Religious freedom is threatened in Syria, stated top-level US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, made the remarks while addressing the UN Security Council last month.

“Religious freedom, including choosing not to practice or believe, is a fundamental freedom,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “No one should fear violence, or persecution, for their beliefs. But today, this basic right is threatened in so many places around the world – including Iraq and Syria, Ethiopia, Burma, China, and Nigeria, just to name a few.”

Officials with the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the diplomatic and political arm working with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), expressed agreement with these sentiments, and similarly call for religious freedom in Syria.

“Our democratic model protects the right to believe or not to believe as a human right,” said Bassam Said Ishak, co-chair of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council and a Syriac Christian from Hasakah, Syria. “As a Syriac Christian, I grew up persecuted in Syria. But under the AANES, Christians and all people of faith are free to practice as we wish.”

The region of North and East Syria is under the democratic governance of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), which is based on equality, religious freedom, women’s rights, and local empowerment. As long as the AANES endures, all religious and ethnic minorities in the region are free to practice their religions and cultures. The model of the AANES goes one step further, however, in ensuring that all positions of power be shared by two people, not just one. 

Despite the democratic and rights-based model of the AANES, North and East Syria is being excluded from talks on the future of Syria. Representatives from North and East Syria have been excluded from UN Security Council Resolution 2254 talks and the Syrian Constitutional Committee due to pressure from Turkish representatives. The AANES controls one-third of Syria. It provides services such as water, electricity, sanitation, education, and healthcare to its five million residents. Its forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces, are a US ally in the struggle against ISIS.

“We wish for our model, based on human rights and community empowerment, to be an inspiration to all in Syria and to the world,” said Sinam Sherkany Mohamad, co-chair of the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council and Kurdish woman from Afrin, Syria. “We are proving that a true democracy can be built in the Middle East.”