01:34 GMT +322 February 2019
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    Female fighters from the Kurdish People Protection Unit (YPG) take a break on the front line in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on September 4, 2015.

    Food for Thought: The Syria Kurds Hope to See After Peace is Restored

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    Last week, a day after the Russia and US-brokered agreement on a ceasefire in Syria was announced, the Syrian Kurds' main media outlet published an interview with an official from the Kurdish coalition governing northern Syria. The Kurds, the official said, see federalization as the key to ensuring lasting peace and stability to the country.

    On Tuesday, the Hawar News Agency published an interview with Ilham Ahmed, a member of the Executive Council of the Movement for a Democratic Society, the political coalition which governs the de facto autonomous areas of northern Syria collectively referred to as the Rojava.

    According to Ahmed, Syria's decentralization is a necessary condition for ending the war, or more specifically, the Syrian government's war with the so-called 'moderate opposition' groups that remain unaffiliated with the Islamist terrorists.

    "The comments made in the course of discussions [on Syria's future], including those of foreign representatives, imply the creation of three federal regions in Syria," Ahmed said, according to Russia's Gazeta.ru.

    "This is what the country's citizens, parties and groups, and the foreign states that seek a political solution to the conflict in Syria want. The US and Russia are of the same opinion," she added.

    Declining to discuss the details of the possible federalization, which have not yet been agreed upon by the parties in any detail, Ahmed suggested only that the country could essentially be divided into three administrative divisions – the north (governed by the Kurds), the center (assigned to the Sunnis), and the south (consisting of the Alawites, the Druze, Christians and other minorities). In each region, she clarified, the ethnic and religious peculiarities of the local population would be accounted for, and each area would have its own parliament.

    So far, the official suggested, the Sunni-majority moderate opposition has shown the greatest resistance to talking about the country's future, with officials in Damascus, for their part, being much more amicable to the idea.

    Commenting on the possibility of creating a functioning federal state, Gazeta.ru recalled the history of another recent, internationally-mandated federalization – the case of Bosnia. That case, the newspaper recalled, isn't exactly a success, with ethnic tensions between Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks continuing to linger, and the country remaining mired in poverty and social instability.

    However, the paper notes, "the situation in Syria has its own peculiarities. For a start, the Kurds are seeking the federalization of the country. At no point did they set a goal to separate themselves from Syria, to form an independent Kurdistan or join some other state. At least this is the ideology the present leaders of the Syrian Kurds have expressed."

    This ideology, Gazeta.ru recalls, is based on the writings of Abdullah Ocalan, one of the founders of the Turkey-based Kurdish militant organization the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). His work, the paper notes, talks of the need to create Kurdish autonomies within countries, delegating some powers and functions from the center to local structures. These include decisions on local governance, the structure of the economy and of the armed forces.

    At the same time, the paper notes, "for the moment, the Kurds, Assad supporters and the [moderate] anti-government groups face a common enemy: the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, which are not subject to the truce agreement…If the truce can be maintained in the current circumstances, a federation could be established in the near future, and the war against Daesh, continuing for a year or two, could consolidate the presently fragmented Syrian political forces of the moderate wing."

    Speaking to Russia Beyond the Headlines (RBTH) columnist Vladimir Mikheev about the possibility of a "regulated federalization of Syria as a sound alternative to its chaotic 'balkanization', Grigory Kosach, an Arab studies expert at the Russian State University for the Humanities, suggested that the precedent is there.

    "In theory, the federalization of Syria is feasible," the academic noted. "Syria has been a patchy formation from the very beginning. There is a precedent. France, granted a mandate to rule over Syria by the League of Nations [in the 1920s], split territories along regional and ethnic lines."

    At the same time, Mikheev suggests, today "the fundamentals have changed drastically. For the moment, Syrian Kurds seem to accept the concept of autonomy within the Syrian state." Now, the question is whether Damascus and President Bashar Assad are ready for such an arrangement.  

    According to the columnist, it's also up in the air whether a Syrian agreement on autonomization might "provoke Turkey into some sort of 'preventative strike' to suffocate even an embryonic statehood for the Kurds. Their fear could be the emergence of such a state on the regional political map and, even more worrisome for Ankara…that it could be in the close vicinity of its own restive Kurdish regions in southeast Anatolia."

    For his part, Vadim Kozyulin, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based independent think tank PIR Center, told RBTH that Syria may already have a viable example in the face of its neighbor, Iraq. 

    "Although Syrian Kurds have never publically declared their intention to strive for a separate statehood, the situation might evolve along the same route as in Iraqi Kurdistan," the analyst suggested. 

    "Formally (it might be called) autonomy, having all the attributes of a state within a state: government, legislation, military formations ('peshmerga'), viable sources for the regional budget, etc. Syrian Kurdistan could follow this example."

    As far as the Kurds are concerned, Mikheev suggests, agreement between Damascus and the Rojava may come down "to whether the Kurds…limit their ambitions to the benefits brought about by a wide or wider autonomy."

    As to the idea of a Sunni autonomy in the center of the country, their cooperation with Damascus, the journalist notes, "is far from guaranteed." In any case, Syria and its partners (Russia, Iran, Iraq) will never agree to the neoconservative vision of "a new, independent Sunni state" recently proposed by former US United Nations ambassador John Bolton.

    As for Sunni autonomy, such a possibility will "be meager as long as Daesh or ISIS stays undefeated, remains a robust military machine and an alternative to radicalized Muslims. However, if moderate Sunni groups, that are opposed to Daesh and are fight[ing] the jihadists on their soil, are offered a platform to set up a separate administrative unit within Syria, would it not contribute to forming a united front against the arch-enemy?"

    Ultimately, Mikheev notes, "most likely, a unified Syrian state is the fairest and most sustainable option. But given the accumulated wrath and the legacy of blood vendettas that are typical in every civil war, it could be too late. For the moment, the political and military pendulum in Syria is in motion. It can swing either way: either federalization or balkanization."


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    analysis, regional autonomy, autonomy, Movement for a Democratic Society, Ilham Ahmed, Rojava, Syria
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