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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Shekoh Abbas, the leader of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. He has joined with U.S. Syrian Sunni reformer Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser to advance the cause of Syrian democracy via the Syrian Democratic Coalition.
FP: Sherkoh Abbas, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about what might happen in Syria when and if Assad falls.
What do you see as following the overthrow of Assad?
Abbas: Thank you for having me, Jamie.
Basically if Assad goes, for sure it will be civil war, but if we wait too long there will be much more bloodshed or full-scale civil war. It has already started, in my opinion. There has been cleansing and fighting going on between Alawites and Sunni.
Compare the situation to Lebanon. Lebanon used to be a place for proxy war where the regimes would fight each other. However, the quicker we jump into an inclusive way out of what is going on, the better it is for Syrians and the international community. We see federalism in Syria as an inclusive way-out because it will address secular needs of stakeholders from Sunnis, Kurds, Alawites, Christians and other minorities, which will accelerate regime change in an orderly way.
Syria needs to be a workable state that is inclusive of certain stakeholders, not a failed state as it is now. This is an opportunity for the West to do things right, build a successful state, and assure that Syria doesn’t move into full scale civil war. Stakeholders may include Russia maintaining a presence in the coastal area, while the development ensues of an Alawite State, Kurdish State on the north side, and Aleppo and Damascus States for the rest of Syria. This will minimize or prevent proxy wars in our view because stakeholders will not be forced to submit to a strong central government that could oppress them.
The only way to remove support from the regime is to create an Alawite region or state and to separate the Alawites and their supporters as a people from their small presence in the regime. The solution is working with all groups in an inclusive approach and by promoting support for federalism or confederation for the above states/regions. Otherwise, we see there is a full civil war that can only get worse around the corner.
Folks from the U.S. State Department, Turkey, Qatar, and Gulf countries are currently supporting Islamist groups who seek another dictatorship, but this is not an option for Syria. These folks want a strong man and one address to go to for dealing with Syria, but the best thing is to find a way out that and address the interest of the Syrians, Russians, Europeans, the U.S., and regional counties, including Israel. Furthermore, there needs to be the inclusion of the interests of all minorities such as Kurds, Alawaite, Druz and Christians, otherwise it won’t work.
FP: Do you envision a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood as in Egypt?
Abbas: The answer is not to bring Sharia Law into Syria. A dictator, theocrat, or someone who is an appointed or selected national leader is not acceptable for Syria. We can independently find our own secular leadership that allows the people to have more of a say over their states within the new Syria.
When Syria split from the United Arab Republic, the Kurds suffered under the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. And now in Egypt they are trying to control people like the Coptic Christians. They are immediately trying to Arabize and convert the Copts, who deserve to have their rights protected. The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over one institution at a time, to ultimately change things as they wish. Therefore, since Kurds are a part of Syria, they need to have a say over their own affairs.
In Syria, all the minorities constitute a majority, like Alawites who have a lot of weapons and Russian support. With the influx of Iran, Hezbollah, and related extremist forces, there is developing violence and risk for proxy wars.
It is important for the international community to address Syria and establish a compromise. Sunnis, Kurds, Russia, Europeans, everyone should have a piece of the pie through establishing law and joint leadership like any other inter-state alliance or confederation.
The State Department should consider that Syrians should have their own rights to have states, like the United States does. We have people on the ground who organize independently. We need to take responsibility for our own democracy and our own human rights issues, because if Islamic extremists take control of Syria, it will be worse than what is happening now.
FP: So there is a possible democratic alternative? A separate Kurdish state in Syria?
Abbas: Historically, Kurds have been presidents, prime ministers, and top ranking generals in Syria before Baath took over more than 4 decades ago. Looking back, Kurds have had their rights revoked, citizenship revoked, tortured, oppressed and killed. In short, we have no rights at all in Syria. We want to exercise our rights of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to decide for ourselves in our own area, and bring prosperity to our people and to Syria as a whole.
We should have federalism and nothing less, otherwise there will be no government. The current arrangement under Assad is unsustainable. We just need to have a say in the future Syria.
Alawites want more than Kurds, but they are afraid to speak up, because they will suffer more if they speak out. The Druze will also suffer if they speak out. We have been accused of being Zionist or of seeking to create a second Zionist state in the Middle East. We have learned to deal with it. Also, Iran and Turkey agree to keep Syria as a centralized state to avoid a domino affect within their own countries.
The current centralized government does not serve justice for all. We need a new form of checks and balances, where the people have their own identities and where federalism blocks Islamic extremism and dictatorships.
FP: What should U.S. policy be toward the current struggle?
Abbas: The U.S. is not taking sufficient action; it should address the removal of Iran’s influence.
The U.S. has a choice in using the international community to make a decision. It was successful in the past to lead, even during the era of the Soviet Union. Now, the U.S. does not want “regime change,” it is looking for a dictator, like the Muslim Brotherhood or a secular dictator for a continuation of a centralized Syrian government, while using Russia as an excuse.
But there is a better policy.
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