Kurdish national question.

by John Eden.

The collapsing Assad regime in Syria is highlighting, the problems facing the whole region, and the course of future conflict there, of which the Kurdish national question is going to play a major central role. All the countries in the region who have a Kurdish population have one thing in common, although they may have major contradictions among themselves the Turks, the Iranians, the Iraqis and Syrian Arabs, one thing their politicians have in common, there will be no independent Kurdistan, below is an article from the Guardian, of the struggle the Kurds face in Syria, but it is a problem they face throughout the region.

Syria’s Kurds face uncertain future if Assad falls

The regime’s exit from Kurdish areas has sparked mistrust between the rebels and Syria’s second biggest ethnic group

Kurdish members of the FSA are seen on a tank stolen from the Syrian army in Fafeen village, north of Aleppo province. Photograph: Manu Brabo/AP

The quarrel began when a young Arab called Mohammad drove up to a Kurdish checkpoint. The Kurdish fighters manning it beat him up. Bruised, angry and humiliated, Mohammad gathered up a group of armed friends. There was a shootout; Mohammad, his brother and three others were killed. Three Kurds also died. Both sides agreed a truce. As part of the deal the Kurds abandoned the mountaintop checkpoint in the village of Qastal, seven miles from the town of Azaz in northern Syria, and retreated down the road.

The violent clashes last month are indicative of the tensions that have surfaced in the wake of Syria’s uprising. The Kurds are the second biggest group in Syria’s delicate ethnic mosaic: 3 million in a country of 23 million. Long discriminated against by successive Arab regimes in Damascus, and often denied citizenship, they are now staking a claim to self-determination. It’s unclear, however, whether their lot will be any better in a post-revolutionary Syria with President Bashar al-Assad gone.

The Kurds live predominantly in the mountains of the north, next to the Turkish border. Their informal “capital” is the north-east frontier town of Qamishli. In July the Democratic Union party (PYD) – the biggest Kurdish political group – seized control of many Kurdish towns and enclaves. The PYD set up checkpoints and hoisted the party’s once forbidden flag. It now flutters above rugged Kurdish hamlets set among Byzantine ruins, and in tidy villages of tractors, concrete houses and chickens.

Over the summer the Syrian military effectively withdrew from Kurdish areas. Assad seems to have made a strategic calculation. The PYD is closely allied to the outlawed Turkish militant group the PKK, which has been battling Ankara for decades.

Turkey is now Assad’s biggest regional foe.

Whatever Assad’s motives, the withdrawal has sparked mistrust between the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main rebel armed movement, and the Kurdish leadership. FSA commanders bitterly accuse the Kurds of being stooges of the regime. “Why didn’t they join the revolution?” Sheikh Omar, a commander in the rebel-held town of El Bab asked. Omar said he was opposed to Kurdish demands for federalism in the new Syria. “What they really mean is independence,” he asserted.

Jihadist groups, meanwhile, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, view the Kurds, who have traditionally taken a laid-back approach to Islam, as infidels. Two weeks ago an alliance of FSA units, including fighters from Omar’s al-Tawhid brigade, and jihadists, fought with Kurdish militias in the town of Ras el Ain. They pushed the Kurds from the border crossing with Turkey.

In other parts of Syria, however, Kurds and Arabs co-exist in harmony. Qabbasin, north of Aleppo, is a model of inter-ethnic co-operation. The town has a permanent population of 18,000, split equally between Arabs and Kurds. The flag of Kurdistan – red, white, green with an orange sun in the middle – hangs in the town square next to the Syrian rebel tricolour. The walls of the local council office were repainted last week with friendly slogans in Kurdish and Arabic: “Kurd-Arab one heart.”

“We are brothers,” the Kurdish mayor Bashar Muslim said, pointing out that his deputy is an Arab. “There are no differences between us.” But what about the violent clashes in Ifrin, Ras el Ain and Aleppo? These disputes began after Jabhat al-Nusra fighters erected checkpoints in Aleppo’s al-Ashrafiya district; the Kurds, fearing that the regime would start shelling them, drove the jihadists out, with several killed. “It’s nothing. We can sort it out,” the mayor said.

Sitting over a cup of strong, black, sugary tea, a group of Kurds discussed Syria’s future – and the Kurds’ place in it.

Abu Khalil, a 52-year-old farm worker, said he supported the PYD, but his son did not. His son was disappointed by the PYD’s seemingly unenthusiastic attitude to Syria’s revolution, he said. What would happen to the Kurds once Assad was overthrown? “Maybe things will be worse for us,” Khalil answered.

The PYD’s leader, Salih Muslim, rejects the charge his party is a collaborationist fifth column. Muslim points out that it was the Kurds who first revolted against Assad – with a bloody uprising in 2004 in Qamishli – and that before the revolution the regime jailed many of his supporters. Kurdish volunteers, meanwhile, have fought alongside the FSA and died in the battle for Aleppo; ordinary Kurds have held anti-Assad protests. Thousands of displaced Arabs have moved to the comparative safety of Kurdish areas.

But there are many obstacles in the way of Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds are not only at odds with the current regime – and its likely replacement – but also with each other. There is a rival political alliance of 12 Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish National Council (KNC). It enjoys the support of Masoud Barzani, the influential president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish north.

Turkey backs the KNC and pro-Barzani factions, perceiving them as posing less of a threat than the PYD.

In July, Barzani convened a peace conference in the Iraqi town of Irbil; all Kurdish political groups took part. They agreed to set aside their differences and to participate in a new supreme Kurdish body. But this deal to share power and hold joint patrols appears to be working badly on the ground. The PYD still controls most checkpoints, and has a network of armed fighters; critics complain its structures are less than democratic.

All Kurdish factions agree on what they want: self-determination within a united, sovereign Syria. But this vision appears too much for the Syrian Arab opposition leaders as they inch closer to power.

This week the US recognised the Islamist-dominated opposition council as the country’s legitimate authority. Earlier this year the KNC stormed out of a meeting with the council’s predecessor after it refused to include wordings about the rights of Kurds. In particular, the Kurds want to drop the word “Arab” from Syria’s official Ba’athist name – the Syrian Arab Republic.

One FSA fighter who fought in last month’s clashes in Qastal, near Ifrin, a Kurdish stronghold, said he was deeply suspicious of Kurdish intentions. “The new Syria has to be a single entity,” Abu Ahmed insisted, recounting how several of his comrades had perished in the shootout. He added: “It’s impossible to make a Kurdistan in Syria like in Iraq. We want one Syria. We don’t want parts of Syria.”

Perhaps the hopeful slogans on Qabbasin’s walls will prevail. Kurds and Arabs have lived side by side for centuries, together with Armenians, Turkmens, Circassians and other ethnic groups. Optimists hope they can patch up their differences and agree a post-Assad political solution. But pessimists predict that once once Assad is gone, the rival forces inside Syria will embark on a new war – with Arabs, nationalists, jihadists, loyalists and Kurds all scrapping with each other.

Back in the coffee shop, Khalil shrugged. “We will have a new conflict, and then we will see who emerges as champion,” he predicted.

• This article was amended on 15 December 2012. The original described Kurds

Advertisements

The Democratic Deficit in our Political System

It’s reported by Inside Croydon that the Conservative-run Council have been forced to concede that the management of Croydon’s soon-to-be privatised public libraries should be monitored monthly, rather than the annual reporting frequency originally proposed. This is a small step in the right direction. But, of course, there was no need to privatise the library service in the first place. This is an ideologically-driven move, part of the Tory-led Government’s plans to use the economic crisis as cover to dismantle the welfare state and sell-off public services. The contract, valued at £30 million over eight years, has been awarded to a subsidiary of John Laing plc, who reportedly came last out of three bidders.

Campaigners are rightly concerned about the impact of the privatisation on the quality of the library service and that the public libraries’ assets will be used to bail out the council’s troubled Urban Regeneration Vehicle (URV), which is effectively council-funded property speculation. Concerns are growing about the viability of the URV given the current state of the property market and the role of vested interests in its operation. Again, secrecy prevails, as the contracts for this publicly-funded enterprise, worth over £450 million, have not been published. Meanwhile, the council’s new headquarters building is estimated to be costing £150 million. But details remain a secret and it’s impossible to judge value-for-money. You have to ask whether this represents a good use of public money, given the very real problems around housing and joblessness in Croydon, or whether this is simply another council vanity project.

Attempts by the opposition or local residents to find out what’s going on at the Council are usually shouted down or ignored by the Conservative group in Council meetings. The lack of transparency and anti-democratic political culture that characterises Croydon Council should come as no surprise. The refusal of the Conservative leader of Croydon Council, Mike Fisher – who receives allowances of £53,223 per year plus expenses – to detail the hours that he spends on official business has also been noted recently. These developments all beg serious questions about the level of accountability and competence at the Council.

Such secretive practises and potential abuses of public resources are all too real example of the anti-democratic trend in Britain. Despite the Government’s rhetoric of ‘localism’ and decentralisation, democratic institutions have been steadily undermined as local authorities’ powers have been eroded and the interests of big business and the City have been advanced by the privatisation agenda. Voters rightly demand high standards of their public servants and elected politicians. But the recent MPs’ expenses scandal, as well as the exposure of close links between Government Ministers and corporate business interests and their lobbyists, demonstrate all too clearly that our political system is experiencing a significant ‘democratic deficit’.

This concentration of political power is aided by a media monopoly, owned by transnational corporations and tax-dodging millionaires, which represents their class interests in favour of privatisation and foreign wars, which is clearly hostile to the left and which distorts the news agenda towards a steady diet of celebrity trivia. The Leveson report into press ethics isn’t going to change this as the crucial issue of press ownership was excluded from the enquiry’s remit.

Deliberately fostered cynicism about the political process by the media plays, of course, to the right who are keen to encourage apathy about the scope for politics to change people’s lives for the better. As the recent Croydon North by-election demonstrated, small, serious, parties like the Communist Party, are fighting an unequal battle. Despite a low turnout, the party managed to increase its share of the vote. But while we secured some good local media exposure, with no national media coverage, no business finance to fund the campaign, and the refusal of the Council to honour their statutory obligation to make council premises available for election candidates, the constraints faced by the party in getting its message across are clear and the absence of real democracy is palpable. The by-election result was a vindication of working people’s dislike of the Coalition government rather than the vacuous, backbone-free, New Labourite Steve Reed, whose lack of any real political programme is plain for all to see.

The record low turnout demonstrates how disconnected ordinary people are becoming from politics. If we’re to build a real alternative to this government it can’t be done by being relying on the Labour Party being slightly less vilified than the Tories. Winning by default will not help the millions of unemployed young people, the millions of pensioners living in poverty or the millions of workers and their families struggling to make ends meet. We need a mass campaign for a real alternative in Croydon and the rest of Britain. If you would like to join the fight-back, get in touch with us via the tab at the top of this page.

Chris Guiton