Kurdish areas of the Middle East (in orange).
Syria’s Kurds once waged a fruitless struggle with Damascus against discrimination and for basic rights like citizenship and official recognition of a distinct Kurdish language and culture. Now, however, the equation has changed, and large chunks of northeastern Syria are now under the sole control of the Kurds.
Back in July, Butcher Assad ceded the responsibility of governing and maintaining law and order in northeastern Syria to Kurdish leaders. In return they would keep out of the uprising. Syrian Kurdish leaders have taken this responsibility and run with it. In a recent interview, well-known Kurdish leader and PKK advisor Muhammad Amin Penjweni described the situation in northeastern Syria:
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is a very active party in Syrian Kurdistan. Since the start of the uprising, the PYD’s cadres have gone back into the general population and started organizing them. They have formed councils in all areas, and the councils have formed a bigger council called the People’s Council. Now the People’s Council has formed another council with the Kurdistan National Council (KNC), each with five members. . . .
This is the reality in Syrian Kurdistan, whether Turkey wants it or not. The freedom achieved there — whether by bravery, or the Syrian regime giving the areas up — is a development for the Kurdish question.
Meanwhile, Assad also eased restrictions on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The PKK is mostly based in Turkey and Iraq, and its insurgency in Turkey has grown more intense in tandem with the Syrian civil war; observers suspect Assad is using the PKK to distract and annoy Turkey. The PKK, according to reports, now occupies towns along much of Syria’s border with Turkey. The past few months have seen an intensifying battle between the Turkish state and the PKK. Ankara claims to have killed hundreds of insurgents, and the PKK has been blamed for a spate of recent attacks on policemen and army checkpoints. A recent article in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper likened the PKK to the Taliban and described widespread drug cultivation in areas of Turkey controlled by the PKK, with enormous profits from the drug trade filling the coffers of Kurdish groups.
All this suggests a renewed struggle in the Middle East between the Kurds and their host countries (see map above). We’re likely to see Syrian Kurds start to push harder and more successfully for the same kind of regional autonomy as in Iraqi Kurdistan. Depending on inter-Kurdish politics, we might see the PKK establish a safe haven and base of operations in northeastern Syria from which to launch attacks in Turkey. This could in turn lead to Turkish incursions into Syria. Another variable is the Syrian civil war: So far the leaders of the uprising against Assad have offered no hint that they are on especially friendly terms with Syria’s Kurds, and should Assad fall, the future of Syria’s Kurdish communities (just like other non-Sunni non-combatant communities) becomes an ominous question.
All in all, a messy and complicated state of affairs.