Can US Help Achieve Unity for Syrian Kurds?

28 June 2020

Syrian Kurdish groups recently announced plans to work together to govern the northeastern part of Syria.

United States officials have expressed support for the unity effort.

FILE - Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, stand guard at the Syrian side of the border with Iraq near Rabiaa border crossing, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2019.
FILE - Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, stand guard at the Syrian side of the border with Iraq near Rabiaa border crossing, Iraq, Oct. 16, 2019.

Since 2012, two groups have largely been in control of the Kurdish-majority area. One is the People's Protection Units, YPG, and its political organization the Democratic Union Party, PYD. The YPG is the main group within the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF. The SDF has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against Islamic State, IS, in Syria.

The other group is the Kurdish National Council in Syria, ENKS, which includes several political parties. The ENKS has opposed the PYD and its autonomous administration in northeast Syria.

'Significant progress'

U.S. officials hope the two sides will set aside their differences and work to improve the local administration in Syria's northeast.

For months, the U.S. government has been helping with negotiations between the sides. The goal of the talks is an agreement for a political solution that enables them to take part in a joint administration for northeast Syria.

Following the announcement, the U.S. Interest Section in Syria released a statement. It said the agreement will cover governance, administrative cooperation and protection.

"The United States welcomes this as an important step towards greater understanding and practical cooperation," the statement said.

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed in 2012 after Syrian government forces attacked protestors during the early days of the country's civil war. However, a U.S. interests office at the Czech Embassy in Damascus communicates with the Syrian public through social media.

Stabilizing NE Syria

Nicholas Heras is a Middle East expert at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. He says the United States wants the Syrian Kurdish parties to work together to bring order to northeast Syria. This will help as the U.S. government continues its campaign against the Islamic State group.

Heras told VOA that the U.S. wants to provide a Syrian-Kurdish party that can govern northeastern Syria and that will be acceptable to Turkey's government. He added that the move will assist a "U.S.-led effort to execute counter-ISIS operations."

The ENKS is considered close to Turkish officials. The Kurdish group has expressed a willingness to work in the administration established by the PYD.

"The success of this agreement depends on how much the U.S. can support it while investing in our region politically," said Sulaiman Oso. He is an ENKS leader.

Other Kurdish officials say unity efforts are important to protect the gains they have made against Islamic State forces during the Syrian civil war.

"Turkey and the Syrian regime are trying to damage our gains," said Mazioum Abdi, the general commander of the SDF. He told VOA that the agreement will prevent Turkey and Syria's government from using Kurdish divisions for political gains.

Turkish objection

Heras says the U.S. push for Syrian Kurdish unity could lessen Turkey's worries about PYD's strength in the northeast. Turkish forces have carried out operations against the SDF.

Turkey considers both the YPG and PYD as part of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The PKK has fought Turkey for years in a campaign for greater rights. Turkish and U.S. officials describe the group as a terrorist organization.

Yet even with the agreement, Turkish officials say any groups that work with the PKK will be considered targets for military operations.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Sirwan Kajjo reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

autonomous adj. a self-governing state

practical - adj. logical and orderly

regime – n. a ruling organization that is not democratically elected