Accusations swirl around Syrian Democratic Council in northeastern Syria

A political seminar for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in al-Qamishli - October 2020 (North Press Agency)

A political seminar for the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in al-Qamishli - October 2020 (North Press Agency)


Al-Raqqa – Enab Baladi 

“All opposing factions to the Syrian regime, whether inside or outside the country, have failed to envision an alternative governing project for Syria that would ensure a smooth political transition and preserve state infrastructure and institutions,” a member of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said echoing the view that prompted people of northeastern Syria to accept an unprecedented autonomous government in modern Syrian history.

The SDC member who asked Enab Baladi not to reveal his name because he is not formally authorized to address the media and who is a member of the Future Syria Party said that a decade of revolution in Syria has not introduced to the international community competent bodies or representatives capable of bringing about a political transition between “conflicting” Syrian parties.

Accusations against the SDC

The SDC defines itself as the only political umbrella in northern and eastern Syria, covering several political parties and organizations. The SDC has reached understandings with other Syrian political powers, including the People’s Will Party, which is linked to the opposition operating in the Syrian regime areas.

Nevertheless, the SDC has often been accused of treason in its own areas, particularly after it signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding with the regime. The latest of these understandings was agreed upon on 9 December 2020 and provided for establishing permanent military posts for regime forces in Ain Issa town in al-Raqqa’s northern countryside, after the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) factions threatened to take control over the town.

The SDC member did not deny that there had been interim understandings with the Syrian regime because the regime still holds international recognition as a political representative of the Syrian people, according to him. He added the political body in northern and eastern Syria will be the loser to any future battle with the regime.

On the other side, Syrian regime officials repeatedly accused the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military arm of the self-declared Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria, of treason and separatism, despite several calls from officials in northern and eastern Syria to hold dialogues with the regime.

In a press release made from the Russian military airbase in Hamimim on 19 December 2017, the President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad described the SDF as “traitors,” which the latter denounced in a statement that said, “Bashar al-Assad and the rest of his inner circle are the last to accuse anyone of treason or its manifestations.”

Northeastern Syria’s nationalist project owes its success to IS 

After terrorizing the western world for years, tens of countries led by the United States formed the Global Coalition to combat the Islamic State (IS), which became listed on top of terrorism lists worldwide after it began addressing the western world in its media campaigns in 2014.

The Coalition viewed the SDF as the optimal partner to fight IS on the ground, while it limited its missions to aerial bombardment. This partnership led to the eradication of IS’ last strongholds in March 2019, but the mission to expel IS did not end as Kurdish-led forces continue to trace and fight IS sleeper cells and arrest its fighters to date.

One of the al-Raqqa residents who described himself as an independent political activist told Enab Baladi that the SDF and its political wing, the SDC, had significantly benefited from the fight against IS, as they became allies to global international powers, primarily the United States.

The activist who requested his name to be withheld for security concerns said that the SDC’s autonomous administration project must be more inclusive to include all segments of society. The region’s Arab and Kurdish residents have “suffered a great deal” from the one-party system and nationalist policy applied in north and east Syria.

The SDC and the SDF are accused of discrimination based on race as only Kurdish people are appointed in leading and important positions in most civilian and military institutions in north and east Syria.

The SDC member denied any nationalist dominance to the autonomous administration project, saying that the project came to safegurd the specificities of the region, which the regime tried to obliterate for decades through ousting and marginalizing its residents. 

According to the SDC member, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), which was initiated by regional entities in 2014 and ruled as a united body the northern and eastern region of Syria in 2018, has attempted to implement the “democratic nation” concept which means achieving “an administration that represents all the components of the region without excluding any side or party.”

He added that many Arab residents did not want to join the AANES’ institutions for thinking that the administration’s rule would be temporary, despite political and administrative achievements made in northern and eastern Syria.

Alien values

The SDC member mentioned that there was an attempt to create a “third line” to represent the political body in northeastern Syria, “away from the Syrian opposition, which has often been linked to external dictates, and the regime that failed in managing the crisis and achieving reforms.”

Meanwhile, the activist said that the political line adopted by the SDC in convergence with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was at odds with the eastern Euphrates society’s customs and traditions,” due to its communist and Marxist ideologies.

“The PKK cadres brought several values that are incompatible with the eastern Euphrates society. To name a few is the liberation of women and the portrayal of religion as reactionary and backward.” 

The SDC’s value system was affected by some PKK cadres, who derived their ideas, values, and guidelines from the Marxist socialist ideology of their leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who had been detained in Turkey since the 1990s.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the military backbone of the SDF and is an affiliate of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian version of the PKK. 

Mazloum Abdi, the General Commander of the SDF, admitted during a meeting with the International Crisis Group (ICG) in mid-September 2020 the presence of PKK fighters among its forces.

It is worth mentioning that the PKK is listed on the terrorism list in many countries.

A forty-year-old former teacher in al-Raqqa named Mohammed al-Fadhel thinks that the policies of the AANES and the SDC are somehow similar to the socialist policies that once prevailed in Syria and Iraq. “Their rhetoric is made of nationalist or partisan slogans that are exclusionary and against diversity, the thing that lots of Syrians started to reject after the revolution.”

The SDC was formed in late 2015 with the establishment of the SDF. It gradually became the political arm for forces formed by an alliance of Arab, Kurdish, and Syriac factions, which received international support in their fight against IS.

The SDC has tried to strengthen its influence in the SDF-controlled areas and to promote its self-proclaimed success, both domestically and internationally, to ensure the continuation of its presence in a storm of conflicting powers in Syria. Still, the SDC failed so far to dispel many accusations preventing its acceptance.

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