North Africa, West Asia

The fate of the Syrian Kurds

The fate of the region became unknown after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of his troops from Syria in early 2018.

Alan Hasan
26 April 2019
January 23, 2018, Turkish troops drive through Syria near the Syria border in Hassa, Hatay province. Picture by: Ibrahim Mase/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.

The end of Syrian war might be around the corner with the elimination of the "Islamic State", which in the past years had control over the largest area in Syria, and formed with its areas of influence in Iraq the so-called "Islamic Caliphate". The rise of ISIS necessitated the formation of an international coalition to fight the emergent organization in early 2014 and saw the rise of coordination between the coalition and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and later the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

It is assumed that international attitudes will change after the military defeat of the extremist organization. Therefore, the interests of the superpowers acting in Syria will tend towards alignment with the regional powers such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Amid this reality, local forces will need to act with great care to preserve their survival.

Syrian Kurds were the most politically and militarily organized powers on the ground in Syria; their political activism to better the situation of Syrian Kurds has continued since 1957, and their military action in the ongoing Syrian war since 2011 first through the People's Protection Units and later the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) has played an important role in the protracted war since 2011 and has established self-administrations in each of Al-Jazeera, Kobani (Ain Al Arab) and Afrin (before falling into the hands of the Turkish troops and their loyal factions of the Syrian opposition in early 2018).

The fate of the region became unknown after US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of his troops from Syria in early 2018. The obvious reasons for the American stance, in the absence of any strategic importance to Syria in the American politics, are voiced in Trump’s description of Syria as a country of sand and death. However, the Democratic Union Party insists on denying reality and relying on convincing itself, its supporters and the people of East Euphrates that the American decision will not take place and if it does, it will not affect the protracted situation in the region initiated since the withdrawal of the Syrian government forces in favor of the Kurdish People's Protection Units at the start of the protests in Syria in the spring of 2011.

In addition to the state of denial, PYD and the Syrian government share the same intransigence towards the quest for practical solutions to solve the Kurdish issue in Syria in the first place, and more precisely in the East of the Euphrates with its great oil, gas and agricultural resources in the second place.

The current intransigence is just a replica of their position in early 2018, prior to Turkey's operation "olive branch" in cooperation with the Turkish affiliated Syrian opposition factions, which ended with the loss of both the Kurdish side and the official Syrian side.

It is clear that the negotiation between the Kurds and the regime are contingent on the US position. The first round of negotiations between the Syrian Democratic Council and the Syrian regime (mid-2018) followed the first US announcement of the withdrawal of its forces in early 2018. However, the second round ended with failure, and that was when the French president Emmanuel Macron and a number of American politicians and military officials persuaded President Trump to reconsider his decision, a reconsideration which turned out to be only a postponement.

The Kurdish openness to negotiations with the regime following the second American decision of withdrawal was followed by an American request from the senior general Mazloum Abdi, commander of Syrian Democratic Forces, to wait before making any deal with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. This is what happened: no dialogue between the two sides took place, nor the shuttle meetings held by a number of leaders of the "Democratic Union" with the Russian side bore fruit, as the Kurdish desire was that Moscow shepherds the negotiations with the regime.

But it seems that the Kurdish leaders have convinced themselves to stay in the American boat. There is no greater evidence of this than the visit of the Executive Chairman of the Syrian Democratic Council, Elham Ahmed to Washington and her meeting with a number of senators seeking assurances from the US that they will keep the situation in the region as is, or to exert pressure leading Washington to make decisions to impose a no-fly zone or to establish a safe zone under international auspices aiming at preventing any possible Turkish intervention in East Euphrates.

Ankara is also Seeking the best options to make a deal with Washington enabling it to enter the East Euphrates region in a way subject to the American conditions which could be summarized in ensuring the non-return of the "Islamic State", combating the Iranian presence and ensuring the security of the Kurds who are concerned about a fate similar to what is happening in the city of Afrin since the beginning of 2018.

Regarding that issue, Ankara is preparing a proposal that must be approved by Moscow, to be submitted to the United States, for handing over the administration of the region militarily to both "Peshmerga Roj" (a Kurdish force of the Kurdish National Council, close to Ankara and supported by Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq), and Al-Nukhba forces of the head of the Syria's Tomorrow Movement Ahmed Jarba close to Saudi Arabia.

These Turkish attempts seem to be consistent with Russian efforts to fill the vacuum created by the expected US withdrawal at the end of April, if efforts to deploy the Syrian army in the East Euphrates region fail as no agreement has been reached yet between Qamishli and Damascus.

The US-Turkish deal, if implemented, will be a disaster for the people of the region. The forces that are supposed to enter will not be able to get out from under the Turkish cloak. After all Turkey has not built any model to be followed, in the areas it controls neither in Idlib nor in the Euphrates shield region (Jarablus, Al-Bab, Azaz), or Afrin.

If the Democratic Union Party chooses the military confrontation with Turkey, there is no doubt that they will face defeat, given the difference in military equipment and numbers, and the exclusion of any international intervention in favor of either party. Therefore, the scenario of negotiating self-administration with the Syrian regime under Russian auspices is the most rational solution.

Syria's Democratic Council and Damascus must be very wise, and make concessions in order to reach a solution that turns the table on any fate that brings the hammer down.

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