A vegetable-seller in Qamishli, Rojava, northern Syria. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurds in northern Syria are hopeful that Syrian army advances that opened a land corridor between their autonomous region and government-controlled areas will ease the economic blockade they have been suffering under.
“The opening of a corridor between us and Aleppo will have a great positive impact,” Abdul Karim Saroukhan, head of the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria, told Reuters. “It is like an artery that will feed part of the Syrian body.”
Since taking east Aleppo from opposition forces at the end of last year, the Syrian army has pushed eastward, south of al-Bab, and has reached territory controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) southwest of Manbij, opening a corridor between the SDF-controlled areas and Aleppo with Turkish and Free Syrian Army forces to the north and ISIS to the south.
Kurds are a dominant force within the SDF.
Syrian Kurds and Damascus have largely avoided direct conflict in the six years of civil war in the country, though they have clashed sporadically.
Kurds set up three federal entities in northern Syria, the cantons of Jazira, Kobane, and Afrin. Damascus rejected the declaration of the federal region commonly known as Rojava, describing their creation as an “unlawful action” that “jeopardizes the country’s territorial integrity.”
The central government has, however, largely refrained from interfering in Rojava affairs.
Saroukhan said that talks with Damascus about trade between his administration and the central government were premature but he is hopeful that private commerce can develop between the three Kurdish cantons and government-held Syrian cities.
Rojava operates under virtual economic siege with no open land borders.
Its northern border with Turkey has been closed by Ankara, who believes the Syrian Kurdish groups have ties with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Its eastern border with the Kurdistan Region has frequently been closed due to political rifts between the ruling parties on both sides of the border.
ISIS controls territory to the south of Rojava.