A leader of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK has claimed that the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG prevented Syria’s ruler Bashar al-Assad from falling in 2012.

Bahoz Erdal (pictured), the commnader of the People’s Defense Center headquarters, said Assad should be grateful to the militia and Kurdish officials in Syria for his survival against the Syrian opposition.

“The regime should thank the YPG and the people of [the autonomous Kurdish region] of Rojava,” he explained.

The statement was part of the latest ploy for negotiations between Syrian Kurdish factions and the Assad regime over the fate of northeast Syria.

The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces, created in October 2015 and supported by the US, have controlled most of the area since they began pushing out the Islamic State, whose last village fell in March.

But in early October, Turkey and anti-Assad fighters launched a cross-border offensive as part of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s plan for a 480-km (270-mile) long and 30-km (19-mile) zone across the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Cezire. Erdoğan says the area will be used to resettle 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The offensive occupied a corridor between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain along the border. On October 22, Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin declared joint military oversight of the zone.

Map of northeast Syria, October 2019

Map: Middle East Eye

There have been intermittent negotiations between the Assad regime and some Kurdish factions, but the talks have foundered on the regime’s rejection of Kurdish autonomy as Assad continues to insist that he will regain control of “every inch” of Syria.

Erdal pressed Assad, saying that Damascus should address a solution in which the issues of Kurdish autonomy and democracy can be resolved within Syrian borders. The commander denied that Syrian Kurdish factions want to “break up” the country.

Erdal also tried to assuage the Arab population of northern Syria, saying Rojava — the Kurdish autonomous territory — would not treat them as enemies or as tools of foreign forces.

If Assad did not negotiate, he warned, “the consequences will not be good”.

Turning to Turkey, he declared, “Erdoğan wants to incite the Syrian regime against the Kurds. He wants to deepen the contradictions between the Syrian Government and the Kurds. He wants to portray Kurds as separatists.”

Ankara considers the YPG as “terrorists” who are part of the PKK, which has fought Turkish security forces for more than 35 years.

Erdal, also known as Fahman Husain, is originally from al-Malikiyah in Hasakah Province in northeast Syria. A medical student at university, he has been one of three PKK leaders after Turkey’s detention of founder Abdullah Öcalan in 1999.