What can be done to solve the Syrian crisis? Ten years have now passed since the start of the Syrian uprising. The tapestry that once was our people has been torn into its component colors — red, yellow, blue, green. Each thread is just one small part of a whole Syria. We must weave our threads again into the fabric of our nation.
The solution is in peaceful dialog, not in combat. It is in stabilization, restoration, and economic recovery for our region. It is in building a Syria that is based on democracy, equality, and human rights. It is in ending military occupation and providing lasting security so that our people, refugees and displaced can return. But mostly, the solution will come when the Syrian people themselves come together to overcome our divisions and differences, and work together toward a democracy that includes all. There are many democratic forms that a new Syria could take. But one thing is clear. We will not return to the oppressive system of the current regime.
In mid-March 2011, when students and protesters, inspired by the Arab Spring, began calling for the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, we could not have predicted that Syria today would be in ruins. Caught in a great power conflict, the Syrian crisis has caused
7 million refugees and displaced persons, 500,000 deaths, food instability and a health care crisis, an economic catastrophe with 80 percent of people living in poverty, and the occupation of the Turkish military and Islamic extremists.
Ten years later, Assad has lost the war, even as he clings to his nominal title. He can win militarily, perhaps, but he cannot win politically. The people of Syria have not endured ten years of uprising only to return to life under the Assad government. Everyday people will not just step back under the shadow of an authoritarian regime. In order to win our own country, we the people must form a better nation, one based on democracy, equality, and respect for human rights.
While all of Syria has been in conflict for the past ten years, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has built a system of governance that protects and serves the people. The region under AANES control is approximately one-third of Syria, populated by close to five million people. We offer services such as water, electricity, sanitation, police forces, education, and healthcare. Although our people are economically suffering, and under threat of Turkish violence, we have achieved much greater stability than the rest of Syria.
That makes us a threat to Turkey, whose policy in our region is based on authoritarianism, expansionism, and power projection. The Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias have been occupying the Afrin region, a region of North and East Syria known for olives, fruit trees, and agriculture, for three years now. They are also occupying Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn), and Tal Abyad (Gire Spi).
Many observers state that UNSCR 2254 peace talks are the appropriate mechanism for resolving the crisis. But how can that be when we are excluded? There is no meaningful representation of the AANES, or the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), in these peace talks. Our representatives have been shut out from the talks because of pressure from Turkey — an unsustainable position, considering that you cannot find a solution to the conflict without us. We have also been excluded from the Syrian Constitutional Committee. But our thread in the tapestry cannot be ignored, and no solution can be reached without us.
Our people are bringing the true spirit of democracy to the Middle East. Equality, women’s rights, freedom, and diversity are our values. We believe our governance model is an inspiration to the rest of Syria. We call for a unified, decentralized, and democratic Syria — one that takes into account current national boundaries. Each one of us is part of the whole of Syria that we must weave together.
As in traditional Syrian weaving, we must bring together all of the threads of Syrian society. There are many threads, colors, and materials necessary to create the breathtaking pattern of our society. The region of North and East Syria is a part of the tapestry. We must be included in talks on the future of Syria. We are necessary to complete the whole picture.
Image credit: Muhammad Saud, a 65-year-old Syrian silk farmer, handweaves silk threads on a loom at his home workshop in the village of Deir Mama, in west-central Syria on June 22, 2020. (AFP).