News / Middle East

Kurds Could Help Shift Course of War in Syria

Kurdish fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG)  walk along a street in Aleppo, June 7, 2013, where they have joined the Free Syrian Army to fight against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Kurdish fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) walk along a street in Aleppo, June 7, 2013, where they have joined the Free Syrian Army to fight against forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Reuters
The head of Turkey's main Kurdish party has welcomed contacts between the Ankara government and Syria's Kurds, saying it could step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and help change the course of the civil war,
 
Turkish intelligence officers met in Istanbul last week with Saleh Muslim, head of Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish group whose militias have been fighting for control of parts of Syria's north near the Turkish border.
 
The meeting followed Muslim's declaration that Kurdish groups would set up an independent council to run Kurdish areas of Syria until the war ends. Ankara fears that kind of autonomy could rekindle separatist sentiment among its own, much larger Kurdish population as it seeks to end a 30-year-old insurgency.
 
“Saleh Muslim's visit to Istanbul is a concrete sign that Turkey is moving towards changing a policy that sees Kurds as a menace,” Selahattin Demirtas, head of parliament's Peace and Democracy Party [BDP], told Reuters in an interview.
 
“It won't just affect Turkish-Kurdish relations but also the course of events in Syria by creating pressure on the regime,” he said.
 
“Kurds can be effective in Syria, and we need to increase support for them. Western countries, including the United States, should establish proper ties with Syria's Kurds.”
 
Turkey is one of the strongest backers of the rebels seeking to topple Assad in a war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives since March, 2011.
 
Syria's ethnic Kurdish minority has been alternately battling Assad's forces and the Islamist-dominated rebels for control of parts of the north.
 
Turkey wants assurances from the PYD that it will not threaten border security or seek an autonomous region in Syria through violence, and that it will maintain a stance of firm opposition to Assad, officials said.
 
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday warned the group against any “wrong and dangerous” moves that could hurt Turkish security.
 
Peace at home
 
Demirtas is a main player in Turkey's efforts to resolve a conflict on its own soil with Kurdish militants in which more than 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed since 1984.
 
The 40-year-old party leader has shuttled to the island prison that has held Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), since his conviction for treason in 1999 and has delivered the rebel leader's messages to his armed followers in northern Iraq.
 
The PKK - considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union - announced a ceasefire in March to encourage talks with Ocalan, seen as the best chance yet to end one of the world's longest-running guerrilla wars.
 
“He is like a good chess player. He makes his move by predicting the next eight or 10 moves in advance,” said Demirtas, who met Ocalan for the first time on Imrali this year.
 
Running red worry beads through his hands, he described Ocalan as a master of Middle Eastern politics and connoisseur of literature, philosophy, art and history.
 
In recent weeks the rebels have warned that Erdogan's government must show greater commitment if the ceasefire is to hold, and address Kurdish grievances by expanding political and cultural rights.
 
The BDP expects legislative action by October, when parliament reconvenes after a summer recess, on demands for the release of thousands of party members in detention on terrorism charges, stronger local rule and Kurdish-language education.
 
Turkey banned the use of Kurdish, a distinct language related to Farsi, outright until 1991 and has only recently allowed it to be used in radio and television broadcasts.
 
Authorities strictly control access to Ocalan, limiting him to infrequent meetings with family, his lawyers and BDP members involved in the peace process. Supporters would like to see him moved out of his small cell to meet with civic groups and the media, as well as for a hospital to open on Imrali.
 
Conditions for the 64-year-old Ocalan must be improved or his frail health could imperil the peace process, Demirtas warned, saying eventually he should be freed.
 
“If there is going to be peace in Turkey, if the enmity is to end, if we're going to have forgiveness, then this should happen,” he said. “When this peace process is fulfilled and things normalize, no one is going to keep him there.”

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid