Syria: An Alternative Choice

The pro-Western opposition the Obama administration prefers to ignore.

In the midst of the current revolutionary chaos in Syria, there is a clear voice of reason that seeks to create a free Syria that is democratic, Western-oriented and federal in structure. That voice belongs to Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, and his allies in the Syrian Democratic Coalition.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met late last year with members of the Syrian National Council; these members in exile are considered to be the opposition leaders by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, most of them were found to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Sherkoh Abbas and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, formidable leaders of the Syrian democratic and secular opposition, were snubbed by Clinton.

Sherkoh Abbas was compelled to leave his native Qamishli, Syria back in the 1980s because he criticized the Hafez Assad regime.  Abbas subsequently came to the US as a student and received advanced degrees in Technology, Engineering, and Business.

As Abbas sees it, the current situation can only lead to a civil war between the regular Syrian army, which represents the Alawis and their associates, and the Free Syrian Army composed of Sunni-Arab officers and soldiers.  The Kurds, he maintains, are caught between these warring armies without an army of their own.  He fears that the Kurds will be the principle victims of the unleashed violence, since the Kurds are also the largest minority.  According to Abbas, “The free world has a moral obligation to protect the Kurds of Syria not only because we have been victimized and have been throughout the 20th Century, but because we are natural allies of the West, sharing such values as tolerance and acceptance of minorities, and belief in an open and free democracy.”

Asked to opine on what he would like to see in the near future for his Kurdish people: an autonomous region in Syria; joining the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq – which borders the Kurdish region in Syria; or perhaps an even larger Kurdish state, Abbas said, “The Kurdish people, in all parts of Kurdistan, seek the right to form an independent Kurdish state.  We can only achieve this cherished goal with the help of the western democracies, and first and foremost the U.S.”

Unlike the Palestinian Arabs who squandered numerous opportunities to assert their self-determination as a “people,”  (in 1938, the Arabs of Palestine rejected the Peel Commission plan for the division of Palestine into a larger Palestinian state and a much smaller Jewish state. In 1947, they rejected the UN Partition Plan, and they have made a mockery of the 1993 Oslo Accords).  The Kurds, a truly distinct people, with their own language and culture, have been cheated out of an autonomous and independent Kurdistan promised to them by the victorious allies (Britain and France) in the Treaty of Sevres (August 10, 1920).  The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne replaced the Treaty of Sevres, as the new nationalist Turkey under Kamal Ataturk re-conquered Anatolia and the land that was to have been the Kurdish state.

If an independent Kurdish state is unattainable at this juncture, Abbas would be satisfied with a “democratic and federal system in Syria” in which the Kurdish people would have the right to create their own institutions, and disseminate their cultural heritage - which has been forbidden and outlawed by the “Arabizing” Assad dictatorships.  The Kurds reject the legitimacy of the Assad regime and, parenthetically, the Ba’athist influence on the political life of Syria in general and Kurds in particular.

The democratic opposition group that Sherkoh Abbas and Dr. Zuhdi Jasser represent has been sidelined by the Obama administration, which has made its choice for Syria by supporting the Syrian National Council led by Burhan Ghalioun, who is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist government of Turkey.  According to Abbas Obama administration officials are pushing the Kurdish groups to join to Syrian National Council.   Only one group has complied thus far.

And how does Sherkoh Abbas see the revolution in Syria ending? “The Muslim Brotherhood, with the support of President Obama and Turkey, will not succeed in controlling all of Syria.  The Alawis and Hezbollah backed by Iran, and Russia and China, will not give up power easily.” Sherkoh Abbas asserted that the Alawis have been working to establish an Alawi mini-state in the western region of coastal Syria for quite some long time.  That area, he pointed out, is where the regime has stored most of its assets and where weapons from Russia are shipped.

Erdogan’s Turkey, Abbas maintains, will use the Free Syrian army, currently based in Turkish territory, to control the Kurdish region.  The Christians in Syria, numbering more than 10% of the population, have been largely co-opted by the Assad regime, as well as the Druze religious community in southern Syria, who account for 2% of the population.  The Muslim Brotherhood does not trust either of these groups because they have, for the most part, refrained from joining the revolution in opposition to the Assad regime.

The New York Times reported on March 8, 2012 that scores of (Syrian) Kurds have begun fleeing into Iraqi Kurdistan in an attempt to escape the Assad regime security forces, and the violence around them. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, “that could potentially shift themomentum” against the Assad regime.  According to the Times, “The Kurds have long complained of repression and discrimination by the Assad regime,” but have failed to unify and have declined to join the Muslim Brotherhood, Sunni dominated opposition.  The concern of the Kurds and shared by Abbas, is that the post-Assad government led by the Muslim Brotherhood dominated opposition, “may not be better – and may perhaps be even worse.”

The conflict within Syria has had wider ramifications, involving two regional powers: Iran and Turkey.  These two powers are currently clashing through their military proxies.  Should Sunni (Muslim) Turkey actively intervene in Syria, Shiite (Muslim) Iran will enter the war openly on the side of the Assad regime and unleash the Kurdish PKK and the Alawis within Turkey against Erdogan’s Turkish government.

What should be the role of the United States in an emerging Syrian civil war? Sherkoh Abbas believes that the U.S. must “find a radical solution for the immediate removal of the Assad regime, and, if necessary, use force to do so.” He argues that a civil war in Syria would adversely impact the entire region.  Sherkoh considers active U.S. involvement as essential in preventing “the creation of a hostile regime” in Syria. The U.S., he added, has a moral responsibility to insure freedom and democracy for all Syrians. The alternative, Abbas said, is the frightening prospect of “an Arab nationalist or Islamist regime that would lead to more violence and civil war.”

Sherkoh Abbas concluded by restating his conviction that for Syria, only a democratic federal system supported by the U.S. and the West, could bring peace and tranquility to its people and to its neighbors. A Syrian federal state will guarantee full representation and justice for all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.  A federal state would also lead to economic prosperity and growth for all Syrians, and most of all would ensure individual freedom for all citizens. Moreover, since the Assad dictatorship requires an outside enemy (Israel) to stay in power, a Syrian democratic system will benefit Alawites, Christians, Druze and Kurds.  It is for these reasons that eventually Kurds and others will join the revolution in full force to affect a regime change.

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