|The Kurds and the Future of Syria|
By Joseph Pude
The recent announcement by the Obama administration that it intends to provide arms and funds to the Syrian rebels, begs a number of key questions. One such question is why the administration has not been cultivating a democratic and secular alternative to the radical Islamist led rebel camp that hijacked the Syrian revolution. In fact, there is an alternative to the radical Islamist rebels on one hand, and the repressive Assad dictatorship on the other, according to Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNAS).
In an interview this reporter had with Sherkoh Abbas on Thursday, June 20, 2013, Abbas stated that it is vital for the U.S. administration to support a federalized Syria, “by establishing a Kurdish Federal region in the North, a Druze region in the Southwest, an Alawite region in western Syria, in addition to a Sunni region in the rest of Syria. If Syria does not become a federal state, two outcomes would emerge from the current ethnic cleansing we are witnessing. Should the Assad regime prevail, it would restore its dictatorial character with the help of Iran, Hezbollah, Shiite-led Iraq, Russia, and China. On the other hand, should the Muslim Brotherhood led rebels win, supported by Turkey, the U.S., EU, and the Gulf Arab monarchies, they would initiate a bloodbath, cleansing particularly minority groups that either worked or appeared to be working with the Assad regime.” Regardless of which side wins, according to Abbas, it will be to the disadvantage of the minority groups such as the Kurds, Christians, Druze and even the Alawites.
Abbas added that unless Syria becomes a federated state where ethnic and religious communities possess their own autonomous region, the stability, safety, and security in the entire Middle East region will be jeopardized. Moreover, the instability currently in Syria will spill over to the neighboring states such as Jordan. In addition, the Islamist organizations will get stronger and pose an even greater threat.
Asked about the impact the U.S. intervention would have on the ongoing conflict in Syria, Abbas replied, “Obama’s efforts to aid the Syrian rebels will not help the situation because it is supporting one extremist camp now associated with the rebels (Arab nationalists and radical Islamists) that has been issuing threats to the minority groups in Syria. This will increase the support of Alawis, Christians, Shia, and Druze for the Assad regime. The Kurds are on the sidelines and do not support either side, since neither one of the camps has shown goodwill toward the Kurds.” Abbas elaborated further that the U.S. supplied weapons will eventually end up in the hands of the radical Islamists who will use them against the neighboring states and U.S. allies (i.e. Israel, Jordan). According to Abbas, Obama needs to refrain from supporting political Islam and work with democratic groups to promote a federated Syria.
And what do the Kurds in their own region of Syria want? Sherkoh Abbas was emphatic about that. They would like independence, if they could choose. Kurds have the moral right to assert their self-determination, just like all other people. Reality, however, dictates that at the moment, the best option possible is a status similar to that of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Unfortunately, Abbas explained, the Kurdish region is under the control of the Assad regime through its Kurdish surrogates – the so-called Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD is used to “interface with people of the region instead of having direct control by the Assad regime in Damascus.” The regime has replaced its former Arab staff with some Kurds (PYD) in response to the suspected sympathies these Sunni Arabs (local/settlers) supposedly held for the rebels. The Assad regime can trust the PYD Kurds more than the Sunni Arabs. Moreover, the PYD is used as an instrument to control the Kurds, and prevent them from declaring independence or full autonomy.
Can Syria remain a unitary state? No, says Abbas in an equally unequivocal voice. He explained that both the Assad regime and the radical Islamist rebels have positioned themselves to carve out their particular stakes. The Alawi-led Assad regime and their fellow Shiite sympathizers seek to maintain a unitary Syrian state, but are keenly aware that this is a dim prospect at best. The regime has, therefore, cleansed the area of Western Syria to secure it as a fall back. The Sunni Islamist rebels are seething with revenge for the high murder toll committed by the Alawi-Shiite regime of Bashar Assad in the current civil war (upward of 95,000 killed) and his father Hafez, who committed the Hama massacre in 1982 of close to 30,000 individuals associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Sunni Islamists are determined to expunge the Alawi-Shiite presence from Syria.
If the Assad regime wins, it will appear as a victory for Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, and a defeat for America and Western Europe. In addition, Iran would become a regional power and would dictate terms to the greater Middle East region from Iraq to Tunisia. This could lead to the Arab Gulf states breaking their alliance with the U.S. and moving toward Russia and China to protect their interests. The U.S. will lose its influence and prestige in the region and beyond.
Obama’s inability to stop Iran’s nuclear project through negotiations, and his unwillingness to use military means has prompted the U.S. President to seek a face-saving agreement with Iran. Obama wants the Iranian nuclear project to be under Russian control. And Russia, reeling from its Cold War defeat and the end of the Soviet Union, is using Iran to bolster its position in the region while Iran seeks to become the regional hegemon.
The U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran in the Syrian conflict should be to foster a new Syria, which means a federated Syria with equal power to minorities such as Kurds, Alawis, Christians, Druze, and, of course, Sunni Arabs. The decentralization of Syria would also reduce, if not eliminate, Iran’s influence and its proxies in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. A setback for Iran in the Syrian conflict would eventually translate into a suspended nuclear program, and the eventual demise of the mullahtocracy.
Abbas summed up the situation saying, “As the Sunni and Shiite (Alawi) camps are battling to eradicate each other, and the Kurds have become the linchpin for mediating a solution for Syria’s bloodletting. Yet, the Obama administration has chosen to ignore the Kurds and instead, support the largely radical Islamist Sunni rebels. This comes at the expense of a vast majority of Syrians from multi-ethnic and religious groups that make up today’s Syria. Obama’s choice is unfortunately a prescription for failure. The alternative to the two bad choices, namely, the Assad regime and its Iranian sponsors on one hand and the Islamist rebels on the other, is a democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Syria, with the Kurds at the center of such a democratic alliance.”