Syrian Kurds exist and they can be heard all the way to Istanbul

Syrian Kurds consolidate their control over the country’s northwest

A first: Turkish authorities have received one of their leaders

From now on the Syrian Kurds count. In the country’s northwestern region this minority representing 10 to 15% of the entire Syrian population, is actually the majority. A de facto autonomy has been forming for the last two years. The Syrian Kurds plan to consolidate their gains and they have found some fairly surprising Turkish support. Sixty-two year old Muslim Saleh, president of the most powerful Syrian Kurd party the PYD, provided some explanations in Brussels on Monday.

“I met with a Turkish official in Cairo two months ago,” he says. “Then, he called to arrange my trip to Istanbul last week. That meeting, a first, allowed me to explain to the Turks in their language – I studied chemical engineering in Istanbul in the ‘70s – why we have begun our plan to constitute a provisional civil administration in the territory that we control.”

This invitation was quite surprising. Since its creation in 2003 the PYD has been considered in the region as the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Kurdish party in Turkey that has conducted a merciless guerilla war for decades against the Turkish authorities. In addition the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated to his country’s media on Friday that his representatives would meet Muslim Saleh. They were directed to talk with him about the Syrian Kurds’ “dangerous schemes” about which “necessary warnings will be given.”

Muslim Saleh brushes off the remark. “Those statements were for domestic Turkish consumption. We received neither warnings nor threats from the Turks. They listened to us and they didn’t think our plan for a provisional civil administration would be a problem. We did not demand autonomy like our Iraqi brothers. We want to be able to regulate everyday life in the areas under our control. After that, we plan to elect a 120-person council that will also include Arabs, Muslims and Christians.”

Doesn’t Ankara (or no longer) group the PYD with the PKK? Certainly the Turks recently began a peace process with the PKK. But there is more. According to Muslim Saleh: “we don’t have an organic relationship with the PKK. We are not under their control: it’s a sister organization, as are others. Those who try to group us together might be trying to label us as terrorist, but that won’t work because terrorism is foreign to us.” 

In recent weeks, a new phenomenon has developed in northwestern Syria. Kurdish fighters have faced militant Jihadists and inflicted a series of impressive defeats on them (dozens were killed). “It was another reason to go to Istanbul,” Muslim Saleh continues. “To tell the Turks – ed.: who are on the side of the rebellion against the Bashar el-Assad regime – not to support the Jihadists. They attack us because they don’t like Kurds who want to organize themselves. Above all they plan to establish an Islamic emirate, ideas that we Kurds do not share. Even more, those guys are usually foreigners.”

No one suspects or accuses the PYD of collaborating with the Assad regime that has withdrawn from the Kurdish zones in the northeast more or less handing over the keys peacefully to the Kurds. Our interviewee puts up a defense, “We have never imagined having good relations with a regime that has been fighting us since 2004.We are even planning a revolution. In the future, we will only deal with a regime that accords Kurds their right, and I very much doubt that it will be the current regime!”

In the meantime, the PYD is still far from allying itself with the armed rebellion embodied by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), separate from the Jihadist groups. “We don’t want to maintain hostilities with the FSA but the fact is that they are very weak compared to the Jihadists. Some FSA brigades collaborate openly here and there with the jihadists, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them.”

The Kurdish cause has never caught on and that continues to be the case. “No one supports us,” laments the PYD’s leader,  “nobody in the free world, to whom we are speaking, listens to us. We fight to defend ourselves. We have won against the Jihadists because we are right and our cause is just. Finally, our only support comes from our Kurdish brothers in other countries who send us supplies and humanitarian aid.”

Next month in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Erbil a major first will take place. Iraqi, Turkish, Iranian and Syrian Kurdish parties will gather for a conference. “We will be there.” Muslim Saleh concludes. “We do not want to appear to be independents, so the states in which we live will be invited, as will the UN.”


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