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Who Are The Two New SDF Leaders?

Insiders from the SDF revealed to Syria TV that Mahmoud al-Meslet could be a figure acceptable to Turkey.

On Wednesday, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) concluded its fourth annual conference in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa by appointing two new presidents.

The SDF announced the selection of Mahmoud al-Meslet and Laila Karaman as co-chairs of the Syrian Democratic Council, taking over from Riad Drar and Amina Omar.

In adherence to newly established rules of procedure, the executive body, formerly led by prominent figure Ilham Ehmed, was removed from the organizational structure.

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Days prior to the conference, a confidential source disclosed to Syria TV that the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) had intentions to remove Ilham Ehmed from her position as head of the council’s executive body, despite substantial support from the United States.

The source revealed internal discord within the SDF leadership, indicating that the PKK applied significant pressure to ensure the convening of the conference and the appointment of officials aligned with its interests in opposition to those closely tied to Washington.

Mahmoud al-Meslet 

Mahmoud Daham Abdul Aziz al-Meslet, born in Hassakeh in 1974, is a distinguished scholar with a doctorate in international relations and a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies. Currently, he serves as a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Ohio University and Oberlin University.

In 2014, Meslet faced arrest in Damascus due to his political activism and was accused of affiliating with a banned political organization. Notably, he is one of the founders of the Syrian National Ennahda Party and previously led the foreign relations office of the Syrian National Council in America and Canada during the council’s initial formation.

Additionally, Meslet holds several significant positions, including heading the Arab-American Cultural Center for Islamic Studies in Lorraine, Ohio, and leading the Department of Legal Studies and International Relations at Commonwealth University. He is also the director of MDM for legal and educational studies and consultations. Furthermore, Meslet played a role in founding the Syrian Secular Coalition in Paris, France. 

Surprisingly, Meslet assumed the role of head of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) without prior involvement in the SDC. His prominent position is attributed to his affiliation with the well-known Muslat family, recognized as the sheikhs of the Arab Jabour tribe, the largest Arab tribe in the Hassakeh governorate.

Insiders from the SDF revealed to Syria TV that ongoing contacts were made with Meslet in recent months, taking advantage of his presence in Washington. These efforts aimed to align the perspectives of the two parties and ultimately appoint him as the joint head of the SDF. The source emphasized that this move received support from Washington as part of the ongoing competition between the SDF and the United States against the regime and Iran. The objective is to secure the loyalty of Arab tribes in northeastern Syria, while also appointing a figure acceptable to Turkey.

Activists widely shared a photo depicting a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the new head of the SDC. The new leader shared the image on his page, extending congratulations to Erdogan for his victory in the Turkish presidential elections several months prior.

Laila Karaman 

Born in 1980, Laila Karaman hails from the Afrin region north of Aleppo and is affiliated with the PKK. She played a significant role as a cadre in the PKK and held a prominent position within the Star Conference, a women’s union associated with the party. For several years, Karaman served as the head of relations for the Star Conference in Lebanon before returning to Syria.

In 2018, during the third conference of the SDC, Karaman joined as a member of the Presidential Council. She also assumed the role of deputy co-president of the SDF, wielding considerable influence within the organization. Despite her substantial impact, Karaman maintained a low public profile, refraining from overt displays of her activities.

It is a characteristic practice of the PKK to appoint deputies and advisers to co-presidency positions across various self-administration, civilian, and military institutions. The real power and crucial decisions lie in the hands of these appointed deputies and advisers. They are typically dedicated cadres loyal to the PKK, actively working behind the scenes and often staying away from media exposure.

New Strike 

A well-informed source within the SDF shared with Syria TV that the removal of Ilham Ehmed from her position and the reduction of her influence within the SDC constitute a fresh setback dealt by the PKK to the SDF commander, Mazloum Abdi, who enjoys support from Washington. Ilham Ahmed, being the closest official to Abdi and garnering extensive American backing, represents a crucial link between the SDC and the SDF.

It is essential to note that the SDC was established in 2015. It encompasses various Syrian Kurdish, Arab, and Syriac parties, as well as individuals, serving as the political reference and umbrella for the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF in northeastern Syria. The SDC plays a pivotal role in coordinating and representing the diverse interests and components within the region.


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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