On December 30, 2019, ECFA hosted the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) Official Sihanouk Dibo to speak about the current Syrian situation and its developments, and the Kurds’ position in this regard. It was the third visit of Mr. Sihanouk to ECFA, as he has visited it twice during 2015 as part of the Syrian opposition delegation.
At the beginning, Dr. Mounir Zahran, Chairman of the Council, welcomed Mr. Dibo, affirming the Egyptian state’s keenness to ensure Syria’s unity, independence and territorial integrity. Then he invited the guest to take the floor.
Mr. Dibo noted in his speech the following:
1- He outlined the structure of the Syrian Democratic Council, indicating that it includes all the components present in northern Syria (Arabs – Armenians – Syriacs … etc.) with the largest share for the Kurdish component, and is co-chaired by Ms. Ilham Ahmed (Kurdish) and Mr. Riyad Darrar (Arab). The council is affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces, which played a major role in eliminating ISIS and is led by General Mazloum Abdi.
2- Speaking about the causes of the Syrian crisis, he indicated that one of the underlying causes is the regime’s failure to involve all components of the Syrian people in power, so that there could be a sense that Syria is the homeland of all Syrians. Instead, authority was concentrated in a centralized system dominated by the Alawite minority, which is self-centered.
3- Against this background, the Syrian crisis is considered as a mirror of all the crises in the Middle East. It is an evidence of the failure of the central nation-state that has been imposed on the region since the Sykes-Picot arrangements in 1916.
He added that Egypt remains an exception in this regard in view of its history and social fabric, noting that the success of the nation-state model in Europe is mainly due to the separation of religion from state and politics.
He explained that the ideal model is the nation-state in which there is an equality between all sects, and that Kurds have been defending such a model for years, explaining that they have chosen “democratic decentralization” as an opposition to the future Syria, in a way that allows power for all.
4- Political Islam, and its support by both Turkey and Qatar in Syria, is another major cause of the Syrian tragedy. Except for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurds welcomed dialogue with all parties of the opposition, pointing out that although the regime in Damascus was the cause of the tragedy, it is part of the solution. Stemming from this conviction, the Kurds held a dialogue with the regime in four rounds in which all controversial issues were discussed. However the regime insisted on reproducing itself as it was before 2011.
5- Turkey is exploiting the situation in Syria and the Syrian refugee problem to achieve its objectives and ambitions in Syria. However, the ceasefire agreement concluded by Turkey with the United States on October 17, and with Russia on October 22, 2019, resulted in a relative containment of the conflict and a halt to Turkey’s control of more territories in northeastern Syria. In this context, it is worth noting that Erdogan’s primary goal is to bring non-local citizens and force them to settle, and to expel the Kurdish people from the border areas and non-local citizens, who are mainly mercenaries whom Erdogan uses to implement his agenda in Syria. This agenda is clearly crystallized in Afrin where a number of Arabs settle in the homes of the Kurds there.
Despite the retreat of the SDF following Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring on October 9, 2019, and the previous loss of Afrin during Operation Olive Branch in March 2018, which made them lose control over Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad; they managed to maintain their de facto independence, by establishing a balance between Moscow, Damascus, Ankara and Washington, without disintegrating. Also, the continued US presence in the oil-rich areas in northeastern Syria provided these forces with an advantage in the negotiations in Damascus.
6- In addition, the Syrian Democratic Forces have reached understandings with Damascus, mediated by Russia, to protect the Syrian borders. According to the assurances of the SDF commander, they will join the Syrian army only if a new constitution guaranteeing the right of the forces to “preserve their independence in their area of command and their institutions” is put. On its part, Damascus still refuses to agree to any provisions stipulating recognition of SDF. It remains determined to integrate its fighters on an individual basis into the Syrian army. Al-Assad does not seem interested in concluding a similar agreement, even though it may improve Syria’s deteriorating economy, as the SDF controls large oil and agricultural resources and conducts trade deals with the Iraqi Kurds, which could provide flows to the Syrian economy as a whole in the event that an agreement is reached.
In fact, in case Damascus and SDF were unable to reach an agreement, tensions could rise again. The ongoing regional tensions between the United States and Iran could also negatively affect the “Syrian Democratic Forces”, especially in light of the deterioration of its economy, and thus the SDF will remain a de facto independent entity despite its uncertain future, unless there are sudden changes at the political level in Syria.
7- Mr. Dibo concluded his speech by noting that they count to a great extent on the Egyptian role and that they are holding frequent visits to Cairo to continue the dialogue, recognizing that Egypt has no ambitions in Syria. He added that they believe that it is important to restructure the Cairo platform for the Syrian opposition. In this context, they are preparing for a third round in Cairo, to be scheduled later.
The audience posed some questions to the Syrian Kurdish guest, and he answered them.
Details of the meeting and the discussions and questions raised can be found on the Council’s website, under the section: Visiting Delegations.