Travelling to meet the Kurds in Syria

Some Kurds in northeastern Syria see unrest in the country as a golden opportunity.

The crossing into northeastern Syria was rather complicated, it took hours of negoatiations on both side of the borders.

Our main concern was not to get spotted by the Iraqi army which is still in a stand off with the Kurdish Peshmerga.

But we went ahead, jumped over a dirt trench and made our way into northeast Syria, in the sensitive triangle bordering Turkey, Syria and Iraq, but there was not one border guard.

We were greeted by men dressed in civilian clothing, with the usual AK-47 rifles. They claimed to be from the Syrian-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), but someone had sprayed ‘PKK’, those three letters that have angered so many, on the walls of the border outpost.

One of them tells me its the villagers who did it, even though the closest one is a good hour away by foot. And in the sweltering heat, I doubt anyone would have walked across the desert just to spray the wall, let alone during the month of Ramadan

We kept on being handed over from person to person until we finally reached our destination. Each time, we were proudly told not to be scared, and that Syrian forces wouldn’t dare to approach us, we were guests, and in any case, the soldiers were afraid to leave their barracks.

It is only in the morning that we got a clear idea of our surroundings.

There were checkpoints with Kurdish flags, not the same one you would see across the border in Iraq.

It was the one that belonged to the PYD, an offshoot of the PKK, which is on the terrorist list of the US, EU and Turkey.

But the men here did not look like terrorists. They were villagers from the area and insisted they had nothing to do with the PKK.

We kept on venturing off road, on gravel tracks to circumvent government checkpoints. We saw Syrian flags and pictures of Bashar al-Assad on government buildings. Even in towns, we were told, that had been liberated.

I have covered several revolutions, usually the picture of the leader and the symbols of the regime people are fighting against are the first things to go. Not here.

There have been allegations that the PYD, the dominant party here, had struck a deal with Damascus. That the PKK had rekindled with the government after it broke relations with Turkey last August.

Saleh Muslim, the leader of the PYD, brushed off these claims: “We dont kiss the hand of our oppressors” he said ” its just that the government does not want to open a front with minorities in Syria.”

On a tour of Qameshli, a city still under government control, we were told that Kurds hold regular protests against the government, albeit on one street in the city. 

There are a few anti-government slogans sprayed on the wall, but many more, especially those who praise the revolts taking place in the rest of the country, or show the Syrian independence flag adopted by the opposition, are covered in black spray paint.
It seems that dissent here is well orchestrated.

We left knowing that we did not have a full picture, but what was clear is that for the average Kurd, deal or no deal, these small new-found freedoms are a golden opportunity.

Damascus might have really wanted to avoid opening a front with minorities, or, as many believe, is using the threat of a self-ruled Syrian Kurdish region to widen the conflict with Turkey.

Whatever the reason, the move might turn to bite the regime.

Because for the average Kurd, these new found freedoms, as little are they for now, are a golden opportunity they wont easily let go of.

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