Erdogan's policy is a threat to the Middle East and the world, Kurdish leader
In an interview with Ahval, a Kurdish leader denied accusations that the Kurds of Syria are threatening Turkish national security, saying she considered this an excuse used by the Turkish government to prepare for the invasion of regions in the northeast of Syria.
Turkey is using this as a pretext for invasion because it does not accept the existence of any autonomous Kurdish entity, said Aisha Hassou, the co-chair of Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Ankara considers the PYD and its an associated armed group, the Peoples’ Protection Units, as terrorist organisations due to their links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has pursued Kurdish self-rule in Turkey through armed struggle since the 1980s.
However, the Syrian Kurdish organisations have played a key role in the international fight against the extremist jihadist Islamic State, or ISIS, and have the backing of the United States and other western countries.
“Turkey has taken the decision of the Genocide of the Kurds, as it considers them the first and the last enemy, not the terror of ISIS or Al-Nusra Front and other dozens of jihadist factions that believe in the ideology of Al Qaeda”, she added.
Hassou called Turkey's policies in Syria “a colonial project that has been proved through the occupation of Idlib, Aazaz Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarabulus,” referring to areas seized in military operations since 2016.
“Turkish threats are still ongoing and Turkey is trying to invade the region. The danger of the Turkish settlement project is that depends on the religious aspect in the first place and the use of Salafis, Takfiris and terrorists from ISIS and Al Nusra Front and other jihadist factions which were grouped today in Idlib. And all this was planned by Erdoğan. The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) policy is a threat to the Middle East and the world as well”, said Hassou.
Hassou stressed her party’s rejection of the Turkish occupation of Afrin, the enclave in northwest Syria captured in a Turkish offensive in early 2018. "Afrin has its owners and will not accept the Turkish occupation in any way,” she said.
In case the Afrin scenario was repeated in other regions, “We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves and our land, and we depend on our capabilities and our peoples in the region”, said Hassou.
The following is Hassou’s in-depth interview with Ahval:
You are currently holding annual meetings at the party’s general conference, what are you looking for and what are your future plans?
There has been intensive work for five months. We have held conferences at district and province levels, and also in Europe.
One of the reasons for holding the conferences was to bridge the gaps in the organizational structure. Our plan is to work within the party program to hold an eighth general conference. Therefore, we as a party can say: We have a public base inside and outside Syria. Our great interest always focuses on the organizational side, especially after the seventh conference.
The Democratic Union Party has also managed to hold a special conference for women for the first time in the past 15 years.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) played a decisive role in defeating the Islamic State militarily. Is the battle over, or are there fears of a resurgence of the ISIS through sleeper cells in Iraq and Syria?
The Syrian Democratic Forces defeated ISIS. The People's Protection Units and Women's Protection Units played a big role as they are the main force in the SDF, which was formed from all segments of society in the region, including Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Armenians and Syrians. The Islamic State posed a great danger on the global level and not only in Syria and Iraq.
The whole world was facing the danger, so ISIS was defeated militarily and geographically, but there are still sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq, and they also have some formations in the liberated areas. We still have fear a resurgence of ISIS, not to mention their ideological presence in a large social group in the areas that were under their control.
After the end of the military battle, are you ready to confront the ideology of ISIS, with the help of your partners in Syria and the allies of the international community, and what will you do in this ideological battle?
As for the political and ideological battle, of course they are complementary to each other, as I mentioned before, ISIS was able to consolidate its ideology in Baghouz (the last ISIS-controlled town to fall).
To confront the extremist ideology of ISIS, we have to stand up to extreme, dark concepts by enlightening, educating and spreading the culture of tolerance and coexistence between all groups. We can only effectively challenge the ideology of ISIS through an enlightened and philosophical thought that undermines one-sided and shadowy ideas in society. We need the concerted efforts of all Syrians to stand side by side against this dark ideology. The ideological battle complements the political battle and is no less important than the military one.
Turkey accuses your party of being a threat to Turkish national security. What is the reason for this accusation? Is it because you have a strong military wing that can play a role in the future on the Turkish border? Or is there a racial dimension?
These are nothing but baseless allegations from Erdoğan and his party. We all remember the (2014) leaked records of a meeting of Turkish state and (ruling) Justice and Development Party (AKP) leaders planning to create a pretext for Turkish military intervention, in which (intelligence chief) Hakan Fidan said he could send soldiers to shell Turkey from Syria to create a pretext for invasion.
Violations and demographic change that have happened in Afrin (since Turkey occupied the area last March) were also the result of a pretext – the false accusation that the PYD threatened Turkey’s national security, even though it poses no threat to the Turkish border.
We are a political party and we follow our political work, and we have no military wing. As you have asked, the military wing (YPG) you refer to in the question is a part of the democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), representing all the components and spectrums of the region. This force has proven to be a force for resolution and peace, believing in a peaceful and alternative democratic idea to solve the Syrian crisis, which has been exacerbated and complicated without reaching any solution.
Turkey finds a pretext in this because it does not accept the existence of any Kurdish entity. It has taken a decision to pursue genocide of the Kurds, as it considers the Kurds the first and the last enemy, not the terror of ISIS or the Al-Nusra Front or dozens of other jihadist factions that believe in the ideology of al Qaeda.
Recently, it has been clear in Erdoğan's remarks regarding the (pro-Kurdish opposition party in Turkey) Democratic People's Party (HDP) that it has to leave Turkey, saying: There is no such thing as "Kurdistan" so leave … He can’t tolerate seeing Kurds not only in Turkey but also in northern Kurdistan, or even in any and every part of Kurdistan.
Turkey has demanded more than once the exclusion of your party from the opposition delegations participating in the Geneva, Astana and Sochi meetings to resolve the Syrian conflict. Are there signs of your participation in these future meetings? What do you expect for such meetings?
The meetings of "Geneva, Sochi and Astana" during the years of the Syrian crisis were nothing but formal meetings that made the Syrian situation worse rather than pave the way to a solution. We can even say that it established its militarization, with no political solution on the horizon.
Therefore, for us, we are not bound by any agreement that we are not involved in deciding. We don’t accept Turkey, which has repeatedly demanded that our party and even the NES is excluded, because it does not want a real solution to the crisis in Syria. And its president, Erdoğan, kept us away from these meetings, so the summits of Geneva, Sochi and Astana did not reach any solution to the Syrian crisis.
But as I said before, we as a political party are part of the democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, and all the components and parties of the region accepted this project, which would be a way to solve the Syrian crisis throughout the whole country.
In any meeting on Syria, there is always a Turkish veto on the presence of Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). This is because we are an effective party that has proved itself as a worthy party in the Syrian solution. The Turkish state headed by Erdoğan is feeding on crises and does not want a solution, so it stands in the way of our presence in those meetings.
The Turkish state’s suggestions and projects have failed because we have blocked its plans to fight us with all forms of terrorism and conspiracies. The AKP government rejects our democratic project, which has remained successful during the period of its hostile action and its colonial settlement project, proven through the occupation of Idlib, Aazaz Al-Bab, Afrin and Jarabulus, because it considers it counter to its agenda.
Does your party participate in the constitutional committee, which is supposed to be comprehensive and represent all Syrians? What is the position of the United Nations on Turkey's attempt to distance you from any political role?
The meetings of the constitutional committee and its formation are not yet comprehensive and do not represent all the spectrums of the Syrians. There is no presence of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the first incubator of all Syrian components, but as I said the Turkish veto is always there on the table against our democratic project.
We as a political party can’t say that we must participate in the constitutional committee, as long as there is an Autonomous Administration which can participate in this committee, so our position from the United Nations and Turkey's attempts to keep us away from this political role is clear and explicit in the statements made by us as a party or the Autonomous Administration.
You started a discussion and a dialogue with the Syrian regime in Damascus, did you receive a response? Or were there tactical attempts aimed at restoring the situation before 2011?
As for the discussion with the Syrian regime, we do not represent the Autonomous Administration in general, so we support the inter-Syrian dialogue and wish to avoid a solution by military means, but there was no seriousness from the regime or a recognition of the status quo because the Syrian regime always returns to scratch as if nothing has happened in Syria.
There have been conflicting statements about the U.S. withdrawal from eastern Syria. The issue has been resolved by keeping a limited number of U.S. and European troops. Do you think this situation is permanent or is it possible to see and hear other decisions leading to a full withdrawal? What are your preparations for the stage of full withdrawal if it happens?
There were conflicting statements from the U.S. President, the Pentagon and the Senate regarding the withdrawal decision, but now they have agreed to keep 400 troops in northern and eastern Syria. But for us, regardless of the issue of keeping coalition forces in these regions, Turkey has taken advantage of the opportunity and is again repeating its threats to intervene in the north of Syria.
In addition, Turkey took advantage of talking about the issue of the safe zone. After the Turks met with the Russians, they were also persuaded to threaten to activate the Adana pact (signed by Turkey and Syria in 1998, when Damascus took action against PKK forces in Syria) and this is what Erdoğan has done.
Erdoğan's demand to activate the Adana pact is a recognition of the legitimacy of the Assad regime. This reveals (the falsehood of) its claim to support the Syrian opposition. Turkey traded with the slogan of toppling Assad and the Syrian regime throughout the years of the Syrian crisis, and traded with the issue of Syrians and made the opposition mere servants of its agenda. What does the opposition say while Erdogan recognizes the legitimacy of Assad and wants to activate the Adana pact with him?
Keeping the coalition forces (in Syria) is important to combat the danger of ideological resurgence of ISIS. On the other hand, the coalition forces could be a barrier to Turkish threats as well. Therefore, as for our readiness for the stage of withdrawal as Autonomous Administration and the people of the region, we say we have the legitimate right to defend ourselves and our land, and we depend on our capabilities and our peoples in the region.
Have you made internal reviews of why Afrin was lost to Turkey? Do you fear a repeat in other areas bordering Turkey in eastern Syria?
There was a heroic resistance in Afrin. We can say that the war that started and launched on it did not occur anywhere else or in any way. In a territory or limited size like Afrin, Turkey, the second largest force in NATO, used all its military and technical capabilities and a large number of warplanes, and yet the resistance continued for 58 days and hundreds of our best young men and women sacrificed their lives to defend it.
The loss of Afrin has many aspects. Turkey exhausted all its military and economic forces in terms of logistics, weapons and equipment and the huge numbers of jihadist mercenaries it gathered on the border of Afrin. The international silence played a big role in the occupation of Afrin. even if we lost Afrin, the people of Afrin resist, people who have refused to submit to the Turkish schemes resist today either in the camps of Shahba or in Afrin. The loss of Afrin and its occupation is not the result of the wrong policy, but of an international decision. The Turkish occupation received a green light from Russia.
As for the Turkish threats of further invasions, they still continue. The danger of the Turkish settlement project is that it depends on the religious aspect in the first place and the use of Salafis, Takfiris and terrorists from ISIS and the Al Nusra Front and other jihadist factions which were grouped today in Idlib. All this was planned by Erdogan. The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) policy is a threat to the Middle East and the world.
What is the concept of autonomous administration that you demand, at a time the Assad’s regime and the opposition allied with Turkey reject it? Is there a hope to see Syria one day as a decentralised country that respects the rights of its people?
The concept of autonomous administration is clear, the people of the region rule themselves within a decentralised system in which all the components of the region can participate. As for the Assad regime, it always goes back to before 2011. So far, it has been unable to change its methods, which have always depended on oppression and rejection of the other.
The opposition has proved to be a puppet in the hands of the Turkish state and is only trying to implement its agendas. We will always strive for democratic change and to consolidate the concept of democratic self-rule for a decentralized Syria where the rights of all the peoples of the region are respected.
The opposition is generally the other face of the regime. Since the first day, the opposition turned to the line of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafis, and became a servant carrying out the Turkish agenda in the region without any national project, and this established sectarian and religious differences between the components.
How will you solve the complicated problem of ISIS foreign prisoners whose European countries refuse to take them back, and even consider revoking their citizenship?
The Autonomous Administration has issued a clear statement in this context calling for the formation of an international tribunal to try them on the land where they committed their crimes. So, the issue of abolishing citizenship in some European countries does not meet its purpose and does not deny the responsibility of those countries for their citizens who fought with the ISIS and committed massacres against our people in Syria. The rejection of their return also requires legal alternatives, and this is what the democratic Autonomous Administration has proposed.
The SDF has pledged to liberate Afrin in the next stage after defeating ISIS. Is there a political situation conducive to this battle, and is this related to the Idlib equation?
The SDF, People's Protection Units and Women's Protection Units have the right to answer this question by pledging to protect Afrin.
We have seen repeated events where Turkey's mercenaries in Afrin have been struck. As for the political climate for this battle and the reciprocal relationship with Idlib, Turkey is trying to link the democratic Autonomous Administration with the Democratic Union Party and we are only a part of it. And as I said at the beginning, if there are military questions, SDF, People's Protection Units and Women's Protection Units can answer.
But Afrin has its owners and will not accept the Turkish occupation in any way, and Afrin will not be annexed by Turkey.