Kurds in the city of Afrin gather to welcome Arab refugees from other parts of Syria. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey has placed its forces on the Syrian border on alert, following a call by the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) to declare an interim Kurdish state in Syria’s northern regions.
PYD officials announced their intention on Friday, claiming their main goal was “to set-up an independent council to run Kurdish regions.”
Salih Muslim, the head of the PYD, said in an interview with France 24, “This is not a call for a separation; it’s just that for a year now we have been on our own in our own territories and people have needs, they want some kind of administration to run their issues, they can’t be left like that.”
The plan was to establish autonomy on July 19 -- anniversary of the liberation of the first Kurdish city in Syria -- but the PYD has not yet announced whether it has been successful in completing the transition.
Turkey reacted to the announcement by beefing up troops on the Syrian border, and placing its forces on alert.
Ankara fears the move by the PYD -- an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- could energize the militant PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey since 1984 but is currently engaged in a landmark peace process.
The Turkish government believes “it has a parliamentary mandate to intervene in the Syrian territories if there is a serious risk,” according to a report by Shafaq News.
The Turkish military, which believes the PYD move is part of a much bigger plan for an independent Kurdish state, has vowed never to accept an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria.
For the past year the PYD’s militia forces have clashed with the main opposition Free Syrian Army forces (FSA) and its offshoots, while denying repeated allegations of shady ties with the Damascus regime. The Kurds say they have so far remained neutral in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which is in its third year and has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.
The PYD has repeatedly expressed fears over the possibility of encroaching sectarian control from Sunni and Shiite factions, which have joined the fight and turned the Syrian civil war into what some have labeled as a holy crusade, or jihad.
Recently, the PYD seized and took control of Ras al-Ain, a Kurdish town in Syria on the Turkish border.
Nawak Khalil, a spokesman for the PYD, said in an interview with Reuters, “We fought hard to drive out the repressive regime and its army and we liberated the area from oppression.
“We will not allow either regime control or these Al-Qaeda linked groups. What is pushing them to fight is their antagonism against our autonomous rule in Kurdish areas,” he vowed.
The Syrian civil war has isolated the Syrian Kurds and caused a great humanitarian crisis in their areas, as major trade from Damascus and Turkey has slowed the shipment of food and commodities, causing prices for basic goods to skyrocket.