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April 23, 2012, Monday

Syrian Kurds and Turkey

It is estimated that the Kurdish population in Syria is between 1.8 and 2 million. If the Syrian population is thought to be approximately 22.5 million, then the Kurdish population is about 10 percent of the total. Just as estimates of the size of the Kurdish population in Iraq were inflated to 17 percent from the actual figure of 13 percent, the Kurds are trying to claim they make up 15 percent of the Syrian population.

In Syria, the Kurds do not dominate any one governorate. An important portion of the Kurdish population lives in the country’s poor northern area. In some towns in the north Kurds make up the majority, while in others they remain the minority. The Al-Hasakah governorate in Syria has a large concentration of Kurds and is a source of oil. Despite being the richest area, the state’s political parties have not invested money back into the area and Arabs were settled there. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein In Iraq, the important political and economic gains of the Kurds in connection with the change of government was the primary reason for the reawakening of Syrian Kurdish politics. In Syria, Kurdish political parties are not strong enough or sufficiently organized to maintain control of the streets. There are no Kurdish leaders in Syrian history. There are those that are openly involved with corruption. They are unable to control the young people who are spilling out onto the streets to protest. The parties -- the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, Kurdish Yekiti Party in Syria, Kurdish Azadi Party and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) -- have different capabilities when it comes to bringing people onto the street. They have not been able to produce crowds without the aid of youth organizations -- most importantly, Avahi.

 Because the parties do not have shared political agendas or demands, they can easily be weakened by opposition organizations. Syrian Kurdish parties have different views about the future of the Syrian regime. Most of the parties are based around political leaders; therefore, a party that loses its leader is weakened or completely torn apart. If there was a change in the Assad regime in the short or medium term, the Syrian Kurds wouldn’t have the organizational ability to create a federal or an independent system. It is claimed that Kurdish people’s assemblies in villages, neighborhoods and cities have created a base by protecting “democratic self-determination” and “strong self-governance.”

 It is claimed there is a war for power between the Arabs themselves and that the arguments on Kurdish rights taking place between the regime and opposition will not end. The Assad regime does not recognize any Kurdish rights. Within the referendum for the new constitution there was no improvement on the issue of Kurdish rights and because of this the Kurds boycotted the referendum. The opposition, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, does not currently recognize -- nor does its political ideology lend itself -- to Kurdish rights. They claim to have opened 54 schools that provide education in Kurdish within Syria and are supported by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The schools opened by the opposition teach three semesters of classes in reading and writing. At these schools, the first semester is between three and six months, and the second and third semesters are another three months each. At the schools, Kurdish politicians and PKK-affiliated Syrian Kurds murdered by the Syrian regime are acknowledged.

The Kurds in Syria are now in an advantageous position. That is to say, with or without Assad the Kurds are in a situation where there is a political balance that they can make the best of. Under these circumstances around 35,000 Kurds have been granted Syrian nationality, now given to all who apply.

 The Kurdish presence in Syria could be turned into a plus, as in Turkey, or it could be used to the detriment of the country. By Turkey showing more interest in Syrian Kurds it seems more probable that the group will have more political efficacy. While the alienation between Syrian Kurds and the Arab opposition movement continues, Kurdish parties will either radicalize or abandon the field for the PYD. Within the Kurdish political system in Syria, the Arab opposition organization’s attitude is very important in order for an environment that does not harm Turkey to exist. Turkey, Syria and the Kurds must develop direct and productive relationships. The integration of Syrian Kurds into the new Syrian political system and establishment of a forthright relationship could dissipate the majority of the antipathy towards Turkey.

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