Sherkoh Abbas is a busy man. Residing in Washington D.C., he has the colossal job of lobbying for a state that does not yet exist – Syrian Kurdistan, a.k.a. Rojava. He is the Chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly, an umbrella group of Kurdish organizations, political parties and civil leaders. Much like other exile groups in the past who have advocated in Washington, he has pushed hard for his people’s autonomy, if not independence.
“Our umbrella group came to the conclusion back in 2006 that Syria’s Kurds need to establish a federal region similar to the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG),” says Abbas, “to make Syria into a democratic federal state. A Kurdish region would enable Kurdish rights.”
Mr. Abbas went on to describe a philosophy of neutrality for such a region that seemed to reflect some of the goals declared by Israel’s own declaration of Independence.
“Our philosophy is compatible with a free market economy and Western values. It calls for good relations with Western nations, plus economic relations and friendly ties in the region with no meddling in the affairs of the rest of region. We are more concerned with the affairs of Syrian Kurds.”
Past exilic leaders have become major players in Middle Eastern politics. Ahmed Chalabi lobbied for regime change in Iraq for years before the 2003 American invasion, quickly rising up the ranks to become one of the first governors of post-Saddam Iraq. Abbas personally emphasizes that his community is still trying to establish its name abroad.
“It’s important to be here in Washington to focus on building relations for Syrian Kurds and the rest of Syrians as well; we also have other representatives and members in Europe doing the same. We see our job as bringing the support of international community and to communicate that we Kurds share the same values of stability, peace and democracy and preventing radical groups from gaining a foothold in the area.”
2006 was the original point when Mr. Abbas’ Assembly announced its position that Syria should be modeled on the new Iraq and federalized. But given the four years of civil war, Abbas admitted that that initial vision was likely unrealistic at this point when asked by Arutz Sheva.
“We initially had a vision of regime change where the country would become a democratic and federalist Syria with Kurdish, Alawite, Druze and several Sunni governments to bring it closer to the 1930s model when there would be five major regions.”
Abbas refers to the original French mandate for Syria after World War I. Basing borders off ethnic divisions, France created six separate regions. One of those was a Christian enclave that later became independent Lebanon. Another was the province of Alexandretta – Hatay – later annexed to Turkey. The rest of Syria included a Druze state in the south, an Alawite state on the coast, and separated north and south with capitals in Damascus and Aleppo. In Abbas’ scenario, the Kurds would get their own autonomy and the number of federated regions might be open for discussion.
“Syria is going in a direction that makes it difficult to establish such a state but it doesn’t prevent the idea of establishing a federal Kurdish region. Even Henry Kissinger says Syria is a failed state that should be allowed to break up.”
While he advocates the Alawite population – who form the bulk of the regime’s upper echelon and military ranks – should also get its own regional government, he does not skip over the issue that the likely administrators of that region would be detested by a large number of Syrians. It is the current regime that is amplifying visceral hatred against the sect.
“The Alawites have controlled Syria and have too much blood on their hands – if the Sunnis win they would slaughter the Alawites and the Alawites have been doing whatever it can to retain its power.”
“In our view the political formula the State Department calls for is impossible. This is a regime that has killed 250,000 people and displaced more than half of Syria. Working with radical Islamists like ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra is also impossible.”
“It makes sense in the long run to protect rights of Alawites, Kurds and Druze by establishing federal regions for them. This is the only way you can have a solution. Anything contrary to that would fail.”
But Abbas sees a future where the sides have to come to some sort of arrangement in order to end that bloodshed. While he hints strongly at the likelihood these regions would probably become independent states, he does not dismiss the more established idea of his organization to form a confederation of ethnoreligious regions.
“We need to find way to work together in a very loose confederation,” says Abbas. He says this arrangement also benefits the various powers invested in Syria by “protecting the interests of Alawites and their allies in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah; the Kurds, the Druze and their allies the US, the West and Israel; Sunnis the other Arab Sunni states.”
“What Obama’s done for Iraq since taking office has not worked and will never work. At this point we need to ask, ‘How do we make sure each group has the protection it needs?’”
When asked if this arrangement was meant to preserve a semblance of a single country or if every region would be viewed as virtually independent states by the world (with their own representation in international forums and separate voting in places like the United Nations), Abbas pointed out that the issue was not yet relevant because the international community was not invested enough in the situation to help inform on that question.
“The international community itself buries its head in the sand,” says Abbas, who suggests that drawing out the war just to have a situation that would enable a strong central government merely “prolongs and creates more radicalization. These people have gone years and will go longer with no education and destroyed lives. The only thing they know is violence. It is important for the international community to do their job and find a way.”
“Ensuring that there will be no punishment and each group rules itself. We can have a very loose, decentralized and confederal Syria. Each group would be king of its own area. General resources (among the regions) would be shared according to some formula.”
Abbas adds that the Western – particularly the Obama Administration’s – view to establish a clear winner is hopeless. Partition or confederation is a much more realistic and painless option in his opinion.
“It would establish a winner in a sense that each group needs to compromise and share power.”