However, a set of issues seriously blur the outlook of the new American policy in Syria. Here are some of them: 

1. There is a deep gap between the two main poles of Kurdish power namely the pro-Ocalan camp and the Barzani camp. This gap cannot be bridged by the Western-orchestrated intra-Kurdish alliances. The Rojava project fell because the PYD showed no interest in cutting off ties with the PKK.

2. The Kurds lost the maneuverability they held in the past after the Turkish Operation Peace Spring in the east Euphrates and specifically in the towns of Manbij, Jarabulus, and Al-Bab. In Euphrates and Idlib, the geopolitical equations are transforming. So, in the current conditions, the Kurds cannot rely on Washington which does not want to pay any costs in Syria. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have a very superficial influence in east and north Syria.

3. Differences between the KNC and PYD remain as deep as before. Abdullah Othman, the spokesman to the KNC, says "the Syrian Kurds are still under oppression and injustice as they were under Assad regime."

4. The Arab tribes living in Kurdish-majority areas or adjacent to them are discontented with the PYD's behavior as the nucleus of Kurdish unity. Already, 150 Arab tribal leaders at a meeting complained about the Kurdish treatment of the Arabs in the Kurdish-controlled areas, saying that the Kurdish forces indiscriminately arrest and kill civilians or marginalize the tribal role in the equations.

5. The double-faced American policy will further provoke Turkish reactions and tensions in northern Syria. Throughout last year, the US double standards stirred ferocious clashes between the Kurds and Turkey. 

 

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