The Union of Arab and Turkmen Tribes, which represents a large majority of northern Syria's population, declared their opposition to the PKK terrorist organization's affiliate the Democratic Union Party (PYD) reportedly declaring a federation in northern Syria on Wednesday after a two-day long meeting in the Rmeilan district of Hasakah. In regards to the PYD's recent declaration and the Syrian Arab and Turkmens' opposition to it, Dr. Christopher Phillips from Chatham House told Daily Sabah on Friday that the PYD's declaration is no surprise since they were uninvited to the peace talks on Syria that are currently being held in Geneva.
Alongside Phillips' remarks, Ufuk Ulutaş, foreign policy coordinator at the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), also stated that the declaration is a reaction to the Geneva talks and added that it is not possible for such a federal government to succeed in the long-term.
The PKK-affiliated Fırat News Agency reported that the "Rojava and Northern Syria United Democratic System Document Text" was approved after a vote by 200 delegates, and the reports added that two co-chairmen - one Arab (Mansur Selum) and one Kurd (Hediya Yousef) – have already been elected for the executive committee. Despite the declaration by the PYD, the Assad regime and members of the opposition said they rejected the declaration, while the U.S. disapproves of Kurdish autonomy in Syria.
Regarding the PYD's position, Phillips,a prominent academic from the faculty of international relations of the Middle East at Queen Mary, University of London, stated that the PYD has been willing to act on its own from the very beginning. He said, "As they wanted to be included in the [Geneva] talks but were not invited primarily due to pressure from the Turkish government, the PYD said 'we will get our things done our own way.'"
He further stated that "the PYD has been very clever with its wording in the declaration as it indicates they haven't claimed they want independence but rather federal government within the Syrian state." Phillips said that the PYD will use this to justify itself against the Western countries opposing it. In reference to Turkey's position regarding the PYD's recent declaration, Phillips said that Turkey's view of the PYD as an affiliate of the PKK terrorist organization allows the government to use it as legal justification for a possible intervention into northern Syria, as done previously in Northern Iraq, where the PKK used the Qandil Mountains as its headquarters.
However, the Chatham House fellow said that there are other states in the world that do not view the PYD as Turkey does, and stressed there would be a clear dispute against an intervention, especially with those states that view the PYD as an ally against DAESH. "Whether or not Turkey intervenes against the PYD, there are a few sacks that need to be balanced. For all the noise it made about Syria, Turkey is very reluctant to be involved in Syria without any support from its allies, like NATO," Phillips added.
Prominent academic Ulutaş said, "Though Turkey cannot simply intervene just because the PYD declared a federal entity, there is a process that is happening along with it, especially the PKK transferring its operational center from Northern Iraq to northern Syria, where it will use it not only for training and armament but also for indoctrination purposes." He further said that the regional situation will prevent the federal entity succeeding. Ulutaş ended his comments by saying it is in fact Russia that is using the "federalism card" and the PYD as leverage in the Geneva talks to push for approval to its demands.