Kurdish Community Centre, Halkevi Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre, Sussex Kurdish Community Centre, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign & Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC)
The Kurdish experiment in democratic autonomy in Syria has taken important steps forward in recent weeks with the declaration of self-rule in the Rojava region amid massive popular celebrations. Despite having suffered brutal repression at the hands of Assad over many years, the Syrian Kurds have refrained from joining in the attempt to overthrow the regime by violent means and instead opted to defend themselves from threats from regime and rebel forces by exercising their right to self-determination. In doing so, the Kurds have defended the rights and freedoms of all communities residing within the Kurdish controlled region, repudiating sectarianism as utterly alien to their progressive democratic principles. This enlightened position stands in stark contrast to the divisive targeting of minorities and deliberate ethnic cleansing carried out by groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, whose onslaught continues to threaten civilians in Rojava and the relative peace that has been maintained there since the start of the conflict.
Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the PYD, has stated that Syrian Kurds do not support either the government or the rebel groups, but only seek to protect themselves from massacres and ethnic cleansing. Islamist militias have been waging a brutal ethnic cleansing on Kurdish villagers and have been responsible for atrocities and massacres against unarmed Kurdish civilians. “Those who attack us and our homes have no respect for democracy or freedom; they have no respect for anything,” the Syrian Kurdish leader continued. “All that we have said and done from the very outset was to protect ourselves both from the regime and from these forces.”
Bloody clashes continued over the summer near the Turkish border between the Syrian Kurds headed by the PYD and the al-Nusra Front threatening to destabilise the region and spill over into Turkey. In reaction, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned that the country would not stand by if the conflict “poses a threat to Turkey’s security.”
Kurdish towns Tel-Aran and Tel-Hasel and its villages of Aleppo, have been under brutal attack, with hundreds of innocent Kurdish children, women and elderly people murdered and ritually beheaded. In addition, hundreds of civilians have been taken hostage with their fate still unknown and thousands civilians forcibly fled their homes in horror at the violence from these armed terrorist groups, according to the PYD.
What needs intense scrutiny is the role of Turkey in fuelling the conflict in the Kurdish part of Syria. Despite Turkish official denials of giving support to groups like al-Nusra, Turkey’s claims to be totally uninvolved cannot simply be accepted without question. There is also the issue of cross-border arms supplies coming from Turkish territory to these militant groups. These issues need to be investigated and stopped immediately.
Turkey has been prepared to enter into talks with Saleh Muslim, but has not ceased in its attempts to undermine the integrity of the Kurdish position inside Syria, alarmed by the self-government exercised by the Kurds in the country since the outbreak of the civil war, fearing that its example of freedom and democracy will spread to Turkey itself.
Syrian Kurds led by the PYD have put forward detailed and constructive proposals for a peaceful democratic transformation of Syria that preserves the ethnic diversity and secular character of the country. In November last year, plans were announced to establish an interim administration to govern the region, and on the eve of the Geneva II conference, on 21 January 2014, the Kurds officially declared autonomy. Three separate cantons in Cizîre, Kobanê, and Efrîn are being headed by a coalition of Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, Armenians and Muslims, and a new Rojava Constitution has been drawn up in which the rights of the child and of women to full participation in political, economic and social life is guaranteed. This new administration must be more widely supported as it represents a genuine people-led proposal for a peaceful future Syria. We support the right of the Kurds in Syria to exercise democratic self-government in the region.
We call for the release of any civilian hostages held by rebel groups and urge an immediate halt to the arms supplies to these factions who are turning their weapons on innocent civilians and carrying out war crimes. A team of experts needs to visit the Kurdish area to verify the reports of recent massacres, to compile evidence that will bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice.
Both the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council and their international supporters have repeatedly ignored calls for the Kurdish question to be included in the Geneva II peace talks and for the participation of the Kurdish bloc as an independent group. This is one reason why the talks have descended into farce; the only parties that genuinely represent the Syrian people are simply not present while international and regional players attempt to carve out a new Syria modelled on their own interests. They are also only now waking up to the very real threat that groups like Jabhat al-Nusra pose to the country, having tacitly encouraged, and even financially and logistically supported these groups for over two years. Whatever strategy Washington and its allies, including Turkey, might be seeking for a future Syria, the recognition of the democratic rights of the Kurds surely needs to be central; Kurdish rights must be protected and acknowledged along with those of the many religious and ethnic communities living in this extremely diverse country which historically has been one of the most multicultural countries in the Middle East.
We urge you to respond to the emergency appeal to defend the Kurds in Syria. They stand for the values of peace, freedom and democracy for all the peoples of Syria that the international community itself claims to uphold. The Kurds are calling for our support. We should not let them down.
14 February 2014