Nadine Maenza, the Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), wrote an article titled ‘Victory in Syria requires learning from Afghanistan’ for the National Interest, describing the current situation in Syria in terms of the footprints of both the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and of Turkey in Syria’s north.
After looking back on the Obama administration’s recognition of ‘the Syrian Opposition Coalition’ back in 2012, Maenza not only described the latter’s struggle to replace the Assad administration as a ‘failed’ attempt, but also noted that its presence in “Turkish occupied areas” has been “beyond troubling.”
“The Turkish-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition simply has no answers for the horrific conditions in the areas it governs in Syria -such as Afrin, Tel Abyad, and Sere Kanye [Serêkaniyê],” she wrote.
“These areas are the best indication of how all of Syria would look under its authority, and it is beyond troubling. In fact, because of these conditions, USCIRF has recommended that the United States pressure Turkey to present a timeline to withdraw from northeast Syria.”
She continued with her observations on the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin which was “occupied” by Turkish forces in March 2018.
“Before the Turkish occupation, Afrin was considered ‘the jewel of Syria,’ untouched by the civil war,” she said.
“Now, the war crimes are so severe that even a member of the Syrian Opposition Coalition – the Kurdish National Council (KNC) – is publicly blaming the Syrian Opposition for not stopping the war crimes that include ‘kidnapping, torture and killings, as well as demographic change in Kurdish villages.’ Their 19 October statement also indicates most of the Kurdish families are still unable to return to their homes and those that have often face arrest, interrogation, and further displacement.
“I have personally spoken with Christians in the areas occupied by the Syrian Opposition that have been arrested for apostasy and tortured, the exact opposite conditions they experienced before the invasion, while governed by AANES.”
Maenza mentioned, in contrast, the situation in areas governed by AANES: “Even before I was appointed to USCIRF, the commission had long reported about the excellent religious freedom conditions in northeast Syria. No longer just a Kurdish project, this majority Arab government describes itself as multi-ethnic and multi-religious with three official languages: Arabic, Kurdish, and Syriac.
“The ‘USCIRF 2021 Annual Report’ states that AANES ‘continued to allow Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others to practice openly, express, and even change their religious identities – while facing significant peril due to threats from Turkey, Turkish-allied militias, regime forces, and remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
She expressed her opinion for a solution with a conclusive remark: “At the end of the day, these seemingly intractable conflicts can’t be won with just military might, or even by diplomacy in Geneva, but only by building governance that has the legitimacy of the people.”