Officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), Bedran Ciya Kurd and Fawza Yousef, as well as US representatives of the Syrian Democratic Council, spoke at an event attended by a wide variety of US officials and international religious freedom advocates from across the world. Officials from Syria discussed the democratic model of the region, based upon equality, plurality, women’s rights, and protections for people of all faiths.

“We are proud to be a place where all faiths — Yezidi, Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldean Christians, Armenians, Muslims, and others — can practice their faith openly and even change their religion if they choose to do so,” said Ciya Kurd, speaking through in an interpreter. 

“With 80 percent of the oil in Syria, and some of the most fertile ground in the Middle East, we have all we need to be self-sufficient,” said Ciya Kurd. “What we need is for the US government to follow USCIRF’s recommendation to lift sanctions on the Northeast, allow US businesses to invest so we can build an economy, a future for our people. Costing the US nothing, this would ensure that we stay as a refuge for religious minorities, and as a beacon for religious freedom for years to come.”

During the event, Nadine Maenza, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, underscored her support for recognition for North and East Syria. As chair of the USCIRF, Maenza is a senior government official. She conducted a seven-week tour of Syria in recent months. 

Maenza’s organization released a report in April 2020 with the recommendation that the US should press Turkey for a withdrawal from Syria, expand engagement with the AANES, lift sanctions from the region under AANES control, and include representation from the region in negotiations on the future of Syria. In addition, the report recommended that the US give the AANES political recognition as a local government.

The event was a side event of the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit, and was organized by Law & Liberty Trust, headed by Lauren Homer. The event was titled “Religious Pluralism in Syria: The Special Case of the North East.”

Speakers included: Nadine Maenza, Chair, US Commission on International Religious Freedom; Lauren Homer, President, Law and Liberty International; Dr. Amy Austin Holmes, Woodrow Wilson Center and Council on Foreign Relations; Sinam Sherkany Mohamad, Co-Chair, US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council; Bassam Said Ishak, Co-Chair, US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council; and Bassam Saker, US Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council.