Syria’s Kurds on Thursday declared a de-facto federal region in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, drawing sharp condemnation from both the Damascus government and its opponents who decried the unilateral move as unconstitutional and setting a dangerous precedent – The New York Times, March 17, 2016
The Arab League has rejected last week’s declaration by Syrian Kurds of a de-facto federal region in northern Syria. The league’s deputy chief, Ahmed bin Helli, said on Monday that calls for federalization could impact Syria’s unity – Ya Libnan, March 21, 2016
International law is corrupted by the dichotomy between the “all countries are created equal” and the “all countries are equal but some countries are more equal than others” points of view or for that matter “all peoples are created equal but some peoples are more equal than others”.
Take the United States as an example. The American Revolution was an armed rebellion in support of self-determination, independence – the “all countries are created equal” rule. Except for France, the Great Powers sat out that conflict out of fear of Great Britain. The Civil War was the reverse – it allowed the North to deny by force the South’s quest for self-determination and independence. The Great Powers abstained not wanting America’s sneeze to turn into a European cold, which goes to prove that international law and justice depends on your point of view.
Notwithstanding its constitution and the United Nations Charter the former Yugoslavia was allowed to disintegrate. Serbia, a former constituent republic, has Kosovo, a semiautonomous province with a predominantly Albanian Muslim population within its borders. Kosovo has declared independence which, as of now, is almost universally recognized.
Should Kosovo’s self-determination and independence be recognized? No, if you apply international law. Yes, if you follow world opinion. Yes, if you are pragmatically inclined – Serbia abandon its territorial claims and avoid dealing with a bellicose minority, dodging yet another civil war.
Spain has refused to recognize Kosovo – its constitution like Serbia’s prohibits regional self-determination and independence. Catalonia, an autonomous region of four northeastern provinces, has been demanding independence and recently held a prohibited non-binding referendum with 80% of the votes favoring independence. Eight million Catalans have the highest per capita income in Spain and the region’s economy is by far the most profitable and advanced.
Catalans do not wish to financially support Spain’s poorer regions, a flawed monarchy or a Brussels dominated foreign policy. Independence? No, as in Kosovo’s case based on international law. Yes, based on self-determination and selfish pragmatism, let the rest of Spain fend for itself.
Historically Crimea or better yet the Crimean Peninsula was never part of the Ukraine that has Kiev as its capital. By the 18thCentury it was an independent “Khanate” before being conquered by the Russian Empire and turned into an “oblast”, a controlled province. After the 1917 Revolution it became one of USSR’s Soviet Republics and in 1954 it was administratively merged into the Ukraine; throughout it was the seat of Russia’s naval power.
This year during the Ukrainian crisis fueled by unprecedented political corruption pro-Russian forces seized control of Crimea. A referendum seeking self-determination and annexation by Russia passed and Vladimir Putin graciously obliged. Was this an exercise in self-determination or annexation by force by a not-to-be toyed with Russia?
Syria has been in a state of civil war for well over five years with casualties now in the hundreds of thousands and refugees fleeing the conflict in the millions. Something which has been billed as a “peace conference” on the Syrian conflict is now underway with the main Kurdish party excluded and not allowed to participate. Without their participation I do not give peace a chance.
Syria has been shattered into many pieces. One of the most identifiable and cohesive shards left is the area that houses Syria’s Kurdish minority, the people that are less equal than others in the region. An autonomous federal region would be a step forward in securing peace. Of course, a de facto partition of Syria is “messy and unpalatable to most parties” because of the “all peoples are created equal but not the Kurds” principle.
Self-determination and independence are nothing but regime change, some good, some bad, all born in chaos but so are the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. An independent Syrian Kurdistan seems like a good idea to me.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com