This week Russia, Iran, and Turkey reopened trilateral peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan in an effort to end Syria’s six-year civil war. In a statement, all three countries said there was no military solution that could end the civil war that has left at least 500,000 people dead and another 12 million refugees. But could the peace talk developments change the dynamic in the war-torn region?
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All three countries said the two-day peace negotiations yielded a delicate three-week cessation of hostilities throughout Syria. However, many opposition groups, including the US-backed militias were not invited to the highly publicized regional meetings. That snub prompted many groups to declare their exclusion essentially meant they wouldn’t abide by any proposed agreements.
Nevertheless, a statement from one opposition group stated they would “observe and ensure full compliance with the ceasefire, prevent any provocation and determine all modalities.”
The Syrian Kurdish YPG officials also responded: “As we are not participating in these talks, we stress that we are not bound by any decisions issued from the Astana conference. We, in the (Kurdish) People’s Protection Units (YPG), believe the entities that are participating and that have sponsored these talks are part of the problem in Syria in the first place.”
A major obstacle to peace has become Turkey’s President Recip Erdogan, who has a long history of outwardly speaking out against Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), while not so covertly supporting the terrorist organization by leaving open borders that afford the terror jihadis the ability to move weapons freely into Syria. Such a Turkish policy expands his quest for a true Caliphate over Syria. Also, Turkey considers the YPG and PYD as proxies of the Kurdistan Workers Party or (PKK). The Communist-aligned group has landed itself on the US State Department’s “Terrorist list.”
Further complicating matters, President Erdogan defended his army’s invasion into Syria in a 24 News Istanbul presser, saying the Turkish troops were only confirming that “the true owners” of land remained in the hands of legal titleholders. “They (Kurds) want to found a new state in northern Syria,” Erdogan said. “Let this be known; we will not allow the creation of such a state.”
On the other hand, the YPG is coordinating the US-led campaign’s fight against ISIS or Daesh (as it is known in the region), in an effort to control approximately one-third of Northern Syria. The group admits to taking fighting assistance from the PKK, but adamantly opposes strong ties to the Communist group.
So far peace has remained elusive with many of Syrian President Assad’s opponents saying the only way to end the bloodshed is “through democratic autonomous zones that preserve the unity of the Syrian land.”
The YPG and the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Federalism of Northern Syria (DFNS) have mostly avoided a direct battle with the Syrian government, despite a few skirmishes, as a way to ensure their place in a new Syria.
According to Reuters, “The YPG has clashed with nationalist Syrian Arab rebels, which have accused it of collaborating with the government – something the group denies.”
On December 29, 2016, the predominately Kurdish group (DFNS) announced their bid to create a federated state within Syria. “Taking this fact into consideration and given the cultural, national, and social richness of the Syrian society, it is clear that the pluralistic democratic federal system based on the notion of the democratic nation is the best system to unify Syrians while restoring the nation-state will lead to further divisions in our social structure,” the group affirmed.
The template could provide a new democratic standard in the Middle East, but the idea of a democratic Middle East is meeting with strong resistance from countries like Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and others.
The New York Times reported, “the Syrian Kurdish political party Democratic Union Party spokesman Nawaf Khalil said that his party has been planning to declare a federal region in northern Syria, the model which he said can be applied to the whole country…” his party is not promoting a Kurdish-only region, but rather an all-inclusive area which will include Turkmen, Arabs, and Kurds in northern Syria.
“As a Syrian citizen, I say we reject talks about a federal Syria … our people will reject any attempt to divide Syria,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said at a press conference in Damascus. But Russians appear to remain neutral and say if the people of Syria want federalization it is a viable option. According to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, “Russia will support whatever solution the Syrian government and the opposition formulate to end the country’s war, including any form (of government) whatever it may be called: federalization, decentralization, unitary state.”
This is the opening the DFNS have been waiting to hear. The group released a statement saying: “Since the objective and subjective conditions are not met to establish a democratic constitution for all Syria in the present time, we, in the liberated areas, are going to organize our lives according to this social contract approved by all the components living in northern Syria till the establishment of a democratic constitution, which recognizes the rights of all Syrians.”
Needless to say, US State Department (DoS), playing the role of spoiler, confirmed that America has no immediate plans to recognize any “self-rule, semi-autonomous Kurdish zone in Syria” and believes Syrian unity is the best solution. DoS spokesperson Mark Toner said, “We’ve been very clear that we won’t recognize any self-rule autonomous zones within Syria.”
Despite the lack of solutions from the US, the Russia’s Sergei Lavrov requested that Syrian opposition groups that were omitted from the Astana, Kazakhstan talks, including the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), join the recent peace conference on Friday to discuss options for peace.
“We have invited on Friday all the opposition representatives from the political opposition that wish to come to Moscow and we will brief them about what happened in Astana,” Lavrov explained.
The group includes Kurdish politicians from the Rojava’s Self-Administration. “Minister Lavrov invited a wide range of political opposition members in order to brief us about the outcome of the recent Astana meeting that confirmed the ceasefire,” Jihad Makdissi told ARA News. “Friday’s meeting will also be a chance to reflect collectively with the minister [Lavrov] on the best way to push forward the Geneva talks in the direction of a political settlement based on UNSCR (United Nations Security Council Resolution) 2254.”
As part of President Putin’s fact-finding mission in Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev said “the Russian delegation handed over the draft constitution to representatives of the armed Syrian opposition and awaits a reaction to the document. The alleged draft constitution that was leaked by Rudaw included a reference to local administration areas and would provide equality between Kurdish and Arabic language in these areas.”
The general framework of the Syrian DFNS’s democratic constitution is:
The democratic nation – The democratic nation consists of individuals who share equal rights and freedoms. It also consists of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities, based on individual and group rights.
A State for all – It is clear that we, as Syrians, need a new notion for a State, a State for all. This means that the State should consist of people with different languages, ethnicities, and religions. This notion strengthens the integrity and coexistence and asserts the unity of the Syrian society and soil, while a mono-ethnic State marginalizes the majority of the people, which leads to divisions and fragmentations. Fascism produces people who follow the same styles of thinking while pluralism represents richness in nature and society. Thus, it is better to have a national spirit based on relation to the land, ecology, progress, but not in a fascist and chauvinistic way.
The democratic federal republic – Viewing the republic, as a nation-state is an influential factor of marginalization as it is the strict form of the republic. It is impossible to have a democratic nation-state. The optimal system for a republic should be democratic. The nation-state eliminates the democratic characteristics of societies, as is the case with the previous period.
If we take the cultural diversity in Syria into account, we will find out that the democratic solution is compatible with the Syrian democratic federal republic model. What is really important here is to establish a Syrian democratic federal republic, which unifies all federations. To solve the critical issues in Syria, it is important to the system and State not to be linked to an ideology, ethnicity, or religion. Thus, it is more convenient to formulate a legal definition of the Syrian democratic federal republic as a democratic legal system for all the people. By doing so, the principle of the democratic nation and secularism will be embodied in the definition above. Describing Syria as “the Syrian Democratic Federal Republic” without any reference to ethnic, racial, or religious terms would be more comprehensive and integral.
The democratic constitution – To lay the foundation of the democratic principles, they must be based on a constitution, which truly represents all the components of the society so that their rights can always be protected. This will pave the way for the social institutions and segments to organize and develop themselves and take their natural role in society, particularly women and youth. The democratic constitution is considered a tool that helps solve the problems of the State. It will ensure the unity of federations in a mutual State.
Self-defense – Self-defense is a very important issue because it protects the social and cultural identities of the Syrian peoples. It has been proved historically that the communities, which have not been able to defend themselves, have been exposed to all kinds of extermination. Thus, we must ensure self-defense for all communities and individuals in Syria. Moreover, the establishment of sufficient self-defense system is crucial for a free, equal and fair life.
Women’s freedom – Women’s freedom is one of the most important issues in the Syrian communities. One of the main reasons for retardation in our societies is the marginalization and elimination of women’s role in the process of building societies. To get rid of the undemocratic and unfair practices against women, there must be some constitutional articles to ensure equality between men and women in all aspects of life. Thus, the active participation of women in the process of drafting a new constitution in Syria is considered vital.
Economy – We must establish an economic policy to protect the society and environment against the destructive effects of monopolized policy, which dominates the economy. Therefore, there is a dire need for an economic policy, which fulfills the society needs and ensures a fair distribution of Syrian wealth. Furthermore, we must get rid of unemployment, which has been increasing in our societies, so that every individual should have a job regardless of his/her gender, ethnic, or religious identity.
Language and culture: Using the mother tongue and culture in the field of education, art, science, and religion are considered one of the basic human rights. Thus, we must ensure education in the mother tongue in the new constitution for Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, and Chechens. This will strengthen the social and cultural structure of the Syrian communities and will pave the way for a voluntary unity among all components.
According to what has been mentioned above, we, as a constituent assembly of the federalism in northern Syria, will do our best to develop a democratic solution which (sic) covers all Syria. We assert to the Syrian general opinion that we are ready for negotiation and dialogue with all Syrian forces to establish a democratic system, which ensures peace and stability for all Syrians.
Other highlights from the latest Russian held talks with opposition leaders consist of the following noteworthy changes in Syria.
“The draft suggests dropping the word ‘Arab’ from the country’s official name, thus making it the ‘Syrian Republic.'” The current provision enshrining “Islamic law as a main source of legislation” would be rejected along with the present constitutional provision requiring the president to be Muslim. These are the legal means suggested to make new Syria a freer, more open and all-inclusive state and a society with equal opportunities for social and political participation for everyone.
The second aspect deals with the very institution of the presidency: It would stipulate a seven-year term with no right to run for a second consecutive term. The president would still be commander-in-chief, but could only announce an emergency situation and call for a general mobilization with approval from a new body to be called the ‘Assembly of Regions.’”
And the third draft deals with the state structure by decentralizing the Syrian government and enabling local councils more say in their political outcome. A continued sticky topic is the provision providing for “autonomy of Kurdish regions.” Russia views this as a significant compromise that would put Syria on the path to federalization.
Russian-backed Kurd solution
Maxim Suchkov reports for al-Monitor “the draft constitution includes restrictions on the power of the Syrian presidency, with most powers deferred to the parliament and a newly created ‘Assembly of Regions.’ Under the draft, the president would serve for seven years with no option for a second consecutive term.”
The draft also includes the decentralization of government rule and the adoption of inclusive local councils.
“One issue that has stirred debate,” Suchkov explained, “is a provision allowing for ‘autonomy of Kurdish regions,’ which Russia sees as an adequate compromise for the country’s federalization. A provision stipulating equal rights for Kurds and Arabs on Kurdish territories is also remarkable. Moreover, under the proposed draft, every region in the country should be given the right to legalize the use of a language of the region’s majority — in addition to the state language and in accordance with the law.”
However, the proposed document has met with strong skepticism from Turkey’s president and his Sunni-led allies, who continues its march towards authoritarian rule and has his sights on Syrian land for himself. “The Kurdish issue is the most controversial. Turkey, Damascus and the Arab opposition forces all have their own caveats about the proposed autonomy — and it doesn’t please the Kurds, either, as they want more.”
But Lavrov argued, “We have only offered our proposals to the Syrian parties without any intention of forcing them to adopt them. Based on the experience of the past five years, we are convinced that practical work can only begin if specific proposals are put on the table. I hope that all Syrians will read our draft while preparing for a meeting in Geneva and that it will provide an impetus for a practical discussion of ways to achieve accord in Syria in keeping with the Geneva Communique.”
Suchkov finished his report by highlighting: “The expectation in Moscow is that, at the end of the day, the parties will share the view that extreme, uncompromising positions will mean no end to the civil war in the near future, while the proposed formula may be the best possible solution under the current circumstances.”
More on Syrian Kurds…
Regional cynics (primarily Turkey and Sunnis) argue the new DFNS is nothing more than the subterfuge for Kurdish domination. A regional report written by Amberin Zaman claims, “Rojava’s leaders say the federation is a blueprint for the secular, egalitarian, multi-ethnic and federal plan they giddily imagine for the rest of Syria. Most people still call the place Rojava, and its administrators make no secret of their desire to dilute decades of government-enforced Arabization crafted to efface the Kurds.”
But the aforementioned group who are referring skeptics to its charter nixes that notion.
Zaman alleged the DFNS’s might fall short on the mandatory free school education system. “Education is a key pillar of this new order, and mandatory schooling in the Arabic language is being phased out. Kurds, who make up the largest ethnic group in Rojava, are finally receiving education in the long-banned Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish that is spoken here,” she claimed. “Arabs continue to send their children to Arabic schools while Syrian Orthodox Christians, also known as Syriacs, tutor their children in their own tongue.”
However, the newly created DFNS political document states, “Using the mother tongue and culture in the field of education, art, science, and religion is considered one of the basic human rights. Thus, we must ensure education in the mother tongue in the new constitution for Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, and Chechens. This will strengthen the social and cultural structure of the Syrian communities and will pave the way for a voluntary unity among all components.”
Zaman admits the group will allow those in high school to continue Arabic-language studies currently associated with the Syrian Ministry of Education.
Another concern for the “Kurdish-administered regions of Syria is they have become laboratories for the revolutionary, egalitarian ideas of ‘Abdullah Ocalan,’ the imprisoned leader of the Turkish-Kurdish rebel group called the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). When Ocalan and his comrades set up the PKK in 1978, they said they would be fighting for an independent Kurdistan that would unite the Kurds of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. But over time the PKK scaled back its ambitions as geopolitical realities set in.”
Also, Syria’s Kurds also have a complicated relationship with the autonomous Iraqi Kurds. “Muhammad Yusuf, who runs a small shop that sells mobile phone accessories, said cellphone covers with Barzani’s face sell in numbers equal to those featuring Ocalan. Barzani owes his popularity above all to his father, the legendary Kurdish warrior Mullah Mustafa Barzani, a central figure in the Kurds’ struggle for freedom. But Barzani’s friendship with Turkey and hostility to the PYD are beginning to dent his image here. Still, Barzani is lobbying the United States to pressure Rojava’s leaders to let back in some 3,000 KDP-S fighters he helped arm and train. The aim, Barzani says, is to unify the Kurds. Critics counter that it is to shatter the PYD’s monopoly over power to his own advantage. The Rojava administration says it will allow the KDP-S forces to return provided they agree to fall under their command. But they won’t.”
However, from the carnage of war positive changes seem to be stemming the tide. “Massoud Barzani, Iraqi Kurdistan’s president and the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on which the KDP-S was modeled, is well liked throughout Rojava and especially in Derik and its environs, where the yellow KDP banner flutters above entire villages,” Zaman explains.
The costs of the US driven Syrian War have been devastating on the region. So far the United Nations has asked for $4.63 billion in new funding to assist the Syrian refugees living in nearby countries. Human rights organizations have estimated that an additional $3.4 billion is needed to assist an estimated 13 million Syrian’s still living in the war-ravaged country this year alone.
The costs of reconstruction have not even been estimated. But the Syrians seem to collectively realize that more war is not the answer. A political solution could be in the offing whether the US participates or not.
Watch YPG women fighting in the military and their fight against ISIS: https://yadi.sk/mail/?hash=XozdNCJPv94Lgn2P05hoBtjnM1EsRO6CYYu4%2FtANQcY=