Kurds in Syria have missed opportunity for statehood because of PKK: Barzani

KRG President Masoud Barzani.

Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani has said the Kurds in Syria have missed the opportunity for statehood in Syria due to their alliance with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In an interview with Italian daily La Stampa published on Sunday, the veteran politician said the Kurds were a nation rather than a creed. The Kurds, who belong to Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Yazidism, are a society “based on the recognition of different identities, a nation that believes in peaceful coexistence,” Barzani said.

The president, who has been accused of holding onto power despite the end of his term, likened the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and said that the Kurds have the right to a state just as the people of Eastern Europe. Such a state, he said, would bring stability to the region.

Barzani also said the Kurds had been victims of the 1400-year-long war between Sunnis and Shi’ites who are “unable to reach reconciliation and live together due to the massacres committed throughout history”.

Commenting on the Kurds of Syria’s autonomous region, Rojava, Barzani said they had missed their opportunity to create something similar to the model of the Kurds in Iraq.

“The YPG [People’s Protection Units] accepted help from the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], which is considered a terrorist organisation in many countries. The YPG also accepted help from Bashar al-Assad’s regime. They have distanced themselves from us with these choices. I hope they will reconsider the erroneous policies that put the future of the Syrian Kurds at risk and only serve the interests of the PKK.”

The comments come following escalating tensions between peshmerga forces allied to the Barzani-led Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Yazidi militia affiliated with the PKK. Clashes erupted in the Khanasor neighbourhood of Shingal, on the KRG-Iraq border with Rojava-Syria, on Friday after peshmerga forces arrived in the area.

Both sides have accused each other of initiating clashes in which five Yazidi fighters and two PKK militants were killed and dozens injured on both sides.

Yazidi forces have accused the KDP of trying to invade Shingal and oust their forces from the area.

PKK officials meanwhile have called the deployment of peshmerga at the border between Rojava and the KRG a plan by Turkey and the KDP to block the route used by affiliated fighters.

KDP officials within the Kurdish government have denied both accusations and said the deployment was a routine procedure and that no one could disrupt the movement of legitimate peshmerga forces in the Kurdistan region.

The movement of peshmerga forces comes following Masoud Barzani’s recent visit to Ankara, where he met with high-ranking officials including the president, prime minister and head of Turkey’s Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Hakan Fidan.

Ankara has long been calling for an end to PKK presence in the region with Deputy Minister Veysi Kaynak saying in December that Turkey would intervene if “Barzani did not get the PKK out of Sinjar [Shingal]”. Warnings have also come from the KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who threatened action if the PKK did not withdraw.

Turkey is against the formation of what it calls a “Kurdish corridor” in the north of Syria and has faced difficulties recently with its incursion into the war torn country. Turkish advancement has stopped in al-Bab, and according to some, the move in Shingal is a response to what commentators have called, ‘the end of the Euphrates Shield operation’.

Critics have accused Barzani in the past of using nationalist rhetoric to stir up support for his policies. Many have pointed out that the Turkey and KDP-backed Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) is in support of a federal solution to the Syrian crisis, similar to the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD), which operates under the umbrella of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), similarly to the PKK.

According to reports both sides continue amassing troops in Shingal amid fears that a much larger intra-Kurdish war could be sparked.