Will Syrian Kurds' first census in Rojava lead to federalism?

Rojava administration launched a campaign for conducting a census in preparation for elections to announce an autonomous political federation in northern Syria.

QAMISHLO, Syrian Kurdistan (Kurdistan24) – The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria (Rojava) launched a campaign last week for conducting a census in the country's three Kurdish-held cantons in preparation for elections to announce an autonomous political federation in northern Syria.

Amid the devastating civil war in the country and the multifaceted conflict that surrounds the ruling forces in Rojava, the potentiality of success remains unclear.

Kurdistan24 covered the census campaign implemented by Rojava Center for Social Studies (RCSS) and talked to three groups: the implementing agency, the opposition parties who boycott the campaign and ordinary people who were the target of the campaign.

Azad Mohammad, a member of RCSS, told Kurdistan24 that the campaign entitled "I am Here" includes the locals who still live in Rojava, the Internal Displaced People (IDPs) who came from the warring areas of the country and the emigrants who left Rojava and settled abroad.

The census, the first in Rojava, aims at providing a database for future projects in Rojava, including studies on mass migration of the Kurds after the breakout of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 and recently the project of federalism and the required elections for announcing it.

The census started last week in the country's northeastern Kurdish-held cities of Derik and Rmeilan on the borders with Turkey and Iraq, and this week several towns of Jazira Canton are covered.

Regarding the staff that implements the census, RCSS stated that about 11,000 teachers and academics were trained for conducting the census and supervising the process.

Rojava officials said the census will cover the Kurdish-held areas and even the predominantly-Arab areas liberated recently by the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), such as Manbij and Tal Abyad.  



Syria's Kurdish National Council (ENKS), the opposition of the PYD-led council that rules Rojava, have boycotted the census for many reasons.

Mihsin Tahir, an ENKS senior member, condemned the PYD for undertaking the census single-handedly. He told Kurdistan24 that such a historical step should involve all of the political parties in Rojava.

"The result of this census will show the declining proportion of the Kurds in Syria because of mass migrations lately, and thus it can be taken as evidence to be used by the authoritarian governments who are against the Kurdish rights," Tahir said.

Tahir further pointed out that a census should be made in peacetime, not wartime because the demographic situation is not stable in a state of war.

Additionally, the Syrian government does not recognize the census, as the PYD did not seek permission from the central government in Damascus.

The census implementing agency, RCSS, on Tuesday replied the statement of the Syrian government official Ali Haidar, Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs.

"The people of Rojava have the right to give legitimacy to the census, not the Syrian government that ignored the area and persecuted its people over five decades," RCSS stated.

On March 17, Syria's Kurdish-controlled northern cantons of Jazira, Kobani and Afrin voted to declare a federal system that unites the three Cantons as an autonomous political federation under the name of "Democratic Federation of Rojava - Northen Syria".

On Sep. 19, the regulatory body, which works on building the new federal government of Rojava-Northern Syria and RCSS, announced the census campaign in preparation for elections and announcing federalism.



It's obvious that the ruling political and military forces of Rojava, including the PYD and its allies, are having a multifaceted conflict both externally and internally.

These obstacles may impede the census process and federalism project.

On the one hand, the YPG-led forces, including the SDF and the recently established military councils of Manbij and Jarabulus are fighting against the Islamic State (IS) and the other al-Qaeda affiliates, and at the same time, they are in conflict with Turkey-based Syrian rebels.

Moreover, the YPG and their allies have clashed with the Syrian army, pro-Assad militias and security forces many times in Qamishlo and Hasaka, and on the political level, both federalism and the census are rejected by the Syrian government.

Nonetheless, the PYD and its military wing, the YPG enjoyed the US protection and support against both IS and the Syrian Army.

Although the YPG is enjoying US military support in their fight against IS, the PYD is experiencing a strong opposition internally. The ENKS reject the political projects and initiatives declared by the Kurdish-led administration in Rojava, which reduces PYD's federal project likelihood of success.


(Additional reporting by Kurdistan24 correspondents Farhad Ahme and Dilovan Chetto)

Editing by Delovan Barwari