Well, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s worst nightmare is about to come true.
For days there have been rumors that Syria might attempt to adopt some manner of federal system at peace talks in Geneva as a kind of compromise on the way to negotiating a political solution to the country’s five-year conflict that’s killed some 300,000 people and created the worst refugee crisis Europe has seen since World War II.
But one of the problems with the “peace talks” is that no one who really matters in terms of the opposition was invited. The High Negotiations Committee (which represents a collection of Saudi-backed anti-Assad elements) is only comprised of representatives from the “moderate” rebels and let’s face it: Russia and Hezbollah just rolled most of them up in five short months, all but forcing them to surrender at Aleppo.
So it’s not even clear what a federal system would look like with the FSA and the other “moderates.” How would they administer anything in their current depleted condition especially considering they'd live under constant threat of attack from the half dozen (at least) jihadist elements operating in the country?
The groups who are actually still capable from an operational perspective are al-Nusra, ISIS, and of course, the Kurds (the YPG). Now obviously, you can’t exactly invite ISIS or al-Nusra to Geneva (even though you can, apparently, arm them and send them money), but you could certainly have invited the Syrian Kurds who have been exceptionally effective at battling extremists and who control the entire northern part of the border with Turkey save one small strip west of the Euphrates.
(Kurdish controlled areas are in purple)
But when the Kurds checked the mail for their Geneva invitation they discovered that as usual, they got the short end of the stick (no doubt thanks to Erdogan). But that’s ok. Because now, they are simply going to take matters into their own hands and declare a federal system.
“After being excluded from the talks in Geneva, which began on Monday, [the Kurds] are drawing up plans to combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas of northern Syrian into a federal arrangement,” Reuters reports, adding that “Aldar Khalil, a Kurdish official and one of the organizers, said he anticipated the approval of a new system, and ‘democratic federalism’ was the best one.”
Idris Nassan, another Kurdish official, told Reuters he also expected a declaration of federalism.
According to a document seen by Reuters, the Kurds felt the step was necessary because they "envision the failure of U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva."
"The system envisions areas of democratic self-administration that will manage their own economic, security and defense affairs," the document asserts. The details, Kurdish officials said, would be worked out later. The name of the new proto-state: "The Federal Democratic System of Rojava-North Syria."
"Now the conference has just started in Rmelan, about 200 representatives of Rojava have joined [the event]. They represent different ethnicities and nationalities. There are Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, Turkomans, Armenians, Circassians and Chechens," Barzan Iso, a Kurdish journalist, told RT. "Also we have representatives from the Syrian democratic forces, YPG, women defense units."
"Within days, probably today, self-governing [bodies] of three Kurdish cantons in Syria's north will declare a federation," Abd Salam Ali, a PYD party rep in Moscow, told RIA Novosti "Separation of Rojava [Western Kurdistan] from Syria is not an option. We remain [a part of Syria], but declare a federation," he said.
From a common sense perspective this makes perfect sense. The Kurds have been defending themselves against virtually everyone for years in Syria and not only that, they managed to make territorial gains while fending off random shelling from inside of Turkey. They're certainly in a better position to govern themselves than any other group operating in the country including the Alawite government and those who are still loyal to it.
Of course this is just about the last thing Erdogan wants to see. Ankara equates the YPG with the PKK and thus with terrorism and worse, Erdogan fears that a Kurdish state on his border will embolden Kurds in southeast Turkey - who, you're reminded are under bloody seige by government forces that allegedly burned 150 people alive in Cizre last month - to declare autonomy, something the pro-Kurdish HDP supports.
For their part Russia is firmly on the side of the Kurds after demanding that they be invited to Geneva.
“If the Kurds are ‘thrown out’ of the negotiations on Syria’s future, how can you expect them to want to remain within this state?” Sergei Lavrov asked in an interview with Russian REN TV channel that aired on Sunday.
"The second round of inter-Syrian talks is underway in Geneva, but Syrian Kurds were not invited. It means that the future of Syria and its society is decided without Kurds. In fact, we are pushed back into a conservative, old-fashioned system which does not fit well with us," Rodi Osman, the head of Syrian Kurdistan's office in Moscow, told RIA Novosti. "In light of this, we see only one solution which is to declare the creation of [Kurdish] federation. It will serve the interests of the Kurds, but also those of Arabs, Turks, Assyrians, Chechens and Turkomans - all parts of Syria's multinational society.
And with that, we can start to see how the next conflict in Syria begins. Erdogan has already shelled the Syrian Kurds in the past month and he's made it very clear that a Kurdish state on his borders would not be tolerated. "Unilateral moves carry no validity," the Turkish foreign ministry said, in a terse statement. Ankara will now use every PKK attack and every suicide bombing as an excuse to attack the new proto-state and Erdogan will probably invade later on down the road on the excuse that he's not invading Syria, but rather a hostile country that supports terrorist elements in southeast Turkey.
Note that you heard it here first.