The Limits of Syrian Kurdish Self-Determination

In Syria, the Kurdish question isn’t only about statehood.

The creation of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq in 1992 had a tremendous impact on Kurds throughout the Middle East. In Syria, the Kurdish minority saw it as an example of what could be achieved in their own country, especially after the military clampdown following the 2004 Qamishli riots, which began after a soccer match between Kurdish and Arab teams turned violent. The Syrian uprising in 2011 and the withdrawal of government forces in the northeast gave Kurds hope that their time had finally arrived. But the subsequent turn of events demonstrated that achieving the same status that Kurds enjoy in Iraq is unattainable in Syria. Stalled Project In March 2016, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, established the autonomous region of Rojava, literally meaning west Kurdistan, in northern Syria. The new entity included Afrin and Kobani, cities along the Turkish border, and Jazira, a region east of the Euphrates River. Before the year’s end, the PYD renamed Rojava the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. It had a demographically diverse population that included Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Assyrians, Turkmen and Armenians. As an offshoot of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which advocated Kurdish statehood, the PYD seemed […]

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Hilal Khashan
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of political science at the American University of Beirut. He is a respected author and analyst of Middle Eastern affairs. He is the author of six books, including Hizbullah: A Mission to Nowhere. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019.) He is currently writing a book titled Saudi Arabia: The Dilemma of Political Reform and the Illusion of Economic Development. He is also the author of more than 110 articles that appeared in journals such as Orbis, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Middle East Quarterly, Third World Quarterly, Israel Affairs, Journal of Religion and Society, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, and The British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.