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Kurdish Opposition of Syria speaks up

At the Palace of Westminster, leading Kurd figures call for a "united front" against the Assad regim

UK-based representatives of Syria's Kurdish opposition met on Wednesday, 15 February, in the House of Lords. They came, under the title of Struggle for Democratic Change in Syria, to discuss critically the current humanitarian situation and necessary preparations for a post-Assad Syria.

Since protesters took to the streets against the Assad regime in mid-March 2011, the UN Human Rights Council estimates 5,500 people have lost their lives. As conditions continue to deteriorate, many Syrians fear a transition towards sectarian war.

Opening the meeting, host Lord Hylton raised concerns that British public opinion on the issue of Syria had "become confused". The presence of violence and the complexity of the opposition scene, he cited, are factors contributing to such confusion. Kurdish figures representing various opposition groups spoke alongside Lord Hylton of the need for a united front against the regime.

Khalaf Dahowd, speaking as UK representative for the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), affirmed that "there can be no alternative regime until the opposition is united". He added that the opposition will gain international support more easily if it unifies. Dahowd further reflected critically on the missed opportunities of lobbying Russian and Chinese officials "with a united face"; to ask for their support and to ask them to withdraw their support for the regime. China, he explained, had not met any opposition figure until recently, when it met with representatives of the National Co-ordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria.

Dahowd reiterated the NCB's principle of "no to violence, no to sectarian strife and no to foreign military intervention". His view that the revolution must remain peaceful -- "otherwise it will become sectarian" -- was echoed by speaker Dr. Alan Semo, representing the Democratic Union Party (PYD). For Dr. Semo, it is important to remember that the violence comes from the regime and not from the protesters. He added that "if non-violence seems romantic, then I support 'the romantic' over weapons, since," he argued, "arming the revolution would quickly raise the death toll to 100,000".

Dr. Semo highlighted that, while the NCB recognizes Kurdish national rights, the Syrian National Council (SNC) -- the most internationally recognized opposition body -- does not: "The SNC talks of the Kurds as France talks of its immigrants. How can I fight with you if you don't even recognize me?" The SNC has been criticized -- even by its Kurdish members -- for exclusion of Kurdish interests. Dr. Alan stressed that "the right to self-determination [for Kurds and other minorities] must be enshrined in the new constitution now. Later, it can be determined, through popular referendum, what form self-determination should take". Both Dr. Semo and Dahowd expressed concern about the influence of the Turkish state on the Istanbul-established SNC; given Turkey's vested interest as a neighbour and as it is not a good example of democracy. They asked how Turkey could support the Syrian opposition's movement towards democracy when it has an unresolved problem with its own indigenous Kurds.

Finally, Rebar Hajo, speaking on behalf of the Syrian Kurdish Council in Britain, similarly emphasized the importance of the opposition working closely with one another and forming a clear and unified agenda. The regime, he said, "has lost the revolution already. Yes, it is still costing us lives, but they have already lost in the end and peaceful ways of struggle will only ensure our democratic future with the rest of our Syrian citizens." The main task now, he suggested, is to look beyond this regime, to come together and build a free, democratic society "so that our enemies cannot divide us and take advantage of the chaos when the regime finally falls." He went on: "The chaos is a fact that we should not be afraid of. It accompanies nearly every revolution and is a bitter reality that we just have to accept in order to achieve a greater cause: freedom."

Mr Hajo also called for a stop to the brutal violence in the towns of Homs and Hama, and the rest of the country by a regime that has already lost its legitimacy. "The backing of the international community," he argued, "is essential in order to provide protection for the revolutionaries facing this barbaric regime and also to provide safe zones for Syrian refugees." Dr. Semo concluded the meeting with an appeal to the international community "to insist that the Syrian regime meets the legitimate demands of the protesters and allow a peaceful transition of power towards a democratic, free and pluralistic Syria, where all ethno-religious segments of Syrian society will be equally represented by a new democratic, pluralistic Syrian constitution."

Taghee Moas is the pseudonym for a freelance writer on the Middle East

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Must I unremember the day I wept over the long, slow suicide of a 27-year-old man?

At that time we did talk about the occupation of Ireland. Now we have to pretend we didn’t and it’s all the jolly UK and thank you, England for the peace process.

The misremembering of history interrupts these tales of my own squalid past. Very often I find myself wishing my memories were wrong, or that I’d forgotten more than I have. This would certainly be the case were I to be a politician, albeit a small-time one in big-time government. In the era of renunciations and sincere apologies, I would have to say sorry most of the time.

But I can’t. I can’t get past that clear day in May 1981, when the tangy cold spring air of a New York day got right inside me. Ambling home from another long, messy night in the Village, I was near 52nd when I saw people carrying a coffin.

“It’s not him, of course. It’s a fake coffin,” said a woman who saw the shock on my face. Maybe I was already crying. I knew and didn’t know but asked anyway.

“Yes. Bobby.”

Bobby Sands had died. Crowds were gathering with banners about Smashing Long Kesh and Smashing Thatcher.

The shock of it has never left me and God knows “martyrs” come two a penny now. Yet the idea that someone can starve themselves slowly to death for an idea is shocking. The idea that someone can let them do it, either “for” a United Ireland or “for” a United Kingdom, remains profoundly disturbing to me.

I need no lectures about what vile and murderous bastards the IRA were, or the numbers of innocents they killed. Nor about the smeary sentimentality of martyrdom itself. All I can say is that I had little idea of what “we” did in Ireland as long as I lived in England. A boy at school had run off to join the IRA. My mum said, “Well, he’s always been tapped, that one.”

We were kept ignorant. For some stupid reason, I did not think that Thatcher would let the hunger strikers die.

Their demands, remember, were the right not to wear prison uniform or to do prison work, rights to free association and education within the prison, one visit, one parcel, one letter a week. They wanted to be treated as political prisoners. Thatcher said Sands had no mandate. He was actually an MP, with more votes than she ever won in Finchley.

In New York that day, when we got to Third Avenue, there was anger and then solemnity. There were mumblings about what a death like that entailed . . . Mandela then instigated a hunger strike on Robben Island. There were protests in Milan and Ghent. French towns would name streets after Sands.

At that time, though, yes, we did talk about the occupation of Ireland. Now we have to pretend we didn’t and it’s all the jolly UK and thank you, England for the peace process.

So, must I unremember that day when I sat down on the pavement and wept over the long, slow suicide of a 27-year-old man? Let me know how to uncry all those tears shed for that terrible, terrible waste.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide