Globe interview with Saleh Muslim, Co-leader of the Kurdish Syrian PYD

Link to Interview in KurdishGlobe-2012-39-13 (English)

Link to Interview Hawler newspaper (Kurdish) – 18.12.12 Printed in Kurdistan Region (Kurdish Translation)

Syrian Kurds with new found autonomy and historic opportunity find themselves in the limelight and key actors in the Syrian struggle. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is at the centre of the Kurdish struggle in Syria and in the Kurdish quest to capitalise on their new dawn. With rumours and scrutiny facing the party, Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel of the Kurdish Globe spoke exclusively with Saleh Muslim, Co-leader of the PYD on a number of issues to set the record straight.


Globe: At times the PYD is portrayed negatively, as a PKK-affiliated party who has not abided by power sharing agreement with other Kurdish parties, does not tolerate other Kurdish armed forces and has even allegedly collaborated with the Assad regime. What is your answer to that?

Muslim: The PYD is a political party established in 2003 and of course we have our way and our philosophy and our strategy for the works. I mean if our philosophy or strategy was the same as classical Kurdish parties, there would be no reason to establish a new party. We established PYD which is different from the classical parties inSyria. We have the philosophy of Mr. Ocalan and his ideas are adapted to the condition and situation ofWestern Kurdistan. Our works is different from a radical party or the philosophy of classic parties. So it’s usual for people who promoting the interest of regional and global powers to attack our party and to blame it, because we are promoting and working for the interest of the people in Western Kurdistan and all Syrians.

In 50 years the Kurdish parties could not submit anything to Kurdish politics or to the Kurdish people ofWestern Kurdistan. They could not organise themselves very well and especially for the critical duration facingWestern Kurdistan. So everything belonged to the PYD, all the responsibilities including defending the people and organising the people fell to the PYD. PYD is doing everything and because of that, we are been attacked not only by the classic Kurdish parties but also other sides that are against the Kurdish people and their struggle.

They are enemies of the Kurdish people. So we are under attack from all of them. There are many rumours and sayings, trying to affiliate us with the PKK where other than the general philosophy we are completely different from them. We have our own leadership, strategy, and work forWestern Kurdistan, we do not have any organic relations with the PKK or affiliations with them. But we support each other like any party, our relation with them is no different to our relations with the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) of Massaud Barzani or PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) of Jalal Talabani.

Globe: Do you have any problem working with other Kurdish parties or power sharing?

Muslim: No, not at all. We would like to share the power with all Kurdish parties. We can do everything together. We have been seeking the co-operation with them since we were established in 2003, where we knocked on all their doors, we met them one by one to build relations and to work together and to make agreements with them but we could not achieve this.

Globe: In terms of the Kurdish forces, do you have any problem in working with other Kurdish forces specifically the “Syrian Peshmerga” trained in Kurdistan Region? Is the force in Syrian Kurdistan, a PYD force or a national force for all Kurds?

Muslim: We have no problem to unite all the armed forces for the sake of the Kurdish people. InWestern Kurdistanyou can have many political parties, many organisations but when it comes to the armed forces, there should only ever be one armed force for the region. Otherwise if you have intra-fighting it’s a massive problem. Because of that, as part of the Kurdish Supreme Council we decided to unify all of the armed forces, including those Kurdish forces inSyriaor those trained inSouthern Kurdistan. We are trying to unify them and this is no problem as the forces belong to the people. They are protecting people ofWestern Kurdistan. Everybody has a right to join it to defend his family and relations. This is never a problem for us. But importantly, any force should only be under one commander.

We don’t refer to such forces trained inSouthern Kurdistanas Peshmerga, they are simply part of the Peoples Protection Unit, the defence units. It’s the same to us and we do not differentiate on the type of forces by referring to these specifically as “Peshmerga”. Those forces are in Syrian right now. Most of them are Kurdish soldiers who had defected from the Syrian Army and they are simply the army of the Kurdish people inWestern Kurdistanprotecting them. An important point, they do not belong to any political party, nor the PYD or even Democratic Society Movement (Tev-Dem). They are established by (Tev-Dem) but they belong to the Syrian Kurdish people, because they take orders from the Kurdish Supreme Council.

Globe: Some have accused you of collaborating with Assad’s regime in Kurdish areas, can you set the record straight on that?

Muslim: We have been fighting this regime since we were established in 2003. We have had our people killed under torture, when the Syrian uprising started in March 2011 we had about 1,500 people under arrest and tortured by Assad’s security apparatus. Because of that we cannot say we have relations with them. But because our strategy is different from other organisations and other parties, they try to find a reason to blame us. Only because we refused to become soldiers for the others as on many other occasions in Kurdish history. Kurds have always been soldiers for others, fighting for them, dying for them and at the end they receive nothing. So we refuse to follow that historical trap. Now they point the blame at us as we refused to be their soldiers. We have no relations with the regime at all, nor would we ever open the hand of the gladiator that is killing us.

Globe: Turkey has been closely observing the new found Kurdish autonomy in Syria with great unease. Do you have any contact with the Turkish authorities? Do you see any threat in a direct Turkish invasion?

Muslim: We are on the side of dialogue with anybody, not just Turkey. Anyone involved in the Syrian conflict or the Kurdish case, we are open to negotiations with them and we do not have any objections. Today, we don’t have any contact with the Turkish authorities but we don’t refuse contact or meetings with them, if the Turkish regime accepts us. As for any invasion, I don’t think international conditions make sense for any invasion, they will not allow such an invasion nor is it convenient for any military intervention inSyria. But the Turkish hand is clearly inSyriafrom the beginning of the uprising. They are trying to be involved and are supporting armed groups to destabilise relatively peaceful Kurdish region and the Turkish intervention has succeeded in turning the peaceful uprising into an armed uprising against the regime. This was only possible with Turkish support of armed groups.

In the Kurdish case, we have already seen what happened inAleppo, Afrin and Sere Kaniye where armed groups have invaded the Kurdish areas fromTurkey. They are supporting them and they are sending them to mix the Kurdish areas and to destroy peaceful situation of the Kurdish areas. Groups such as Al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham are all related to the Turkish regime, affiliated, supported and sent by them.

And even in Sere Kaniye when they were going to escape to get back toTurkey,Turkeyclosed the border and said to these armed groups you either have to fight or die. So they didn’t allow them to go back and still those forces are there. Just yesterday there was an air attack by regime forces on those armed groups, but they have nowhere to escape becauseTurkeyclosed the border and they are unable to move out, so they are hemmed in. More than 20 of them were killed yesterday by that air attack.

Globe: What is your message to Turkey?

Muslim: Turkey must step away from their Kurdish phobia. Kurds can live together with the Turkish people, we have no problem with any Turk. We are friends and neighbours with Turkmen inSyriaand the same with the Turkish people. We have no problem with the Turkish people and we can co-exist peacefully. The Turkish government should understand that and build on the brotherly ties between the two nations, instead of been driven by a phobia of Kurds.

Globe: Recently, there has been much violence between FSA, particularly their Islamist wings and PYD forces in Sere Kaniye and within Aleppo itself. Why such hostility and general animosity? What must happen before you will work with the FSA?

Muslim: If they leave us alone, then we don’t have any problem with the Free Syrian Army. They are mostly compromised of soldiers defecting from the Syrian Army and to protect the civilians. But it is only specific armed groups that are fighting and attacking the Kurdish areas even when there are no regime forces in such areas. They are attacking civilians and such groups do not belong to the FSA at all and even the FSA have issued declarations that they are not affiliated with them. They are different groups to the FSA and they are only using the name of FSA, but nobody recognises them as FSA. They belong to the Turkish regime. Especially, in Aleppo, Afrin and Sere Kaniye, these groups were clearly supported by Turkey with weapons, with facilities of movement and they are coming from across the Turkish side.

Any Kurdish peoples captured, such as the leader of YPG who was captured in Aleppo, are taken to Turkey for interrogation by Turkish authorities. Even in Sere Kaniye, the injured and captured people were taken to Turkey and investigated by Turkish authorities. We may not be fighting Turkish soldiers directly, but they are proxy forces instigated by Turkey.

In Syria, you have Kurds, Arabs and other nationalities. If everyone liberated his place then all of Syria is liberated. Kurds cannot go to Damascus and liberate Damascus but we can liberate our part where we live. And that’s what we have done. There are no regime soldiers or forces in Kurdish area, so why would rebel forces attack here?

Globe: What is the wait to liberate Qamishli and all of Syrian Kurdistan from Assad’s forces? What is the next step in your struggle to liberate all of Syrian Kurdistan?

Muslim: For us it’s not a case of liberation. If we push away the Syrian forces, then we are simply living with Syrian people and all Syrians within the Syrian state. For Qamishli, the situation is very sensitive. We are not fighting the Arabs but the Syrian regime. Our liberation is not from Syrian people but from Assad forces only.

While we are concern of fighting between the Kurds and Arabs, in sensitive places like Qamishli and Sere Kaniye and to prevent this sectarian war, we could not afford to attack to regime, as we are worried that some Arabs may side with the regime. We don’t want to end up in a conflict between Arabs and Kurds, as opposed to fighting the regime.

Qamishli is a Kurdish city and the capital of Western Kurdistan and the city is a hub for Kurdish activities.  The plan is still to eradicate Qamishli of regime forces. But at the same time we never reject to live side-by-side with Arabs in Qamishli and we don’t want Qamishli to be a place of fighting between Kurds and Arabs. When the conditions are right and when the Arabs in and around Qamishli leave with those that are against the regime, we will also extend our control to Qamishli.

Globe: The Kurdistan Region is your neighbour and brethren, with growing strategic power and regional influence. Can the Kurdistan Region leadership do more to help the Kurds and political parties in Syria?

Muslim: The Kurdistan regional Government is doing what it is doing in their areas and they are controlling their areas in South Kurdistan. But our conditions are very different. We are not looking for a system like in Southern Kurdistan. So we can have very good relations but we have different conditions and our solution is different from them. Their governance is based on federalism whereas what we strive for is democratic self-governing which is different. We don’t have to draw the border between Syrian Kurdish areas and the Arab areas.

A Kurd can always do more for a Kurd in terms of support. We are one nation, whether in the south, west, north or east. But for each part we have different conditions. We can help each other in the spirit of brotherhood and build our future strategy. What we are looking for in future is Kurdish parts to be unified in a democratic confederation in the Middle East. The Kurdish parts can be a reason to unite the Middle East, much in the same way as Europe came closer together through a union whilst slowly eroding their common borders. Today we have 27 countries all living together. Why can’t we the same thing in the Middle East?

At the point we have the Middle East united in a democratic confederation, at the same time all of Kurdistan will become united. This is our long-term strategy for the Kurdish people.

Globe: What is the absolute minimum that the PYD will settle for in a post Assad Syria?

Muslim: There are two points. One is constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people in Western Kurdistan. And secondly, guarantees for our democratic rights that is included in the constitution. In terms of self-governance model, the name is not important; it could be termed self-governance or democratic federalism. As part of democratic rights, there should be provision of self-protecting defence units such security units, essentially civilians protecting the areas.

The Kurdish case in Syria is different. Everybody is assessing the Syrian situation and talking about the Syrian problem, but nobody is looking at the Kurdish side of it. We are part of the Syrian people, we have our rights and any solution for the Syrian people must also contain a solution for the Kurdish conflict also. It is impossible to have democracy in Syria without solving the Kurdish problem. Everybody should be clear that once there is a solution of the Kurds, only then can democracy be attained in Syria.

Globe: It cannot be overlooked that the majority of Syrian oil is in Kurdish areas and Western Kurdistan is oil rich. Do you have any control over the oil fields at the moment and what’s your view on natural resources that Kurds have never benefited from?

Muslim: Those oil wells are protected by our people over there. And we are still getting fuel from the refineries in Homos and Baniyas, so we protect. Of course in a future Syria, such natural resources need agreement with benefit for local community and a portion of revenues should be spent on the local areas. Revenue sharing will need negotiation and agreement, but it will be managed centrally for all Syrians.