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The Kurdish Quest in Syria

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The tragedy unfolding in Syria will likely provide an opportunity for the Kurds of Syria, the largest ethnic minority that has long been discriminated against by the regime, to achieve their political and cultural rights under a federal democratic system or possibly establishing an independent Kurdish state in the post Assad era. Nonetheless, they must unite and prepare for what lies ahead, especially as the President Obama is anticipating the congressional approval for military strikes on Syria.

Endemic corruption, poverty, high unemployment, and the desire for democratic principles such as civic equality, political freedom, and freedom of speech ignited the Arab Spring in Tunisia in December 2010, which quickly spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.

The despotic governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were quickly toppled; but the Ba'ath regime in Syria, on the other hand, has withstood over two years of intense civil war, which has led to one of the most devastating and bloody civil wars its modern history. The latest UN report indicates that Syrian conflict has caused the death of more than 100,000 people, over 2 million refugees, and 4.25 million displaced within the country.

On the other hand, the unfolding calamity has inspired a Kurdish Spring, allowing the Kurdish political parties of the Syrian Kurdistan to resurrect to secure their political and cultural rights in the post-uprising era.

Under the initiative of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region president, Massoud Barzani, in October 2011, with the participation of 13 Syrian Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) was formed as a platform to unify them. Further, as the Democratic Union Party of Kurdistan (PYD) was not included, the Kurdish house was not fully unified. Therefore, under the auspices of president Barzani, the PYD and KNC formed the Kurdish Supreme Committee. Their agenda was to collaborate and administer the Kurdish region collectively.

As the Syrian conflict intensified and the regime became entangled battling the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the al Qaeda affiliates, the al-Nusra Front (ANF) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the regime mobilized most of its armed forces from the Kurdish areas to the battlefield regions. Consequently, the PYD security forces managed to control most of the Kurdish towns and villages.

However, according to the KNC bloc, the PYD has not honored the power-sharing agreement: It has taken unilateral control over the Kurdish region and has blocked the KNC fighters from entering the Kurdish region. Further it has abducted and tortured some of their members.

Other than being suspected of having links with the Syrian regime, the clue that illuminates PYD's totalitarian actions is connected to its Marxist leaning ideology, as it is a subsidiary of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The problem lays in its political philosophy.

In essence, Marxism promotes the notion of a single-party state and rejects political pluralism. It claims that the working class needs a single unifying party to lead society. Thus, the PYD is not inclined to power sharing and does not accept the notion of a multi-party political system. However, the fall of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s proved that the Marxist ideology is inefficient and obsolete.

The Kurds of Syria have suffered dearly under the tyrannical regimes in Damascus, and endangering the current opportunity is a grave betrayal to the Kurdish movement.

Based on a report by the Center for American Progress, the Syrian opposition forces, along with the al Qaeda affiliated groups, are estimated to be over 100,000 combined. Moreover, they are receiving advanced military and logistical support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Therefore, the PYD must reassess its policies, as potentially a full-fledged civil war between the Arabs and the Kurds could erupt in the post-Assad era and sidelining the other Kurdish parties will only weaken the Kurds.

The Kurds of Syria are living through one of the most momentous periods in their modern history; the ongoing turmoil has changed the geopolitics of the region in the their favor, which can provide an opportunity to reverse the artificial borders set by the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916; or at the minimum, lead to the establishment of a Kurdish federal region in northern Syria similar to Iraqi Kurdistan. However, to succeed in their quest and to cope with what lies ahead, it will require collaboration, accepting political pluralism, and having a unified Kurdish front.