Syria: Kurdistan National Council Chairman Shirku Abbas on Forming Kurdish Army
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
A demonstrator in Amude, a Kurdish city in northern Syria, holds a sign that says: “Bashar the criminal will leave, dead or alive.” Behind him a man waves a Kurdish flag, and a banner reads: “The Kurdistan National Council represents me.” Syria`s KNC is comprised of 15 political parties and was founded in October 2011 under the patronage of Iraq`s Kurdistan Regional Government. The KNC`s rival, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), refused to join the KNC, which depends almost entirely on Iraqi Kurds for financial support. Violent clashes have erupted between supporters of the two groups.
Interview with Syrian Kurdistan National Council Chairman Shirku Abbas, by Muhammad al-Amir, place not given: “Shirku Abbas: Building an Independent Kurdish Army to Expel the Salafis”
Kurdistan National Council Chairman Shirku Abbas has said that the United States and six European countries will support the building of an independent Kurdish army in the Kurdish regions in Syria. This army will be independent from the Iraqi Peshmerga, and its mission will be to fight the Islamist Salafis in the Kurdish territories.
Kurdistan National Council Chairman Shirku Abbas has revealed the intention of the Syrian Kurds to build an independent Kurdish army to expel the hard-line Salafi groups from Syrian Kurdistan Province.
In an interview with Ilaf Abbas explains that the mission of this army is “to protect the regions of the Kurdistan Province from any external intervention, be it the regime, the Free Syrian Army, or the Salafi and terrorist groups that do not recognize our rights, and we will not allow them to control our regions.”
Abbas confirms that the United States and six European countries will finance the building of the independent Kurdish army, “we are united together by an identical viewpoint of the danger of the hard-line Islamist tendency, and we consider that the arrival of hardliners into Syria is a red line.”
With regard to the shape of the western support for the independent Kurdish army, Abbas says that the support is financial, logistic, and military. Abbas denies that the army will be an extension of the Peshmerga widespread in Iraqi Kurdistan Province, but it will be from the fabric of the Syrian Kurdistan Province, and will include Kurds, Arabs, Muslims and Christians, some of whom dissented from the regular army, and others from the Free Syrian Army, in addition to volunteers from the inhabitants of the Kurdish regions.
The following is the text of the interview:
(Al-Amir) The Syrian Kurds have united in a single military force to confront the Salafi groups; do you intend to join it?
(Abbas) The agreements between the Kurdish parties in Syria do not continue; this is because of the diversity of the loyalties of their leaders, and the influence of the foreign agendas on them. Only the Democratic Union Party has military forces; however, some Kurdish sides have reached an agreement to form only a joint military command, but not joint forces, an agreement that has been included in the latest agreement in Hawler (in Iraqi Kurdistan).
(Al-Amir) Does not the formation of Kurdish forces fan the fire of conflict with the rest of the Syrian sides?
(Abbas) The mission of the forces that are being formed now, and which we hope will unite, is to protect the security of the Kurdish regions, and not to engage in armed conflicts with any other Syrian side under the current critical circumstances. Most of the powers of the Kurdish activities are in agreement on rejecting the entry of any external forces into the Kurdish region. We accept the formation of a unified Kurdish military organization on condition that it will be under supreme Kurdish command that is effective on the ground, does not follow the orders of diverse authorities, has the ability and the power to impose its own opinions and orders on the ground, and whose aim is to protect the region and the people living in it, be they Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, or other minorities.
Confronting the Salafis
(Al-Amir) Does not the formation of these forces serve the regime of Bashar al-Asad by fragmenting the Syrian constituents?
(Abbas) The work to form these forces has come on the background of the recent incursions of the region, which were aimed at removing the popular protection forces, and to portray the Kurds as opposing the revolution. This has aroused suspicions of the aim of the Salafi groups and the Arab clans, which are supported by Turkey, and which have been able to storm the Kurdish towns in northern Syria, and moved toward besieging the oil sources in the eastern end of Al-Jazirah. There is no doubt that these people are serving the regime in an opportunist way, and it is necessary to explain the Kurdish reality in order to remove the doubts about the formation of joint unified Kurdish forces.
(Al-Amir) Have not the movements of the Salafi groups and the Arab clans against the Kurdish regions been caused by the negative Kurdish stance toward the Syrian revolution?
(Abbas) All the brethren in the Syrian revolution understand that the Kurds, whether with a military force or without it, have been among the first rebels against the totalitarian authority, and have been the first opposition power to demand the toppling of the regime. Now, as our people are suffering the results of the extensive bloody events in the country, it is important to form a military Kurdish force from the sons of the same region in order to protect it, and to determine its course with regard to the religious Salafi and racist Arab forces, which want to stop the region, and whose aims are not different from the aim of the Al-Asad-Ba`th regime, namely to destroy the Kurdish cause.
(Al-Amir) What about the Kurdish army?
(Abbas) We support the establishment of an independent Syrian Kurdish army, and we work for the achievement of this aim until there is an agreement on firm bases between the Kurdish movement and the Syrian opposition that guarantees the Kurds the right to protect themselves in a constitutional and legitimate way. This cannot happen except within a national federalism for Kurds. This army will work under the supervision of the Kurdish political movement, which believes in freedom, democracy, and human rights, and which includes the Kurdistan National Council in Syria, which works for these universal human principles.
(Al-Amir) How will you finance the establishment of this army?
(Abbas) We have obtained support from the United States and six other European countries with which we have identical viewpoints of the dangers of the hard-line Islamist tendency, and we consider the arrival of hardliners in Syria a red line. This support is financial, logistic, and military, because the west aspires for calmness and stability in the Syrian Kurdistan Province. Therefore, we will build an army that repels the extremist terrorist campaigns supported by the neighboring countries.
(Al-Amir) Is it an extension of the Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan?
(Abbas) Of course not. The independent Kurdish army will consist of the fabric of Syrian Kurdistan Province, and it will include Kurds, Arabs, and Christians. The majority of the elements of the army will be Kurdish as the Kurds are the majority of the population in Syrian Kurdistan. The army will consist of some dissidents from the regular army, and some dissidents from the Free Syrian Army, in addition to volunteers from the inhabitants of the Kurdish regions. The army primary mission is to protect the regions of Kurdistan Province from any external intervention, whether by the regime, the Free Syrian Army, or the Salafi and terrorist groups that do not recognize our rights; we will not allow them to control our regions, and we will fight them to our last drop of blood. We Are With the Free Syrian Army, But!
(Al-Amir) Who brought in the Salafi groups into Syria?
(Abbas) The Salafi groups have entered from Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan into Syria because of the huge negligence by the freedom and democracy powers around the world of what has been taking place in Syria since the eruption of the popular revolution. The international powers were not ignorant of this kind of movements and organizations in the region. As for the groups that infiltrated the town of Sari Kani (Kurdish name of Ra`s al-Ayn), or Ra`s al-Ayn, they are affiliated to Arab clans, which do not recognize the Kurdish national aspiration, in coordination with Turkey, which wanted to destroy the increasing influence of the Democratic Union Party in the Kurdish region in general, and in that town in particular.
(Al-Amir) Why do you refuse to deal with the Free Syrian Army?
(Abbas) We do not reject the Free Syrian Army, which has been formed from the military dissidents of the regular army that has been brought up in a Ba`th way hostile to the entire Kurdish nation. Our policy is based on the principle of opening the channels of dialog with the Free Syrian Army in order to convince it of the justice of the Kurdish cause, and on the basis of forming a future Syrian Army that is under the control of the political will of the Syrian people.
What worries us is the pursuit of the takfiri, terrorist, and Salafi groups to control pivots, commands, and course of that army. This is what we do not want in the Kurdish region. The Free Syrian Army ought to remain a guard of the Constitution and the borders of the country without getting involved in the political game of the parties, which ought to respect the independence of the national army. This is because the mission of the parties is completely different from the mission of the army or the security organizations.
They Rejected Our Simple Conditions
(Al-Amir) What point have reached the negotiations between the Kurdish parties and the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces?
(Abbas)The Kurdish parties have presented conditions to join the National Coalition. The Coalition Chairman Mu`adh al-Khatib was the imam of the Umayyad Mosque under the Al-Asad Ba`th regime, and has never moved a finger against the racist policy practiced by the regime against the Kurdish people in order to annihilate their national existence, melt them down in the melting pot of pan-Arabism, and usurp their land and wealth. These simple Kurdish conditions are related to removing the effects of the Ba`th policy, which was based on settlement activities and looting wealth, without talking about the form of administration demanded by the Kurdish people. These conditions were met with rejection by the chairmanship of the National Coalition on the pretext that these are constitutional issues that ought to be postponed until after the toppling of Al-Asad regime, and the establishment of a serious political system. This is despite the fact that the National Coalition has included in its basic document all the various other constitutional issues that concern the Syrian people, except the issues that concern the Kurdish people.
(Al-Amir) Are you not afraid of Kurdish-Kurdish sedition?
(Abbas) We are pursuing the solution of all political conflicts among the Kurds through dialog, and we open the door widely for the opposite free opinion, and for criticism that is far removed from wanton methods. As the Kurdish people are homogeneous in religion and sects, there is no scope for stirring up sectarian sedition within their ranks. The Kurdish parties understand that the enemies of the Kurds are working to divide them; therefore we hope that they will rise up to the level of the historic responsibility they shoulder now.
(Al-Amir) Do not the latest developments in Syria`s Kurdistan look similar to what happened in Iraqi Kurdistan?
(Abbas) You cannot compare the two situations with regard to the centers of power, the regional alliances, the senior leaders, and the Iraqis` acceptance to a great extent of federalism, while in Syria we witness appalling differences in viewpoints among the majority of the Syrian opposition political powers, and also in the stumbling attitude toward the Kurdish issue in Syria. However, we can say that the Kurdish issue in Syria has taken a noticeable course during the recent period; this will have results in the future. Perhaps there will be a change in the political map of the actual influential powers on the Syrian arena.
(Al-Amir) Have the recent events constituted an opportunity for triggering the Kurdish awareness of nationality?
(Abbas) The Kurdish national awareness in Western Kurdistan is historically ancient. However, the recent events in Syria have accelerated its organizational and revolutionary molding, and have compelled the Kurdish political movement to get out of the shell of complacency and slow activities into the horizons of effective action, and of participation to some extent in the rallies of the people, which are considered a huge engine for mobilizing the creative abilities according to the needs of the people, and not the leaders, who have been inert to some extent in the past.
We Wanted Them But They Did Not Want Us
(Al-Amir) How do you see the way President Barack Obama`s Administration deals with the Syrian issue?
(Abbas) Until today the US policy toward what is taking place in Syria has been fragile and unrealistic, especially with the White House statements that the use of chemical weapons by the Al-Asad regime is a red line. This statement has been understood by the regime as a disregard of using all other weapons against the Syrian people. The White House has tried to use the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdogan`s Turkey as a Trojan horse to demolish the strongholds of the extremist, terrorist, and Salafi movements infiltrating Syria if they ascend to power in Damascus. However, these movements have hatched many offspring, spread across the country, become strong, and started to impose themselves over the Free Syrian Army in a forceful way.
(Al-Amir) Why do you insist on federalism, and why do you not unite with rest of the Syrian constituents?
(Abbas) When we review our history with Syrian Arab brethren since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire until today, we find that we have preferred to live with them despite the offers of the French to us to establish an independent entity for us; the result has been burning our children, withdrawing our nationality, usurping our land, imposing economic siege on us, and dispersing us. The Syrian Arab brethren have applied to us every racist project they could find, starting from the national rule to the current Ba`th. This has been done under various names, including nationalism, progression, and now Islam.
(Al-Amir) Are the links now completely broken between the Kurds and the rest of the Syrians?
(Abbas) When the French occupied Syria, seven Syrians, including five Kurds, defended the country legitimately; however, after the liberation we have found ourselves to be foreigners in our own land, which was usurped by laws and decrees issued by the consecutive Arab rulers until today. We wanted the Syrian Arabs, but they did not want us. After all this, do you expect us not to demand federalism?
(Description of Source: London Ilaf.com in Arabic -- Saudi-owned, independent Internet daily with pan-Arab, liberal line. URL: http://www.elaph.com/)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Turkish Journalist Interviews Syrian Kurdish Politicians; Views Power Struggle
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
This banner, posted to a Facebook group titled Amude Network News, “The Kurdistan National Council is part and parcel of the Syrian revolution.” The KNC, while declaring itself in opposition to the regime, is also wary of the main Syrian opposition groups such as the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (SNC). It has, so far, refused to join the SNC on grounds that the SNC has not given assurances for sufficient recognition and protection of Kurdish political and cultural rights. The appointment of Abdulbasit Sayda, an independent Syrian Kurd, to be the new chief of the SNC so far has not coaxed the KNC into joining the SNC
Commentary by Hasan Cemal: “The Syrian Kurds` Power Struggle”
Arbil: The Kurds call it Syrian Kurdistan, or West Kurdistan. Some 2.5 to 3 million Kurds live in this region. Even though it stretches 900 kilometers along the Turkish border, it is not the only area outside north Iraq where Syrian Kurds are clustered.
Among the Syrian Kurds are pockets of Arabs, which are the result of the “Arabization” policies of the Ba`th regime that lasted many years. Syrian Kurds are politically divided among themselves. On one side, there are 18 groups and organizations of different sizes. These seem to be siding mostly with Mas`ud Barzani (President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party) and receive help from the Iraqi Kurdish administration.
Against them, there is the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which is the Syrian extension of the PKK (Kurdistan People`s Congress, KGK). There is no doubt that the PYD is the strongest and most heavily armed organization that controls the area where Syrian Kurds live. There are differences of opinion about whether it gets support from the Al-Asad regime in Damascus, although this is broadly true.
Turkey is absolutely against the PYD. Ankara`s approach is this: “We do not want another Qandil in Syria.” Among the Syrian Kurds, Ankara seems to favor Mas`ud Barzani to be the strongest power. Certainly Barzani does not want to allow the PYD to control the Syrian Kurds. But the last thing Barzani would want is an armed fight in this region, even though he looks as though he has understood the PYD`s strength, albeit belatedly.
During a conversation I had with him, he pointed at the reality of the PYD in Syrian Kurdistan, and that neighboring countries, including Turkey, must acknowledge this. Ankara has not yet admitted to this “reality.” For example, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu received in Arbil a senior delegation formed with Barzani`s initiative that brings Syrian Kurds under the same roof, without any representation from the PYD.
Meanwhile there are rumors that an armed force named the “Selahaddin Brigade,” formed by Kurdish soldiers breaking away from the Syrian army, is being used against the PYD, and that preparations are underway to open a corridor from Turkey to the area inhabited by Syrian Kurds.
Below are the summaries of lengthy conversations I had in Arbil with two persons representing the two separate wings of the Syrian Kurds. Mustafa Cuma, leader of the Azadi Party: Arbil
Mustafa Cuma is 65 years old and he is the leader of the Azadi Party of Syrian Kurdistan. He is close to Barzani and against the PYD. He heads one of the two major parties that are among the 18 different groups and organizations. He has been in politics for the past 46 years. He lived in exile in Beirut for 21 years. He passed through the prisons of the Ba`th regime. He has nine children, the eldest being his 20-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son who is studying at the Selahaddin University in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
He asks for Turkish coffee when we meet at the Divan Hotel in Arbil at the beginning of the week.
The agenda of the regime
He does not deny the PYD`s control of the situation. “The PYD is an extension of the PKK. The Al-Asad regime has abandoned some areas completely to the PYD. The latter has been managing all the affairs in the last three to four days in Darbasiyah, Tel Tamer and Gerekani regions. In Afrin and Kobani they have also been in command for the past three to four months. The PYD also has the general supervision in Qamishli and Deriko Hamko, but the old institutions of the Al-Asad regime are working there. They have armored vehicles, Russian machine guns.
“PYD works with the agenda of the Al-Asad regime. There is an implicit, secret collaboration between them and Assad. PYD is an authoritarian, totalitarian organization. In Kobani, it tortures us and uses weapons against us.”
Syria is in turmoil
Cuma then changes the subject to Turkey. “Turkey`s fear comes from the presence of PYD in the Syrian Kurdistan. Ankara is no doubt against PYD... As the 10-member High Kurdish Council, we had a meeting with Foreign Minister Davutoglu in Arbil about two months ago. However, Davutoglu refused to receive five participants from the PYD as members of the Council.
“The PYD wants a kind of autonomy in Syria that is not clearly defined. We are saying, meanwhile, let there be autonomy and federation,” added the Azadi leader. “Syria is a very messy place. (There are) Arabs, Kurds, Keldanis, Assyrians, Circassians, Armenians, Turkmens... The Arabs meanwhile are a hodgepodge with Sunnis, Alevis, Druses, Shi`ites, and Christians. Syria must have the right structure and equilibrium in place for all these people to live in peace under the same roof. If this is not achieved, the war in Syria will not end...” Turkey has a key role
The Azadi Party leader thought Turkey could play a key role.
“Kurds will one day win through, be it in Iraq, be it in Syria, and be it also in Turkey. I have no doubt about this. Do not forget that a big majority of Kurds lives in Turkey. Turkey could play a key role in the solution of the problem. There is a precondition, however, and that is for Turkey to resolve its own Kurdish problem... If this happens, the PYD will stop being a problem. Also keep this in mind: In Ottoman times, the Kurds of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey were living in one single place called Kurdistan. Then there were those (Kurds) living in Iran.”
The situation at the border
When asked about the Selahaddin Brigade, Cuma said, “There are various groups within it. It was formed by Kurds escaping Al-Asad`s army. It is an armed group. It is close to us and distant from the PYD. Sometimes it acts in unison with the Free Syrian Army. They are based in the Aleppo and Afrin regions...”
Mustafa Cuma emphasizes another point during our conversation: “The entire Iraqi border is in PYD`s control...” Mohammed Rasho, PYD representative for Syrian Kurds Arbil
His name is Mohammed Rasho, code name Dr Conscience. He is 43 years old. Although he does not admit to it, I have learned that he joined the PKK in Aleppo in 1992.
His official title is PYD representative for Southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan). I had a long meeting with him at the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) office in Arbil at the beginning of the week. As he does not speak Turkish, Dr Conscience spoke in Kurdish, and I spoke in Turkish...
There is no alliance
Rasho said the PYD was founded on 20 September 2003 and added, “We do not have an official alliance with Damascus. We do not have an official dialogue either. However, if there are any local problems and we seek solutions through government agencies there, then we do have dialogue meetings. When the Syrian uprising began, there was an instruction from Damascus not to hurt the Kurds in the process, not to fight with the Kurds... that means shrinking the target...
“We knew that the structure in Syria was different from the ones in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. We prepared and organized ourselves accordingly.”
He explained that as the PYD, they endorsed what they described as the “third way” in Syrian politics. “The third way is this: Neither the Free Syrian Army, nor the Al-Asad regime... Instead of this, the Kurdish interests... Despite of all the provocations, we do not put pressure on the Syrian Kurds... Very rarely there are scuffles, small fights.”
I ask, “Could Turkey join forces with Barzani and attack the PYD?”
The third way
He does not give a clear answer. I can summarize some of my impressions from Arbil as follows:
“The PYD is aware of the depth of the relationship between Barzani and Ankara. It is not under any illusions. However , in reality, Barzani also advocates the third way, just like the PYD. It does not want to be under the influence of the politics of Iran (Safavis) or Turkey (Ottomans). Barzani suggests remaining outside of these. The PYD does not dismiss the question of whether there might be a secret plan between Barzani and Ankara. However let us not forget this. The name Barzani is now synonymous with Kurdish politics. If he attacks the PYD, sheds blood, he will lose out and his influence over the Kurds will take a knock.”
No democracy from FSA
When I put this point to Mas`ud Barzani at our meeting during the week, he listened carefully and said they absolutely did not want conflict among the Kurds in Syria. Still, I got the impression from his tone that he was not completely shutting the door to this option as a last resort.
Rashol turned the subject of conversation to Turkey once again.
“There are indirect efforts in Turkey for us and Barzani to fall out. They are provoking some forces such as the Selahaddin Brigades within the Free Syrian Army against us. For this purpose, tension was created in Qamishli, Afrin, and most recently in Kobani.”
Referring to a “secret plan,” he continued, “The name Selahaddin Brigades is a mask. The truth of the matter is Barzani, with Turkey in the background. Barzani does not act officially because there are decisions in place from the Kurdish Parliamentary Committee... For example, mines are being cleared in the area of Serikanli, which lies opposite Ceylanpinar on the Turkish side of the border, and a request is being made to open a corridor from Turkey. The Free Syrian Army wants to infiltrate from here under the disguise of the Selahaddin Brigades.”
His last words were these:
“Look, the Free Syrian Army means Muslim Brotherhood. Democracy and democratization cannot be expected from them. They do not have an approach that would solve the problems of the Kurds. We want a democratic Syria. A democratic coalition that would guarantee the rights and the laws for the Kurds.”
(Description of Source: Istanbul Milliyet Online in Turkish -- Website of prominent pro-secular daily owned by Demiroren-Karacan Group; URL: http://www.milliyet.com.tr)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.