Syria: Is the regime of Bashar al-Assad playing the Kurdish ‘card’ against Turkey?

For months the Kurdish dominated Jasira-region in northeast Syria have been relatively calm. Maybe the shrewd move by Bashar al-Assad early in on the start of the protests opening up for stateless Kurds, the so called Ajanabi, to apply for Syrian citizenship calmed this segment of the opposition? The questions is given this calm in this area of Syria, why did Syrian security assassinated Mash’al al-Tammo? Why risk the mobilization of around 15% of the population, which is heavily concentrated to the Jasira region?

One obvious answer would by the forming of the SNC – the Syrian National Council. In the past the Syrian opposition has been notoriously fragmented. This report on the Syrian civil society and this report both by Stephen A. Seche (U.S Charge d’ Affairs to Syria 2005 – 2006) and published by Wikileaks about a meeting in Damascus on women’s rights is illustrative. My own recollection was that to get different opposition ‘groups’ (usually a dominant individual with a couple of side kicks or just one person) together in the same room was usually a doomed task: huge ego’s, bitter rivalry and the ever present looming specter of the Syrian security apparatus.

So when the SNC has been formed with the Damascus declaration, Muslim Brotherhood, the local coordination committees, Kurdish opposition groups and the SRCG among other, it is quite extraordinary. If the forming of the SNC were seen as inconsequential by the Syrian regime they would have ignored them. Instead the Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem states yesterday “We will take tough measures against any state which recognizes this illegitimate council”. By this statement the Syrian regime recognized SNC as a threat and, gave it huge boost both internationally and within Syria.

It has been suggested that the murder of Mash’al al-Tammo by four masked gunmen was the start of a crackdown on SNC leaders/members inside Syria. The same day as al-Tammo was murdered another opposition leader and member of the SNC Riad Seif was attacked and beaten by regime thugs. The Syrian regime followed up the murder of Tammo with attacks on the 50 000 strong funeral of Tammo in Al Qamishli and the closing of the border crossing with Turkey.

It is highly likely that the murder of al-Tammo was a desperate move to try to shut down or warn off other leading opposition figures inside Syria from joining the SNC. But we should not ignore another factor in all this – Turkey. It is with Turkey that Syria in the last years formed close economic and cultural ties that boosted the economy and the standing of President Bashar al-Assad. It is Turkey that has grown increasingly critical against the Syrian regime. It is in Turkey that SNC was formed. And it is Turkey that is set to impose a road map for economic and cultural sanctions to be announced after PM Erdogans visit to Hatay province (So far Turkey has imposed an arms embargo on Syria). It is Turkey that has not ruled out military intervention in Syria if the actions of the Syrian regime threaten Turkey’s national security. It is Turkey that has a large Kurdish population. It is Turkey that is attacking PKK bases in Iraq. The same PKK might be backed by Syria.

The warning from foreign minister Moalim is directed at Turkey and should be seen in the in the light of Bashar al-Assads latests statement: “should [Turkey] attempt to exploit our problems, then its own problems will become much bigger. Their hostility will backfire on them.”

By murdering al-Tammo and attacking the funeral the Syrian regime is playing a dangerous game using the Kurds to threaten the stability of northern Turkey. The question is if Turkey will allow this to influence them from their next move against the Syrian regime?

About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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