“We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter.” Preamble, Democratic Federation of Northern Syria Constitution.
For decades, dictators have ruled Iraq and Syria, both Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad led with an iron fist, eradicating all those who opposed their reign. Today Saddam is gone and Hafez is replaced by his son, Bashar, who has also lost legitimacy among civilians within the Syrian territory and the international community. The lack of governance in Syria left a void to be filled, not by the Islamic State (IS), but by the Syrian Kurds. Often branded as the Syrian experiment, the Kurds in the northern territory of the country have proven to be effective partners for locals who were frequently persecuted during the reign of the Assad’s.
The Assad regime, like many dictators before, ruled with a centralized government. The Syrian Kurds are doing just the opposite, a decentralized federal system where individual liberties are encouraged, has been established within the region. What is unique about this system is its focus on inclusion. Although the majority of the population in the north is comprised of Kurds, to include all other minorities, the Kurds dropped the name Rojava meaning “West Kurdistan”, and replaced it with Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.
Made up of three cantons, Jazira, Afrin and Kobane, the autonomous system is taking a realistic approach. Realizing they are ethnically and religiously diverse, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria has put forth a social contract not even the United States can deny. Article 9 declares the official languages of the region to be Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac, and that all communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native dialects respectively. The language of the Syriacs, Aramaic, is an endangered language on the brink of extinction which the Federation of Northern Syria looks to preserve. Article 28 discusses the role of men and women as equal in the eyes of the law, an article put forth aiming to eliminate gender discrimination.
In a report written in 2015, Nuri Kino, founder and president of A Demand for Action, a group which advocates for the protection of ethno-religious minorities in the Middle East, stated that “Syria is a mess…The country’s Assyrians, Syriacs and Chaldeans are desperate”, and face persecution against the Islamic State. Furthermore, H.R. Resolution 440 recognizes the partnership between Kurds and minorities, stating that “whereas the Syriac Military Council along with the Kurds have provided security for the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians in the greater Hassakah region.”
For minorities living within the region, the future form of government in Syria is most vital, and the choices are dangerously limited; either live under Assad as before, or side with the opposition which favors their own version of an Islamic state. The latter is clear, as Abu al-Majd, member of the Christian Sutoro militia from Hassakah stated, “we are in favor of a democratic, pluralistic, decentralized, a secular system in Syria, guaranteeing rights for all members of the minority groups.”
Another minority which have suffered under IS are the Kurdish Yezidis in Syria. The world witnessed their persecution in Shingal but little is known about their community base in Syria. There was an estimated 30-60,000 Yezidis living in Syria before the war, today most have fled to seek refuge abroad. Most Yezedis live in the Kurdish region of Afrin and Hassakah. The Assad regime’s Emergency law in 1962 forced nearly 120,000 Kurds to become stateless peoples.
The success of the Kurds in not only in their military achievements but the sheer political energy they have introduced to a war-torn region, one that has been unsettling for Turkey’s authoritative ruler Erdogan. While the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are battling IS, they are often targeted by the Turkish air force, ground force, and their proxy, the so called Free Syrian Army (FSA). Erdogan’s Islamist agenda perceives the secular nature of the Kurds as a threat.
In the four decades of Assad, the regime has failed to hold Syria together through representative means – force was favored instead. Since the birth of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria a mere two years ago, the Kurds and the minorities against all odds established their own safe zones, political system and military force in addition to basic governing institutions.
Originally published at NRT English on March 27, 2017.