Inter-Kurdish tensions mounting against
Free Syrian Army
By Lauren Williams - The Daily Star Lebanon
Graffiti reading "Kurdistan"
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A man waving a Kurdistan Flag.
November 20, 2012
Kurdistan region 'Iraq',— Unwilling to fight
alongside the Syrian Army while they targeted
civilians, young Kurdish conscript Novin defected,
fleeing his hometown of Qamishli in Syrian Kurdistan
to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he ended up in the Diwan
Now, he proudly wears a crisp new uniform of a
different kind – with the Kurdistan flag, with its
yellow sun – sewn on the sleeve.
Novin, one of two new officers of the so-called
“Syrian Peshmerga,” spoke to The Daily Star from the
outskirts of one of the new training camps
established by the president of semi-autonomous
Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, in the northern
Duhok region bordering Syria.
Barzani confirmed his government has provided
training to Syrian Kurds to protect Kurdish areas in
the event of a security vacuum in Syria. There have
been conflicting reports, however, as to the number
of recruits and whether any have yet entered Syria.
Novin, who between seven hours a day of military
training also serves policing duties at the nearby
Dormiz refugee camp, said he trains with around 700
others and claimed a number of his training
colleagues had returned to Syria.
He said he is eager to get back to Syria as soon as
possible “to defend and protect our Kurdish lands.”
“We volunteered with the Peshmerga to protect our
people,” Novin said.
Just who they are protecting their people from is a
complex matter that is threatening to destabilize
all Syrian Kurdistan and perhaps even pit Kurd
against Kurd in an increasingly factional civil war.
Syrian government forces have largely ceded control
in a number of Kurdish cities in northeastern Syria
in recent months. The largely bloodless abandonment
of the oil-rich region has fueled suspicions that
the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), affiliated
with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – a 50,000-strong
guerilla organization branded a terrorist group by
the U.S. that has fought a decades-long war with
Turkey on the southeast – is working with the regime
to provoke Turkey.
Turkey has accused the Assad regime of arming PKK
militants in Syria and, despite talks on Monday, has
warned it will not tolerate an increased PKK
presence in Syria.
Recently the PYD, with their affiliated civilian
militia, the People’s Protection Committees (YPG),
has further consolidated control of Kurdish
territories, expelling Syrian government forces from
the city of Malikieh last week.
YPG forces there overran intelligence headquarters,
announcing they had “liberated” the city. Residents
told The Daily Star the move was to prevent giving
the Free Syrian Army a pretext to enter the city.
The PYD push has been at least partially prompted by
a flare-up of tensions between mainly Arab Free
Syrian Army fighters and PYD forces in Kurdish areas
of Aleppo and at the ethnically mixed city of Ras
al-Ain bordering Turkey. Clashes there have killed
dozens in the last 10 days and continued Monday,
when the local leader of the Higher Kurdish Council
was reportedly up to 20 people killed.
Later Monday, Kurdish leaders announced a cease-fire
between FSA rebels and Kurdish militia had come into
force in Ras al-Ain to ease tension.
The Kurds, Syria’s largest minority, have suffered
decades of repression and statelessness under the
Baath party and hold historic enmity for the Assad
regime. But they fear an Islamist-led Arab
opposition would be no more sympathetic to Kurdish
The oil-rich Eastern region from Hassakeh to
Qamishli in the north has been the subject of
decades of land dispute between Arabs and Kurds
under Baathist land redistribution policies.
While support for the PYD varies across Kurdish
territory, growing fears of an FSA onslaught and the
absence of any alternative force appears to be
strengthening support for the group in Kurdish
At the remote border crossing of Faysh Khabour in
northern Syria managed by YPG forces, Hassan, a
refugee fleeing the fighting in Ras al-Ain to Iraqi
Kurdistan told The Daily Star his opinion on the
group had changed.
“I used to hate the PYD. I thought they were just
another dictatorship. But they defended us at Seri
Caniyeh [Ras al-Ain], and I am grateful,” he said.
In Qamishli, a strategic, ethnically mixed but
majority Kurdish city on the far northeastern border
with Turkey, tensions were mounting this week amid
rumors of an imminent move by the FSA to move in to
An opposition activist opposed to the PYD told The
Daily Star hundreds of YPG fighters had been sent to
Ras al-Ain from the city.
On Tuesday, the head of a Free Syrian Army battalion
in Deir al-Zor, using the first name of “Mohannad”
told The Daily Star, “we will take Qamishli this
week,” but said he did not anticipate any clashes
with Kurdish forces.
Leader of the Democratic Society Movement,
affiliated with the PYD and head of the Higher
Kurdish Council, Aldar Khalil told the The Daily
Star that an operational plan in the works for
“months” had been enacted and that the PYD was
positioning itself to “defend Qamishli.”
“We don’t see the FSA as an enemy, but the people
see them as a plan made by Turkey. We have an enemy
of 50 years in the regime, but Turkey is our
historic enemy,” he explained.
He said until now, there had been no need to call on
the offer of intervention from PKK fighters – who he
claimed were not in Syria. The Daily Star spoke to
several PYD-affiliated militia who said they had
fought with the PKK against Turkey in the Qandil
mountain area of Iraq.
“For now the YPG can defend our cities, and we have
not asked anyone to help ... but we don’t know what
will happen in the future. When the enemies of the
Kurds attack the Kurds, there are forces that will
assist. But for now we don’t want any intervention
The move by the PYD to consolidate control of
Kurdish territory is worrying others and inflaming
Disagreements within a coalition of Kurdish
opposition parties, the Kurdish National Council,
largely based in Iraqi Kurdistan, meant the group
never joined the former Turkish-backed mainstream
Syrian opposition bloc,www.ekurd.net
the Syrian National Council. Some factions of the
KNC accuse the PYD of working with the Assad regime,
while the militarily stronger PYD has repeatedly
refused to cooperate with the council.
But under sponsorship by Barzani, who is allied with
Turkey, the group did forge a tenuous unity
agreement with the PYD, setting up the Supreme
Kurdish Council in Irbil in July.
But with Kurds on the ground being increasingly
drawn in to the battlefront, the paper agreement
looks increasingly redundant in the face of the
superior military power of the PYD forces.
In an interview at a hotel in Irbil, the head of the
Azadi Party and secretary-general of the KNC,
Mustafa Jama’a, who was recently arrested and
released by the PYD, accused the group of breaching
the agreement to share control of Kurdish regions
and repeated claims the group is armed by the Syrian
He voiced fears that “Kurds will start killing
As yet, the KNC has not responded officially to the
PYD-FSA clashes, but Jama’a said urgent agreement
was needed with the FSA.
“It’s natural that the people are backing the PYD
because they are scared now. We can’t do anything at
the moment because we don’t have our own militia,”
he said, adding that plans to join FSA forces with
the Peshmerga-trained units had not eventuated after
the PYD expelled the units.
Barzani, allied with Turkey, has denied the Syrian
Peshmerga had entered Syria, while the PYD
leadership also denied it had expelled the KRG-trained
Kurds from Kurdish cities.
“With an agreement with the FSA we could defend the
Kurdish cities from our mutual enemy, Assad.”
“We are ready to send 1,000 to 1,500 Syrian
Peshmerga to Syria,” he said.
“But we know that if we do, we will be fighting the
PYD. We will be Kurds killing Kurds.”
On his way to evening training, Syrian Peshmerga
officer Novin’s sentiment made the political power
play for Free Kurdistan seem remote.
“Assad is better than the PYD, and we hate them. But
they are protecting our areas from the FSA. If the
new Arab regime gives us our rights we have no
problem. Otherwise, we will fight them as well.”
Copyright ©, respective author or news agency,
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