Syrian Kurds (KNC) call on U.S. to stop Turkey’s Afrin offensive

The United States should use its influence to end ongoing fighting between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces in the northwest Syrian district of Afrin, officials of a rival Syrian Kurdish organisation told Ahval.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation on Jan. 20 in an attempt to expel the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurdish militia from Afrin. Turkey sees the YPG as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting inside Turkey for more than three decades.

Though it does not have any troops in Afrin, the United States has backed the YPG-dominated Syrian Defence Forces in eastern Syria and together they have all but defeated Islamic State.

A delegation from the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNC), a rival Syrian Kurdish umbrella organisation backed by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government, is currently visiting Washington has met U.S. State Department officials to discuss Syria.

“We told U.S. officials that this fighting in Afrin needs to stop now, because civilians are the ones who are paying the heaviest price,” Kamiran Hajo, the head of KNC’s Foreign Relations Office, told Ahval.

The KNC is an umbrella group for 14 Syrian Kurdish political parties that oppose the YPG and its political wing, the PYD.

The United States has repeatedly called on its NATO ally Turkey to show restraint in its offensive on Afrin and asked Ankara to commit to a UN Security Council-backed 30-day ceasefire in Syria.

But Turkish officials said Ankara is exercising its right to self-defence and fighting terrorism. Turkish officials also argue it Afrin operations are not included in the UN 30-day truce.

“The Afrin operation is not in the interest of any side. This conflict cannot be resolved by violence. There should be a political solution,” said Hajo.

Seeking to convince Washington to mediate between Ankara and the Syrian Kurds, KNC leaders believe a permanent solution should be put in place to avoid future conflict.

“There is a conflict between Turkey and the PKK that should be sorted out inside Turkey and not be exported to Syrian territory,” said Ibrahim Biro, the former head of the KNC, who is also visiting Washington.

“Syrian Kurds have no interest in antagonising Turkey. There should be a stable relationship between us and Turkey as two neighbours.”

Biro said the PYD and PKK are ideologically linked, which “gives Turkey an excuse to attack Syrian Kurds”.

“The PYD has forcefully dominated political life in the Kurdish region of Syria and arrested many of it opponents, making it extremely hard to bring about a democratic system of governance for the Kurdish region,” he said.

The KNC is considered to be close to Ankara as it is member of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Coalition, an opposition group based in Turkey. But KNC officials have expressed concerns over the Afrin offensive.

“The objective of this operation is not clear,” said Hajo. “Turkey says it will oust the YPG from Afrin to allow Syrian refugees in Turkey to settle in that region. However, this will cause ethnic tensions between Arabs and local Kurds. It will change demographics, which is something we find very dangerous.”

“Afrin must be run by its people and it should always be that way,” Biro said.

After nearly four weeks of fighting, the Kurdish YPG agreed to allow pro-Syrian government forces to enter the Afrin to participate in defending the region. The move has outraged many anti-regime Kurdish groups, including the KNC.

“The Syrian regime is not legitimate. It is responsible for killing half a million people and displacing millions of Syrians. So how can this brutal regime protect the people of Afrin?” fKNC leader Biro asked.

The KNC, a member of the Syrian opposition Higher Negotiation Commission involved in UN-backed Geneva peace talks, believes federalism is the best political solution to Syria’s ongoing crisis.