By: Sherkoh Abbas and Robert B. Sklaroff, For The Bulletin
The major remaining obstacle to Iraq's achieving political and military surcease is Iranian-backed Muqtada al-Sadr,
and the major obstacle to Israeli-Arab peacemaking is Syrian-backed terrorism. The Iranian octopus funds unrest throughout the Middle East, and Syrian tentacles have strangled Democracy from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq's al-Anbar Province to the Sudan.
But Syria's hegemony is also inward-directed, targeting its largest ethnic minority, the Kurds. Lacking representation in this Ba'athist regime, Kurdistan of Syria (its capital is Qamishlo) needs international support to replicate Iraq's success in meshing tripartite ethnicity (Shiite, Sunni, Kurd), itself mirroring the inherent strength of America's "melting pot" legacy.
Thus, the next move in this geopolitical chess game must focus on optimizing legitimate Kurdish interests in Syria - not withstanding the Turkish-PKK conflict - for it promises incremental isolation of Iran's mullahs.
Kurdish unrest stems from a 1962 census, which stripped Kurds of their citizenship rights. Even if Kurds proved Syrian-residence dating from Ottoman Empire or the French mandate, or if they had served in the military, they still lost their nationality. Since then, even if they met requirements for regaining citizenship, they were unable to acquire recognition. As a result, Arabs were resettled on confiscated land in the northeast region - rich in natural resources - to buffer Syrian and Turkish Kurds.
This "Arabization policy" has resulted in rendering its 300,000 Kurds "stateless foreigners" and subject to oppression. Syria's Constitution affords no protection for Kurds - or, indeed, for any other minorities. They have been rendered "non-citizens" and thereby deprived of basic rights to obtain basic social services.
They cannot own property, vote, be publicly employed, travel freely within the country, obtain passports or even practice certain professions (such as medicine or teaching). Couples are deemed "single" and, thus, cannot share a hotel room or register their children. These 100,000 children of unrecognized marriages are denied access to education, food subsidies and health care and, thus, are forced to work, aspiring to menial careers of cotton-picking, cigarette-selling and shoe-shining.
Some Kurds have attempted to be smuggled abroad, after which time they have sought refugee status. Their plight prompted supportive actions from international organizations such as the European Union and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
As recently as this past summer, the Human Rights Committee - the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties - again called upon Syria to "protect and promote the rights of non-citizen Kurds."
It is ironic, also, that the 40 million Kurds are non-Arab, predominantly Sunni Muslims. Despite being co-religionists, they have become inveigled in Syria's support of the Islamic v. Judeo-Christian clash of civilizations.
Iraq provides a model for how to resolve the tug-of-war between nationalism and regionalism.
The Iraqi Constitution allows for its 18 provinces to elect to congeal their resources to join into cooperative territories. It might even be possible to apply the Kurdish Peshmerga model when authorizing local militias to police their own neighborhoods, to relate with indigenous populations with which they harbor cultural linkages.
This would be akin to America's state-level national guards that coexist under the auspices of the national military. It would not undermine the Iraqi army's efforts to protect borders and to defeat out-of-control private militias (e.g., the Mahdi Army).
All the while, quasi-autonomous Kurdistan serves as a homeland to which Kurds living abroad emigrate and pay visits, just as Israel interrelates with (and enriches) Jews living in the Diaspora. Similarly, other countries could be encouraged (gently or more forcibly) to allow their peoples to mesh a countrywide sense of patriotism with a local sense of pride.
Because the nations comprising the Middle East were arbitrarily created after World War I, unrest among definable sub-groups constantly threatens their stability. America must help them to evolve from dictatorship to democracy, from autocracy to freedom, from militarism to free-market economies, from suppression of human rights to the creation of city-states that can flourish in this new millennium. This modernization effort must include legitimizing nationalistic urges, for resolving such chronic conflict would enhance creation of a durable peace in this volatile region. One excellent example of a democratic and free-market region is the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
As the United States envisions a diminution of involvement in Iraq, engendered has been a country that respects women's rights and human rights. Just as Iraq recognizes the right of self-determination for definable nationalities, America will do well to empower whole populations elsewhere that nurture traditions that transcend artificial boundaries.
Syria serves as a useful target for the ongoing struggle to liberate peoples such as the Kurds, for their freedom will necessarily undermine despots who aspire to impose Shariah law locally and internationally. Sultanates and Islamic republics that accommodate minorities are just fine; worldwide caliphates under Dhimmi are not.
Finally, free world leaders need to answer the following question: Why there are 22 Arab states, but not a single Kurdish state?
Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. He may be contacted at
. Dr. Sklaroff is a hematologist, oncologist and internist. He may be contacted at