Syrian Kurds Fighting for Full Autonomy

The Syrian Kurds will continue the sovereignization of the territory under their control. They intend to link all parts of Syrian Kurdistan and ensure its complete self-government while formally being part of Syria.

The Federation of Northern Syria proclaimed by the Kurds is actually the unilateral recognition of a federal formation in part of Syrian (Western) Kurdistan and fully conforms with the logic of developments in Syria in the past few years.

The start of the civil war in Syria allowed the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to start establishing self-government bodies since the summer of 2011, which led to the proclamation of de facto autonomy under the cantonal system by the beginning of 2014.

The PYD expanded control over the territory owing to the heroism and self-sacrifice of its fighters, which was on par with the international support in the struggle against the so-called Islamic State (banned in Russia). This allowed the PYD to hope for full-fledged participation in the talks on the country’s future organization, whereby the Kurds would like to self-govern their territory as part of a united Syria on the basis of a consensus that was secured in documents signed by the various parties of the negotiations.

However, the PYD faced problems due to Turkey’s tough position and the reluctance of almost all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to consider Kurdish interests. This compelled the PYD to speed up the region’s further sovereignization, thereby presenting all parties to the potential talks on Syria’s future with a fait accompli. In the PYD’s opinion, Iraqi (Southern) Kurdistan is a graphic example of such sovereignization. In 1992, it unilaterally proclaimed itself a region of the then-non-existent Iraqi Federation to legitimize its full-fledged autonomy.

In the past 25 years, the authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan traversed a road from the complete renunciation of the withdrawal from Iraq to saying that it is impossible to be part of it. Naturally, Syrian Kurds also have a similar project. No wonder the Iraqi Kurdistan leaders supported the decision of Syrian Kurds despite the most serious contradictions with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and PYD. The absence of the word “Kurdistan” in the name of the proclaimed region does not change anything and was only determined by the reluctance to further irritate various forces, including Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, Turkey and Arab states.

For all intents and purposes, the PYD will continue the sovereignization of the territory under its control. It intends to finally link all parts of Syrian Kurdistan and ensure its complete self-government while formally being part of Syria. In other words, this amounts to a confederation. During the legitimization of the “(con)federative” status, the Kurds will consider this arrangement to be a civilized and bloodless divorce with the rest of the country.

Despite strong statements by the opponents of Syrian Kurds, they can hardly take any serious action against the PYD, which has simply registered de facto the situation in Syrian Kurdistan. World powers have to respect their major ally in the coalition against radical Islamists and will hardly allow any serious action against the PYD. It is not ruled out that in the future Turkey will also change its position and switch from a total confrontation with the PYD to the economic integration of Syrian Kurdistan, which was artificially annexed from the now adjacent Turkish territory (the so-called Turkish or Northern Kurdistan). Turkey has already graphically displayed its pragmatism as regards Iraqi Kurdistan.

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria does not change the situation for Syrian Kurds, who were initially worried by the start of the military operation in Syria because of the potential consolidation of al-Assad’s influence. Nonetheless, having supported Russia, Syrian Kurds are interested at least in the preservation of the current balance of forces where they are one of the most formidable and organized groups. In so doing, they are trying to derive benefits from the current Russian-Turkish confrontation.

The Kurdish factor plays a major role in the developments in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. There are several problems related to the Kurds, although in all probability Turkey is somewhat overrating the Kurdish threat. It is not ruled out that the Kurdish issue may exacerbate in Iran in the near future, especially if it is affected by crises.

Despite many statements about regional destabilization, the Kurds often perform a stabilizing role in the region. They did not allow the chaos that emerged without their participation to spread in Iraq and Syria. Although the actions of Kurdish organizations in Turkey may be regarded as destabilizing, their role is hugely overrated, especially considering the scale of Turkey, its economic stability, a flexible political system and the powerful ability of the Turkish authorities to neutralize tactical and strategic threats from Kurdish groups.
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