ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Two major rival factions among the large and often confusing array of Syrian Kurdish political and military groups have reportedly met to discuss the necessity for unity in the face of the current month-long Turkish military incursion into northern Syria.
An anonymous source told Kurdistan 24 that Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) General Mazloum Abdi has met with a high-level delegation from the Kurdish National Council (KNC) to discuss strategies to find common ground amid the Turkish cross-border attacks in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) that began on Oct. 9.
So far, neither the SDF nor the KNC have officially confirmed that the meeting took place.
In an earlier interview, Abdi told Kurdistan 24, “Before anything, the political parties of Rojava must unite, and set their difference aside,” a call that has often been made over several years, but a goal that has remained elusive.
He underlined that all Kurdish parties in other parts of Kurdistan should also unite and hold a national Kurdish congress because “protecting Rojava is a national duty.”
General Abdi also asked Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Masoud Barzani, over the border in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to play an active role in bringing together Kurdish political parties in Syria.
So far, the general response from other Syrian Kurdish parties to General Mazlum’s call appears to be positive.
Mohamed Ismail, a member of the KNC leadership told Kurdistan 24 that his group welcomed Abdi’s call for unity as a positive move. However, he added, a serious and sustained effort to unite the Kurdish parties must be made going forward as well.
Also, Ahmed Berekat of the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party told Kurdistan 24, “The political parties should put all their differences aside and work for Kurdish unity. Our unity is the guarantee of our existence.”
Tensions between the KNC and Democratic Union Party (PDY) have increased since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, with the latter playing a significant role in the establishment of the self-administration that has ruled northeastern Syria.
The dominant Syrian Kurdish factions, the PYD and KDP-backed KNC, have not successfully cooperated since agreements they reached in Duhok and Erbil between 2012 and 2014 never effectively implemented.
However, since 2017, relations have generally improved between the Syrian Kurds after those between Ankara and Erbil deteriorated following the September 2017 independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region, a vote supported by the majority of the Kurdish people in Iraq.
Turkey opposed the referendum despite extremely active economic and political relations that Ankara has enjoyed with Erbil since 2008.
After the referendum, PYD co-head Shahoz Hassan briefly met Barzani during the October 2017 funeral for popular Kurdish figure and longtime Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.
Moreover, when Turkey attacked in the Kurdish-majority Syrian city of Afrin in January 2018, a delegation from the Kurdish Region’s parliament traveled there in February. Shortly afterward, the PYD’s Shahoz Hassan visited Erbil in March 2018 to discuss the situation in Afrin with Kurdish officials.
Former coordinator of the Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center, Ceng Sagnic, told Kurdistan 24 that the “Turkish incursion into SDF-controlled parts of Syria is considered an existential threat to the Kurdish nationalist movement as a whole, and rings alarm bells for all Kurdish groups in Syria.”
He added that this is mainly due to a fear that Turkey will undertake a major campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kurdish-majority areas in Syria, as well as the risk that the Turkish presence in the northern part of the country might be permanent.
“Therefore, even though the KNC has had stable relations with Ankara, it is quite possible that it has fostered a dialogue with SDF regarding the future of the Kurdish region, relations with the coalition, and relations with KRG.”
“The development also followed an exchange of messages between KRG and SDF leaders [in] the media, which is likely to have created a more positive atmosphere for renewed talks also between SDF and KNC.”
Editing by John J. Catherine