Syria's Kurdish opposition leader claims Assad benefits from PYD agenda
Abdelbasset Seida (Photo: Today's Zaman)
A former leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC) has criticized the activities of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) -- a Syrian Kurdish party with links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey and Iraq -- and said its own distinct agenda is benefitting Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
Abdelbasset Seida, an ethnic Syrian Kurd, told Today's Zaman, that he does not subscribe to the view that the Syrian opposition failed to appeal to Kurds as the newly formed Syrian National Coalition earlier this month in Doha broadened its ranks to include diverse groups.
“There are Kurdish groups and parties taking part in the new initiative,” Seida said, adding that from the very early days of the SNC, the Syrian opposition recognized the Syrian Kurds as equal partners and did its best to include them into this process.
He said he does not believe the PYD's position regarding the Syrian opposition and their decision to become a part of it is related to their sensitivity about the Kurdish issue.
“We asked them to engage in the opposition, yet they decided to pursue their own agenda,” Seida said, underlining that this agenda does not help the Syrian opposition. “I am afraid to say this, but the Assad regime is benefiting from it.”
On Monday, Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad clashed with armed Kurds near the Turkish border, the latest sign of an emerging power struggle in Syria's ethnically diverse northeast.
Exploiting the unraveling of Assad's grip in wide swathes of Syria, Kurds have been asserting control in parts of the northeast, bidding for self-rule and rights denied to their community for decades under Assad and his father before him.
Some fear the increasingly sectarian tinge of the anti-Assad uprising will splinter Syria. But whoever takes charge in the Kurdish plains nudging against Turkey will control a chunk of Syria's estimated 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves.
Kurds in the region are suspicious of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and whether any post-Assad government would be more accommodating of Syria's largest ethnic minority.
With its own large Kurdish minority, Turkey is watching closely, worried that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria could further embolden PKK terrorists fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in 28 years of fighting between Turkey and the PKK -- designated a terrorist group by Ankara, the US and the EU.
Fighting surged over the summer, and Ankara has accused its former ally and now adversary Assad of arming the terrorists.
Seida said the basic strategy of this “bloody regime” was to pit different groups in Syria against one another and to secure its own rule through fueling strife between diverse groups. He said the regime obviously aspires to use some Kurdish factions against the revolution and that this is not surprising.
“I don't want to believe that the PYD is working with the regime; that would be very unfortunate for them,” Seida said, adding that there is a shady picture and the PYD sometimes appears to be working with the regime.
He provided the example of Qamishli, just opposite the Turkey's Nusaybin district, an area that is supposed to be under the control of the PYD, saying there are reports that the intelligence and security forces of the regime are still operating in the region. Seida said this is a paradox and indicates a level of cooperation.
“The PYD has to make a decision and pick a side,” Seida said, noting they have to make clear whether they are with the revolution or not.
In an interview with Reuters, the head of the PYD -- which controls much of Syria's Kurdish region -- rejected the new opposition coalition established in Doha this month and labeled it as Turkey's proxy.
Saleh Muslim said he had not been invited to talks in Doha this month in which the Syrian National Coalition was formed, and he labeled the group a proxy of Turkey and Qatar.
The coalition, led by moderate Sunni Muslim cleric Mouaz Al-Khatib, was meant to unify Syria's myriad opposition groups in a bid to secure Western backing in their efforts to topple Assad, and has been endorsed in the West by Britain and France.
"It [the opposition coalition] has emerged from obedience to Turkey and Qatar," Muslim said, adding that the Kurds included in the group were not representative of Syria's Kurds and were handpicked by Turkey to follow its agenda.
Seida rejected claims that Turkey is intrusive over the Syrian opposition and said they have never seen the Turkish authorities giving instructions to the Syrian opposition.
He said Ankara has never attempted to enforce any decision, and on the contrary, “we appreciate the unconditional support of Turkey to the Syrian opposition.”
Some 10 percent of the population, Kurds are Syria's largest ethnic minority, and Muslim's party has been extending its power in northern Syria as Assad battles an insurgency elsewhere.
Turkey is alarmed at the growing influence of the PYD, which it says is the Syrian arm of the PKK.
PYD offices in Syria are adorned with portraits of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and PYD militants wear badges bearing the image of the mustachioed terrorist leader who is jailed in Turkey.
Although Assad has pulled the bulk of his forces from the Kurdish region, there is a clear co-existence between the PYD and the remaining government troops who man checkpoints unmolested inside the Kurdish region.