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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

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