Column: Federalizing Syria as a solution to war


Syrian soldiers gather around a Syrian national flag in Palmyra, Syria, Sunday, March 27, 2016. Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces backed by Russian airstrikes have driven Islamic State fighters from the historic central town of Palmyra, held by the extremists since May. (SANA via AP)

On March 16, Syrian Kurdish parties announced that they plan to establish a federal region across northern Syria. This would formalize the semiautonomous zone that they have formed during the five-year civil war and force the idea of a federal state upon the country and region.

There is a lot of backlash to this proposal, due to the fact that some think a federal state would negate the unity of the country. However, after five years of civil war, a federal state might offer the kind of compromise necessary to establish peace.

After over a quarter of a million deaths, the creation of a refugee crisis and a country remaining in turmoil, it is important to consider all option that might allow Syrians to live in peace and pursuea happy life. 

The Syrian and Turkish governments have both rejected the idea of a federal Syria. In the most recent UN peace talks, the UN Syrian envoy told journalists, “the only plan B available is the return to war.”

Even the United States has spoken out against plans for federalism in the warring country. The reason stated behind much of this disapproval is the belief in resolving the war while still maintaining a unified Syria.  However, Syria is currently far from unified; the war continues to fragment the nation. With many different parties stemming from diverse ethnic and religious groups, decentralization may be the most effective way of unifying the country. 

There are roughly 35 million Kurds throughout Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. They have been discriminated against and persecuted throughout the region. They claim to be the largest ethnic group without their own country. The long history of the ethnic group and their high populations in multiple countries means that this decision will affect the entire Middle East. 

The Syrian Kurds are not asking for their own country or for total autonomy. Instead, they proposed to form a semiautonomous region.

Over the last five years of civil war, Kurdish people in the country have consolidated control over regions of northern Syria, the region they are proposing to become a semi-autonomous zone under their control. It would not specifically be for Kurdish Syrians, nor would it be named as such. Yet allowing the area an amount of control over their government would formally disable the persecution they have experienced.

There is a fear that permitting Syrian Kurds semi-autonomy will spark a Kurdish rebellion in other countries, asking for further self-governance or even a redrawing of borders to create a country for the ethnic group in the Middle East. That is an understandable fear; however, if a large enough population of the region is persecuted by their governments, perhaps the four countries should discuss of an official region for the ethnic group.

Many organizations have tried to produce a solution to the Syrian war. Former US senior administration official Philip Gordon has proposed a plan to divide Syria into zones that correspond to the regions held by the major players in the conflict like the Syrian government, Kurdish militias, and the Islamic State.

The zone under the Islamic State would be under the control of international administration until the militants are defeated. This introduces the idea of a compromise to end a harsh civil war, and even though the Syrian government and other parties involved might not be completely satisfied, the concept is an important step towards peace and stability. 

The Kurdish Syrians introducing their plan is an important beginning to Syrian talks towards federalization. People in the country understand the situation best and are the ones that must live with the solution. For these reasons, the Syrians are the ones who should discuss the best compromise.

Even though many parties do not wish to decentralize the government, establishing peace after many terrible years of violence should be the most important goal. 

Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at

Leave a Reply