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 Kurds wary of new Syrian opposition leader, does he really represents Syria’s Kurds? 

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Kurds wary of new Syrian opposition leader, does he really represents Syria’s Kurds?  12.6.2012  

The new president of the Syrian National Council, Abdelbasset Sayda, a Kurd, speaks during a news conference in Istanbul June 10, 2012. Photo: Reuters/
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June 12, 2012

LONDON, — On Sunday, the Syrian National Council (SNC) chose Abdelbasset Sayda, a Kurd and member of the council executive, as its new leader. Sayda replaces Burhan Ghalioun who resigned last month.

Kurdish organizations have been critical of Sayda, and fear a repetition of the past. Kurdish activist Heyam Aqil told Rudaw, “They are foolish, those who think that Sayda really represents Syria’s Kurds. He is another puppet used by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), one of the biggest Kurdish political parties in Syria, is seen as having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and has always been critical of SNC for being close to Turkey.

Regarding Sayda’s appointment, PYD’s foreign representative Alan Semo told Rudaw, “He has a good chance as a result of [being a] compromise [candidate] and the conflict between the secular (George Sabra and Islamist Muslim Brotherhood), but unfortunately he hasn't got the support of Syrian Kurdish movement. We hope he can convince the SNC to accept the Syrian Kurdish reality.”

Voice of America reported that Sayda’s supporters say he will appeal to liberals, Islamists and nationalists in the opposition coalition.

Heyam Aqil, the London representative of the Kurdish Democratic Party Syria, which is part of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), another main Kurdish player in Syria, told Rudaw that ordinary Kurds on the ground and the Local Coordination Committees think Sayda follows the Turkish agenda and the Muslim Brotherhood uses him to say that they have a Kurdish voice amongst the SNC.

“The KNC leadership are not content with Sayda's stance on the SNC solution to the Kurdish issue. He represents himself only,” Aqil said.

Although she is not sure if Sayda is an Islamist, she says he never protested against the SNC stance towards the Kurds and gets support from the Muslim Brotherhood. “[Sayda is] a Kurd who does not fight for Kurdish rights. Kurdish demands are not among his list of priorities and [he] lacks support from Syria’s Kurds. I do not think it matters who will become the head of SNC since the decision makers are always giving orders from behind the scenes.”

Despite this, Aqil acknowledged that this is a smart step for the SNC. “Electing Sayda is irrelevant to minority rights. It is a smart step by the SNC to deceive people and elect a Kurd affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey.”

Sayda did however protest statements former SNC leader Ghalioun made to Rudaw last April, when he said a Syrian Kurdistan does not exist. In response, Sayda said that Ghalioun did not represent the SNC, and that Kurdistan is a “historical geographical territory.” He emphasized that Kurds realize they are part of Syria and work on this basis. “But [saying] that there is no such thing as Kurdistan is flagrant ignorance of the realities of history and geography, which is not acceptable at all.”

The biggest Kurdish youth group in Syria, the Kurdish Youth Movement (TCK), also a member of the KNC, opposes Sayda and was angry that he did not leave the SNC during the Syrian opposition conference on March 27 in Istanbul. In a statement on March 28, they claimed Sayda had joined the ranks of the enemies of Kurdish people by not withdrawing from the SNC, as other Kurdish political parties did.

In April , Khaled Derek, criticized Sayda on a pro-PYD website , suggesting that the nationalist position of the SNC showed they were a “copy of the Baath regime,” and if they took power they would “strip Kurds of all their rights.”

During the Friday protests in Amude, Kurds raised banners against Sayda, claiming he did not represent them since he is against political decentralization, which the Kurds support.

A Kurdish activist from Syria, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Rudaw that the Kurds see him as a “merchant for the Muslim Brotherhood, since he obeys them and does not listen to the Kurdish street. They try to use him to calm the Kurds, but this does not work because we know what kind of person he is. They try to use him to show the West and the media that their council is democratic and respects minorities, while they do not respect them.”

But according to Middle East Online, the nomination of a Kurd will also help the SNC prove it has broad appeal within Syria's diverse ethnic groups after they were criticized for not representing the minorities living in Syria. The SNC has always emphasized that they are not against Kurdish rights and are in favor of decentralization, but has not convinced other Kurdish political parties active in Syria.

By Vladimir van Wilgenburg

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