The article below was originally published by the AP on March 16, 2016. Photo courtesy of Flickr.
A powerful Kurdish party announced plans Wednesday to declare a federal region in northern Syria, an idea promptly dismissed by Turkey and Syrian government negotiators at U.N.-brokered peace talks.
The declaration was expected to be made at the end of a Kurdish conference that began Wednesday in the town of Rmeilan, in Syria’s northern Hassakeh province.
No Kurds at Peace Talks
It comes as the Damascus government and Western- and Saudi-backed rebels are holding peace talks with a U.N. envoy in Geneva on ways to end the devastating civil war, which this week entered its sixth year.
The main Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have so far been excluded from those talks so as not to anger Turkey, despite Russia’s insistence that they be part of the negotiations. Ankara views the group as a terrorist organization.
Nawaf Khalil of the PYD told The Associated Press by phone from Germany, where he is based, that his party is not lobbying for a Kurdish region but an all-inclusive area with representation for Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds in northern Syria.
Salih Muslim, the co-president of the PYD, speaking to the AP in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, that the decision to declare a federal region was not yet official, but any such announcement would be a positive step that helps keep Syria together.
He suggested the only way forward was a decentralized Syria and that any formula for that, whether federalism or autonomy, would be acceptable to the Kurds. “The name is not important,” he added.
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up more than 10 percent of the prewar population of 23 million. They control an area along the Turkish border stretching from Syria’s far east, near the Iraqi border, to Afrin in the west, interrupted only by a stretch of territory that the Islamic State group controls.
Rojava: A Start
Syria’s Kurds have declared their own civil administration in three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under their control: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.
Around 200 Kurdish representatives from those three cantons, known collectively as Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, were meeting in Rmeilan Wednesday to discuss the move.
Federalism could be a first step toward creating an autonomous region similar to the one Kurds run across the border in Iraq, where their territory is virtually a separate country. It could also usher in similar demands elsewhere in Syria and in effect lead to partition.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said his country rejects any moves that would compromise Syria’s national unity and considers the territorial integrity of Syria as “essential.”
It’s up to the Syrian people to “decide on the executive and administrative structure of Syria in line with the new constitution which will be formulated through the political transition process,” said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with government practice.
“Unilateral moves carry no validity,” the official said.
Turkey views the PYD as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has renewed a decades-old insurgency since peace talks collapsed last year. The United States also considers the PKK a terrorist group, but both the U.S. and Russia support the YPG, which has been among the most effective forces battling the Islamic State group.
[Read more at the Associated Press]