Syria

Flight of Icarus? The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria

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The PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union Party) has imposed its dominance in northern Syria, but its long-run prospects – like those of the areas it controls – depend on the party’s ability to adopt a more balanced and inclusive strategy.

In its latest report, Flight of Icarus? The PYD’s Precarious Rise in Syria, the International Crisis Group examines the implications of the Kurdish group’s military strategy and governance project in the north of the war-torn country. Since mid-2012, when the regime withdrew from the Kurdish areas, the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units, have filled the security void and fended off the jihadi opposition. In November 2013 – drawing on its legitimacy as an offshoot of the PKK, the Kurdish Turkish insurgent movement – the PYD proclaimed a transitional administration of Rojava (Western Kurdistan) over three predominantly Kurdish enclaves. Viewed by some as a step toward stability and advancement of Kurdish aspirations, PYD dominance in fact relies on pragmatic cooperation with the regime; an authoritarian inheritance from a group (the PKK) that many countries regard as terrorist; and fragile regional alliances.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • The PYD needs to normalise its relationship with its non-Kurdish environment by reaching out to other minorities and to the more pragmatic strands within the Syrian opposition, without which it will remain hostage to its connections with a regime that at some point likely will turn on it.

  • The PYD should reach out also to other Kurdish factions and diversify the region’s access to resources, which today in large part is a product of its cooperation with the regime.

  • The PYD ought to design, in coordination with other Kurdish and non-Kurdish factions, a strategy to provide services in a decentralised and inclusive manner.

“In northern Syria, as elsewhere, the regime aims to compel people to take refuge in their sectarian and communitarian identities and to divide those who support it from those who oppose it” says Maria Fantappie, Iraq Analyst. “Syria’s Kurdish areas need a project, whether called Rojava or something else, that can unite Kurdish and non-Kurdish elements populating these areas and challenge the regime’s strategy”.

“Kurdish rights, not to mention longer-term local stability, are not likely to be realised through a partnership of convenience between a Kurdish movement claiming autonomy and a centralising authoritarian regime”, says Peter Harling, Project Director for Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and Senior Middle East and North Africa Adviser. “The tasks before Syria’s Kurds are overcoming internal divisions and, together with all peoples of northern Syria, forming a more inclusive, coherent strategy for addressing the specific needs of this part of the country – including protection of the rights of both Kurds and other constituencies who live in their midst”.