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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid