Arbil, Asharq Al-Awsat - Salih Muslim Muhammad, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Union party, which actually holds the reins of power on the ground in the Kurdish areas in Syria, said that "dark clouds hang over Syria, and whether this regime quits or falls tomorrow, numerous developments will surprise citizens, including internecine fighting among the victorious forces." He pointed out that "the Syrian revolution deviated from its democratic path and turned into a hateful struggle for power." He defended his party against repeated accusations of being loyal to the current Syrian regime. He stressed that "the Kurdish people's revolution began in 2004, seven years before the current revolt," and that "many members of his party were martyred on the path of struggle against the ruling dictatorial regime."
Asharq Al-Awsat met the Syrian Kurdish leader at his place of residence in a hotel in Arbil, where he is visiting to garner the support of the Kurdistan Region's political parties and forces for Syria's Kurds to enable them to stand up to what he calls Turkey's attempts to impose its hegemony on Syria, specifically on the Kurdish areas. The interview follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As leader of the most important Syrian Kurdish party, how does your political party and Turkey currently view one another?
[Muhammad] Our party is not hostile to Turkey. We have no intention whatsoever of interfering in Kurdish affairs in Turkey. In fact, Turkey interferes with all its power in Syrian affairs. We reject this Turkish interference. We do not want Turkey to extend its tentacles in our affairs and stain our homes with blood. Yet this does not mean that we reject cooperation with Turkey on the basis of our common interests. After all, Turkey, which used to describe the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's leaders as mere heads of tribes and clans, was recently forced to acquiesce in the status quo, and has been dealing with them in their capacity as political leaders who play an effective role in the region. Accordingly, we are prepared for dialogue with Turkey because we have common border with it, and this requires that we have balanced and normal relations with Turkey.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What of Turkey's fears of your party's current control of administration and security in the Kurdish areas in Syria and the possibility of your unilateral rule of those areas in the future through the armed popular protection committees?
[Muhammad] There is no justification for Turkey's fears. We are organizing our ranks in Syria and seeking to rehabilitate the administrations that the Syrian regime's agencies have abandoned. We are trying to protect our areas so that not any individuals can enter them from the other side of the border. As for the accusations leveled at our party, Turkey has been in the habit of peddling such accusations for a long time. The existence of Kurds wherever they are frightens Turkey. It is well worth it to recall [former Turkish Prime Minister] Suleiman Demirel's blunt statement that Turks fear any Kurd who demands his rights even if he were in South Africa. This shows Turkey's official view of the Kurdish cause. I would like to say openly that our party's ideology favors Abdullah Ocalan's philosophy and we derive our ideas and propositions from his discourse. However, we do not receive orders from anyone, and do not have any practical relationship with any Kurdish political parties or groups outside Syria. We deal with the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party, the PKK, as well as the political parties in east Kurdistan by the same criterion based on relations of cooperation, friendship, and common fate, no more no less.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You talk of normalizing relations with other Kurdish parties, however there are reports that both Masud Barzani’s political party and Jalal Talabani’s party are trying to win over Syrian Kurdish forces. In other words, each of these leaders seeks to impose its hegemony on the Syrian opposition Kurdish parties?
[Muhammad] We have emphasized and continue to emphasize that the Kurdish cause in Syria is an affair that concerns the Kurds of Syria. We reject any interference by any party. We reject any foreign party's imposition of its will or to rally this or that party to its side. The solution must be domestic and local and devised by the Syrian Kurds. But if any other power can help and support us to wrest our national legitimate rights that would be welcome, because we are all in the same boat. But if the purpose of such support is to rally any of our parties to either side, such offers of support would be totally rejected.
Right from the beginning we refused to join the Syrian Kurdish National Council because we felt that some groups sought to rally the council to their side. We expected disputes to arise within the council so we avoided joining it. As the first steps were taken to establish the council, we requested to allocate 60 percent of membership to independent personalities, but this did not materialize. Had they approved this request, the council would not have faced all the problems it faces and partisan differences. So we formed the west Kurdistan people's council. Afterward, we formed the higher Kurdish committee from the two councils and have not faced any problems. The problems arose within the other wing, namely the Kurdish national council with all its political parties, which crippled the Higher Kurdish Committee. We do not want this to happen; we want the committee to be a healthy body. If there is a will to have a healthy committee, we are ready for all forms of cooperation and coordination to avert the problem of polarization. This is particularly true because we are headed to an important historic phase that requires us to be united to be able to shoulder our responsibilities and perform out duties.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What of your party's rejection of any presence by elements of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] in the Kurdish areas?
[Muhammad] We, the Kurdish people, were part of the Syrian revolution and are still in revolt against the Syrian regime. From the beginning, the Kurds made the decision to stick to a peaceful revolution while reserving the right to defend themselves. This is what we have been doing in our areas up to this day. Tens of thousands took to the streets and still take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations in our areas. When the Syrian regime forces attacked the demonstrators, we defended our people and many of our people were martyred. Our basic decision was to refuse arming the demonstrators because we realized from the beginning that if we waged an armed revolution while the Syrian authorities and security agencies had all types of weapons at their disposal, they would handle the demonstrators and protesters with utmost savagery. In terms of weapons, we were the weaker party and we were convinced that if we entered armed struggle against the regime, we would certainly need a foreign power to supply us with arms. We avoided this because we did not want others to impose on us their will and agenda as is happening today. It was not our fault, but the fault of the other party. The party in the Arab areas was unable to maintain the peaceful nature of the revolution, and some parties, particularly Turkey, succeeded in dragging the rebels to the current situation. Turkey succeeded in making the peaceful revolution deviate from its path. What is happening today is deviation by the revolution from its path and turning into a struggle for power. This situation makes us fear the future. The revolution no longer demands freedom and democracy; it is now struggle for power. There are people who want a dictator to quit to replace him with another dictator.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But this "peaceful attitude" by your party was interpreted by some as sympathy toward the ruling regime in Damascus; in other words, you did not open a front in the Kurdish areas to avoid preoccupying the regime forces with your areas so as to focus on the rest of the Syrian areas?
[Muhammad] When the Syrian regime was in alliance with its Turkish counterpart, spending a 14-year honey moon, there had been intelligence and security cooperation between them to hunt down our party's members. Hundreds of our loyalists were held in the Syrian regime jails and many of our loyalists were martyred in the regime's intelligence cells. We started our revolution in 2004, seven years before the current revolt erupted. Our revolution never abated. Members of our party were arbitrarily arrested. Today Turkey became hostile to the Syrian regime and blatantly interferes in our country's domestic affairs. It is trying to impose itself on our future. In the Doha conference, Turkey succeeded in appointing 41 member of the Muslim Brotherhood out of 61 members of the council. It imposed three Syrian Turcoman members although the number of Turcoman in Syria is no more than 100,000. Turkey only accepted three Kurdish representatives for a people who number more than three and a half in Syria. So the question is: Are we antagonizing Turkey or raising Turkish fears? Or doesn't Turkey interfere in our affairs and try to even draw up our future?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any problems between your party and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria?
[Muhammad] Our party is not hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood. We respect all religions and see them as moral values throughout history. However, we think it is wrong to use religion as a tool in politics. We do not antagonize the Muslim Brotherhood, but we do not agree that they dominate Kurdish society. Certain societies may accept the Muslim Brotherhood; this is their business, but we do not accept the use of religion as a tool to dominate politics, particularly in our Kurdish society.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you see the future in Syria?
[Muhammad] (Pessimistic) It does not look good. I expect domestic internecine fighting or civil war, you name it, because the early signs of a civil war are emerging. The Kurdish will protect their areas no matter what the price until the situation in Syria stabilizes and Syria becomes a true democratic state that guarantees all factions their legitimate rights and political and human freedom.