Most reporting on the Syrian Kurds depicts them as fairly unified behind their Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia against the menace of the Islamic State. In truth, there are Kurdish opposition parties, and they have been complaining about the PYD using heavy-handed tactics to suppress them.
“Iraqi Kurds have said that the PYD cannot be considered a group that represents all Kurds in Syria and that the group’s legitimacy has declined for them,” writes the Daily Sabah. “The PYD has forced 13 Syrian Kurdish parties to leave PYD territory. All of these parties are represented in the Syrian National Coalition that supports the territorial integrity of a free Syria.”
Two incidents in particular have angered Kurdish opposition leaders. Last week, the PYD banned the Rudaw news agency from operating in the area of Kobani, a strategically vital border city that Kurds defended from a prolonged and brutal siege by the Islamic State. Rudaw is not even allowed to publish work from freelance journalists in the area.
The PYD was remarkably candid about why it the ban was imposed: “The decision will be in place unless Rudaw changes its politics.”
Rudaw called this “an old-fashioned and ideological perspective on media work” in a statement, vowing it would “not stop its duty under pressure of any kind,” and would not allow the ban to “create a gap between Rudaw and the people of Kobani.”
“Rudaw believes that Syrian Kurdistan needs to portray an image of democracy and freedom to the world to attract the international community’s support, but also to gain a guarantee of the existence of their entity at a time of huge changes in the Middle East. By banning free and professional media the canton shows it violates freedom, despite the fact that it is also calling for freedom,” said the news agency.
Opposition groups, including the Socialist Party of Kurdistan (PSK) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), condemned the ban as a “violation of freedom of expression and freedom of media,” comparing it to something the “invaders of Kurdistan” — i.e. ISIS — would do.
The other controversial move by the PYD involved blocking the return to Syria of some 6,000 fighters from the peshmerga militia trained by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
The KRG angrily accused the PYD of becoming a wing of the Assad regime in Damascus. Mustafa Shafik, an adviser to the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said the PYD “signed a strategic agreement with the Syrian regime,” and has been “working on applying it for four years.”
Kava Azizi of the Kurdish National Council is quoted by Daily Sabah saying the Baathist regime of Bashar Assad “controls this organization according to its own interest.” Azizi then looped in the United Nations’ permanent representative in Syria, Bashar Jaafari, who said the PYD was supported by both the American and Syrian governments.
Even the brother of PYD leader Salih Muslim, Dr. Mustafa Muslim, claimed that Russia has been using the PYD as a pawn against Turkey and challenged the PYD’s image of Turkey as implacable enemies of the Syrian Kurds.
This would seem like a difficult argument to make when Turkey is actively shelling Syrian Kurds, although the idea seems to be that the PYD has become too close to the Kurdish PKK separatists of Turkey, dragging the rest of Syrian Kurds into a fight with Turkey they would rather not have. The Daily Sabah quotes peshmerga commanders complaining about PKK units getting in the way of their operations against ISIS.
As for the Russians, a recent op-ed from Tahrir Institute fellow Hassan Hassan for the New York Times criticized Washington for abandoning its other allies among the Syrian rebellion in favor of the Kurdish YPG, which has been described as “working with the Americans in Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates River and with the Russians to the west of it.”
Hassan castigated the YPG (which has always seemed much more enthusiastic about fighting a defense war against the Islamic State than rebelling against the Assad regime in Damascus) of “tightening the noose on other American allies,” and driving a wedge into NATO by alienating Turkey.
He went so far as to quote Amnesty International accusing the YPG of “war crimes,” including the forced relocation of Arab civilians, in a quest to unite the Kurdish cantons of Syria under its control.