WASHINGTON, DC — Russia urged Syrian Kurds to “hand over” the Afrin region to Moscow-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad “one day” before the ongoing Turkish assault on the territory, confirmed an official of the self-declared autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Syria.
Sinem Mohamed, the U.S. representative of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria Representative (DFNS), made those comments on Monday, a day after the Kurdish administration reportedly accused Russia of backing Turkey’s attack on Afrin.
During a Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC) event held at the National Press Club, she declared:
One day before the attack of Turkey, Russia with the [Assad] regime, they have a dialogue with our leaders there [Afrin], and they asked them to hand over Afrin to the regime so that they can take it back and after that, they can protect it, defend it.
When we refused because we don’t want the regime to come back again to our region … just the next day they [Turkey] came and they started killing the people and the civilians.
DFNS, also known to the Kurds as Rojava, refers to the de facto autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, mainly controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
On January 20, Turkey launched an assault, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, against the Kurdish-held Afrin region, prompting the YPG to defend the territory.
Ankara has long considered the YPG an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Turkey and the United States has designated as a terrorist organization.
A day after the Turkey attack on Afrin began, the Associated Press (AP) reported, “Three Kurdish officials have said that Russian military officials have proposed handing over a Kurdish-ruled enclave in Syria’s northwest to the Syrian government to avert a Turkish military offensive.”
The Syrian Kurds denied Russia’s proposal.
On Sunday, the Kurdish government in northern Syria accused Russia of joining Turkey against Kurdish-controlled Afrin.
Russia joined the Syrian conflict on behalf of Iranian-backed Assad in 2015.
Moscow “had troops positioned in Afrin but withdrew them as Turkey launched the assault,” explains AFP. “The YPG and Afrin officials say that withdrawal amounted to tacit approval of the Turkish offensive.”
On Monday, the Rojava representative noted that the Kurds have asked for Assad’s assistance against his enemy Turkey to no avail, saying, “We called on many of the [Syrian] people—please you must stop this attack of Turkey and help the civilians when nobody listened” the Kurdish administration issued made asking the regime to deploy troops to “defend’ Syria’s border with Turkey.
“We are part of Syria. We are not divided. We don’t’ ask for a division of Syria. … We ask them to come, but they don’t. Until now, they haven’t helped … the only way is to defend and to resist and to protect our people,” added Mohamed.
She stressed that Syrian Kurdistan’s autonomy declaration does not mean it wants to separate from Syria.
Turkey has been backing rebels against Assad since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. However, tensions between the United States and Turkey appear to have driven Ankara closer to Moscow.
America’s support for the YPG has strained the relationship between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.
“We want to have the best relationship with Turkey,” declared Bassam Ishak, the president of the Syriac National Council in Syria, a Christian opposition group that maintains a presence in Kurdish Rojava.
Nevertheless, David Pollock, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute, indicated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not interested in a “peaceful resolution” to the Afrin conflict.
Both Ishak and Pollock spoke alongside the U.S. representative of the Syrian Kurdish government at the National Press Club.
Mohamed dismissed as false Turkey’s accusation that Syrian Kurds maintain a relationship with the terrorist PKK.
Nevertheless, when thousands of Kurds took to the streets this weekend to protest in Afrin officials, they were reportedly holding YPG flags and posters of a jailed PKK leader.
Afrin officials have implored world powers, including the United States, to “immediately intervene to stop Turkey’s aggression,” notes AFP.