Activist: Kurds hoping for more autonomy in united Syria


November 20, 2013

November 20, 2013

On November 12th, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) announced the establishment of an interim administration to govern Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria. The declaration followed a string of military victories by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia affiliated with the PYD, in clashes with Islamist groups. The PYD and YPG have sparked divisions among Syria’s three million Kurds, some of whom have accused the groups of an alliance with the Assad government.

Salar is a 20 year-old Kurd from Syria’s northeastern al-Hasakah province, who left his university studies to fight in the Syrian uprising. He previously worked as a spokesman for the Sham News Network in al-Hasakah and A-Raqqa, and now works for the pro-opposition Masar Press news agency. He spoke with Syria Direct’s Mohammed Rabie about the YPG’s increasing prominence.                                 

Q: What are these militias hoping to accomplish by fighting the FSA, even without widespread support from Syrian Kurds and the broader population? 

A: Basically, the regime has been manipulating them, promising to give them land in Hasakah province. The regime also provides them with advanced weapons to confront the rebels. These militias want control over the region, they want to appear strong in the eyes of the citizens. But they have no actual support base, especially after the Amouda Massacre.

Mideast Syria Kurdish Hugh

Photo courtesy of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Q: Can you tell me about what happened in Amouda?

A: The people of Amouda took to the streets in one of their regular demonstrations against the regime and the PYD, protesting against the electricity cuts and the monopolization of food. The demonstrators decided to stage a sit-in at the headquarters of a PYD-controlled electricity company. When they reached the area, the Peoples’ Protection Units met them with live rounds; three were killed immediately by bullets to the head. Three more were killed later on, including two children of 13 and 15 years old.

Q: Can you explain the Assad regime’s previous policy of marginalizing the Kurds? Was he afraid of them?

A: Beginning in 1962, the regime implemented a policy of marginalizing the Kurds; it took away their Syrian identity cards, leaving them as foreigners in their own country. In 2004 the regime massacred some 30 young Kurdish men in al-Qamishli Stadium, and again killed a number of young Kurds as they celebrated the Nowruz holiday in 2007.

The regime was afraid of the Kurdish presence in the region, so it tried to establish the “Arab Belt” in Hasakah Province by relocating Arab residents from Arab majority villages to Kurdish areas. The regime neglected the Kurds for 40 years, it stripped them of their rights to education and employment, their right to speak their own language. And now that the revolution has started, the regime has sought to recruit the Kurds for its cause, ignoring all that it did to them in the past.

Q: What do you see as Kurds’ role in Syria’s future?

A: Our role will be the same as that of every other group in Syrian society. We hope to rebuild a Syrian state purged of the former regime, and we want the same legal rights as Armenians and Assyrians, who have long been allowed to establish their own schools and teach in their own languages. We want to be part of a united Syria with no discrimination between people or groups. The Kurds are an inextricable part of this nation.

Q: What are your thoughts about the ongoing conflict between the Kurdish militias and other armed groups?

A: To begin with, it’s important to clarify that we cannot generalize among all Kurdish groups. In this context, we are talking about the Kurdish militias that follow the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). These militias are referred to as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and have, over the past year, become an integral part of the regime’s military apparatus–fighting alongside regime troops, putting down protests, and killing off opposition activists and politicians. They were responsible for the massacre at Amouda, in Hasakah province, in July 2012. Given all this, it was natural that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) would start fighting these groups.

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