Salih Muslim: Our “treachery” is treason against slavery

After Syrian President Bashar Assad’s recent statement accusing the Kurds of treachery for cooperating with the U.S., Ahval asked the former co-chairman of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim, to appraise Assad’s words. 

As well as discussing the intention behind the “treachery” discourse, Muslim explains why he denies the idea that the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) is over, and has a worrying prediction about the conflict between the Syrian central government and opposition forces in 2018:


Q. Bashar Assad, the Syrian President, has made a statement calling the Kurds traitors. Did this come as a surprise to you, or was it to be expected?

We were not expecting this sort of statement at a time like this, because Syria in the current period cannot bear such words. So, the statement seemed to us to be very off the cuff.

Of course, we were expecting Assad to make comments targeting Kurds – but not accusations of treachery.


Q. Why do you think Assad has made this kind of statement now?

I believe that it is Bashar Assad’s intention is to send a message to Turkey and Iran implying that he is on their side.

His tough discourse also stems from the contradictions and changing war conditions in Syria and Rojava. Until a short time ago, this was a hot war, but now it has transformed into a political and diplomatic struggle. Assad is aware of how effective propaganda will be during this stage. He is laying the groundwork to smear us, and preparing for the struggle that will take place through the press.


Q. So, you expect Assad in the coming period to begin a black propaganda campaign against the Kurds?

There will be initiatives not only against the Kurds, but against the whole federal system. According to the Syrian regime and Assad, the U.S. is the force behind the federal system, implying that we are tied to the States. This is how they intend to instil animosity between the Syrian people and the federal system of North Syria.


Q. What message does Assad intend to send to Turkey by declaring the Kurds “traitors”?

This is quite clear; those who stand against the Kurds obtaining their democratic rights have worked in harmony in the past, too.

All three of Syria, Turkey and Iran have frequently acted in unison against the Kurds. By calling the Kurds traitors, Assad is sending the message to these powers that they share a mutual objective of opposing the gains that Kurds have made.


Q. Do you believe the statement is related to the Geneva talks?

Neither the Kurds nor any constituents of the North Syria Federal system were invited to the Geneva talks. It seems that this eighth round of talks in Geneva will, like the others, conclude without achieving any results; though Assad may wish to influence these talks through his statements.

Q. What kind of tensions and conflicts between northern Syria and the central government accompany these harsh words? 

Without a doubt, the system established in northern Syria has made great strides towards acceptance across all of Syria. Significant steps have been taken to secure support and acceptance for a Northern Syrian Federation both internationally, as we have seen in Sochi [at the November 2017 congress], and within Syria. 

Assad may be trying to nip this system in the bud through this tough talking. It is clear that he is not amenable to a political resolution in Syria, and aims instead for a return to the old [centralised, dictatorial] system.


Q. Is the statement designed to debilitate the Kurds and turn the situation to Assad’s favour?

The dominant states will never accept the Kurds’ existence. This is as true for North Kurdistan as it is for South. The system established in the 20th Century does not recognise that existence of the Kurds.

Turks say, “the best Kurd is a dead Kurd”. Assad, too, may be approaching the issue from this angle. They do not wish for the Kurds to have a place within the system […] Nobody accepts that Kurds should possess independence and self-determination. 


Q. If the Kurdish region had not suffered such a setback on Oct. 16, [when the Iraqi central government rebuffed the Northern Iraqi bid for independence through military action], do you think Assad would have dared to declare the Rojava Kurds traitors?

Without a doubt, the forces behind the current balance in the Kurdish region are Iran and Turkey, in collaboration. Following Qassem Soleimani’s decision, they held a meeting in Dukan. If that operation had not been successful, Assad would not be able to speak in this manner.


Q. We are approaching the end of 2017. What do you foresee politically for Northern Syria, Rojava and Syria generally next year?

We have our own project. We have set out a clear line and are advancing accordingly, striving step by step to realise this project. We have held elections; and next year in January elections for federal administration will be held. […] Up until now, our region has remained calmer and more secure than any other part of Syria.

However, we predict that the conflict between the regime, the Islamist opposition, terrorist groups like ISIS and groups like Ahrar al Sham and Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, will grow deeper and broader in scale.

 This means that it is still too early for a political solution, and I do not believe one will come easily. There has still not been a single alliance or agreement secured. That is why I think that the war will continue to unfold.

What part does America play in this? Will they stay in Rojava, or back out?

The struggle against terrorism is the reason for the international alliance in Rojava. Some say this fight is already over, but that is not true. When terrorists lose a battle in one location, they reorganise and spring up again elsewhere. 

At the moment, there is some activity in Hama. So, we see that terrorism does not end abruptly, either as a movement or an ideology. The United States, too, is aware of this fact. International forces will stay in Rojava as long as the ISIS mentality and different terrorist groups live on.


Q. As a citizen and Kurdish politician, what is your final reply to Assad’s accusations of treachery?

There are no more of the “old Kurds” left; no more Kurds who will be exploited by others, bought and sold, or turned and made to fight against their own people. Today’s Kurds are those who struggle for democracy and fraternity between peoples.

So, such words from Assad and his ilk are quite normal. When they call us traitors, we understand this as treachery against slavery.

We are confident in ourselves as free Kurds, and we would do anything in our power for our people. This is why I hope [Assad and others opposed to Kurdish independence] will give up on their line of reasoning.

We need to accept one another in order to coexist in the same country; there is no other solution.