Riad al-Asaad, the leading commander of the anti-regime Free Syrian Army (FSA), has said that a post-Assad Syria will not include an independent Kurdish state or semi-autonomous region.
“We want one flag, one country,” the leader was quoted as saying by the Bugün daily on Friday. “We will not accept one meter of Syrian soil seceding and will go to war,” he stated.
The leader’s comments come as the grip on power of President Bashar al-Assad’s government slips amidst a popular uprising against his family’s 43-year-long rule. Rights groups and activists estimate that over 15,000 have so far died in the conflict, throughout which the regime has used heavy weapons against both civilians and rebel fighters to quell dissent.
Syria’s Kurds, estimated at roughly 10 percent of the country’s population, have been a wildcard in the conflict, restraining from participating with the FSA and other rebel groups in large numbers. Concern in Ankara has grown recently that Syria’s north could become a base of operations for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after Syrian Kurds gained control of Kurdish towns and cities near the Turkish border.
The defected Riad al-Asaad, formerly a colonel in the Syrian Army before fleeing to Turkey last year, said on Friday that the FSA and a new Syrian government would take control of its northern-Kurdish dominated regions, telling Bugün that “we don’t want to fight a two front war … but we won’t leave or abandon [the predominantly Kurdish border city] Qamishli.”
The FSA has found itself at odds with the separatists since President Assad hinted that he might use the group as a way to combat the FSA in Syria’s northern regions. Syrian government documents published by Al Jazeera in March indicated that the regime had been in talks with the PKK to seek an alliance against the FSA. Riad al-Asaad on Friday said that the already outgunned FSA does not want to also begin fighting Kurdish separatists looking to carve a state out of conflict torn Syria, but he insisted, “We will never agree to a [separate] Kurdish state.”
The PYD also has troubled relations with other Kurdish groups. Abdullah Bedro, leader of the Bedro tribe in Qamishli, told Today’s Zaman that the PYD established control over the region with the backing of Assad regime and claimed that the group was working together with Syrian intelligence. “Oppression of the Assad era will continue if the PYD begins running Syria’s north,” he said.