Unlike Russia, regional powers reserved about Kurdish vote
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.