Political Anxiety &the Fact Finding Mission in Rojava (Western Kurdistan)

Dr. Amir Sharifi – President of the Kurdish American Education Society-Los Angeles

Some Reflections on the Unpublished Report

Rudaw on Sept 3 published  the  summary  report  of  the nine member  Fact Finding Mission assigned by president Barazani to delve into the accuracy of the media reports about the Jihadist massacre of Kurds in Western Kurdistan or Rojava. The purpose of the mission was to protect the Kurds of Syria if such reports were to be confirmed. While the full report is yet to be released to the public, it appears that the commission has found the reports unsubstantiated. 

The summary of the long expected report indicates that the team spent six days around the sites of alleged massacre, interviewing 50 eye witnesses, most of whom had reported seeing 17-25 bodies.  The report reveals that the team was not able to visit two areas because of the security threats to continue its work until all facts had been discovered. However, in their general findings  they have characterized Western Kurdistan  a “dangerous place,” adding that, “Instability and lack of security forces many to leave their homes and businesses every day…the situation is particularly dangerous for the Christians, as dozens of them have been kidnapped, including 48 in Hassaka and 15 in Qamishlo in the past two months” .

This analysis is not mean to be a critique of the report which has not been issued yet nor is it my aim to question or refute the conclusions of the commission. Rather I intend to discuss the underlying reasons for the delay and the negative outcomes if the report is not released during this critical time. Until the full report is released with all the documents, it is difficult to know if the report is fair and objective. What is clear now is that longer delays in issuing the report will undermine and damage the credibility of the fact finding mission and the integrity of such commissions in the future. What complicates the picture initially are the circumstances under which the commission had to prepare the report. The undeniable truth is that objective and detailed reporting about Syria has now become very difficult if not untenable. Increasingly there have been fewer reports by Western journalists because they find it extremely dangerous to venture into both government and rebel controlled areas that are now mostly controlled by AL Nusra and Islamic Sate of Iraq. As a New York Times recent article( Sept 5) “Brutality of Syrian Rebels posing Dilemma in the West  pointed out “ Across much of Syria, where rebels with Western support live and fight, areas outside of government influence have evolved into a complex guerrilla and criminal landscape.”

The expected report is important in its foundation as it is historically the first inter Kurdish initiated fact finding investigation prepared by Kurds about Kurds themselves.  Problems and clashes of expectations and partial perspectives are bound to emerge. However, given the undeniable and widespread suspicion against Jihadists who have a long and bloody history, it is not surprising that some skeptics may find the summary of the report surprising. The investigators’ findings do not detract from the fact that the commission as they have noted was not able to carry out a detailed investigation of all areas.  The report may leave some lingering questions in assigning full responsibility.  Although the purpose of the report was to conduct an in-depth  fact finding to determine if such a massacre had been committed (one wonders if 17-25 bodies as reported by eye witnesses would qualify as evidence of the massacre).

Critics cannot but wonder if political anxiety is the main reason behind the delay in the issuance of the report. The commission from its inception had probably been adversely affected by internal political divisions and tensions posing even more challenges to the type of scrutiny one would expect from such a commission. Has the commission report been turned into a political battle ground for partisan politics between KDP and PYD commissioners?  All signs indicate that the report is now caught in political rivalries and crossfire.  An immediate and undesirable outcome of the fact finding mission was in its partisan composition, causing unnecessary obfuscation and political tensions among the members of the commission. The opponents of PYD would probably portray the images and messages broadcast by the media and confirmed by PYD as sheer propaganda or exaggerated accounts, stressing the manipulative nature of online reports; on the other hand, critics of Kurdish Regional Government would be inclined to view the report as a compromised, inadequate, and biased, meant to discredit PYD.

No matter how the unpublished report is approached, the stakes are too high for this report to be manipulated politically as it will undermine the fragile unity and stability that Kurds have forged and need   the most during this critical time. The report after all broadly highlights the dangerous and precarious condition in which Kurds and Christians find themselves. There is no doubt that the Jihadists are monstrous and capable of abominable crimes. The real danger now is that Jihadist bands of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant and Al Nusra are now aggressively bringing more and more areas under their control. Now that Syria opposition is being reorganized in anticipation of a peace conference, Kurds have to reassert their direct representations in any negotiations as thus far Syrian opposition in its entirety has declined to recognize Kurdish demands and representation. No one expects the report to be value free as long as it is fair and objective. Its purpose should be to foster cooperation, maintenance of political unity, and community support. No one can question that the Jihadists are engaged in violent armed conflict with Kurds and now reportedly with moderate Syrian opposition forces. The summary of the report has exposed some of their violent acts and incursions to establish and extend their ideological, political and economic control of Kurdish areas.

 The greatest dilemma of Syria in all its complexity can be reduced to the confluence of regional, religious, and international competitions for political and military influence; the broad based and independent movement of Syrian people has been submerged in an apocalyptic mess by a repressive regime and an opposition that is equally if not more repressive . Thousands of Kurds impoverished by economic embargo and ubiquitous menace of Islamists have fled to Southern Kurdistan. Hundreds of thousands face an uncertain and grim future as foreign interventions continues and internal civil war rages on in the region. The report can alert the international community about how the escalating conflict in the areas that they visited is threatening the local population.  If the Syrian opposition is seeking simply the ousting of the Bashar al Assad as its ultimate goal with some form of theocratic or Arabized state, Kurds are not content with this mere rejection. They have the specific goal of creating an autonomous region. The commission’s report in itself would be a resource for democratizing; it could help the Kurds of Rojava find their rightful and distinct voice in the regional and international peace conferences as the world community finds out how civilians are being targeted by Jihadists. Even a partial report and retelling the stories of the eye witnesses could help bolster Kurdish representation in deciding their own future and that of Syria.