By Caroline Alexander Bloomberg
June 26, 2013
Syria’s Kurds are carving out a self-governed zone as the decay of President Bashar al-Assad’s government creates an opportunity for a people who missed out on a state after Ottoman empire’s collapse almost a century ago.
Kurdish gains in northeastern Syria include the creation of security forces, municipalities and courts, and the introduction of Kurdish language classes in schools across most of a region sometimes known as Western Kurdistan. Kurds control oil fields and get revenue from border crossings.
“They have never had any previous level of autonomy, this is completely new,” said Robert Lowe, head of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. “They are in a very vulnerable position, and they are not ideal conditions for state building. It’s a hard breeding ground, but it’s a start.”
Syrian authorities have resisted Kurdish aspirations as a threat to the state’s integrity, as have neighboring countries – – Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Yet the Kurds enjoy growing political clout, as those in Turkey negotiate to end a three-decade insurgency and Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region signs deals for crude oil exports from its estimated 45 billion barrel reserve and for a $2 billion hotel and casino resort.
“Syria’s Kurds are an important part of the Middle Eastern jigsaw,” said David Butter, Middle East analyst at the London-based Chatham House research group. “They have connections with Turkey and Iraq, and with the possibility the whole regional and political map will have to be redrawn” as a result of the Syrian conflict, “they have to be taken more seriously.”