“The entire world should know that we will never allow the establishment of a terror state across our borders in northern Syria. … We will continue to crush the head of the serpents in their nests. Here is my message to those who want to block the steps we will take for the survival of our state and nation…” President Erdogan (Presidency of the Republic of Turkey, “Countries We Consider Our Friends See No Problem in Cooperating with Terrorist Organizations“, Eid al-Fitr celebration, AK Party’s Istanbul branch , 25 June 2017)

There is no clearer way to warn all actors about Turkey’s intention regarding the new Kurdish-led polity that is being born within Syria. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis stated to reporters:

“You have to play this thing very carefully, the closer we get, the more complex it gets.” (Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Mattis: After Raqqa, the Syrian battlefield will only get more complicated“, The Washington Post, 27 June 2017)

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan
President Erdogan “Countries We Consider Our Friends See No Problem in Cooperating with Terrorist Organizations”, Eid al-Fitr celebration, AK Party’s Istanbul branch, 25 June 2017 – Presidency of the Republic of Turkey.
Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, Afrin
People’s Defense Units (YPG) commander Mehmûd Berxwedan speaking to VOA – 30 June 2017

We may wonder if war between Turkey and the Federation of Northern Syria, thus, Syria, is not imminent. Cross-border skirmishes between Turkish and Kurdish-led forces take place daily (Rudaw, “Turkish official says Afrin in Rojava should be cleared of YPG” 29 June 2017). As a result, Turkey Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak could state to journalists that “Afrîn has become a threat to the security of Turkey,” and “must be cleared from terrorists.” (Ibid.). While Turkey’s intentions and justifications are clear, capabilities to attack are also there. Indeed, Turkey is deploying new troops, “tanks, artillery and armored vehicles” in Northern Syria in the area of areas of Azaz, Marea and Tel Rifaat, in the framework of the provision of forces to the de-conflicting, or “safe,” zones in Idlib as decided in Astana, which would also allow Turkey to benefit from a corridor within Syria, ( All ingredients are thus present to see an attack starting, all the more so if Turkey believes to have a green light from Russia and the government of Bashar al-Assad, which is, however, less than certain as suggested by Tastekin (ibid.) and as we shall also argue below.

As answer, on June 30, the People’s Defense Units (YPG) commander Mehmûd Berxwedan stated on VOA that ‘Turkey will face a historical resistance if it tries to invade Efrin[/Afrîn],’ (YPG Media Office, 30 June 2017). A campaign was also launched on twitter to try garnering support to protect Afrîn around the hashtag , meanwhile also exemplifying Kurdish perceptions of Turkey:

The 2 July 2017 meeting between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish President Erdogan in Istanbul, which content remains unknown but most probably included also a discussion on this impending attack, could rein in Turkey or delay its attack. Meanwhile, Russia’s power and influence in the region and on Turkey are also tested.

Considering the increasingly escalating dynamics between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds, we shall first review what is at stake with polity-building in Syrian Kurdistan. We shall then turn to the latest stage of development of political institutions in Northern Syria, with the creation of the Federation of Northern Syria. Finally, because resources are needed to survive, notably when war is involved, we shall look at the new type of economic development promoted within the Federation of Northern Syria through cooperatives, and give an initial broad estimate of the odds of survival. This initial estimate should definitely be confirmed by detailed scenario analysis, all the more so that the fog of war is likely to be thickening again on Syria.

This article is part of a series aiming at deciphering the factors at work shaping the various outcomes of the battle of Raqqa and related developments, and impacting the future.

What is at stake

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The ability of the Kurdish part of Syria, ex-Rojava and now Federation of Northern Syria (see below), to withstand external pressures and threats will determine not only its own survival but also very strongly impact the future of Syria, as well as risks to stability in the region, notably in its relationships with Turkey.

So far, the war against the Islamic State has allowed the new polity to emerge, while success in making it emerge has also ensured the new polity’s series of victorious battles against the Khilafah (see Helene Lavoix, “The Battle of Raqqa, the Kurds and Turkey“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2 May 2017). We shall not dwell upon the Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDFFederation of Northern Syria ability to militarily defend itself as the last years have contributed not only to train its forces but also demonstrated their ability to fight and win. Meanwhile, the priority given to the Islamic State threat by major powers has protected the emergence of the Federation of Northern Syria. Once Raqqa will have fallen, assuming the current trend continues unimpeded (Rudaw, “SDF encircle Raqqa, cut off ISIS escape“, 29 June 2017), the perceived threat notably to Turkey and to other actors, Syrian and non-Syrian, with various interests, will come to the fore, while the perceived danger of the Islamic State for major powers external to the region will most likely – and most probably wrongly – recede.

The fate of the Federation of Northern Syria and the way the tensions and wars that will follow the fall of Raqqa will evolve will also depend upon the resources available to the new polity, as allowed by the socio-political order and institutional framework being built. The support given by the larger powers, notably Russia and the U.S. will also be extremely important, but only if the Federation of Northern Syria continue demonstrating its capacity to survive. It is in this perspective that Turkey’s diplomatic offensive within NATO – President Erdogan calling for a review of the NATO military alliance considering the U.S. arming the SDF in Syria – must be read, as Turkey tries to undermine as much as possible any support to the Federation of Northern Syria, perceived as a direct threat to Turkey (Josie Ensor, “Turkey’s Erdogan calls for review of Nato over US arming of Kurds fighting Isil in Syria“, The Telegraph, 26 June 2017).

From Rojava to the Federation of Northern Syria

Institutions, values and enemies

Once the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Democratic Council Syria (MSD) created at the end of 2015, the areas liberated by the SDF and under its influence could progressively be included within the new Kurdish-led project (see Helene Lavoix, “The Kurds in Syria – State-Building, New Model and War“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 22 May 2017). As a result, during its first congress on 28 January 2016, the el-Shabah region declared its recognition of the SDF and belonging to the MSD (hen during the second congress, it elected its representative members (“A delegation from the Democratic Administration of self-participate in the second conference of the el-Shahba region“, 4 Feb 2016, Afrîn). The development of the region’s territory was however stopped north towards Jarabulus and then west towards Afrîn by the start of Turkey’s and Turkish supported groups’ “Operation Euphrates Shield” on 24 August 2016 (see Helene Lavoix, “The Battle of Raqqa, the Kurds and Turkey“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 2 May 2017).

Despite victory against the Islamic State and territorial gains, despite having started to show their ability to actually develop the institutional tools to include all populations, neither the Kurds nor the more encompassing multi-ethnic SDF and its political branch the MSD were invited to the difficult to organise peace conference Geneva 3 – starting 1 February, suspended 3 February 2016 (Rudaw, “Syria’s Kurds not invited to Geneva peace talks“, 27 January 2016; BBC News, “Syria conflict: UN suspends peace talks in Geneva“, 3 Feb 2016). Although Russia supported their representation at Geneva and their participation in the peace talks, the Kurds and now the MSD were once more excluded from the latest attempt at moving the Syrian peace process forward by Turkey and by the Saudi-backed coalition desiring to be the sole representative of the opposition in Syria (Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a news conference on Russia’s diplomacy performance in 2015, Moscow, January 26, 2016″; Karen Zraick, “Syria Talks Are Complicated by Competing Opposition Groups“, 29 January 2016, The New York Times).

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDFAs a result, the Kurds and the MSD further strengthened their effort at organising themselves politically in the territory under their influence (Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “This is a new Syria, not a new Kurdistan“, 17 March 2016, MiddleEastEye; Ali Çelebi, “The Democratic Federation in Rojava and North Syria”, 21 March 2016, trans. Rojava Report, original Özgür Gündem). On 16 and 17 March 2016, they first created for these territories the new Democratic Federal System of Rojava – Northern Syria (Van Wilgenburg, Ibid.; Celebi, Ibid.), through the formation of the Constituent Assembly of the Democratic Federalism (see text of the Constituent Assembly, 17 March 2016; “The Final Statement of the Second Meeting of the Democratic Federalism Constituent Assembly of Northern Syria“, 29 December 2016).

In agreement with the belief-system expressed and developed notably through TEV-DEM’s project (H Lavoix, “The Kurds in Syria – State-Building, New Model…), the Democratic Federal System of Rojava – Northern Syria was not a first step towards autonomy. On the contrary, as stated in detail in the Constituent Assembly’s chapter titled “The Goals of the Democratic Federal System of Rojava – Northern Syria“, it stressed that

A democratic federal system ensures the unity of the Syrian territory.”

The goals set by the Constituent Assembly outlined a “blueprint for a future decentralised democratic country, where everyone is represented in government”, according to Salih Muslim, co-leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) (Van Wilgenburg, Ibid). All regions will have their own self-administration “that organise[s] and run their own affairs according to the principles of the Democratic Self-Administration in economic, social, security, health, educational, defence and cultural areas” (Goal 3). The organisation will be based “on councils, academies, communes and cooperatives.” “Those institutions gain their legitimacy through the free elections by the general public and local communities grounded in elections” (Goal 6).

This bottom-up organisation is crucial to understand the Federation of Northern Syria as it reflects and institutionalizes a system that preexisted the beginning of the war. As explained by Maksim Lebsky, then, “meetings took place at street level and in different neighbourhoods to address immediate problems…. slow[ly] supplanting … the official authorities. People tried to solve their problems on their own.” Once the war started, “these pre-existing councils became the basis on which the Kurdish revolution developed” (“The Economy of Rojava”, Liva Magazine (Russian) 17 March 2016, translated and republished by Cooperative Economy, 14 March 2017 ).

In terms of values, the Democratic Federation is grounded in the “trinity of the democratic society, ecology and freedom of women. It bases its international and regional relations on peace, dialogue and consensus. It also follows a policy of friendship and peace as a key strategy in international politics” (Goal 9). However it is not an anti-violence society, as it also recognises and stresses the “rights of groups to legitimate self-defence – the organised social forces and their democratic participation are the basis of the legitimate defence” (Goal 8).

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF
2d Constituent Assembly – 29 December 2016 – From the Federation of Norther Syria Facebook Page

Then, from 27 to 29 December 2016, a second meeting of the Constituent Assembly, now of the Democratic Federalism of Northern Syria  or Democratic Federal System in Northern Syria  (also Federation of Northern Syria) was held in the town of Rmeilan, “attended by 165 members from the three cantons and Shahba areas” (The Final Statement, Ibid.). Mention of Rojava (Kurdish word for the Syrian Kurdistan) was dropped from the official political denomination of the region after intense discussions, to emphasise the inclusive multi-ethnic character of the system, as explained by Luqman Ehme, a member of Northern Syria Federal System Organizing Council (Hisham Arafat, “‘Rojava’ no longer exists, ‘Northern Syria’ adopted instead“, Kurdistan24.net, 28 December 2016).

Two documents were adopted by the Assembly: The Social Contract upon which the Federation of Northern Syria is grounded, and the Political Document for the Future of Syria.

The principles stated in March were reiterated in the document on the Future of Syria. Stressing the refusal of other Syrian parties to discuss with them, yet the incapacity of the latter to provide for any other type of solution, the members of the Constituent Assembly underlined that

“[we] do not have any other choice but to organize the areas liberated from the terrorists democratically to protect our region from all kinds of attacks. We also aim to create an alternative so that ̋the northern parts of Syria would become a model for resolution.”

They thus emphasised not only their cooperative attitude but also their right to self-defence and their will to defend their system and their vision against every potential aggressor. Furthermore, in this perspective, they also become the sole champion of an inclusive, functioning, free, peaceful and democratic Syria, respecting each and every inhabitant rights as well as the very land upon which they live.

As shown in the extract below, Turkey is specifically mentioned in “The Final statement” as one of the aggressors, here actual and not potential. It is perceived as a threat not to the Kurds but to Syria, as it is seen as an occupying expansionist force carrying out massacres. As a result it must be stopped:

“The assembly members discussed the political and military situation in Syria and northern Syria regardingTurkey’s occupation of Jarablus, its greed to occupy al-Bab, and its threat to Manbij and Afrin, which led to a demographic change in the region and the perpetration of massacres against innocent civilians. The members found it necessary to stop the Turkish extension on the Syrian soil.”

By contrast, all other forces – except of course the Islamic State – are seen as worthy of engaging in “discussions to reach ceasefire and political dialogue”, while “the necessity of engaging the main active powers on the ground” is underlined.

The downing of a Syrian jet: an illustration of the complexity of the forces at work

The complex interplay of the “main powers on the ground” and of the other Syrian forces, as expressed in the Political Document for the Future of Syria, and how all impact and relate to the Federation of Northern Syria is well illustrated by the downing of a Syrian Arab Army (the army of the government of Bashar al-Assad) jet by the U.S. forces on 18 June 2017 and surrounding clashes and events.

As denounced by a SDF spokesman, the aircraft was shot down following attacks by the Syrian Army on a village held by SDF forces, while the Syrian Arab Army also races towards Raqqa as explained previously (Syria Direct, “Confrontation with Assad regime complicates US-backed campaign for Raqqa“, 19 June 2017; Leith Fadel, “Syrian Army captures new points along strategic highway in west Raqqa“, AMN, 25 June 2017). This event could further complicate the situation for the Federation of Northern Syria (as well as for other actors).

Indeed, should escalation take place between the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army, then a new front, both military and political, would open. Pro-Bashar al-Assad Al Masdar News acknowledges renewed clashes and tension between the SDF and the Syrian Arab Army, however downplays them, estimating that “these issues will likely dissipate between the government and Kurdish forces in the coming days” (Leith Fadel, “Intense clashes break-out between Syrian Army and US-backed forces in west Raqqa“, 19 June 2017; “Syrian Army will not halt operations in west Raqqa despite US interference“, 23 June 2017). The blame is laid on the U.S. coalition “constant interference” (Ibid.).

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF, SAA, Bashar al-Assad
Western al-Bab offensive (2016) by By MrPenguin20OpenStreetMap contributors (Own workopenstreetmap.org) [ODbL (http://opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl/1.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yet, Kurdish ANF News reports that the “Baath regime closed off the Aleppo-Efrin road … thus instating an embargo on Efrîn. Local sources say that Efrîn residents trying to use the road are being arrested, on top of the road being closed”, which could signal the intention of the government of Bashar al-Assad to continue moving against the SDF and the Federation of Northern Syria (Seyit Evran, “Turkey and Syria prepare for an embargo and attack on Rojava“, ANF News, 22 June 2017). However, if we consider the way in March 2017 the Syrian Arab Army stopped the Turkish move (see map above) when the Turks tried to take advantage of the capture of al-Bab to race towards Raqqa (The Battle of Raqqa, the Kurds and Turkey, 2 May 2017), it seems as likely, if not more so, that the Syrian Arab Army move is not aimed against Kurdish Efrin and thus against the Federation of Northern Syria but against Turkish expansion on Syrian territory, the latter indeed also aimed against the Kurds, as pointed out in the introduction (

Meanwhile, considering the downing of the Syrian aircraft, Russia had to step in to support its Syrian ally (e.g. Rudaw, “SDF and Russia issue threats as tensions rise after US downed Syrian jet“, 19 June 2017). Russia thus found itself potentially de facto at odds with the Kurds and the SDF they have constantly supported (e.g. KomNews, “Lavrov: Success in Geneva impossible without Kurds“, 16 Feb 2017; Sergey Lavrov’s remarks, 2016, Ibid.). Furthermore, as noted by the inhabitants of Afrîn, Russians would be remaining silent when witnessing the end of June 2017 embargo and potential war preparations against the al-Shabah and Afrîn regions of the Federation of Northern Syria (Evran, Ibid.). The challenges of the relations between Russia and Turkey, considering interests not only in Syria but also beyond it, must here also be factored in.

These events emphasise the complexity of the geopolitical, diplomatic and military forces at work in the region for each actor as well as the fluidity of the situation, and the need to handle these forces with great skill and considerable finesse. Meanwhile, we cannot rule out the potential “deviousness” of great power politics and that smaller interests such as the Federation of Northern Syria and the Kurds may be happily sacrificed on the altar of great power interests. This happened previously to the Kurds (for a brief historical overview, Helene Lavoix, “The Kurds and Rojava, State-Building in the Syrian War“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 10 February 2014), as well as to other countries – we shall recall here, for example, the infamous American “secret bombing” of Cambodia starting March 1969 (e.g. William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the destruction of Cambodia, London: Hogarth Press, 1991, pp. 22-24).

In terms of norms and beliefs-system underpinning its socio-political order and of the resulting political institutions created and implemented, the Federation of Northern Syria is a coherent polity, wishing to be fully part of a larger system, Syria, and dealing with a complex and highly lethal regional and international context. It is being built efficiently and concretely.

Its survival and ability to withstand pressures, external and internal to Syria, will, however, also depend on its resources. What are thus its resources and which type of economic system is it promoting?

Subsisting under Duress: Collectivism

Before the war

The area more or less now included within the Federation of Northern Syria before the war was a relatively rich region inhabited by mainly poor people, with a few exceptions.

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF, SAA, Bashar al-Assad, JaziraIt is estimated that the Kurdish territories of the three Afrîn [Efrîn], Kobanî [Kobanê / Ayn al-Arab] and Cizîrê [Jazira] regions – to which we must now add el-Shahba – then produced 40% of Syria’s GDP (Lebsky, Ibid.). This would represent, using 2012 figures, USD 29.5 billion (World Bank/Tradingeconomics.com). 70% of the Syrian wheat came from the region (Ibid.), while 60% “of the petrol used in Syria” originated from Jazira (Arzu Demir, “The Basic Principle of the Economy in Rojava: Involve Everyone in Production”, Abrstrakt Magazine (Turkish), 5 October 2016, translated and republished by Cooperative Economy, 12 June 2017).

The pre-war Syrian government promoted a mainly exclusively agrarian development for the Kurdish regions, discouraging local industries, beyond supply of raw materials (Demir, Lebsky, Ibid.). The types of crops “prescribed” varied according to provinces, from rye and fruits and vegetables including olive trees for olive oil export and pistachio in Kobani to wheat, barley, etc. and also olive trees in Afrîn, to wheat, cotton, fruit, grapes and apples in Jazira (for a detailed list see Lebsky, Ibid.). Mono-culture of wheat would also have been strongly encouraged in part of Jazira, leading to a dearth of trees (Dengir Güneş, “Rojava: The Economic Branches in Detail”, Yeni Özgur Politika (Turkish) 16 June 2016, translated and republished by Cooperative Economy, 12 June 2017).

Water mismanagement with heavy reliance on rains and depletion of ground and underground water through overuse of wells seems to have been the rule, despite a favourable location regarding rivers and lakes  (Güneş, Lebsky, Ibid.).

Also negatively, pollution resulting notably from oil industries neglect have spread during the war, creating great risks to human health and to agricultural production, especially in Jazira (Helene Lavoix,  “The Tragedy of Kurdistan, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 4 November 2013; Jo Magpie, “The Greenhouse Project“, Cooperative Economy, 26 April 2016)

According to Lebsky (Ibid), the majority of the population used to live below the poverty line, while a tiny fringe of the inhabitants – probably holding the very few industries and having benefitted from a previous land reform involving expropriation organised by the pre-war Syrian government (Güneş, Ibid.) – were rich. Interestingly, although further research would have to be done to falsify or confirm this hypothesis, the richest would be those supporting the Iraqi-leaning KNC-ENKS (Lebsky, Ibid; for more on the tensions between the two Kurdish parties, H Lavoix, “The Kurds in Syria – State-Building, New Model…).

Currently, considering furthermore war duress and inflow of refugees, the situation of people has worsened. In Jazira, a recent study concludes that “The whole region has fallen into a great financial crisis where 90% of people suffer from abject poverty” (Rody Rashid, “The Living Conditions in Rojava”, PYD website, 7 June 2017(?), translated and republished by Cooperative Economy, 27 June 2017).

The Federation of Northern Syria priorities and challenges: towards an ecological cooperative society?

As a result, the economic priority of the Federation of Northern Syria is to care for the survival needs of its population, with a primary concern for the weakest and those hit by the war. The latter are helped through their inclusion within cooperatives (Güneş, Ibid.). Survival also means freedom to exist according to their values and not being killed by enemies. Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF, SAA, Bashar al-Assad, Kobane, Islamic StateThus, the Federation of Northern Syria must also cater to the needs of the fighters without whom no self-defence and survival is possible. To this must be added the need to buy what the Federation does not have the possibility to produce, such as the means of self-defence, i.e. weapons, seeds for new agricultural developments, and most industrial products as there is hardly any industries, while paying for the reconstruction as the war inflicted enormous damages (Lebsky, Ibid).

In 2016, an estimated 70% of the budget was used to fund the self-defence effort only, from weapons to logistics (Lebsky, Güneş, Ibid.), which would represent USD 10 million per month (Güneş, Ibid.).

This implies that taxes must be levied. Thus there needs to be a system to collect the taxes and an economic activity with surpluses.

According to Demir (Ibid.), the blueprint for actualizing these priorities would be, following TEV-DEM‘s plan, to create cooperatives in each commune according to needs, notably incorporating the most fragile individuals and families.

Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF, SAA, Bashar al-Assad, Raqqa, Islamic State
Bîstanên Rojava / Farmers of Rojava, also referred to as “the greenhouse project” on 12th March, 2016 – from Jo Magpie’s article “The Greenhouse Project”, Cooperative Economy.
Turkey, Syria, Kurds, Kurdistan, Rojava, YPG, Raqqa, SDF, Federation of Northern Syria, war, scenarios, warning, Russia, Erdogan, SDF, SAA, Bashar al-Assad, Raqqa, Islamic State
A greenhouse on 12th March, 2016 – from Jo Magpie’s article “The Greenhouse Project”, Cooperative Economy.

An “Institute for Economic Development” has been created in Derik, Jazira to coordinate economic life (Lebsky), which may be the same institution as the “Economic Center” mentioned by Demir. Its main task “is the development of projects for the modernisation of agriculture and industry. The Institute has the authority to regulate import and export trade, and it issues trading licences to individuals” (Lebsky). It would work in relation with the Autonomous Administration (Demir) and would provide each cooperative with half of the money needed plus the seeds (for agricultural cooperatives), under the form of loans. Then, each cooperative would keep 70 to 80% of the products they sell to cover their needs, from workers subsistence to roads and electricity, as well as develop projects (Lebsky), while the remaining 20% to 30 % would be paid to the Economic Centre/Institute for Economic Development (Demir). These “taxes” would then be used partly to fund new cooperatives or help existing ones, partly to cover other budgetary items, including self-defence. The creation of these cooperatives was only starting by the end of 2016: Demir mentioned as examples “dozens of cooperatives created” in three cities of Jazira: Ras-al-Ain [Serê Kaniyê] (30,000 inhabitants), Amude [Amûdê] (27,000) and Derik [Al-Malikiyah] (26,000).

Little more is known with certainty regarding the remaining tax system (Lebsky): other taxes would come from license plates for vehicles and businesses; local taxes in Afrîn answering local and specific needs would have been set up. It is highly likely that the tax system is still in the making, models being explored as revealed by the interviews carried out by Lebsky (ibid.).

By mid 2017, it would thus seem that the core of the economic and self-defence subsistence of the Federation of Northern Syria lays in a successful and strong development of the cooperatives, which, moreover may also further tie together the various populations of the regions.

The novelty of the development makes it difficult to estimate the odds of success, and detailed scenarios should be constructed, for example, using comparatively the historical example of the Kibbutz movement in pre-1948 Palestine under British Mandate (e.g. Tal Simons & Paul Ingram, “Enemies of the State: Interdependence Between Institutional Forms and the Ecology of the Kibbutz, 1910-1997“,  October 2002). Although the two cases evolve in very different context and situations, the largely successful development of the Kibbutzim in a relatively adverse environment (Ibid.) could indicate that the probability to see the Federation of Northern Syria experiment with collectivism succeed is reasonable. A detailed analysis would yield much better estimates. Interestingly, and assuming the comparison with the Kibbutz movement holds some validity, beyond successful agricultural development, collectivism could also contribute to deepen and maintain within the Federation of Northern Syria’s inhabitants, strength of spirit, cohesion and normative cementing of the ideals underpinning the Federation, which are crucial in times of duress and war (Ibid; Nir Tsuk, “The Rise and Fall of the Kibbutz:Social Capital, Voluntarism, and State-Community Relations: A Case Study“, ECPR Joint Session of Workshops, April 2000).

Assuming that collectivism succeeds, being able to buy means of self-defence and subsistence also means being able to trade.

Trade, however, has become a most difficult activity for the Federation. Turkey has closed its border carrying out an embargo according to the Kurds (Ara News, “Syrian Kurds open to trade relations with Baghdad: official“,  3 June 2017). The trading points with the Iraqi Kurdistan can be closed at any time, which is regularly the case, according to Kurdish infighting (e.g. Tom Perry and Rodi Said “Syrian Kurdish leader sees Turkish hand in border closure“, Reuters, 27 April 2016; Baxtiyar Goran, “Trade exchange between Kurdistan Region, Rojava increased“, Kurdistan 24, 1 Oct 2016). Thus, for the Federation of Northern Syria, being able to trade or rather exchange with the remaining part of Syria is crucial. The heightening tensions with the government of Bashar al-Assad, and the late June 2017 closing of the road to Aleppo, immediately denounced by Kurdish media as embargo (Evran, Ibid.), show the potential vulnerability of the Federation of Northern Syria, should it be unable to find agreements with the rest of the country. Considering the crucial importance of trade for the Federation, the latter also seeks to open trade possibilities with Iraq, as expressed by the Presidential advisor of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria (PYD) (Ara News, “Syrian Kurds open to trade relations with Baghdad: official“,  3 June 2017).

If possibilities for trade remain open to the south towards the other Syrian regions, and potentially Iraq and if the collectivisation succeeds in providing subsistence for the population and surpluses for other needs, then, considering the Federation of Northern Syria past agricultural and oil resources in regard to local, regional and global needs, the new polity may very well generate enough resources not only to survive and face aggression but also, with time, to thrive. This is even more the case if a sustainable smart agriculture, also considering climate change, as implied by the very values of the Federation of Northern Syria, is developed.

Considering the latest Turkish moves in Northern Syria and Turkish declarations regarding the Federation and more specifically Afrîn, the Federation of Northern Syria, however may soon be fully fighting two enemies at once, the fog of war thickening again on the region.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image: Part of a series of images by Nazim Dastan (DİHABER) from inside Raqqa city illustrating parts of Raqqa liberation campaign led by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab military units in northern Syria. June 29, 2017 – Ypgrojava.org.

2 thoughts on “Towards Renewed War in Syria? The Kurds and Turkey”

  1. It is not conflit between Turkey and Kurds, it is conflict between Turkey and PKK one of the must bloody terorist organisation.

  2. Well… I would suggest that you read our complete series of articles on the Kurds in Syria before to make such accusations. If there are indeed links between the PKK and the Syrian Kurds, to say these are the same is a very gross approximation and misunderstanding of the reality. You would need to be able to be so assertive to substantiate your statement with evidence … others of course than Turkey’s perception, which is the same as yours. However perception and fear also may impact analysis… as shown by Jervis for example, or Heuer, or myself in my PhD thesis.
    Here when doing analytical work, we are not here to judge or take side, but to understand perceptions, beliefs, capabilities etc. of all actors. Interestingly this almost systematically implies that one side is unhappy :)

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