Sherkoh Abbas, a veteran Syrian Kurdish dissident, called on Israel this week to
support the break-up of Syria into a series of federal structures based on the
country’s various ethnicities.
Speaking from Washington, Abbas was also
critical of US attempts to induce Syrian Kurds to join and work with the main
opposition body, the Syrian National Council. Abbas, who heads the Washington-
based Kurdistan National Assembly, said that dismantling Syria into ethnic
enclaves with a federal administration would serve to “break the link” between
Syria and the Iran-led “Shi’a crescent.”
Syrian Kurdish, Druse, Alawite
and Sunni Arab federal areas, he suggested, would have no interest in aligning
At the same time, a federalized Syria would avoid the
possibility of a resurgent, Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Sunni Islamist Syria
emerging as a new challenge to Israel and the West.
“We need to break
Syria into pieces,” Abbas said.
The Syrian Kurdish dissident argued that
a federal Syria, separated into four or five regions on an ethnic basis, would
also serve as a natural “buffer” for Israel against both Sunni and Shi’ite
Kurds are the largest ethnic minority population in
Syria. They number more than 10 percent of the population, centered in the
northeastern provinces of Hasakeh and Qamishli.
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There is also a large,
partly Arabized Kurdish population in the cities of Aleppo, Hama and
Despite the Assad regime’s determined counter-attack in recent
months, Abbas dismissed any possibility that the beleaguered dictator could
survive in the long term.
“Whether it is one year, or even two, the
regime is finished,” he said.
The KNA leader pointed to the recent bloody
terror attacks in Damascus as an indication of President Bashar Assad’s
desperation, arguing that these were the work of Sunni jihadis in the pay of of
“The regime is now unleashing its suicide groups,” he
His remarks came in response to a meeting at the US State
Department last week between American officials and representatives of the
Kurdish National Council, a Syrian Kurdish body. Robert Ford, who left his post
as US ambassador to Syria earlier this year, and Fred Hof, the administration’s
special coordinator on Syria, took part in the meeting. State Department Deputy
Spokesman Mark Toner described its purpose as part of “ongoing efforts... to
help the Syrian opposition build a more cohesive opposition to
Abbas, however, was more blunt in his description of the
meeting’s purpose. It was held, he said, so that the US officials could tell the
Kurdish representatives, “You should be part of the Syrian National
So far, only one Syrian Kurdish organization – the Future
Movement of Fares Tammo – has elected to join the SNC.
distrust the SNC because of the strong presence of Muslim Brotherhood members in
its leadership, and because of its close links to the government of
SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun has rejected the existence of any
region called “Kurdistan” within Syria. He has called on Syrian Kurds to abandon
what he called the “useless illusion” of federalism.
recruits to the council withdrew from it after failing to secure a commitment to
change the name of a post-Assad Syria from the current Syrian Arab Republic to
the plain “Syrian Republic.” The SNC has also made no commitment to Kurdish
autonomy in a post-Assad Syria.
Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent Washington-
based member of the SNC, said that the issue of the Syrian Kurds could only be
settled after the fall of the Syrian regime, in the context of
Perhaps because of these positions, the Syrian Kurdish
attitude toward the uprising has remained cautious. The Kurds have many deep
grievances against the Assad regime: It deprived many of them of citizenship, it
transferred Arab settlers into northern Syria to break Kurdish contiguity of
population, and it suppressed Kurdish language and culture.
Syrian opposition as currently constituted seems to many Kurds to be
insufficiently interested in remedying this situation. The Kurds are also
divided among themselves. The KNC is dominated by the Kurdish Democratic Party
in Syria, which has close links to the Kurdish Regional Government of Massoud
Barzani in northern Iraq. The PKK-linked PYD, meanwhile, is, according to Abbas
and others, now working in cooperation with the Assad regime.
sources argue that the current Syrian uprising is simply a battle between the
regime and an alliance of the Turkish government and the Muslim Brotherhood. As
such, they suggest, Syrian Kurds’ main interest is in protecting their own
The bottom line, as Qubad Talabani, representative of the
Kurdistan Regional Government to the US, put it in a recent speech, is that the
“Syrian opposition is not talking about Kurdish issues, is not talking about the
need to protect Kurdish rights or to have the Kurdish identity as part of any
new Syria.” For as long as this remains the case, calls for federalism, for
separation, and for breaking Syria “into pieces” are likely to grow stronger.
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