The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) delegation that recently visited Washington DC displayed the diversity of North and East Syria through its members: Executive President Elham Ahmed, a Kurd from Afrin, Nazira Gawriya, a Syriac Christian of the Jazeera region, and Ghassan al-Yosif, an Arab of the Deir ez-Zor region. They were joined by the SDC’s US office: Sinam Mohamed, a Kurd from Afrin, Bassam Saker, an Alawite from Latakia, and Bassam Isak, a Syriac Christian from Hasakah.
Diversity is at the heart of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). The Islamic State (ISIS), Turkish-backed militias, and other extremist groups have contributed to the rise of sectarianism in Syria — a country known for a broad array of ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. While extremist groups have fragmented the country, the AANES and the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) have chosen to embrace Syria’s diversity and turn it into one of their greatest strengths.
The delegation members came to Washington to represent the interests of the Syrian Democratic Council as well as to convey the messages of Syria’s many communities. They carried the hopes and inspirations of their people with them as they discussed issues that affected their respective regions and demographic groups with senior US officials.
Ms. Gawria spoke about the displacement of her Syriac Christian community in and around Tel Tamer, a region ravaged by ISIS, and further attacked by Turkish-backed forces, who continue to shell the area and prevent its people from returning. She also discussed the effects COVID-19 has had on the already strained healthcare system in the region, including how few vaccines have been allowed into the region by the regime and the shortage of oxygen.
Mr. al-Yosif discussed the continuing threat of ISIS sleeper cells in his region. Specifically, he drew attention to the continued need for a US troop presence, as well as the need to improve the economic situation in order to provide people jobs and basic services, as ISIS thrives on instability. He stated that schools and other infrastructure are essential to ensure radicalization does not take place.
Efforts by certain actors to characterize the AANES, SDC, and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as “Kurdish forces” or “Kurdish-dominated” continue into the present day, despite evidence and research that proves otherwise. Extensive field research on demographic characteristics of the SDF was conducted in 2019 by Dr. Amy Austin Holmes of the Wilson Center. Dr. Austin Holmes found substantial representation of Kurds, Yazidis, Turkmen, and Syriacs, and, significantly, over 50 percent Arabs.
Unity, not sectarianism, will lead to the solution of the Syrian crisis. As a key part of the solution, the AANES and SDC will continue to support a diverse model that empowers all members of Syrian society.