Talk to any Syrian Kurd and he or she will tell you that ever since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the Kurdish have been managing their own affairs in areas of Syria where mostly Kurdish live, and they are doing it very well indeed, thank you very much. And it is true that, unlike many other parts of Syria, many of the Kurdish-dominated areas have not faced as much violence or unrest.
For this, many Syrian Kurdish you talk to will also thank the Democratic Union Party or PYD, and its armed wing. In the same breath though, you may find that they also criticise the PYD for trying to impose its doctrine on every part of life in the areas of Syria its running.
“We’re not perfect,” admits Jafar Akash Hannah, the PYD’s representative in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We make mistakes and we learn from them. The PYD only wants to stabilize the Kurdish areas, saving them from destruction and any kind of civil war between themselves and the Arabs, or themselves and other Kurds.”
Over the pas few month the parts of Syria run by the PYD were basically seen to be abandoned by the Syrian military and left in Kurdish hands. And the PYD, with its combination of political, administrative and military wings, has been overseeing and managing these areas in north and north eastern Syria, providing social services and defence.
However the PYD is also often considered to be closely affiliated with another Kurdish political group, the Kurdish Workers\' Party, or PKK. The latter, based in Turkey, has been defined as a terrorist organization by some countries mainly due to its long and violent conflict with the government of Turkey, where Kurdish nationalists and Turkish military have often clashed. The decades-long struggle has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives.
Recently the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan called for a ceasefire and declared that his group would be open to be negotiations with the Turkish government. But perhaps this is hardly surprising considering that the PYD are now basically running parts of Syria by proxy, along the Turkish border. In the more recent past the Turkish government has said it considers this a threat to its own sovereignty. And the Turkish are often harried by Kurdish PKK fighters living in the mountainous areas of its border with Iraq.
As Foreign Policy magazine wrote: “The speed and ease with which the PYD was able to establish control raised Turkish suspicions that Assad might have orchestrated the withdrawal to strengthen the PKK at the expense of Turkey and the Sunni-dominated Syrian opposition.”
Hence the reason not all Syrian Kurds are devoted to the PYD.
Meanwhile the PYD continues to stress their distance from the PKK. They’ve pledged allegiance to the Supreme Kurdish Authority, a body made up of various Kurdish interests in the country, and that Authority has in turn, pledged support for the Syrian opposition, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. So even though they may not have been involved directly, initially, and even though they themselves have clashed with the rebel-run Free Syrian Army, the PYD are now supporting the Syrian revolutionaries.
Hannah believes that ethnicity and religious sects are not the problem in Syria. The problem, he says, is the al-Assad regime. But Hannah doesn’t believe that the regime will collapse anytime soon. And that’s not because al-Assad’s forces are particularly strong. It is because the various opposition groups are not unified, Hannah says. "If all of the opposition’s armed groups united - including the Kurdish armed forces – then that regime would not last a week."
In his opinion, what’s happening now is that both the Syrian opposition and the al-Assad regime are tired of fighting. One day, one side controls an area and the next day, the other side take the area back. He also thinks that Western powers are not interested in helping to topple the al-Assad regime because they – like many Syrians – fear that religious extremists will come to power.
Hannah says that Syria’s Kurds have a plan though. If religious extremists come to power in Damascus, he says, “we will sign trade and business partnerships with South Kurdistan and North Kurdistan. We will open our borders to them."And intrestingly, by South and North Kurdistan, he means, respectively, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish dominated areas of Turkey. The Kurdish areas in Syria are rich in resources as are the Shiite Muslim-dominated areas – it will be the Sunni Muslims who suffer in Syria, he suggests.
“The Arabs in Syria have a proverb that says if you are from a poor family, you will remain poor forever," Hannah notes. “But now we are teaching the Kurds something else. We say: "you can learn from history but history will not remain the same forever. The future is for those who prioritise science and education"."
Hannah ended by telling NIQASH that he remains on the side of the revolutionaries in Syria and he believes the high price so many in the country are paying is worth it. “The Syrian people needed this revolution. The people who’ve been living oppressed and in poverty needed to rise up,” he said.