In an effort to broaden its appeal among Syria’s diverse ethnic groups, the largest Syrian opposition group has selected a Kurd as its new leader.
But it is not yet clear whether it will be enough to convince Kurdish political parties to be more defiant against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime since Kurds also suspect the Sunni majority of waging the revolt.
“Whether Assad falls or not, we are working to get all of our national rights in Syria. If the Arab opposition, like the SNC, or the others are against Kurdish rights, we will continue our opposition. It won’t stop with Basher Assad,” Massoud Akko, a Syrian Kurdish human rights activist living in Norway, told The Media Line.
“Unfortunately, there are still some Arab opposition figures who have the same position regarding Kurdish rights in Syria. This is not reform. It’s not a revolution when you exchange Bashar Assad with a radical Arab opposition who also refuse Kurdish rights in Syria,” Akko said.
Last week, the Syrian National Council named Abdulbaset Sieda, a Syrian Kurd living in exile in Sweden, as its new leader. It was clear that the taciturn scholar was seen as a consensus candidate appointed with the hope he could unite the many ethnic, religious and political factions.
Akko described Sieda as “honest, level-headed and cultured,” and while an ethnic Kurd, was not a representative of any Kurdish party or force.
Syrian Kurds are hamstrung by their divisions. Earlier this month, supporters of two main Kurdish groups, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) clashed. But last week they put out a joint statement saying they were going to cooperate to ensure that in the future Syria would grant them constitutional recognition.
The Kurdish Globe
, published in the northern Iraqi Kurdish enclave of Erbil, printed an editorial Sunday saying that while the Kurds were shocked by Assad’s murderous ways they remained suspicious of the Sunni majority.
Everyone is courting the Kurds in the region, hoping to win them to their side. The Americans clearly are behind their good standing in Iraq. Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyep Recep Erdogan has become a vocal supporter of Assad's overthrow and hosted opposition leaders as well as Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani – possibly to blunt anti-Turkish sentiments among the Kurds.
“The Kurds would be useful allies not only in the current fight against Assad, but the larger struggle with his Iranian sponsors and jihadists across the Mideast,” the Globe
“Yes, once more in the Mideast, it's time to play the Kurd card,” the editorial said.
Until now, the estimated 1.7 million ethnic Kurdish minority in Syria have not openly challenged the Syrian regime. The uprising has pitted mostly Sunni Arabs (the majority in Syria) against a regime dominated by members of the obscure Alawite sect.
While the marginalized Kurds are more organized than other opposition groups, they have been fairly reluctant to take action not just out of fear of Damascus’s heavy hand, but uncertainty that a new regime would be any better.
“If Syrian Kurds would rise up against Assad’s regime, Damascus would be much more harsh and brutal and that has been on the minds of every Kurd,” Jawad Qadir, Executive Editor of The Kurdish Globe
, told The Media Line.
Assad’s regime has suppressed Kurdish culture and language, expropriated their land and deprived them of full citizenship. But shortly after the 14-month- old uprising broke out his regime moved to placate the Kurds by offering citizenship to hundreds of thousands, of which only some 10,000 have actually taken advantage.
Still, by naming Sieda as its leader, the opposition is sending a message to the Syrian Kurds for them to get off the fence, quit prevaricating and actively support the efforts to topple Assad.
“I think there is still gong to be some caution there, particularly if they are looking at whether their future is going to lie within Syria,” Gareth Jenkins, a senior associate fellow with the Silk Road Studies Program, was quoted as saying to The Voice of Russia
His comments point to the larger factor of regional Kurdish politics which ideologically dream of a Kurdish homeland of its own carved out of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. This is a move these countries use force to prevent, particularly Turkey and Iran who have hammered the frontier rebel bases of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Iranian Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).
“Assad never gave anything to the Kurds. We have almost 300,000 people who don’t have any nationality. We have no rights in Syria, no school, no culture rights, no media. The language is banned in Syria,” said Akko, who was himself under a 10-year travel ban while he lived in Syria.
“We want democratic freedom and civil rights. But also we need Kurdish rights. We are another ethnic group. We are not Arabs. I am in Norway and there is no ban on speaking Kurdish or writing Kurdish or wearing Kurdish clothing. So there should be a new Syria after Bashar Assad steps down,” he said.
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