Kurdish National Council
The Kurdish National Council (KNC, ‹See Tfd›Kurdish: Encûmena Niştimanî ya Kurdî li Sûriyê, ENKS; Arabic: المجلس الوطني الكوردي al-Majlis al-Waṭaniyy Al-Kurdi) is a Syrian Kurdish political organization funded by the President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani and Turkey in the Syrian Civil War. While KNC had initially more international support than the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) during the early years of the Syrian civil war and a strong supporter basis among some Syrian Kurdish refugees, the overwhelming popular support the PYD enjoys have shadowed it in Syrian Kurdistan.
|Arabic name||المجلس الوطني الكوردي|
|Founded||26 October 2011 (8 years, 1 month ago)|
|Paramilitary wing||Rojava Peshmerga|
|Political position||Centre to right-wing|
|National affiliation||Kurdish Supreme Committee (2012–2015)|
National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces
|International affiliation||Kurdistan Democratic Party|
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|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria
Since 2012, the alleged authoritarian and nationalist politics of the KNC has led many political parties to leave it. Over the years, its membership has shrunk and it has lost many of its supporters. Among the factions that left the KNC were the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party in 2015, the parties in the Kurdish National Alliance in Syria as well as the Syrian Yazidi Council in 2016. As result, the KNC has only two seats left in the Syrian Democratic Council by 2017.
The Kurdish National Council was founded in Hawler on 26 October 2011, under the sponsorship of Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, following the earlier creation of the Syrian National Council. The organisation was originally composed of 11 Syrian Kurdish parties, however by May 2012 this had grown to 15.
Several KNC parties have also on occasion come into conflict with other Kurdish groups like the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In order to reduce tensions, Massoud Barzani mediated between the two groups in July 2012 at a diplomatic meeting in Hawler. As a result, the PYD and some other Kurdish groups joined with the Kurdish National Council to form the Kurdish Supreme Committee along with a popular defence force to defend Syrian Kurdistan. The agreement became obsolete when the PYD with several pro-federal Kurdish parties abandoned the coalition after they accused the KNC of allying with Syrian rebels that were attacking Kurdish cities. Later, the PYD with other Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian parties made a deal for the aim of creating a polyethnic and progressive society and polity in the Rojava region, creating the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM).
Criticism and conflict with the PYD
The Kurdish National Council has been criticized by PYD supporters in Syrian Kurdistan. The KNC has been accused by PYD supporters of working with Turkey and the Syrian opposition forces against the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava (NSR). In 2016, some KNC leaders and members were accused by ruling PYD authorities of corruption, money laundering, spying, making propaganda for Turkey and involving in assassinations of NSR authorities and politicians. The KNC have refused to formally join the PYD-led NSR administration citing PYD persecution of political opponents. The KNC leader Ibrahim Biro said in his interview on Turkish pro-government Sabah newspaper that PYD is ruling in a dictatorial manner committing gross human rights violations in the process and that western countries are overlooking these violations in using PKK against ISIS, he also stressed that Western countries should start supporting their own forces instead of PYD and other NSR entities. KNC members and leaders have had meetings with Turkish authorities, citing need for dialogue with Turkey, if Kurds are to gain autonomy from Damascus.
There have been several demonstrations held by KNC supporters against PYD citing PYD refusal to share power and ongoing persecution of Kurdish political opposition. Some observers have had difficulties understanding the KNC. Carl Drott, a sociology researcher at the University of Oxford, said in his interview on Ara News that "it is hard to know what the KNC actually wants. There is a fundamental contradiction between the Kurdish nationalist ideology of the KNC and the political project of its Syrian allies (Syrian opposition). Sometimes it seems that the only consistent policy of the KNC is to oppose anything that the PYD does". The PYD members have described the KNC as "an enemy of the peoples of Syria." The KNC meanwhile have described the PYD as dictators and tyrants and accused them of betraying Kurds in Syria by working with Assad and replacing one dictatorship with their own.
On 13 August 2016, Asayish arrested Ibrahim Biro, leader of the KNC and the Kurdish Union (Yekîtî) Party, in Qamishli and took him to an unknown location. At the same day, reporter Wedat Hussein Ali who was working for Roj TV, a TV channel linked to the PKK, had been killed in KDP-controlled area. Some ARA News journalists alluded that the two incidents might be linked to the rivalry between the PKK and KDP, which support the PYD and KNC, respectively. After Biro's detention, dozens who belonged to Yekîtî Party, organized a sit-in in front of the city's PYD office to condemn the arrest, while PYD supporters took the South Kurdistan flag, symbol of both KNC as well as KDP, from the Yekîtî Party's office in southern Qamishli. Biro was released the next day, claiming that he had been detained for the KNC's "political activities" and that the PYD would fail, because "it is impossible for the people of Syria to accept another dictatorship." He subsequently sought asylum in Dohuk with the KDP, though he said he would return to Rojava.
According to SOHR, the Asayish arrested further Yekîtî Party and KDPS members in Amuda and the Afrin Canton on 16 August, most prominently Yekîtî politician Anwar Naso. The arrests prompted further sit-ins and protests by KNC supporters. Most of the arrested KNC members, among them Anwar Naso, were released a few hours later. The rest of them were released on 24 November 2016.
After the outbreak of the Battle of al-Hasakah between pro-government and pro-PYD forces on the same day of August 2016, the KNC condemned the Syrian government for their attacks on civilians and urged both sides to stop fighting. At the same time, however, KNC politicians also said that the PYD should allow the Rojava Peshmerga into the city to protect the Kurdish population and that, at best, the government should be driven from Rojava.
On 19 September, the Syrian Yazidi Council left both the KNC as well as the Syrian National Council after months of tension over the "failure to acknowledge the SNC's Arabism and Islamism problems" and the lack of representation for Yazidis within the Syrian opposition.
On 25 October, the Kurdish National Council condemned the "indiscriminate" Turkish bombings on populated towns such as Jandairis and other towns in the northern Aleppo Governorate. The council stated that "the Turkish Army and allied Islamist rebels have been killing civilians, carrying out indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes on populated areas." and demanded the Turkish Armed Forces to withdraw its forces. A KNC member also denounced the Turkish focus on attacking the Syrian Democratic Forces as part of the Turkish military intervention in Syria.
On 24 November, Asayish released some KNC politicians and many activists with the rest to be released "in the following days". Zara Salih of the Yekîtî Party said that his party saw "this first step as a positive sign and a good start" and that his party's leadership is "ready to begin negotiations with PYD and the Movement for a Democratic Society, to reach a new deal."
On 30 March 2017, the Kurdish National Council withdrew from the High Negotiations Committee in protest of the HNC's policies. An official in the Kurdish Unity Party, part of the KNC, stated that "The Syrian opposition are against federalism and constitutional Kurdish national rights, and they want to delay discussing Kurdish rights in the future."
On 30 April, the Afrin branch of the Kurdish National Council released a statement condemning the April 2017 Turkish airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. "We condemn and denounce the Turkish aggression and demand the government of Ankara to stop the [attacks] immediately, we also ask PYD [Democratic Union Party] authorities to change its approach and authoritarian behavior and move towards a national and responsible approach to serve the unity of the Kurds and the Kurdish project in the face of challenges and serious risks in the present time and in the future for our Kurdish people", the council stated.
Although the KNC has joined the Syrian National Coalition and is a part of the Syrian opposition, there are some key differences between the KNC and the SNC over their approach to the issue of decentralization, with the KNC pressing for Kurdish autonomy, whereas the SNC has rejected anything more than administrative decentralization. The issue of federalism and autonomy is also a point of contention for KNC and PYD, even though both parties have very similar aims. As such, the KNC has condemned the PYD's declaration of a federation in northern Syria as an attempt to break up Syria without previous "debate and democratic participation". The KNC further claimed that "it strictly opposes any attempt to impose federalism on the Syrian people without a preceding discussion". These statements have raised confusion among some mostly pro-PYD observers, with Carl Drott, a sociology researcher at the University of Oxford, commenting that "It is hard to know what the KNC actually wants. There is a fundamental contradiction between the Kurdish nationalist ideology of the KNC and the political project of its Syrian allies. Sometimes it seems that the only consistent policy of the KNC is to oppose anything that the PYD does." Some Syrian Kurdish refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, who are believed to mostly support the KNC, have been also critical of the federalism declaration by PYD. Some of them fear that further tensions in Syria would arise as result of the declaration, while they simply wish for an end of hostilities. Despite these divisions about how to implement Kurdish autonomy, the KNC still generally supports federalism. This was shown when Syrian opposition leader Michel Kilo outright condemned any attempt of Kurds to establish federalism in Syria, negatively comparing them to Israel. The KNC reacted to the statement in which it accused Kilo of racism and acting to please Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey. Nevertheless, the KNC also argued that the Kurds still had friends among the Syrian National Coalition, thereby reiterating their general support for the Syrian opposition in the wider struggle against Assad who they consider the greatest issue facing Kurds in Syria and a common enemy for both Arab and Kurdish opposition.
|Participant in Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Civil War|
|Size||5,000+ (self claim)|
|Part of||Kurdish National Council|
|Battles and war(s)||Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)|
The KNC leader claimed that partially in response to the military power of the PYD, the KNC formed its own paramilitary wing, the Rojava Peshmerga. According to the claims of Ibrahim Biro, Rojava Peshmergas are mostly recruited from Syrian Kurdish refugees and Syrian Army deserters in northern Iraq. Trained by Iraqi Peshmerga and Zeravani under Major General Bahjat Taymas, the Rojava Peshmerga had a claimed strength of 3,000 fighters by June 2016 and 5,000 by December 2018. Their primary purpose has been defending Kurdish areas, and fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant together with other local forces.
Due to the political tensions between PYD and KNC, and low manpower comparing to the People's Protection Units, the Rojava Peshmerga haven't been able to enter in Syria. In course of the Siege of Kobanî, the KNC offered to send 200 fighters to support the city's defenses, but was rejected by the PYD as the latter wanted all Kurdish units to fight as part of the YPG and YPJ. The KNC leader have several times claimed that the YPG even hindered the KNC's Peshmerga who had been trained in Iraqi Kurdistan from entering Rojava at all. Since the formation of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the YPG officials have stated that the Rojava Peshmergas are welcome to join and fight under SDF command. Despite discussions about possibly joining, the KNC have so far rejected joining SF and thus fighting under pro-PYD forces. Ibrahim Biro stated among other reasons for this that "they [the SDF] have a good relation with the Syrian regime, that's why we cannot join them." Despite their tensions with the PYD, however, the KNC has also rejected inquires of Syrian opposition groups to send the Rojava Peshmerga to Azaz to defend the city against both ISIL as well as YPG during the Northern Aleppo offensive. Bahjat Taymas declared that the Rojava Peshmerga "don't want to fight Kurds, only ISIS."
On 2 March 2017, there were clashes between Rojava Peshmerga and Yezidi militias affiliated with PKK in Sinjar resulting in the deaths of five as well as two militants affiliated to the PKK who attempted to prevent the clashes. At least four Peshmergas were also injured in the clashes.
On 17 December 2018, US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey informed the press that some Rojava Peshmergas have been deployed across the Iraq–Syria border. The continuing disputes between the PYD and KNC, however, are still preventing the Rojava Peshmergas entering Rojava despite the involvement of the international community. One of the main obstacles have been the KNC's links with Turkey and the fear of local people believed to be PYD-supporters that the Peshmergas could be used against Rojava in future. KNC state that PYD oppose Rojava peshmerga because they want to maintain monopoly on power and that PYD fears that Rojava peshmerga could hinder PYD's enforcement of authoritarian rule over Kurdish areas in Syria. While described as mercenaries for Turkey by pro-PYD supporters, Rojava peshmerga and their KNC administration in turn accuse PYD of being mercenaries for Iran and too close to Assad whose family has oppressed Kurds for half a century. They explain their own links to Turkey as a geopolitical necessity if Kurds in Syria are to gain autonomy from Damascus.
|Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in Syria||Ni'mat Dawud|
|Kurdish Reform Movement||Feysel Yusuf|
|Kurdish Democratic Left Party in Syria||Shalal Gado|
|Yekiti Kurdistan Party (Syria)||Ibrahim Biro|
|Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria||Si'ud Mala|
|Kurdish Future Movement in Syria||Siamend Hajo|
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