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The British policy towards the Kurds in Syria

Governmental political disregard, public and parliamentary sympathy

Available in Arabic


Written By: Zara Saleh

Academy of Higher Medicine of Sofia University, Bulgaria; Master of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, University of Coventry, Britain.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Britain has maintained a significant military and political presence in Kurdistan, as well as having played a significant role in drafting the decisions from the London Conferences in 1921 and 1922, and Lausanne Conferences in 1923, when Britain in partnership with France has retreated from its promises of the Treaty of Sèvres, which essentially laid the foundation for forming a Kurdish state after the recognition of the new Kemalist Turkish government.

During the British mandate, the common Interests Agreement between the British Government and the Soviet Union, by which the oil-rich state of Mosul (now Kurdistan) was attached to the State of Iraq, was a result of the interplay of political interests and international relations between the World War I winners. And that is dedicated to the tragic fate of Kurds as the largest nation without state.

Due to colonial policies at that time, Britain inherited most of the Ottoman legacy in Iraq and Kurdistan, so the southern part of Kurdistan remains under British influence until today, while the Kurds of Syria remain under French influence.

Britain contributed a great deal of support to the Syrian protest movement at the start of the so-called Arab Spring, forming the "Friends of the Syrian People" group with other countries, and the British government has provided support to the Syrian political, and military opposition, as well as hosting the first donor conference dedicated to the Syrian people, called the "London Donor Conference," which saw donors pledge more than $6 billion to Syrians, this resulted in the launch of the Brussels conference on "Supporting Syria's Future". The United Kingdom had an important role within the international coalition supporting the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Besides this presence, there was an American military and intelligence presence at Al-Tanf, which was established by the United States in 2014 in response to Iran's expansionism and factionalism.

Public and parliamentary positions.

In the United Kingdom, there is general public sympathy for the Kurds in Syria regarding both public and parliamentary positions. The Kurdish forces have been commended at the official political level for their active role in defeating ISIS. Since the Battle of Kobani, the Kurdish issue has attracted increasing interest in Britain and around the world. Britains have volunteered for the YPG, with some losing their lives fighting alongside them.

As a result of Britain's participation in the international coalition to fight ISIS, the British government has recognized the Kurds as a trusted ally and partner in combat after Kobani’s epic battle, the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa, the caliphate's capital, and finally the Battle of Baghuz, which ended ISIS's public existence, and many newspapers and magazines in the United Kingdom have featured pictures of female Kurdish fighters from the Women's Protection Forces as an example of a positive and exceptional situation in the Middle East. In addition to the fact that hundreds of British jihadists joined ISIS in Syria, this also prompted a greater focus on Kurdish efforts, monitoring the situation in Syria, specifically in Kurdish areas, and increasing the profile of Kurds in Syria, Additionally, the Kurdish forces that have and still are fighting terrorism and extremist militias on behalf of the world, as well as Europe in general, and those who have suffered as a result of that ideological war on their land.

In response, influential British parliamentarians and public figures attended numerous events and demonstrations against Turkish occupation of Afrin and Sri Kanye that were organised by the Kurds in various British cities, there have also been calls in the British parliament for Turkish military interventions and occupations of Kurdish areas. During the course of this endeavor, I have been present on more than one occasion, including the organization of a demonstration by the Kurdish community in Birmingham, England, against the Turkish invasion of Afrin. Jack Dromey, a British Labour MP who met with the Kurdish community in his office and participated in the endeavor, spoke at length about the role of Kurds in defeating ISIS, emphasizing that Kurds are fighting terrorism as a whole on behalf of Europe. "We the British are embarrassed and ashamed by what's happening in Afrin, We owe you”, and On 13/11/2021, he tweeted that he reiterated his solidarity with the Kurdish cause following the recent meeting of the Kurdish community ((I am a strong supporter of the rights of the Kurdish people. They were the anvil upon which IS was smashed and have been treated shamefully.))

As well as several other parliamentary figures, especially from the British Labour Party, such as (Emily Thornberry and Kate Osamor) who raised the issue of Kurds repeatedly in Parliament, Including by the All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG), supporting Kurdish rights in Syria and Turkey, which recently raised the issue of Turkish threats against Kurds 02/11/2021, which includes politicians from Labour Party and Scottish National Party including (Lloyd Russell Moyle, John Spellar, Alex Sobel, Kim Johnson, and Faryal Clark)

While British politicians consider the Autonomous Administration in northern and eastern Syria to be a "Kurdish administration" despite the participation of Arabs and Syriacs, as an expression of calling the region “Kurdistan”, and they implicitly acknowledge the injustice done to the Kurds as a result of the division of Kurdistan into four parts to serve the interests of the winning powers in World War I led by Britain. Public opinion and the British media share this opinion.

Governmental and political positions.

The official government opinion of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, however, did not reflect the widespread sympathy of the British for the Kurds. The British House of Commons has often witnessed rifts between the ruling Conservative Party and the main opposition, the Labour Party. Afrin and Serêkaniyê have been occupied by Turkish forces, which has sparked anger in the pro-Kurdish Workers Party. The conservative government led by Boris Johnson rejected this condemnation due to its economic relations with Turkey and the AKP government.

Its statements praised the heroism and courage of the Kurds in defeating ISIS were more admired and romanticized than those of the Labour Party, which has been more effective in the British Parliament. Additionally, Labour Party members visited the Autonomous Administration more than once and demonstrated their political and humanitarian support, despite the mistakes made and the difficult circumstances due to the economic siege and the continuous threats from Turkey, the opposition forces in Syria, as well as Iran and Russia.

Diplomatically adept, Britain has always distanced itself from protecting Kurds and the Autonomous Administration, asserting that the Kurdish issue is being managed by the United States, which leads the international coalition providing military and logistical support to the Syrian Democratic Forces(SDF). Currently, it is the only practical guarantee to protect the Kurds and prevent Turkey or the Syrian regime from repeating the Afrin or Serêkaniyê scenarios in other Kurdish areas. Note that Britain is the closest ally of the United States and plays a crucial role in the international coalition against ISIS.

Since the British government tried to shirk its responsibility to its citizens who joined the ranks of ISIS as well, the Ministry of the Interior revoked their citizenship and refused to restore it after finding a legal remedy for this problem.

After repeated calls from the Autonomous Administration of Britain to assume its responsibilities in recovering its citizens (ISIS wives and children) living in the Al-Hol and Nowruz camps, Jonathan Hargreaves, UK Special Representative for Syria, visited northeastern Syria on 10/18/2021, marking the first official meeting between the British delegation and representatives of the Autonomous Administration. According to an official document, the British delegation received three British children from ISIS families.

The UK contributes to several development and service projects in the Autonomous Administration in northern and eastern Syria, but those contributions are not sufficient to meet the growing needs due to the Turkish military threat and the economic blockade. The result is destabilizing and disrupting living conditions in a vast region that hasn't been developed for decades.

To conclude.

The overall view of the instabilities in the Syrian political and field situation, as well as the recurrence of violations and crimes committed in the Turkish-occupied areas of Syria, the British government should make more efforts to engage with the Kurdish political parties.

To achieve the success of the Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue in preparation for the consolidation of stability and to include other actors and forces in the political and social scene, and to establish a representative and platform for Kurdish demands within an autonomy or federation within a federal state, to pressure Turkey to halt violations and demographic changes, which will be an important step in addition to the importance of the American presence in protecting Kurds, assuring Kurds' participation in political negotiations, and finding a solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with Resolution 2254 To guarantee the national rights of Kurdish people in the Syrian constitution with an international guarantee from the United Nations.

The British government is expected to provide more assistance and support for developing and supporting economic projects in the Kurdish regions and in northern and eastern Syria as a whole. Assisting in the governance and participatory governance of the Autonomous Administration and developing its institutions to serve the participation of all actors, forces, political, societal, and civil actors in it.


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