Assad plays the Kurdish card

Abdul Wahab Badrakhan

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The Kurdish issue was not brought into the spotlight again by coincidence. It's there there for a reason.

Why have the Kurdish Democratic Union and Al-Nusra Front decided to confront it now?

To answer this question, one must search for the two parties’ “references.” It's more likely that their reference is one with two faces. It’s one that sponsored the two parties’ "coexistence" for months without huge problems and then decided that the time has come for the party to expel this front from its area.

It's true that there are many suspicions surrounding al-Nusra and that no one desires to be its neighbor after its “al-Qaeda face” was exposed.

Closer to the truth is that the Kurdish party's move to expel al-Nusra from Ras al-Ayn provided it with an opportunity and an excuse to act in North Syria.

There's no doubt that the regime wants to exploit this experience and build upon it according to what serves its divisional scheme.

This was first evident a few weeks ago in the Hasaka province.

The Kurdish party's "action plan"

The Kurdish party seized the opportunity to appear as a rival of al-Nusra Front, to launch measures and reveal intents that serve institutionalizing “self-management.”

The measures are initiating executive, legislative and judicial jurisdictions through the “Supreme Kurdish Committee” and the “People's Council in West Kurdistan” (“West Kurdistan” is the new name for Kurdish areas in Syria.)

This may not be surprising considering the local Syrian struggle. The Kurds have suffered from marginalization, deprivation and persecution in their areas and the revolution provided them with a golden opportunity.

The Syrian regime is dealing with the Kurds as if they are a card it can play any way it wants.

Abdel Wahab Badrakhan

However, it is surprising that this party, which is considered a branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (whose leader is Abdullah Ocalan), is carrying out this role. The party does not represent Syria's Kurds. They are suspicious of it and the majority considers it part of the Assad regime.

Nonetheless, some do sympathize with it due to an attempt to manage the situation in Kurdish areas.

They coordinate with the Kurdistan leadership in Erbil in Iraq when it comes to their future.

This leadership has encouraged Syria's Kurds to protect themselves.

This is why they have avoided any confrontation with the regime and have avoided getting involved in the revolution whilst maintaining a limited sympathy with it.

The leadership also encouraged them to develop their areas and remain cautious about separatist formulas.

It seems that Erbil's command seeks to generalize this concept and “demo” it at an upcoming national conference. It has invited Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian and Turkish Kurdish parties to participate, under the slogan of “fairly” resolving the Kurdish cause and presenting the Kurds as “a factor of stability and peace for the region and as a factor that strengthens the region's democracy.”

It is clear that the Kurdish Democratic Union's activity raised fears and sensitivities, both locally and regionally.

Ankara did not hesitate to invite Saleh Moslem, the party's head, to understand his stances.

There's no doubt that it wanted to warn it against any threat of Turkey's security. But Ahmet Davutoglu also noted that Moslem must not cooperate with the regime nor seek to establish an ethnic entity as per a “fait accompli,” without consulting with the society's other components.

How do you confirm the opposite of what has been confirmed? The Turks know that it is not possible for this Union Party to have an existence or a role if it doesn't enjoy the regime's acceptance.

This means that it will surely implement what the two major generals assigned with managing the Kurdish issue will order. The regime is trying to drag the Kurds into establishing a united extraction from the state of disintegration Syria is witnessing.

Therefore, it is looking forward to tempting them land in the north whilst maintaining control over the coast.

The regime "waits and worries"

The regime is concerned that the Kurds will carry out the first step. It's even more concerned that this step is carried out before the international conference nears.

The regime is dealing with the Kurds as if they are a card it can play any way it wants. It's also the regime's decision not to permit the Kurds to achieve their goals even if their interests intersect.

However, the opposition failed to garner Kurdish support. This is because the national council and the coalition were afraid to agree on a formula that may be understood as an agreement or recognition of the Kurds' right to separate.

The truth is, both parties admit that their fears and worries are realistic and understood but the two opposition parties' lack of solidity did not help them engage in a deep and frank dialogue with the Kurds upon the basis of admitting the other’s rights, regardless of how events play out.

The development of the Syrian struggle altered the Kurds' tactics so they've become clearer in limiting their aspirations to “self-governance.” This is particularly because the aspiration of “separation” is not a practical option at this point.

The opposition coalition party has an interest in agreeing with the Kurds because they are the biggest minority group and could play a vital role in maintaining Syria's unity and regional stability.

Whether or not the regime manages to push the Kurds to implement its scheme, it will continue its attempt to draw the map of the sectarian “statelet” that it wants to rip from the Syrian entity.

The Homs battle can be viewed as a battle linked to the divisional scheme. The fact that advanced weapons have not reached those defending the city has been the basis of some parties’ accusation that foreign parties concerned in the crisis implicitly admit that division will happen and they are therefore allowing the regime to finalize Homs’ fate.

The situation is different in Damascus, where the regime is still in power. It claims a need to maintain a “legitimacy,” a “legitimacy” that Russia continues to protect. Moreover, there is a need to negotiate over the map of its “statelet” which it wants to be a haven for Alawites, Shiite and Christians.

However, foreign parties do not picture Damascus in the context of this “statelet.”

On the international level and in the G8 Summit statement, foreign parties emphasized a "united Syria."

As a result, foreign parties have not yet reached the phase of discussing divisions although they are aware that the regime is dragging them towards it and that Iran, which supports the regime's scheme, sent thousands of its fighters to aid the regime fighters during this critical phase.

The U.N. expected scenarios, if a political solution is initiated, will be limited to sending peacekeeper troops for the sake of protecting minorities. Division schemes, however, will require a lot more than peacekeeping troops.

Each party is currently preparing to resume its war whilst preparations are slowly underway to hold the international conference and the planned negotiations.

The difference between the opposition's delegation and the regime's is that when the opposition engages in negotiations, will discuss the formula of the “transfer of power.” However, the regime has revealed that its only aim is to gain time.

In the shadows, the regime and its allies will resume pushing towards the divisional scheme in order to impose a “fait accompli.”

This is the reason why the opposition prefers that until an American-Russian consensus is announced and a final outcome is clear, that no date will be set for a conference and that negotiations are not held.

This article was previously published in al-Hayat on August 1, 2013.


Abdul Wahab Badrakhan is a Lebanese journalist, who writes weekly in London’s Al-Hayat newspaper among other Arab publications. Badrakhan was a journalist in ‘Annahar’ (Beirut) until 1979, in ‘Annahar Arabic & international’ magazine (Paris) up to 1989, in ‘al-Hayat’ (London) as managing editor then deputy editor in chief until 2006. At present, Badrakhan is working on two books. The first book is on the roots of the experiences that have motivated young Arab men to go to Afghanistan. The second is devoted to Arab policies to counterterrorism, starting with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and covering the ensuing wars.

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