In the midst of the chaos and brutality of the Syrian civil war, it is hard to think of the future. Yet, some day, the exhausted combatants will lay down their arms and look at other ways to finalize the long civil war. One thing is certain, Syria will not be the same.
With millions of Syrians fleeing the country seeking refuge in Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, the population of Syria has dwindled, its infrastructure has been largely destroyed, and the remaining millions are looking for different ways to be governed. They are no longer “thrilled” to be governed by a dictator, or be at the mercy of Islamist fanatics.
The predominantly Sunni-Arab rebels would like to maintain a unitary Syria, led by a Sunni-Muslim Arab. Arab News reported (March 8, 2016) that Riad Hijab, head of the High Negotiation Committee that represents several Syrian opposition groups, insisted that President Bashar Assad must leave Syria “at the start of a transitional process.” He also demanded that Assad “go before international justice and be held accountable for war crimes.” Hijab rejected the idea of a federal system for Syria, warning that “it would lead to partition.” Hijab asserted that “Syrian unity is a red line. This issue is non-negotiable and the idea of federalism is a prelude to the partitioning of Syria.”
Riad Hijab’s views do not reflect the sentiments of a large segment of Syria’s population, and especially those of the minorities. Although most would agree with Hijab about the fact that “Assad must go,” they do not agree about Hijab’s notions of “Syrian unity.”
The Alawite, comprising between 10-15% of Syria’s population, are an off-shoot of Shiite-Islam. Alawites are also the religious sect which spawned the Assads. They would naturally prefer to continue ruling all of Syria, however the circumstances following the 5-year war won’t allow it. To escape the wrath of the majority Sunni-Muslim Arabs, Bashar Assad may ultimately retire to the home base in the Latakia region in northwestern Syria, where the Alawite comprise a majority.
The third significant group in Syria are the Kurds (Syrian Kurds may be numerically a larger community than the Alawites.). They too are estimated to number between 10-15% of Syria’s population. The non-Arab Sunni-Muslim Kurds have been discriminated against for decades by the Assad regime as well as by Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The Kurds (Peshmerga in Iraq) have distinguished themselves both in Iraq and Syria as the most successful fighting force against the Islamic State (IS). Unlike the Arabs, who have 22 sovereign states (Part of the Arab League), 40 million Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria have no sovereign state of their own and have been oppressed everywhere.
Sherkoh Abbas, who is the President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA-S) had this to say about the future of Syria. “Syria and Iraq are artificially created states, and are, by all accounts, failed states. Since their inception they have promoted hate, death, and destruction. It is high time to dismantle these failed states.”
“The only positive creation in the region has taken place in Iraqi Kurdistan. Despite obstruction from Turkey, Baghdad, and some western elements, Iraqi Kurdistan has created a democratic political structure and a market economy. Moreover, its Peshmerga fighters are able to defend their Kurdish homeland. This positive experience was also on display in Syrian Kurdistan where the Kurds are fighting the radical groups, especially IS, and defending western values. It makes sense now to fully support an independent Kurdistan that combines Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan.”
“If independence for Kurds has to wait, then the next best option that will serve the entirety of the Syrian people is a federal system. Creating such a system would insure minority rights and protection. It will also reduce refugee migration, and prevent the spread of radical movements. The Kurds, being the beacon of hope and progress, will serve as a model for other actors in the region. The future of Syria should not depend on Turkey, Iran, or the Arab states. The U.S. and the west must consider its purported cherished values of supporting democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and tolerance. In this case, the U.S. and the West would certainly want to support an independent Kurdistan.” Abbas concluded that “an independent Kurdistan will serve as a barrier to radical Islamists such as IS, hegemonic Shiite Iran, and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman strategy of supporting the radical Muslim Brotherhood, while targeting Kurds, Jews, and Israel.”
According to Sherkoh Abbas, Riad Hijab was a former minister in the Assad regime’s government. Abbas pointed out to this writer that Hijab’s Baathist party philosophy is one of “liberating Arab lands from the Atlantic to the Arab (Persian) Gulf.” He added that “Hijab believes in eliminating all minorities, including Jews and Kurds, and used to cheer when the Baathist in Iraq killed Americans.”
Addressing the views of the Alawites, Gatestone Institute’s Harold Rhode wrote (10/12/2012) “Many Alawites, who quietly had long opposed Assad’s rule, are again, like Assad’s grandfather in the 1930’s, trying to put forward the idea of creating an independent Alawite state. Every day they can see around them that Middle Eastern culture places a high value on revenge, so that the Sunnis would never forgive them for having been ousted from power 46 years ago. The Alawites would be wise to fear that whatever happens in Syria, the Sunnis will massacre them for having governed Syria and for having killed so many Sunnis during the current war.
The concept of compromise simply does not exist in the Middle East – one either wins or loses. Compromise, because it invariably entails a partial loss, is evidently seen as bringing shame on oneself – to be avoided at all costs. Syria’s Alawite regime therefore probably sees no alternative other than to keep fighting the Sunni-dominated opposition – which itself is succumbing to Turkish, Saudi, and Qatari-inspired Islamic fundamentalist leadership – and to try to ethnically cleanse the Alawite areas of all Sunnis in the hope of retreating to that area with the help of outside allies – be they Iranians, Russians, or other non-Sunni Arabs in the area – and barricading themselves in against the Sunnis.”
What drives the Alawites and other minorities in the Middle East, including the Druze, Christians and Kurds, is fear of the Arab Sunnis who assume that they are the natural rulers of the region, even in the religiously and ethnically mixed states of Iraq and Syria.
Alawites and Kurds are considered by Sunni-Arabs as “slaves,” while Christians and Jews are also second-class people called “Dhimmis.” Western concepts of nationalism and equality under the law irrespective of religion or ethnicity, was never accepted by the Sunni-Arab majority.
Syrian minorities such as the Kurds, Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Turkmen could never feel secure in a unitary Syria. Fear of revenge from the radicalized Sunni-Arabs makes the return to the old Syria virtually impossible. This can only affirm Sherkoh Abbas’ vision of an independent Kurdistan, as well as an independent Alawite state. Also, the Christians need a refuge, perhaps in an enlarged Lebanon that would combine the Christian heartland east of Beirut with territory ceded from Syria to create a truly independent Christian Lebanon.
If Syrian people are to have a future, splitting Syria is inevitable, and no one deserves an independent state more than the 40 million Kurds who still have no state of their own.