Syria’s Autonomous Administration continues its efforts to obtain international recognition: Will this help?
Enab Baladi – Amal Rantisi
In recent weeks, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has ramped up its efforts to obtain international recognition as an authority in northeastern Syria. It enhanced its contacts with many governments around the world, made international visits and launched campaigns on social networking sites in addition to widespread local calls.
French President Emmanuel Macron received on Monday, 19 July, a delegation that included representatives of the Kurdish-led AANES and civil society in northeastern Syria at the Élysée Palace in Paris. Following the meeting, the French Presidency released a statement stressing “the need to continue working to establish political stability in northeastern Syria and comprehensive governance,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Berivan Khaled, an official in the AANES who participated in the meeting, told AFP that the discussion focused mainly on “France’s support for the international community’s recognition of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration.”
Prior to this visit, Kurdish activists launched a social media campaign on 18 July, in which they called for international recognition of the AANES. This campaign was kicked off by Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), via using hashtags such as “#Status4NorthAndEastSyria,” the NES’s online Kurdish Hawar news agency said.
The online campaign was initially launched by the newly established Virtual Media Council in Kurdistan. This council consists of Kurdish human rights activists and journalists and sheds light on Kurdish issues.
Intra-Kurdish disputes weaken diplomatic representation
Badr Mulla Rashid, a researcher at the Omran Studies Center specializing in Kurdish affairs, told Enab Baladi that Western countries are attempting to maintain their relations with the AANES within security and military frameworks.
France intends to have a kind of “political relationship” with the AANES. However, according to the researcher, France can do that only within limits permitted by the US and its policy in the Syrian file.
Mulla Rashid indicated that the recent visit could have turned into a significant advance towards the recognition of the AANES’s local authority if the Kurdish National Council (KNC) had accepted the French President’s invitation to visit the Élysée Palace or if Arab figures from active political formations in the region had been invited as well.
The KNC apologized for not taking up President Macron’s invitation to the Élysée Palace because France had limited the representation of the KNC within the delegation to one person, while the representation of the AANES to more than three people, in addition to one or two representatives of Arabs and Christians.
There has always been competition between the Kurdish parties in Syria. The KNC, which has close ties with Ankara and Iraqi Kurdistan and is part of the Syrian opposition bodies, experiences disputes with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the nucleus of the US-backed NES.
France sent a delegation to visit northeastern Syria on 25 May to discuss files related to the political process, the economic situation, and the fate of the families of the Islamic State (IS).
France previously made efforts to improve the relationship between the KNC and the PYD. In addition to that, the US seeks to resume the intra-Kurdish dialogue with the help of the US Deputy Special Envoy to Syria, which is currently in Washington.
The Kurdish-Kurdish talks have been frozen since October 2020 due to the US elections that ended with the victory of Joe Biden, the departure of the US adviser to the Global Coalition in northern and eastern Syria, and the US diplomatic team to the US.
Promotional campaigns to obtain international recognition
Researcher Badr Mulla Rashid pointed out that Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Kurdish-led SDF, invited the AANES supporters to start a hashtag to get the international recognition of the AANES as an authority in Syria, simultaneously with the delegation’s visit to France.
Furthermore, the NES has to strengthen its internal front and cover events—such as the death of Amin Issa under torture while in the custody of the SDF— that led and lead to be severely criticized from within the bodies of the AANES. In addition to that, the living conditions in the region have seriously declined.
Mulla Rashid believes that the media campaign succeeded in covering somewhat the real-life challenges people face in the region, more than its main declared goal, which is to get international recognition of the AANES.
For his part, Anas Shawakh, a researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, considered that the campaign launched by the AANES could be only classified in the category of media promotion, given “international recognition is not obtained in this way [media social campaigns].”
Shawakh told Enab Baladi that the delegation’s visit to Paris took place due to repeated requests by the AANES through its representatives in Paris and lobby groups to hold this meeting with the French President.
However, it is noteworthy that France has done nothing more than reaffirming its continued economic and military support of the AANES. France has not talked about granting recognition to the AANES.
The French government’s support for the AANES and the SDF is not new, mainly because France is one of the most important partners of the US in the Global Coalition to Fight IS. The coalition is considered the most prominent supporter of the AANES and the SDF since their establishment.
The Syrian regime condemns the visit: a complex relationship between the Syrian government and AANES
Following the visit, the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates issued a statement in which it considered that the AANES is making trips to some Western countries “to promote its separatist projects,” and that “the US occupation forces and other colonial countries support that administration.”
In response to the Syrian regime’s statement, the AANES said that the Syrian government uses “a language far from logic and reality, and clearly clinging to the mentality of exclusion and denial.”
Despite those unfriendly statements, the AANES had previously expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with Damascus after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about his country facilitating dialogue between the AANES and the Syrian government on 3 July.
According to Badr Mulla Rashid, to understand the nature of the relationship between the AANES and the Syrian government, we must return to the initial point in 2012.
He mentioned that the Syrian regime withdrew from the region at that time, in the interest of the PYD, within an agreement, “whose aspects can be traced without access to its direct causes.”
In actuality, this is the agreement that governed the relationship between the PYD and the Syrian regime. Then, the US-led Global Coalition against IS entered Syria and established the SDF at the end of 2015. The coalition’s continued support of the PYD has changed its nature and its affiliate systems. Thus, the PYD turned into a local competitor to the central authority in Damascus, which explains the tension in the relationship between the two parties (the regime and the PYD).
Badr Mulla Rashid said that the Syrian regime and the AANES agreed on several points. However, because of the coalition’s continued support of the PYD, the PYD has more power and influence to the extent that it does not want to give them up.
For its part, the Syrian regime does not want to make any kind of agreement that confirms the PYD’s control in the current form, represented by a strong and organized military wing, the SDF, in addition to controlling natural resources.
Mulla Rashid pointed out that these two files are essential in the equation of competition between local parties for the central authority. Moreover, the PYD obtained other advantages through its relationship with the Global Coalition and its fight against the IS group. For example, the PYD has reached European capitals; it enjoys a good picture in the world’s imagination for being the party that fought the IS group. This picture that the regime always wanted to monopolize and remove from the AANES during the negotiation between the two parties.
Turkey and the opposition condemned the French President’s meeting with the delegation
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on its official website after French President Emmanuel Macron met with the AANES delegation. It said through its spokesman, Tanju Bilgic, that “Despite all our calls, ongoing relation of France with this separatist bloody handed terrorist organization and its affiliates undermines Turkey’s national security as well as the efforts to ensure regional stability and to preserve political unity and territorial integrity of Syria.”
Ankara considers the AANES to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey lists on its terrorist lists.
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces also published a statement condemning Macron’s meeting with members of the AANES, saying, “The demand for recognition of these militias that impose themselves on the Syrian people with iron and fire represents a violation of the unity of the Syrian soil, and a threat to the unity and safety of Syria and its people. And the insistence on this step will contribute to complicating the Syrian issue and keeping it away from the path of a solution.”
The researcher, Anas Shawakh, believes that the AANES cannot confront or convince the parties and countries that reject its project because it does not have the legal and constitutional requirements for obtaining this recognition.
The researcher Shawakh believes that the AANES faces many internal and external challenges that must be overcome before discussing any recognition level. The AANES has to determine its relationship with the PKK, classified as a terrorist group, its relationship with the Syrian regime, and the Syrian opposition bodies and entities.
The AANES has to make sure if it represents all components of the population of the northeastern region.
On 21 January 2014, the Autonomous Administration was established in the Jazira region to be linked with other autonomous and civil administrations. On 6 September 2018, these administrations and institutions were unified under the name of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) as announced by the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political body of the SDF.
The SDF took over Raqqa on 17 October 2017, after 166 days of fighting against IS forces, with the support of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat IS. The coalition was providing air cover and logistical support to the fighting troops on the ground.
After the SDF ousted the IS from the area, the establishment of the AANES was proclaimed. The SDC stated that it aimed to “form an administrative structure that coordinates services between the regions, and fills the administrative and security vacuum.”
The AANES structure includes an executive board that supervises the work of “democratic civil administrations.” These administrations consist of general and legislative councils in the areas controlled by the SDF. Meanwhile, the city councils are regarded as governments that manage local affairs.
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