Kurdish Leader: Federalism Essential to Prevent Syrian Civil War PDF Print E-mail

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan -- In a recent interview with Rudaw, Abdulhakim Bashar, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Syria, discussed the ongoing unrest in Syria and the Kurdish role in the uprisings. Bashar spoke of the Kurdish demand for democracy in a new Syria.


Rudaw: Do you think the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will step down?


Abdulhakim Bashar: In politics, there is no such thing as an absolute answer. However, the recent developments in the region indicate that he has to go. The dictators are being toppled and democratic systems are replacing them.


Rudaw: Do you think the future Syrian government will treat the Kurds well?


Abdulhakim Bashar: The situation in Syria is unclear. The current opposition is a mix of liberals, conservatives and nationalists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Socialist Union Party which is a copy of the Baath Party. For example, the Social Union Party’s doesn’t disagree with the current regime over Syria’s future; instead it’s about power. We’ll work with the liberals to lessen the role of the nationalists and conservatives in order to have democratic Syria in the future.


Rudaw: The Muslim Brotherhood and the Socialist Union Party are currently leading the Syrian opposition. Have any assurances been made that post-Assad Syria will change for the better?

Abdulhakim Bashar: Syria has ethnic diversity, including Arabs, Kurds and Assyrians. It also has religious diversity including Muslims, Christians, Alawis and Druze. Those groups far outweigh the Sunni Arab Muslims. The Muslim Brotherhood can only operate with the Sunni Arabs. I believe the Muslim Brotherhood will play a role in post-Assad Syria but it won’t be a major player. We also have to try to weaken their position and that defines our struggle with Turkey. Turkey wants the Muslim Brotherhood in power so that Kurdish rights won’t be enshrined in the new constitution and belittles the Kurdish cultural rights such as opening schools and institutions in the Kurdish language. Turkey doesn’t want to see the Kurds in Syria’s new constitution as the second ethnic group. The Turkish are concerned that if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in the new Syrian constitution then Turkey will have to do the same.


Rudaw: How can you challenge Turkey with this issue while the Muslim Brotherhood is winning in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt? There’s no doubt that Turkey will have a big influence on Syria’s future.


Abdulhakim Bashar: The Islamic movement in Syria is more open. There is currently a Justice and Development Movement which is a modern Islamic group and they recognize the Kurdish rights. The Muslim Brotherhood is an old-fashioned, conservative movement that believes Syria is only an Islamic and Arab country. The Muslim Brotherhood believes election results will finalize everything, but if two nations exist in a country then everything shouldn’t be finalized based on an election. There has to be coordination between the parties; for example, in Switzerland the Germans make up 70 percent of the country. If the winner had the final word on everything then the Italians and French in Switzerland wouldn’t have any say because they are minority. We intend to challenge Turkey by weakening the Muslim Brotherhood’s position in the Syria National Council through creating alliances with the liberals. Syria is not like Morocco and Tunisia. Tunisia is only one nation but Syria is diverse, ethnically and religiously.


Rudaw: President Assad asked to meet with you and he promised to amend Syria’s constitution and grant Kurdish rights. Why did you reject his invitation?


Abdulhakim Bashar: After Assad requested to meet with us, we asked for some time and later voiced four conditions: 1) (Kurdish-majority) Qamishlo and Efrin should be made a province 2) National identifications cards should be issued to all Kurds who don’t have any identity documents. 3) The Kurdish language should become an official language in Syria. 4) There must be pledges and good-faith intentions to respect Kurdish rights.


We said that if they met our conditions, then we would meet with them. But the regime didn’t respond to us.


Rudaw: What’s the best scenario for Syria? Will the Muslim Brotherhood create an Islamic state?


“Federalism will be the only solution for Syria.”


Abdulhakim Bashar: After the fall of the social movements in the Arab countries, Arab nationalists replaced them but they were overthrown too. The same thing might happen to the Islamists because it’s difficult for the Islamic movements to run a modern-day government. I believe that one of the possibilities for the new Syria is that the country will be divided into four independent regions based on its geographic locations. Many people believe this is impossible for Syria but it happened in Sudan. In Syria, it’s impossible for the Alawite tribe to live under the rule of the Sunni Arabs so this will cause a big problem in the country. Federalism will be the only solution for Syria.


Rudaw: The Kurdish National Council in Syria demands self-determination for the Kurds. What do you mean by that exactly? Is it autonomy, federalism or independence? Don’t you think you have to make this clear?


Abdulhakim Bashar: Yes, I believe we should reveal it. The opposition is currently working on the new constitution. We, as Kurds, are trying to figure out what the Kurds need to demand. At the first stage, the Syrian opposition should recognize self-determination as basic to solve the issues. Because if civil war breaks out in Syria, then we’ll demand federalism, and that’s why sometimes being unclear with your demands has advantages.


Rudaw: Don’t you think that if you don’t clarify your demands or have some kind of agreement in advance that it might hurt Kurdish interests in the future?


Abdulhakim Bashar: The US is not yet content with the Syrian National Council because the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the key players in it. The Americans don’t want for Muslim Brotherhood to have strong position in this council. They recognized the council as a negotiator, not a Syrian representative. If the Kurds participate in this council, then maybe the US and the European Union will recognize the council.


Rudaw: Did Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani ask you to clarify your goals?


Abdulhakim Bashar: Yes, he told us the more we clarify our goals, the better it is.


Rudaw: What’s your demand at this stage?


Abdulhakim Bashar: Federalism for the Kurds. We’ll work to make this possible in Syria. I believe that if federalism isn’t established in Syria the country will head toward a long-term civil war. It is impossible for the Sunnis and Alawites to live together. We, as the Kurds, won’t be a part of that war; instead, we will be part of the solution. The Sunnis feel like they have been oppressed by the Alawites for the past 40 years.


Rudaw: It is said that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has around 2,000 fighters in Afrin. Is there any risk of civil war among the Kurds?

Abdulhakim Bashar: We, in the Kurdish National Council, will not allow a civil war to happen between the Kurds, but if a Kurdish party comes and kills us then we will respond.


Rudaw: The Democratic Union Party (PYD) has created its own councils in the Kurdish areas and it has weapons. Aren’t these activities leading to a civil war?


Abdulhakim Bashar: This is not the first time the PKK does such things. First, when the Parliament was founded in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK tried the same thing in Turkey. When the government was formed in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKK started a similar thing by forming councils in the Kurdish areas in Syria and Turkey. These are just temporary acts and they aren’t long-term, strategic plans.


Rudaw: Concerning the Kurdish National Council, the PYD says the representatives and members of the council should have been elected by people before participating in the convention. Is that why the PYD withdrew from the convention?


Abdulhakim Bashar: The PYD keep changing what it says. I believe the PYD can’t work with the other parties. The PYD knows its popularity has declined. It now wants to take sides. First, they demanded an election in the Kurdish areas but election is impossible in this situation. Later, they came and told us they should be considered as four parties -- youth, women, martyr families and the PYD. We told them, based on that, we have to be considered eight parties because we are twice as big as they are. We all have to work together as brothers. We now have the same voice as the smallest Kurdish party in the national council.


Rudaw: The PYD has two conditions in order to work with you. First, you shouldn’t have any connections with the Syrian National Council. Second, you should declare that you’re opposed to any foreign intervention to remove the Syrian regime. Do you accept these conditions?


Abdulhakim Bashar: We don’t accept any conditions on negotiations. We refused to accept the Baathist conditions and we also refuse the PYD’s conditions. We are happy to form a committee to work with them, but we won’t accept any conditions. Foreign intervention isn’t our decision. We are participating in the Syrian National Council for two reasons. First, the council is supported by the majority of Syrians and we aim to build relationships with the other liberal parties in the council to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood’s role.


Rudaw: The opposition recognized the Kurds as 10 percent of Syria’s population. But according to the United Nations survey, the Kurds make up 15 percent of Syria. Which one of these figures do you accept?


Abdulhakim Bashar: We have had a long discussion with the Syrian National Council on this issue. We told them the political issues have to be solved first and then we’ll discuss the percentage of the Kurds in the council, which has to be at least 15 percent. For every committee in the council, there needs to be Kurdish representatives because the Kurds are the second ethnic group in Syria. We also told them that we, the Kurdish National Council, will choose the representatives for the posts, not you.


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