George Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council (SNC) which is a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Istanbul, said that Syria’s Kurds should not be insisting on guarantees of self-rule in a future government. “The most important mission is to topple the Syrian regime and give the opportunity to a new Syria,” he added in an interview with Rudaw. Sabra claimed that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is not included in the SNC, “is implementing the agenda of the Syrian regime.” He thinks that the PYD’s declaration of autonomy in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) will not last. Here is an edited transcript of his interview:
Rudaw: The Syrian opposition does not have a clear political stance toward the Kurdish issue. What is your position in this regard?
George Sabra: Our position is clear, which is the stance of the Syrian National Council (SNC). We have also made many declarations about this issue. First, you have to realize that the Kurds are part of the Syrian nation. They are a major component in Syria and part of this revolution. They are doing their part in the revolution. Their rights are protected in the achievements of this revolution like the rest of the Syrian people. Our position has been clearly stated in a special publication by the SNC, because the Kurdish issue has become part of the national cause of Syria. This declaration is important for all the Syrians, because in it the SNC stated: First, the oppression against Kurds in Syria must end; second, it serves as a constitutional recognition to the existence of the Kurdish nation.
You have to realize that the Kurds are part of the Syrian nation.
Rudaw: In addition to the basic rights, the Kurds have territorial claims as well. Do you accept that?
George Sabra: First, the Kurds are a nation of this region and they are living on their own land, and they need no recognition from others to affirm this fact. This is a historical reality and the Kurds have not been imported from somewhere else. This is their own country, just like the Arabs, Assyrians, Turks and the other nations living in Syria. We are currently in a revolution, in which all the components of the Syrian nation are taking part. The rights of all these components have not been overlooked. These rights shall be achieved through a state citizenship system, a democratic, plural and multi-cultural state. So our message today is: The most important mission is to topple the Syrian regime and give the opportunity to a new Syria. Then, dialogue should start among all the ethnic and religious components of Syria to create that new state.
Rudaw: What would guarantee the Kurdish rights in the new Syria?
George Sabra: No one has the right to demand guarantees, and no one has the right to give guarantees. If we talk about guarantees, all the groups in Syria will demand guarantees. This would distract us from our main mission, which is toppling the regime and paving the path for a democratic state. The only guarantee for all will be their participation in the revolution, and the Kurds are doing their part in this regard. A second guarantee would be our emphasis and cooperation from now on. The Kurdish rights should be like the rights of the Arabs, of the Assyrians, of the Turkmens and other groups.
Rudaw: You have previously stated that there are no Kurdish regions in Syria, and that there was no region called Kurdistan of Syria. Do you still believe that?
The Kurdish rights should be like the rights of the Arabs, of the Assyrians, of the Turkmens and other groups.
George Sabra: Kurds are living all across Syria. The Kurdish regions are known, such as the Kurdish villages that are mostly populated by Kurds. There are also big numbers of Kurds living in the big cities. We have to first free ourselves, then start serious negotiations among all the groups of Syria.
Rudaw: Do you accept the model of Iraqi Kurdistan to be implemented by the Kurds of Syria as well?
George Sabra: The Iraqi Kurdistan Region was formed after the agreements that took place among the Iraqi people, the Kurds and the Arabs. It was not a unilateral decision. It was after the agreement of Algeria and many other agreements that took place in Iraq. We are hoping to reach a similar level of cooperation through talks because unilateral actions are void. Any unilateral decisions by the Arabs, Kurds, or the Turkmens will be void. Decisions will have value only when they are made through cooperation.
Rudaw: There are many scenarios about a possible partition of Syria into three parts. Is the opposition ready for such scenarios?
George Sabra: I do not see anything beyond a united Syria, as was created in the middle of the previous century. Syria is for everyone, and Kurds have served as presidents, head of government, ministers of defense and ministers of interior in this country. The Christians as well have served as representatives, ministers and speakers of the parliament. Yousuf al-Azma and Ibrahim Hanano were our leaders, as well as the leaders of the Kurds and the Arabs in Syria.
Rudaw: Why do you avoid talking about a federal system? What are the reasons?
George Sabra: This issue concerns all the Syrians. No group has the right to impose this system on the others. Syria will become open for free negotiations. Whenever the people of Syria cooperate to choose a new system for their own country, all will accept it. We still have time for that and it is not excluded as an option. The fate of Syria as a state must be a decision that’s made by all.
Rudaw: Three cantons have been formed in west (Syrian) Kurdistan and they have become a reality. What will be your reaction?
I do not see anything beyond a united Syria, as was created in the middle of the previous century.
George Sabra: I do not believe it has become a reality. It is still a project. Unfortunately, only one Kurdish party put this project into action, which is the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD is implementing the agenda of the Syrian regime. We know that the Kurdish people do not support them. The Kurdish parties who think within the framework of a united Syria do not support this action.
The true representatives of the Kurds in Syria -- I mean those who participated in the revolution -- have the right to represent the demands of the Syrian people and to collaborate with the other Syrian groups to end the Syrian regime. They are the true representatives of the wishes and the desires of the Kurds and the Syrian people. We believe the current situation is a temporary one and represents the wishes of only one Kurdish party. It is raising many question marks, by the Syrian Kurds as well. The support of the Syrian regime to this project and PYD leaders is obvious. I do not believe that the regime will support any project that would benefit the Syrian people.
Rudaw: The PYD says that the Syrian opposition is working for outside forces, like Turkey and other regional powers.
George Sabra: The PYD is the least entitled to talk about working for external agendas and powers. The PYD’s links to the Syrian regime and Iran is clear to everyone. It is not about agendas. The opposition needs arms and assistance from all friends and the regional powers. This is a normal thing. We are not forming exclusive ties with certain countries. We have relations with a number of friendly Arab countries, also with countries like Turkey, Iraq and especially the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region was among the first to assist the Syrian revolution and the first refuge for the Syrian refugees who fled the oppression of the regime. Not all the oppression and violence in Syria are committed by the Syrian regime; some groups within Syria are also part of this violence against the civilians.
Rudaw: Don’t you also feel that tensions between the Arabs and the Kurds have been especially palpable in the region of Qamishli in Hasakah governorate?
We believe the current situation is a temporary one and represents the wishes of only one Kurdish party.
George Sabra: I hope it has not reached the level to be called sedition, but there is real danger. We were happy that there was less violence in Hasakah than any other Syrian cities, and less Syrian blood was spilled there. But the recent conflicts between the PYD and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are changing that. Reports say that a number of Arab villages have been burnt and its residents displaced and killed. This is a real misfortune. The (UN) Security Council has decided to send humanitarian aid to Syria, but the Syrian regime said that the sovereignty of Syria must be protected before allowing those aids to enter the country.
Rudaw: Does the assistance reach the Kurdish regions as well?
George Sabra: Yes, of course. Part of the plan is to send aid to Erbil and from there to the Syrian governorate of al-Hasakah. Thus, the Syrians who live in the north will benefit from this international aid, which will come from Erbil.
Rudaw: There is traffic between the Syrian opposition and Erbil. What are your requests from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)?
George Sabra: First, we came to thank the KRG and the Kurdish nation in this region, because we really believe and appreciate the position of the people and the government. We only request the continuation of this support. The Kurdistan region is a window through which we can continue breathing. Kurdistan region is a window of freedom for Syrian people who are running from the explosive barrels of Bashar al-Assad and fierce fighting.
We are also hopeful that the KRG will have a role in putting out the flame of sedition, which has been instigated by the Syrian regime and its agents in Hasakah. We believe the KRG and its President Massoud Barzani can play an important role in this regard, because he is respected among the Kurds and the Arabs.