Kurdish muscle flexing

The Syrian civil war has injected new impetus into the Kurdish insurgency.

November 14, 2012 14:06
1 minute read.
kurdish muscle 521

kurdish muscle 521. (photo credit: Ethel Bonet Perez)


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At a country villa surrounded by silvery olive groves, speakers, including a 20- year veteran member of the Syrian parliament, lined up this summer to celebrate the life and death of Arif Musa Ghubari.

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Ghubari, a 24-year-old Syrian Kurd, went to southeastern Turkey to fight against the government as a guerrilla in the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey, the EU and the US consider a terrorist organization.

He was killed there and his body had just been returned to his native village of Jilbul in northern Syria’s Afrin province.

Rather than an occasion for mourning, the funeral carried a spirit of defiant celebration. Nearly a thousand people thronged under a sea of tricolor green, red and yellow flags used by the PKK and PYD, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the Syrian syndicate of the PKK. The insignias of dozens of local Kurdish popular groups waved in the afternoon sun, and posters of PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan, currently serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison, loomed over the crowd. Dozens of young men and women, their heads wrapped guerrilla-style in Kurdish tricolor keffiyehs that left only their eyes visible, formed a ring to keep the crowd back from the speakers.

Afrin, a city of 80,000, along with its 360 surrounding villages, is now in the hands of the PYD. Kurdish flags fly high over nearly every building and Kurdish soldiers man the checkpoints.

Afrin’s PYD head “Commander Hassan” – many Kurdish paramilitaries use noms de guerre – lounged against a pillow in the Ghubari family’s sitting room and wondered which side of Syria’s civil conflict would act on behalf of the Kurds. “I lost faith in the Syrian system a long time ago,” Hassan said, “but relations with the FSA [the rebel Free Syrian Army] are not very good either.”


Indeed, a large poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Afrin’s City Hall suggests the region has yet to throw its lot in with the rebels, who remove and deface the once ubiquitous images.

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