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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor 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.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More