The Kurds of Syria: Allies of Erbil, Partners with Damascus

December 1, 2011

As the Syrian regime grows increasingly isolated, its days are clearly numbered. In light of this, the Kurds are facing a different type of challenge, one that they’ve never dealt with in their long history: Organising themselves for the next era while guaranteeing that they won’t be second-class citizens in the new Syria, as they are now.

All indications from Syria suggest that the Assad regime will take down with it the entire system of government, from the local security guy to the army. The scenario is very similar to Iraq. The demonstrations and the reactions strongly suggest that the regime has Baathified everything. When it falls, everything will collapse.

We may end up with a situation similar to Iraq in 2003, but with a population that is more aware than Iraq was. In 2003, only the people in Kurdistan’s semi-autonomous region knew what was going on because they were the only ones with satellite receivers.

The Kurds of Syria need to be up to the challenge of guaranteeing a new status for themselves in a country that denied them their basic rights. The Kurds of Iraq in particular can provide guidance and strong support. The experience of the Kurds in Iraq may set a good example for them to learn from their mistakes.

The current setup for Syria’s future will require international momentum and support. The existing Syrian National Council will run the future government, and already many comments by its Arab members repeat the Baathist philosophy regarding the Kurds.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, a Kurdish member of the council, Abd Albasit Sayda, said all the right things about the demands and expectations of the Kurds of Syria for the future. However, he was unable to articulate in concrete terms what that means exactly.

Before getting into the details of working with the Syrian opposition or as part of the new Syria, the Kurds of Syria need to unify their vision for the future and articulate their demands to the new Syrian government. They need to get a political and concrete commitment from them on its implementation.

Erbil should realize that soon, if not already, a new portfolio will be on its table: the Kurds of Syria. They will be a natural ally and support system for them. It will also become a reference for many Syrian Kurds until they stand on their feet in the new country.

The Kurds of Syria and Iraq must realise that the only way forward is to be politically close and united internally on the vision for the future.

The Kurds of Syria will benefit from the Iraqi Kurds’ experience and international and regional status. The Kurds of Iraq will have a new strong ally along a border that hasn’t been very stable.

The Kurds of Syria should send a strong message to the council and the new potential government that despite the distance of the Kurdish areas from Damascus, if the Kurds are not part of the new Syria, they will always be an element of instability in a new country that will be starting from scratch.

The Kurds and the new potential Syrian government should look at the Kurdish situation in Iraq. Throughout their history, many demands were diluted or even forgotten because the time “wasn’t right” for Baghdad and because they were interpreted differently. But at the same time, they were also able to destabilise the regimes that were against them.

Kurds in the new Syria should be true partners and they should set the terms of this partnership now, not when the regime has fallen.

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