The intra-Kurdish dialogue was launched on the basis of an initiative launched by General Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, QSD), after the Turkish Operation Peace Spring in October 2019. The aim of the dialogue was to strengthen the internal ranks and prevent the collapse of the Autonomous Administration structures, especially in light of the state of frustration caused by US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw his forces from Syria.
The parties to the dialogue are the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which belongs to the regional organization of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and constitutes the main pillar of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration that governs large areas in northeastern Syria, under the influence of the QSD. The second party is the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which is a grouping of a number of Syrian Kurdish parties close to the leadership of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and is considered one of the most important poles of the opposition National Coalition.
The changes on the Syrian front, the emerging challenges, and the changing positions of international and regional actors have contributed to driving the two Kurdish sides towards engaging in negotiations in order to strengthen their cards, despite the ideological and interest divergence between them.
The military and political situations of the two parties to the dialogue
The PYD possesses an organizational and military power and long combat experience gained by its basic operatives from the war with Turkey within the ranks of the PKK, and was capable of building a large military force in Syria (QSD). This prompted the Americans to rely on the PYD to confront the Daesh Organisation (ISIS). They supported the PYD with money and military equipment, which made it a significant force in the Syrian conflict.
On the other hand, the KNC parties do not possess important military capabilities because they did not adopt military action at any time. During the Syrian crisis, they formed the Rojava Peshmerga forces which were trained in the regions of Iraqi Kurdistan, but were not allowed by the PYD to enter Syria.
Those facts created a state of imbalance in favour of the PYD, which allowed it to have almost absolute control over the regions of eastern Syria and to marginalize the KNC parties, as their headquarters were closed, their newspapers and statements were banned, and many of their staff were either arrested or exiled to Iraqi Kurdistan. The KNC accuses the PYD of subservience to the PKK led by Abdullah Ocalan, and of pursuing a non-Syrian agenda, calling on it to separate from the PKK. On the other hand, the PYD accuses the KNC of subservience to Turkey and demands that it withdraw from the Syrian opposition coalition.
The two sides had previously held rounds of dialogue with the aim of unifying the Kurdish authority in Syria, but they failed due to the imbalance of power in favour of the PYD.
The current round of negotiations takes place under the auspices and encouragement of the US, where the US ambassador William Roback supervises the negotiations whose actual rounds began since April 2020 and take place in US military bases, in addition to a French sponsorship, as Paris got involved in the talks, and a diplomatic delegation from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs held intensive meetings with all the parties concerned at a military base of the Global Coalition in the town of Rumeilan.
Washington aims from sponsoring and encouraging those negotiations to shift the PYD and the People's Protection Units (YPG) and their military arm (QSD) from a "fighting strategy" to a "governance strategy", after the defeat of Daesh, in a complicated region in terms of tribal, sectarian and ethnic diversity, through the development of "a political and social compact based on empowered local governance and equitable resource allocation."
The US influences are clear on the course of the negotiations and their agenda. The Syria Study Group (SSG) report, issued by the committee set up by the US Congress to study the US options in Syria, in September 2019, had recommended ensuring "that local governance structures" in the QSD-controlled areas "represent their populations’ demographics and political diversity."
While the US Embassy in Damascus announced that the agreement between the Kurdish parties "will contribute to a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict under United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2254 through helping to unite all Syrians opposed to the regime," there are likely further goals that the US and France would like to achieve from the Kurdish dialogue, namely:
Voices close to the Syrian regime accuse the US of seeking to create a successful model for an alternative governing system by encouraging the Kurdish dialogue, and of paving the way for a long stay in Syria. In the same context, Syrian opponents, who participated in issuing a joint statement questioning the goals of the Kurdish dialogue, believe that the goal of the dialogue is to establish an independent Kurdish entity similar to the federal Kurdistan region in northern Iraq. Arab activists in the eastern Euphrates regions fear that the intra-Kurdish dialogue may lead to the consolidation of the full control by the Kurdish side over the eastern Euphrates region in the absence of an effective political entity that could confront the Kurdish endeavour.
Turkey fears that the aim of the US-French moves is to change the structure of Syria to become a federal state. The Turkish newspaper Akşam expressed the concerns of the political leadership in Ankara, which believes that the purpose of the new formation is for northern Syria to have "separate constitutional rights from the rest of the country," and the formation of a "regional government that represents the Kurds" with international support, after the US failed to transform the Kurdish armed units into a legitimate representative in northern Syria.
Prospects for dialogue
The Kurdish parties have reached a political vision that includes the following five points:
1. Syria is a sovereign state.
2. Syria’s system of government is federal and guarantees the rights of all components.
3. The Kurds are a nationalism with an integrated geopolitical union in solving their national issue.
4. Demanding the constitutional recognition of legitimate national rights, in accordance with international treaties and covenants.
5. Forming a Kurdish authority that represents all parties, political currents and representatives of the Kurdish community in Syria.
Important as it is, this consensus remains within the framework of general principles. It does not refer to the occurrence of a consensus that seems to continue to be focused on more than one fundamental issue, including:
Most estimations advocate the existence of the following two main scenarios for the intra-Kurdish dialogue:
First scenario: the output of the dialogue is limited to a fragile consensus, given the deep differences between the two sides and their conflicting agendas and interests, in addition to the difficulty of severing their external ties, both with the PKK in the case of the PYD, and with Turkey and the Syrian opposition in the case of the KNC.
Second scenario: the success of the dialogue as a result of US pressure and its transformation into something similar to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region that was imposed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on both sides of the conflict at the time (the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)).
In that case, the agreement would affect the balances in the eastern Euphrates region, and would cause more tension between Arabs and Kurds.
Malik al-Hafez | 13 Sep 2020
Bilal Abdullah | 10 Sep 2020
EPC | 10 Sep 2020