Prospects for federalism in Syria and for Kurds
The political situation in Syria is changing. Bashar al-Assad’s army maintains operational capacity, but it has lost most of northern Syria. There are two reasons for this: First, there is a vast geography defined by sporadic settlements that needs to be controlled. Second: there is a shortage of foot soldiers, and as a result al-Assad designed his strategy to focus his army on the big cities in the southeastern part of the country.
As the conflict continued, different rebel groups gained de facto control of settlements in northern Syria. They need to defend this bridgehead and spread their influence. This primarily depends on popular support, without which the rebel movement cannot grow or develop.
Therefore, the basic question is how to gain popular support. This is not provided only by military force. You must also improve the political, economic and administrative capacities of the opposition. As the state lost its legitimacy in northern Syria and the conflict turned more violent, the basic infrastructure simply collapsed. In the days ahead, life will get worse. Understandably, the people will be less interested in political/ideological promises and more attentive to needs related to security, food, electricity, water and shelter. If the opposition fails to effectively respond to these demands, things will get more complicated. In order to avoid this outcome, it is important to help the opposition build up its managerial capacity.
On the other hand, such an effort would mean laying the groundwork for a federal structure in Syria. The fact that Syrian Kurds under the PKK’s control form one of the most important parts of a prospective federal structure to which they aspire creates a further complication. This issue, which has been ignored by Turkey and its allies so far, is bound to cause problems for Turkey’s Syria policy and Turkey’s relations with its allies.
The allies face a dilemma: preparing for the transition to federalism, on the one hand, and preparing Turkey for this transition, on the other hand. The only way to overcome the obstacles in the way of this process is to get Turkey’s consent as soon as possible.
However, it would be naive to assume that Turkey, a country dealing with the PKK problem, will express no objection to the creation of an autonomous region controlled by the PKK in Syria. However, the good news is that “time pressure” applies not only to Syria, but also to Turkish domestic politics facing democratic elections. The possibility of “negotiations with the PKK” might not solve problems in the short run, but it could easily “buy time” for everyone concerned, including both the Turkish government and its allies and also the Syrian opposition, including Kurds. This requires new perspectives and new roles as the “third party” in the PKK issue.