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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs