News / Middle East

Syrian Kurds Increasingly Pressured by Jihadists

Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) members stand guard during a Labour Day celebration in Efrin May 1, 2014.
Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) members stand guard during a Labour Day celebration in Efrin May 1, 2014.
Following military successes earlier this year against jihadist fighters, an ethnic Kurdish militia that has been carving out a de facto Kurdish state in northeastern Syria is now facing a renewed challenge from a powerful al-Qaida offshoot.
 
In a sign of growing aggression against the Kurds, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant known as ISIS, which was disowned earlier this year by the al-Qaida leadership, has launched an offensive against Syrian Kurds, both in the far northeast adjacent to the borders with Iraq and Turkey, and in Kurdish areas in Aleppo province.
 
Kurdish sources concede militiamen from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party PYD are suffering reversals.
 
The PYD, an affiliate of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a separatist movement that has battled the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy for three decades, scored a series of victories over jihadist rebel groups last autumn and during the winter.

Those successes emboldened its leaders to declare self-rule in an area in the northeast that Kurds call Rojeva. The PYD is the largest and best organized of 17 major Kurdish political factions.
 
But just days ago, ISIS fighters abducted 193 Kurds, mainly teenagers and students, from the village of Al Qbasin northeast of Aleppo.  
 
And on May 29 jihadists killed 15 Kurds, including seven children, in an attack on a village near the largely Kurdish town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based pro-opposition group that relies on a network of activists on the ground for its information.

Oil at the root of the fight
 
The months-long struggle between the Kurds and jihadist rebel groups has been one of the hardest fought in the various regional and ethnic conflicts that the Syrian civil war to a large extent has evolved into.

The PYD and its allies spurned joining the rebel uprising against Mr. Assad, arguing that the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels rejected Kurdish aspirations for a post-Assad semi-autonomous state in northeast Syria.
 
“The jihadists have mounted several attacks in recent weeks,” Kurdish activist Kovan Direj told VOA in a phone interview. He said the PYD is on the defensive.

“The PYD has been halted and is now being forced to focus on defending its territory,” he says in the oil-rich Hasakah province and the neighboring province of Qamishli.

According to Wladimir van Wilgenburg of the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based research group, much of the overall importance of the fight between ISIS and the Kurds rests with control of the oil wells in the northeast and east of Syria.

“The Kurds control about 60 percent of Syria’s oil,” he says. Selling the oil is lucrative and any group that controls the wells can use the money to buy weapons and secure the support of local tribes. For ISIS the money that could be made from seizing more wells could make or break the jihadi group in its fight with mainstream rebel militias.

Growing threats from Damascus

Syria’s Kurds are also facing renewed challenges from Syrian forces. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad withdrew most of his forces from much of Syria’s Kurdistan early in the civil war to focus on the uprising against his rule elsewhere.
 
The absence of fighting between Syrian army units that remained in the northeast and breakaway Kurds prompted other rebels to charge that the Kurds were either in league with the Syrian government or indirectly helping the regime by failing to join the rebellion.

PYD leaders dismiss the claims.

“The Assad regime knows we are strong, so it chooses not to attack us now,” Giwan Ibrahim, one of the Kurds’ top military commanders told VOA earlier this year. “And we choose not to attack Assad now, despite the fact that he is not our friend.”
 
But in recent weeks there have been clashes between Syrian and Kurdish units – a sign, some analysts argue, of the Assad government’s burgeoning confidence that the war is running now in its favor. 
 
And there were increased tensions between Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen in the run-up to the recent presidential election when Kurdish leaders refused to allow voting to take place in many of the towns they control in northeast Syria.
 
The Kurdish-controlled region in Syria’s northeast is surrounded on all sides. Jihadists, radical Islamists, and moderate rebel militias control territory to the west.

To the south are more jihadists. And in the Kurds’ midst, Syrian soldiers, who control about 20 percent of the city of Qamishli, remain.
 
Much of the fighting between the jihadists and Kurds is centered on strategic towns along the border with Turkey and Iraq.

Last month, the jihadists ordered Kurdish families in some villages in Raqqa province to leave their homes.
 
In recent months the biggest fear of PYD commanders has been that if Assad continues to make military advances against the rebellion and succeeds in capturing the half of the city of Aleppo held by the rebels, he may be tempted to move on them.

But Kurdish activists say for now the renewed jihadist offensive is what is now preoccupying them.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
July 04, 2014 7:04 AM
Without liberating Tel Abyad, Jarablus, Azaz and Jabal al-Akrad, Kurdistan remains vulnerable. We ask international community to help Kurds achieving this goal by direct or indirect military assistance.

by: Joseph Zrnchik from: Highland, IN
June 07, 2014 9:47 PM
So the Kurds can have autonomy but the Crimean Russians can not? Why? If I were Assad I would arm the Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey and have them kill every jihadist they can find. Assad and Hezbollah would have nothing to fear and Turkey, for all its Syrian meddling, would finally reap what it has been sowing.
In Response

by: ax
June 09, 2014 1:46 PM
Well, I thought Crimea was an autonomous region of Ukraine already...
In Response

by: Saladin
June 09, 2014 4:10 AM
Dit you get killed About 100 years.
Dont compare kurds whit krim russians.
Putin is helping you. But who is helping kurds.
Only kurds are Support kurds.

by: Azad Dewani from: United Kingdom
June 07, 2014 2:05 PM
Kurds have proven that they are the strongest united secular group that seek regime change and the establishment of secular democracy. In addition, Kurds disfavor political Islam and well organized to fight against the strongest Jihadist groups including AlQaeda groups and other Islamist groups such as Muslim brotherhood armed wing of Liwa’a Al-Tawheed. In addition, Kurds always expressed that they favor peace with Israel and strong relations with the West. However, the US administration kept Kurds out its contacts although it contacted the Islamist groups directly or indirectly through the umbrella of Syrian opposition. By alienating Kurds, the US administration supports only the Turkish nationalist security agendas which reject any kind of Kurdish self-rule. One day the US administration will discover that it was wrong about Syrian Kurds, but could be late, as they discovered that they were wrong when they assisted Iraqi Saddam against Kurds.

by: Rojava Kurdistan
June 07, 2014 12:54 PM
It is good and clearly explained in your article How Kurds in Rojava are surrounded by Jihadist gangs and Assad brutal regime .The international community has not pay much attention to Kurds in Rojava.They have been silent to all atrocieties by Jihadist and killing of civilian people in Rojava.They will realize that the Kurds are only the hope of peaceful and democratic Syria.They can carry a leading role in peaceful solution.Hopefully.USA and the EU soon see that and open doors to Kurds in Rojava.The Kurds can not be left alone in Rojava fighting the common enemy of civilization.Everybody that feels belong to it is obliged to fight those radicals.

by: meanbill from: USA
June 07, 2014 11:57 AM
WHAT DO THEY WANT? -- Like the pro-Russian Ukrainians in Ukraine, (who must decide), if they want an autonomous state, independent state, or be a part of Russia, the Kurds must make that same decision? -- Sometimes you can sit and try to stay on a fence -- (BUT?) -- sooner or later, (they just have to decide), on what side of that fence they want to live on?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs