A Kurdish female fighter of the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) near the Syrian-Turkish border. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region-- Tensions between Kurds and the Syrian government have reached fever pitch this week over the future of the Kurdish autonomous enclave, also called Rojava, as envoys of the two sides met on Tuesday, the second such meeting since the uprising in 2011.
The meeting hosted by Russian mediators focused on the relations between the central government in Damascus and the status of the Kurdish-administrated entities in the north and northwest of the country.
Sources close to the Kurdish factions told Rudaw the government had put forward a list of conditions that would regulate relations between Damascus and the Kurdish enclave, which the regime so far has rejected to recognize.
In the meeting the government has conditioned its support for the Kurds in the country on the Kurdish backing of the Syrian President Bashar Assad in the upcoming elections. The government has also asked the Kurdish representatives to drop their demand for a federal system and hoist the Syrian flag on all government buildings and offices. Damascus has also said all Kurdish factions in the country should take part in the negotiations.
In Tuesday's meeting both the Democratic Society Movement (Tev-Dem), close to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), supported by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) were present.
The apparently new government demands come only days after the army recaptured rebel-held Aleppo and asked Kurdish forces to retreat from the eastern pockets of the city.
Military officials have told Rudaw that Kurdish areas should now return under government control as the fight against ISIS forces had entered new phases.
On Wednesday Kurdish authorities announced they had dropped the word Rojava--a Kurdish word for Western Kurdistan--from the official name of the federation of northern Syria.
In the aftermath of the Syrian uprising that soon turned into a bloody civil war, the Kurds set up three federal entities in the north corners of the country which together make up their political enclave called Rojava. The three cantons of Cizre, Kobani and Afrin are predominantly Kurdish inhabited areas but have sizable Arab and Assyrian communities.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the main group in Syria’s Kurdistan and rules over that area, declared in mid-March that the region was a federal entity within Syria. The PYD has called the new region the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria and said its government and society will remain polyethnic.
Damascus has since rejected the declaration of the federal region and described the move as “unlawful action” that "jeopardizes the country’s territorial integrity."
Tuesday's meeting stands in sharp contrast to earlier meetings between the Kurds and the government under Russian auspices. A Russian delegation in Syria told Kurdish and government representatives in October that establishing a federal system in the country was the only way to prevent Syria's partition. It also suggested that the country’s official name be changed from the Syrian Arab Republic to the Democratic Republic of Syria, the diplomats said.
"Only federalism can preserve Syria's unity as a country," the leader of the Kurdish Left Party in Syria, Salih Gado, told Rudaw, quoting Russian mediator Colonel Oldvornikov Alexandrovich, who is also the commander of Russian forces in Syria.