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Facts: Kurdish struggle for rights and land

SYRIA (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Syrian Kurdish guerrillas who thwarted a Turkish invasion have reached an agreement with the Damascus government to deploy Syrian army forces near the Turkish border, putting the future of their region in doubt.

The agreement aims to stop the Turkish attack on northeastern Syria after US forces began evacuating the region in a sudden shift in US President Donald Trump’s policy towards Syria. The measure was widely criticized in Washington as a deception of US Kurdish allies.

Ankara says it plans to establish a “safe area” for the return of millions of refugees currently residing in Turkish territory, later to be a buffer zone against the YPG fighters, which Turkey sees as the main security threat in Syria and says they are linked to fighters. They wage a rebellion inside.

Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran are home to large numbers of Kurdish minorities who demand different degrees of autonomy from central governments after decades of repression.

– History –

The Kurdish minority, predominantly Sunni Muslim, speaks a language associated with Farsi and most live in mountainous areas along the borders of Armenia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

Kurdish nationalism erupted in the 1890s when the Ottoman Empire was in its final days.

The Sèvre Treaty of 1920 promised Kurds independence.

Three years later, Kemal Ataturk tore up the treaty. The Lausanne Treaty of 1924 divided the Kurds into the new states of the Middle East.

– Syria –

Before the Syrian uprising in 2011, Kurds made up between eight and ten percent of the population.

The Baathist state, which glorifies Arab nationalism, deprived thousands of Kurds of citizenship, prevented them from using their language and curtailed their political activism.

During the war, President Bashar al-Assad focused mainly on crushing Sunni Arab dissidents with the help of Russia and Iran and turning a blind eye to Kurdish fighters who wrested autonomy in the north and east.

Assad said he would regain the northeast but both sides had kept some channels of communication open.

Syrian Kurdish leaders say they are not seeking secession but autonomy within the Syrian state.

Kurdish fighters have grown in influence by joining US forces in retaking territory from the Islamic State.

The deployment provided a security umbrella that helped expand Kurdish influence, but Washington opposes Kurdish autonomy plans.

Kurdish forces, one of the biggest winners of the war, controlled nearly a quarter of the country, rich in oil, water and farmland. It is the largest area in Syria outside the control of the state, and now has their own forces and administration.

But the US withdrawal and the Kurds’ decision to invite Syrian government forces to repel the Turkish offensive puts the future of their region in doubt.

Kurds make up about 20 percent of the population.

The PKK took up arms against the state in 1984 and launched a rebellion to demand autonomy in the mainly Kurdish southeast. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was arrested in 1999, tried and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after Turkey abolished the death penalty.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lifted restrictions on the Kurdish language. The government held talks with Ocalan, jailed on an island near Istanbul, in 2012 but collapsed and renewed the conflict.

The United States, the European Union and Turkey classify the PKK as a terrorist organization.

The Turkish army has carried out repeated strikes on targets in the Iraqi Kurdish region near the PKK stronghold in the Qandil mountains.

Erdogan said he would crush the YPG in Syria, which Ankara sees as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and sent troops into northern Syria to attack Kurdish fighters and force them to retreat.

– Iraq –

Kurds make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population, most of whom live in the three northern provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Saddam Hussein’s rule targeted Iraq’s Kurds with chemical weapons in the late 1980s, destroying villages and forcing thousands to move to camps.

The region has been autonomous since 1991 and has its own government and special armed forces but still depends on the central government in Baghdad.

When ISIS invaded much of northern Iraq in 2014, Kurdish fighters took advantage of the collapse of central authority and took control of Kirkuk, the oil-producing city they see as their old regional capital, and another area of ​​dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdish north.

With US support, Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters defeated ISIS.

Iraq’s Kurds held a referendum on independence in September 2017 that backfired and triggered a regional crisis amid opposition from Baghdad and other regional powers.

The referendum triggered a military and economic response from Baghdad, which has recaptured an area controlled by Kurdish forces since 2014. Relations have since improved but tensions remain over oil exports and revenue sharing.

Kurds make up about 10 percent of the population.

In 2011, Iran pledged to intensify military action against the Free Life Party of Kurdistan, a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) seeking greater autonomy for Kurds in Iran.

Rights groups say Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities face discrimination under the ruling religious establishment.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have put down Kurdish unrest for decades, and many activists have been sentenced to long prison terms or death by the judiciary.

The Iranian armed forces called on the Iraqi authorities to hand over separatist Kurdish opponents stationed there and close their bases.

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