The 'Future Syria Party' was launched in Syria's Raqqa, which is held by the YPG, with the initiative of US officials, signalling US' future plans for the country.
A new party called “Future Syria Party” was launched in YPG/PKK-occupied Raqqa on Tuesday, after a foundation congress attended by Kurdish and Arab representatives and a US defence official.
Sources in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province told Anadolu Agency that it was formed as a part of a US initiative in parts of northern Syria occupied by the YPG/PKK.
Although the party does not include visible references to the PKK or YPG, US officials discussed the new party’s launch during recent meetings with YPG/PKK members, the sources said.
Party structure and members
At Tuesday’s congress, Ibrahim al Qaftan was made chairman of the new party. Qaftan had been a member of Syria’s Baath Party in Manbij before the Syria conflict erupted in 2011.
Qaftan assumed the presidency of Manbij’s local council after the district was occupied by the YPG/PKK terrorist group.
Hefrin Halaf, who joined the YPG/PKK in 2016, was elected secretary-general of the new party.
Answering questions about the new party, US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Tuesday said, “We would welcome any party that’s committed to UN Security Council Resolution 2254.”
The new party, Nauert added, “is multi-ethnic and…representative of the people living in that area”.
The party’s 81 executive board members include representatives from Raqqa, Tal Abyad, Ayn al Arab (Kobani), Deir Ezzor, Manbij, Afrin, Idlib and Aleppo.
Afrin and Idlib are held by the opposition groups while Aleppo is controlled by the regime. The YPG's new political party is signalling to its aim of having political existence in these regions as well.
Unlike other organisations launched by the YPG/PKK, "Future Syria Party" does not have a co-president.
The party was formed after a period of negotiations, partially carried about Omar Alloush, a key Kurdish figure who was able to hold talks between Kurds, Arabs, the US and the Syrian regime alike. However, just days before the official founding congress of the party, he was assassinated in his home.
Second name change
This is the second time a PKK branch in Syria has taken direction at the advice of the US, who views them as a valuable proxy in the region. This time they are rebranding the political wing of PKK's Syrian affiliate, the PYD.
“We have always said that they [the PYD/YPG/PKK] changed places and names,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in response to the establishment of the Future Syria Party. “We come across them by another name in Syria and another name in Iraq.”
In addition to maintaining a military and special forces presence in northern Syria, the US has also supplied the YPG with armament, training, technical and logistical support that has helped the militant organisation overtake large swaths of land in the region, despite intense objections from NATO ally Turkey.
The US insisted that it was not arming the YPG, but rather the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) an umbrella organisation established in 2015 that included only a small number of Arabs, Christians and other groups.
But the YPG forms the backbone of the SDF, and the head of the US special forces admitted that the US had urged the YPG to rebrand itself to assuage Turkish concerns and lend the group legitimacy.
Months later, however, the spokesman for the US coalition said the US would have “a lot of fighting to do, even after ISIS [Daesh] has been defeated in Raqqa."
"Our mission ... is to defeat ISIS [Daesh] in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability," Dillon said.
Assuaging Turkey’s concerns
The new Future Syria Party was launched under the banner of a “democratic, pluralistic and decentralised Syria,” a softening of rhetoric to YPG demands for autonomy or a federal system, into 'decentralisation.'
Avoiding mention of a specific date for when they will cut all the support for the YPG, a US official told TRT World that they would like to assure Turkey on the territorial integrity of Syria.
“We have no ambitions to create any sort of autonomous zones within Syria. From time to time, people suggest that we have some interest in creating a Syrian equivalent to the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq; that’s not our policy. We have no such interest,” the official said.
In recent weeks, the US has backtracked on some of its statements regarding its support for the YPG. The US official acknowledged that the YPG is an affiliate of a US-designated terror group:
“It’s true that the US over the years has encouraged the YPG to break with the PKK, to cease its connection with the PKK. People are very sceptical on if that’s possible. But it would be useful if it were.”
The US has been supporting the YPG in Syria for several years, a strategy that has driven a wedge between the US and its NATO ally, Turkey, which views the group as a direct threat to Turkey’s national security.
PKK is a designated terror organisation by Turkey and the US and has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 30 years.
Tensions between the two countries reached new heights after the start of Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch, which targeted the YPG and Daesh remnants in Afrin. Turkey has also been signalling to extend its operation to YPG-occupied Manbij, where there is also a US troop presence.
However, the US and Turkey started holding talks in February in an effort to start normalising relations. The first visit by then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February included talks for creating a mechanism to “dilute” the YPG’s control in the region.
The YPG's growth along northern Syria as well as the establishment of an autonomous region under its control poses a significant security threat for Turkey.