Amberin Zaman, with Al Monitor, interviewed Saleh Muslim, Co-Chair of the Democratic Ujnion Party (PYD), in Northern Syria.
Here are some excerpts of the interview:
Al-Monitor: What do Russia’s moves spell for Turkey?
Muslim: Turkey’s Syrian policy is totally bankrupt. Two years ago I was talking to a Russian official and he asked me, “What do the Kurds most fear?” “Possible Turkish intervention,” I replied. He laughed and said, “That is not Turkey’s border [with Syria], but NATO’s,” to which I responded, “In that case you have given me relief, thank you.” Turkey cannot intervene in Syria without the blessings of the big powers.
Al-Monitor: And how will the “IS-free zone” that Turkey wants to establish west of the Euphrates River along the so-called Mare Line be affected by Russian intervention?
Muslim: Russia and the United States seem to have established their own zones of influence within Syria. The US is active in the north. The Russians will not meddle in the north. But should Turkey attempt to intervene, then they will. Russia has a joint defense agreement with Syria. They will prevent Turkish intervention not to defend us [Kurds] but to defend Syria’s border.
Al-Monitor: What are the prospects for cooperation between Turkey and the Rojava administration?
Muslim: Had Turkey taken the fight against IS seriously from the start, IS would not still be on Turkey’s borders. IS is massacring Kurds, forcibly evacuating the Kurds, burning their villages. Why is Turkey not doing anything; why is it unable to stop this? We have proposed to take care of it ourselves. Then why is Turkey standing in our way? You know there is this Turkmen brigade trained by Turkey called “Sultan” something or the other. They all defected to Daesh. It was a total fiasco.
Al-Monitor: Are you saying there is no hope for normalizing relations with Ankara?
Muslim: Should Turkey adopt a more moderate stand toward us, we as politicians are ready to talk and good things could ensue. But Turkish officials keep calling the PYD and the YPG [People’s Protection Units] “terrorists.” What kind of terrorism have we engaged in?
Had they gone along with what we proposed to them two years ago [cooperation] everything might have been different today. Instead of coexisting fraternally, Turkey labels us enemies.
What we really want is to fight IS together with Turkey, America and the other coalition forces. Moreover, we are not opposed to a security zone. What we are opposed to is a Turkish-controlled security zone. The no-fly zones that were established in Iraq in 1992 could be applied in Syria as well. If the whole of northern Syria were under United Nations protection, we would feel more secure.
Al-Monitor: Aren’t the Kurdistan Workers Party’s [PKK] recent attacks against Turkey leaving you in a precarious position? Although you argue that you are separate entities, you are both inspired by the PKK’s founder, Abdullah Ocalan.
Muslim: I don’t think it affects us militarily. We are separate organizations. But a resumption of the peace process in Turkey would be to the benefit of all. Any escalation of the conflict would be to the detriment of all. Aren’t the Kurds who embrace Apo’s [Abdullah Ocalan’s nickname] philosophy the ones who are the most effective fighting force against Daesh? When you attack them [the PKK], millions of Kurds feel they are being stabbed in the back. And they demand to know why the US and Europe are remaining silent. If they are serious about fighting Daesh, then wouldn’t they stop Turkey? There are such thoughts among the Kurds.
Meanwhile, a human tragedy is being played out. The body of Aziz Guler, a Turkish citizen who came to Rojava to fight IS, cannot be delivered to his family because Turkey won’t let it in. We cannot understand why. In the past, Turkish citizens who died in Rojava were handed over to their families and buried in their own country. This is no longer being allowed. Turkey has adopted this policy ever since the resumption of the conflict [with the PKK].