Syrian Kurds Bank on Big Oil Reserves
By: Youssef Sheikho
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Qamishli – Several days ago, the Popular Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia in Syria, declared that it had seized three cities with adjoining oil fields, most notably Rumeilan. Kurdish militants took control of the cities without “shedding one drop of blood.”
In the meantime, reports have been leaked indicating that the Syrian regime may be planning a withdrawal from the northeastern city of Qamishli sometime in March.
According to these reports, the Kurdish militias are preparing to take control of Qamishli, considered to be the center of Syria’s Kurdish population both demographically and politically.
It is worth noting that the Syrian regime considers Qamishli’s airport a significant military asset. This explains why the YPG has their sights set on the airport, as the Kurdish militia is planning to impose control over what it calls “Western Kurdistan.”
The progress made on the field by the Kurdish militia has coincided with brigades from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) seizing the city of Tal Hamis, about 20 miles south of Qamishli. The majority of these FSA brigades are made up of fighters from the Arab tribes in the region of Hasaka.
These developments coincided with the FSA’s declaration that it has taken control of the northern city of Raqqa. This means that the regime’s regional presence is now limited to the city of Hasaka.
Kurdish sources told Al-Akhbar that the YPG was quick to seize so-called “Kurdish areas” from the regime, “so that there would be no pretext for an attack by opposition brigades on these areas.” Despite these developments, the fate of Hasaka remains uncertain, at least in the foreseeable future.
Informed observers believe that the YPG and FSA, having snatched the territory lost by the regime, may soon clash with one another. For one thing, the Kurds are now closer to “achieving their dream,” while the FSA, which is close to the Justice and Development administration in Turkey, will want to try to abort any plans that could undermine Ankara’s interests.
The Turkish government is closely monitoring these developments. Ankara is apprehensive about Kurdish “self-rule” in Syria, a concern that is further fueled by the fact that Kurds control nearly all the country’s oil fields.
Indeed, a 2009 study from the University of Damascus revealed that in addition to Syria’s 69 billion barrels worth of proven oil reserves, it had about 315 billion barrels of undiscovered reserves. Most of these oil fields are located along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey.
In a statement, the YPG said that “only the High Kurdish Council and the Syrian National Coalition have the right to hold discussions over the Syrian Petroleum Company (SPC).”
The same statement asserts that the Kurdish militia is to provide protection to the SPC, the largest oil company in Syria which employs nearly 6,000. The YPG also vowed that it would not interfere in the company’s internal affairs.
Syrian Kurds were quoted in the media as saying that seizing the oil facilities was to be expected, as they are the “rightful inheritors of the land.”
“After years of deprivation, now is the time for Kurds to assert their right to take advantage of these resources.”
In the same vein, some believe that if Syrian Kurds manage to obtain autonomy, they may be able to develop “a kind of independence similar to Iraq.”
Other observers believe these developments will mean that the Kurds will have de facto control over the majority of oil fields in Syria. This, they say, may prove to be one of the biggest sources of dispute between Arabs and Kurds in the “new Syria.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.