Editorial: A Dream for Syria and Serê Kaniyê


I read with horror about the attacks in  Serê Kaniyê for over two weeks. Although the fighting has calmed, the city hasn’t, and because nothing has truly changed, it seems like a matter of time until the fighting breaks out yet again.  Despite attempts to reach a permanent truce mediated by Syrian opposition member Michel Kilo, no agreement has been made. As reported by Al-Monitor, the following conditions were laid out by the Revolutionary Military Council:

The Revolutionary Military Council in Hasaka province, claiming affiliation with the FSA, demanded that the Kurdish flag be lowered and that the city be handed over to the opposing Syrian National Coalition, as a prerequisite for maintaining the fragile truce with those whom the FSA labeled Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters.

As a condition of the truce, the Kurdish side would be required to recognize the coalition, as “it is the sole party concerned with managing the country politically and administratively. The PKK fighters are also required to withdraw from Ras al-Ain back to their barricades in the regions from which they came. The FSA shall remain in the city, since the Revolutionary Military Council is considered as the legitimate representative of Ras al-Ain and its surroundings. A local council is to be formed including all the city’s different groups and factions.”

Of course, the Kurds refused. By asking them to take down their flags and submit to Arab military and political rule, the Military Council was in effect asking the Kurds to deny any of their own agency in the role of this revolution. It was asking the Kurds to replace one authoritarian regime for another. And it was asking the Kurds to reject the autonomy that has been denied to them for so long.

I am speaking as an Arab Syrian who has suffered so much under Bashar al-Assad. We can’t pay empty lip service to the chants of “The Syrian People Are One”. What happened in Serê Kaniyê was an attack on the Kurdish people, an insult to our revolution, a waste of lives and resources, and a dangerous round of violence that has the potential to spill over for years. As Arabs, we must actively embrace our Kurdish brothers and sisters, and learn how to engage in meaningful conversations about difficult topics.

We can not wait passively for the downfall of the regime before we have these conversations. We must actively build sustainable political and social bridges so that the marginalization of the Kurdish community ends with the birth of a free Syria. Clearly the downfall of the regime is not a guarantee of the downfall of the challenges that Syria faced. Freedom for Syria will be an empty freedom unless it is accompanied by a willingness to redress the wrongs that our Kurdish brothers and sister have faced for a century.

The political marginalization that Kurdish groups have faced within the Syrian opposition, especially the Syrian National Council, has not been a hopeful sign. In order to continue forward, the Syrian opposition must explicitly state its willingness to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Kurdish groups, and acknowledge that the Kurds have a right to their language, culture, and autonomy.

Syria has not only suffered, it has suffocated. The forty years of authoritarian rule by the Assad regime, and the two incredibly violent years of the uprising, have left their mark on how Syrians relate to each other along ethnic and religious lines. I fear that what happened in Serê Kaniyê is merely the beginning of a new conflict, but I hope it is the end of an old one. I dream of a Syria that has healed from this revolution, that has actualized the principles that drove Syrians to protest to begin with. I dream of a Syria that is greater than the sum of its parts, that celebrates the contributions of all of its groups.

I condemn the actions of the military groups who attacked Serê Kaniyê, and I condemn any further violence against innocent Kurdish civilians from both the regime and those who claim to fight against the regime. I demand that the Syrian opposition make a true effort to reach out to its Kurdish counterparts, and I demand the end to the marginalization of the Kurdish community in Syria. I encourage everyone, Arab and Kurd, to join me in demanding that the human rights of Kurds, and everyone else in Syria be respected.