The American-Russian Competition to Win the Syrian Kurds

Since the emergence of the Kurdish issue in the wake of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, the Kurds have had no way but to seize historical opportunities to recover some of their usurped rights. These opportunities were exemplified when the countries that divided Kurdistan (historical homeland of Kurdish people) were exposed to external and internal crises and wars. Especially, when all Kurds’ revolutions to obtain rights failed because of the brutal repression they were subjected to by the countries that annexed Kurdistan.

On this basis, the short-term Republic of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan was declared in 1946 by the support of the Soviet Union at the time. Likewise, the Federation of Kurdistan Region of Iraq was constitutionally established in the wake of the overthrow of the former Baathist regime by the U.S in 2003. Similarly, the Kurds in Syria have played a prominent role in the Syrian crisis since 2011. They declared an autonomous administration for their regions with the participation of the rest of the components since 2014.

What distinguishes the current Kurdish model in Syria from previous models in Iranian Kurdistan of 1946 and Iraqi Kurdistan of 2003 is the direct involvement by both superpowers, viz., U.S and Russia. In the example of the Republic of Mahabad of 1946, Russia was the only present, with an indirect American role. Likewise, in the example of the Iraqi Kurdistan Federation of 2003, the U.S was the only actor.

The American and Russian military presence in the Syrian Kurdistan puts the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) into perplexity about the feasibility of relying on the most appropriate party to achieving Kurdish aspirations.

The reason behind the Kurdish bewilderment in Syria lies in conflicting visions and agendas between Washington and Moscow about the possible political settlement of the Syrian dilemma. Besides, the role and position of the Kurds in the future of Syria. The Kurds in Syria had already tasted treachery from both countries. Firstly, from Russia when it allowed Turkey to invade and occupy Afrin at the beginning of 2018. Secondly, when the U.S granted a green light to Turkey to foray and conquer large areas in the east of the Euphrates in 2019.

At the end of August, a delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), a political wing of (SDF), visited Moscow at the official invitation by the Russian Foreign Ministry. During the visit, (SDC) delegation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Syrian People’s Will Party, which leads the Moscow platform for the Syrian opposition with Russian blessing.

Russia aimed behind that move to shuffle again the cards of the game on the Syrian arena and rearranging them according to Russian standpoint. This was shortly followed by a visit by the Russian Foreign Minister to Damascus. During the visit, Sergey Lavrov, addressed the need for the Syrian regime to accept more serious negotiations with (SDF) in order to co-opt the Kurds. Moreover, seeking to drive a wedge in the relationship between America and the Syrian Kurds.

Meanwhile, the U.S administration has been striving for nearly a year to reconcile political factions of the Syrian Kurds, represented by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC). In this context, both Washington and Moscow seek to negatively influence each other’s agendas and plans regarding the Syrian Kurds. This, in turn, places the leadership of SDF in a cycle of uncertainty and apprehension. The reason is the lack of confidence in both sides that have failed the Kurds in Syria and elsewhere more than once during the current century and the last century.

However, the relationship between the Syrian Kurds and U.S since 2011 to the present is more solid and strategic than its counterpart with Russia. This linkage practically goes back to 2014, when Washington intervened strongly in favour of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in the Battle of Kobane. Since then, Washington has seen YPG, which form the backbone of SDF, as the most prominent righteous force in theory and practice to fight ISIS remnants.

The intensification of the U.S-Russian race to win the loyalty of the Kurds without pledges by both countries regarding the rights of the Kurds, makes the Kurdish choice harder and more intricate. First, the unofficial Russian pledges to push the Kurds forward to reconcile with al-Assad regime, without clear rights for the Kurds. Secondly, the informal and vague American promises that lead to keeping the situation as it is without any tangible changes that might positively affect the Kurdish issue in Syria in the future.

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