The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the United States, reportedly expressed a desire this week to negotiate the future of the swathes of territory it controls in northern Syria with the Iranian- and Russian-backed regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Iran’s state-owned Press TV quoted top Syrian Kurdish officials affiliated with the People’s Protection Units (YPG)-led SDF Kurdish-Arab alliance as saying they are ready for dialogue with Assad regime, which has offered assistance against Turkey in exchange for territory.
The report comes amid Turkish pressure against Kurds and the backdrop of a deal reached this week between Ankara and Washing to withdraw the YPG from northern Syria’s Manbij region to defuse tensions.
Turkey has launched an offensive to push the YPG out of territory near its border with Syria. Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) that has long carried out attacks on Turkish soil.
U.S. support for the YPG, which leads and makes up the backbone of the SDF, has infuriated America’s NATO ally Turkey, but the United States continues to lend support to the Kurdish group’s efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Nevertheless, the U.S. has refused to back its Kurdish allies as they try to repel the Ankara offensive, leaving the YPG out to fend for itself against Ankara.
It appears the YPG is now looking for help from the Assad regime, which has attained control of most of Syria with the support of its Russian and Iranian allies.
Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s political wing, reportedly declared on Wednesday that the time is right for negotiations Assad.
“We are seeking … a vision that ends the war,” Ahmed proclaimed, according to Press TV. “We want to secure our [self-administration] project and the Americans care for that, too.”
Syrian Kurds have declared the territory they control in northern Syria a self-ruled autonomous region, a designation they want to keep under the leadership of Damascus.
Assad has expressed a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing the Kurds to keep their autonomy.
The dictator has said the other option would be using force against the U.S.-backed Kurds, Press TV notes.
Aldar Khalil, the co-chair of the Movement for a Democratic Society, a coalition of mainly Syrian Kurdish political parties, noted that talks with Damascus were intended “to develop a Syrian-Syrian solution and close the door on conflicts and wars.”
“We don’t have any other option. So, this is our land, it’s our right, and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave,” he added.
The Syrian Kurds’ comments about discussing their future with Assad comes after Turkey pushed them out of northern Syria’s Afrin region in January. When it comes to Turkey, the Syrian Kurds and most fighters loyal to Assad appear to be on the same side. Turkey has long backed groups opposed to the Assad regime.
Syrian Kurds are accusing Turkey of forcing a demographic change in areas like Afrin — replacing the Kurds with Arabs.
According to the Guardian, the “conquering Turks and their Arab proxies [have] swept in [formerly Kurdish-held Afrin], exiling nearly all its residents,” adding:
The campaign to oust Kurdish militias has raised allegations that Ankara is quietly orchestrating a demographic shift, changing the balance of Afrin’s population from predominantly Kurdish to majority Arab, and – more importantly to Turkish leaders – changing the composition of its 500-mile border with Syria.
U.S. troops have left their Kurdish allies to their own devices Afrin at least for now.
Acknowledging that Turkey’s concerns with the Kurds are “legitimate,” U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters Wednesday, “We will not simply cast that [Kurdish-led SDF] organization aside, because it is critical to stopping, to defeating the ISIS caliphate now, which we’ve still not defeated.”