Today the Kurds are the largest national grouping without a state of their own. Current political developments in the Middle East have set the stage for the Kurds realizing their right of self-determination.'Syria's Kurdish activists have begun to take control of towns near the border with Turkey
In any assessment of the potential winners and losers from the political chaos in Syria, the country's Kurdish minority could be among the winners.
The Kurds make up a little over 10% of the population. Long marginalised by the Alawite-dominated government, they are largely concentrated in north-eastern Syria, up towards the Turkish border.
Aaron David Miller, a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, believes that the Kurds could be one of the main beneficiaries of the demise of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"Syria is coming apart, and there's not much chance it will be reassembled with the kind of centralised authority we saw under the Assads."
For the Syrian Kurds, whom he describes as "part of the largest single ethnic grouping in the region that lacks a state", there is "an opportunity to create more autonomy and respect for Kurdish rights".
"They have the motivation, opportunity, and their Kurdish allies in Iraq and Turkey to encourage them. But what will hold them back is Turkey's determination to prevent a mini-statelet in Syria along with the Kurds own internal divisions," he says.
The Kurdish factor in the Syrian crisis will prove to be as significant as the Kurdish question in IraqProf Fawaz Gerges London School of Economics
"It is unlikely," he believes, "that Syria's Kurds will be able to establish a separate entity in Syria. Nor will the United States, nor the international community accept that."
"At the same time, the several dimensions of the Kurdish problem - the Iraqi Kurds' growing determination to remain a separate entity; Turkish determination to avoid another mini-Kurdistan along the Syrian-Iraqi border; and the issue of the PKK, the armed Kurdish insurgents fighting the Turkish Army - will create a real flashpoint."
There in a nutshell is the scale of the problem.
The Kurds' future in Syria will have an important bearing upon what sort of country it is going to become.
But the fate of the Syrian Kurds also has ramifications well beyond the country's borders. These processes are already under way.
Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the London School of Economics, told me that "the Syrian Kurds have already seized the moment and are laying the foundation for an autonomous region like their counterparts in Iraq".
"The exit of Assad's forces from the Kurdish areas has complicated the crisis and deepened Turkey's fears that its borders with Iraq and Syria will be volatile for years to come," he says.
Turkey has accused Syria of
encouraging rebels from the
Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK)
"The Kurdish factor in the Syrian crisis will prove to be as significant as the Kurdish question in Iraq."
Prof Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish Studies programme at the Moshe Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University, agrees.
"The Kurdish dimension is likely to become a potent factor in the near future because of the weakening of each of the states in which they live, because co-operation among the states for curbing the Kurds is non-existent, and because the Kurds have made headway in the United States and in the West, where they proved their loyalty and lack of religious extremism.
"In a word, the West might like to support them."
If a Kurdish spectre is stalking the region then it is probably Turkey that has most reason to be worried.
Even as Ankara has watched developments in Syria with unease, its own struggle with guerrilla fighters of the Kurdish PKK has flared up again - Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu insisting that the Syrian government is encouraging the PKK, to get its own back for Turkey's insistence that President Assad must go.
But it is even more complicated than this. The dominant Kurdish faction inside Syria is a close ally - some say even an off-shoot - of the PKK. It has little love for the mainstream Syrian opposition championed by the Turks.
Whilst fighting the PKK on one front, Turkey is desperately trying to curb the political ambitions of Syria's Kurds by political means.
Indeed the ramifications of the Kurdish issue go even further. Prof Gerges insists that the Kurdish question "is here to stay".
"It transcends national borders and has the potential to redraw the Sykes-Pico agreement, which, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, established existing
For nearly two decades, Iraq has been the focal point of Kurdish efforts, yet now Syria is a new candidate for Kurdish political activity. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria's Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of Kurdish-populated towns along the Syrian-Turkish border.