Officials from both the Syrian government and rebel groups met “indirectly” in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 23, 2017 in an attempt to secure a peace deal and end the six-year-long conflict that continues to ravage the country, according to The Guardian.

Mediated by Turkey, Iran, and Russia, the Astana negotiations have largely focused on extending the Turkish-Russian ceasefire agreement and devising a new Syrian constitution. Under the guidance of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian officials presented a draft constitution on Tuesday. Because of its problematic provisions, opposition leaders immediately rejected the proposal.

Under the new constitution, President Bashar Al-Assad would remain the uncontested leader of Syria for at least seven more years before seeking reelection. Sharia would also have no role whatsoever in the country’s legal system. One of the more interesting, and less discussed, features of the draft constitution is that it imposes a name change on Syria. According to a Middle East Eye column by Karim El-Bar, the “Syrian constitution prepared by Russia suggests that the word ‘Arab’ will be removed from the official name of the Syrian Arab Republic.” This would not be the first time Russia has pushed for this alteration:

As far back as June 2016, the state-owned Russian news agency [Sputnik] reported: “Russia suggested that Syria should change its official name from the Syrian Arab Republic to the Republic of Syria, in order to appeal to ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Turkmen.”

Pre-war Syria had a 74 percent majority Arab population; nine percent were Kurds and there were about 100,000 Turkmen.

According to Sputnik, the draft constitution says: “The Syrian Republic is an independent democratic sovereign state based on the principles of people and supremacy of law and equality and social unity and respect of the rights and the liberties of all citizens without any differentiation. The names of the Syrian Republic and Syria are equal.”

Sputnik suggested the move was linked to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future status of Kurdish regions in Syria.

“The Kurdish cultural self-ruling systems and its organisations use both the Arabic and Kurdish languages equally,” the draft read. “Upon the national heritage, which promotes national unity, the cultural diversity of the Syrian society will be ensured.”

Any Kurdish autonomy would be strictly cultural, as opposed to political or economic, with the draft stating: “Any loss of Syrian territories is not acceptable, change of state borders can only be allowed through a general referendum with the participation of all citizens.”

Read the entire column here.

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