After approving constitution, what’s next for Syria’s Kurds?

AL MONITOR  – 23 July 2016 – GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The regulatory committee of the Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System Constituent Assembly has approved the final draft of an 85-article “social contract” that would serve as a constitution for Syria’s Kurdish regions. The Constituent Assembly met June 27-28 in al-Malikiyah (“Derik” in Kurdish) in the countryside of Hasakah province, northeast Syria, to examine the draft document. During the meeting, final amendments were introduced and the constitution was approved.

At a March 2016 conference in Rmeilan, in the countryside of Hasakah province, the Syrian Kurds declared a federal system in the areas under their control. The Constituent Assembly of Rojava elected the 31-member regulatory committee tasked with the implementation of the Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System constitution.

The name Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System was chosen from among three proposed names, including Rojava-Kurdistan Democratic Federal System Marbo Beth Nahrin and Northern Syria Democratic Federal System. The regulatory committee members have indicated in previous statements that the Constituent Assembly is based upon the Swiss model.

According to some media analyses, the Kurds prepared and approved the draft constitution too soon. Article 5 specifies that the federation shall have an independent flag, and Article 66 paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations with foreign countries, despite the Syrians having yet to agree on the form of the future Syrian state. The majority of them fear that the declaration of the federation would be the beginning of a project to divide Syria, since it would be made by the Kurds and the Kurdish self-administration, which the Syrians view as enemies.

Article 76 requires young Kurdish men to join the Syrian Democratic Forces. Mansour Salloum, the co-chair of the Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System Constituent Assembly, told Al-Monitor, “Military service is the duty of every man who wants to live in a safe country. We have many enemies and we are facing the Islamic State [IS]. We must defend our land if we want to safeguard it. We are not imposing military service to invade other countries. We do not seek wars. All we want is to build a state based on education and culture.”

Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, told Al-Hayat July 3 that his party will not abandon the idea of forming the Rojava federation and sooner or later will connect the northern Syrian regions (al-Jazeera’s Kurdish areas) to Afrin in the countryside of Aleppo. The co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, Ilham Ahmed, also told Al-Hayat, “Superpowers cannot stand against a leading power like us, which played a major role in defeating IS.”

Anas al-Abda, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, issued a statement in March rejecting the declaration of the federation and the approval of its constitution, describing these actions as unilateral and pre-emptive procedures and calling them null and void.

The approved constitution includes 11 chapters, divided into four sections. The preamble stated, “We, the people of Rojava: Northern Syria, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians, Chechens, Circassians, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and various others, are aware that the nation-state has brought our people problems, acute crises and tragedies.”

Salloum pointed out that the federation chose to distance itself from the concept of a nation-state since such states have been shown to fail. According to him, the leaders of these states have entrenched notions of exclusion, marginalization and authoritarianism, and also prevent citizens from building a democratic and pluralistic participatory society. “Federalism does not represent the Kurds only, but all of the components of the region,” he said.

Akram Hasso, the former head of the Executive Council of al-Jazeera Canton, posted on Facebook July 3, “If the constitution stated that the federation should distance itself from the nation-state, why did it mention national identities?”

The preamble also stated that the contract is based on what it called the “culture of Mother Goddess” — a reference to religious diversity — and on the humanitarian and moral legacy of the apostles and prophets. Salloum said, “We are striving to build a democratic society that gives the individuals and society the freedom to choose their religion without coercion. We believe in building a secular society.”

Speaking to the All4Syria news website July 4, Syrian opposition member Mohammad Habash criticized the constitution’s reference to the “Mother Goddess.” He said the idea of a Mother Goddess is mere mythology and unimportant to the Kurdish people, arguing that the inclusion of such a symbol in a human rights and legal charter will further religious polarization in a region already plagued by ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

Qamishli was chosen as the capital of the federation following a referendum that Salloum described as “transparent.” He said the historical city was chosen because of its diversity. He added that the declared federation will have a non-nationalist geographic social foundation.

Salloum said the Constituent Assembly of the Rojava-Northern Syria Federal System is open to dialogue, even with those who refuse and oppose this project — on condition that their refusal be justified.

The constitution directly addressed several issues, including ensuring women’s rights in Article 15, social freedoms and rights in Article 16, the right to life and ending capital punishment in Article 17, protecting human dignity and preventing physical and psychological torture in Article 21, and guaranteeing free education in Article 40.

Syrian opposition member and lawyer Ghazwan Kronfol told Al-Monitor, “The constitution includes several texts on respecting the rights of all national components in the region that was called Rojava. The problem is not the text and the wording, but the fact that these texts are not abided by. This is related to the circumstances under which the text was drafted, the legitimacy of the authority that produced it and the extent of the legitimacy of said authority’s representation of the national components.”

He asked, “Are these texts an expression of the people’s free will, free from dictates or armed coercion, or are they a result of choices made by some categories that managed to seize the opportunity and grab a surplus of power that they exploited to draft texts most convenient for them and their interests?”Kronfol explained that federalism is not necessarily a bad choice and may be in many cases an ideal and viable solution for numerous national problems. However, he said, “This requires objective circumstance, from my point of view, that must be accepted and approved at the national level.”He added, “Federalism must not be a solution put together by a majority or a group that has a surplus power, but rather a national choice that may be built on and that must be subject to a national agreement. [Decisions] that are subject to national consensus will last, since they offer the best option for all of society’s components, and respect the rights, choices and wills of everyone.”

“The federation’s options are not set in accordance with religious, ethnic or sectarian foundations, but according to the national and development-related necessities and needs. Therefore, the federation solution is a project of unification and not of division.”

Other Syrians have yet to warm up to the Kurds’ declaration of a federal system in Syria, and the Kurdish Federation is still seen as an attempt to divide the country. Although the regime and the opposition both reject this system, the Kurds are adamant about moving forward with the establishment of their federation at the political and military levels. Read more: