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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora