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Kurds Declare Autonomy, Clash With Syrian Army, What Will Erdogan Do?

Clashes errupt as Kurds set to unilateraly declare a federal autonomy move to neutralize pro-government forces in northeastern Syria

Having been refused invitation to Geneva peace talks by their American backers at the behest of Turkey the Kurds have decided to take matters into their own hands and are set to unilaterally declare the territories under their control a federal autonomy later today. 

In a way that makes sense. Syria is explicitly an Arab nation-state (the Syrian Arab Republic) whereas Kurds have their own distinct language and political identity. That said the large swathes of the country under their control are ethnically-mixed. Home to Kurds and Arab-speakers alike. So far the relations between them have been generally cordial on the account of mutual danger posed by ISIS and other head-choppers, but with unilateral Kurdish moves they now threaten to take a severe and irreparable plunge. 

As the Syrian civil war progressed the Kurds in northern Syria organized in the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) militia, whereas Arabs flocked to the loyalist National Defense Forces paramilitary. These two forces in the north tolerated each other as they both opposed ISIS and the jihadi rebellion. 

Now, however, it seems the stronger YPG is now preventively moving to neutralize or neuter the loyalist NDF: 

Tensions have mounted in Syria’s Qamishli after Kurdish security forces surrounded regime positions in the northeastern city, where the government maintains one of its last armed bastions in the de-facto autonomous Kurdish Cezire canton.

An outlet affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) reported Wednesday morning that Kurdish internal security (Asayesh) forces cordoned off a regime security zone in the border city and targeted their headquarters with four rocket-propelled grenade rounds.

ANHA news added in a later report that Asayesh personnel conducted a wide-scale arrest campaign, detaining 80 Syrian regime security members while seizing seven of their vehicles.

"Asayseh forces continue to remain deployed throughout the streets of the city," the report also said.

According to the pro-YPG outlet, the confrontational move by the Asayesh came after “the provocations of Syrian regime forces and their practices against the civilians of Qamishli [including] detonating stun grenades to intimidate them.”

ANHA further claimed that the pro-regime National Defense Force militia forces in Qamishli were plotting to “create sedition” in the city by attempting to arrest residents who wanted to commemorate the 1988 chemical attack in Iraq’s Halabja that left thousands of Kurds dead. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights tracking developments in the war torn country confirmed the RPG attack on regime forcesreporting that explosions heard throughout Qamishli resulted from Kurdish security forces targeted regime centers in the center of the city.

The monitoring NGO also confirmed that Asayesh forces arrested "over 60" pro-regime troops, but added that it had not received any information on casualties from the morning clashes, which come on the heels of fighting Sunday between the Asayesh and regime forces in the provincial capital Hasakeh 75 kilometers to the south.

Meanwhile, sources in the Asayesh said that the clashes erupted after pro-regime force members arrested a number of Kurdish security force personnel in the Hara al-Tey and Hay al-Ziboun areas in the south of the city, both of which are under government control.

“Asayesh arrested a number of regime force members at the intersection of Al-Wahda and Al-Aam streets, where they targeted the regime security [zone] with RPGs,” the sources told the Syrian activist outlet.

If very much looks like Kurds anticipate are intent on disarming and dissolving the remaining pro-Damascus elements in northern Syria and institute a full monopoly of force on the ground to go with their formal declaration of a Kurdish-ruled federal unit in northern Syria.

Northeastern Syria: Kurds yellow, government red
Northeastern Syria: Kurds yellow, government red

That makes perfect tactical sense, but as Moon of Alabama appropriately asks, can the Syrian Kurds who enjoy only a lukewarm US backing, really afford to make an enemy of Damascus:

I do not understand such thinking. Whatever the future political situation in Syria will be, the Kurds will not gain a viable independent state.

The Turks hate them and are instigating new schemes against them by supporting their own splinter Kurdish proxy group. The Barzani mafia in north Iraq does not like the PKK/YPK Kurds at all. Neither Russia nor the U.S. will promise them any long term (financial) support.

Whatever they try, the Kurds will continue to depend on the capabilities and monies of a Syrian nation state with the capitol in Damascus. They do not have any income source. Attempts to export oil would be blocked by its neighbors and their borders can not be secured without heavy weapons. 

Why upset the Syrian government and its armed forces when the gains made so far are still reversible?

Turkey's Erdogan is waiting just north of the border and would like nothing better but an opportunity to try to crush them.

The only thing stopping him from doing so is that this would be seen as attack on Syrian sovereignty and draw repercussions from Damascus and therefore Moscow.

If the Syrian Kurds find themselves in an open rebellion against the Syrian state and remove its last practical vestiges in the north, it may (rightfully or not) likewise become that much harder for them to hide behind the protective veil of Syrian state sovereignty.

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