Syria's PYD/YPG-controlled northern regions voted to seek autonomy on Thursday, drawing rebukes from Syria's Arabs and Turkmens, neighbouring power Turkey and Washington over a move that could complicate U.N.-backed peace talks.
The vote to unite three provinces in a federal system appears aimed at creating a self-run entity within Syria, a status that Kurds have enjoyed in neighbouring Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The proclamation is an open challenge to many of the sides in Syria's five-year-old civil war, as well as other countries, who have agreed that Syria must remain a unified state.
The PYD/YPG, who enjoy U.S. military support, have taken control of northern Syria, but the PYD has so far been excluded from peace talks that began this week in Geneva.
The three PYD/YPG-controlled regions agreed at a conference in Rmeilan in northeast Syria to establish the self-administered "federal democratic system of Rojava - Northern Syria", officials announced. Rojava is the Kurdish name for north Syria.
Officials said at a news conference they intended to begin preparations for a federal system, including electing a joint leadership and a 31-member organizing committee which would prepare a "legal and political vision" for the system within six months.
A document seen by Reuters, issued at the meeting, said the aim was to "establish self-administered regions which run and organize themselves ... in the fields of economy, society, security, healthcare, education, defence and culture."
SWIFT TO DENOUNCE
Both the Assad regime and Turkey, a regional heavyweight that is one of Assad's strongest opponents, were swift to denounce the declaration.
"Any such announcement has no legal value and will not have any legal, political, social or economic impact as long as it does not reflect the will of the entire Syrian people," state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.
An official in Turkey said: "Syria must remain as one without being weakened and the Syrian people must decide on its future in agreement and with a constitution. Every unilateral initiative will harm Syria's unity."
Even Washington, which has backed YPG fighters with air strikes on Daesh targets, was displeased.
"We don't support self-ruled, semi-autonomous zones inside Syria. We just don't," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
"What we want to see is a unified, whole Syria that has in place a government that is not led by Bashar Assad, that is responsive to the Syrian people. Whole, unified, nonsectarian Syria, that's the goal."
On another note, The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is convening the peace talks in Geneva, suggested last week that a federal model for Syria could be discussed during negotiations.
"All Syrians have rejected division (of Syria) and federalism can be discussed at the negotiations," he told Al Jazeera television.
The PYD has consistently said it wants a model of decentralized government for Syria. The document agreed on Thursday stressed that the federal system would "guarantee the unity of Syrian territory".
Nawaf Khalil, a former PYD official, played down parallels between Kurdish aspirations in Syria and Iraq, saying Thursday's announcement was a joint move taken together with the region's other ethnic communities.
However, in a statement Thursday, the Union of Arab and Turkmen Tribes, which represents a large majority of northern Syria's population, claimed that the PYD -- the terrorist PKK organization's Syrian affiliate -- is planning to realize its separatist project with the support of countries that call themselves friends of Syria.
The Syrian people oppose giving over the country to "a group of terrorists and dark forces," the union said.
The union also declared that they would not allow any division of the country and oppose anyone trying to do so.
The PYD/YPG currently has control over an uninterrupted stretch of 400 km (250 miles) along the Syrian-Turkish border from the Euphrates river to the frontier with Iraq. They also hold a separate section of the northwestern border in the Afrin area.
Ankara has repeatedly voiced its concern over the PYD's affiliation with the PKK and the sharing of logistical information and weaponry between them.
At Turkey's request, the PYD was not invited to the first Syria peace talks in January or the second round in March.