Federalization of Syria

The federalization of Syria has been proposed as a way to end the Syrian Civil War.[1][2][3][4][5] In the broadest sense, it means turning the centralized Syrian Arab Republic into a federal republic with autonomous subdivisions. Many powers and actors involved in the Syrian Civil War have entertained the idea of "federal division", not least among them Russia, United Nations representatives, and the United States.[3] President Bashar al-Assad has not ruled out the possibility of a federal democratic state of Syria. In particular, Turkey is strongly hostile towards the idea of a federalization of Syria because it fears possible repercussions for its own highly centralized state.[6]

Governorates and districts of Syria
Syrian Civil War frontlines
Ethno-religious composition (1976)

Due to the fact that federalization would more or less follow ethnic and possibly also religious-sectarian lines, it has been dismissed as "division of the country" and "Balkanization" by its opponents.[2][4] Mainstream institutions of the Syrian opposition based in Turkey or Qatar like the Syrian National Council and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces have consistently rejected the idea of federalization,[3] while in particular Kurds in Syria have promoted the idea.[3] The Egypt-based opposition party Syria's Tomorrow Movement takes an intermediate position.[7][8]

Timeline during the Syrian Civil War

On 17 March 2016, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava was unilaterally declared a federation of autonomous cantons modelled after the Cantons of Switzerland, namely Afrin Canton, Jazira Canton and Kobanî Canton as well as Shahba region. The federation is considered by its protagonists to be a model for Syria as a whole.[9] The move was dismissed by the Syrian government and disapproved by Turkey and the United States.[10]

In September 2016, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, came out in an interview as one of the first regional politicians taking a public stand for the federalization of Syria. He said that the establishment of a federal system in Syria would "guarantee to preserve the institutions and unity" and that a federal system would be "the most appropriate solution and will protect the country from destruction."[11]

In October 2016, a Russian initiative for federalization with a focus on northern Syria was reported, which at its core called to turn the existing institutions of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava into legitimate institutions of Syria; also reported was its rejection for the time being by the Syrian government.[12]

After multilateral peace talks in Astana in January 2017, Russia offered a draft for a future constitution of Syria, which would inter alia turn the "Syrian Arab Republic" into the "Republic of Syria", introduce decentralized authorities as well as elements of federalism like "association areas", strengthen the parliament at the cost of the presidency, and realize secularism by abolishing Islamic jurisprudence as a source of legislation.[13][14][15][16] The same month, United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that "implementation of an Dayton style accord in Syria and introduction of some form of a federal solution in Syria (...) may indeed be the right way forward or the only way forward in the end of all this."[17]

Historical antecedents

During the French mandate, Syria was subdivided into various autonomous entities, most of which bore the designation "state" (in French État; in Arabic Dawlat):

These autonomous entities did not correspond to the administrative division of Ottoman Syria. Two of these states, Hatay and Lebanon, were subsequently detached from Syrian territory.

See also


  1. Michael O'Hanlon (3 September 2015). "How will Syria's war end? Other civil wars suggest an answer". Washington Post.
  2. "Is partitioning Syria a viable option?". Global Risk Insights.
  3. "Syria civil war: Key powers 'consider federal division'". Al Jazeera. March 2016.
  4. "US, Israel Consider 'Balkanization' of Syria: Coalition Source". Syrian Observer.
  5. Zeina Karam And Dan Perry, The Associated Press (29 September 2015). "Partitioning Syria may be the only answer to a devastating civil war with no end in sight". National Post.
  6. "Historical Background". Union of Municipalities of Turkey. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  7. "Agreement for the future of Syria". ANF. 11 September 2016. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  8. "Unlikely partners join forces to lead by example in Syriaa". Al-Monitor. 30 September 2016. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  9. "ANALYSIS: 'This is a new Syria, not a new Kurdistan'". MiddleEastEye. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  10. "Syria conflict: Kurds declare federal system". BBC News. 17 March 2016.
  11. "أمين جامعة الدول العربية: النظام الفدرالي هو الحل الأنسب لسوريا". ARA News. 28 September 2016.
  12. "Syria rejects Russian proposal for Kurdish federation". Al-Monitor. 24 October 2016.
  13. "Syria Opposition Rejects Russian Draft of New Constitution". Bloomberg. 25 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  14. "Syrian draft constitution recognizes Kurdish language, no mentions of federalism". Rudaw. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  15. "رووداو تنشر مسودة الدستور السوري التي أعدها خبراء روس". Rudaw. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  16. "Moscow invites Kurds and Syrian opposition to explain Astana". ARA News. 26 January 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  17. "UK Foreign Secretary says federalism best solution for Syria". ARA News. 27 January 2017. Retrieved 27 January 2017.
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