A member of the Kurdish People's Defense Units (YPG) displays a flower on his AK-47 rifle as he holds a position in the city of Aleppo. Photo: AFP
By Armando Cordoba
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) claims it will back the Free Syrian Army, the main fighting force in the Syrian uprising, on condition that the FSA recognizes Kurdish rights in the northeastern part of the country.
“If they acknowledge our rights we will support everything,” said KDPS member Mohammad Salih Khalil.
He added that some parties within the Kurdistan National Council (KNC), an umbrella group of more than a dozen Kurdish parties, have suggested that the KDPS join the main Western-backed Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC).
The KNC was formed in October 2011 in Erbil and is striving for the constitutional recognition of Kurdish rights in a new democratic Syria.
Khalil’s statement comes at a time when the KDPS has openly expressed its desire to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power; it also fears the influence of Islamist forces fighting in the conflict.
“Syrian-Kurds are a part of this revolution and we want Assad to leave, but we also don’t want the influences of Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda to leak into the Kurdish area,” Khalil explained.
Kurdish groups have so far largely stayed out of the fighting between rebel forces and Assad’s regime, insisting they will not join the armed opposition unless Kurds are given guarantees over their territories in a post-Assad Syria.
The Kurds also have expressed fears over the rise of Islamic militancy in the main Syrian Arab opposition.
Last year the Sunni extremist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has links to FSA, admitted having ties to Al-Qaeda. It was subsequently listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
The Kurds and their struggle in the Syrian conflict, which is now in its third year and has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives, have gone relatively under the radar.
Kurds make up about 10 percent of the Syrian population. Though their towns have largely escaped the bloodshed, they suffer from lack of food and drinking water.
Syria’s vast Kurdish regions have fallen largely under the sway of the powerful Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is affiliated with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and has been accused of secret ties to Assad’s regime and mistreatment of Kurdish war refugees.
Increasing tension in the area has been spurned by internal clashes between PYD’s armed militia and local Kurds, as well as against pro-FSA forces in the northern areas of the country.
In a recent interview with Rudaw, PYD leader Salih Muslim blamed clashes in the Syrian Kurdish areas on Jabhat al-Nusra, claiming the radical Islamic group is trying to gain control of all Kurdish towns and cities.
But Khalil complained that local Kurdish groups, such as his, were caught between the PYD, the Islamist groups and government forces.
“Assad’s army dominates all our towns and cities, and the PYD acts like it is his army,” Khalil said. He also claimed he had documents showing that several of Assad’s Baath party members had joined the PYD.