News / Middle East

Despite Political Divides, Syria's Kurds Want Autonomy

Scott Bobb
Afrin is an old city of some 80,000 inhabitants nestled in the hills of northwestern Syria.
 
But instead of showing the Syrian national flag, checkpoints in and around the city fly the yellow, red and green flag of Syria's Kurds.
 
This is because security in the area has been under the control of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, of Syrian Kurds since last July when Syrian government forces withdrew to counter rebel offensives elsewhere.
 
The conflict in Syria has brought a measure of self-rule to one of Syria's marginalized minorities, the Kurds, and especially in Afrin - which means "fruitful creation" or "blessing" in Kurdish.
 
Kurdish Areas of Turkey, Iran, Syria and IraqKurdish Areas of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq
x
Kurdish Areas of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq
Kurdish Areas of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq
Since the Syrian government withdrew its forces from Kurdish areas several months ago, the Kurds - despite their own political divisions - have taken responsibility for local security and claim autonomy.

Kurds in this area near Turkey strongly oppose the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and say they have suffered detentions and bombings because of it.

Kurd control
 
The PYD chief in the region, who is known as Commander Hassan, said Kurds now control most of the Kurdish areas along the border.  
 
But Hassan said many non-Kurds also live in the region and that the local Kurds are not looking for independence.  "All we want are our human rights and self-determination, not separation, just democratic autonomy," he said. 
 
Hassan said that Kurds do not recognize the authority of the Syrian rebels either, because, like the Syrian government, they advocate a Syrian Arab Republic.  He said the Kurds will resist any attempt by either side to dominate them.
 
Syria's Kurds number an estimated two million people or nearly 10 percent of Syria's population. But they have never been officially recognized by the central government.
 
Government influence
 
Kurdish Percentage of Population
 
Iran 10%
Iraq 15 to 20 %
Syria As much as 9.7%
Turkey 18%
 
Source: CIA World Factbook
 
Still, some Kurds accuse the PYD of collaborating with the Syrian government. And indeed, symbols of the government, such as its flag and a large billboard of Assad, are prominently displayed over Afrin's city hall.
 
Syrian rebels say they clashed recently with pro-Assad Kurdish troops in the major city of Aleppo, the first such reported confrontation.
 
While there are political divisions among Syria's Kurds, Bahzad Ibrahim, of a grouping known as the Kurdish National Council, said they are united in forging a destiny.
 
"The Kurdish movement in Syria is more than 50 years old and has many parties, many ideologies. Of course, as a result, there might be differences in points of view. But the goal is one and the same, to implement the goal of the Kurdish people to gain their rights," said Ibrahim. 
 
An expert on the Kurds at Istanbul University, Professor Ayhan Kaya, said most of Syria's Kurds have been careful not to take sides in the Syrian conflict.
 
“The Kurds of Syria have been very reluctant in choosing their position vis-a-vis Assad," Kaya said. "They were really silent until quite recently. The rumors go [say] the Kurds of the region are trying to build up an independent nation state in the region. We don't know if this is going to happen because the real-politics works the other way around.”
 
Regional ties
 
Regionally, Kurds populate parts of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran with Iraqi Kurdistan serving as an economic hub - especially for trade with Turkey. 
 
Kaya said Kurdish aspirations for an independent state will likely ease as prosperity comes to the region following decades of deprivation.
 
But Istanbul University Professor Emre Gonen said Syria's Kurds will be relatively minor players on the broader Kurdish stage because of their relatively small population.
 
“Syria will not play an important role," Gonen said. "Syria has only a very small region populated with Kurds. And Kurds in this region are virtually all of them closely related to the Turkish Kurds on other side of frontier."
 
Nevertheless, the Kurdish sense of solidarity worries the Turkish government whose clashes with its own PKK rebels have increased in recent months. 
 
Many Syrian Kurds say they support the Turkish Kurds.  But there are also reports the Syrian government is backing the PKK's struggle against the Turkish state in retaliation for Turkey's support for the Syrian rebels.

You May Like

Video VOA Exclusive: Poroshenko Wants Russia's UN Veto Stripped

Ukrainian president tells VOA's Myroslava Gongadze that global community would be safer if Russia's ability to play spoiler were ended More

Crime and Espionage Becoming Tangled Online

As the lines between cyber-crime and espionage blur, fighting hackers becomes harder More

Crowdfunding Helps Save Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit

Smithsonian turns to Kickstarter to raise more than $700,000 to help preserve the spacesuit worn by the first man to walk on the moon More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: mohammed zakhoy from: zakho
November 17, 2012 7:43 PM
thank you america for your concern of kurdistan. thank u so so much indeed. from kurdistan zakho

by: ersin
November 16, 2012 4:40 AM
This news is not true because of that turkey borders are not controlled by PDY or other Kurdish authoirties. You are biased. This news is biased.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs