Kurds want democracy, autonomy in post-Assad Syria

Demonstrators hold up a poster of assassinated Kurdish leader Meshaal al-Tammo during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Qamishli on March 21. (Photo: Reuters)

March 22, 2012, Thursday/ 15:58:00

Representatives of the Kurdish movement in Syria might disagree on a number of political issues, but their vision for the future of Syria and the country's Kurds nonetheless remains the same: They want to live in a democratic Syria that offers at least some degree of autonomy to its Kurds.

Syria has a highly fragmented Kurdish movement, mostly due to the geographical distances between the country's Kurdish regions. Various representatives of the Syrian Kurdish community spoke this month to the Turkish monthly Ortadoğu Analiz, a periodical on international relations published by the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM). They certainly have their differences, but their demand for full recognition of the Kurdish identity and respect is common.

Abdulhakim Bashar is the head the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, Syria's first ever Kurdish party, founded in 1957. They have long been part of the opposition against the Assad regime, and many of the party's members have paid dearly for their party's criticism of Assad's brutal regime. Many of the party's leaders, particularly in the 1970s, were jailed for long periods of times. The party held its last congress in 2007, which saw Bashar's election as the party's secretary-general.

The vision of Bashar for Syrian Kurds' future is clear: “We don't wish to establish a Kurdish state. This is not entirely possible in geographic terms either because currently the places with predominant Kurdish populations are divided into three different areas. What's more, a new Kurdish state in the region would mean the entire political map of the region would change.”

Bashar's party firmly believes that the Assad regime can't hold out for much longer, and their vision is of a democratic country where all segments, be it the Christians, Muslims and others, all have equal rights. He noted that the Kurdish National Council (KNC) wants the Syria of the future to have a decentralized structure with strong local governments. He noted, “Since Syria is made up of different ethnic groups, in a centralized system not every group is given their rights, and usually the exercising of these group rights is dominated by a single group.”

He noted it was important for the Kurds to have a secular Syria, adding, “This entails two things: Separation of religion from the state and every individual in Syria being able to rise to the position they would like to fill.” The Syrian constitution should recognize Kurds and their rights in the new constitution. “The other opposing groups should understand this: Syria is not country of the opposition alone, it belongs to all of us,” he added.

Kurdish Union Party (KUP) head Abdulbaki Youssef also names his party's first demand as the recognition and written acknowledgement of the Kurdish identity in the constitution. The KUP, founded in 1992, is a powerful party and an important component of the KNC.

Youssef and his party also demand a decentralized state. “The Syria of the future should be democratic. It should have a constitutional and decentralized system that would unite all of Syria's ethnic groups. For the Kurdish question, we want the Kurdish identity to be recognized in the constitution and have a system where Kurds and Arabs are recognized equally. We demand that in regions with dominant Kurdish populations, they should have the right to govern themselves. We don't want an Arab from Damascus or Dara to govern us in predominantly Kurdish areas.”

Another KNC member is the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, which was established in Iraq in 1957. Its current leader Behcet Bashir Rasoul, the northern Iraq representative of his party, says, “The most important demand of the KNC is that the rights of Kurds are given to them within the territorial integrity of Syria. After the regime is overthrown, we think there will be a new referendum. The demands of the Kurdish people will be clarified during that process. But I can say this much: All the demands will respect Syria's territorial integrity.” He said if and when the Assad government is overthrown, the Kurds will definitely want a federalist structure for Syria or autonomy for the country's Kurdish regions. “This autonomy could be like [Iraq's] regional Kurdish government. We favor a federal region because we believe it is a more successful system of organization.”

Federalism is not such a good idea, according to the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party. Ali Shemdin, a representative of the party led by Abdulhamid Hadji Dervish, is a prominent political figure among Syria's Kurds. “Federalism is not suitable for us. We don't want a federalist system with its institutions.” He believes that ensuring that Kurdish identity is recognized in Syria's constitution is the fundamental condition of building a democratic and pluralistic parliamentary system. What Şemdin's party has in mind is close to federalism, but not quite. “This shouldn't take place as part of a federal system as in Iraq, but as part of a decentralized system unique to Syria.”

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party also wants autonomy for Kurds in post-Assad Syria. Mahmoud Ali Muahammed, the representative of the party in northern Iraq, like the other members of the opposition, is confident that the Assad government will soon be overthrown. “In Syria, the people have come together and taken to the streets for a secular, democratic, constitutional and decentralized state,” he notes. But what about the Kurds once Assad is overthrown? “We as a party have demanded Kurdish autonomy since 1993. In the future, we want to stay inside Syria in a democratic, secular, decentralized political structure.”

Shelal Gedo, the northern Iraqi representative of the Syrian Kurdish Left Party has a similar vision. He also believes that the formation of the KNC will make the demands possible. “The most important thing is that Syria's Kurdish parties have decided to unite, that the demands are being united. The most important thing is the right to self determination. Currently all Kurds are united under the roof of the KNC.”

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