Inside Syria

Where do Syria's Kurds stand?

As Kurdish fighters battle groups linked to al-Qaeda, we examine their role in the confusing and bloody conflict.

Last Modified: 04 Aug 2013 12:43
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It has been a week of major developments for Syria's Kurds, the largest non-Arab ethnic minority in the country.

They [Kurds] have been actively contributing to the democratic change against this brutal regime .... And since the democratic uprising ... the Kurds were at the front of demonstrations.

Alan Semo, a representative of the Democratic Union Party

On Tuesday, the main Kurdish militia issued a call to arms against factions fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime. This followed the killing of Isa Huso, a leading Syrian Kurdish politician, in a car bomb attack near the Turkish border.

Huso, a member of the Supreme Kurdish Council, was targeted outside his house in Qamishli in an incident that raises questions about where the Kurds stand in Syria's confusing and bloody conflict.

In the days after Huso's death there have been battles between Kurdish fighters and armed men from groups allied to al-Qaeda.

There are many Syrians who fear the Kurds are using the conflict to carve out a separate state, but the main Kurdish party says it is simply defending its own people.

But now, given the assault on them by al-Qaeda linked groups, some Syrian Kurds are calling for an alliance with the very group that they say oppressed them in the past - al-Assad's army.

All of this means that the conflict in Syria is further dividing people along ethnic lines.

Kurds are largely Sunni Muslims with their own language and culture. Most of them live in the generally contiguous areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

We have in the opposition and the FSA [people] from all the Syrian sects, they are fighting the undemocratic, the dictatorship regime so [it is] not at all a fight between Alawites and Sunnis, it is a fight for freedom and democracy.

Monzer Akbik, a member of the Syrian National Coalition

There are different, and sometimes conflicting Kurdish groups in each country. And the divisions do not end at the borders. The Kurds living inside Syria are also divided politically into two major groups - the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC).

The PYD is considered the strongest Syrian Kurdish group with its well-armed militias and is also affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey.

On the other hand, the KNC is affiliated with Iraqi Kurds of the Kurdistan regional government. And just two weeks ago, fighters allied to the PYD captured the town of Ras al-Ain from al-Nusra fighters, who are against the al-Assad regime.

So, are the Syrian Kurds part of the uprising against the al-Assad regime or not?

Inside Syria, with presenter Sami Zeidan, discusses with guests: Monzer Akbik, a member of the Syrian National Coalition; Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a political analyst for the Jamestown Foundation who specialises in Kurdish politics; and Alan Semo, a representative of the foreign affairs and relations office of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the UK.

"The Kurds already had their own uprising against the regime in 2004 in Qamishli, so they already rose up against the Assad government before the others did. But basically the strategy of most of the Kurdish parties, the nationalist ones, is that they want to protect the Kurdish areas ... and all of them are saying that they don't want to separate from Syria ... they want to have some form of self-governance but of course some people within the opposition, they don't agree with this neutrality, they want them to actively also go to Damascus and help them."

Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a political analyst


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