Syria After Assad
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.
An easier way is to protect Russia’s interest to maintain control over their gas interests and ports in Syria, protect allies, have compromises, and bring international support for a new Syrian confederation.
FP: What are your thoughts on how the Obama administration has handled it thus far?
Abbas: The administration has failed in leadership, and failed in preventing human lives from being saved by doing nothing, and has instead enabled more violence, and has encouraged the regime to slaughter and kill more people. The regime has killed the Syrian people, and the administration should have been more proactive in supporting regime change while finding true groups that can work together and in working with Russia on protecting its interests after Assad. The Syrian regime learned that the U.S. was all talk and not action-oriented. It is a disaster for the Syrian people.
In 2003 when Saddam was gone, Assad was so afraid of the U.S., and then the Kurds and others in Syria stood up and protested in the 2004 Kurdish uprising, while a few people were killed and injured compared to now. The Syrian people want change, and hopefully the U.S. will provide leadership. But until then, thousands of people are getting killed.
FP: Shed some light on the Obama-Erdogan Alliance and the dangers it poses.
Abbas: Obama and Erdogan show a lot of public respect for each other in Istanbul and Ankara, which promotes their concept of “moderates,” but it’s not moderate when a system is slaughtering Kurds and others. Their relationship does not serve the Kurdish people nor democracy.
The PKK is not the answer, but 25-30 million Kurds don’t have rights in Turkey. Erdogan managed to purport to Europeans that he is a moderate; he tried to use the Turkish platform, but the people deserve their rights and Kurds in Turkey have no rights and he is threatening Syrian Kurds.
Sunni-Arabs are being supported as a result of the alliance, but their interest is energy in Syria and the Middle East so that they can dictate oil or energy prices and distribution into Europe.
President Obama shouldn’t be enabling them in these areas. Obama does believe that they are moderate Muslims, but they are not. A true moderate treats fellow people right, and doesn’t slaughter minorities like Kurds.
The best thing is for the U.S. to divest from this relationship, and put down a road-map to federalism that will not show any threats to Turkey, does not support Iran, and does not support the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, don’t subcontract American foreign policy to Turkey, instead institute a new democratic policy for Syria.
FP: Crystallize for us the problems of a unified Syria and what Syrian Kurdish autonomy would look like.
Abbas: The Syrian Kurdish region is not like Iraq, because Iraq did not solve the Kurdish problem until now. The Kurdish region of Syria is not necessarily under Kurdish control. There are parts that have been Arabized, the northwest coastal region/Kurdish Mountain area, but should be part of the Kurdish region. If you refer to the demographic map (above), the north up to the coast is our area. We want federalism, as in a federal government of Syria involving multiple federations as Sunni, Alawite, and Kurd. The Kurds would also be part of the central government with joint leadership.
The U.S. should not falsely talk about developing a coalition, as it cannot bridge gaps by selecting Syrian leaders that Americans want. Coalition is about finding people who work together based on what they want and a workable solution. Sometimes not all sides will agree, but it’s important to see a compromise for all. If all the groups want a decentralized government, then it is important for Kurds to be vocal in support of their fellow Syrian compatriots. We suffered too much for too long and cannot wait 50 more years to find out that we have a failed state again.
FP: Sherkoh Abbas, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.