The operation to isolate Raqqa, which is led by Kurdish forces in Syria and supported by the United States, is named “Wrath of Euphrates” and going on with liberating a lot of villages near Raqqa from ISIS. If the operation succeeds, ISIS will be driven to the verge of ruin. It is certain that ISIS will continue its obstinate resistance even after Raqqa, its so-called capital city, fell into Kurdish forces; however, the power influence of ISIS in Syria will have so sharply suffered that ISIS will never be the main topic of the peace talks regarding to Syria. Instead, the negotiators can no longer ignore Kurdish presence in northern Syria: also known as Rojava. The Kurdish independence or autonomy will be the primary theme of the Syrian peace negotiation and it will be one of the most important and difficult subjects.
The United States, at first, was giving supplies to YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, People’s Protection Units: Kurdish forces in Rojava) to defeat Assad regime; however, YPG set ISIS as the main enemy and gained the international consensus which was that YPG was fighting against terrorists to protect people in Rojava with little combat against Assad-loyal forces. The reason why Kurds in Rojava practically have maintained neutral on regime is because they expected to get autonomy for reward for not antagonising against the Assad even though Assad regime did discriminate and persecute Kurds harshly such as the deprivation of Syrian citizenship and even nationality. On the other hands, if President Assad fell and rebels like FSA (Free Syrian Army) took over the reins of government, they could still get self-government as YPG and FSA was once in the alliance—Kurds have made a good command of diplomatic strategy from a realistic standpoint.
In fact, Assad recently declared that he would remain in the presidency until 2021 and it is natural for him to say so as the enemies of the regime forces such as FSA and ISIS are in the unfavourable situation or simply losing in Aleppo, Homs and Palmyra. Kurds in Rojava are certainly deepening the strategic plan for the continuance of Assad regime now. A former governmental officer in Rojava told me that the Assad regime would recognise Kurdish rights and their autonomy because Kurds are the key ally of the United States; to justify and restore the presidency of Syria, Assad has to enlist strong group which has cooperative connection with the United States in preservation of the power. “There is no choice for the regime except to let Kurds build their federalism,” he added.
In addition, YPG has recently been in the antagonistic relations with FSA because it is backed by Turkey, another enemy of YPG, and FSA-Turkish joint forces are operating “Euphrates Shield” in the area between Azaz and Jarabulus; its purpose for Turkey is to stop Kurds controlling Syrian-Turkish border area, and for FSA, to create a corridor from Turkish border to Aleppo, which is currently under severe attack of Assad regime forces. On the other hand, Kurdish forces is eager to gain this same area for connecting Efrin canton, which is separated from the main territory in Rojava and look like an enclave, with Jazeera and Kobane cantons. Although FSA is never a monolith since it is a miscellany of various anti-Assad forces including secular, religious and extreme armed forces, the fact that YPG is fighting against a part of FSA does not allow YPG and FSA to be perfect friends after the war.
For Kurds, it is perhaps a good idea to let Assad regime remain in Syria in that Kurds could get autonomy and establish federalism after the Syrian civil war. At the time when I visited Rojava, Kurds were unanimous in praising FSA and hating Assad; however, thinking from practical standpoint, Kurds have to build the strategically reciprocal relations with Assad regime in this situation. As to Assad, too, he needs to make an alliance with Kurds to confront Turkey, which historically has negative relations with Syria and is the spearhead of anti-Assad coalition. However, the problem is that Kurds in Rojava would never easily welcome coalition with Assad in the post-war politics in Syria. Kurds in Syria have the long history of oppression by successive Assad regimes; it is natural that they cannot accept cooperation with the yesterday’s enemy.
However, Kurds are more practical and obstinate than our imagination. It is likely to happen to the politics in Rojava that PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, Democratic Union Party: political party dominating Rojava) sign a secret agreement with Assad and try to manage establishing federalism which models Iraqi Kurdistan. At first, the most possible barrier for Kurdish autonomy in Rojava except Turkey was the United States but its next president is Donald Trump, who is pro-Russia, which in turn is supportive to Assad regime. Trump recently mentioned that the United States would stop giving military supplies to FSA to concentrate on defeating ISIS, saying “we have no idea who these people are.” According to his logic, FSA includes al-Qaeda-inspired extremist groups and should not be supported. Meanwhile, since SDF is one of the most effective forces confronting ISIS, it is not on his “black list”.
As to Iran, it might be upset when Kurds in Rojava achieves Kurdish autonomy because Iran itself has domestic conflict between the government and Kurds. If Kurds in Rojava establish federalism, it would certainly provoke Iranian Kurds into independence movement or at least self-governing campaign. In addition, PYD is indirectly the antagonist for Iranian government since Iran supports Iraqi Kurdistan, which has strong economic relations with Turkey, which is one of the most hated enemies of PYD. However, it is said that Iranian government could possibly say yes to federalism in Rojava as well as Russia because it is the best way to keep Assad on his presidential chair. As mentioned above, Kurdish presence can be an excuse for subsistence of Assad regime and can be the strong partner opposing against Turkey.
The biggest barrier against Kurdish autonomy is, of course, Turkey. PYD was not invited to the peace talks of Syrian civil war in Geneva because of Turkish pressure and the peace talks is going on only with KNC (Kurdish National Council), which is supported by Iraqi Kurdistan government and Turkey although PYD is much bigger and has overwhelming support from Kurds in Rojava. Nonetheless, the tide is against Turkey, currently as FSA is losing against Assad regime and the international public opinion accuses Erdoğan of intervention in Rojava and bombing PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Erdoğan must save his face by making peace with Assad regime with great concession; Turkey alone cannot halt the enthusiastic Kurdish federalism movement in Rojava. Even if Turkey defeated Assad regime and ruined the peace agreement in Syria, which eventually would lead to the collapse of Kurdish autonomy in Rojava, Kurds would stand up again. Do not underestimate the spirit of those who have been fighting for their rights and dignity for hundreds of years.