July 30, 2013
By Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan
AMMAN: The assassination of a prominent Kurdish politician on Tuesday raises questions about Syrian Kurds’ claims to be able to administer territory in the northeast now under their control.
Isa Huso, a member of the Supreme Kurdish Council that has been administering Kurdish-held territories in the northeast for the past year, was killed by a car bomb in Qamishli on Tuesday morning. No group has claimed responsibility, but Kurdish activists allege al-Qaeda involvement.
The attack comes just days after Saleh Muslim, the leader of the influential Democratic Union Party (PYD), met with Turkish intelligence and foreign ministry officials in Istanbul to discuss plans for establishing a provisional administration in Kurdish-held Syria.
With war raging across Syria, the PYD has gradually been consolidating its hold over the northeast by edging out hardline al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rivals vying for control of the Turkish borderlands, but the assassination suggests that militias fighting Kurdish autonomy are not ready to relinquish their stake in a region that has been up for grabs since the regime withdrew its troops in July 2012.
“Jabhat a-Nusra and the other Islamist brigades have declared that this battle won’t stop until every one of the [PYD] fighters has been eliminated,” says Sallar, a Kurdish correspondent with Sham News Network in the north-central city of a-Raqqa, where a black al-Qaeda flag was photographed flying over the city on Tuesday. The journalist requested his last name not be published out of concern for his personal safety.
During four decades of Baathist rule, hundreds of thousands of Kurds were deprived of basic rights like passports and work permits.
“We Kurds have been on the margins for a long time under Assad rule,” says Ozdemir Mohamed, a university student in Qamishli. He says he supports the idea of an independent Kurdish state, but not until the regime has been defeated.
Though the PYD’s armed forces have beaten back the threat of an Islamist takeover since the regime withdrew, the PYD remains controversial on the ground.
Syrian Kurdistan’s most influential armed faction drew charges of sectarianism at the end of June when it opened fire on peaceful protesters in the city of Amuda, killing six people and wounding dozens more. Anti-PYD activists at the protest were reportedly arrested and tortured.
The US State Department released a statement about the incident on July 1, condemning the PYD’s “brutal tactics” and warning that “violent suppression only serves the regime’s efforts to escalate tensions and divide the Syrian people.”
Kurdish activists, meanwhile, stress that they are not looking to secede from Syria.
“The Kurds will be hand-in-hand with the Arabs,” says Berivan, a 24 year-old Kurdish activist in the northeastern city of Qamishli who requested that her last name not be disclosed.
“The PYD cannot separate us.”