ROUNDTABLE: Is the PYD the legitimate representative of Syrian Kurds?

Representatives of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) have not been invited to participate in the third round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, scheduled to begin on Friday.

Leading up to Friday’s talks, regime-allied Russia and pro-opposition Turkey have disagreed on whether or not the PYD should be included as part of the delegation negotiating for the opposition to embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia insists that PYD leadership must be included in the opposition delegation for a fair outcome.

Turkey strongly opposes the PYD because of its close ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, the EU and other nations. Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated that his government would “boycott” the talks if the PYD were invited.

The PYD and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) controls a broad swathe of territory in northern Syria, which it administers alongside a coalition of other Kurdish parties known as the Kurdish National Coalition (KNC).

Members of KNC parties and others opposed to the PYD have previously accused the latter of stifling political dissent and collaboration with the regime, charges that the PYD denies.

Salih Muslim, co-chair of the PYD this past September. Photo courtesy of PYD.

To the PYD’s co-chair, PYD participation is Kurdish representation.

In order for “peace and a political solution in Syria, Kurds must engage in the process,” Salih Muslim, co-chairman of the PYD told Egyptian news site Innfrad on Tuesday.

“I believe it is unfair to reduce the representation of the Kurdish people to the presence of the PYD,” a current KNC member told Syria Direct on Wednesday.

Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou and Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim interviewed four Syrian Kurds, from a current FSA fighter to a former member of the PYD, on the question of PYD participation and Kurdish representation in the Geneva talks.

From their responses, it appears that the PYD has an image problem amongst some Syrians deeply committed to the opposition.

“The PYD are Baathists,” one interviewee said, reflecting a common belief among some PYD dissidents.

 

Ismail Sharif, a former media activist from Amouda in Al-Hasakah, currently in Germany:

Q: Do you consider the PYD part of the Syrian opposition?

The PYD supports the regime. The best proof of this is the role they played at the beginning of the revolution to suppress demonstrations. More so than the regime, they succeeded in suppressing the revolution of the Kurdish youth.

[Ed.: The online KurdWatch monitoring group reported alleged abuses of anti-regime activists by PYD members and supporters in 2012. The PYD denies involvement.]

Q: Would you support the PYD joining the opposition for the Geneva talks?

No, because they have provided services for the regime that it itself was unable to do. [The PYD] was able to make the Kurdish area secure territory for it.

The ongoing meetings and cooperation with the regime and its Russian allies in Qamishli are evidence of this.

[Ed.: Kurdish forces control most of Qamishli city in northern Al-Hasakah province, while regime forces and their allies hold the nearby Qamishli airport and a number of buildings and neighborhoods. There have been multiple clashes between regime and PYD forces.]

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Masoud Ibo, also known as Abu al-Majd Komaleh, a spokesman for Liwa Ahfad Salaheddin, a Kurdish FSA brigade in the northern Aleppo countryside:

Q: Do you consider the PYD part of the Syrian opposition?

The PYD party has killed and expelled Kurdish people who are with the revolution in Syria. The party has arrested, pursued and confiscated the assets of those tied to the revolution. It is not part of the Syrian opposition but rather an integral part of Bashar al-Assad’s Baathist regime.

Q: Would you support the PYD joining the opposition for the Geneva talks?

We welcome any party or individual that sides with the Syrian opposition against tyranny, but if the PYD wants to join the Syrian opposition, then let it start with a goodwill gesture and release all the opponents of Bashar al-Assad who are currently political prisoners in its jails.

[The PYD] has detained eight officers from the Kurdish Syrian Joint Military Council [Kurdish FSA]. They were Syrian officers who defected and founded Kurdish military battalions to fight Bashar al-Assad. The PYD has kidnapped and detained them and hundreds of others like them.

[Ed.: Ibo is referring to eight Kurdish officers from northern Aleppo who disappeared in 2013 at or near the PYD-controlled border crossing with Iraqi Kurdistan. The Joint Military Council accused the PYD of being behind their disappearance in a statement this past April.

The PYD in 2014 denied holding any political prisoners. This past September an Amnesty International report alleged that PYD forces had arbitrarily detained and tried “peaceful critics and civilians believed to be sympathizers or members of alleged terror groups.”]

Q: Russian Prime Minister Lavrov “is fooling the world into thinking that Kurdish representation is limited to the PYD,” Khaled Khoja, president of the Turkey-allied Syrian National Coalition opposition-in-exile tweeted on Tuesday, adding that “there are Kurdish members in the delegation which was approved by the High Negotiations Committee in Riyadh.” In your opinion, are those in the opposition delegation suitable representation?

I welcome any Syrian Kurd to represent the Kurds, not because they are Kurds but rather because they are Syrians with demands, rights and obligations. Syrian Kurds.

Any person who represents the Kurds is suitable, because the Kurds are with the revolution. But the PYD are Baathists.

Who represents me is any revolutionary Kurd with a revolutionary history who has sacrificed for the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people, far from any sectarian separation.

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Shirvan Ibrahim, a former member of the PYD Foreign Affairs Committee:

Q: Do you consider the PYD part of the Syrian opposition?

I believe these [requests to be included in the opposition delegation] are rightful demands, and that Salih Muslim opposes [the regime] according to his ideas and the views of his party.

I also believe that all Syrians oppose the regime, but in different ways.

The PYD has a deep-rooted history of struggle. It has members who were among the secret opposition blocs. There are PYD members who died under torture before the Arab Spring.

The PYD is opposition, but its method differs. However, I recognize that the PYD has transgressed through the policies it adopts and the prohibition of democratic practices.

[Ed.: The PYD was founded in 2003.]

Q: Would you support the PYD joining the opposition for the Geneva talks?

I want PYD supporters to join the opposition, despite my differences with the leadership about their methods. I view the regime as dictatorial, so I support the PYD joining the opposition.

Q: When and why did you part ways with the PYD?

I left three years ago, but the disagreement went back to the beginning of the revolution and the way the PYD dealt with the demonstrators, as well as the Kurdish parties, activists, journalists, aid and service organizations.

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Yashar Ali, a current member of the Kurdish National Council and a member of the Kurdish Reform Movement-Syria:

[Ed.: The KNC is an umbrella group of multiple Kurdish parties in Syria making up part of the self-administration that governs Kurdish-held territories. There have been serious tensions and attacks between KNC-affiliated groups and the PYD.]

Q: The head of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, said this week that there were Kurds on the High Negotiating Committee formed in Riyadh. In your opinion, are those in the opposition delegation suitable representation?

The KNC is part of the Syrian National Coalition, one-fifth of the delegation going to Geneva.

The KNC represents a large portion of the Kurdish public, so I believe it is unfair to reduce to representation of the Kurdish people to the presence of the PYD or lack thereof, as is currently being done.

Most recently, the PYD police force in Qamishli accused pro-regime militias of being responsible for two recent bomb blasts.

Reporting contributed by Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011. Follow Ammar on Twitter: @Ammar_Hamou.

Mohammad Abdulssattar Ibrahim

Mohammad is from Amouda in Hasakah province. He moved to Jordan in 2004. Mohammad started work with the Syrian Revolution LCC in Amman by doing reporting and coordinating protests. After that he did volunteer work for refugees in Amman. Follow Mohammad on Twitter: @mohamma59717689.

Mateo Nelson

Mateo Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. Mateo holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.