Arak – a grape brandy – can be drunk today in cafes along the Euphrates in Raqqa. This city in northeastern Syria had the sad privilege of being the “capital” of Daesh from 2014 to 2017.
This is where most of the terrorist attacks that have hit Europe were planned, in particular those of November 13, 2015, the trial of which is underway in Paris. Two visitors, who come back, testify to well-watered conversations until late at night. Destroyed at 80% during its conquest by a Kurdish militia supported by a Western coalition, Raqqa has been gripped for several months by a construction fever.
Three-quarters of its population are displaced people who fled from other parts of the country. Entrepreneurs from Aleppo, Homs or Hama, cities under the control of the Syrian regime, settle there to take advantage of the more dynamic economic context.
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This stabilization is at work throughout the border region with Turkey and Iraq. It is conducted under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish guerrilla whose main struggle is against Ankara. For eighteen months, a local administration has been in place, accompanying the transition from a context of war to normalized civilian life.
The regional executive, which does not recognize the authority of the Damascus regime, recently published its draft budget for the year 2022 – nearly 630 million dollars (555 million euros) – covered by revenue from 80% of oil production. Expenditure includes in particular the salaries of 130,000 “civil servants”, who carry out increasingly diversified tasks.
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The situation remains fragile and should not be misled. Peace is a distant dream. Northeast Syria is caught in a pincer movement between the Damascus regime, which wants to reassert its sovereignty there, and Turkey, which is deeply hostile and which occupies nearby enclaves. The region is, like the whole country, in a temporary calm troubled by skirmishes on the lines of contact. Balances have been found between hostile armed forces under the patronage of external powers where Russia dominates.
To the northeast, the Kurds; to the northwest, the jihadists of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a former branch of Al-Qaida. Bashar Al Assad’s regime, for its part, governs two-thirds of the territory in a haphazard manner, ceding part of the control to pro-Iranian militias. ISIS is still carrying out a few raids in the desert. Living conditions are catastrophic for the population, half of whom are exiled or displaced across the territory, 80% living below the poverty line. No negotiation process is underway. They were all exhausted, one after the other.
→ INTERVIEW. “In Syria, peace could not be lasting without the prospect of justice”
In this uncertain parenthesis, the Kurdish PYD intends to consolidate its advantage. He circulates in his region a “social contract” presented as a constituent document. He is planning elections which should consolidate his one-party regime: under the rule of the guerrillas, the oppositions have a hard time organizing themselves. This concession to democracy aims to improve relations with the United States and France, which are still present militarily in the area. But the ballot should violently irritate Turkey. On the banks of the Euphrates, the arak also makes it possible not to think too much about the future.