If you have been attempting to follow Rojava and the greater Syrian revolution over the past 5 years, chances are at some point you have heard mention of political tensions between the Kurdish National Council (the English abbreviation is KNC but we will use the Kurdish abbreviation ENKS for the purpose of these articles) and the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK). Just in the past few weeks, we have seen a slew of reports and commentators condeming the PYD (the primary revolutionary party in Rojava which is a part of the KCK) for their continued issues with the ENKS. The purpose of this piece will be to provide a brief overview of the political standings of both of these groups. Later, I will follow-up this piece with a closer look at the most recent escalation of hostilities between the two. We will begin with an overview of the two political entities.
Kurdish National Council (ENKS)
The Kurdish National Council is a union of Syrian-Kurdish political parties which was formed back in 2011. The ENKS was convened largely under the influence and sponsorship of the president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, Massoud Barzani who maintains good ties with the Turkish government to the extent that the KRG sells most of their oil extractions to Turkey and the KRG, at Turkey's behest, has a on-going embargo of Rojava. Since it's inception, the ENKS has primarily represented the most heavily anti-regime Kurdish parties in the region. Currently, the leader of the ENKS is Ibrahim Biro; more on him in our follow-up piece.
Kudish Communities Union (KCK)
The Kurdish Communities Union is the international organization of political parties in each respective region of Kurdistan who are dedicated to the implementation of democratic confederalism. The PYD is the KCK party active in Rojava and as such, we will be focusing on them in these articles. The PYD's membership in the KCK is often a source of criticism due to the fact that the KCK was founded by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) which was listed as a terrorist organization by NATO members as a concession when Turkey first began applying for EU membership.
ENKS Issues with PYD
The ENKS, since it's foundation, has been at odds with the PYD over several issues. First and foremost, they have always been skeptical of the PYD's relationship with the Assad Regime. Under the rule of Hafez al-Assad, the PKK enjoyed good relations with the Syrian state to the extent that they harbored multiple PKK camps and even the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, until Turkey finally convinced them to oust him and cool their relations with the PKK in 1998. When the PYD brokered a deal with the regime to withdrawal almost all of their forces from Rojava in 2012, the ENKS perceived this as the PYD acting as an agent of the regime rather than in opposition of it. While there is some logical merit with this line of thinking, it completely ignores the extensive and targeted repression the PYD received at the hands of the Syrian regime, especially from 2004-2012.1
Massoud Barzani and his party's influence on the ENKS has also greatly contributed to the tensions between the ENKS and PYD. Turkish interests in the KRG have placed Barzani at odds with the PKK (whose primary base of operations are in the mountains of the KRG), as they attempt to exert their own influence in the KRG to diminish the ability of the PKK to operate in Turkey. With these facts in mind, I feel that the ENKS' issues with the PYD can be boiled down to the PYD's relationship with the Assad Regime and Turkish/KRG influence.
PYD Issues with ENKS
On the other hand, the PYD's issues with the ENKS appear to be primarily focused on one thing; Turkish influence in the ENKS which is driven by the affinity between the PYD and PKK. Once the PYD negotiated the withdrawal of the Assad regime from the cantons of Rojava, the Turkish state grew very concerned with the increasing popularity of the PYD rather than the KRG-endorsed parties of the ENKS which have struggled to expand their base.2 This lead to increased efforts on the part of the ENKS to organize and build support for its parties in Syria which increased tentions between the ENKS and PYD. In 2012, Barzani mediated a conference which resulted in the PYD working with the ENKS to form a governing body for Rojava, the Kurdish Supreme Committee (which went on to be replaced TEV-DEM) but that did little to settle the ongoing dispute between the two of them. It is worth noting that the ENKS have their own armed forces which are known as the Rojava Peshmerga which were rejected by the PYD from participating in the defense of Kobane. Since then, the PYD has invited the Rojava Peshmerga to join the Syrian Democratic Forces project but thus far the ENKS has declined, citing the PYD's alleged collaboration with the Assad regime as the reason.3
Many of the conflicts that have arisen between the two over the past few years have been around the fact that ENKS parties fly the flag of Kurdistan while the PYD insists on flying the flag of Rojava since the PYD view the ongoing revolution in Rojava as one that rejects the traditional Kurdish desire for a nation-state. This remains a point of contention between the two, but I feel this can be viewed as a sympton of the larger issue of the PYD's rejection of the ENKS due to the perceived influence Turkey holds over them.
That concludes my analysis of the tensions between the ENKS and the PYD. Now that we have established somewhat of a historical baseline for the relations between these two groups, stay tuned for a more in-depth look at the current state of affairs next week.