Kurdish-majority Syrian canton dependent on Assad

The Kurdish-majority northeast of Syria is still largely dependent on President Bashar Assad’s government, which maintains a strong presence there despite the declaration of Kurdish autonomy, analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi wrote on the Middle East Forum.

The Syrian Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Syria are divided into three self-declared autonomous cantons, with Afrin, currently under attack by Turkish forces, in the northwest, Kobane in the middle and Jazeera in the northeast.

Tamimi said Assad’s forces still had a sizeable presence in and around the city of Qamishli, the main city in the Jazeera canton.

“The city is largely under the control of the autonomous administration, but the regime maintains a notable presence in a section known as the Security Square,” Tamimi said.

“The Syrian flag and posters and placards featuring Assad’s portrait are on display in the area. Traffic policemen affiliated with the Syrian government can also be seen in the area and in proximity to it. In addition, the regime controls Qamishli airport and the road leading to it.”

There were a number of armed groups controlling different parts of the city, he said, plus forces loyal to Assad in parts of Qamishli.

Although Jazeera calls itself autonomous from Syria, there are still large swathes of public life where the regime still has a powerful hand. The Syrian government still provides the curriculum for high schools in the area and pays the schools’ teachers, while there are dual-track public services in areas such as electricity provision.

More importantly, al-Tamimi said, it appeared that the Syrian government was still involved in the extraction of the oil resources in the canton.

Although there were some in the area who supported a return to centralised Assad rule, he said, minorities in particular felt their interests were much better served by the autonomous Kurdish-led administration.