New English Review
Will There Be Room for Kurds and Other Minorities in a Post-Assad Syria?
by Jerry Gordon (June 2012)
Sixteen months of bloody repression by the Assad minority Alawite government in Damascus has inflicted more than 15,000 deaths and countless injuries across the troubled country. The latest excess was the reported deaths of 49 children in an artillery assault on the city of Houla in late May that may caused over 100 deaths
in what the UN observers called a massacre. According to a press report
Britain and the United States condemned the Houla massacre, along with Israel, in a rare public statement on the 14-month-old Syrian conflict.
The attack was condemned by UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon and Syrian ceasefire envoy, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The UN has been unsuccessful trying to rein in the sectarian violence. The New York Time
that the US hopes that Russia, one of the Assad regime’s allies, along with the Islamic Republic of Iran and China, might offer some assistance to facilitate Assad leaving the embattled regime in Damascus. Prof. Eyal Zisser of the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University in a recentIsrael Hayom
article, “The Road to Damascus Runs Through Moscow,”
noted the transition proposal of the Obama Administration:
The Americans pulled a new rabbit out of their hat in the form of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They suggested that Moscow and Washington jointly impose the “Yemen solution” on Syria, which calls for Assad’s removal while keeping his regime in place to rule Syria until elections can be held; similar to what took place in Egypt and Tunisia. The Americans hope that such a solution will appeal to those inside Assad’s inner circle, who feel his end is near and will agree to abandon him in order to ensure their own futures.
However that may be a vain hope. Given US, Turkey, Saudi, Qatar and Gulf Emirate support for the Syrian National Council what might follow in Syria could be a Sunni Arab nationalist regime. A regime dominated by a fundamentalist Islamist coalition. That would dash hopes of minority ethnic and religious groups for a secular democratic federal republic. A federal republic that might include secular Sunni and Alawi moderates, Christians, Druze, Turkmen and the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Kurds. Arabs constitute nearly three-fifths (57 percent) of the country’s 22 million population. That is the hope of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria
(KURDNAS) leader Sherkoh Abbas. He has joined with US Syrian Sunni reformer Dr. M. Zhudi Jasser
to advance this cause via the Syrian Democratic Coalition.
Abbas’ own history is reflective of the vicissitudes that have afflicted the estimated 45 million Kurds in landlocked Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq over the course of the 20th
Centuries. He left his home community of Qamishi, Syria in the 1980’s for the US. This followed his criticism of the dictatorial Baathist regime of Hafez al- Assad, a former Air Force officer who led a coup in the late 1950’s and remained in power for more than four decades. Hafez al-Assad set the brutal precedent for his son, Bashar, in a bloody repression 1982. That resulted in the massacre of upwards of 25,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters
in the Syrian city of Hama and equal numbers of other civilians who got caught in the middle of the conflict. The Assad family created “an Islamo Mafia state triumphant.”
For Abbas and other Syrian Kurds, the past four decades witnessed socio-economic deprivations and Arabization of the Kurdistan Region by the Assad regimes – a virtual ethnic cleansing. An estimated 500,000 Kurds were denied Syrian citizenship following a special census in 1963. They lived as aliens in their ancestral lands in the northeastern border areas adjacent to Turkey on the north and Iraq to the east. Arable land and control of valuable oil resources in the Syrian Kurdistan heartland were seized to become the personal wealth of the Assad family. Instruction and schooling in Kurdish language and culture was stopped. This repression of Syria’s Kurds witnessed virtual starvation and usurpation of their national provenance. That led to the uprising in 2004. Dozens of Kurds were killed; more than 4000 were jailed and tortured.
with President Obama and Vice President Biden earlier in April in Washington. Syrian Kurds have fled
to safe havens in refugee camps in the KRG given the turmoil back home.
Israel supported independent Kurdish movements in Iraq in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It maintains Kurdish language and cultural programs at major universities
to serve as a future ally in a post-revolutionary Syria. There is a vibrant Kurdish Jewish community
of more than 150,000 in Israel. One member of that community Yitzhak Mordechai
who served as a Minister of Defense. There have been visits to the Iraqi KRG by members of the Israeli Kurdish community.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Dayan, former head of Israel’s National Security Council created a groundswell of interest in a possible separate Kurdish state in Syria with public remarks
earlier this year.
KURDNAS leader Abbas was interviewed i
n a Jerusalem Post
article about the prospects for a separate Kurdish state in Syria.
Prof. Zisser of Tel Aviv University said in a Jerusalem Post article
that “a bloodbath would follow the overthrow of Assad.”
Abbas demurs. He maintains that Syria post-Assad may not become another fundamentalist Sunni Arab post-revolutionary government. He noted in a recent Front Page Magazine
interview with Joseph Puder, “Syria: An Alternative Choice”
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, Russia and China, will not give up power easily.
Asked what the US role might be in the current struggle, Abbas asserted:
The US has a moral responsibility to insure freedom and democracy for all Syrians. .. an Arab nationalist or Islamist regime would lead to more violence and civil war.
Against this background we held an interview with KURDNAS and its President, Sherkoh Abbas.
Jerry Gordon: Abbas, thank you for kindly consenting to this interview.