The international community finally got together in Tunis on Feb. 24 to begin the end of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
One of the most important pieces of the Syrian opposition puzzle is undoubtedly the Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish National Council (KNC) has combined with 11 different Syrian Kurdish parties after suspending their membership in the Syrian National Council (SNC) in recent months, hurting representation in the latter greatly.
In Tunis, even though it wasn’t on the agenda, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the head of the KNC, Abdulhakim Bashar, along with the head of the SNC, Burhan Ghalioun, as well as a member, Basma Kodamani, to advance the calls for unification.
It appears that the unification project hasn’t worked out well so far. According to sources who have knowledge of the meetings, Bashar expressed his council’s wish that the new Syria be a secular state. He also insisted that the solution to the Kurdish issue would be through constitutional recognition based on international conventions and agreements that would also secure the rights of other minorities. Finally, Bashar emphasized the fact that the United States should put pressure on Syrian Islamic groups to change their political programs. Clinton, on the other hand, urged the KNC to reach an agreement with the SNC as soon as possible and affirmed the US’ support for the rights of Kurds through protection mechanisms in the new constitution.
Heyam Aqil, an adviser to Bashar, relayed Ghalioun’s promises to the Kurdish minority on Feb. 24, saying “decentralization” and the “recognition of the rights of the Kurdish people” are not new. “The SNC agreed to a decentralized government which is different from politically decentralized governance” – which the KNC has asked for – Aqil said. “In fact, Syria is based on decentralized governance currently. Each governorate or province is managing local affairs. So in terms of this particular point, the SNC is not offering anything new.”
The KNC says the SNC’s efforts are “progressive” but insufficient and instead has four main demands.
1) The constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people and their Kurdish national identity. 2) Consideration of the Kurdish issue as a main part of the general national issue of Syria. 3) The lifting of all chauvinistic policies and discriminatory laws applied against the Kurdish people and compensation for those who have been affected by such policies. 4) Recognition of the national rights of the Kurdish people according to international conventions and agreements in a decentralized government within a united Syria.
Welcoming the humanitarian corridor
A French-led proposal for a humanitarian corridor from the Turkish border would almost certainly pass through Aleppo, a largely Sunni and Kurdish city. Aqil, for the first time, said “any kind of humanitarian aid to the cities under shelling is welcomed by Kurds and the Syrian opposition as a whole.” Such a scheme, however, would need Syria’s agreement. “The victims of the killing machine are increasing and the international community must take an action in order to protect the people of Homs and Idlib,” Aqil said.
PYD attacks anti-Assad Kurdish protestors
One high-level source from the Syrian Kurdish groups confirmed recent reports of attacks by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. State Department and the European Union.
“We, Kurds, have to be aware of this game and prevent a Kurdish-Kurdish conflict which is in the regime’s interests,” the source said. “The KNC must take responsibility and play that role of keeping the Kurdish areas safe. If those reports were true, then I think the PYD’s military branch is doing [these attacks]. Their military branch doesn’t take commands from the PYD’s political branch. It takes commands from the Qandil mountains and al-Assad’s regime has given them the green light to [move into action].”