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Published On: Sun, Feb 12th, 2017

Kurds Divided Along Geopolitical Fault Lines

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) claimed three of its members were arrested by security forces linked to the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD rejects these reports as false. The KNC and the PYD are deeply divided along geopolitical fault lines which have troubled the Kurdish discourse since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and fault lines which regained importance since the eruption of the wider Middle East war in 2011 – 13.

Kurdish Parties in Syria_2016_PYD - TEV Dem (r)_KNC(l)The Kurdish National Council (KNC) reported that so-called Asayish security police linked to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) arrested Hussein Omar, a member of the KNC-linked Yekiti party in Girkelege ( a.k.a. Al-Muabbada) in northern Syria. The KNC also noted that his computer was confiscated during the arrest. A member of the KNC-linked Kurdish Future Movement, Fadi Mir’ali, was reportedly also arrested on Wednesday while traveling to Qamishli to celebrate the release of six other KNC members from an Asayish-run prison.

Moreover, Hussein Sulaiman, a member of the KNC-affiliated Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDP-S), was reportedly arrested on Thursday in a village close to Çilaxa ( a.k.a Al-Jawadiyah). The KNC condemned these arrests and called for the release of all of the detainees. Arrests and quarrals between KNC and PYD-linked groups, parties and militants in northern Syria are not exactly uncommon.

On 15 August 2016, some 30 KNC members were arrested during a funeral of a Peshmerga fighter who was killed by ISIS in clashes near Mosul. The PYD-dominated Self-Administration accused the KNC of organizing an unauthorized demonstration. Most of them were released shortly after their arrest but the incident underpinned tensions between the PYD and the KNC.

Last Tuesday, six KNC members were released in Syria’s northeastern Qamishli city after several months in an Asayish prison. According to the laws of the PYD-dominated Self-Administration of Northern Syria, any protest or public gathering needs a permission from the local administration. An issue that would seem “normal” in any country under “normal” circumstances, and especially when a country is in a state of war and Islamist insurgents with light to heavy weapons are nearby. Many would believe this would be a “minor issue” among Kurds, but Kurds are deeply and bitterly divided and continue to step right into the classic “divide and conquer trap” used by empires and alliances.

S MuslimThe KNC does not recognize the local administrations and refuses to ask their permission for holding protests or other political or cultural activities. As a result, tensions have ensued and several members of the KNC have been arrested by the Self-Administration’s Asayish forces in the past. PYD Co-Chair Salih Muslim, for his part, said during a conference in London on November 22, 2016:

“Anyone that accepts the Self-Administration can work in Rojava (Syria’s self-declared autonomous Kurdish enclave). .. I promise anyone who applies for permission to work in Rojava, they will be free to do whatever they like there. … We have to work all together and bring all the parties to the table to establish some balance in Rojava”.

Masoud Barzani and Peshmerga troops (archives)

Masoud Barzani and Peshmerga troops (archives)

The Kurdistan National Council (KNC) is closely allied to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in northern Iraq and the northern Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KDP is also closely allied with the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Iran (KDP-I). The KDP-I has since the summer of 2016 increasingly been involved in clashes with Iranian Revolutionary Guard units in northwestern Iran. The primary KDP-I bases are, however, in northern Iraq. Clashed between the KDP-I and the Revolutionary Guard in northwestern Iran increased as Iran’s support for predominantly Shia popular self-defense forces in Iraq in the fight against ISIL increased.

The KDP and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are primarily supported by the United States, the UK, as well as several other NATO member states including Canada and Turkey. – That’s right, Turkey can also support Kurds as long as they are “their Kurds” while one Turkish government after the other, Islamist or Nationalist, refused to recognize that a people like Kurds even exist – in Turkey – or northern Syria.

The AKP government of former Prime Minister, now Turkey’s President R. Tayyip Erdogan was also implicated in the organized smuggling of Syrian oil, stolen by the Islamic State in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province vir northern Iraq, and on to Turkey and the European market. In fact, the European Union facilitated these deals in April 2013, when the EU lifted its ban on the import of Syrian oil from “rebel-held territories”.

Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) for its part, and the PYD’s military wings the YPG and YPJ, are closely allied with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

The PKK has since it started its armed struggle against the Turkish state in 1984 – during the so-called Cold War – enjoyed more than mere “sympathy” from Moscow and Tehran.  The PYD – YPG – YPJ have also been described in most heroic terms in Russian State media – even though the YPG was indirectly armed by the USA via the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces – until Moscow and Ankara began to cooperate more closely.

Any mentioning of the Turkish government’s military crackdown against the PKK, its military campaigns against Kurds in southwestern Turkey including massacres on civilians has more or less “vanished” from Russian State-funded media.

Figen Yükesdag

Figen Yükesdag

The fact that MP’s of Turkey’s leftist HDP which is particularly strong in predominantly Kurdish regions of Turkey end up behind bars in droves is omitted. The fact that HDP MP Figen Yükesdag faces up to five years behind bars for “insulting President Erdogan” is not worth mentioning any longer. The HDP was a major factor in brokering the ceasefire between the Turkish State and the PKK and in facilitating peace talks  the PKK made considerable concessions.

The HDP strongly criticized the Turkish government when it unilaterally ended the ceasefire and the peace talks in 2015 – A big mistake in a Democracy like Turkey. HDP MPs were stripped of their immunity – many MPs, Mayors and leading HDP members ended behind bars on charges reaching from “propaganda for terrorists”, supporting terrorists, or “insulting the president”.

The saddening truth is that Kurds haven’t learned the lesson that empires and alliances will always use a divide and conquer strategy and that any aspirations with regard to genuine self-determination will be deemed to fail unless a people stand united – no matter how painful it may be to overcome internal divides, partisan rivalries, nepotism, hubris over small tactical victories rather than long-term strategic planning ….. The worst enemies of Kurds today are Kurds.

CH/L – nsnbc 12.02.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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