ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) spokesperson Amjad Othman says he is surprised by Dutch claims that the Syrian Kurds back Syria President Bashar al-Assad. The spokesperson called on the Netherlands to change its position.
“It is surprising that there are attempts to justify the exclusion of the SDC from the political negotiations under the pretext of an alleged regime relationship,” Othman told Kurdistan 24 in an interview.
“This, while Damascus is accusing us of having relations with the United States. Turkey is very pleased with the Dutch government position.”
He added that the SDC is neutral and supports the Dutch policy of a united Syria, not the Assad regime or Islamist-controlled opposition, who “call for the annexation and separation of Syrian land to Turkey.”
“We follow a third-way policy independent from Damascus or the opposition,” the SDC official explained. “We believe in a united, but decentralized Syria.”
“We are against a North Cyprus solution and Turkish occupation of Syrian lands.”
Moreover, he believes the SDC should participate in Geneva “since it represents the political umbrella of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] that defeated the [Islamic State (IS)] terrorist organization in northeastern Syria.”
In the past, the SDF clashed with both the regime and the opposition. “The priority is to fight terrorism, but when the regime or others attack us, we are forced to defend ourselves,” Othman added.
The Dutch government used similar arguments as Turkey to reject earlier proposals by Dutch MPs calling for Holland to back the Syrian Kurds.
“Kurdish groups also partly fought on the side of Assad. Also, as far as Kurdish groups are concerned, there are also reports of human rights violations,” Dutch Minister FM Stef Blok said during a Dutch Parliament debate on Syria on Oct. 2.
The Dutch government alleges the YPG was involved in human rights abuses, and even claims they have relations with the Assad regime and is affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Moreover, Dutch MP Joel Voordewind who is in favor of support for Syrian Kurds told Kurdistan 24 the SDF “earlier distanced themselves from the PKK.”
“The SDC is a big umbrella group of different ethnic groups…including Syriacs, Arabic, Turkmen,” Voordewind added.
But the SDC spokesperson said they “have been open to criticism and visits from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Geneva Call, and Human Rights Watch.”
This is in stark contrast to the Turkish groups Holland supported, he added.
“Turkey doesn’t allow human rights monitors to enter Afrin,” Othman noted. “We are open to any visit of Dutch officials or human rights monitors to investigate human rights abuses.”
According to the SDC spokesperson, Dutch-backed groups make it impossible for Westerners to visit their areas. “The same Dutch-backed groups kidnapped journalists; this while our area’s journalists were never kidnapped, beheaded, or sold to jihadi groups.”
He also pointed out that the “UN has confirmed in a report published in March 2017 that our forces have not carried out ethnic cleansing.”
On the other hand, Othman said the UN confirmed there were attempts “to permanently change the ethnic composition of Afrin by permitting ethnic Arabs to occupy Kurdish homes.”
The Dutch Parliament also confirmed that the Dutch-backed rebels were involved in ethnic cleansing in Afrin, he said.
Until 2018, the Dutch government has supported rebel groups despite human rights violations in areas like Afrin and Sheikh Maqsoud.
The SDC official said the same groups “allied with al-Qaida-affiliated groups and shelled the Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud neighborhood between February and April 2016, killing over 80 people, including 30 children. This is well-documented by human rights groups.”
“In 2018, the same groups invaded Afrin, and carried out ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, kidnapping, and torture of civilians,” Othman said.
“Afrin used to be a safe haven for thousands of refugees from all over Syria. Now, women are forced to wear the veil and face sexual harassment. Afrin’s inhabitants are displaced or fear arrest.”
The official also noted that senior US officials called Idlib the biggest al-Qaida haven after 9/11. “The groups that the Netherlands supported cooperated with al-Qaida, beheaded people, and contributed to the creation of a safe haven for jihadis through their cooperation with al-Qaida in Idlib, Aleppo, and other areas.”
“Still, the Dutch government claims these militia groups could be an alternative for IS and the regime,” he said.
“The only group that provided an alternative for tyranny and terrorism are the SDF,” the SDC spokesperson said. “We never worked with jihadi groups, and defeated IS in Raqqa—the former IS capital that IS used to plan attacks on Europe.”
Cooperation between extremist groups and rebels has helped Assad “spread the image that the Syrian army is fighting terrorism,” he added.
Othman also wondered why the Netherlands was silent over Turkish support for extremist groups.
“Thousands of foreign jihadi fighters entered Syria through Turkey. The same so-called moderate groups that were supported by the Netherlands worked with IS and al-Qaida before 2014,” he added.
“In 2012, FSA [Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army] leaders rejected blacklisting the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra group by Washington, calling Nusra a vital ally.”
Nevertheless, the official said they appreciate the Dutch air support for the SDF against IS in northeastern Syria. “But we hope the Dutch government could do more to help a peaceful solution,” he said.
Othman called on Holland to back the SDC’s participation in the Geneva talks and stabilization efforts in northern Syria.
“We need more support to rebuild the homes destroyed during the war against IS, remove mines, rebuild schools, restore water and power supplies,” he concluded.
“Not supporting us will only destabilize areas liberated from IS and will benefit the Syrian regime and IS.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany