The US based Al-Monitor claims to have been shown a document supposedly prepared by the Russian Foreign Ministry and presented to the Syrian government and the leaders of the Kurdish militia the YPG in late September.
Supposedly this document set out the principles of a political settlement between the Syrian government and the Kurds in Syria. Al-Monitor provides what it says is the text of this document
“The Syrian Kurdish Party has suggested, and the Syrian Arab Party has agreed, to discuss the following issues:
1. Constitutional recognition of the nationalistic and political rights of the Kurdish people in Syria, and at the same time recognition of the rights of other national minorities.
2. Recognition of the democratic self-rule system in the cantons [of Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin, which are currently controlled by Kurds] and acknowledgement that members of the self-rule [system] represent the interests of all national and religious groups in these areas, and acceptance of all decisions issued by the legislative council of these cantons.
3. Recognition of the self-protection units and the Asayish [Kurdish police] forces as the legitimate national military forces.
4. The formation of delegations from both parties [the self-rule system and the Syrian government] to coordinate relations between the cantons and the central government in Damascus.
5. Change the name “the Syrian Arab Republic” to “the Syrian Democratic Republic,” and form therein a government with varied democratic views on the basis of a federalism system.”
It should be said immediately that this is not a draft agreement. Rather it is more like an agenda setting out the topics of discussion for an eventual political settlement.
Contrary to what Al-Monitor says, these topics fall well short of envisaging anything that could be called a federation. Rather they suggest a certain measure of local autonomy within the Kurdish majority areas of Syria as a topic for discussion. However it is quite clear that this autonomy is to be within a single Syrian state, whose central government would retain overall control of foreign, defence and economic policy.
The arrangement the Russians seem to have in mind is not actually a federal or confederal one as these terms are widely understood in the outside world. Rather it is the sort of arrangement that exists within Russia, where areas like Tatarstan are recognised to have a distinct ethnic identity, and where special provisions are made to recognise and accommodate this fact.
The fact that the document appears to envisage a settlement that bears some resemblance to current arrangements in Russia shows that this is indeed a real document and not just the invention of someone out to make trouble.
In Tatarstan and elsewhere in Russia the arrangement the Russians seem to have in mind for the Kurdish areas of Syria has worked well, and the Russians appear to think it can be successfully exported to Syria. Whether it would in fact work as well in Syria – a very different country from Russia – is another matter.
Al-Monitor says that the Syrian government has rejected the Russian plan. Since the document does not however set out a Russian plan but merely topics of discussion, there was no plan for the Syrian government to reject. Al-Monitor confirms “the issue is not dead and that the Russian side will continue contacts with the Damascus government” in order to take the matter forward.
Most probably the Russians envisage discussions on the settlement of the Kurdish question taking place within the overall framework of the constitutional negotiations between all the Syrian parties (including the Kurds) which they have long proposed in order to achieve a final settlement of the Syrian conflict.
Speaking for myself, the one quaint feature of the document – but one which I suspect might be difficult for some Arab Syrians – is that it calls for a change in the name of the Syrian state from the “Syrian Arab Republic” to the “Syrian Democratic Republic”.
The name “Syrian Democratic Republic” looks like a strange reversion to Communist language eg. the “German Democratic Republic”, which was the formal name of the former East Germany. Presumably no-one in Moscow is bothered about that.