Kurds protesting near Syrian-Turkish border.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
"Federalism should be the future not only for northern Syria or for the Kurdish regions but for Syria in general because under federalism democracy and equality will be guaranteed,” Idris Nassan, a Syrian Kurdish official from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) told reporters last week.
On March 17 the PYD and its allies in the Kurdish regions of Syria voted to establish a federal region that would unite the Kurdish areas of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin centered in the region Kurds call Rojava.
The idea was to formulate a plan over the next months with a governing council. Taj Kordsh, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces which is allied to the PYD, told Al-Jazeera that the Kurds were angered they had been excluded from Syrian peace talks in Geneva. “We feel the world powers are using us as a tool to push forward their agendas. It is now our right to protect ourselves. We do not support dividing Syria, but we expect an equal and fair outcome.”
Although Russia tentatively welcomed the announcement, the Syrian government was harsh in its condemnation, saying the Kurds were “undermining the unity of the land and the people of Syria...creating a federal system contradicts the Syrian constitution.” Turkey’s foreign ministry attacked the decision as harming “Syria’s national unity and territorial integrity,” which the ministry said was important to Turkey.
“Syria must remain as one without being weakened and the Syrian people must decide on its future in agreement and with a constitution.” The US State Department immediately tweeted a condemnation of the move and spokesman John Kirby said “we don’t support self-ruled, semi-autonomous zones inside Syria.” America, Kirby claimed, wants a “unified, whole Syria...that is responsible to the Syrian people.”
Let’s pause for a second here and digest this. Syria’s President Bashar Assad has slaughtered and barrel-bombed his people for five years and driven 10 million of them from their homes. Millions now live abroad and 300,000 have been killed. This same Syrian government speaks of “violating the constitution.”
Where in the constitution did it say the government could exterminate its people? Turkey’s discussion of “territorial integrity” is similarly ironic in light of the fact that Syria is divided between Assad’s regime, his Iranian and Hezbollah allies, some 95 rebel groups, several large Islamist groups, Islamic State (ISIS) and the Kurds.
There is no “integrity” in Syria.
Most nonsensical though are the statements saying Syria must remain unified and responsible to the “Syrian people.” Those people have been rebelling for five years.
Syria is not responsible to them. Worst of all, the Western powers which support the negotiations in Geneva have purposely excluded the Kurds, whose forces are the most effective against ISIS and who control a portion of Syria. How can a large group, a multi-million person minority community, be excluded and then be told that it must accept the outcome of an agreement for a unified Syria that “respects its people”? The Western powers and Syria have purposely excluded the Kurds from any right to a say in the future of Syria.
The American betrayal of the Syrian Kurds is especially grating because they have been used as one of the main forces to fight ISIS.
The message is they are good enough to die fighting ISIS, but not good enough to have any say in Syria or in their own affairs. The US has accepted the changes to the territorial integrity of such states as Yugoslavia, Sudan, Indonesia with the creation of Kosovo, South Sudan and East Timor respectively.
So why are Syria’s borders so holy? The Western colonial powers created the current borders of Syria during the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 and its aftermath in the French Mandate over Syria in 1923.
Europeans drew the borders and then decided that the indigenous people may never change them. The Syrian Kurds and their allies are not asking to harm the borders and “integrity” of Syria, but merely to have greater autonomous and federal rights.
It seems extraordinarily hypocritical that America of all countries, whose federal structure and democracy was carved out in a war against England, would immediately say no to Kurdish aspirations. The US Declaration of Independence of 1776 noes that “when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them...that to secure [the people’s rights] governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed – that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government.”
That was good enough for the American colonists in 1776, but somehow is forbidden to residents of Rojava in 2016. Why did Americans have these rights to institute their own government and dissolve bonds of governing institutions, but the Kurds and their allies cannot vote for autonomy and federalism? Sykes-Picot has been a graveyard for Kurds, it has forced them into states that abused their rights in the most extreme manner, for half a century. In Iraq they were gassed and slaughtered, hundreds of thousands uprooted and killed, thousands of villages burned. In Syria their identity was stripped, their language suppressed and even their right to citizenship taken.
The Western powers that negate the right of Kurds and other people in Syria to decide on their own government are exercising neo-colonial and orientalist policies that deny the equal rights of Syrians, while guaranteeing those same rights for Scottish people, Catalans or Quebeqois. It is time for the US government to see the Kurds as equals, and stop bowing down to the colonial system the Europeans forced on the Middle East, and the fascist totalitarian system forced on Syria by Bashar Assad and his father.Follow the author @Sfrantzman