The participation of Syria’s Kurdish minority in the Geneva peace talks has become an international issue and seems to be the main reason behind last week’s postponement.
Both the Syrian government and the opposition are wary of genuine Kurdish participation in the conference and both have avoided discussing the community’s future as a recognised ethnic minority.
Over the past year, the Kurdish military role on the ground has significantly increased, and Kurdish parties have proved they can autonomously govern their communities in northeastern Syria.
Syrian Kurds have also demonstrated an understanding of the rules of the “balance of power” within the region. Their stance against the Syrian authorities has been clear since the beginning of the uprising, when they took part in anti-government demonstrations. However, they have recently distanced themselves from the conflict between the government, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and other opposition factions.
The Kurdish National Council (ENKS) is a part of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and some of its members are part of the SNC’s delegation in Geneva. Prior to the start of talks last week, the ENKS organized a campaign to create a petition with one million signatures calling on the U.N. to include the Kurdish issue in those discussions.
“Kurdish people in Syria make up 15% of the population and have been subject to sectarian policies implemented by the regime that have targeted Kurdish national existence,” the petition states. Solving the Kurdish issue, the petition says, will contribute to the security and stability of the country.
Some observers believe that the ENKS was pushed to create the petition because it has failed to assert any political influence as a party, either domestically or internationally, and has yet to convince its partners in the Syrian opposition and in the international community to recognise the Kurdish issue, despite its legitimacy.
The campaign claims it has collected more than 625,400 signatures for the petition, but many local activists question the accuracy of this number (there are more than two million ethnic Kurds in Syria), and have dismissed the petition as another attempt by the ENKS to use the campaign for Kurdish inclusion for their own political ends.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), on the other hand, continues with its project of self-rule in northeastern Syria, which celebrated its two-year anniversary last week. The PYD, however, insists on barring any attempt at pluralism, and has not honored any of the agreements it has signed with the ENKS. The ENKS, in turn, has accused the PYD of tyrannical practices: arresting activists, journalists and anybody who criticises its policies.
But while self-rule is a step in the right direction for many Syrian Kurds, the project does not necessarily meet their larger ambitions of an independent state or a federal system under which they could live autonomously.
At the close of the First World War, the allied powers, with approval from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, agreed to draw new borders in the region and to give the Kurdish people a state of their own. However, in 1923, the allies changed their plans and signed a new agreement with Turkey that left the Kurdish people divided between four different countries.
Since then, the Kurdish people have struggled under oppressive regimes that have denied them equal rights as citizens, have continually discriminated against them, and have attempted to obliterate their ethnic identity in the name of nationalism. This has happened in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.
We are sure that Kurdish ambitions in Syria are consistent with the establishment of a democratic, civil and pluralistic state, with a constitution that guarantees Kurdish rights and recognizes their national identity, just like it would for all other citizens. However, it is clear that there is an unspoken consensus between the regime and the opposition that the Kurds are a foreign component of “questionable” loyalty to the Syrian state.
Some Kurds in Syria have been left wondering why the ENKS is not their representative at the Geneva conference. According to reports, although some Kurdish politicians are attending the conference, many members of the Council have said that, despite their attempts, they were not allowed to participate. Others believe that excluding the Kurds was a move by international players who do not want them to gain further power in Syria.
In all cases, the exclusion of the Kurds from the Geneva talks won’t deter them from continuing their struggle to realize a democratic Syria where they are recognized as equal citizens and partners with a distinct culture. Most Kurds in Syria do not worry about their future like they have previously. They believe in their ability to solve any issues that they may face, so long as the international community finds a solution to the Syrian crisis. They are not afraid to advocate their case because their requests are legitimate, and because they will never let go of their rights.
We, both as Kurds and as Syrians, love our country. We will never give up on it. But we will not allow the discriminatory policies practiced by successive governments to be repeated. This recent attack against the representation of Kurdish people in Geneva will only escalate the tragic situation in Syria, as the daily killing, hunger, blockades, random bombardments, displacement and torture continues.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.
Top image: Syrian Kurdish militia members of the YPG make a V-sign next to a drawing of Abdullah Ocalan, jailed Kurdish rebel leader, in Esme village in Aleppo province on Feb. 22, 2015. (Associated Press)