News / Middle East

    Worries Over Syrian Breakup

    Members of a Kurdish militia and the Free Syrian Army rebels forces stand guard at a check point in Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey, Feb. 27, 2013. Kurds now control the strategic town.
    Members of a Kurdish militia and the Free Syrian Army rebels forces stand guard at a check point in Ras al-Ain on the border with Turkey, Feb. 27, 2013. Kurds now control the strategic town.
    Syria’s neighbors are becoming increasingly worried that the contending sides in its civil war, including the competing rebel factions, are preparing the ground for an eventual break-up of the country.

    The fears were stoked over the weekend when the Syrian Kurdish group that seized the strategic border town of Ras al-Ain from jihadist groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced plans to set up a transitional authority in northeastern Syria. Its spokesmen said it is holding talks with rival Kurdish factions about the shape of a local administration and possible elections in three months’ time.
     
    Leaders of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) deny that transitional self-government for Kurds is part of an effort to establish a separate, autonomous Syrian Kurdish state. They said self-government would merely be temporary.
     
    “This is not a call for a separation; it is just that for a year now we have been on our own in our own territories and people have needs, they want some kind of administration to run their issues. They cannot be left like that,” said Saleh Muslim, the PYD leader.
     
    Turkey, which has a large Kurdish population of its own, worries that Syrian Kurds are laying the foundations for a mini-state of their own. The fear is that such a state next door could encourage hardline Turkish-Kurdish separatists to derail Ankara’s efforts to conclude a peace deal its own Kurdish leaders.
     
    The Turkish government is involved in ongoing negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party that has ties to Syria’s PYD. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has warned that separatist steps by Syrian-Kurds would “enflame the fighting and deepen the untenable situation in Syria.”
     
    Davutoglu has cautioned against “any de facto or fait accompli attempts” based on ethnicity within Syria.
     
    The Turks aren’t alone in fearing that Syria may be heading toward a break-up that would see the formation of at least three new mini-states.
     
    Three mini-states
     
    One such mini-state would be an enclave for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the west and northwest that would be populated by members of the Alawi sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, Shiites and Christians. Another would be a Sunni-majority state in the center and south of the country and the third would be a separate entity in the northeast for Syria’s two million Kurds.
      
    Origins of the Alawi and Kurds of SyriaOrigins of the Alawi and Kurds of Syria
    x
    Origins of the Alawi and Kurds of Syria
    Origins of the Alawi and Kurds of Syria
    Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt warned last week there were signs Syria was heading in that direction. Jumblatt said he believed the land registry office in the Syrian city of Homs had been razed in order to destroy property ownership records so that Sunni Muslims in the province could be more easily dispossessed, allowing Alawites, Shiites and Christians to occupy previously Sunni-owned property.
     
    “In addition to shelling and systemic killing in Homs, the Syrian regime is also destroying property records ... in a plan to transform the minority into a majority through several steps, including the killing and the displacement of the population,” Jumblatt wrote in Al-Anbaa, his political party’s newspaper.
     
    Syrian opposition activists have also raised the alarm recently about signs that Assad and his major overseas ally, Iran, are eager to change Syria’s sectarian map. They claim the Iranians have deposited $2 billion into the Real Estate Bank of Syria to purchase land in southern Homs province.
     
    The province of Homs would be crucial for establishing a viable Assad rump mini-state because it would link predominantly Alawite areas on the Syrian coast with Shiite-dominated areas in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
     
    Bassel Saloukh of Lebanese-American University argues there are already signs of ethnic redistribution in Syria, with more Shiites concentrating in Shiite areas, and Sunnis being displaced or moving from areas near the border with Lebanon.
     
    “Look at the sectarian map of Baghdad before 2006 and after 2006,” Saloukh said. “Look at Lebanon. Look at the map of Beirut and its suburbs before the Lebanese civil war and after. This has happened in Iraq and this, alas, is happening in Syria.”
     
    In May, Colonel Abdel-Hamid Zakaria, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, told Al-Arabiya television. “It’s going to be an open, sectarian, bloody war to the end” and warned that Shiite Muslims and Assad’s Alawite minority could be “wiped off the map.”
     
    Ethnic cleansing
     
    Last year, Syria’s Orthodox Christian Church claimed that Islamist rebels were carrying out “ethnic cleansing of Christians” in Homs. The Vatican news agency, Fides, said most of the 50,000 Christians living in the city left when Islamists went door to door in the neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan telling Christians they would be shot if they did not leave. Militants Islamists have sometimes used the slogan, “the Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut.”
     
    The Kurdish capture of Ras al-Ain, on the border with Turkey, was a serious blow for the Al-Qaida affiliated Islamist rebels. The town and its border post are of high strategic importance, allowing whoever is in control to determine what supplies can cross the border. Bribes and taxes also can generate considerable revenue for the group that oversees the crossing.
     
    Syrian-Kurdish nationalists with support from Kurdish separatists north of the border formed the PYD in 2003. Though it has been hostile to the Assad government, the PYD militants has been keen to keep other rebel groups out of Kurdish towns. In mid-2012, Assad forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas in the north.
     
    There has been an uneasy relationship between Syrian-Kurds and the rebels, though some Kurds have fought alongside Free Syrian Army rebels when their interests coincided.
     
    But many rebels – jihadist and secular – complain that the Kurds are only interested in opposing Assad when it fits their agenda. Kurdish relations with the jihadists have been especially fraught.
     
    PYD spokesman Alan Semo told the Al-Monitor news site the jihadists have been trying to set up Islamic “emirates” in the areas they dominate. “If they are declaring Islamic emirates, why can the Kurds not form their own government? It would be moderate, democratic and non-fanatic, and benefit regional and international interests,” Semo said.

    Tensions between Kurds and jihadists have increased in recent weeks as al-Qaida affiliated rebel groups have tried to exert more power over enclaves they control in northern Syria.
     
    Some analysts believe the fighting between Kurds and jihadists could spread. They say Kurdish militants are eager to snatch some of the oilfields currently controlled by the jihadists.

    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

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: M from: K
    July 24, 2013 1:26 PM
    Whomever starts the discussion of breaking up Syria shouldn't ignore the wider regional reset if Syria is breaking up... The natural next steps are the reset of Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan's maps. And this is the real issue that the editor of this article has ignored.

    by: Scandinavian
    July 23, 2013 6:27 PM
    its soo sad to see Balkanization of Syria.....it happened to Yugoslavia, .....now Syria ...who is next....China, Spain, France, Brazil,Mexico who knows.....lets hope not

    by: May Balles
    July 22, 2013 3:29 PM
    Turkey is headed toward Sharia and imperialism. What right do they have to dictate what Kurds do outside of Turkey (or INSIDE for that matter)?

    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 Unchartered 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 Unchartered 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