Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly Syria (KNA-S) was the guest speaker at an Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI) luncheon on Wednesday, August 29, 2007, at Philadelphia’s Union League.
ITAI’s chairman Charles Kahn Jr. introduced Mr. Abbas and greeted the roomful of participants, which included a number of Protestant clergymen. Rev. William Sutter delivered the invocation.
A native of Western Kurdistan (Syria), Sherkoh Abbas is a longtime Kurdish-American activist who has successfully united the Syrian Kurdish movement, and created a coalition of Syrian opposition groups (Kurdish and Arab), whose aim is to bring freedom and democracy in Syria. Abbas is also the founder and director of the Center for Democracy in the Middle East and co-founder of the America-Kurdistan Friendship League (AKFL). In March 2006, Abbas organized a conference at the U.S. Senate in Washington that brought together all the oppositions groups in Syria, including Sunni-Arabs, Kurds, Christians, and Druze. Abbas is also the President of the Kurdish-American Committee for Democracy in Syria, and co-founder of the Kurdish National Congress. He has testified at the U.S. Congress on behalf of stateless Kurds in Syria, and organized a conference at the European Parliament to address the issue of Kurdish human and national rights within Syria. Abbas is a prominent leader of the Kurdish Dorkian tribe.
Abbas began his presentation with a short history of the Kurdish people. “Kurds” he said, “live in the Middle East divided among 4-5 nations: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and the former Soviet bloc. We call the Iran portion as East Kurdistan, Iraq as south Kurdistan, Syria as West Kurdistan, and Turkey as North Kurdistan. The area of Kurdistan is larger than France. Kurds number about 40-50 millions: 10-12 million in Iran, 5-6 million in Iraq, 3-4 million in Syria, and 25-35 million in Turkey.”
Explaining that Kurds have been oppressed for more than a century by Arab, Persian, and Turkish rulers, Abbas reminded the audience that “Saddam Hussein gassed 5000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988,” and that other regimes like the Assads in Syria have “practiced ethnic cleansing against the Kurds and stripped them of Syrian citizenship.” Kurds want democracy in the Middle East for obvious reasons-it would benefit them. At the very least, they are seeking federalism in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, if not outright independence.
Turning his attention to U.S. policy in the region Abbas asked: “Can you imagine 50-100 million ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East becoming part of your (American) team, promoting democracy, human rights, and fighting Islamic radicalism? 50%-75% of these minorities are moderate Muslims who want secular governments. They are anti-radicals and pro-American, and moreover are willing to stand and fight against the radicals in the Muslim world. It could change the outcome in Iraq, and may very well produce amazing results for America in Syria, Iran and Lebanon.”
Abbas pointed out that the U.S. has lost its focus in the war of ideas against radical Islam. “In my view, the U.S. moved from its original goal of democratization of the Middle East and supporting its allies, to pleasing certain powers in the Middle East.”
The Kurds, he charged, could become “the engine for democracy” in the Middle East with support from the free world, particularly the U.S. and its allies. Kurds have the advantage of knowing the languages, cultures, and religions of the Middle East region; therefore it would be much easier for them to spread democracy than for 150,000 American troops in Iraq. “It is therefore essential for the U.S. to support democracy advocates in the Middle East, and most naturally the Kurds, because they are the only people who have embraced the American vision of democratization in the Middle East,” Abbas added.
Abbas related his personal experience in Syria regarding the role of the government-controlled media in Syria: “Growing up in Syria and well through my high school years, and very much until I left Syria, I would hear or watch on TV anti-Jewish, anti-American and anti-democracy propaganda that caused me to imagine Americans and Jews as monsters.” He added, “The Syrian propaganda accused Kurds of being agents of foreign nations like Israel and America.” Abbas questioned why the U.S. and to some degree Israel, continue to protect such regimes and why instead are they not supporting democracy and those willing to fight for it.
Repeating his message he declared, “In a nutshell, America and its allies: Israel, U.K., Canada, Australia, and the Europeans need to reevaluate their policies in the Middle East and move away from the status-quo of protecting oppressive regimes that spread radicalism, terrorism and violence, to supporting democracy and human rights for minorities in the region.”
Addressing the Iranian threat, Abbas asserted that, “Iran has created a forward base in northern Israel. Iranians are in Syria and Lebanon, and are spreading south and west. Today, Abbas said, “More than 100,000 Iranians are in Syria and Lebanon promoting and exporting death and destruction, violence and radicalism. It would be wise for Israel to support the Kurds and other minorities in Iran to contain the Tehran Ayatollahs, and provide some breathing room for the Iranian opposition, to bring democracy to their country.”
In ending, Abbas reminded the audience of the newly established America-Kurdistan Friendship League (AKFL) and exhorted the audience to visit and invest in Iraqi Kurdistan. He cited the 4000 Kurdish villages destroyed by Saddam Hussein and suggested that, “Now it is an opportunity for American business to invest and rebuild Kurdistan in multiple areas such as real estate development, infrastructure building, oil and water. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) he said “Is business friendly and most friendly to Americans.” Abbas invited the audience to go with AKFL on a mission to Kurdistan.