SDF commander announces first success in Syrian Kurdish unity talks

“We have now moved to the second phase. We hope that both political parties will take into consideration the interests, future, and expectations of the people.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Mazloum Abdi, the commander-in-chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), on Friday announced progress in unity talks between leading rival Kurdish parties in Syria, describing a recent round of exchanges in hopeful terms.

“The first step of the intra-Kurdish dialogue process was successful,” Commander Abdi said in a tweet. “We have now moved to the second phase. We hope that both political parties will take into consideration the interests, future, and expectations of the people.”

“United and together, we shall triumph and write our history,” he affirmed.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council (KNC), the two major factions among Syrian Kurdish parties, renewed negotiations in early November to resolve long-standing disputes after Turkey’s cross-border offensive in northern Syria in October.

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PYD is the leading component of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC). Their armed wings are the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and SDF, respectively.

On Friday, a KNC delegation returned from Erbil following meetings in the Kurdistan Region with PYD.

Mohammed Ismail, a member of the KNC leadership, told Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday in Erbil that the PYD and KNC have taken further positive steps on an agreement during the “serious negotiations.”

The meetings “are crucial” for the general political process in Syria, the party official noted, adding further that their efforts towards a settlement would continue.

“If there is an agreement with PYD, it will be a comprehensive agreement that will include all aspects: political, administrative, military, and economical,” said Ismail. He noted that “these meetings are supported and supervised by the Americans.”

On May 22, former PYD co-chair Salih Muslim told Kurdistan 24 that the KNC and PYD are discussing many subjects but that the most important factor is now to “build mutual trust,” which, he noted, has been the basis for the recent meetings.

“We have agreed upon some topics, but we are yet to sign any agreements. Hopefully, that will be possible in the times ahead.”

Ilham Ahmed, the President of the SDC Executive Council, underlined on Friday that discussions with the KNC had been limited to political affairs so far.

“We did not discuss issues such as their participation in the self-administration system, or possible military integration [of the KNC-backed Rojava Peshmerga into the SDF],” Ahmed said during an online event organized by the UK-based Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign.

“We realized we do not have so many political differences, but there are some obstacles that can be resolved.”

KNC, PYD tensions increased during 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 since then.

The two have yet to successfully cooperate even after agreements they reached in the Kurdistan Region’s Duhok and Erbil between 2012 and 2014 as the stipulations of the deals were never effectively implemented.

Ahmed highlighted the US role in the latest talks, suggesting that there is a higher potential for success. “The US is mediating now; that was not the case before, but the processes resemble each other a lot.”

Furthermore, she denied rumors that PYD has demanded the KNC leave the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition conglomerate. “But we have serious criticism regarding the opposition specifically its Islamist character.” Still, “we are willing to work with anyone in the opposition who are not far from our principles.”

She also warned that Turkey is still trying to undermine the Kurdish unity talks.

On May 24, senior KNC official Ibrahim Biro told Kurdistan 24 that “it has been almost a year that the French, from one side, and, recently, the Americans have been trying to approach Kurdish circles [in Syria] to help resolve the differences.”

“This is a positive development; the US is an influential actor in the world, and now it is monitoring a political exchange between two Kurdish sides,” said Biro, who is the former KNC head and an incumbent member of its Foreign Relations Committee.

“The meetings that have been held so far are significant, and there has been a relentless discussion about political topics,” he added.

“Yet, there has not been a solid agreement to this moment. As long as political disputes and differences from the past several years are in place, it will be difficult to envision an agreement in the immediate future.”

But, he stressed, their side is “optimistic that those differences will be resolved in the next round of talks – with the role of the US that we expect will be able to bring the two sides close to each other.”

However, Gönül Tol, the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey program, warned against too much early optimism for the outcome of the Kurdish unity talks.

“This has been going on for a long time, these mediation efforts,” she told Kurdistan 24 on May 22, adding, “but there was a time when it was more difficult when the tensions were stronger between the KNC and the PYD.”

“It was last year when the US and France tried to mediate between the PYD and KNC and they failed. So, it's not the first time it's happening.”

She explained that it's easy for the KNC and PYD to agree on the ideals of a federal and pluralistic Syria. But, Tol noted, previous agreements failed between the two sides due to a lack of implementation.

“Although KNC and PYD can reach agreement now on paper, but when it comes to the implementation there are a lot of problems,” she said. “That's when past efforts have failed.”

Editing by Khrush Najari