Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recently invited representatives of some of the Syrian Kurdish parties to Damascus, Iraqi Kurdish news network Rudaw reported on Jan. 14.
The de facto autonomous region of northern Syria known as Rojava (“Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria”) also received an invitation, but the regime asked the self-administration to send a delegation consisting of only “Kurds,” excluding Arabs and other ethnicities.
Damascus trying to ‘pit different fractions against each other’
Çiya Kurd, an adviser to the autonomous administration, said that the exclusion of other groups from the delegation was an attempt of the Syrian government to “pit different fractions in the region against each other” as diverse populations inhabit the area.
Syrian academic Dr. Ferid Sadun said that the negotiations between the autonomous region and the Syrian regime are falling into a deadlock since the latter defines autonomous administration as the “representative of Kurds,” whereas the autonomous administration “sees itself as the whole region’s [northeastern Syria] representative.” Among the administration’s cantons, there are Arab-majority ones.
Hussein Taza Al Azam, an Arab from Qamishli who is the parliamentary speaker of the Jazira Canton of the de facto autonomous region, said that the Syrian regime was trying to “sow discord among” the fractions living under the roof of the autonomous administration, mainly between the Kurds and others. “I do not find it right that just Kurds go to Damascus,” he said.
Northeastern Syria is polyethnic and home to sizeable ethnic Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian populations, with smaller communities of ethnic Turkmen, Armenians and Circassians.
The Syrian regime’s invitation came after Russia’s efforts to mediate a deal between the Syrian government and the autonomous administration — which names the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as its official defense force — faltered last year.
The de facto autonomous region in earlier failed talks with Damascus called for a degree of self-autonomy but Damascus insisted on a full return of all territory within Syrian borders to the central government.
‘Come on behalf of Kurds, not your other components’
In a second attempt, Ali Mamlouk, senior adviser to Assad and head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, in the beginning of December invited representatives of the autonomous administration to Damascus. The Assad government reportedly told the de facto autonomous region to “come on behalf of Kurds, not your other components [Arabs and Assyrians].”
Mamlouk’s invitation came as he visited the northeastern city of Qamishli where he met with Arab tribal figures, urging them to pull out of the SDF. Although the SDF largely consists of Kurdish forces belonging to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), there are also smaller groups of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian fighters in it.
The Syrian government also sent an invitation to the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party (PDPKS) and the Kurdish National Alliance, which is formed by five Syrian Kurdish parties, asking them to come to Damascus.
The parties in the Kurdish National Alliance have not yet turned down the invitation, but they first consulted the SDF and the PDPKS. The SDF Commander-in-Chief General Mazlum Abdi reportedly told the Kurdish parties: “Do not go yet; go to Damascus in the future within a more inclusive delegation that consists of all of the Kurdish parties.”
Ahmed Suleiman, a senior member of the PDPKS, confirmed having received such an invitation from Damascus about a month ago, saying: “We have not turned down the invitation but we have not found it right for now to go to Damascus and hold a dialogue. Currently, Russia is in the field and to go to Damascus might make things more complicated.”
His party, one of Syria’s oldest Kurdish groups, is not involved in the autonomous administration set up by the SDF.
Suleiman also commented on the Syrian government’s excluding Arabs from the delegation of the de facto autonomous region, saying: “We do not know what Russia is planning for Kurds. But the invitation’s format has led us to form doubts.”
All Kurdish parties except ENKS invited to Damascus, says academic
Sadun said that among the ones who received an invitation were also prominent Kurdish academics. He also said that all of the Kurdish parties, other than the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), were invited to Damascus.
ENKS is a group of Kurdish parties who stand in opposition to northern Syria’s ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD). There have been no official talks between the ENKS and Damascus to date because the council is a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – a group of various anti-regime forces backed by Turkey.
Sadun criticized the Kurdish parties for their “lack of a common purpose.” “Also, Kurds cannot come together due to conflicts between the ENKS and PYD. And this put the Kurdish issue into a difficult position in Syria,” he said.