Abstract: The intra-Kurdish unity talks between the PYD and the KNC seem to be at an impasse. The unity negotiations, which are undoubtedly the product of times of crisis in Kurdish politics in Syria, started in April 2020, and two rounds of negotiations have already passed. Nevertheless, face-to-face negotiations between the sides stalled months ago, and the third round of talks could not be initiated despite various attempts and US mediation. Moreover, many obstacles lie ahead of the success of the unity talks.
The launch of the Operation Peace Spring by Turkey and its local ally, the Syrian National Army, on October 9, 2019, and the subsequent seizure of a stretch of land between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, inflicted a heavy blow to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the PYD-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The assault paved the way for Syrian regime troops to return to Northern Syria after Turkey and Russia struck a deal[i] on October 22, 2019 in Sochi. Also, thanks to the partial withdrawal of United States (US) troops, Russian forces found the opportunity to spread to the SDF-held areas in Northern Syria, where they were not previously present. Furthermore, Mazloum Abdi, the SDF’s commander-in-chief, under US pressure coupled with the military onslaught, took the lead to launch intra-Kurdish unity talks between the PYD and the Erbil-backed Kurdish National Council, which is also a part of the Istanbul-based Syrian opposition. The military onslaught has clearly shown that the PYD cannot rule the area on its own. Thus, in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis, the SDF, with the mediation of US officials and French support, initiated the talks in April 2020.
We need to bear in mind though that the two sides’ unity talks are not a novel development. Rather, the talks have a history, with the talks in fact are the product of the different crises in Kurdish politics in Syria. The necessity of a united political front/mechanism based on power-sharing for Syrian Kurds has been voiced since the outset of the Syrian War. This was essential for the Syrian Kurds to “project a strong image of themselves to Syrian and international public opinion, and then enter into alliances with non-Kurdish Syrian political parties and blocs.”[ii] To this end, with the mediation of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s (KRI) leadership, the PYD and KNC have reached several agreements ever since 2012. As a result, the two sides brokered the First and Second Erbil Agreements in 2012 and 2013, respectively, before striking another deal dubbed as the Duhok Agreement in 2014. As a result of the First Erbil Agreement, the PYD and KNC even established the short-lived Kurdish Supreme Committee[iii] to jointly govern Northern Syria. Nonetheless, once the sides returned to Syria, their disagreements surfaced, and the agreements become dysfunctional. The result of these failures culminated in the PYD’s establishment of unilateral rule in Kurdish-populated areas. Over time, the KNC weakened gradually, and many of its members were either arrested, killed[iv], or exiled.[v]
Considering the points mentioned above, it is salient that the unity talks between the PYD and KNC were launched due to a new crisis, namely, Operation Peace Spring. Nevertheless, a wing within the PYD led by Aldar Khalil has constantly shown its discontent with the talks. The representatives of this wing are not sympathetic to the idea of power-sharing. Hence, the PYD, in May 2020, established a new coalition named the Kurdish National Unity Parties (PYNK) that comprises 25 parties. Many interpreted this move as an attempt to complicate the already fragile unity talks.