ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Kurds in Syria declared a provincial government in the north of the country on Tuesday, consolidating their geographic and political presence on the eve of peace talks in Switzerland at which they will not be represented.
The municipal council will run affairs in one of three administrative districts set up by Kurds, who have seized upon the chaos of Syria’s civil war to assert control in the northeast of the country.
The body, which will preside over an area including the cities of Hassaka and Qamishli, has its own president and ministers of foreign affairs, defense, justice and education, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based monitoring group said elections would be held in four months’ time.
The push for greater autonomy by Kurds in Syria has unnerved regional powers, in particular neighboring Turkey, already dealing with similar demands from its own Kurdish population.
It has also brought them into direct conflict with rebels and Islamist fighters, who last year tried to take territory from them.
The Kurds have been left largely to their own devices so far by Syrian government forces that are more preoccupied with fighting rebels and Islamist groups.
Kurds asked to send a separate delegation to the “Geneva 2” talks, saying their demands in negotiations over Syria’s future differed from those of both the government and the opposition National Coalition that seeks to end President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
But the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish group in Syria, said its request had been denied, blaming regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well as the United States for obstructing it.
The peace talks were in disarray on Tuesday before they began, buffeted by a botched United Nations invitation to Iran, an explosion in Beirut and new evidence that appears to implicate Assad’s government in the torture and killing of thousands of prisoners.
Some Kurdish parties have agreed to attend the talks under the umbrella of the Western-backed National Coalition, but the PYD said it would not be bound by any resolutions reached in Switzerland.
The PYD is aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade war with the Turkish state that killed more than 40,000 people.
Last week the PKK’s political umbrella group criticized the talks and said in a statement that the opposition was no better than Assad’s ruling Baath party, which has long marginalized Syria’s ethnic Kurdish minority.
“At a time when all sides are being invited to the conference, the Kurds’ demand for participation has been overlooked,” read the statement.
“Their (the Syrian opposition‘s) attitude is no different from that of the Baath regime. They don’t take seriously the demands of the Kurdish people, just like Turkey’s attitude.”
The statement likened the talks to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that drew the borders between modern Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, carving the Kurds’ ethnic homeland into four parts.
“They (the Kurds) lived one century suffering the outcomes of Lausanne,” the statement said. “Therefore, they will not allow Geneva 2 to be another Lausanne for them.”
Editing by Mike Collett-White