Syria’s fragmented Kurdish groups are continuing efforts to negotiate their differences, but many obstacles remain that keep them from acting in unity.
Syria’s Kurds are mostly split between these two major movements. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), founded in 2003, collaborates with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The KNC is an amalgamation of 15 local parties opposed to both Assad and the PKK that formed in October of 2011. President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani initiated a dialogue between the KNC and PYD on July 11, which led to an agreement to form the Syrian Kurdish Supreme Council. The council envisaged the setting up of several committees related to security and administrative affairs, but failed to be established.
Under firm pressure from Barzani, representatives from these two main camps met and renewed their commitment to form a higher council on Tuesday. “We agreed to adopt federalism as a working principle,” Aldar Khalil, one of the founders of the PYD, told Reuters.
Included in the agreement are plans to create a joint security apparatus, control border checkpoints together and merge their military wings.
The KNC and PYD do not exactly see eye-to-eye on the administration of a potential Syrian Kurdish region. While the KNC wants a federalist or politically decentralized but united Syria, the PYD seeks as its final goal a confederation with Iraqi Kurdistan. The two groups are also divided over their role in the Syrian conflict and where they stand in relation to the Arab-dominated opposition, which some regard as inherently anti-Kurdish.
The negotiations among the Syrian Kurdish groups are expected to be troubled. An armed unit known as the Popular Protection Committees (YPG), an affiliate of the PYD, issued a statement on Wednesday that it will not unite with any other military force, according to media close to the group.
Veysel Ayhan, chairman of the International Middle East Peace Research Center (IMPR), claims that “the lack of mutual trust between the Kurdish groups” is the main obstacle to their long-term unity.
“Notably the close relations established between Turkey and some Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with Barzani create a crisis of confidence among the Kurds because Turkey completely rejects the PYD over its PKK affiliation,” Ayhan stated during a telephone interview with Sunday’s Zaman.
Ayhan maintains that the dominance of the PYD over Syrian Kurdish groups endures as it is the only such group to have its own armed unit. “If Barzani does not force the Syrian Kurds to unify, the PYD will easily dominate the other groups, and Kurdish people will follow the PYD,” he explained.
The PYD gained control of several towns near the Turkish border in July, apparently after Syrian forces loyal to Assad were moved to more central areas to fight back the opposition. The PYD’s military power, and therefore ability to defend Kurdish regions, is what bolsters support for the group among Kurdish people.
Distance is also a factor that would hamper the establishment of a Kurdish region in northern Syria. Kurdish groups are spread out across different areas.
The fragmentation of Syria to include a separate Kurdish region would likely be a long-term headache for Turkey, leading to a more difficult struggle for Turkey in bringing under control its decades-old terrorism problem. It would also raise concerns that the creation of such a region would bolster PKK-affiliated groups in Turkey. Southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and parts of northern Syria have been the stage for a 28-year conflict between Turkish forces and the PKK, which in various incarnations has been waging a campaign for autonomy in the largely Kurdish Southeast of Turkey.