Assad and Kurds Can Peacefully Coexist. By Manish Rai
04 Dec 2019
The Kurds have brokered a deal with the President Bashar Al-Assad government that saw the Syrian Arab Army returning for the first time to the areas controlled by the Kurds which they left since the early days of the civil war. Regime forces entered the provinces of Hasakah and Raqqa. Moreover, Assad forces also took over symbolically important city of Kobane, in the remote north-eastern countryside of Aleppo. There is growing concern among the Kurdish people that Assad’s re-entry into north-eastern Syria signals the beginning of the end of seven years of Kurdish autonomy in the area. These concerns are not totally baseless as in past Damascus had deprived thousands of Kurds of citizenship rights, banned their language and clamped down on Kurdish political activity. But lot of things have changed in Syrian political landscape since the start of civil war in 2011. Kurds even after facing immense pressure from Turkey now are better armed and organised and Syrian government is also not that much strong which it used to be before the civil war. In the post war Syria Assad and Kurds can peacefully coexist as there is lot of scope for mutual cooperation.
Syria’s Baathist state and Kurds have broadly stayed out of each other way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. There was always a tacit understanding between President Assad and Kurds with regard to the administration of the region from which the Syrian army withdrew in 2012. For example, the state government employees serving in this region continued receiving salaries from Damascus and the regime controls the airport in Kurdish-dominated city of Qamishli and maintained some security centres in the city. This basic understanding can be used for future detailed negotiations. Though Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take back “every inch” of his country, he still lacks the forces to do it and more than eight years of war has severally damaged the Syrian armed forces. If the battle harden Kurdish forces can be integrated with Syrian army it will be a great added advantage to Damascus. The Kurds needs help from the Assad forces to protect them from Turkey’s onslaught and the Syrian Arab Army will find Kurds essential for ruling north Syria and policing against both rebels and ISIS attack. Moreover, Assad and Kurds have one common enemy i.e. Turkey. Kurds see Ankara as an existential threat and Assad considers Turkey the biggest supporter of the Syrian armed opposition against him. Assad and Kurds can jointly stop Turkey expansionist policies in Northern Syria. A real understanding between the Kurds and the Syrian state would definitely worry Ankara.
But to reach certain accommodation both the parties have to accept the truth. For Kurds it is a hard reality that under current circumstances when they have Turkey standing on their head and they are left alone by their ally. They have to abandoned the demands for extensive autonomy within a decentralised federal state in Syria and the preservation of the Kurdish forces as an independent military force. As these demands will never be accepted by Damascus. On the other hand, President Assad also have to acknowledge that although he emerged as a victor in this conflict but still, he can’t rule Syria with same authoritative mindset of pre-war time. Moreover, Kurds are not unreasonable in their demands. As the two million Kurds in Syria, accounting for 10-15% of total population, has only aspired before the civil war to nothing more than a degree of autonomy an aspiration always denied to them. Syrian Kurds never thought to break away from the country. At least some of their basic demands can be fulfilled by Damascus like- cultural rights and some sort of autonomy for local governance.
Syria is a multiethnic society consisting of Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkomans, Alwaites and Yazidis. All of them has to realise that they have to rebuilt Syria collectively to ensure their own well-being. To start with this Syrian government and Kurds have to come together as the territory held by Assad and the Kurds accounts for most of Syria. It should be noted that in 2000s when President Erdogan of Turkey led his AKP party to victory in the general election and formed his first government a deal was actually reached with the outlaw PKK. Some cultural rights were granted to Kurds like- Kurdish language began to be used in broadcasting, education and in print media. In return PKK also softened their demands for a separate state for Kurds. If Turkey and Kurds can come to some sort of deal then why not Assad and Syrian Kurds. Only sincere and honest efforts are required from both the sides.
(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency ViewsAround can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)