Ever since 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has been acting as a country of asylum for many refugees from Iraq, mainly Christians and Mandean but also Kurds, Moslems and Yezidis who have fled Mosul. At the moment, Iraqi Kurdistan is expecting waves of refugees coming from Syria. More and more Syrian Kurdish soldiers are deserting and, consequently, fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan “to avoid having to kill or be killed”. One of them, who deserted from the Special Forces, was interviewed this week by the Kurdish Globe, using the pseudonym of Berxwedan Selim. The young man is, for the moment, living in Irbil with his brother and three other Syrians, one of whom had also deserted. Enrolled into the 15th Brigade, stationed in Southern Syria, in Deraa Province (which was the first town to demonstrate and which has also experienced blood baths), he spoke about the living conditions for those serving under the Syrian flag:
“We were under considerable pressure, from the officers who commanded us, to kill the demonstrators. My officer kept telling us that the demonstrators had to be killed. He said they were armed terrorists”.
The orders were to arrest and disperse the demonstrators by firing on them. However Berxwedan indicated that there were splits within the Army, which is a reflection of all the elements that divide Syria. The soldiers who were from Homs and Deraa refused to kill the demonstrators, as did the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, whereas the Alawiites and those loyal to the regime did as they were told. Berxwedan Selîm also said that every soldier who refused to kill was either arrested of executed by the Army.
“In my unit two soldiers were killed by Bashar loyalists. These soldiers were friends of mine, Hozan from Qamislo and Saleh from Hama. They were killed because they refused our commander’s order to kill the demonstrators”. Their execution was carried out at night and in secret. According to Berxwedan some Baathist loyalists shot each of them in the nape of the neck and then accused “terrorists” of the killing.
“Next morning, the officers said to us: “Look at these men. They refused to kill the terrorists and now the terrorists have killed them”. But we knew that they had been killed by the officers”.
After six months service, Berxwedan Selîm was given 72 hours leave. He then returned home, to Amude and, from there decided to flee, receiving help in illegally crossing the border both in Syria and from the other side, in Iraqi Kurdistan to reach Irbil.
According to him, Assad’s army is still strong but he thinks that it will collapse in about 6 months because of the great number of deserters and because the soldiers have had enough.
“We did not have enough food, nor enough time to sleep, but plenty of arms of Russian brands. The soldiers understand that the situation is slipping out of al-Assad’s control”. He stressed that his brigade was officered by mercenaries, Alawiites and Iranians.
About a hundred deserters are living in Duhok. Questioned by the daily Rudaw, they reported similar experiences. Jihad Hassan, aged 19, had been in the Syrian Army for 9 months and ended by deserting and crossing the border. One of his brothers was killed by the Syrian armed services and another seriously wounded:
“I did not want to suffer the same fate as my brothers. I did not want to be sent home in a coffin which is why I fled”.
Jihad Hassan took part in many clashes between the Syrian forces and the crowd. He thinks that the al-Assad regime is weakening daily.
“It is easy to die in Syria. Syria is getting worse every day. The regime is losing control of the country. The Syrian people are at the crossroads. They must choose between supporting the al-Assad regime or opposing it. You have to kill or be killed”.
Hussein Mahmud, also age 19, who comes from Derik, had served for 6 months in Deraa, one of the first of the towns to revolt last year. In the end he fled from there and ended up in the Dumiz camp at Duhok. It was only the daily scenes of murder and torture in which the soldiers indulged in the camp that made him realise the extent of the events: “In Deraa, I was completely isolated and could not contact my family. We were not allowed to telephone, read the papers, listen to the radio or watch television. However, every day the security forces brought in innocent people and tortured them, killed them and concealed their bodies”.
Posted to a checkpoint, he frequently came under attack from the free Syrian Army (the rebels). “We were told that they were terrorists and that we should not hesitate to kill them”, he said.
Hussein Mahmoud explains that the pro-Assad demonstrations that are filmed by the official media are put on and organised by the authorities themselves and that the troops were ordered to take part: “We were brought to take part in pro-Assad demonstrations four times. They dressed us in civvies and gave us pictures of Bashar al-Assad and slogans to wave”. According to him, many Syrian soldiers feel trapped in the army: “All the soldiers want to desert”.
The extent of desertion is confirmed by Ahmed Suleiman, 20 years of age, who served in Damascus for a year: “The regime’s forces are losing control of the area round Damascus. Much of the area has been liberated by the Free Syrian Army. The number of soldiers deserting is increasing daily.
Ahmad Sulaiman also explains that the Kurdish soldiers are systematically sent to the front line of the fighting: “They cannot retreat if they meet a strong resistance because there is a special unit of the Army charged with killing those who retreat”.
Anwar Haji Othman, Assistant Minister for the Peshmergas stated “We welcome them for humanitarian reasons, we protect them as refugees. We will not hand them over to the Syrian government because they are Kurds and it is our right to protect them”.
According to Anwar Haji Othman, the first official figures show 15 families, and 130 civilian men divided between two camps in Duhok, where there are already 1800 Kurds from Syria who had fled from violence in 2004. But other refugees will be following suite, according to the Kurdish government’s estimates. Thus Shaker Yassin, who runs the Immigration Office of the Ministry of the Interior, told AFP that they had set up a new camp at Duhok to welcome about 1000 families.
The enquiry aimed at the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) in Turkey, accused of being a political show case for the PKK, suffered an unexpected turn when, on 8 February, the Public Prosecutor in charge of the case, Sadettin Sankaya, asked to interrogate four former agents of the MIT (the Turkish Intelligence Service) and its current Director Hakan Fidan, regarding contacts with the PKK that had taken place in Oslo in 2010, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had admitted last October.
Hakan Fidan, the head of MIT and two other former heads of MIT refused to attend the summons and the Intelligence Service, in a communiqué, informed the Prosecutor “that he must ask the Prime Minister’s authorisation in matters regarding them”.
However, on 10 February, Sadettin Sar?kaya did not hesitate to issue a warrant for the arrest of the former chief of MIT, Enre Taner, a former senior official, Afet Günes and two other agents still serving. Finally this Istanbul based Prosecutor asked one of his Ankara colleagues to interrogate the present head of MIT.
The Turkish government rapidly came to the rescue of its agents, affirming that these men “had only done their duty” and the Minister of Justice filed a Bill to protect the agents from any later proceedings. President Abdullah Gul described this trial of strength as “an unhappy and disturbing development” and the Defence Minister, Ismet Yilmaz, defended the agents on the NTV channel: “The MIT assumes its responsibilities in the context of the law”.
The Prosecutor’s stubbornness in wanting to these interrogations at any price resulted in his being taken off all enquiry into the KCK from the very next day, 11 February, “for having exceeded his powers” as the deputy Public Prosecutor for Istanbul, Fikret Secen, announced. He has been replaced by two magistrates.
This did not prevent the police, on 13 February, from carrying out another wave of arrests throughout Turkey, in Trade Union circles, especially in Diyarbekir, Ankara and Istanbul, on suspicion of collusion with the KCK. Thus about a hundred people are said to have been taken in for questioning while Trade Union premises and the homes of their leaders were also searched.
Evidently, the opposition jumped on the opportunity of embarrassing the AKP government and demanded that the Prime Minister himself be summoned to explain these negotiations or attempted negotiations with the PKK. The Bill was the subject of heated exchanges in Parliament before it was finally passed on 17 February. In a speech to the AKP youth organisation, the Prime Minister had previously justified this Bill on the grounds that elected members should not become “vassals of the bureaucracy”.
In view of the AKP’s clear parliamentary majority, the Bill was easy passed, though after heated debate. Kemal Kiliçararoglu, leader of the CHP, the main opposition party, filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court, in the name of his party, to have it annulled.
Henceforth MIT agents, will be free of any judicial proceedings for any activity linked to their duties and no Prosecutor will be able to summon the without the Prime Minister’s authorisation.
The affair was widely commented on and criticised both by the press and by political analysts. Some saw it as a sign of a more or less latent conflict between the judiciary and the police on the one hand, considered hostile to the AKP and more attached to the opposition’s nationalism, and the secret services, said to be controlled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Others, however, pointed out that the Fethullah Gülen Religious brotherhood is very active in police circles and that it could reflect internal dissention within the AKP.
Finally, the fact that secret service agents contacted an enemy party for possible negotiations on the government’s orders is no exception in diplomatic history and only seems scandalous in the Turkish political arena, which is closed to any compromise or recognition of Kurdish movements. However, the judicial impunity of secret services revives the spectre of JITEM (which never had any legal existence) and other special commandos whose record of assassinations and kidnapping had bathed in blood the Kurdish regions in the 1990s and had very rarely been subjected to any investigations.
With impending Parliamentary elections, due on 2 March, Amnesty International is concerned at the number of arrests in media and blogging circles that are aimed at padlocking the election campaign and any freedom of expression. Thus Ehsan Houshmand, a Kurdish sociologist who writes about the minorities in Iran, was arrested at the beginning of the year in the course of a series of arrests of several sociologists or writers covering social issues or minorities, many of whom expressed their views on blogs as a medium for getting round the censorship.
Is also concerned at the “discriminatory procedures” set up for selecting candidates for the elections. Many have been excluded outright for various reasons going from ethnic origins to religious beliefs or political opinions. According to a report by Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for the Council of Guardians of the Revolution, that supervises the election preparations, out of 4,877 applications for candidacy, 2700 have been accepted by the Council, though the others can still appeal.
A drop of interest in the elections can be observed following the disappointment of the 2009 Presidential elections and the “Green Revolution” that followed. In 2008, 7200 people had applied to be candidate (and 1,700 had been disqualified).
The International Pact regarding civic and political rights (PIDCP) of which Iran is a signatory, nevertheless states the right of everyone, without distinction of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, birth or other status”. Article 25 declares that: “Every citizen has the right and possibility, without any of the discriminations dealt with in Article 2 or any unreasonable restrictions:
a) to take part in the direction of public business, either directly or indirectly through freely chosen intermediary representatives,
b) to vote or be elected, in the course of periodic honest elections with universal and equal suffrage, with secret balloting that ensures freed of expression of the electors will
c) to accede to his country’s public offices under general conditions of equality
Already, in 2011, the UN High Commission for Human Rights that supervises the application of the Pact had expressed anxiety over the restrictions applied in Iran to the right of free expression, of association, of meeting as well as the right to take part in public business. The High Commission had, at the end of its report, mentioned the closing of newspapers and of Iranian journalists’ associations, the arrest of journalists, press editors, film directors and of people working in media in general. It also denounced the supervision of Internet, of its use and its contents, the blocking of several Web sites that publish news and political analyses as well as the deliberate slowing of connexion sped, the jamming of foreign broadcasts by satellite that had been observed during the 2009 Presidential elections.
The NGO thus once again called on Iran to ensure the safety of journalists in the exercise of their profession, without the threat of judicial reprisals and to “release, rehabilitate and compensate— the arbitrarily detained journalists. It also demanded that supervision of Internet should not contravene freedom of expression or respect for privacy.
The High Commission also expressed its concern about the conditions required for being a candidate for parliamentary elections and the right given to the Council of Guardians of the Revolution to reject candidatures. The breaches observed during the 2009 campaign were recalled and listed: the refusal of international observers at the time of the elections; the blocking of mobile telephones and access to Internet social networks and opposition sites; the arbitrary arrest of political activists, of members of ethnic minorities or of certain religious communities, of students, of trade unionists and feminists; the arrest of leading members of the opposition in February 2011; the banning and dissolution of two political parties that called for reforms. Finally it asked Iran to reform its electoral law and to “take adequate measures to guarantee free and transparent elections in full conformity with the Pact by including provision for an independent electoral commission”.
A report on the Daily Star considered the situation of Kurds in the Lebanon, who have long been settled in the country yet are one of the most disadvantaged and least represented population groups in the country.
While the first Kurdish immigration to the Lebanon date from the end of the Ottoman Empire, other waves of migrants continued to flow in throughout the 20th Century both for economic and political reasons. Thus Bahaeddin Hassan, originally from Turkish Kurdistan, arrived there in the 70s, when he was only 15 years of age, drawn by the Lebanon’s reputation for peaceful prosperity. At first, however, he only found the hardest and odd jobs to live on. Today, at 57, he has secured Lebanese citizenship, has been able to build a family and runs a clothing export firm. He is also president of the Philanthropic Association of Kurds in the Lebanon. He explains that the situation of Kurds in the Lebanon is one of the most difficult: “We have obtained the nationality but that’s all. No one protects or defends us. No one hears out voice”.
The Kurds had a long time to wait before obtaining Lebanese nationality, since the Christians, fearing a demographic unbalance unfavourable to them for a long time blocked their naturalisation, while willingly giving it to Armenians, Assyrians and other Christian immigrants. Finally, in 1994, under Rafic Hariri’s government, some 10,000 Kurds (some of whom had been settled there for 3 generations) were able to secure Lebanese citizenship. This had not happened since the 60s, when a handful of Kurds had been naturalised with the support of Kamal Jumblatt, whose family traced Kurdish origins going back to the 10th Century.
As for Moslem, mostly Arab, they show little interest in the Kurds. In an essentially clannish country where everything works through clientelism, the singular situation of the Kurds, who are Moslem but not Arab, keeps them marginalised in the country’s social and political life. Even now, its one of the least educated, most hit by unemployment and least represented politically of the country’s ethnic component
Most of the Kurds, perhaps because of lack of access to education, are very little assimilated to the Arab world and still feel Kurdish above all else. Thus Fadia Mahmoud Ismaïl, 41 years old, brought to the Lebanon at the age of 13 to be married, says she is proud of her Kurdish heritage even though she does not envisage ever leaving the Lebanon: “I don’t feel Lebanese. My culture and language are Kurdish. I know that I am Kurdish and that will never change”.
However, like many Kurds in the Lebanon, she feels a lack of recognition in the country where she lives and particularly regrets that there is no Kurd in Parliament to represent them there or in public life.
Last November, a report written by Guita Hourani, a research worker at Notre Dame of Lebanon University, showed that the naturalisations had had a reverse side, making them vassals of a political faction since most Kurds think they have a duty to be grateful to one political “boss” or other for their new citizenship. This prevents them gathering to form an autonomous influence group devoted to defending the Kurds’ specific interests
However, according to Lokman Meho, who runs Beirut's American University Library, himself a Kurd who has worked for several years, Lebanese society is not entirely to blame for the social backwardness of the Kurds: “Many of them are illiterate, many families prevent their daughters from going to school and subordinate jobs are passed on from generation to generation”.
Thus, Lokman Meho is one of the rare Kurds to have been brought up in this society until reaching university. In this he had the good fortune of growing up in a family that gave top priority to education. Because he had the luck of being a Lebanese citizen, he was able to enjoy a scholarship from the Hariri Foundation. After passing his masters and Ph.D. in the United States in social science and information technology, her returned to his native country three years ago to run the American University Library. However, despite this social and professional success, Lokman has always felt a second-class citizen in a very sectarian society in which the Kurds suffer from prejudices and are branded as “foreigners”.
“All the Kurds are proud of being Kurdish and Lebanese. They feel both identities equally. However, if they had not suffered so much (as Kurds) they would, perhaps have been more Lebanese”.
On 3 February, an International Conference was held in the French National Assembly, organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute entitled: ø The Syrian crisis: Issues and perspectives”. The aims of this encounter and the questions raised by the research workers, political representatives and analysts were presented thus: “The bloody repression that has been rife in Syria for several long months now exposes the militaro-political nature of the Assad clan that has been in power since 1970. Thirty years after the massacres in Hama, the Syrian authorities have distinguished themselves by their war against society, as Michel Seurat (1947-1986), another victim of the Assad regime, described the system. The destruction of the urban areas of Homs and Deraa as well as the coastal and desert regions, go side by side with the open determination of Damascus to destabilise two fragile countries in the region, Iraq and the Lebanon.
The symposium on Syria being organised by the Kurdish Institute starts with the urgency of considering both the resources for survival of a hard-pressed regime and the dynamics of the resistance of a society whose very existence is threatened.
Who are the actors of a mainly provincial protest movement that is, nevertheless, changing the “political map” of the country as a whole? What chances have the political opposition bodies, mainly organised from exile? What role are the political, Islamist, liberal or left wing trends playing in the field of political dissent? To what extent does the religious situation play a part in the repression or the protest movement? What are the margins of manoeuvre do the country’s Christian minorities have? What part are the Kurds playing in the resistance? How should we analyse the relative weights being played by the local “great powers” (Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey) in the development of the Syrian crisis?”
The first Round table, chaired by Ms. Joyce Blau, University Professor Emeritus, specialist in the Kurdish language and society, covered the subject of the “dynamics of the protest movement”. It included Jordi Tejel Gorgas, research worker at l’Institut des hautes études stratégiques in Geneva and a specialist on Syrian Kurdistan, 2 members of the Syrian National Council, Kamiran Haj Ebdo and Munzer Makhous, as well as Cale Saleh, of the International Crisis Group, who had come from Cairo.
According to Jordi Tejel, the Syrian authorities are not yet on the point of collapsing, In this it differs from the other countries that had gone through the “Arab Spring”, even if there are two points of similarity between the Syrian revolt and the other rebellions: “the importance of the youth and of the Internet networks in the mobilisation”.
“After 10 months of revolt, the regime is still holding out, even if it is increasingly isolated. Bashar, however, has succeeded in fragmenting the area of protest — so far Damascus and Aleppo have remained broadly loyal. On the other hand town of the periphery have gone into revolt: Hama and Homs. The question that rises is what are the long-term consequences of this situation? Syrian territory is becoming increasingly fragmented. The situation in Syria this seems different from that of Egypt, Tunisia or even of Libya”
About the “prudence” of the Kurdish parties to openly engage in the struggle, civil or armed, Jordi Tejel Gorgas sees this as “no doubt distrust of the opposition and, particularly of the Islamic parties that are present, since all the Kurdish parties are secular. We should remember that the Moslem Brothers are supported by Turkey and that Turkey is opposed to Kurdish autonomy in Syria. This can explain the wait-and- see attitude of the Kurdish parties. There is a real danger of the Syrian revolution being confiscated at the expense of the revolutionary youth”.
Kamiran Haj Ebdo recalls that in Syria “the Kurds enjoyed no rights and, especially no right to recognition of their existence; they are not mentioned in the history or geography books. There have been revolts but they have not reached the level of those of the 70s and 80s. After the Arab spring, we are convinced that the very concept of revolution will be altered. We have called for a national dialogue between the government and the opposition but there has been no sign of listening from the government. So there is no other choice but revolution”.
Regarding the nature of the revolution, his analysis is that, fundamentally “the strength of this revolution is that it is global. There is no ethnic or religious distinction, Christians, Moslem, men, women, believers and atheists. Another characteristic of this revolution is that it is peaceful. However, up to a certain point the regime has succeeded in distorting the movement— the revolution has become less global and less peaceful. It is important to return to its global character”.
On the development of events, Kamiran Haj Ebdo does not see the Bashar al-Assad regime being able to maintain itself — but it could be replaced by another authoritarian regime because of the “one-party culture” in which Syria is steeped:
“Syria’s future depends on the global and peaceful character of the revolution. It is clear that the present regime is at an end. While, however, its president and his council of ministers must obvious go, the infrastructure and ideology the regime has set up will be harder to eliminate. We do not wish to replace one tyrant by another. But getting rid of the one-party culture will be difficult. Syria needs to create a culture of dialogue, of mutual recognition. It will be out task to build this new culture. We support the idea of a democratic Syria, multi-party, with people having different identities in which the Kurds will find their place and their land”.
Munzer Makhous, also a member of the SNC, also insisted on the plural character of Syrian society both on the ethnic and denominational level. Paradoxically, what is a richness in times of peace becomes a handicap in a period of crisis since the regime uses this diversity to fragment the population the better to control it.
Cale Saleh, of the International Crisis Group, made a more detailed account of the Kurdish political parties and particularly of the Kurdistan National Council that covers 11 parties and is very powerful in the Jezireh: “ The differences between the political parties are mainly historic. They take different stands regarding the regime, going from total opposition to more “diplomatic” relations. The most anti-regime parties are Azadi and Yeketi, parties that, historically, have suffered many political prisoners during the al-Assad regime — they are always for a very tough opposition line. At the other extremity of the political spectrum, the parties that have the best relations with the regime are closer to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani’s Iraqi party. They are mainly the Progressive Party, led by Hamid Darwish and the Left Party (Yasar). In the middle of the political spectrum are the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, that is linked to Masud Barzani’s KDP in Iraq.
The Kurdistan National Council was formed in October 2011 and regards itself as one of the three poles of the Syrian opposition, with the National Co-ordinating Committee and the Syrian National Council. It has declared that it would not start a separate dialogue with the regime as representative of the Kurds but that if the Arab opposition itself decided to start such a dialogue it would join in as the Kurdish component. It tries to embody the Kurdish element in the Syrian opposition and tries to get those Kurdish parties that are taking part in the Arab opposition to “leave” them and join it. It is trying to create an area that would enable it to mark itself off from the other opposition elements”.
As for the PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK, Cale Saleh sees it as “the regime’s best card amongst the Kurds” because “the PYD needs to enjoy a sanctuary in Syria from which to hit out at Turkey, which is its real priority. The PYD refused to join the SNC — it demanded a greater representation, which was refused. It has joined the Arab opposition of the Co-ordinating Committee and says it has secured a promise of autonomy for the Kurds in Syria. However, according to the published documents, the stand of the Co-ordinating Committee regarding the Kurds is as vague as that of the SNC. The PYD has, no doubt, joined the CC because it is opposed to any foreign intervention (contrary to the SNC) — which would certainly be initially a Turkish intervention, which is considered a catastrophe by the PYD”.
The second round Table covered the regional issues. It was chaired by Jonathan Randal, former Washington Post correspondent, and included Ahmad Salamatian, former Iranian Member of Parliament, Dr. Sadedin Mela, member of the Kurdish National Council of Syria and Antoine Steir, director of Cahiers de l’Orient.
Ahmad Salamatian spoke about the intrigues and position of Iran, one of the Syrian regime’s supporters: “The Islamic Republic feels concerned and threatened by the events in Syria. Indeed, Iran is an insular power, Shiite and surrounded by Sunnis, Persian-speaking and surrounded by Arabic and Turkic speakers. Moreover, the country is surrounded by pro-American neighbours: Afghanistan, Iraq (even if, paradoxically, in the latter country, the US seems in objective alliance with Iran!). Finally, it has reached the end of the utopia of the exportation of the Shiite Islamic revolution, which has now been replaced by State policy.
The paradox about the alliance between Iran and Syria is that the latter has a nationalist and Baathist regime. It should be recalled that when Khomeini was expulsed from Iraq he was urged to go and settle in Syria. At that time Khomeini refused, saying that the Syrians were worse than the Iraqi Baathists.
Nevertheless, Syria is also doorway that Iran can use to have links with the Mediterranean — which is of vital interest for the Islamic Republic. Thus the Syrian revolution has become a domestic issue for Iran”.
In the opinion of Antoine Sfeir: “Iran is now a country of the Arab zone. It should be recalled that what is called the Shiite arc goes from Teheran to South Lebanon via Baghdad and Damascus. Indeed, the beginning of the Arab Spring, in 2009 occurred in Teheran (…) What is taking place is a war between Sunnis and Shiites. Saudi Arabia is trying to break the Persian arc. The context of the region is also evolving. Egypt is coming into the forefront of the stage. In Turkey, Erdogan has not won the two thirds of seats in Parliament that he needed to change the Constitution. Despite his election victory, this is an important setback for him.
After a long period characterised by a strategic alliance between the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey, I think we are at present witnessing the total and regional break-up of the Nation-State — I would even say the failure of the Nation-State — and a return to Empires”.
Sadedine Mela, of the Kurdish National Council of Syria also points out the importance of Iranian, Turkish but also Russian interests in Syria: “The alliance with Syria represents a great advantage for Russia. Similarly for Iran, which is linked to it by a mutual defence treaty. Syria represents the central link in the Shiite axis in the region. It also influences, through its substantial Christian community, the Christians of the region. In the course of the last few years, Syria has also acted as the principal bridge to Iraq for Al Qaida. Finally the country is a bridge linking the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey.
Turkey, after having long supported the regime, has taken some risks and is gambling on a Sunni regime coming to power. However, it does not want to see a democratic regime set up in Syria. Firstly because of its complicated relations with the Kurds.
Iran, for its part, is plying the Shiite card and trying to prolong the regime’s survival. The United States wants to replace Russian and Iranian influence in the country by that of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia now knows that it will not be able to prevent the regime’s fall and that it risks seeing a unilateral intervention that could be confided to NATO.
As for Israel, it is staying very cautious since it has been in a situation of an agreed truce with Syria since 1974. It runs the risk of seeing a democratic regime emerging after the revolution, which could demand the Golan back — a demand which it would be hard to resist if it came from a democratic state, It also fears the opening of a new front with the Hezbollah”.
The third Round Table analysed both the regional and international issues. Chaired by Mr. Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, it included Joseph Bahout, of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Alain Gresh, Assistant director of Le Monde Diplomatique, Fuad Hussein, Chief of staff of the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, and Joseph Maila, forecast manager of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.
Professor Josef Bahout pointed out the specific characteristics of the revolution in Syria, which is characterised by a marked internationalisation: “The first striking point about the Syrian revolution is that has been the most internationalised of the Arab revolutions. At present it is more of a regional or international crisis than a purely Syrian event. It is thus very different from the preceding revolutions of the Arab Spring cycle, so far.
Why this growing internationalisation? Because of the time factor. The Egyptian revolution succeeded after 18 days, the Tunisian after 23 days. In Syria, the first demonstrations began 11 months ago. We are thus faced with a very different time scale. This extension in time has created violence and led both to a territorialisation, a militarisation and a “militianisation” of events and of the regimes forces.
This long time has also provoked the internationalisation of the conflict. This is also due to Syria’s specific position at regional level:
- the link between Syria and the Israeli-Arab conflict
- the link with the Arabo-arab cold wars
- the link with the Iranian question.
On the other hand, this long time has led to the realisation of self-fulfilling prophecies of the Baathist regime: this has finally become the cause of what it denounced, namely foreign involvement in Syrian internal affairs”.
Finally Syrian territory is also that on which several rival regional and international powers are confronting one another: “a confrontation Russia — Western World, with China, to a lesser extent in the Russia camp, a world-wide confrontation of the Shiite and Sunni worlds, with the possibility of its extension Eastwards through Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan etc. Iran is conducting operations in Syria, the Gulf States are injecting money etc.
Another issue in the Syrian crisis: the control of Iraq, being fought over between the Turkish and Iranian influences. Turkey would like to play the role of defender of Sunni interests in the Middle East. In this crisis, the actors are obliged to use their traditional resources. Om the other hand there is an aspect of Arabo-Arab struggles, namely competition inside the Gulf Cooperation Council.
A final cleavage line, inside the Lebanon, which pits the 14 March forces and those of 8 March, notably with the presence of the Hezbollah. All these cleavages have been able to be deployed because of the duration of the events in Syria. This we have come to the internationalisation of the conflict”.
Alain Gresh, for his part, dealt with one of the questions raised by Kendal Nezan in his introduction to this Round Table: “Is it not already too late for Syria?” and expressed his scepticism about a possible resort to foreign military action:
“Inside the country things have reached a deadlock. Despite all its violence, the regime cannot end the opposition and the opposition cannot overthrow the regime — to some extent because of its own divisions. Some communities are haunted by fear of the future, for example the Christians, who have seem the consequences of the change in Iraq. (Nevertheless one must avoid characterising Syrians solely by their membership of a community.) At this level the opposition has shown its weakness by failing to convince them. Now we are faced with a probable civil war which will have catastrophic consequences, both in Syria and in the Lebanon — but also on the whole process of demanding democracy throughout the Arab world.
There is no military solution. Already external intervention has had catastrophic consequences in Iraq and Libya … Bringing down naughty dictators does not provide a lasting solution: the only solution possible seems to be political transition starting with negotiations with at least part of the regime. I am thinking about what has happened in Latin America, where one of the lateral consequences has been an amnesty on crimes.
There is a danger of creating the illusion that things will end by military intervention, whereas this seems very difficult. A transition must be negotiated, even if the regime has, so far, been closed to all attempts of this kind. However, I think that the invitation made by Russia to come and negotiate is a good way and we should urge the opposition to accept it”.
Speaking on beheld of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Fuad Hussein, wanted, from the start, to mark the difference between the position of Iraqi Kurdistan and that of the Baghdad government regarding the Syrian question: “The KRG’s policy towards Syria is not necessarily that of the Central government. The Iraqi government has tried to adopt the role of link between the government and the opposition, so far unsuccessfully. These attempts have been rejected by the Syrian opposition.
There is, in Syria, a struggle between two blocks: on the one side Turkey and on the other Iran. This opposition also reflects the opposition between Shiites and Sunnis. It is not only a religious opposition but also an opposition between different political ideologies. Many Alawiites support Bashar al-Assad’s regime because they think that if the Moslem Brothers or the Salafists came to power in Syria, the issue for them would not be just a question of power but of survival…”.
Joseph Maïla, forecasting manager at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, examined “the place of the Syrian case in the Arab Spring”, in which he found motives for revolt similar to those in Tunisia, in the Yemen, in Morocco and also with Libya in the severity of the repression: “Here, too, there exists a responsibility to protect civilians, that which had led to the adoption of resolution N° 1973 passed on 17 March 2011, following Articles 138 and 139 of the Millennium objectives for developing the international community when civilians are in danger, of substituting oneself for the State, whose duty it normally is, when it is faltering or criminal, to protect the population”.
Finally he recalled the official position of France, which has endorsed the Arab League plan, that is to say transition plan of 22 January for a gentle transition for France and all the parties that renounce violence. No one thinks that the solution can come from a military intervention, even if this could, at least, meet the necessity for protecting the population”.
The fourth and last Round Table raised the question of Syria’s future. Chaired by Marc Kravetz, a journalist with France Culture, it included Abdulahad Astepho, president of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, member of the Executive Committee of the SNC, Kamiran Hajo, member of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, Zuhat Kubani, leader of the Democratic Unity (PYD) in Europe, and Haytham Manna, president of the National Coordination Council for a Democratic Change abroad.
Zuhat Kubani, leader of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD) in Europe, supported “a practical and global programme including the building of socio-cultural institutions” and an “autonomous government” for Syrian Kurdistan. “The Kurds could then play an effective role for democratisation in Syria, which could also be useful as a model for the Arab world”.
Abdulahad Astepho, president of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, member of the Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council, first of all presented the reality of the Assyrian component of Syria, which is a people before being a faith, and recalled that “the appointment of religious dignitaries, Christian as well as Moslem, under the Assad regime had to be subject to the approval of the Intelligence Services”. The Assyrian leader said he was in favour of a democratic, secular Syria with a common national project.
Haytham Manna, president of the National Coordination Council for a Democratic Change abroad, exposed the roots of the discrimination against the Kurds in Syria, which he traced back to the French Mandate and the influence of Jacobinism as from the 40s, and that the Syrian-Arab chauvinism did not just date from the Assad dynasty: “It must be recalled that most discriminatory law against the Kurds in Syria was passed in 1962, that is before the Baath Party took power. The fact is that there exists, well beyond the Baath, a structural ideological problem in Syria (…) Nor must the regime be characterised as exclusively Alawiite — the Alawiites are not in the majority amongst the heads of the intelligence services. Syria is not a denominational State, like the Lebanon. The power structure in Syria seems to me more like what Max Weber called “groupings of military and security interest”. We must carry out a deeper analysis of the nature of this power to see how to destroy it and build a democratic alternative with all the components of Syrian society: Alawiites, Israelites, Druzes, Christians and also Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians …”.
Finally Hajo Kamuran, of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, saw the country as being in a “No return” situation. Defending both the right of the Kurds and Assyrians to exist as recognised minorities in the Syrian Constitution he demanded “a right of self-determination in the framework of the country’s unity. This claim is a test for democracy and for the different opposition forces. The rights of the Assyrians— and other minorities— must also be recognised and guaranteed”.
The dengbej and tenbur player, Eli Tico, whose real name is Mihemmed Eli Mihemmed Elo, died on 16 February last in Syria. He was 82 years old.
El Tico was a greatly loved artist of the Efrin region, with his repertory of a hundred ballads and epics, including one celebrating Sheikh Said and the 1925 uprising against Turkey.
He was arrested by the Syrian authorities in February 2008 after he has welcomed in his house in Aleppo, a delegation of Kurdish singers from the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Syrian police then carried out a raid and searched his home before taking him to be interrogated at the Aleppo Security Centre, then referred him to the Mukhabarat (Intelligence) H.Q. in Damascus.
His repertory was often political and patriotic to the glory of all the figures of Kurdish resistance wherever they might be from.