Kurds’ move reignites fears of Syria partition
AMMAN - Time is running out for Syria to remain intact following the announcement of a Kurdish federation in northern Syria.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and other Kurdish and non- Kurdish allies on March 17th unilaterally declared the Federation of Northern Syria, uniting three Kurdish majority areas in northern Syria into a single entity.
The newly declared region, known as Rojava (“West” in Kurdish), consists of the Kurdish-controlled Jazira, Kobane and Afrin cantons.
Talks between the Syrian opposition, as represented by the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), and the Syrian government are under way in Geneva — dubbed “Geneva III” — to decide the future of the country.
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is pushing both sides to present their vision for a transition period, although the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad remains the sticking point, with the government delegation refusing to discuss the issue.
Both sides, however, agree on the rejection of the nascent Kurdish federation, an idea the Arab League also strongly dismissed. The HNC rejected the Kurdish announcement as a “misadventure”, asserting that the Geneva I communiqué enshrines Syrian national unity and territorial integrity while the government delegation described the announcement as “worthless and unconstitutional”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has described the partition of the country as “Plan B” should negotiations fail. “It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” he told a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in February, ahead of the latest Syria negotiations and before the Kurdish declaration.
“A Kurdish region now and an Alawite enclave soon, this is all expected because, in reality, Syria has already been divided,” Ahmed Qassem, a Turkey-based Syrian opposition leader, said, adding that the emerging Alawite enclave for Assad’s Shia-allied minority on the eastern Mediterranean, encompasses the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus with parts of Homs and Hama.
The idea of partitioning Syria has been mooted before but was rejected by regional and international powers that warned the move would set a dangerous precedent. Despite such reservations, Syria’s ethno-sectarian makeup makes “soft” partition — autonomous regions under a weak central government — a possibility, with Kurds concentrated in the north of the country, Alawites in the western coastal region, Druzes in the south-west and Sunni Arabs in central Syria.
The de facto establishment of a Kurdish federation could embolden other Syrian communities to push for a similar status. Turkey and Iran have large Kurdish minorities and fear seeing those communities push for more independence or semi-autonomous status.
As for the Syrian Kurds, the deteriorating situation in the country represents a unique situation. “This is a real opportunity to build a federal democratic system. We are confident this will be a model for a solution to the Syrian crisis,” the announcement of the new federation said.