Solution for Syria en route: ‘Democratic Federation of North Syria’

The key dam of Tishreen on the Euphrates River and surrounding farmlands, taken from ISIS by Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) and Arab rebels in December, 2015. DIHA/ABACA/Press Association. All rights reserved.As 151 delegates from various
northern regions of the Syrian state, including Rojava, proclaimed the
"Federation of Northern Syria–Rojava" on March 17, 2016, the reactions of regional and international
states were almost exclusively negative. Most of the Syrian opposition groups,
too, rejected it or were reluctant to make positive statements. Nonetheless,
delegates and the organizations and sections of society standing behind the new
entity went ahead and approved the Social Contract which has been in
preparation over a long period of time.

We spoke to Hediye Yûsîf,
Co-Chair of the council of the new political structure, renamed ‘Democratic
Federation of North Syria’. First, we wanted to know why this project was
attempted, even though the three Democratic-Autonomous Administrations (DAA) of
Kobanî, Afrîn und Cizîrê exist and have functioned since the beginning of 2014.
She went into some detail, briefly depicting the development in Rojava [Kurdish
for “West”=Western Kurdistan] and the whole Northern Syria. This had begun
with the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) which established the
People's Council of West Kurdistan (MGRK) and its substructures, consisting
mainly of communes and people's councils.

The radical-democratic
structure ventured on the first steps towards the self-organization of society
and when Rojava was liberated in summer 2012, this set off the revolution. In
order to include even larger parts of society, the DAAs were formed,
incorporating most sections of society (ethnic-religious as well as political
organizations). This proved to be an enormous challenge, because this world has
hardly ever seen something comparable: the set-up of a political structure
encompassing such diversity, which on one hand is a rejection of the nation
state, and on the other hand integrates the existence of radical democratic
communes and people's councils in villages, streets and districts built by

Despite the DAA slowly
improving their work, as time went by they proved to be not effective enough in
coordinating their activities amongst themselves. The coordination of the three
cantons did not manage to react to upcoming issues quickly enough, in
particular to satisfactorily solve economic and social problems. The second
main problem was the representation of a democratic perspective on the
permanent conflict in Syria. After two years of DAA, not enough sections of
Syrian society had as yet absorbed the idea of “democratic autonomy” as framed
by the DAAs.

But when the Syrian Democratic
Forces (QSD or SDF) further liberated a number of areas in and especially
outside Rojava in 2015 and 2016, this significantly changed the situation. More
and more non-Kurds, especially Arabs, live in liberated areas, and due to the
positive political approach of the QSD and the political cantonal structures,
they have changed their attitude to the Rojava revolution and the Kurds. This
had an impact far into the areas dominated by the terrorist Islamic State (IS).
For example, many thousand Arabs from Raqqa have been calling on the QSD for
months to liberate their city. People in some of the liberated villages also
tell the QSD when they meet them that they have waited much too long.

Hediye Yûsîf continues: “All
these developments contributed to the foundation of the Syrian Democratic
Council (MSD) in December 2015, which was also attended by many political
forces from outside Northern Syria, which is liberated to a large extent. In
its founding assembly, the MSD devised a model of a decentralized, democratic,
secular and multicultural Syria, which is proposed for the entire state. This
was another important step in the entire process for the
democratic-revolutionary forces in Rojava/Northern Syria. The DAA being
excluded from international meetings for a solution to the crisis in Syria,
which, however, ended in failure, accelerated all our political efforts in
those months.”

After the foundation of the
MSD, a number of political activists examined different models of federation,
autonomy and other decentralising political structures that are being put into
practice worldwide. Simultaneously, political representatives from all the regions
of Northern Syria, including Rojava, were called together several times and the
idea of a coherent political structure being part of a democratic Syria, was
discussed in general and then in greater detail. Among the participants were
delegates from Minbic (Manbij) and the Şehba region, still ruled over by IS and
other forces. There, the general idea was discussed, then in a second step the
principles, then further details and a roadmap. This phase – one month before
the proclamation – saw announcements that the cantons would be dissolved and
replaced with a totally new political decentralized system. These proved to be
premature: the cantons remained as they were. This does make sense, because
they are barely established themselves and yet have proven rather positive at the
size at which they are currently functioning.

Eventually, a total of 151
delegates assembled on March 16, 2016 to take the historical step to proclaim
the “Democratic Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava” on March 17. A
coordination of 31 persons and the two co-chairs Hediye Yûsîv, a known TEV-DEM
politician, and Mensur Selim, an Arab from Cizîrê, were elected. The
declaration of the federal structure principally follows the Social Contract of
the three DAA’s. Together with the rejection of the nation state, an emphasis
was put on the position of women, the diverse cultural structure, on workers as
the true creators of products, on identifying oneself as a part of a democratic
Syria and finally, the strong commitment to a democratic-peaceful solution to
the war in Syria.

It's no wonder that the Syrian
government and regional and international states did not immediately react
positively, Hediye Yûsîf, an impressively confident and enthusiastic speaker,
says: “For us it was more important that the people in Syria deemed our
proposition for Syria positive. Because for us this is of strategic importance.
Looking back only less than a year ago, a vast majority of Arabs judged the
proclamation of the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava a step towards the division
of Syria or were otherwise very reluctant about it. But today we are in a very
different situation, which is also due to the process of preparing the Social

Three fundamental resolutions
were issued at the founding assembly in March 2016. The project was to be
presented to and discussed with the society of Northern Syria and entire Syria.
Support for it was to be sought on an international level as well. And finally,
the Social Contract was to be prepared with the biggest support possible within
six months.

To fulfil these aims four
different committees were set up. Diplomacy was key as both within and outside Syria
the work of convincing had to be done. All the activists involved worked day
and night in order to finalise a draft, and a time of one month was announced
for proposals or drafts to be submitted literally to the Commission on
Preparation of the Social Contract. Hediye Yûsîf emphasizes the importance of
the process as a whole.

All parts of the society, even
the ones not directly involved in the federation process, joined in the
preparation of the Social Contract; except for the Kurdish National Council
(ENKS) – a block of 7 political parties with a tendency to the political right
– which had already rejected the Democratic-Autonomous Administration. Even
people from Rojava/Syria living abroad handed in suggestions. “From April until
the end of July we, the commission in charge, worked almost ceaselessly in
Dêrik (Al-Malikiya), putting together all the suggestions. TEV-DEM's draft proved
to be the most far-sighted ”, says 
Hediye Yûsif.

This is no wonder, since
TEV-DEM initiated the idea of the DAA and has been very active in designing the
concept behind and first steps of a democratic federation.

The coordination of the
initiative for a federation had a final discussion on the draft and they then presented
it to the public at the end of July, 2016. Every organization was asked to
discuss the draft with their own members and return with suggestions for
improvement. “We, as TEV-DEM, fulfilled this with hundreds of gatherings in the
various districts and villages of the three cantons. These gatherings were not
a mere technicality, because a lot of people surprised TEV-DEM with further
suggestions, thought through in detail, which were then taken up. Furthermore, until
September 2016, individual intellectuals, academics, artists and so forth were also
invited to submit their suggestions in writing, so that these too could be
taken into consideration.”

Next the second draft was
prepared, based on the discussions led with the population and public. This
draft came as a surprise to many Arabs. Many of them – especially those under
the influence of reactionary organisations – had assumed even in 2015, and
still partly in 2016, that the Kurds would want to take revenge for the
oppression and expropriation of agrarian land by the Baath regime several
decades ago, and would attempt to assimilate them or found a Kurdish state.
"The challenge before us was very burdensome right from the beginning. But
I am convinced that we have achieved quite something", stresses Hediye

The second draft finished, the
second assembly of the council of the federation initiative could take place
from November 27-29, 2016. Due to the long discussions and the extensive participation
of society no damaging confrontation occurred. The deletion of the term
"Rojava" and addition of the term "democratic" now led to
the new name, ‘Democratic Federation of North Syria’ (DFNS). Few Kurdish
parties opposed the deletion of Rojava from the name of the new political
structure, a proposal which had led to many discussions. Finally, TEV-DEM and
the Non-Kurds convincingly argued that the (DFNS) territory encompassed more
than Rojava and that many cultures lived there – Kurds not being the majority –
and that, after all, this should serve as a model for the whole of Syria. The
Aramaens/Assyrians identify the canton Cizîre as Gozarto or Beth-Narin.
Furthermore, the concept of the "Democratic Nation" (which constitutes
the ideological frame together with democratic confederalism) implies that
territorial denominations should preferably not contain any ethnic-religious
implications, particularly for areas or regions with a mixed cultural
structure. In fact one can be critical on the same basis of the denomination
"North Syria", (since it refers to the name of a state), but it at
least is a common denominator.

Then, in a historic step, the
second draft of the Social Contract was approved by all 165 delegates. The 14
additional delegates came mainly from Minbic/Manbij, which after a long
struggle had been liberated from the QSD in August 2016. Apart from delegates
of liberated areas like Minbic or Tel Abyad (Gire Spî), in total 22 political
parties took part in this important meeting, among them one Suryani (Suryoye),
one Assyrian and two Arab parties.

Hediye Yûsîf describes the
developments since. In the beginning of January, 2017, the coordination
convened gave a final polishing to the Social Contract and elected two
co-chairs, a Kurd (Foze Al Yusîv) and a Suryoye (Senherip Bersim). This step
meant that the predominantly Christian Suryoye were represented better in the
whole project. Also they resolved on a political document containing proposals
for the solution of the conflict in Syria. This document aims at providing the
influence of a democratic perspective to the discussions currently going on in
Syria and internationally.

Reactionary forces are not
really discussing a democratization of Syria when they meet in Geneva or
Astana. Rather their interest is to redistribute power in Syria. They conceal
the democratic project, despise it, directly fight it or try to make use of it
for their own purposes. In this respect, the political document is a far-sighted

So our conversation with
Hediye Yûsîf turns to the latest diplomatic efforts. In the first eleven months
of the DFNS existing, and after the initial, mainly negative reactions, the
situation had undergone a change to the positive, says Yûsîf. This must be
attributed to the successful development of the whole process so far, as well
as to the population's increasing support. Enemies or sceptics of the
revolution and the democratic project it has generated are scrutinising
minutely the sources of political, social and military power but not paying
heed to who is in the right. But a project supported by the majority of the
population acts with a self-confidence, which can be seen as personified in
Hediye Yûsîf.

Many international forces, western
states in particular, have expressed the opinion that the proposed
democratic-federal structure was a possible solution but approached too
hastily. Having no proposal for a solution to offer out of their colonial past,
which could pacify and democratize the country, they nevertheless consider
themselves the true agents of "democracy and modernity". But the
British Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to concede that the federation project is
one of several options for the solution of the Syrian conflict. Furthermore
many parliamentarians of the European Parliament and European national
parliaments have welcomed the project. The Arab Union's reaction is also very
interesting: they have agreed that the federation for Syria is worthy of

All this sounds positive.
However, the path to true recognition remains very long and full of hazards.
The IS has not been defeated yet and most notably the Turkish government is
acting with excessive hostility towards Rojava and Northern Syria. It came as something
of a surprise when, in such a moment, the Russian government published a
proposal for a new Syrian constitution in the middle of January, 2017 – that
is, before the Astana talks on Syria – but this shows that Russia wants to take
the initiative for a solution to the Syrian conflict.

We wanted to know what the
DFNS, especially TEV-DEM, thought about this. Hediye Yûsif views this as a
positive but insufficient step. Positive, because the term ‘Arabic’ is to be
deleted from the name of the state: moreover on regional levels, it is proposed
that other languages besides Arabic are to be officially recognized. Strengthening
communal administrations and Kurds receiving cultural rights certainly would
have a positive ring to it under normal circumstances. But there is a reality
in North Syria with much more far-reaching implications to which the draft did
not do justice. This concerns the decentralization and democratization of the
state altogether and autonomy for a certain region where several cultures live
together. Yûsîf adds that setting aside these shortcomings, at least a discussion had begun.

Finally, in this interview we turn to the new political structure in
North Syria. First we have to note that the cantons are to be kept. Whether Manbij
becomes the fourth canton has not been finally concluded. The most important
aspect of the
Democratic Federation of North Syria is that the radical democratic structures
established by TEV-DEM since 2011 will now be officially integrated. Exactly
this was not fully achieved by the DAA and it took considerable discussion to
agree on how this could best be accomplished. According to this proposal, the
communes (komîn), the number of which is increasing in Northern Syria on an
almost daily basis make up the lowest rung. Then follow the democratic people's
councils (meclisa gel a demokratîk) on the next three levels, the highest of
which is the regional level (called herêmî, the denomination “canton” will not
be used any more). Finally we have the Democratic People's Congress of North
Syria. On all these levels the committees will have the important feature
(demokrasî hevkirî) of 60% of its members being seated through election and 40%
through organizations of a different kind for the broadest representation. The
organizations are, among others, social movements (women, youth, students etc),
education-health structure, cooperatives, professional organizations, human
rights organizations or religious groups.

This provision was important
especially for smaller ethnic and religious groups such as the Christians.
Without fail, there is a gender equal co-chair regulation for all higher
positions and a 40% gender quota. Activists organize themselves for these five
levels within more than ten social sectors (desta) separately; these, for
example, are the sectors – women, youth, economy. Ecology will also constitute one
specific sector which is a positive, since this component fell out of the DAA
structure one year ago.

When I ask when all this will
be put into effect I receive the answer that laws and regulations applying to
this are being worked on right now and that a defined point of time could not
be named. From others we have heard a rumour of half a year maximum. We do hope
that this will be soon, because a successful implementation could spread the
revolution which initiated in Rojava to neighbouring areas and probably the
whole of Syria and other regions of the Middle East, and will eventually enrich
humankind with this very unique experience.

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