Thu, Oct 12, 2017 - Page 9 News List

It is not independence, but Syrian Kurds entrench self-rule

As part of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s efforts to promote a federal system, they elected local councils late last month and by early next year they hope to elect their first regional parliament

By Sarah El Deeb  /  AP, BEIRUT

Illustration: Mountain People

Adnan Hassan, a Syrian Kurd, finally has hope for himself and his people.

Two years ago, Islamic State group militants nearly wiped out his hometown, Kobani, along Syria’s border with Turkey and killed 10 members of his family. Now with the militants driven out and going down in defeat, a new university is opening in the town, and Hassan will be its professor for Kurdish language and literature.

It is the first university in the self-administered Kurdish areas and the first in Syria to teach Kurdish.

The future of his people, Syria’s largest ethnic minority long ostracized by the government, could not look better, he said.

“We are living a dream and we are waiting for this dream to come true,” Hassan said.

Across the border, Iraq’s Kurds have sparked a major confrontation with their neighbors and Baghdad by holding a referendum for outright independence, while Syria’s Kurds are making major advances toward their own, less ambitious goal — winning recognition for the self-rule they seized during Syria’s war.

They say their aspirations for a federal system in Syria might now find more international and domestic support, and they are positioned as a player Damascus must reckon with in any final resolution of the conflict.

Perhaps more importantly, they have land.

Backed by the US in the fight against the Islamic State group, Kurdish forces control nearly 25 percent of Syria. They hold most of the northern border with Turkey and have expanded into non-Kurdish, Arab-dominated areas.

The US has set up bases there to provide battlefield support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, as well as the training and advising of security forces, and the new civilian administrations in liberated areas.

The Kurds have also maintained close ties with Russia and are confident they can fend off Turkey, which is vehemently opposed to a Kurdish entity on its border.

The ruling Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) heads a de facto self-rule administration in the Kurdish-majority region of northern Syria known as Rojava.

As part of their efforts to promote a federal system, they elected new local councils late last month. By early next year, they hope to elect their first regional parliament, representative of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen.

“In Rojava, we have a federal project. In [Iraqi] Kurdistan, it is the long awaited state. The two complement one another in realizing the Kurds’ aspiration for a dignified life,” Hassan said.

It is a remarkable turnaround.

Syria’s Kurds were about 10 percent of the pre-war population of 23 million, but Damascus had long suppressed any expression of their identity in the majority Arab nation.

Jubilant Syrian Kurds celebrated their neighbors’ independence referendum by flying Iraqi Kurdish flags alongside the flags of their own militia from cars honking down the streets late into the night, but the surge in Kurdish power in both Iraq and Syria does not mean the two sides are about to join — they remain divided by political rivalries.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum sparked furious opposition from the Iraqi government, as well as Iran and Turkey, who fear it will fuel secessionist movements among their own Kurdish minorities and dismantle the map of the Fertile Crescent in place since World War I.

There was also a backlash from the Arabs. Lebanon’s Hezbollah accused the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel — the only state to support Kurdish independence — of manipulating Kurds to start another war.

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