Skip to main content

Syria rebels, Kurdish militia discuss cease-fire

By Ivan Watson, Shiyar Sayed Mohammed and Ammar Cheikh Omar
updated 8:10 PM EDT, Mon October 29, 2012
Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia appear to be negotiating a cease-fire after clashes in Aleppo on Saturday
Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia appear to be negotiating a cease-fire after clashes in Aleppo on Saturday
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clashes in Aleppo on Saturday left at least 21 fighters dead, more than 100 people kidnapped
  • The Free Syrian Army, or FSA, is mostly Sunni Muslim and is fighting Syria's government
  • The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, says it represents Syria's oppressed Kurds
  • Expert: FSA distrusts PYD's secular outlook; PYD is wary of FSA's "pan-Islamic worldview"

Istanbul (CNN) -- Syrian rebels and a Kurdish militia appear to be negotiating a cease-fire after clashes in the battle-scarred northern city of Aleppo on Saturday left at least 21 fighters dead and more than 100 people kidnapped.

According to Ahmad Afash, a commander from the rebel Free Syrian Army, or FSA, at least 16 FSA fighters were killed when they clashed with armed members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, on Saturday. He said at least five Kurdish fighters were also killed in the battle.

Read more: Kurds' ambitions add explosive element to Syria equation

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 30 people were killed in the battle.

The struggles for Syrian Kurds
Syrian Kurds Unite?
Syrian cease-fire ceases

There were conflicting accounts of who started the fight. But the clash raises the specter of Syria turning into an anarchic battleground for competing ethnic and sectarian militias, as the civil war grinds on.

The FSA is an armed movement fighting the Syrian government. It is largely made up of Arabs from Syria's majority Sunni Muslim sect.

The PYD says it represents Syria's long-oppressed ethnic Kurdish minority. It is also the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a pan-Kurdish nationalist movement better known internationally for the guerilla war it has fought for nearly three decades against the government of neighboring Turkey.

Read more: Envoy to Syria meets with Russian minister after truce unravels

A PYD activist who asked only to be named Abu Mohammed for security reasons told CNN that "the Free Syrian Army opened fire on a demonstration by the people who were demanding that the FSA leave their Kurdish majority neighborhood."

Abu Mohammed sent CNN a link to a video distributed by "Ronahi TV," a representative of the PYD. Purportedly filmed in the Aleppo neighborhood of Ashrafiya on Saturday, it showed hundreds of Kurdish demonstrators chanting in Kurdish, "long live our fighters" and "Kurdish unity." Some of the men were armed with shotguns, and some activists also wore the red, yellow and green of the PYD and chanted "Apo," the nickname of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned on an island in Turkey.

At one point in the video, gunfire rings out and demonstrators run for cover. The video later showed several wounded men being brought to hospital. It was not clear who injured them.

Another member of the PYD, from the Syrian town of Afrin, who asked not to be named for security reasons, also accused FSA rebels of breaking a peace agreement with the Kurdish militia.

"There was an agreement between us and the FSA not to enter the Kurdish-dominated areas with their weapons," the Kurdish activist said in a phone call with CNN. "But then a group of FSA fighters just entered the neighborhood of Ashrafiya and set up checkpoints ... then we had to respond because it was a breach of the agreement."

Read more: Turkish government asks Kurdish prisoners to end hunger strike

But Ahmed Afash, the FSA commander based in the town of Anadan, directly north of Aleppo, said that "PYD militants attacked an FSA checkpoint, killed a number of FSA fighters and kidnapped several others."

Kurdish and FSA activists agree, however, that the initial clash triggered a round of kidnapping, during which both militias grabbed members of each others' communities.

Afash, who commands an FSA brigade that calls itself the "Free Men of Syria," claimed responsibility for the capture of "a number of civilian Kurds" on Saturday in order "to force the PYD to negotiations."

On Sunday, the Kurdish Taakhi Coordination Committee announced on its Facebook page that 120 Kurds who had been kidnapped by the FSA "were released ... and negotiations are now being held by the PYD and the FSA to find a way out of this."

That account was echoed by the PYD member in Afrin, who told CNN that "we have both released the people who got kidnapped and captured, and I think we will reach an agreement soon."

Read more: Report says Turkey's Kurdish conflict has turned more violent

Who is Abdul Basit Sieda?
Police base targeted in Syria blast

The incident came as no surprise to a Syria expert.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos

"It was a matter of time before the PYD and opposition armed groups came to clash," Peter Harling, a Syria analyst with the nonprofit conflict mediation organization International Crisis Group, wrote in an e-mail to CNN. He said that Kurdish militias and Syrian rebels have conflicting ideologies.

"The latter distrust the former's allegedly secessionist agenda, its secular outlook, and its relatively accommodating stance vis a vis the regime, while the PYD sees opposition armed groups as importing a hegemonic, pan-Islamic worldview," Harling added.

"For now none of these two sides has in interest in seeing this escalate, however. The armed opposition is focused on defeating the regime, and the PYD would rather stay on the sidelines as long as it can secure the areas where Kurds congregate."

Last summer, as anti-government rebels battled regime forces, PYD militants made a power grab in several Kurdish communities along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

PYD activists raised the Kurdish flag over these towns and declared them autonomous from central government rule. But they also refused join the armed rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, preferring to stay on the sidelines of Syria's bloody civil war.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT