Struggle for autonomy: can the YPG capitalize on its control?



Wed, 16 Aug 2017 - 08:58 GMT


Wed, 16 Aug 2017 - 08:58 GMT

Kurdish YPG Fighters- CC via Flickr/Kurdishstruggle

Kurdish YPG Fighters- CC via Flickr/Kurdishstruggle

CAIRO – 16 August 2017: While Syria has collapsed in on itself from every angle, the Kurdish people exist as the single group that has managed to expand their territory while miraculously drawing international support from both sides of the aisle.

Syrian Kurds exist as the most ferocious fighting force in Syria, meaning the domestic situation is becoming increasingly shaped by their behavior and geopolitical ambitions. Under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have become the principle power-broker on the ground, as they have made extensive headway in ridding areas of Islamic State forces, while Kurdish Peshmerga forces were instrumental in ousting the Islamic State from Mosul.

Established unofficially under the no-fly zone that was established following the 1991 Gulf War, and formally entrenched as a federal entity in the 2005 Constitution of Iraq, Kurds in Iraq enjoy autonomy in the north of the country, while those outside live under the direct authority of the presiding government.

For those residing outside of northern Iraq, questions of self-determination and autonomy are prevalent. Most notoriously, this led to the decades-long war between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Republic of Turkey. The PKK are classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the U.S. Consequently, all efforts to support the YPG in Syria are challenged by Turkey, who view the YPG as closely affiliated to the PKK and hence a threat to its sovereignty.

The U.S. has been flippant in deciding which groups to support on the ground in order to realize their anti-Islamic State goals. However, since the U.S. began funding the SDF in 2015, their admiration of the YPG and its female YPJ associate has been steadfast.

In 2016, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday praised the Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

"[They] have proven to be excellent partners of ours on the ground in fighting ISIL,” he expressed. "We are grateful for that, and we intend to continue to do that, recognizing the complexities of their regional role."

Earlier this year, chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana White said in a statement, “The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future."

In a move that has drawn criticism from Turkey, an important NATO ally, in May of this year, President Trump approved a plan to arm allied Syrian-Kurdish fighting forces in preparation for the offensive of Raqqa.

This was realized in late May when Col. Ryan S. Dillon, U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, wrote that “The U.S.-led coalition has begun issuing arms and equipment to Kurdish elements of the SDF.”

This equipment included “small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns,” he stated, along with anti-tank weapons to be used against “heavily armored vehicle-borne IEDs.”

American military commanders have long believed that providing military support for the YPG is the fastest way to seize Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

Importantly, Russia has shown direct support to the idea of Kurdish autonomy in Syria. During the Astana peace talks in January of this year, Russian officials presented a draft constitution aimed at addressing a breadth of concerns in the war-torn country.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the proposal was based on ideas from the Syrian government and opposition and regional powers, and significantly, it outlined provisions allowing for the autonomy of Kurdish regions. In addition, provisions stipulating the equality of both Arabic and Kurdish, and equal rights among Arabs and Kurds were remarkable.

The draft reads that, “The Kurdish cultural self-ruling systems and organizations use both the Arabic and Kurdish languages equally.”

While Kurdish Democratic Union Party officials suggested that that draft constitution did not go far enough and that only full federalism would be accepted, the proposal was totally rejected by the Syrian government.

Although the Syrian government may publicly quash any mention of Kurdish autonomy in Syria, the reality is that the Kurdish forces are vital to eradicating Islamic militant forces from Syria, and Assad knows it.

Although initially Kurdish forces began the war by contributing to the anti-Assad uprising, their biggest threat is now Islamic militants.

The president of the Democratic Union Party, which controls Kurdish Rojava in northern Syria, stated in 2015 that “if the regime collapses because of the Salafis [fundamentalist Islamic militants], it would be a disaster for everyone.”

The total success of the SDF forces in Raqqa is merely a matter of when, not if. With this, Syrian Kurdish forces will have possession of a major bargaining chip to be used with the government.

Yet the notion of Kurdish autonomy in Syria remains speculation. The impetus for any change must be internal through demands for self-determination. Draft constitutions, peace talks, ceasefires and zones of de-escalation aside, a concerted effort for autonomy must be undertaken if truly desired.

Currently, all the signs point in the right direction for the Kurdish population in Syria. The main opposing forces, Turkey and Iran, fear the development of a Kurdish state encompassing territory across Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. However, Turkey may have to concede to NATO’s demands, while Iran can be pressured by Russia.

All states involved want a strong Syria after the war is over; whether this includes an autonomous Kurdish region is impossible to predict.

The reality is that any future is currently possible in Syria, and Kurdish self-determination is vital to succeed in this game of survival of the fittest.



Leave a Comment

Be Social