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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.