The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an internationally-designated terrorist entity, currently controls about a fifth of Syria’s territory in the northeast, an area it calls “Rojava”. The PKK works, as I explained in a recent report for The Henry Jackson Society, under the banner of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) while on Syrian territory, and has sought—with Western complicity—to obscure its activities even further by attaching some subordinate Arab units to its forces and calling this supposed-umbrella organization the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF is the principle partner of the seventy-three-member coalition, led by the United States, that seeks to destroy the Islamic State (IS). On 14 September, the PYD/PKK launched a fresh crackdown on the Kurdish opposition, which has been viciously persecuted by the PKK back to 2011 and assaulted with an especial vigour since the spring of this year. The Kurds arrested by the PKK yesterday, and whose demonstration was attacked and dispersed by the PKK this afternoon, were voicing their support for the independence referendum to be held on 25 September by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
In Rojava, most of the non-PKK Kurdish parties have gathered under the banner of the Kurdish National Council (KNC or ENKS), which has links with the KRG. One of the leading elements within KNC/ENKS is the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (PDKS), the sister party of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq, which is the party of KRG president Masud Barzani.
When Bashar al-Asad’s regime pulled out of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria in the summer of 2012 and handed them over to the PKK, its intention was to keep the Kurds out of the rebellion, to retain its key infrastructure in these zones (which the PKK has allowed the regime to do), and to minimize the influence of foreign powers—specifically Turkey and the KRG—in these areas.
That Asad perceives the Rojava statelet as in his interests is flagrantly demonstrated by the Asad regime’s provision of the resources—financial, administrative, and even some military—that make Rojava viable. This has been clearly visible in Aleppo city, which the PKK assisted the pro-Asad coalition in conquering with indiscriminate atrocities last December, and the surrounding areas where the PKK now has its land-bridge between the eastern cantons and Efrin via regime-held territory. In the case of Minbij, it seems the PKK has given way on some overt symbols of its exclusivist domination of the city, but the “Qandilians” still rule from the shadows and Asad’s mukhabarat (intelligence services) have been allowed back in—and begun carrying off dozens of people—as the price of the regime restoring services the PKK is unable to provide.
Relations between the PKK and the Asad regime have even begun to warm in public. For example, female members of the PKK’s “Women’s Council” attended a meeting in August with Mihrac Ural, the leader of the “Syrian Resistance”, a regime death squad best known for a pogrom against Sunni civilians in Bayda and Baniyas, on the Syrian Coast, in May 2013, that slaughtered at least 167 people and involved such gruesome atrocities as “a fetus [being] ripped from a woman’s belly”. And, while the PKK initially made vociferous claims that there would be “no role” for Asad in a post-IS Raqqa, it is now conceded that the regime will have some role once the caliphate collapses in its Syrian “capital”. The PKK apparently draws the line at Asad’s security institutions, yet Minbij has already shown not only that the PKK can quite happily coexist with the Asad regime’s secret police but that the PKK doesn’t always tell the absolute truth; the PKK had promised to withdraw from Minbij once IS was gone last summer.
Read the rest at The Henry Jackson Society