Refrain from playing Kurdish factions one against another, and pursue insteada policy of consolidating unity and bolstering the representativeness and legitimacyof the Supreme Kurdish Committee.Encourage in particular the KNC and PYD to work together more closely inbringing peace and stability to majority Kurd areas of Syria, in coordination withindependent youth groupsthe escalating struggle between Syria’s pro and anti-regimecamps, the country’s predominantly Kurdish areas in the north and north east arewitnessing a brewing, intricate conflict of their own. It opposes Kurds originating inthe Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has ledan armed insurgency against the Turkish state in a quest for greater Kurdish rightssince the 1980s,1 and rival Kurdish factions loosely gathered under the Kurdish NationalCouncil (KNC), which is supported byPresident MasoudBarzani and KurdistanDemocratic Party (KDP).Arguably the largest and most powerful Kurdish faction, the Democratic UnionParty ( PYD), founded in 2003, is ideologically, and somewould claim organizationally and militarily, affiliated with the PKK. While the PYDdenies it is a branch of that group, it is a member of the Union of Kurdish Communities( KCK), an umbrella organization that shares the sameleadership and charter as the PKK, as seen in more detail below.Military ties between the two. The PYD’s armed branch, the People’sDefense Corps (YPG), was trained by the PKK at itsheadquarters in northern Iraq’s Qandil mountain range. For the PKK, the Syrian uprising, which began in March 2011, was an opportunityto shift or at a minimum diversify its political and military rear base.
The PYD was banned in Syria, its leadership headed home from Qandilsoon after the uprising started. Salih Muslim, its leader, served jail time in Syria for illegal political activity before fleeing in 2010 and seeking refuge with the PKK in Iraq, while in exile, the regime sentenced him to life imprisonment. He reportedly returnedto Syria’s Kurdish areas in April 2011. At that point, the party began aggressivelypursuing political and paramilitary activities to mobilize support among SyrianKurds. According to someone with close ties to the PYD, that also is the time whenthe PKK sent 1,000 armed fighters to establish the PYD’s military wing, the YPG. These developments raised suspicions, notably among rival factions, that thePYD had reached an agreement with the regime allowing it to reestablish a presenceand operate openly in Syria in exchange for cooperation with security forces in quellinganti-regime demonstrations in predominantly Kurdish areas. Some go farther,using the derogatory term shabbiha for the party. Alleged Baath party documents, suggest the regime early on had decided to rely onthe PYD as a local proxy rather than directly attacking the Kurdish areas itself. Oneof these documents emphasized the need to place Kurdish areas under surveillance, and to coordinate with the PYD in secret to quell protests and protestors;and not to intervene with security forces in the Kurdish areas. CrisisGroup cannot authenticate these documents or confirm the existence of a formal agreement between the PYD and the regime; it is possible the PYD merely exploitedthe vacuum left by preoccupied, under deployed and, in some areas, mostly absentsecurity forces, while reaching a tacit modus vivendi with Damascus.
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