Traditional rivals the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) each believes it should have the upper hand in Syria’s Kurdish regions. Each has tried to have the greater influence among the country’s Kurds, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s 22 million populations.
At the beginning of the uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad -- and after its troops withdrew to fight elsewhere in Syria -- the PKK sent a large number of its guerrillas into the Kurdish areas and created the Peoples Defense Units (YPG).
The same year – in June 2011 -- after a decade of sour relations, the PKK and the Assad regime reconciled and resumed friendly ties. This opened Syrian Kurdistan to the PKK as the playground it had once enjoyed.
As these events unfolded, the KDP was unwilling to recognize the PKK’s Syrian political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). It has been over this opposition that all efforts at a Kurdish National Council (KNC) have failed.
The PYD was happy to join the council as just a member, but the KDP was unwilling to accept even that.
But the KDP saw its powers erode, as it failed in efforts to arm other Syrian Kurdish groups. Meanwhile, more PKK fighters withdrew from Turkey and headed to Syria, making its guerrillas the sole power on the ground.
Later, as the parties gathered and signed the Erbil Agreement, promising to work together through the Supreme Kurdish Council, the PYD managed to take most of the seats.
And when the KDP trained a number of Kurdish defectors from the Syrian army and tried to dispatch them to the Kurdish areas, the PKK opposed the move and did not allow them entry. In reaction, the KDP closed its borders to the PKK.
The KDP limits movement between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish areas of Syria for fear that Syrian Kurds would desert the land. This, in effect, aborted PKK plans to use the border area as a means of trade for the group.
The tougher the KDP has been with the PKK, the tougher the PKK has acted against the KDP’s smaller allies in Syrian Kurdistan and suppressed them.
The KDP believes that the PYD is letting a golden opportunity for the Kurds of Syria slip by, under the pretext that it is still uncertain what will happen to the Kurds after the fall of Assad’s regime. In short, the PYD is still unwilling to detach itself from the front that includes friends of Assad’s Baathist regime.
On the other hand, the PKK believes that the KDP is pursuing a Turkish agenda in Syria, and that KDP’s actions are not nationalistic.
When members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) tried to pass through the Kurdish areas in Afrin and Aleppo, fighting erupted between them and members of the PYD.
Also, soon after, the PYD said that an extremist group called Jabhat al-Nusrah had attacked and killed 450 Kurdish civilians. The PYD’s claim was a trump card against the KDP. The KDP’s own rivals inside the Kurdistan Region picked up on it and lashed out at the KDP.
But despite an initial welcome, the PYD stopped a fact-finding mission assigned by the Kurdish National Council into the areas where the massacre was supposed to have happened. The group brought several thousand people to the Syrian side of the border and claimed that they did not want the mission to travel to their areas.
However, the KDP once again pulled the rug from under the PYD’s feet and reopened its borders to huge swarms of refugees, letting them cross freely into the Kurdistan Region.
All of this tells us that the Kurds of Syrian Kurdistan have found themselves between the grindstones of the PKK and KDP.
And it does not appear that this issue will be resolved without some bloodshed, no matter how serious the pledges of avoiding a “Kurdish civil war.”