Unlike Russia, regional powers reserved about Kurdish vote

Sunday 06/08/2017
Divisive ambitions. A man sewing an Iraqi Kurdish flag bearing a portrait of Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani in Erbil. (AFP)

Beirut - Syrian and Iraqi Kurds have marked a handful of im­portant dates that would put them closer than ever before to independence from the central governments of Damascus and Baghdad.
Iraqi Kurds are to have a long-delayed referendum on September 25, cementing the quasi-independ­ence of Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been a de facto reality since 1991. Their brethren in Syria are to vote for their local communes on Sep­tember 22.
Local council elections in Kurd­ish territories of Syria are to follow on November 3. Broad elections for the three Kurdish-led districts ear­marked for the federal government of northern Syria are scheduled for January 19, 2018. They would be accompanied by a conference for all major players in that part of the war-torn county organised by Kurdish parties and to be attended by 300 delegates with the blessing of Moscow and the United States.
The ground-breaking resolution was reached on July 31 by 156 Kurd­ish delegates who met in Rmelan in the northern Kurdish province of Hasakah, passing their own elec­tion law without consulting with or taking orders from Damascus. The Russians, however, who have been cutting deals with the Kurds in northern Syria, did not seem to mind the new manoeuvres, urging the Kurds to set up their own gov­ernment while remaining part of Syria.
A Russian-authored constitution for Syria, presented to negotiators at the UN-mandated Geneva talks earlier this year, specifically called for adopting the Kurdish language next to Arabic and mandated local parliaments with broad powers, such as voting for their own mu­nicipalities, electing their own gov­ernors and getting a share of their region’s wealth. Previously that wealth went to Damascus and very little of it reached its places of ori­gin, resulting in poverty through­out the Syrian north, while all po­litical and administrative decisions were imposed on these territories from the faraway capital of Syria.
The newly proposed charter, which is still being debated in Switzerland, states all this would become a thing of the past and the federal laws would apply to all parts of Syria, including the four de-conflict zones that were recent­ly agreed upon by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara; north of Homs, east of Damascus, in Idlib in the Syr­ian north-west and throughout the Syrian south alongside the Syrian- Jordanian borders.
New laws written recently in Rmelan said that members of the federal assembly would be elected by universal suffrage for 2-year terms and municipality elections would take place every four years.
The Kurdish delegates of Rmelan came short of calling for a breaka­way state in Syria, settling for uni­fication of three Kurdish provinces within a broad federal government, encompassing both Arabs and Kurds.
The first Kurdish canton would be in Hasakah province and it would include the Kurdish cities of Hasakah and Qamishli, both east of the Euphrates River in territory generally regarded as part of the United States’ fiefdom in Syria.
The second canton would be in Aleppo province, including the Kurdish towns of Kobane, immedi­ately south of the border with Tur­key, and Tal Abyad, within Raqqa governorate.
Third would be the canton of Af­rin, west of the Euphrates River. It would take in the city of Afrin, which is in the hands of the Rus­sians, and Shahba in the country­side of Aleppo.
Many of these cities and what lies between them are not fully Kurdish and are still occupied by an Arab majority.
The strategic city of Raqqa, the former self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State (ISIS), is in the process of being liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Its council is to decide by Septem­ber on whether it wants to join the Kurdish-led federal project. The same applies to the oil-rich city of Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates, which is being contested by gov­ernment troops, ISIS and the SDF.
The new arrangements would undoubtedly take the region by storm, infuriating Turkish Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who would likely work hard to obstruct the project through any possible means, because it would automati­cally trigger the ambitions of the 15 million Kurds living in his coun­try, many of whom have long sup­ported a separatist movement led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. (PKK), which hopes to carve 50% of historic Kurdistan from the mod­ern Turkish Republic.
Other Kurds, including the 6 mil­lion in Iran and approximately 5 million-6 million living in the dias­pora, would certainly be inspired by the elections but Tehran will not like the idea and nor will Damas­cus, perhaps giving the two allies and Turkey enough reason to set aside their differences and work together to abort the project alto­gether or try to manipulate and in­fluence its voting outcome, coming up with regime-friendly delegates and MPs in Syrian Kurdistan.