Kurdish YPG fighters near Aleppo
Kurdish YPG fighters near AleppoReuters

The leader of Syria's most powerful Kurdish faction has warned of a possible future war against "Arab settlers" in Kurdish areas of the country, only weeks after his party declared the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region.

Salih Muslim, who heads the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its powerful militia, the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG), was referring to Syrian Arabs who were brought to settle Kurdish regions as part of the Assad regime's policy of "Arabization".

The Kurdish people are the largest indigenous Middle Eastern nation without a state. Their homeland, Kurdistan, is currently occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, although Kurds in Iraq enjoy autonomy of their own under the Kurdish Regional Government. In each of those countries ethnic Kurds have faced varying levels of discrimination and forced assimilation, and have in turn fought armed insurgencies against what they see as a foreign occupation of their homeland.

In Assad's Syria, where Kurds made up around 10% of the population, and are concentrated largely in the north of the country (in what they term "Western Kurdistan), such oppressive measures helped trigger a short-lived uprising in 2004, which was brutally crushed by authorities.

Not long after the start of the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprising, Syrian government forces were forced to withdrawn from Kurdish areas to focus on the more restive Sunni Arab population centers further south. Seizing the opportunity, Kurdish factions - in particular the YPG  - moved in to take control of the region, declaring their opposition to both the government and the rebel movement, both of whom they say aim to continue efforts to Arabize Kurdish regions.

The past year or so has seen the YPG clash primarily with some of the rebel movement's Islamist brigades, most frequently with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front and Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), whose forces were recently ejected from Kurdish areas in the run-up to the PYD's declaration of autonomy.

During those clashes local Kurds accused Arab fighters of committing numerous atrocities against local civilians.

Continued fighting between Syrian rebels and Kurdish militias has led to claims by rebel groups that the PYD has sided with the regime - accusations it strenuously denies. 

Speaking to Serek TV, Salih Muslim left no doubt about his party's position as opposing all forms of Arab "occupation", warning that recent hostilities between Arab settlers and Kurds meant that "one day those Arabs who have been brought to the Kurdish areas will have to be expelled," according to Rudaw.

"Syrian government policy has brought many Arabs to the Kurdish areas," he explained, but "All the villages where they live now belong to the Kurds."