Syrian Kurdish opposition groups are fractured among three bodies: the Kurdish National Council in Syria, the Syrian National Council, and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change.
The majority, however, are members of the Kurdish National Council in Syria, which functions as an umbrella group for sixteen Syrian Kurdish parties.
Dr. Abdul Hakim Bashar: chairman
Khair al-Dien Murad: head of foreign relations
Ismail Hamo: head of Yekiti Party
Mustafa Oso: head of Azadi Party
The Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) was formed on October 26, 2011, in Erbil, Iraq, under the sponsorship of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. The KNC was initially backed by Kurdish parties formerly affiliated with the Kurdish Democratic Front and included eleven Syrian Kurdish political parties. The formation of the KNC as an umbrella opposition group to the Assad regime closely followed the establishment of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main umbrella opposition group in exile, in the same month.
Relations between the Syrian National Council and the KNC have been uneasy from the outset. Syrian National Council chairman Burhan Ghalioun rejected the KNC’s key demand for federalism in a post-Assad Syria, calling it a “delusion.” In December 2011, the Syrian National Council offered to recognize the Kurds as a distinct ethnic group in the new constitution and to resolve the Kurdish issue through “the elimination of oppression, compensating victims, and recognizing Kurdish national rights within a Syria of united land and people.” However, talks between Ghalioun, KNC head Abdul Hakim Bashar, and Barzani in Erbil in January 2012 ended in an impasse.
A critical difference in January 2012 remained over how to define decentralization—which has been proposed as a means to provide Kurdish autonomy in a post-Assad Syria. The KNC seeks “political” decentralization, which implies formal autonomy, but the Syrian National Council has refused to discuss more than “administrative” decentralization. Faced with Ghalioun’s renewed commitment to administrative decentralization in late February, all Kurdish parties in the Syrian National Council (with the exception of the Kurdish Future Party headed by Fares Tammo) suspended their membership and joined the KNC.
Tension between the KNC and the Syrian National Council reached a peak following the latter’s publication of its “National Charter: The Kurdish Issue in Syria” in early April. The document excluded language recognizing a Kurdish nation within Syria that had been contained in the draft final statement of the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia. This prompted the KNC to withdraw from unity talks with the Syrian National Council and accuse Turkey of unduly influencing the SNC’s policy. The KNC nonetheless played down its demand for political decentralization within Syria in late April—promising to approve a common platform with the rest of the Syrian opposition if the remainder of its agenda was accepted.
KNC relations with the other main opposition coalition, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, have not been very different. The latter body’s original position envisaged a “democratic solution to the Kurdish issue within the unity of Syria’s land that does not contradict that Syria is part and parcel of the Arab world.” In February 2012, the Kurdish parties belonging to the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (with the exception of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party) pulled out to join the KNC. The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change softened its stance in April, endorsing the implementation of “decentralized principles” in a future Syria.
On June 11, 2012, the KNC signed a cooperation agreement with the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan, a body created by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey. The KNC’s main rival in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The People’s Council of Western Kurdistan and the KNC formed a joint Kurdish Supreme Council and, in a supplementary agreement held on July 1, committed to the establishment of security committees as well as unarmed civilian defense forces to protect Kurdish areas.
These agreements, sponsored by Massoud Barzani, are an attempt to form a united Kurdish front and to reach a power-sharing solution between the KNC and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party. However, the recent behavior of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which has launched physical attacks against some of its Kurdish opponents in Syria, indicates that the agreement is not being implemented on the ground and explains continuing tensions between the two main Kurdish factions.
The KNC is closely aligned with President Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq. But although the latter enjoys a honeymoon in its relations with Turkey, the KNC views the Turkish government with suspicion, accusing it of pressuring the Syrian National Council not to accede to the KNC’s demand for Kurdish autonomy in Syria. The KNC attributes this to the close relations between Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which firmly opposes federalism and is generally believed to dominate the Syrian National Council.
Internationally, the KNC seeks to develop close relations with the United States, the European Union, and other Western powers. In early May 2012 a delegation led by KNC head Bashar visited the White House and U.S. State Department to discuss Syrian Kurdish concerns.
The KNC’s General Assembly consists of 26 members—fifteen of them leaders of the council’s member parties and eleven independents. Bashar, who is secretary-general of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (al-Parti), chairs the KNC’s executive body. Various KNC committees undertake dialogue with the Democratic Union Party, the Syrian National Council, and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change. There are also committees that deal with matters of education, culture, and foreign affairs.
As of May 2012, the KNC includes sixteen Kurdish parties:
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