The relationship between the Syrian opposition factions and Kurdish groups is still precarious, despite the efforts on both sides to bridge the gap that is widening by the day, to the extent that they started to hurl accusations of ethnic intolerance at one another. The tension is growing even greater amid a rift within the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) regarding the issue of the Kurds. Some FSA members see the Kurds as a major player in Syrian popular movements, while others perceive them as mortal enemies that collude with the regime. There is also a third group within the FSA that prefers to keep its distance from this issue.
In the last two cases, one must pay heed to the hidden engine of change behind these positions, which is Turkey. Turkey is mobilizing its forces on the border, while some Kurds accuse it of facilitating the transportation of the fighters to the areas they control.
On the other hand, although Kurds have confirmed many times that they could shift the Syrian balance of power, there is no actual action on the ground that proves this fact. Everyone here agrees on one issue: We will not take ourselves to perdition.
Kurds are with the regime
The summer cloud hanging over the relationship between the Syrian opposition and the Kurds has now moved over the armed wing of the opposition. This wing believes that the Kurdish groups, which one way or another control the northeast of the country, are working for the benefit of the Damascus regime. The FSA accuses these movements of forming their own militias, as they are determined to enter these areas stretching from Aleppo to Hasaka in the far east.
The FSA is mainly accusing the Kurdish Democratic Union party, which it perceives to be an extension of the PKK, which is pro-government. These accusations stem from the fact that the Kurdish Democratic Union controls most of the territories in these regions, in addition to other parties such as the Kurdish Democratic Party. Clashes are rife in the regions near Ras al-Ain and the Kurdish areas close to Aleppo. Parties of the Kurdish National Council have formed a military force to confront the hardline Islamic battalions, which insist on liberating the al-Jazira region of eastern Syria. It must be mentioned that the battalions accuse the PKK of sending its troops through the Turkish border to fight alongside the regime, or even of forming armed groups under the guise of popular committees. The rebels warn them against any act that may hurt the course of the revolution.
The Kurds denied this, and insist on maintaining their presence and role. They will not stand idly by while the military surge is preparing to impose control on these regions currently controlled by the FSA so that the regime will not target them.
It must be also be mentioned that there is a discrepancy between the insurgents regarding their position toward the Kurds. While some FSA leaders, especially junta chief Samir Sheikh and deputy commander Malek al-Kurdis, continue to insist that there is no disagreement with the Kurds, the al-Nusra Front and other extremist battalions are sending Kurds hostile messages by sending militants into Kurdish regions, fomenting ill feeling among the Kurdish public.
The Kurds: we are not suicidal
As a consequence of these accusations by the armed opposition, the Kurds have mobilized their political and military ranks in an effort to address the two-front attack from the FSA and Turkey. Kurdish activists in Aleppo, for example, believe that the PKK doesn't exist in the region. Other activists confirm the absence of Abdullah Ocalan's militants, despite admitting that they adopt many of Ocalan's principles. However, these activists do not raise the PKK banner, particularly the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is a member of the National Coordinating Committee, one of the most prominent opposition groups in Syria.
In contrast, a number of Kurdish activists have attacked Turkey, which they consider to be "the head of the snake," given its significant role in mobilizing its forces and facilitating the passage of extremist militants into their areas. They are acting as if the battle between the Kurds and the Islamists were led by Turkey, or for the sake of the Turkish people. The Kurds believe that these people seek to please Turkey, which has facilitated the delivery of financial and military support to the battalions fighting in the north and has assumed a role in providing them with political support.
On the other hand, all Kurds assert that the calls for secession and the establishment of a Kurdish state contain a lot of exaggeration and propaganda. The priority is to recognize Kurdish rights, language, culture and nationality, without necessarily leading to a detachment from the homeland.
Some of them are resentful of what they see as a double standard. While the Kurds are violently attacked for raising the Kurdish flag or minimizing the presence of the Syrian revolution's flag, the calls for creating an Islamic caliphate and raising the banners of al-Qaeda -- without any presence of the Syrian revolution's flag -- are seen as justified.
Activists from Ras al-Ain confirm that none of the Kurdish people or parties -- which lead the movement in the north and northeast -- have a suicidal mentality. Secession is not an issue that can be resolved in an hour or two, they say. As long as the public considers itself an integral part of Syria, no one will pursue secession, regardless of what their neighbors in Iraq say. This shows that they are a part of the social fabric in the various Syrian regions, from Damascus to Rif-Dimashq, Aleppo, Hasaka and the northern part of al-Raqqah.
Despite all these positive talks on the part of the Kurds, tensions still exist between them and the armed opposition. This opens the door to a widespread conflict in the near future until a far-off settlement is reached.
By Tareq al-Abed
Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).