Posts Tagged With: DemocraticUnionParty

Syrian Kurdish civil society VS militarization of Kurdish society

An article I just wrote for Al-Monitor, following some interviews with local NGOs and YPG fighters..(NB: The NGO is called Shawishka, not Shawisha).

Syrian Kurdish NGOs Prevent Recruitment of Youth Soldiers


By: Andrea Glioti for Al-Monitor Posted on June 6.

حاجز YPG

QAMISHLI, Syria — The sparing of Syrian Kurdish regions from the regime’s shelling over the last two years has facilitated the launch of several civil society organizations. However, on a daily basis these new associations have to cope with the attempts of Kurdish political parties shaping civil society according to their tenets. In particular, the fragile coexistence of any independent actor with the prevailing political force — the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) — risks imploding as soon as this party’s monopoly of the public sphere comes under threat.

Among the challenges faced by these nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is the struggle against the brain drain of the educated youth who are forced to emigrate because of the dire economic situation and the need to keep impoverished teenagers from turning to weapons. The PYD seems to work in the opposite direction by recruiting young fighters within their Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia, which also appears to provide alternative values to street kids, despite its ideological brand. Only time will tell whether the threats posed by both the regime and the Arab opposition will continue to legitimize this militarization or disappear to make place for a thriving Kurdish civil society.

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Free Syrian Army neglects health sector in Ras al-‘Ayn (Sere Kanye)

A piece I wrote from Syria for the Swiss weekly WOZ Die Wochenzeitung : it is based on the account of a doctor in Ras al-‘Ayn (Sere Kanye in Kurdish), who accused the Arab armed opposition of neglecting the health sector. The response I got from the Free Syrian Army’s commander in Hasakeh is that weapons come before medicines in the current situation. For those of you who don’t read German (like me;), here is the original English version. Photo taken by my friend Bahzad Hajj Hammo, who writes for the Syrian weekly Jisr.

Free Syrian Army: In a stateless country weapons have the priority over medicines


By Andrea Glioti

Ras al-‘Ayn (Hasakeh-Syria)- April 29, 2013

Over the last year, the Syrian armed opposition has expanded significantly its area of influence at the expenses of the regime. However, since the State hospitals stopped functioning in the hands of the rebels, people need to cope with the lack of drugs and medical personnel. In such dire conditions, the phalanges of the opposition are blamed for living in luxury at the expenses of the neglected health sector.

On April 22, the European Union lifted the oil embargo on Syria with the declared aim to help the uprising in coordination with the most-widely recognized opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), whose armed wing is the Free Syrian Army (FSA). For the opposition, the condition to restart selling oil is the formation of a transitional Government in the liberated areas, but who will ensure that oil revenues will not enrich arm dealers only?

Located in the north-eastern province of al-Hasakeh, the Arab-Kurdish town of Ras al-‘Ayn (Serê Kaniyê in Kurdish) is a crucial border passage to Turkey, which was taken over by the Arab opposition in October 2012.

In February, it has been the battlefield of two-weeks of clashes between the Arab opposition and the Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Units, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel), the armed wing of the PKK-tied PYD (Democratic Union Party, Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat). A truce signed on February 17 is still holding, but the situation is likely to explode again soon. “We are committed to the agreement, but we don’t consider liberated the areas under the control of the Pyd, as there is no revolutionary flag waving over them,” affirms maj. Muntasir al-Khalid, commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Military Council of the province of Hasakeh.

Echoing the position of most Kurdish opposition parties, the PYD avoided Government shelling by keeping aloof from Arab rebels, while profiting from the regime’s need to count on a Kurdish buffer zone to deter any possible Turkish interference in support of the FSA. The result is that most Kurdish areas enjoy now a de-facto autonomy and the Pyd refuses categorically to hand them over to the FSA.

In such a volatile context, Ghuraba’ al-Sham’s Wa’el Abu Ahmad is one of the few active doctors. Despite having a stable occupation in Russia, he decided to return to fight and heal the wounded in Aleppo: in his words, “the gun in one hand and the first-aid kit in the other.”

Six months ago, when Ras al-‘Ayn fell in the hands of the opposition, Abu Ahmad settled there to open his ‘clinic’: two tiny rooms, whose floors are scattered with unpacked drugs and potato sacks. “We received used  and half-empty medicine stocks from the Turkish border passage and, overall, around one fourth of the medicines are expired,” complains Abu Ahmad, while pointing at the date stated on the boxes.

According to the doctor’s experience, the ongoing conflict has led to the outbreak of lungs inflammation, due to the exhalations of corpses and waste, besides the scorches caused by the homemade refining of fuel oil (mazout). Moreover, during the Arab-Kurdish clashes, numerous dogs contracted rabies after eating the corpses left in the streets, but Abu Ahmad lacks the serum needed to heal those bitten.

“Three months ago, fourteen people died of kidney diseases, because the State hospital was closed and the necessary equipment got stolen,” continues a disappointed Abu Ahmad.

A patient from Deyr az-Zor wrote a message on the clinic’s wall: “If every mujahidin gave 1kg of wheat for the treatment he receives for free.” Dr. Abu Ahmad works as a volunteer and blames the FSA Military Council for keeping making promises without allocating anything out of the profits derived from the seizure of barns in Ras al-‘Ayn.

As a matter of fact, maj. Muntasir al-Khalid confirms that 3 to 4 million dollars in wheat were sold solely by the FSA Military Council to buy weapons at the Iraqi and Turkish border, following the clashes with the PYD.

“The opposition took over oil wells, poultry, cows and we cannot even afford a 8000 Syp power generator,” continues Abu Ahmad, “1000Syp from every fighter would be enough to satisfy our needs, but they prefer to spend hundreds of dollars in cigarettes, banquets, cars and weapons.”

The FSA blunt response is that, under the light of the current situation, the priority goes to weapons rather than doctors. “The health sector requires a State support, whereas our capabilities are modest,” affirms a peeved maj. Muntasir al-Khalid, “weapons and cars are essential and we’re paying them from our pockets, so that at the moment they come before medical support.” The FSA major laughs at the doctor’s allegations of luxury, “This is what you call luxury?” he says pointing at a pack of  few Syrian banknotes on the mattress where he is lying. A few minutes before, a young bearded mujahidin from the FSA-affiliated brigade Dir’ al-muslimin has entered the room to boast about the group’s latest achievements with another journalist: “We are making progresses…Cars, weapons, you saw Abu Wa’el’s new Jeep?”

The list of dr. Abu Ahmad’s complaints is still long. “Both Jabhat al-Nusra and the Military Council have ambulances, but they don’t allow me to use them,” asserts the doctor, “I need to arrange trips to reach villages 40Km away by renting a motorcycle without any sort of protection.”

On the clinic’s walls there are YPG graffiti and Christian icons: the doctor shows them as evidence that everyone receives medical treatment, despite the Islamist orientation of Ghuraba’ al-Sham. Nevertheless, on the battleground there is no echo of these principles. “We received several aid offers from the YPG, but I cannot accept, as the Arab opposition would accuse me of being their agent,” reports Abu Ahmad, “in their eyes, a Kurdish house is a red line I shouldn’t cross to help.”

This is the context where the EU plans to inject oil revenues. At the moment, the oil fields are divided between several different militias, including some outside the SNC umbrella, hence the coalition is against reopening the oil trade.  “We’re against selling oil under the current circumstances, there is no dialogue between the different forces in control of the oil wells,” reassures Muntasir al-Khalid, “the oil trade remains dependent on the formation of an interim government on the Syrian ground”

On the other hand, dr. Abu Ahmad remains sharply critical of the future Syrian partner of EU oil imports. “You can call it the National Coalition of thieves: millions coming from Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been amassed in Reyhanli [N/A:Turkish refugee camp] and we haven’t seen anything,” maintains the doctor, “I just want those responsible of exploiting the mujahidin to be held accountable.”

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The dispute over energy reserves in North-Eastern Syria

An article I wrote for Al-Monitor after a set of interviews with warring factions, engineers and normal people, who are not even getting electricity out of all these energy reserves.

Syrian Oil Becomes Fault Line
In War

A man works at a makeshift oil refinery site in al-Mansoura village in Raqqa














By: Andrea Glioti for Al-Monitor Posted on May 16.

MALEKIYYAH, Al-HASSAKAH PROVINCE, Syria — The province of Hassakah is the Syrian oil tank. Before the revolution, its 170,000 barrels per day accounted for more than half of the country’s oil production, thus representing the backbone of those oil exports covering a third of national export revenues. Syrian oil engineers working in the province told Al-Monitorthat the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — currently controls around 60% of the oil fields, leaving the remaining 40% in the hands of several factions of the Arab opposition. Since the conflict engulfed the route of the pipelines to the refineries, however, the drills have stopped working.

Despite such a fragmented context, the European Union on April 22 decided to lift the oil embargo on liberated regions in Syria in an attempt to support the opposition. The move, though, is likely to stir up Kurdish-Arab strife and catalyze regime raids on a region that has largely remained immune to the conflict so far. The war for control of Syria’s energy resources has not even started, but mutual allegations are already circulating between the parties involved, which accuse each other of cutting power supplies and dealing with the regime.

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The road to Kurdish autonomy still passes from Damascus

My first article from the province of Hasakeh (Syrian Kurdistan). It appeared on Al-Monitor on May 7. (follow the link to keep reading, unfortunately I cannot post the whole article here for copyright issues…)

Kurdish Group Gaining Autonomy
In Northern Syria


(photo from

QAMISHLI, Syria — Bilingual signs, “Western Kurdistan” (Rojava in Kurdish) on car license plates, Kurdish security forces (Asayish), Kurdish courts, municipalities, flags, unions and schools teaching Kurdish. This is the new look of the Kurdish-majority Syrian northern regions, the outcome of the withdrawal of regime security forces in July 2012 and the result of a delicate coexistence between Baathist and Kurdish institutions.

Syrian Kurds now have the chance to reap the benefits from the stalemate between the regime and the Arab opposition. But all this would not have been possible without a certain degree of connivance with the regime by the main Kurdish militia on the ground — the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Regardless of the de facto autonomy achieved and the growing popularity of the PYD, some fear the authoritarian features of the party’s agenda.

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Clashes between Arabs and Kurds in Syria (October-November 2012)- Faida arabo-curda in Siria (ott-nov 2012)

The first piece (published on November 5, 2012) was written for Taz.die Tageszeitung It was translated in German, but I wrote in English, here’s the original version. I wrote it in early October upon my return from Iraqi Kurdistan, before clashes started between Arab and Kurdish factions in Northern Syria. 

L’ho anche tradotto in Italiano.

The second piece was published by The Majalla later on (Nov 26, 2012), when the clashes had already started. 

Syrian Kurds ready to fight Arabs once Asad is gone

By Andrea Glioti

ERBIL (Iraqi Kurdistan), 17 October 2012.

On July 11, the main Syrian Kurdish factions signed an agreement in Erbil to reassure Turkey of their peaceful aspirations and to reach unity for a possible confrontation with the Arab opposition’s Free Syrian Army (FSA), after the downfall of Bashar al-Asad. However, these two aims are likely to collide, being the FSA hosted and sponsored by Turkey. The risk of a transnational conflict is high and both Turkey and Syria have interests in provoking a conflict between Arabs and Kurds.

No trust in the (Arab) Free Syrian Army

The North-Eastern Kurdish areas in Syria are not anymore under the control of Damascus, despite the presence of security officials: the regime has prioritized the fight against the Arab opposition in the two main cities, Aleppo and Damascus, while allowing Kurdish parties to manage their regions.

The agreement sponsored by the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Mas’ud Barzani, was thus signed in a critical phase of military escalation in the rest of Syria and led to the formation of the Kurdish Supreme Committee. Such a coalition is formed by the pro-Barzani (i.e. pro-Turkish) Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Popular Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK), the body comprising the PKK-proxy Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Even the more moderate KNC has no sympathy at all for the Arab Free Syrian Army. “Our [Kurdish] regions reject terror, hence the FSA cannot hide there,” affirms Nuri Brimo, head of KNC media and one of the signatories of the Erbil Agreement.  According to Brimo, the rapprochement with the PYD, despite skirmishes and different regional allegiances, was a consequence of the “chauvinist approach” of the Arab opposition with the Kurds, who were allegedly refused recognition as a people during the conference held in Cairo in July.

“We are not scared by the strength of the [Arab] opposition, but by its ideas, its dictatorial conduct,” adds Mohammad Rasho, the Ocalan-looking PCWK representative in Iraqi Kurdistan, who seems to hint at the PYD’s readiness to clash with the FSA.  Nuri Brimo is even more explicit: “24 hours after the downfall of the regime, the language will be a different one from the peaceful adopted so far [by the Kurds]: if we need to, we will get ready to fight and defend our regions.”

Syrian Kurds are already ahead in their preparation: the number of fighters trained in the two camps set up in January by Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Iraqi Governorate of Duhok will reach soon 3700. Dilshad*, a 38-year-old Syrian from Qamishli, had previously joined the FSA, but he quit due to its “Islamist, racist behavior” against religious and ethnic minorities and joined the Kurdish training camp last February.  “We are trained in street guerrilla by the PKK in order to face the Free Syrian Army in the future,” whispers Dilshad over the phone, walking away from his companions to avoid being overheard.  The PKK was originally recruited to work under the surveillance of Barzani’s armed forces (peshmerga), however, the Kurdish internal divisions began to surface in the last days, when all the militiamen outside the control of the President were expelled from the camps. Dilshad informed me today that he was also forced to leave, adding that “the situation is changing and internal Kurdish strife might break out in Qamishli [A/N: strategic city in Syrian Kurdistan].”

Syrian and Turkish interference

The possibility of a confrontation between Kurdish and Arab opposition is clearly in the interests of the Syrian Government, who could hope to drag the PKK and Turkey in the conflict. As a matter of fact, Damascus is periodically interfering in the neighboring countries in an attempt to find salvation in the internationalization of the crisis.

The unprecedented suicidal bombing occurred in Qamishli on September 30 seems to confirm the Syrian role in fostering tensions between Arabs and Kurds. “The Syrian intelligence staged the explosion […] in order to convince Kurds that the Free Syrian Army entered Qamishli,” reveals Dlshad, the Syrian Kurdish military trainee. Damascus is also capable of exploiting its historical ties with the PYD-PKK, if it wishes to cause Kurdish-Arab strife.

For what concerns Turkey, both the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish parties are aware that Ankara is watching closely their moves, therefore even Barzani’s KDP prefers denying the existence of the military camp where Syrian Kurds are trained by the PKK.  “There is only the Domiz refugee camp and we didn’t set up any military camp,” says Abdul-Wahhab ‘Ali, the KDP spokesperson in Sulaymanya, “during the Kurdish revolution in 1961, Kurdish fighters came [to Iraq] from Syria and Iran, they earned a very good military knowledge and settled down here.”

On the other hand, the Erbil Agreement seems conceived to tame factions hostile to Turkey like the PYD. “We bring the PYD to think like us and we want recognition from Europe that we tried to drag the PKK away from Syria and Iran,” states proudly Nuri Brimo. Even though there is no explicit reference to Ankara, such an agenda aimed at changing the Pkk’s stances cannot be considered unrelated to Turkish pressures. Turkey has also been reassured about the lack of separatist ambitions by the text of the agreement. However, the PYD predictably refuses to recognize it signed a deal to please Turkish interests. “Turkey is opposed to unifying Kurdish parties,” objects Mohammad Rasho, “[Turkish FM] Davutoglu came here and visited only the Kurdish National Council to create division at the time of the Erbil Agreement.” Ankara remains wary of an agreement including the PYD and, according to Rasho, military intervention would be preferred, if there was enough international support. “The buffer zone [Ankara talks about] aims at limiting the achievement of Kurdish rights and not at supporting the Syrian revolution”, claims Rasho, “there are confirmed Turkish demands from the FSA to attack the PYD.” In June, an allegedly leaked document from the Turkish consulate in Erbil has been spread by the pro-PKK Firat News Agency to prove the Turkish attempts to bring the Syrian Kurdish regions under the FSA control. According to this reading of the situation, Turkey is pursuing a parallel agenda to the Erbil Agreement, based on backing the Arab opposition against the Kurdish factions hostile to Ankara.

Under these premises, Kurds risk to see the fight to defend their territories turned again into a greater conflict serving the interests of other actors. Remember all the Gulf Wars.

*A pseudonym has been used for security reasons.


Siria: una volta caduto Asad, ci si prepara per la faida curdo-araba


Di Andrea Glioti


ERBIL (Kurdistan Iracheno), 7 Ottobre 2012


L’undici luglio scorso, il Presidente del Governo Regionale del Kurdistan (Grk), Mas’ud Barzani, è riuscito a riconciliare le maggiori fazioni curdo-siriane, il Consiglio Nazionale Curdo (Cnc), vicino alla Turchia e a Barzani stesso, e il Consiglio Popolare del Kurdistan Occidentale (Cpko), comprendente l’ala siriana del Pkk, il Partito dell’Unione Democratica (Pud). Un accordo è stato firmato a Erbil, dando vita al Comitato Supremo Curdo (Csc).

Le regioni curde nord-orientali della Siria non sono più sotto il controllo di Damasco, nonostante la presenza degli ufficiali delle forze di sicurezza: il regime ha dato la priorità alla battaglia contro l’opposizione araba nelle due maggiori città, Aleppo e Damasco, finendo per concedere ai partiti curdi di gestire le loro roccaforti.

L’accordo di Erbil tutela da una parte gli interessi turchi e dall’altra unifica gli schieramenti curdi in vista di un possibile scontro con la maggiore formazione armata dell’opposizione araba, l’Esercito Libero Siriano (Esl), all’indomani della caduta del regime di Asad. Tuttavia, questi due obiettivi non sono di certo compatibili e la precaria stabilità conseguita nelle regioni curde rischia di saltare da un momento all’altro, se si considera che l’Esl riceve supporto logistico e militare proprio dalla Turchia. Il rischio di un conflitto internazionale rimane alto, anche perché Turchia e Siria potrebbero trarre vantaggio dallo scoppio delle ostilità arabo-curde.


Nessuna fiducia nell’Esercito Libero Siriano (Arabo)


Persino il più moderato Consiglio Nazionale Curdo non ha alcuna simpatia per l’Esl. “Le nostre regioni [curde] ripudiano il terrorismo, di conseguenza l’Esl non vi si può nascondere,” afferma Nuri Brimo, responsabile dei media del Cnc e uno dei firmatari dell’accordo di Erbil. Stando alle sue parole, il riavvicinamento con il Partito dell’Unione Democratica, a dispetto degli scontri violenti e delle diverse alleanze regionali, è stato una conseguenza dell’ “atteggiamento sciovinista” dell’opposizione araba nei confronti dei curdi, ai quali è stato negato il riconoscimento come popolo durante la conferenza tenutasi al Cairo a inizio luglio.


“Non temiamo la forza dell’opposizione araba, ma le sue idee, il suo comportamento dittatoriale,” aggiunge Mohammad Rasho, il rappresentante del Consiglio Popolare del Kurdistan Occidentale nel Kurdistan iracheno, che esibisce dei folti baffi neri degni del suo mentore Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan. Rasho sembra pertanto alludere alla preparazione militare del Pud in caso di scontri con l’Esl. Nuri Brimo è addirittura più esplicito: “24 ore dopo la caduta del regime, sarà tutto un’altro discorso rispetto al pacifismo adottato finora [dai curdi]: se ne avremo bisogno, ci prepareremo a combattere e difendere le nostre regioni.”

I curdi siriani si stanno già preparando:  il numero di combattenti addestrati nei due campi allestiti a gennaio dal Partito Democratico del Kurdistan (PDK) di Barzani nel governatorato di Duhok raggiungerà presto i 3700 effettivi. Dlshad*, un siriano trentottenne di Qamishli, racconta di aver militato nell’Esl, per poi abbandonarlo a causa del suo “comportamento islamico e razzista” nei confronti delle minoranze etniche e religiose. Da febbraio si trova nel campo di addestramento curdo, dove i miliziani del PKK mettono a disposizione la loro esperienza, sotto la sorveglianza delle forze armate (peshmerga) di Barzani. Al telefono Dlshad parla sotto voce, dopo essersi allontanato dai suoi commilitoni per evitare di essere udito: “Veniamo addestrati per la guerriglia urbana dal PKK, al fine di affrontare l’Esl nel futuro.

Se si intromettono la Siria e la Turchia…

Il possibile scontro tra opposizione araba e curda è chiaramente negli interessi del governo siriano, che spera di trascinare il Pkk e la Turchia nel conflitto. Di fatto, l’esercito siriano continua a sconfinare nei Paesi vicini alla ricerca di una via di salvezza nell’internazionalizzazione della crisi.

Anche l’attentato suicida verificatosi per la prima volta a Qamishli (Kurdistan siriano) il 30 settembre sembra confermare il ruolo siriano nell’alimentare tensioni tra arabi e curdi. “L’intelligence siriana ha orchestrato l’esplosione […] per far credere ai curdi che l’Esercito Libero sia entrato a Qamishli,” rivela il miliziano Dlshad. Damasco è inoltre in grado di sfruttare i suoi legami storici con il Pkk-Pud, fondati sul contenimento della Turchia, per istigare un conflitto arabo-curdo.

Per quanto riguarda invece la Turchia, tutti i partiti curdi iracheni e siriani avvertono benissimo lo sguardo di Ankara sulle loro mosse, motivo per cui il Pdk di Barzani preferisce negare l’esistenza del suddetto campo militare coogestito con il Pkk. “Esiste solo il campo profughi di Domiz e non abbiamo allestito nessun accampamento militare,” afferma ‘Abdul-Wahhab ‘Ali, portavoce del Pdk a Sulaymanya, “durante la rivoluzione curda del ’61, i combattenti curdi sono arrivati [in Iraq] da Siria e Iran, hanno acquisito ottime competenze militari e si sono stabiliti qui.”

D’altra parte, l’accordo di Erbil sembra concepito per tenere sotto controllo le fazioni curde ostili ad Ankara come il Pud. “Facciamo in modo che il Pud la pensi come noi e vogliamo che l’Europa ci riconosca il merito di aver tentato di allontanare il Pkk da Siria e Iran,” afferma orgogliosamente Nuri Brimo del Consiglio Nazionale Curdo. Il riferimento non è esplicitamente alla Turchia, ma non si può certo escludere un nesso tra Ankara e un simile proposito di “addomesticamento” del Pkk. Senza dimenticare che la Turchia è stata rassicurata sull’assenza di ambizioni separatiste dal testo stesso dell’accordo.

Abbastanza prevedibilmente, il Pud si rifiuta di ammetter di aver firmato un patto in cui abbiano messo mano i turchi. “La Turchia è contraria all’unificazione dei partiti curdi,” obietta Mohammad Rasho, “ai tempi dell’accordo di Erbil, [il Ministro degli Esteri turco] Davutoglu è stato qui e ha visitato solamente il Consiglio Nazionale Curdo per creare divisione.” Non vi è dubbio che Ankara rimanga diffidente su un accordo che include il Pud e, secondo Rasho, opterebbe per un intervento militare, se solo esistesse il sostegno internazionale necessario. “La zona cuscinetto [a cui fa riferimento la Turchia] è finalizzata a limitare la conquista dei diritti curdi e non a supportare la rivoluzione siriana,” afferma Rasho, “esistono richieste confermate da parte della Turchia, affinché l’Esercito Libero attacchi il Pud.” A giugno, l’agenzia stampa vicina al Pkk, Firat News Agency, ha diffuso un documento presumibilmente trapelato dal consolato turco di Erbil, volto a dimostrare i tentativi di Ankara di portare le regioni curde sotto il controllo dell’Esl, tramite la mediazione di alcune figure politiche curdo-siriane. Secondo questa lettura della situazione, la Turchia starebbe lavorando su un piano parallelo all’accordo di Erbil e finalizzato al supporto dell’opposizione araba contro le fazioni curde ostili ad Ankara.

Con delle simili premesse, i curdi rischiano ancora una volta di vedere la lotta per la difesa dei loro territori trasformata in un conflitto più esteso al servizio degli interessi altrui. Si ricordino le tre guerre del Golfo.


*Pseudonimo utilizzato per ragioni di sicurezza

The Second Syrian Front: Arabs and Kurds

In the latest development in Syria’s unrest, Arab and Kurdish opposition groups are battling over the Kurdish territories in Syria’s North-East. The Kurds themselves are far from a united front, with different militia groups competing over control of Kurdish towns.

For several months now, the north-eastern, Kurdish areas of Syria have been shaking off the control of Damascus despite the continued presence of security officials. The Syrian government has prioritized the fight against the Arab opposition in Aleppo and Damascus, whilst Kurdish parties have been allowed to gain ground in their regions. This unwritten agreement between the Baathist government and the main Kurdish militia, a proxy for the Turkish Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) called the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has not gone unnoticed by some factions of the Arab opposition, culminating in clashes between the Arabs and the Kurds during the last month. The main group of Syrian Arab insurgents, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is sponsored by Turkey. The risk of a transnational conflict is becoming an ever more likely scenario, and both Ankara and Damascus can reap benefits from provoking Arab–Kurdish strife.

On 26 October, an armed Arab opposition group sought to deploy in Al-Ashrafiyeh, one of Aleppo’s Kurdish neighborhoods, despite the resistance from residents hoping to preserve security. Instead, the Syrian government shelled the quarter, targeting Arab militias, and nine Kurds were killed. The military attack ignited a cycle of reprisals on both sides as the PYD stepped in to defend Kurdish residents. On 19 November, Arab–Kurdish clashes followed the same script in the frontier town of Ras Al-Ayn, where the entrance of Arab rebels brought about another government offensive. The local head of the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK)—the Syrian body comprising the PYD—was assassinated on the same day by Arab militiamen.

In between these two episodes, five others have fallen victim to clashes between the PYD and the Islamist Northern Storm Brigade, after the latter allegedly attacked members of the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority in the countryside of Aleppo. Most of the Arab militias blamed for attacks on Kurds are Islamic hardliners such as the Al-Nusra Front, Ghuraba’ Al-Sham, and Jund Al-Sham. The Islamist bent amongst certain Arab opposition groups has made members of the Kurdish community wary to join their cause. Dilshad,* a 38-year-old Kurd from Qamishli, quit the FSA to join Kurdish military training camps along the Iraqi border due to what he considers to be the FSA’s “Islamist, racist behavior” against religious and ethnic minorities.

However, the nebulous structure of the Free Syrian Army means that any direct links between the FSA and radical groups cannot be ascertained. On 19 November, the PYD media representative ruled out any connection between the FSA and the Islamist perpetrators of the PCWK assassination in Ras Al-Ayn. Nonetheless, the PCWK official spokesperson accused snipers of belonging to the Free Syrian Army.

In the Kurdish arms race, Iraqi–Kurdish media outlets have argued that the pro-Western Kurdish National Council (KNC), the other main Syrian–Kurdish formation, may lose ground in favor of the more militarized PYD. However, the KNC has the military backing of its main sponsor, the pro-Turkish President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, to fill this gap. “On November 28, between 1,500 and 3,000 Syrian fighters trained by Barzani’s peshmergas (armed forces) will enter Syria from Iraq,” said Dilshad, although it remains to be seen whether Syrian peshmerga boots will arrive on the ground.

“The new Syrian peshmergas won’t cooperate with the PKK, they will stick to those cities where the PYD is weaker, like Al-Malikiyah and Qamishli,” continues Dilshad. Syrian–Kurdish unity appears a distant prospect, especially after the Erbil Agreement signed on 11 July between the KNC and the PYD proved to be a farce. On 29 October, the two main parties met in Erbil to discuss a shared response to the Arab–Kurdish clashes, but the summit proved unfruitful. Half-baked negotiations are in the making for the establishment of a joint Kurdish army, but divisions continue to mar efforts towards a united front.

Nevertheless, a shared enemy in the Arab opposition is perhaps the most powerful unifying force, since even the moderate KNC has no sympathy for the Free Syrian Army. “Our [Kurdish] regions reject terror, hence the FSA cannot hide there,” affirms Nuri Brimo, the head of KNC media. “If we need to, we will get ready to fight and defend our territories.”

Regardless of party politics, the growing militarization will reduce the space for peaceful Kurdish youth committees, who are not willing to “sacrifice” their revolution for an ethnic conflict. They are likely to be overrun by militias, just like their Arab counterparts.

The possibility of a confrontation between the Kurdish and Arab opposition is clearly in the interests of the Syrian government, who could hope to drag the PKK and Turkey into the conflict in an attempt to find salvation in the internationalization of the crisis.

Regarding Ankara’s moves, “there are confirmed Turkish demands to the FSA to attack the PYD,” claims Mohammad Rasho, a PCWK representative in Iraqi Kurdistan. Last June, an allegedly leaked document originating from the Turkish consulate in Erbil was distributed by the pro-PKK Firat News Agency, advertising the Turkish attempts to bring Syria’s Kurdish region under FSA control. “The Turkish government is aware that four high-ranking PKK officials have just entered Syria,” explains the military trainee, Dilshad, “and the PKK agenda is a region independent from ‘the Syrian entity.’”

Given these premises, Kurds are likely to see the fight to defend their territories turned into a greater conflict serving the interests of other actors: a flashback to all three previous Gulf Wars in Iraq.

*A pseudonym has been used for security reasons.

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