Syria’s Kurds and the New Opposition Coalition

23/11/2012 RUDAW By ADIB ABDULMAJID – AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – The Syrian National Coalition, founded on Nov. 11 under the sponsorship of Qatar and now considered the largest opposition umbrella, has started to gain recognition inside and outside of Syria.

According to revolutionary groups, including military councils in Syria, the coalition is considered the ship that will lead the way to the shores of freedom and safety. Coalition leader Moaz Al-Khatib and deputies Riad Seif and Suhair al-Atassi were called “honest patriots” by the General Commission of the Syrian Revolution (GCSR) and the Local Coordination Committees (LCC).

The new coalition is intended to unify Syria’s opposition factions into one body in order to secure Western support for those fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It was endorsed by France and Britain and recognized as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Some Kurdish groups backed the coalition and expressed hope that it will gain the trust of all components of the Syrian people: Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians and Muslims. Others remained sceptical over the role the coalition would play in pushing forward efforts to overthrow the current regime and carry out a democratic change in the country.

A number of Kurdish politicians, mainly from the Kurdish National Council (KNC), are part of the coalition, including Abdulhakim Bashar, Mustafa Oso and Saleh Keddo. One deputy chair was specified for the Kurds, but the Kurdish bloc has yet to announce who will occupy the position.

Ahmad Murad, member of the Kurdish Youth Movement (Tevgera Ciwanen Kurd), told Rudaw that the new coalition hasn’t provided any vision regarding the Kurdish issue in Syria yet. “This coalition could be considered a group that will lead the revolution and support the rebels inside Syria, but I don’t see it as a political coalition,” Murad said. “The leaders of the new opposition body didn’t give any clear view about the Kurdish issue and the Kurdish future in Syria, and that leaves a big question mark.” Murad added that all the opposition factions under the umbrella of the new coalition can still maintain their own political agendas, “and the KNC is trying to provide its own views as are the other participants in the coalition.”

Dara Bashar, a Kurdish activist and member of the Birthday of Freedom Committee, revealed to Rudaw that the Kurds generally support unity in the ranks of the Syrian opposition. “But the Kurds have their own demands and conditions before participating in any coalition,” Bashar said, adding that the Kurdish demands include the call for a secular system of governing in the new Syria, that a military council should not be enabled to become a dominant power that can impose its agenda on the opposition and that Kurdish representation shouldn’t be decided according to its population percentage, which is 15 percent.

According to Bashar, Kurdish support of the Syrian National Coalition will be dependent on how the coalition deals with the Kurdish issue and the solutions it can provide. “The coalition has delayed discussion of the Kurdish issue for the moment, and that has raised suspicions concerning the intentions of its leadership in this regard. Because no document has appeared so far, the longstanding mistrust between Kurds and Arabs is growing, and the main reason is the intervention of some regional powers in the formation of the opposition,” Bashar told Rudaw.

Salih Muslim, head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), revealed his doubts regarding the new coalition and its agenda, and considered it a “proxy of Turkey and Qatar.”The Syrian National Council (SNC), the former prominent opposition umbrella, couldn’t rise to the level of the Syrian people’s demands and was unable to accomplish any remarkable steps in support of the revolution, mainly because the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood dominated the council.

The hope in establishing the Syrian National Coalition is to gain support from the international community and move Syria to the next phase. However, Muslim believes that the new coalition is not reliable and doesn’t represent all Syrians. “They’re making the same mistakes as the SNC. They’re one color; a cleric is the ruler. More than 60 percent of the SNC was from the Muslim Brotherhood or religious groups, and they’ve made the same mistake with this coalition,” Muslim told Reuters on Tuesday. As he wasn’t invited to talks in Doha where the Syrian National Coalition was formed, Muslim argued that the Kurdish figures included in the coalition were not representative of Syria’s Kurds and were forced by Turkey to follow its agenda.

According to observers, Turkey is alarmed at the increasing influence of the PYD, considered by the Turkish government as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been in conflict with Turkey for decades. 

For the different opposition groups, the importance of taking control of the Kurdish areas in Syria is due to the fact that these areas include a considerable portion of the country’s crude oil reserves.

Al-Khatib issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the conflict taking place between the Kurdish armed forces and the brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the Kurdish city of Sere Kaniye and called for a ceasefire.

“All forms of conflict between the brothers (Kurds and Arabs) are unacceptable and painful to all of us, and will lead nowhere but to the deepening suffering of our people,” Al-Khatib said. “The tyrant regime of Assad tries to push us to confront each other, and the clashes between the revolutionary forces in Ras al-Ayn (Sere Kaniye) are basically in favor of the regime.” Al-Khatib added that what brings all Syrians together is much greater than what could separate them. “Every drop of Syrian blood represents a deep wound inside all of us. Thus, the bloodshed must be a redline, and to cross that redline is condemned,” he concluded. Sarbast Nabi, a Syrian Kurdish professor of philosophy at Erbil University, called Al-Khatib’s remarks concerning the developments in Sere Kaniye “romantic” and “superfluous.”

“The discourse of the leader of the new opposition group regarding what is going on in the Kurdish city of Sere Kaniye can be simply seen as romantic, and it doesn’t practically serve the needs of the thousands of displaced families from the city,” Nabi told Rudaw.  According to Nabi, who criticized the role the Arab tribes are trying to play in Sere Kaniye, the statement of Al-Khatib will not deter the danger of Islamists and Arabists in Sere Kaniye and the entire Kurdish region.  “It’s not possible to call those groups fighting our people in Sere Kaniye revolutionaries looking for freedom. They are a shame on Syrian history and society, and the silence towards their terrible practices is unacceptable. The discourse of Al-Khatib reinforces their position anyway,” Nabi concluded.