By Ryan Mauro
A Syrian Kurdish activist in America tells the Clarion Project that the U.S. should embrace the Kurds as an enemy of “radical Islam” and as a people who desire democracy in the Middle East, seek friendship with Assyrian Christians and want to be at peace with Israel.
Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, argues that Kurds are ideological allies of the West, rather than partners of convenience. Abbas was born in Qamishli, Syria and came to the U.S. in the 1980s. He describes his faith as a “Kurdish Islam,” and Islamc that is democratic, tolerant and peaceful.
He is a founding member of the Syrian Democracy Council, the Kurdish National Congress, the America-Kurdistan Friendship League and the Center for Democracy in the Middle East, of which he is the director.
Abbas' interview follows a Clarion Project interview with Jeff Gardner of Restore Nineveh Now about how Assyrian Christians are in conflict with Kurdish fighters in Syria. Gardner argued against U.S. equipping of the Kurdish forces.
Clarion Project also interviewed Yousuf Ismael of the Washington Kurdish Institute, who argued that Kurdistan is a friend to the Christians and that the Muslim Brotherhood must be designated as a terrorist group by the U.S.
Below is the interview of Sherkoh Abbas by Clarion Project’s National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro:
Ryan Mauro: What the Kurdistan National Assembly is and what it is currently doing?
Sherkoh Abbas: The Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria is an umbrella organization for the Syrian Kurdistan region that seeks freedom, peace and democracy for Syria. In addition, it seeks a federal system for Syria where all citizens are granted the natural right of self-governance.
The new Syrian government should be modeled after the principles of freedom and the federalist example of the U.S. and its democratic republic form of government. The structure should leave authority to local governments with a constitution and bill of rights that protects minorities and includes all.
Mauro: There is some controversy about the U.S. support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPH) in Syria because of its alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group. The U.S. says they are separate, while others disagree. What is the nature of the relationship?
Abbas: The U.S. State Department and Department of Defense have been working with the YPG and stress that they are not linked to the PKK and are not cooperating in any way with the PKK. [PYD leader] Salih Muslim confirms this and we have no reason to believe otherwise.
They are not perfect, but they are working on shifting their ideology to Western norms. They also have a lot of work to do to be more inclusive of other Kurdish parties and other social groups. They have the potential to change the region for the better and we hope that they do not squander this opportunity.
Mauro: There are reports of fighting between the Assyrian Gozarto Protection Forces in the Qamishli area and the Kurds linked to the YPG following the kidnapping of three members of the GPF. What is the relationship between the Kurdish forces and parties and the Assyrian Christians?
Abbas: These Assyrians are members of the Assad regime. That is why almost every news agency stated that the YPG was battling with Assad’s forces there.
The Kurds welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Arab or otherwise. There are Christians on both sides of this fight. The YPG is currently working with the Syriac Military Council, who are a group of Assyrian Christians who are fighting against the Baathist regime and against ISIS. Some Christians are working with Assad/Hezbollah/Iran and some Christians are working with the Kurdish Peshmerga and YPG.
The Kurds do not welcome the oppressive Baath Party and their extensions. The Kurds have been oppressed for much too long under the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria to resubmit to such rule after fighting for autonomy. The Baath Party was formed to get rid of all non-Arabs, and some Christians did join for various economic reasons, but this is not a fight about religion.
The Baath Party is anti-Western and an enemy of the United States and Israel. They desire to purify the area of all non-Arabs, which was one of the reasons you had the Arabization policies under Hafez and Bashar Assad and the Anfal Campaign in Iraq.
The bottom line is that the majority of Christians are working with us and we protect them. Assad is using them to further his own ambitions and most of them realize this. The majority fight by our side because we are pro-Western in our ideals and pro-Israel and pro-U.S. We are fighting on behalf of humanity.
On the other side of the coin, a number of groups have been trying to disrupt us. They disrupt us because we are against radical Islam and because we do not want Arabs, Turks and Iranians as our masters. We will include everyone in a democratic process, but we will not submit to having our identities, freedoms and lives taken away.
Mauro: You wrote an op-ed about how NATO must arm the pro-American Kurds. Who are the pro-American Kurds and who are the anti-American Kurds?
Abbas: The pro-American Kurds are the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, the Kurdish National Council and more recently the YPG/PYD [People’s Protection Units under the Democratic Union Party].
By fighting the Assad regime, the YPG has shown that they are deviating from Iranian and Baathist influence. Further, the influx of 250 U.S. special operations advisors show the Department of Defense’s confidence in the strides made by the YPG. We have stated time and time again that the YPG needed to act independently of negative regional influences and it seems that they are finally taking our advice to heart.
The Middle East is unraveling and the Kurds can play a positive role in rebuilding a peaceful Middle East. The Kurds share the same values as the West (democracy, freedom, inclusion of minorities, secular government, etc.). Furthermore, the Kurds are fighting against ISIS, radical Islam and oppression.
Western fighters (from Western militaries) have come from the U.S., Europe, Australia and other nations to fight alongside the Kurds. Why? Because we have the same ideals. Democracy and freedom is on our side and that will make all of the difference.
The Kurds are the last truly moderate force in the Syrian war. The Syrian opposition has been hijacked by the Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria), Daesh (ISIS) runs rampant, and the Baathist regime will commit mass murder if they win. If the Baathists win, there will be no “Truth and Reconciliation” process. They will go through and kill everyone who opposed them.
If Al-Nusra Front wins, you will have an unstable theocratic terrorist state for decades to come. Plus, you can anticipate them killing anyone who opposes them in kangaroo religious courts.
Lastly, if Daesh wins, you are facing a terrorist state on steroids that will continue committing mass genocide and attacks in Western nations. All of these groups have been using chemical weapons against one another, against civilians and against the Kurds.
The Kurds are the only ones who are fighting a clean war and abiding by the rules of the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, the Kurds are the only ones shielding civilians of all walks of life including all religions and ethnicities and political backgrounds. No civilians are killed by the Kurds in Kurdish regions. The civilians are not persecuted for being from different religions or for having different political beliefs.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.