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Kurds Move Closer to Declaring Autonomous Federation in Northern Syria

A Kurd-led assembly on Thursday voted to accept draft terms for the establishment of an autonomous federation in northern Syria, a further step towards a final declaration of a federal state within the country.

The unanimous decision was announced at a conference in Rmeilan organized by the Movement for a Democratic Society, Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk‎ (TEV-DEM), the political coalition that governs the autonomous areas.

“We have given our blessing for the establishment of a federal system in Rojava (the three cantons) and northern Syria,” said Aldar Khalil, one of the conference’s organizers, AFP reports.

Rojava, which means west, is the term Kurds use to refer to Syrian Kurdistan.

The planned Democratic Federal System for Rojava – Northern Syria, would give the Kurds greater control over Rojava by consolidating its three cantons: Cizîrê, Kobanê and Efrîn.

TEV-DEM, which is comprised of Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds,Turkmens, Yazidis and other minority groups, has promised the federal system will be multi-ethnic. On Thursday, Hediye Yûsif, a Kurd, and Mensur El-Selum, an Arab, were elected as co-chairs of the Democratic Federation.

A 31-member Organising Council was elected. The council will work on the founding documents for the federal system, including a draft constitution. The committee is to report within six months.

The assembly’s final declaration stressed that: “The creation of a federal and democratic system shall take place within a sovereign Syria.”

One of the first tasks the committee faces is specifying the territory of the new federation. The Efrîn canton is currently an enclave, and the territory between it and Kobanê is controlled by Islamic State militants and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Syria’s Kurdish groups are seen as one of the strongest partners of the U.S.-backed coalition against the Islamic State group but have been excluded from peace talks, including the latest round that began Monday in Geneva.

A Syrian foreign ministry official said the declaration is “without any legal value and void of any legal, political, social or economic effect” and would “encroach on Syria’s territorial unity,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

The opposition National Coalition warned in a statement against “any attempt to form entities, regions, or administrations that usurp the will of the Syrian people.”

Turkey has also spoken out against the federation. On Wednesday a foreign ministry official said Syria’s national unity and territorial integrity was fundamental, and declarations outside that framework “cannot have validity”.

On Wednesday, referring to unilateral declarations of autonomy, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Toner said “We’ve been very clear that we won’t recognize any kind of self-autonomous – or self-rule, semi-autonomous zones in Syria.”

Toner did not rule out the possibility of a federal system for Syria in the future, but he stressed that any decisions about the future of the country would have to be taken by “the Syrian people collectively – or through their representatives.”

Main image: Convention for establishing ‘Democratic Federal Syria’ in Rmeilan. Image: @DrPartizan_/Twitter

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