Syria’s Kurds divided over path to autonomy

While the Syrian Kurdish PYD wants to impose Kurdish autonomy immediately, other Kurdish forces such as the Syrian Kurdish National Council seek to achieve autonomy as part of an agreement with other Syrian forces.

al-monitor Vehicles pass a Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) checkpoint in Tell Tamer town, Hasaka, Nov. 30, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Rodi Said.

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syria, salih muslim, kurds in syria, kurdish national council of syria, kurdish democratic union party, autonomy

Dec 4, 2013

Syrian Kurdish National Council head Abdul Hakim Bashar and Abdel Hamid Darwish, the secretary-general of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party, rejected “any unilateral solution to the Kurdish issue” in Syria. Bashar demanded the establishment “of a federal state, on condition that it comes within the framework of national consensus because the Kurdish issue cannot be resolved in isolation from the Syrian national issue.”

For his part, Darwish criticized “any unilateral solutions in isolation from the national forces,” clarifying that the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, had told him during their meeting yesterday [Dec. 3] that the head of the Syrian National Coalition, the oppositionist Ahmad al-Jarba, was invited to visit Erbil to discuss several issues, including the formation of an opposition delegation to the Geneva II conference, which is scheduled for Jan. 22.

Bashar and Darwish spoke with Al-Hayat after the head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim announced that the party seeks to establish an independent Kurdish region in the framework of a federal Syria and that a commission is preparing a constitution for this province. AFP quoted Muslim saying, “The [Syrian] Kurdistan region will be divided into three autonomous provinces: Kobani [center], Afrin [west] and Qamishli [east]. ... The goal is not to secede, but the Kurds want a federal system in Syria.”

But Bashar said that the position of the Kurdish National Council is based on the view that “the Kurdish issue cannot be solved in isolation from the Syrian national issue and Syrian consensus. We must decide our own destiny, but we must not forget that we are both Kurds and Syrians. Anything we agree on must be based on the constitution and agreed upon by the Syrians and put to a referendum. ... We demand a federal state. But the Kurds do not decide that alone. It must be done within a national consensus.”

Bashar said that the PYD proposal indicates the existence of a “non-Kurdish agenda.” He expressed surprise at the proposal of establishing an independent Kurdish region at a time when “we are at the gates of the Geneva II conference, amid a belief that the regime seeks to dismantle Syria, and at a time when some believe that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is establishing an Islamic state in the north and northeast of Syria. ... In these circumstances, we should ask for a consensus solution that unites all Syrians and not divide them.”

The PYD and the National Council are set to form the higher Kurdish body under an agreement between the two sides. The National Council joined the National Coalition last month, when the coalition's general assembly approved the addition of 11 members under an agreement between the two sides. The agreement has not been recognized by the PYD. It is expected that during the next meeting of the National Coalition’s general committee, Bashar will be named the coalition’s vice president.

About the proposal by Kurdish officials that there should be an agreement with the coalition on supraconstitutional principles that are not subject to any referendum or election, Bashar said, “We agreed with the coalition that the constitution be by consensus and not subject to the rule of the minority or the majority, and then it will be put to a public referendum.”

Bashar was part of the opposition delegation that met with Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, US officials and the Arab and international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva last week. Yesterday, Bashar said, “There is a consensus that the coalition will form an opposition delegation led by [a group that] represents all the forces. ... The Kurdish National Council will present a paper on the Kurdish issue and the agreement signed with the coalition at the negotiating table, which will begin after the start of the international conference on Jan. 22.”

The opposition delegation consists of 15 people, including nine in the negotiating room and six outside, according to what the Americans and the Russians and Brahimi told Bashar. He said the tripartite consultative meeting in Geneva on Dec. 20 will decide whether the negotiations between representatives of the government and the opposition would be “direct or through intermediaries,” such as Brahimi and the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. He pointed out that the coalition must submit the names of the opposition delegation to Brahimi by Dec. 27.

Bashar predicted that the Kurds would be represented by two people in the opposition delegation, pointing out that “the key issues in the negotiations will be how to form a transitional governing body with full executive powers, how to achieve a new Syria and the guidelines for the new constitution.”

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