Future Options of the Kurds in Syria – Rojava

                                            Paper for the:

                International Conference on ”Future Options of the Kurds”

                           University of Sulaimani, October 9-10, 2018.

                                         By:  Omar Sheikhmous

                                “Future Options of the Kurds in Syria – Rojava”


For the last few years, I have made it a conditional habit of mine, when addressing a Kurdish audience, to remind them of and state some basic facts of life that should never be forgotten, namely:

  1. The primary objective premise or reason for the Kurdish human being´s willingness in making huge sacrifices in life and precious belongings, like family and properties, is for achieving Freedom and Liberation. It is also for preserving their integrity, pride, honor and the security of self, family, children and property.
  2. The history of the Kurdish people shows that they will never tolerate a dictatorship or authoritarian and/or totalitarian rule by a party or a familial dynasty, even if /or just because it is Kurdish or by Kurds.
  3. History also shows that an ideology, a system of beliefs or a specific societal model can never be imposed on a people by force of arms or repressive methods. It will have to come as a result of dialogue and personal conviction. The collapse of all such Authoritarian and undemocratic systems, in recent history, should be a sufficient reminder to all Kurdish movements.
  4. Another historical fact is that: When Kurds are united, they cannot be defeated and they will have a greater possibility in being victorious and achieving their aspirations. But, when they are divided, they are easily run over and crushed.
  5. Kurdish Society has suffered immensely from numerous tragedies and traumas in its history for liberation. But, living in a continuous state of war and glorification of martyrdom is not the answer. Instead, it should follow the path of civil peace, dialogue, openness, inclusion, democratic institutions and proper rule of law.
  6. It is universally established, that respect of basic Human Rights, Freedom of Opinion, Meeting and Organization and the establishment of democratic states ruled by law lead to the building of advanced civilized and peaceful states that prosper and advance socially, economically and culturally.
  7. Finally, Kurdistan Society is exhausted from fruitless and extremely destructive fratricidal war and internal conflict. Let us pity our own nation and give it a real chance for Peace and tranquility for a prosperous and developed future society.

Future Options for the Kurds in Syria:


In my paper (keynote speech), I shall discuss some basic facts and present some historical background on Syria- Kurdish relations and the status of the Kurds in Syria until the uprising for democratic change in March, 2011. Then, it is planned to cover the changes that have taken place in the Kurdish regions of Syria in confronting the threat of IS in Kobani and Sinjar. The establishment of KNC and the self-administered Cantons in Afrin, Kobani and Aljazeera and their difficult subsequent relations. The expansion of Kurdish controlled areas in a contiguous geographical area that provoked and aroused Turkish strategic sensitivities. Consequently, the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Federation of Northern Syria as means of gaining legitimacy and calming Turkish fears.  

Then, relations with Syrian opposition forces and the Syrian regime will be analyzed briefly. To be followed by the complex foreign interventions in the Syrian Arena by Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, USA, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The fight against ISIS and the bilateral cooperation between US/Allied forces and YPG/SDF with its consequences on relations with Turkey and the Syrian Regime of Assad and Russia will be scrutinized.

The main body of the paper will deal with the very difficult future options facing the Kurds of Syria after the fall of Afrin to Turkey, the ascendance of the Assad regime with Iranian and Russian support, the negotiations with the Syrian Government and the most important question of whether the US forces will stay or withdraw from Syria after the “defeat of DAESH”. The future of the Geneva negotiations by the UN mediator, Stefan De Mistura, for a diplomatic and political solution to the Syria conflict, as well as secret US-Russia bilateral talks on the future of Syria.


The Kurds in Syria are estimated to be around 10-11% of the Syrian population of ca. 19 million, which is around two millions. Until 1922, the Kurds of Syria were part of the ottoman state. After the establishment of the French mandate over the State of Syria, that was establishment by the League of Nations, three geographical areas populated by Kurds were attached or integrated into the newly formed state. Namely, “Kurdagh or Kurdish Mountain”- later called Afrin Region- Northwest of Aleppo- which was overwhelmingly Kurdish; and Kobani or “Ain Al-Arab”, adjacent to Jarablus and the Euphrates River, which was also dominantly Kurdish, and the region of “Aljazeera”, later on called “Al-Hasakah”.This region is populated by Kurds, Arameans (Syriacs), Assyrians, Armenians and Arabs. The main cities in these regions are “Afrin”, “Kobani”, Qamishli (Qamishlo in Kurdish) and Al-Hasaka. There are also large Kurdish communities, both historically and more recently as a result of internal migration, in Damascus, Hama, Homs, Aleppo (Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafiyeh), Raqqa, Latakia, Tell Abyad in Jarablus and Tel Rifaat in the region of Izaz. Most of the refugees from Afrin Region that fled after the occupation of the area by Turkish forces, in March 2018, have settled in camps in the area of Al-Shahba north of Aleppo.

The main reason that these three ethnically Kurdish enclaves ended up within Syrian territory is based on the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Peace Treaty of 1920 in Paris after The First World War, that resulted in the delimitation of borders, in some sectors, between the newly formed States of Syria and Turkey based on the stretch of the Orient Express Railway Line, rather than ethnic or natural geographic borders. The wishes of the people were never consulted in these arrangements.

The existence of Kurds in these territories goes long back in history. Thus, undermining the myth advanced by Arab and other nationalists: “that the Kurds of Syria are not indigenous but have mainly fled or migrated from Turkey”. The number of Kurds that fled Turkey, after the rebellions of Sheikh Said (1925), Agri-Ararat (1926-1930) and Dersim (1937) as refugees or as migrant or seasonal workers to Syria has never exceeded one third of the population of Syrian Kurdistan.

The Afrin region is a mountainous area that is famous for its production of olives, olive oil, soap, pomegranates and iron ore. Kobani is a flatland that is well known for its agricultural products, especially cotton, wheat and vegetables. The Aljazeera region, apart from being very rich in oil and natural gas. It is also considered the breadbasket of Syria for its wheat, cotton and other cereal production. The three Kurdish regions were very rich in water resources as well, including rivers like The Euphrates, Tigris, Khabour, and Afrin. Many minor rivers have dried up due to big dam projects in adjacent Turkey, which has led to some conflict with neighboring Syria and Iraq.

In July 2012, the Syrian Government withdrew its troops from the Kurdish regions, except for some security pockets in Qamishli and Al-Hasakah, and overturned them to PYD. No details of any covert or public agreement between both parties have been mentioned. In January 2014, PYD and allied smaller Kurdish, Arab and Christian Syriac parties declared a one-sided self-governing system on the basis of decentralized Cantons in Afrin, Kobani and Aljazeera, with the city of Amouda as the seat of the self-governing entity which it called “Rojava”, i.e. “Rojava yê Kurdistan” or “Western Kurdistan”. This was later changed, in March 2016, to the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria” which is led by the “Syrian Democratic Council” and its military forces are called “Syrian Democratic Forces”, although YPG and YPJ are still the backbone of the military force. TEV-Dem and PYD are still the umbrella organizations in the region, but after the takeover of Raqqa and Deir Alzor from DAESH in early 2018, a new Party “Syrian Future Party” has been formed by their affiliates with some representatives from these areas.

The Recent historical Kurdish Political scene in Syria:

The main feature of Kurdish politics in Syria, in recent decades, has been one of low profile and repeated divisions within the ranks of its major and minor political parties. Apart from the late 1940´s and 1950´s, it has been overshadowed by events in Iraqi, Iranian or Turkish Kurdistan. The first post-Second World War nationalist party, namely Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria-KDPS, was established in 1957. This party experienced its first division in 1965 and it’s second in 1970. This process of splits and divisions has continued until recent times, except for short periods in the 1990´s and in the aftermath of the Qamishli uprising in March 2004, in a manner that has led to the formation of at least sixteen (16) different political parties and movements.

Initially, the causes for this development were political and ideological but for later periods they can be contributed to personal conflicts and Syrian State Security infiltration. Another factor can be attributed to divisions within the movement in Iraqi Kurdistan after 1964 (during the split between the Political Bureau of  KDP and its leader Barzani) and 1975 after the formation of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan- PUK, where some of the parties in Syria allied themselves with either side of the divide in that part.

Until the 1990´s, the political scene in Syrian Kurdistan was dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (Al-Parti) and the Progressive Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria. Both later experienced two splinter groups from their main organisations. In 1993, a new party emerged that was called The Kurdish Union Party in Syria “Yekity”. It took the intiative from both older parties by concentrating on more daring methods of defying the Syrian regime, like public demonstrations and memorandums to international human rights bodies concerning Kurdish rights. This party, too, experienced a new split within its ranks in 1997 by a fraction calling itself “The Kurdish Democratic Union Party”.

During the 1990´s and later, a number of alliances and semi-fronts were established between some of the above parties that lasted few years and faltered at a later stage.

In the beginning of this century, two new movements emerged in Syrian Kurdistan.  One was “The Democratic Union Party-PYD” that was founded in 2003 by PKK affiliated members in Syria, after many years of difficult relations with the Assad regime in the aftermath of Abdulla Öcalan´s expulsion from Syria in 1998. The other was “The Kurdish Future Movement in Syria” that was established in 2005.

The uprising for democratic change in Syria, in March 2011 in Deraa, introduced a new and a very dynamic actor onto the political scene in Syrian Kurdistan and that was the Youth Coordinating Committees in most of the cities and towns of the Kurdish regions in Syria, including in the Kurdish suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus. Amouda followed Deraa in toppling and dismantling the Assad statue in the city for the second time after the March uprising in 2004.

These youth coordinating committees surpassed the traditional political parties in their mass following and coordinated their activities, slogans, and demonstrations with the rest of the revolutionary movement for change in Syria. This was followed by a significant increase in the formation of civil society organizations and grass root movements. However, when the Kurdish National Council of Syria (KNC) was established in October 2011, between thirteen political parties and independents, they reduced the influence of the Youth Coordinating Committees by establishing their own affiliated Coordinating Committees. Consequently, it split the new grass root movement.

During the talks for the establishment of the Kurdish National Council, in 2011, PYD participated in them until the final day of its announcement and then decided to join instead the loyal opposition of the “Coordinating Committee of Opposition Forces” and gained a vice chairman position in that body.

The Kurdish Future Movement of Mishaal Temo, on the other hand, decided to withdraw from KNC and joined the Syrian National Council (SNC) because of the reluctant stance of KNC in joining SNC. It also supported the Free Syrian Army-FSA and taking up arms against the Assad regime, while KNC preferred the peaceful mode of opposition. PYD declared a so-called “third line” of neither with the regime nor with the opposition, but preserving and defending the Kurdish populated regions. This in effect suited the aims of the regime.

In July 2012, the Syrian Government withdrew most of its forces, except for some security and administrative organs in Qamishly and Hassakah, from the Kurdish areas and overturned them to PYD control with arms, munitions and other infrastructure. This was considered that PYD was in collusion with the Syrian Government for hindering the influx of Syrian opposition forces into these regions and for the regime to use its forces in other areas of Syria. The unofficial agreement of avoiding military clashes between PYD and the Syrian military forces has continued until, now. Some minor clashes occurred between both sides took place in Qamishly and Hassakah, but were short lived and controlled very quickly.  

Until then, PYD had a very small following compared to the mass support of KNC, the Kurdish Future Movement and the Youth Coordinating Committees. After that and especially after Iran allowed more than fifteen hundred guerrilla men of PKK, mainly of Syrian Kurdish origin, from Qandil Mountains to join and boost PYD forces in Syria. Consequently, PYD became in effective military and administrative control of the Kurdish regions.

In July 2012 also, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Mr. Masoud Barzani mediated between KNC and PYD to form a common “High Council” to coordinate matters and build common institutions, but this never materialized because PYD refused to share power on the ground and differences in policies towards the Syrian Regime and the Coalition of Opposition Forces. Two agreements were reached in Arbil and Dohuk for such cooperation, but were never implemented.

Due to the totalitarian and anti-democratic nature of PYD, there is a lot of resentment and dissatisfaction with them among the mainstream Kurdish population in Syria. But the later fighting with the Islamic Jihadist forces like Jabhat Alnasra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (ISIS), has turned their fortunes and the average Kurd looks to them as a protector against greater dangers, despite their dislike of them. Furthermore, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have on numerous occasions criticized the PYD and its administration for serious violations of Human Rights in its de-facto administered regions, especially the arrest and torture of political opponents from KNC affiliated parties and others.

PYD claims to represent the Kurds in Syria as a result of its control of the area, but this is contested strongly by the parties within KNC and civil society organizations. Therefore, KNC does not recognize the one sided self-ruling administration that was declared in January 2014 and later. It also questions their legitimacy. Therefore, it refuses to seek permission for its activities and demonstrations. Consequently, the PYD administration takes “legal” steps against them for not respecting their authority and laws.

The largest and strongest Parties within KNC that have some mass following are four. These are: The Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria headed by Dr. Abdulhakim Bashar; The Progressive Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria headed by Abdulhamid Darweesh (has now left KNC since few years); The Yekiti Party headed by Ibrahim Biro; and the Democratic Union Party headed by Moyeddin Sheikh Ali ( who do not approve of KNC´s close ties with Turkey).

In late 2013, KNC formally joined the National Coalition of Syrian Opposition Forces and gained representation in its main leading institutions. Hence, becoming allies with Turkey and other states supporting the opposition to the regime of Assad. This, of-course, has led to further deterioration of relations between both parties.

Difficult Options Facing the Kurds in Syria:

Despite the favorable conditions created for the Kurds of Syria, at the start of the uprising for democratic change in Syria in 2011, they failed to capitalize on a number of possibilities that opened up to them due to hesitancy, lack of common vision, disunity and inexperience. Furthermore, they always looked for guidance and advice to their brothers in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey instead of adopting an independent strategy for themselves. The Kurdish movements in Iraq and Turkey had their own political agendas that did not necessarily coincide with their own.

They did not respond or refused to accept the invitation ( in late March 2011), by President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad, to send a joint Kurdish delegation to Damascus for negotiations on Kurdish demands (linguistic , cultural and political) and the return of citizenship to people who had lost it in the infamous census of 1962. The main reason for non-acceptance being disagreements on the possibility of the future survival of the regime. Thus by, avoiding an agreement with a losing horse. This reluctance can be related to the long historical record of denial, non-recognition, repression and discrimination by different Syrian regimes against the Kurds, since independence of Syria in 1946. But Assad has remained in power, after seven years of a very cruel war, with the support of Iran and Russia, forcing the Kurds to choose whether to negotiate with the regime or not?

Recently, the Syrian regime has showed some willingness to negotiate with the Kurds for recognizing some cultural, linguistic rights and some form of decentralized self-governing institutions, according to Syria´s Foreign Minister, Walid Al-Moallim, in reaction to statements by US representatives at the UN General Assembly sideline meetings.

Relations with the National Coalition of Opposition forces in Syria have not been easy either. The initial secular and democratic opposition were very reluctant in recognizing Kurdish rights to political autonomy, but were only accepting equal rights to citizenship and granting some linguistic and cultural rights. The Kurdish movements belonging to KNC were also hesitant in joining the ranks of the opposition before getting full recognition. But by the time they joined the opposition, on 11 November 2013, the opposition had been militarized and kidnapped by different Islamist groups, like the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra (Now called Hay´at Tahrir Al-Sham –HTS), the pro-Turkish and pro-Qatari Moslem Brotherhood, the pro-Saudi Jaish Al-Islam and, since the summer of 2014, the Islamic States in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or DAESH as it is called by its opponents). The secular and democratic opposition with its military wing, the Free Syrian Army-FSA, became weak and marginalized with little influence inside Syria. They were also infiltrated by the Islamist groups. In all practical purposes, they have become an exile organization resident in Turkey and manipulated by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. A weakened and reduced KNC is still part of the National Coalition of Opposition Forces, but they have had serious disagreements with the coalition concerning representation in the Geneva negotiations and the occupation of Afrin by Turkey in March 2018. While PYD chose a “Third Way” of “neither with the regime nor with the opposition”. They had some dialogue with the coalition in 2014 but never joined their ranks. Instead, they joined for some years the so-called “loyal opposition” named “the Coordination Committee for Syrian Opposition Forces, and they gained a vice-chairman post. That ended later (in 2014) and they have instead concentrated on negotiating with the Assad regime.

Historically, Turkey has suffered from “A Sêvres Complex” as expressed by a former foreign minister of Turkey, Prof. Mümtaz Soysal, in 1994. That means fear of losing territories claimed by Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Russia and later Syria. It has always strategically feared and opposed any form of Kurdish self-government structures in Iraq, Iran or Syria out fear of the effect of contagion on its own Kurds. Therefore, it opposed the formation of a federal region in Iraqi Kurdistan for many years until it accommodated the facts on the ground and established cordial economic and diplomatic ties with KRG. It has the same sensitivities towards the Kurds in Syria for establishing a self-ruling entity, especially that it is founded by PYD, an affiliate of PKK that has been in armed conflict with the Turkish state since 1984. But, ironically, when AKP first came to power in 2003, it adopted a much more conciliatory approach to the Kurdish question by finally acknowledging the Kurds as a distinct culture and language. Kurdish schools, radio and TV stations were opened. And peace negotiations took place with PKK between 2013-2015. During this period, Turkey developed good relations with Syrian Kurdish representatives of KNC and PYD. Salih Muslim, then co-President of PYD, was twice invited to Turkey for talks. Turkey even established a historical precedence by allowing Iraqi Kurdish Pesh Merga forces to transit through Turkey to aid the YPG forces in Kobani against the onslaught by ISIS against the city, in September 2014. Unfortunately, this ended when the peace talks collapsed and the Kurdish party HDP won a big electoral victory in gaining 80 seats in the Turkish parliament, in June 2015. This was conceived by Erdogan as a threat to his ambitions in establishing a strong presidency. He started to play the Turkish nationalist card to strengthen his domestic political position. The PKK miscalculated, too, and resumed its insurgency operations inside the main cities of Turkish Kurdistan.  This strengthened Erdogan´s authoritarian hold over the country and has encouraged him to take very harsh steps against the Kurds in Turkey and Syria. The occupation of the Jerablus and Albab enclave inside Syrian territory was mainly aimed at hindering the PYD from establishing a contiguous geographical connection between the Cantons of Aljazeera, Kobani and Afrin. The occupation of Afrin, in March 2018, was a further step in hindering the Kurds of Syria from being able to establish a united de-facto autonomous region along the southern border of Turkey. President Erdogan continues to threaten the SDF controlled areas in the Eastern Euphrates Regions. The latest such threat was issued at a meeting of a Turkish think tank, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. But Turkey has and is being hindered from any such moves by the presence of the Allied and US forces in Manbij and the Eastern Euphrates Region in their commitment in finishing the fight against DAESH and ending the presence of Iranian forces with their proxies in Syria. The Russian-Turkish deal over Idlib seems to have complicated matters further for Turkey, rather than achieving some of its aims. The future of the whole region is still under question whether it will be attacked by Russia and Syrian forces or not?

The US engagement with Kurdish movements in Syria, from both KNC and PYD, started during the initial stages of the uprising in Syria, but more specifically in 2012, during different dialogue meetings of the Syrian Opposition in Istanbul and Cairo. KNC delegations were received by the State Department on a number of occasions, but PYD was never received because of its affiliation with PKK that is labelled a terrorist organization by the United States.

The first military engagement by US with YPG forces took place on September 23, 2014 during the IS onslaught on Kobani. Since then, this cooperation between both sides has continued during the extensive campaign in defeating DAESH in Raqqa and Deir Al-Zor and driving them out of Syrian territory, especially in the areas east of the Euphrates. Despite heavy protests and threats by Turkey, the US and other Allied forces have continued their cooperation and coordination with YPG (later named Syrian Democratic Forces –SDF after inclusion of some Arab and Syriac forces ) because of  their discipline and competent fighting abilities in the fight against DAESH. Some military training, logistical aid and administrative advice were also provided to the local councils in Manbij, Raqqa and Deir Al-Zor. The US has also built around 15 different military bases in the area that includes the majority of Syrian Oil and Natural Gas resources.

This close cooperation, however, could not prevent Turkish forces from invading and occupying Afrin Region, in March 2018. The US has also exerted further pressure on SDF to abandon some of its control in Manbij area in order to accommodate some of the demands of its NATO ally, Turkey.

Further complications, in their bilateral relations, appeared when President Trump declared the possibility of withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Although, Pentagon and the commanders on the ground recommended a longer stay for US forces. This opened the possibility for the Kurds of SDF to start negotiations with the Assad regime about normalization of relations in a post-American withdrawal from the region.

The US has after withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the worsening of relations with Iran, decided to stay in Syria, based on statements made by President Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Amb. James Jeffrey during the UN General Assembly meetings.

According to a report by Laurie Mylroie for Kurdistan24 TV Channel:

On Thursday (sep.27-2018), Amb. James Jeffrey, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, described the Trump administration’s thinking about the future of Syria, including Syrian Kurdistan. Jeffrey, speaking to reporters in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, laid out three well-known US objectives: 1) “enduring defeat” of the Islamic State (IS); 2) “reinvigoration of the political process;” and 3) “removal of all Iranian-commanded forces from the entirety of Syria.”

Questioned as to whether President Donald Trump had formally approved the idea that “a condition for US withdrawal from Syria will be the removal of Iranian forces and their proxies”, Jeffrey replied, “The President wants us in Syria until that, and the other conditions are met.” “But I want to be clear here,” Jeffrey continued, as he revealed a new dimension to US thinking, particularly relevant to the Kurdish position in Syria.

“Us [remaining] in Syria is not necessarily American boots on the ground,” he explained. “Boots on the ground have the current mission of the enduring defeat of [IS.]” But “there are many ways we can be on the ground,” Jeffrey continued, giving several examples, including, “for many years” the US “had local allies on the ground in northern Iraq, and we provided air support.”

Jeffrey also affirmed that Syria´s Kurds “should participate” in the UN-led political process to determine Syria´s future. Asked whether Kurds would be part of the talks led by Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Syria, Jeffrey replied, “The SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces], which involves both Kurdish and Arab forces, are our allies in the fight against [IS.]” “There is a position that we take, and that everyone else takes,” Jeffrey continued, “that all of the people in Syria, including the people in the northeast, should participate in the political process.”

Also, on Thursday, six countries—Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britain—joined with the US to issue a statement calling on de Mistura “to convene, as quickly as possible, a credible, inclusive constitutional committee” to start “drafting a new Syrian constitution” to lay “the groundwork for free and fair UN-supervised elections.” Jeffrey, further stated: that Assad is “sitting on a cadaver state with almost no economy, no access to his fuel and gas resources,” and “no hope” of reconstruction aid, because the US, “supported by a very strong majority in the European Union, is blocking that.”

Russia´s main aim in Syria has been to save Assad´s regime from being overthrown, protect its military and future economic interests in the region and force the Western countries to treat it as an equal in regional and international affairs. Its military involvement started in September 2015, but its diplomatic efforts in support of the regime were apparent from the start of the uprising in 2011. Numerous Russian diplomats have pointed the fact that “Western countries had changed a number of regimes in the Middle East without consulting them or taking their interests into consideration”.

Their relations with the Kurds in Syria were cordial and supportive at times. They ( both KNC and PYD) were also invited to a number of dialogue meetings in Moscow, Astana and Sochi but were never at the cost of their support for the Assad regime. In their proposal for a new Syrian Constitution, they have accepted Kurdish demands to decentralization of power and cultural rights. The Russian official position has always insisted that the Kurds should be represented in the Geneva and other talks concerning Syria´s future. At the same time, acquissed to the Turkish invasion of Afrin and advised the PYD delegation to their military base in Latakia (Hmeemim) to overturn the area to Syrian control instead.

Iranian relations with the Kurdish forces in Syria have fluctuated between dialogue and enmity from the perspective of its staunch support for the survival and empowerment of the Assad regime. They invited a delegation of KNC and PYD for dialogue and discussions, but these were terminated later on.

Future Options for the Kurds in Syria:

In the light of the above analysis and narrative, the following alternative future options could be conceived for the Kurdish movements in Syria:

  1. Option One: Maintain the current status quo, despite loss of Afrin in order to keep control of Kobani and Aljazeera and stave off Turkish threats of invading those areas that are rich in oil, natural gas, agricultural products and water resources. Especially, if Raqqa and Deir Al-Zor regions are kept in the “Federation of Northern Syria”.
  1. Option Two: Due to uncertainty whether US and Allied forces will remain in the region or not and for how long. Continue negotiating with the Assad regime to reach an agreement on political decentralization and recognition of Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights. Accept integration of its armed forces with the Syrian army and disband its security force “Asayish”.
  1. Option Three: Play for time and wait for the outcome of the battle for Idlib. Then start negotiating with a weakened Assad regime to get more concessions and recognition of their rights to autonomy and Federation.
  1. Option Four: Putting the Kurdish House in order in Syria, i.e. Improve relations with the Kurdish National Council and other main Kurdish political parties in forming a common administration and elected legislative, similar to the process of 1992 in Iraqi Kurdistan. This would strengthen the position of the Kurds vis-à-vis Syrian regime and Turkey. This will get strong support from KRG and Kurdish public opinion all over Kurdistan. In such a situation, a joint Kurdish delegation could be formed for common demands in future negotiations with the Syrian Government and the renewed process for a political and diplomatic process for the Syrian conflict in Geneva.
  1. Option Five: Hope and work for resumption of peace talks between PKK and the Turkish Government that reflect on their relations with Turkey and distance the threat of Turkish invasion against other areas of Syrian Kurdistan. This would involve a more neutral and a more diplomatic rhetoric towards Turkey.
  1. Option Six: Throw its weight behind the latest US strategy in staying in Syria and checking Iranian presence and influence in the country, and await a bilateral Russian- United States agreement on a political and diplomatic solution through the UN process in Geneva, that might lead to a more decentralized and a more representative regime in Syria which might recognize Kurdish political, cultural, and linguistic rights.
  1. Option Seven: The Suicide Option- Continuing the current stubborn and irreconcilable policy of monopolizing power by PYD and its affiliates, in a very undemocratic manner and insisting on being hostile to all political and military forces in the region and attempt to implement their undeveloped ideological model by force, despite all consequences, e.g. near total destruction of Kobani and loss of Afrin.
  1. Option Eight: The wisdom and maturity option- Becoming more realistic and lower their ambitions by starting a process of openness, reconciliation and dialogue with all ethnic, religious and societal groups, especially non-Kurds, e.g. Arabs, Arameans (Syriacs), Armenians, Chechens, and Turkmens and others.


Selective References on the Kurds in Syria:


  1. Michael M. Gunther: Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War; Hurst & Company, London, 2014.
  1. Jordi Tejel: Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics and Society (Routledge Advances in Middle East and Islamic Studies); London, 2009.

  1. Harriet Allsop: The Kurds of Syria: Political Parties and Identity in the Middle East; I.B.Tauris; London,2014.
  1. Kerim Yildiz :The Kurds in Syria: The Forgotten People; Pluto Press, 2005.
Thomas Schmidinger : Rojava: Revolution, War and the Future of Syria’s Kurds; Pluto Press, 2018.
David Romano & Mehmet Gurses: Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria; Palgrave Macmillan US; 2014.
David McDowall: The Kurds of Syria; Kurdish Human Rights Project; London, 1998.
Harriet Montgomery: The Kurds of Syria – An existence denied; Europäisches Zentrum für Kurdische Studien; Berlin, 2005.


1-The SDF’s Post-American Future : Why the Syrian Kurds Must Make a Deal With Assad

By Aaron Stein


2- The Game Above the Game
by David W. Lesch
For Syria Comment – Sept 21, 2018

3- Noam Chomsky says US should Stay in Syria to Protect the Kurds

By Wladimir van Wilgenburg | October 03-2018


4- US: Syrian Kurdistan could be like Iraqi Kurdistan after 1991, Kurds to participate in UN Political Process

Laurie  Mylroie

 Laurie Mylroie |

September 28-2018    


5- Toward a New U.S. Policy in Syria

Ground Zero for Countering Iran and Deterring an Islamic State Revival

Katherine Bauer, Soner Cagaptay, Patrick Clawson, Michael Eisenstadt,
James F. Jeffrey, Barbara A. Leaf, Matthew Levitt, Dennis Ross,
and Robert Satloff- July 11, 2018


6- Bolton: US troops staying in Syria until Iran leaves

By: Joe Gould and Tara Copp    September 24-2018-


7- Kurds tie northern Syria stability to continued US military presence

SDF says US troops staying in Syria will help push for a political solution to the civil war



8-Trump agrees to an indefinite military effort and new diplomatic push in Syria, U.S. officials say – By: Karen De Young, September 6-2018.



  • September 08 2018

By SERKAN DEMİRTAŞserkan.demirtas@hurriyet.com.tr

US recalibrates Syria policy, won’t pull back troops soon. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/serkan-demirtas/us-recalibrates-syria-policy-wont-pull-back-troops-soon.

10- The Kurds Once Again Face American Abandonment

With the Trump administration poised to pull U.S. troops out of his country, the battle-tested group may have no choice but to negotiate its fate with Damascus.

JOOST HILTERMANN; THE ATLANTIC, AUG 30, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/08/syria-kurds-assad-ypg-isis-iraq/569029/.

11- The Idlib Agreement and Other pieces of the Syrian Puzzle – Omer M. Karasapan; Monday, September 17, 2018.

12- Amb. Robert Ford : Post US Decision in Staying in Eastern Syria (ما بعد قرار امریکا البقاء شرق سوریا), Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, August 29, 2018.


13- Aron Lund: Slutspel i Syrienkriget: Kampen om gränserna- ( The Final Game in the War in Syria – The Battle Over Borders). Sep., 2018.