Dialogue between actors in Northeast Syria

Background

The dialogue project was developed to stabilize the region, engage with the Syrian political process, and building positive relations with neighboring states. To achieve this, local constituents in NES must reach an agreement on political representation and resource management. For this purpose, the Stimson center (formerly the EastWest Institute) and IMPACT joined forces, reaching out to international, regional, and local stakeholders to realize a long-term project. Other renowned institutions joined us on an ad-hoc basis. 

Through workshops, closed briefings, and extensive research projects, the project actively engaged with actors in NES. Our primary target groups included local political leaders, regional and international officials, and civil society.

The team engaged civil society actors from the start of the project in parallel as an alternative advocate for peace to the political track. The continuous engagement of civil society in meetings and media appearances helped pressure political leaders to start implementing confidence-building measures.

A series of meetings and closed briefings with experts and officials from the interested regional and international powers were held. Discussions in these meetings allowed stakeholders to better understand the political situation as well as the huge potential for achieving a mutually beneficial deal between the Government of Syria (GoS) and regional powers. Our efforts, along with similar initiatives by others, encouraged countries such as the USA and France to engage in dialogues and host official meetings among Kurdish actors.

The dialogues were supported by the publication of many policy papers and background papers. Some topics had never been formally studied before our initiative.

 
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    Achievements

    The intra-Kurdish dialogue project enabled local political actors and international backers to engage in confidence-building measures. As well as this, it propelled interventions in the region to a Track I dialogue, with official state presence. This began in Paris and was moved to NES where it was hosted by the Syrian Democratic Forces and supported by the USA. 

    In numbers, 22 background, briefing, and policy papers were published, more than  70 briefing visits by the project team to partners and donors took place, 38 Track II and III meetings between different stakeholders were hosted with more than 500 participants, and five meetings between experts and state officials were held.

    Institutional development in Northeast Syria: Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan and Kosovo

    After more than a decade of conflict, institutions in the autonomously governed region of Northeast Syria (NES) are beginning to develop. Some years previously, Iraqi Kurdistan and Kosovo were in comparable positions. This paper analyzes institutions in NES, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Kosovo, providing recommendations as the Autonomous Administration attempts to earn local and international legitimacy.

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    Education process in ethnically diverse regions in NES

    Education in Northeast Syria (NES) is one of the most controversial political topics on the agenda. The Autonomous Administration (AA) asserts the right for students to be taught in their native language but the Government of Syria does not recognize non-Arabic accreditations, leading to difficulties for students later on.

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    Project development stages

    Phase I, 2018: Intra-Kurdish Dialogue

    We invited Kurdish parties, mainly the Kurdish National Council (ENKS/KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) to come together to resolve their differences and create a road map for solving relevant issues.

    During the initial stage of the project, a series of meetings was organized with Syrian Kurdish actors across the political spectrum, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Track II and III meetings that included officials from different levels from Kurdish party leaders, local dignitaries were hosted. Our work has helped bridge different views in the region, elevating the issue of the Kurdish political agreement to popular demand.

    Phase II, 2020: Priorities of Arab-majority regions

    In the second phase, IMPACT and the EastWest Institute, along with local partners, expanded the scope of dialogues to other ethnic groups. A particular focus was placed on Arab-Arab and Arab-Kurdish dialogue in this phase. Our team supported civil actors in agreeing on regional priorities and improving Arab representation in NES. In doing so, IMPACT aimed at mitigating the risk of conflict among and between the groups in the future. 

    The project was then expanded to include Arab political leaders from the NES in preparation for a potential region-wide dialogue. Since the Arab political community in NES relies on tribal and political leaders to negotiate on its behalf, it was crucial to align the expectations and priorities of these leaders.

    Phase III, 2022: AANES Reform and Public Trust

     

    Currently, trust in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES/AA) is varied, in many instances quite low. A sustainable, efficient, and legitimate governance structure in Northeast Syria (NES) should reflect the diverse demographics of the region. Representation and inclusivity in the administration of NES are key to increasing local, regional, and international legitimacy. In addition, reforming the administration is essential to tackle the challenges of lack of resources, provision of services to a larger population, and reducing the influence of ideology on government structures.

    Reforming the AA to include locals in the decision-making process and best use its resources will help increase public satisfaction. This initiative attempts to introduce practical solutions and provide recommendations to solve political disagreements and the public disapproval of AANES policies.

    By introducing policies to be integrated into existing administrative structures, meaningful reform could take place. Inclusivity in governance is key for the stability and legitimacy of the AANES because it will allow Arab, Assyrian leaders, and non-PYD Kurdish actors to directly influence policymaking.

    The main objectives of this project are to:

    1) Build public trust in AANES through more inclusive and participatory policy and political decision-making processes.

    2) Provide recommendations to AANES to advance the current legal framework and enhance principles of accountability, transparency, and citizen representation in AANES decision-making processes.

    This program was made possible through funding from a host of partners such as the European Union, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and many invisible donors.

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