Syria: Qamishli’s Kurds Fight Two Enemies at Once

A Syrian Kurdish refugee from the majority-Kurdish Sheikh Maqsud district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, prepares a tea in a yard next a school used as a refugee camp in northern city of Afrin on 9 April 2013. (Photo: AFP - Dimitar Dilkoff)

By: Youssef Sheikho

Published Friday, April 19, 2013

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish militias battle with both regime and opposition forces outside the Kurdish city of Qamishli.

Recently, a government air raid killed 16 civilians, including three children, in the village of Hadad just south of Qamishli. According to local witnesses, the attacks were directed against Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters based near the Kurdish villages.

The deaths came a day after regime forces bombarded nine villages south of Qamishli as armed opposition groups attacked the 154th Brigade stationed on the edge of the city.

The Kurdish political parties that control the area – the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Kurdish National Democratic Union (PYD) – had warned both the regime and opposition to stay away from Qamishli so as to spare it the kind of fighting that has engulfed many parts of the country.

But while the KNC, which was founded in 2011 in Erbil under the auspices of Masoud Barzani, took a more vocal stand, the PYD, which is aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was more circumspect in its response, reflecting its leader’s recent statement that the party must choose one of its two enemies to fight.

The PYD would like to avoid a confrontation with the regime as it could very well end in the destruction of Kurdish areas and the displacement of its inhabitants. This was the case in Aleppo where 150,000 Kurds were forced to flee during the fighting.

This does not mean that the PYD has not fought ferocious battles with the regime. A PYD militia source told Al-Akhbar that the regime is refusing to pull out of Qamishli. Some attribute this to the recently declared negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government, and the turn of events in Aleppo.

Al-Akhbar also learned that PYD fighters allowed the opposition to reach the 154th Brigade checkpoint after receiving orders to facilitate their attack on regime forces.

Syria’s Kurds are divided in their opinion of the PYD. One group appreciates their presence as a defense from attacks by the armed opposition, like those in Ras al-Ayn at the end of 2012. Others reject the party’s tendency to impose its politics and ideology on the areas it controls.

A Kurdish source in Qamishli argues that the PYD “does not work for anyone and is not in the service of anyone but the Kurds and their interests.” In this situation, he said, “the only innocent party is the people. The regime kills the people and the opposition kills the people. This is the cesspool of war.”

He concludes by saying “we are willing to be partners with whoever recognizes us and our rights.”

Today, there are growing Kurdish concerns of a major confrontation between the PYD forces and the opposition, which has threatened to attack both government and Kurdish military positions in Qamishli.

Kurdish sources say that the “regime will be leaving the Kurdish areas sooner or later, therefore, our fight is with the new occupiers.”

Many in the area are convinced that a major attack by the opposition is not long in coming. This could lead to an outbreak of further violence in the area, dissolving the agreement signed by the two sides after their last major confrontation around Ras al-Ayn.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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