On the declaration of federalism in north Syria I do support the right of Kurds and other minorities in Syria to self-determination, and I do believe that federalism is better than a centralist state.
However, federalism by definition requires all concerned units or parts to agree to this system of governance because they believe it is better for all of them. Not only were other parts of Syria and other Syrian political and military forces not consulted and not involved, even people and political parties within the so-called self-administration areas were not involved in the process.
There should have been a long process of consultation and negotiation followed by a general referendum, which are clearly not possible at the moment, rather than a hasty two-day conference clearly dominated by the PYD to ‘discuss’ and agree an equally badly written and quite confused founding document deciding important issues that affect all Syrians. It was clearly a politically motivated move.
The declaration came soon after the PYD forces attacked Syrian opposition factions and took over some areas in north Syria with the support of Russian air strikes and Iranian-led ground assaults. It is indeed telling that the founding document dedicates a whole section to the “historical development of the societal problems in the Middle East and Syria and the current situation,” tracing them back to Mesopotamia. (!) Yet it does not even mention the ongoing Syrian revolution. It only talks about war and Islamist forces backed by regional powers. Moreover, to claim to work towards democratic federalism while banning other Kurdish parties from organising demonstrations and Nowruz celebtrations is just hypocritical, to say the least, unless we are talking about a dictatorial, centralist federalism – which is probably what the PYD and the PKK will lead us to.
Regarding the proposed model itself, on the one hand, the founding document claims “the age of nation-states” is over and that “the realistic solution in Syria is the model of democratic federalism” (which are inspired by Ocalan’s newly discovered ‘Anarchist’ ideas); and on the other, PYD and Tev-Dem officials have stated that the proposed federal system will not be a geographical but a “societal” one, meaning it will be based on the national and ethnic components of the region. This seems to me a fundamental contradiction. And demanding “self-sufficiency” from federal regions in a state of war is simply absurd.
In short, even though I would support such a project in the future, if done correctly and with the participation of all Syrians, I don’t think that the timing and the way in which the so-called “Rojava – North Syria Democratic Federal Union” was declared were at all appropriate, not to mention that all major Syrian, regional and global powers have declared their opposition to it. It is one thing to propose an idea or a model and build consensus around it; it is completely another to declare federalism and effectively impose it on people from one side without consulting with most of those affected.
Having said all this, it is important to emphasise that Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians and other minorities in north Syria have every right to self-determination, and federalism would probably be a better system to guarantee these right in the future, especially in light of the mainstream Syrian opposition’s being hostage to Turkey and other hostile regional powers, and in light of the racist, nationalistic positions that so many Syrian Arab intellectuals and politicians are taking on this issue. If anything, such chauvinistic positions and statements will only push these minorities more and more towards nationalism and separatism.
March 25, 2016