The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and several allied groups have voted to create an autonomous federation in the northern part of Syria.
PYD officials claimed autonomy for the Kurdish-controlled areas on Thursday after two days of meetings with delegates of different communities in the region.
Representatives of the Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian communities and other ethnic groups met in the town of Rmeilan in Hassakeh province to discuss bringing three Kurdish-led autonomous areas under the umbrella of a federal system.
Taj Kordsh, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, one of the groups involved, told Al Jazeera that the move had been made after many attempts by the Kurds to be heard.
“The Kurdish people have been rejected and silenced in the latest peace talks in Geneva,” he said.
“We feel that the world powers are using us as a tool to push forward their agendas. It is now our right to protect ourselves. We do not support dividing Syria, but we expect an equal and fair outcome from the peace talks, and we have not seen any.”
The YPG, Jaish al-Thuwar and other Kurdish groups are all part of the SDF, a coalition that was founded in Syria’s northeastern region in October.
Both the Syrian government and one of the main opposition blocs immediately rejected the move.
The Syrian foreign ministry issued a warning to “anyone who dares to undermine the unity of the land and the people of Syria under any title.”
“Creating a union or a federal system … contradicts the Syrian constitution and all the national concepts and international resolutions,” the statement said.
Rojava autonomy declared
The opposition Syrian National Coalition also said it rejected such unilateral declarations and warned against any attempt to form autonomous regions that it said would “confiscate the will of the Syrian people”.
The newly declared region, known as Rojava, consists of three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under Kurdish control in northern Syria: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.
“At least 200 representatives have met in Rmeilan to put forward this decision. We expect to hold several other meetings to discuss how the administration of this region will be organised,” the statement said.
The move is likely to anger neighbouring Turkey, which fears that growing Kurdish power in Syria is encouraging separatism ambitions amongst its own Kurdish minority.
Idris Nassan, a Syrian Kurdish official and former leader of the Democratic Union Party, said the announcement would mean “widening the framework of self-administration” across northern Syria.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Kobane, Nassan said preparations for federalism had been under way for some time.
“Federalism should be the future not only for northern Syria or the Kurdish regions but for Syria in general, because under federalism democracy and equality will be guaranteed,” he said.
Syria’s Kurds effectively control an uninterrupted 400km of territory along the Syrian-Turkish border from the Euphrates River to the frontier with Iraq, where Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed autonomy since the early 1990s.
They also hold a separate section of the northwestern border in the Afrin area.