Syria’s Kurds struggle for unity

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Syrian Kurdish politicians leading a demonstration in Derik city. File photo

ARA News

The Chancellor of Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC), Masrour Barzani, told an audience at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is ready to host another round of negotiations between the Kurdish parties of Syria and will never refuse ‘another round’ of negotiations. A sign that there is still a possibility for Kurdish unity in Rojava, a demand shared by most Kurds of Syria.

The KRG President Masoud Barzani mediated three agreements between 2012 and 2014 between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that rules Rojava and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) to share power in Rojava-Northern Syria. However, none of the agreements were implemented due to the deep disputes between the political factions.

“Our president hosted three conferences in Duhok and Erbil between PYD, YPG [People’s Protection Units] representatives to talk to the other parties [KNC]. They agreed on many points, but unfortunately after the return, the YPG refused to implement [the agreement] and acted unilaterally,” the top Kurdish security official Masrour Barzani said.

“The way they treat other parties, deport them, and arrest them is not very helpful,” he said about the arrest of dozens of KNC politicians.

Moreover, the Kurdish official accused the YPG of not allowing the Rojava Peshmerga forces –Syrian Kurdish soldiers that are trained by the Zerevani forces of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party since 2012– to return home. Instead the Rojava Peshmergas fought ‘alongside our forces’ against ISIS in Iraqi Kurdistan, ‘and many have been killed and wounded,’ he said.

“Sometimes their bodies are transported back to Syria, and the YPG stopped them and didn’t allow them back, because they were covered in Kurdistan flags,” Barzani said. This while the YPG has accused the KRG of sometimes not allowing the bodies of YPG fighters and Western volunteers to return.

However, Masrour Barzani said the KRG is willing to host new negotiations between the Syrian Kurdish parties. “We will never say no to another round of negotiations. If the PYD and other parties are willing to come together peacefully, we are definitely going to help them,” he said.

Moreover, the security official denied that the KRG is preventing humanitarian aid from going to Rojava. “I am not aware of any humanitarian efforts are stopped from going into Syria and we have been contributing ourselves such as the Barzani Charity Foundation to provide support in Kobani, Efrin and other parts [of Rojava],” he said. This while the PYD has accused the KDP of putting an embargo on Rojava.

Barzani further accused the YPG of not allowing thousands of refugees to go back to Rojava. “I hope you ask this question to the YPG as well,” he told a former Western volunteer with the YPG who asked Barzani if it’s true that they stop humanitarian aid and arrest foreign volunteers who return to Iraqi Kurdistan from Rojava.

Gharib Hesso, the representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the Kurdistan Region, told ARA News last month that they are ready for dialogue. “Our culture is dialogue and unity. We should all work together, we are not strangers,” he said.

However, he blamed the strong relations between the KDP and Turkey for preventing the Kurds in Syria to reach an agreement. “Sadly, the neighbouring countries don’t accept it. We can easily work together,” he said. “Turkey doesn’t want this, and they are against the will of the Kurdish people. Turkey works every day to prevent the Kurds from unifying their ranks,” Hesso said. “The KDP has relations with the AKP [Turkish president Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party].”

Mohammed Ismail, a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, the leading party within the KNC, on the other hand said the PYD doesn’t want to negotiate power-sharing with the KNC in northern Syria.

Speaking to ARA News, Ismail accused the PYD of being allied to Iran and the Syrian government. “America, Russia and the European Union they can pressure the PYD to accept an agreement. The West could play a key role in improving the situation in Rojava.”

Moreover, he suggested that the KNC will hold America responsible if the PYD burns offices of the KNC or arrest KNC members since the US is arming the YPG for the campaign to take Raqqa.

Ismail added that the KNC doesn’t want a civil war in Rojava. “We don’t want a civil war, this is a red-line. It is necessary to have an agreement for the interest of the Kurdish people.”

US officials told ARA News that they prefer the Kurdish parties to be united.

In June 2016, the border crossing between Rojava and KRG was opened for a short while after the US pressured both sides. However, shortly afterwards tensions broke out again.

In November 2016, former US diplomat Peter Galbraith and former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Rojava in an attempt to get the Kurds closer together, and to try to get KNC politicians released from prison. Despite of the release of some KNC politicians, the tensions continued shortly afterwards in December.

Bader Mustafa, a member of the Kurdish Youth Movement (TCK), told ARA News: “PKK sees the developments in Rojava as a success of its theory, and KDP sees that most of the population is pro-Barzani and it is still true somehow.”

According to Kurdish analyst and member of the Kurdish Youth Movement (TCK), Bader Mustafa, the problems between the KNC and the PYD can only be solved by the United States, or by a new peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government.

“So I believe we have two choices for solution in Rojava; either to have a new peace process in Turkey, which could bring about an agreement on most of Rojava’s political and military issues, or to have a US-sponsored agreement like the one achieved in Iraqi Kurdistan between PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and KDP,” he told ARA News, in a reference to a peace accord brokered by Washington in 1998 which ended the civil war between the PUK and KDP in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Abdulkarim Omer, the head of foreign relations for the PYD-led Cezire Canton in Syria’s Kurdish region-Rojava, told ARA News that a solution among Kurdish rivals in Rojava is still possible. “We Kurds need a national congress for all of Kurdistan, so we can solve our internal problems. We have problems with the KNC, also there are problems between Gorran and the KDP, the PKK and the KDP. If we have a congress we can solve all problems,” he said.

However, Omer blamed Turkey for pressuring KDP not to accept a Kurdish national congress. “If the Kurdish issue is solved in Turkey, the relation will be good with the KDP,” he said.

Moreover, he called on the KNC to accept the constitution of the Rojava self-administrations and register according to the political party’s law of the Self-Administration. “They should accept it, if they accept it, there are no more problems,” Omer told ARA News.

However, Mohammed Ismail, the KDP-S official, said the KNC would not accept submitting to the de facto rule of the PYD-led administration in Rojava. “We don’t ask a permission from the administration, you have no relation with our people, and we fought the Assad regime and have our rights to do our work. You [PYD] work with the regime that gives you the right to ask for a permission. We have our own decision as the KNC, and we will not ask for a permission. You are a party, and we are a party,” he said about the PYD.

The KNC is the main rival of the PYD, and backed by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PYD, on the other hand, is closer to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both the KDP and PKK have significant influence over the Kurdish parties in Syria, but the PYD and the People’s Protection Units became the most dominant actors in Syrian Kurdistan after they took control of most Kurdish cities in July 2012 and established local autonomous canton administrations in Efrin, Kobani, and Cezire. The KNC has refused to recognize these new administrations.

Furthermore, tensions increased between the KDP-backed and PKK-backed factions after clashes between armed groups of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on 3 March in Sinjar in which 7 fighters of the PKK-affiliated groups were killed. After this, dozens of KNC members were arrested and their offices were closed by the Rojava Asayish. This while in Iraqi Kurdistan several PKK supporters were arrested by the KRG Asayish.

A number of members of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) remain in detention in Erbil after they were captured by security forces two months ago, the HDP’s representative said during a press conference on Wednesday.

While the KDP security forces make it nearly impossible for the PYD and the PKK to operate in Duhok and Erbil [Iraqi Kurdistan], the Rojava Asayish is making it also nearly impossible for the KNC to operate freely in Rojava-Northern Syria.

The relations between the Kurdish parties were not always bad. Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani paid a visit to the main PKK camp on Aug. 13 2014 and met with senior PKK commanders and thanked them for their help in the war against ISIS. And in November 2014, Peshmergas from the KRG arrived in Kobani to help the YPG to fight ISIS. However, after ISIS became weaker and weaker, tensions increased between the Kurdish parties over the last two years due to an increasing power vacuum, regional alliances and political differences.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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