On 27 September, the Washington Institute, a US based research institute devoted exclusively to the study of the Middle East, held a virtual policy forum with the participation of Ilham Ehmed, the president of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the governing body of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
The other participants of the forum focusing on the ongoing crisis in Syria were analysts Andrew Tabler and David Pollock.
Ehmed pointed out that the SDC sought a lasting political solution to the conflict in Syria, advocating internal dialogue and political and cultural decentralisation that respects the country’s diversity and bolsters economic development, adding that continued support from the US was crucial to this mission.
She listed the crucial issues for AANES related to the economic problems linked to currency devaluation, blockades, closed border crossings, poor natural-resource infrastructure, and political concerns which were due both to strained relations with the Syrian government (which remains unwilling to accept decentralisation) and infighting among Kurdish factions, including with the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
She indicated that the resurgence of the Islamic State was also a major problem, not only for the AANES or Syria, but for the whole world.
“Another key issue is Turkish hostility in Syria,” Ehmed said. “Turkey currently occupies several parts of the country, displacing residents of Afrin and Tal Abyad and acting against Kurds under the guise of ‘counterterrorism.’ Its drone usage in Syria violates the ceasefire agreement with Russia and the US and has resulted in casualties to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).”
Adding that AANES did not harbour animosity toward Turkey, Ehmed indicated that the SDC was willing to engage in dialogue with Ankara in the interests of peace with neighbouring countries, “perhaps under US supervision,” she said. “Such talks must address the Turkish occupation of Syrian territory, and displaced people must be allowed to return to their homes in currently occupied areas. Ankara should also engage in dialogue with Turkish Kurds, who are subject to racist policies and the jailing of their elected officials.”
Ehmed also noted that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara regarded as a terrorist group, did not have representation in AANES. “Although the SDC is grateful to the PKK for its counterterrorism efforts in Sinjar, Kirkuk, Erbil, and elsewhere, AANES does not include PKK members,” she stated.
Welcoming continued US support for AANES, Ehmed said that the Washington administration, beyond its military support and a possible mediation role, also stands to contribute in the areas of infrastructure and civilian counterterrorism initiatives in the region.