Future of Syria: Syrian Kurds and Realities in the Region

Future of Syria: Syrian Kurds and the Realities in the Region

16 Oct 19

On Wednesday, October 16, 2019 the Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a timely panel discussion on “The Future of Syria: Syrian Kurds and the Realities in the Region” The panel featured Eva Savelsberg, President of the European Center for Kurdish Studies, Germany; Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Foundation and former advisor at the U.S. Department of State; and Joel Rubin, National Security Expert and Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. The event, hosted at the National Press Club, began with opening remarks from THO President Ali Cinar, and was moderated by THO Executive Director Elvir Klempic. The first question began with remarks from Eva Savelsberg as she provided context to the ethnic groups in Turkey, background of the YPG/PKK and the Kurdish issue that continues to develop between U.S.-Turkey relations. 

Joel Rubin then provided analysis on the current state of the U.S.-Turkey relations. Rubin mentioned that “we are currently seeing the funeral of U.S.-Turkey relations as we know it” however he also mentioned that this is not the first time that this sentiment has been felt in the history of this partnership and relationship. Rubin continued and shared from his lens the what has happened in the realm of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is something “that fits into the fear of paranoia from the national security experts here in D.C. in that we are now handing over Syria to Russia… [and we] have completely lost credible in the region.” From there Rubin continued to discuss that because of this shift there will be a greater expectation from our partners and allies around the world  and that “we no longer have agency or control over this...we can’t just pry open the window of Syria again, the Russians are there now.” Rubin went on to comment on the strategy of President Donald Trump, stating that this was something that could’ve been foreseen, given the recent and past stances and campaign promises of President Trump. "President Trump made his case for the presidency in his election in a way to speak to his base about getting out of endless wars...we must talk politically about what is happening with our leadership." In discussing the support for Turkey in the US Congress, Rubin is of the opinion that much has changed recently, "Turkey has lost support of the Republican Party a while ago, but I think now they have also lost the support of the Democratic Party as well...Erdogan is coming to the US...who knows what President Trump will do with this visit."

Next, Wael Alzayat who previously served as advisor to Amb. James Jeffrey, the current U.S. envoy to Syria, commented on the different powers in the Mid East region by saying, “the Iranian government and the Qods Force…have their dream of connecting Iran to Lebanon” via Syrian soil,” he continued to say, “we have outsourced our foreign policy and national security interests in the region to tribal entities,” he added, complaining that the SDF represented only a “minority within a minority” of Syrians. “When the U.S. does come in with overwhelming power, the world blames the U.S. as heavy-handed.” Continuing the discussion about regional powers, Azlayat expressed belief that the recent situation in Syria benefits powers other than Turkey and the US, saying, "What we are seeing now is an even more empowered and entrenched Russia in the Middle East and reassertion of Assad’s power in Syria." Asked about the US imposing sanctions on Turkey, Alazayat believed it wasn't the right move as it only was going to hurt the Syrian refugee population who is heavily relying on Turkish assistance, “If the members on the Hill of the Syria Caucus really cared about Syrians they would not support the current bill as  is....this issue is not black and white." 

Eva Savelsberg, an expert on the Kurdish population who has been actively working with local Kuridsh groups in Syria for years commented on the differences and comparison between previous Turkish military operations in Syria, she mentions the unique opportunity Turkey had with Operation Olive Branch, "The Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in the majority-Kurdish district also had the unique opportunity in the Afrin district,” on the note, Savelsberg felt, “from the Turkish point of view it is much easier to support an Arab resettlement especially if they do not have to do it themselves and avoid the hostility that would come with that." 

THO’s timely panel on Syria attracted a lot of attention in D.C., as a full audience was able to hear a diverse set of perspectives on the current situation in Syria. From understanding the Kurdish population in Syria, to understanding the parallel between YPG and PKK, understanding Turkey’s national security concerns, as well as Washignton’s view of the situation.