There are two main currents among the Syrian Kurds that have come close to causing confrontation amongst them: On one side groups related to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and on the other the People’s Defense Committees (TEV-DEM), which are affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), born and fighting for autonomy in Turkey.
Indeed, the TEV-DEM has often attempted to suppress anti-Bashar al-Assad demonstrations and Kurdish activists siding with the opposition. The PKK and its scion in Syria, the PYD, are trying to achieve self-rule in the Kurdish northern region. That is why the PYD does not want to alienate the Assad government in these dire times. The FSA has delivered a few retaliatory punches to TEV-DEM militias. The two parties are in uneasy cohabitation, with no mechanism for arbitration. In fact, when conflict peaked last month among Syrian Kurdish political parties, Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), had to intervene. The PYD has accused other Kurdish political parties of being the stooges of Turkey, and its support for the incumbent Syrian government infuriates Syrian National Council (SNC) affiliates.
The major problem with the Kurdish parties, which demand equality and the civic rights of which they have been deprived, is that the SNC is too Arab and wants to retain the country’s Arab character in the event of the fall of the Assad government. Not all Kurds trust the SNC and its evident Arab nationalism. That is why some Kurds feel close to the PYD: because of its uncompromising Kurdish character. Its temporary tactical alliance with the Assad government is not much heeded as PYD supporters believe that the party, with the backing of the PKK, will sooner or later deliver “Syrian Kurdistan.”
In fact, the PYD has built up muscle to fulfill its stated aims. It has 4,500 highly trained armed militia in the Kandil Mountains, the hideout of the PKK and the organizations it controls and guides in neighboring countries.
While there is a rift between the Kurdish factions in Syria concerning the place of the theoretical Kurdish state with or without the Assad regime, there is also conflict as to who will rule over the Kurds. Both conflicts will unravel as the process of regime change evolves. However, the “advent” of the Kurds and their visibility as a political actor annoys some Arabs, particularly the tribal Arabs in regions populated by Kurds.
Given the fact that the PKK has a strong claim as the leader of the Syrian Kurds (as is the case in Turkey and Iran), and that it is an armed organization, adding weight to this claim, internal fighting in Syria is likely to continue, even after the downfall of the Assad regime.
Arab tribes being supported and armed by Arab nationalists may lead to bloody clashes between local Arab tribes and the Kurdish people. Turkey may lend support to anti-PKK elements, further complicating the scene.
Another area of difficulty is the use of Syria as a pawn in broader attempts to bring down the Shiite theocracy in Iran. The downfall of the Syrian Alawite government will also mean the empowerment of the Sunni majority. The main reason why some want the Iran-affiliated Syrian Alawite regime to be brought down is to balance Iraq against Iran and diminish Syria’s influence on Lebanon through Hezbollah. Now what Syria has done in the past -- namely, sending militants (especially jihadists) to Lebanon and Iraq -- is reversed. Saudi Arabia is said to be using the same channels to send militants to Syria.
How this mess, this ideologically driven warfare extending from Lebanon to Iran, will be resolved, and what kind of political landscape will result, is very unclear. How Turkey will chart its course in this unknown territory, gathering more power for itself than it already has, is another vital question.