Well, this is a telling irony. The Rojava Kurds, who have been repeatedly accused of collaborating with Bashar Assad, have now just been dissed by the dictator as “traitors.” Assad told his official news agency SANA Dec. 18: “All those who work under the command of any foreign country in their own country and against their army and people are traitors, quite simply, regardless of their names, and that is our evaluation of the groups that work for the Americans in Syria.” This is clearly a reference to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been received aid from the United States—although to fight ISIS, and definitely not the Assad regime. The core group in the SDF, the Kurdish YPG militia, has intermittently clashed with the regime.
The SDF General Command quickly responded to Assad’s statement, saying that his dictatorship is “the definition of treason” and the people rebelled against his “authoritarian oppressive security regime.” (Rudaw)
Assad’s statement shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is quite in line with the ideology of his regime, whatever accommodations may have existed between the Kurds and the dictatorship against their common enemy of the jihadists. Back in September, Assad told a crowd that “the national identity of Syria exists but its essence is Arabism.” Just a month earlier, his Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad dismissed the Kurds’ self-declared Democratic Federation of Northern Syria as a “joke.” (The Region)
Assad has been intransigent in his refusal to recognize Kurdish autonomy. Unfortunately, so has the rebel opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, seeming to share in the Arab nationalist assumptions of the dictatorship they oppose.
And this comes as the Rojava Kurds are apparently about to be betrayed by the US, which now says it will demand back the arms “loaned” to the SDF to fight ISIS. The Kurds have also received some support from Russia to fight ISIS—and this too seems to be coming to an end. Russian forces are still apparently coordinating with the SDF against ISIS in the battle for Deir ez-Zor. (Rudaw) And the Rojava Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD) say they will have a seat at the upcoming Sochi peace talks on Syria’s future that Moscow is sponsoring. (Reuters) But Russia has also been recently accused of bombing Kurdish forces. A split between the Kurds and Moscow has been building for some time.
It is disturbing that the main (Arab-led) Syrian opposition continue to reject all notions of federalism and regional autonomy. Fears of balkanization are misplaced here, and could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Refusal to accept an autonomist solution could push the Kurds back toward the separatist position that they have disavowed—heightening the threat of Arab-Kurdish ethnic war, which would be a greater disaster still for the whole region.
Turkish backing of the FSA and Russian backing of both Assad and the Kurds have abetted this division. But after the Great Powers are gone, the Syrians are going to have to get along with each other. Let’s hope there are voices on both sides that have not lost sight of this.