Russia-Turkey rapprochement spurred Hasaka fighting
Damascus - The sudden flare-up of fighting in the previously obscure north-eastern city of Hasaka between US-backed Kurdish fighters and the Syrian Army was prompted by a thaw in relations between Russia and Turkey, according to Syrian analysts and military experts.
They argued that a Russian-mediated agreement that stopped the fighting has merely adjourned the opening of this new front in the Syrian conflict.
The agreement to halt fighting reportedly went into effect August 23rd after a massive effort by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to seize the last regime-controlled areas of the city.
The terms of the agreement clearly showed YPG supremacy over government forces. Eight days of fierce fighting left dozens of civilians dead while other fled to the countryside.
“The high-level negotiating teams indicated how dangerous and sensitive is the crisis in Hasaka and the Syrian government’s keenness to contain it by any means,” Syrian analyst Bassam Abu Abdallah said. “By dispatching Chief of Staff Ali Ayyoub and General Ali Mamlouk, head of the country’s National Security Bureau, to Hmeimim (for the talks), the government acknowledged the gravity of the issue.”
The fighting erupted and escalated following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg.
“Making the connection with regional dynamics and alliances shift is 100% correct, said Youssef al- Khatib, a retired army general. “The Kurds could sense the danger arising from the Russian-Turkish rapprochement and feared that they might lose a vital pressure card in the conflict, especially in light of rumours about a possible deal between the Russians and the Turks at the Kurds’ expense.”
“The Kurds escalated the situation in Hasaka abruptly to gain the total control of the city, the same way as the Islamic State did in Raqqa and al-Nusra Front in Idlib — so they would hold powerful cards in any future peace negotiations,” he added.
Sihanouk Dibo, presidential adviser of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), downplayed the possibility of agreements or concluding deals in the time of war.
“Tens if not hundreds of accords were arranged in the Syrian war, be it on the international, regional or local levels, but they all proved to be futile. It is just impossible to reach a comprehensive agreement in the absence of a clear road map with clear, rightful and tangible objectives,” Dibo said.
He stressed that the future of Hasaka will be decided by its own people and their social/ethnic components, arguing that the Syrian regime had bet — wrongly — on Arab tribes opposing the Kurds.
“The tribes have opted for national coexistence achieved under the system of (Kurdish) self-autonomous administration and know that the YPG blood spilled in the fight against ISIS was meant also to protect them,” Dibo said.
The PYD official emphasised that his party, one of the dominant Kurdish parties in Syria, was eager to have the Kurds as an important part of the Syrian nation on condition the regime stick to its security zones and limit its role to matters of official services and paper work between Damascus and al-Jazira, the largest of four cantons of the de facto autonomous Kurdish region in north Syria.
Abu Abdallah observed that the Kurdish issue has long preoccupied successive Syrian governments, even during peace time, and that past efforts to reach a final settlement have been unsuccessful.
“As such, the Kurdish issue will remain a pressure card that international and regional players from Russia to the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran will continue to manipulate,” Abu Abdallah said.
He argued that media reports about an offer by Riyadh to arm the Asayish, the police force linked to the YPG, and Russia’s opening of a Kurdish representative office in Moscow in retaliation to Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet are examples of such manipulation.
Abu Abdallah’s argument was backed by Khatib, who contended that the ceasefire agreement in Hasaka was meant to postpone the Kurdish crisis.
“The Syrian government does not want to add a new front to the tens of front lines in which it is already engaged, especially the vital Aleppo front but I am certain that the Kurdish crisis will rise to the forefront once again, when the government sees it convenient, taking into account the demographic distribution in the eastern provinces and the chronic animosity between Arabs and Kurds,” Khatib said.
Under the ceasefire, Syrian forces were allowed to leave Hasaka to the outskirts of the city and Kurdish fighters were to pull out and hand security responsibilities to the Asayish. The deal included exchanging prisoners, handing over the wounded as well as dead bodies and opening roads inside and outside the city. Before the latest round of fighting began, the Kurds controlled 70% of Hasaka.
“The day will come when all the terms of the Hmeimim accord to halt fighting in Hasaka will be totally overturned,” Khatib said.