The failure of the Geneva Peace Conference and Kurdish progress

Shakhawan Shorash

By Shakhawan Shorash:

At the first Geneva Peace Conference, participants discussed points related to removing the Assad regime and establishing a new transitional government. The Kurds left Geneva when the conference failed to address the Kurdish question and the minority rights in general. The Arab opposition refused to address the Kurdish question and Turkey supported this anti-Kurdish direction. Turkey, which is known for its anti-Kurdish policies, had a significant influence on the earlier meetings. As I mentioned in a previous article (1) , the instrumental approach for state building hides a denial policy against the interests of the Kurds and other minorities in Syria. It was a mistake to push an important minority—the Kurds—away, and to not address the minority’s rights and wishes for future political rule. Conversely, the Geneva II Conference again refused independent Kurdish delegation.

Kurdish insistence on political rights and wishes is not a crime; on the contrary, as any other free people, they have right to be free and influence the political decisions of Syria. Under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is supported by the Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK), they have managed to control Kurdish areas and to fight intense battles against Al-Qaida–related terrorist groups, thereby preventing Islamists from occupying Kurdish territory. Men and women have participated in the battles and protected their territory, and the Kurds have shown that they have the most organized forces in Syria. The Kurds did not only stop the Islamists, but they helped their neighboring Arab villages by defeating Al-Qaida terrorists. Furthermore, they have established a political administration and have organized military and security forces. Two months ago, they declared a local government, including representatives of minorities, in the Kurdish territory.

But why did the main Syrian Kurdish political organizations insist on an independent delegation in the conference? The Assad regime has oppressed the Kurds since the 1960s and has denied their civil, cultural, and political rights. Arab opposition groups, from secular nationalists to extreme Islamists, have denied Kurdish rights and a solution for Kurdish problems in the post-Assad regime. Consequently, the Kurds have chosen a neutral status in the internal Syrian War. Thus, they have protected most of the Kurdish area from destruction. Accordingly, the Kurds cannot support the political suggestions of either the Assad regime or the opposition groups, while they deny addressing Kurdish political and cultural constitutional rights. They cannot support general freedom slogans or support the opposition blindly. No matter which side has political power after the Syrian crisis, the Kurdish question will remain unsolved as long as the Arab political leaders deny it. Therefore, the Kurds must have a say in the political suggestions aimed toward a better Syria, and they must do their best now, not after the establishment of the new regime.

The Geneva II Conference refused an independent Kurdish delegation and the Kurds were generally disappointed over this behavior, and some have regarded this as another betrayal of the international community. As an answer to Geneva II, the Kurds declared a self-rule canton of Jazeera on the first day of the conference and later declared other self-rule cantons of Kobani and Afrin. Thus, the Kurdish territory is divided over three cantons of self-rule. Whether the model is a sort of copy of Switzerland’s federal model or a different self-rule system is not yet clear. While the main participants of the conference suffered from disagreements between opposition groups and the Assad regime’s delegation, the Kurds have made significant steps forward in proposing a model for post-Assad Syria. Arab and other ethnic minority groups in the area have representatives in the governments and parliaments of the cantons. The Kurds are seeing their steps as a part of the total solution to the Syrian crisis, and the creation of self-rule cantons is a proposal for the future political system. The suggested political system is expected to meet rigid resistance from the Arab majority and regional states, especially Turkey. Therefore, recognition of the Kurdish proposal in Syria will not be easy, and implementation of the model will be tough and problematic. The proposal is optimistic and ambitious, so it can act as the inspiration for a political system that will meet the ethnic groups’ interests and create political harmony and stability in Syria.

While the international community once again failed to save the Syrian people from more disasters, the Kurds have managed to protect their territory from destruction. This is strong evidence of the Kurdish people’s will and commitment to the political course.

The American and Iraqi opposition leaders failed to meet the aspirations of the different ethnic groups in Iraq. They pushed the transition period forward and ignored major faults such as the Sunni Arab boycott and Kurdish self-determination, and we can now clearly see the failure.

A democratic way out of the Syrian crisis requires a comprehensive solution that addresses the aspirations of all ethnic groups in Syria. Reconciliation requires acceptance of the rights of the minorities, who constitute a significant part of the Syrian people. Acceptance and recognition of the Kurdish issue and a constructive constitutional acknowledgment of minority rights will help the Kurds, the Arab majority, and other ethnic groups leave the past murky history behind and create a better Syria.

(1) Post-Assad Syria Needs Recognition of Diversity in a New Political System, 7. August, 2012, available at

Shakhawan Shorash was born in Hawler in Southern Kurdistan. He is a freelance writer with a BA in political science from Southern University of Denmark (Odense) and a Masters degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen.

Copyright © 2013

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