Asya Abdullah flanked by Saleh Moslem & Aldar Xelil at PYD Congres
The Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) 8th congress in Brussels brought together more than 100 representatives of political parties, MPs and academics from 13 European countries. The slogan of the congress, ‘From a free Rojava towards a Democratic Syria’, formed the backdrop of the PYD co-chairs' bilateral meetings with politicians from Scotland, Sweden and other European countries. Discussions centred around how to expand support and what could be learned from around the world to strengthen the system in Rojava.
One of the decisions taken at the congress was to expand the party’s activities, especially among Kurdish youth and women in Europe to address the problems faced following the arrival of large numbers of refugees from Rojava. Organisational decisions were taken on the second day of the congress as PYD representatives for Europe were elected for the duration of two years. The participants of the congress also decided to hold a conference about federalism in northern Syria to explain their democratic solution project for Syria. PYD co-chair Asya Abdullah answered our questions on the second day of the congress.
Figen Gunes: Why is it important to hold the congress in Europe and can you tell us if the support you get in Europe is growing?
Asya Abdullah: The congress is held annually. Since the first days of the revolution in Rojava, there has been a clear progress in our project’s political and social aspects. Our resistance has grown over the years but of course we have paid heavy prices. All the great sacrifices are bearing their fruits and having a direct impact on the future success of the revolution. A year ago, we did not have representative offices in Europe and as much support as we have today. We now have representation through our offices in Moscow, Berlin, Paris and Holland, which gives us political strength as it creates a path for communication with European politicians.
The Syrian conflict has not been resolved yet and it is still ongoing. Rojava is our democratic project. So from a political perspective and for the struggle against Daesh (Islamic State/ISIS), western support is crucial.
On the first day of the congress we had a lot of guests. A lot of friends and supporters of Rojava joined us. At this stage, this is welcomed by us as these European politicians can pass messages to their local communities.
F.G: What decisions have you made at the congress?
A.A: This congress is organised primarily for our struggle in the diaspora. We have a substantial history and experience in Europe as we have been active here for a long time. There has been a huge exodus into Europe in recent years. As a party we would like to create a culture first approach for the Kurds in Europe; our aim is to preserve our culture and use it as a bond among Kurds to cooperate more here.
I want young people, especially young women, to participate and be active in our political movement to question problems in the community. I want woman decisions makers at home and in society to make the right decisions in Europe. There are women’s congresses in Rojava and also there are congresses for young people in each canton. This should also be reflected in our European network.
F.G: Where will you open the next PYD office?
A.A: Wherever there are chances to open PYD representation offices we will do it, it is a good step. But there are no specific places for us to focus on at the moment. There were discussions that we would soon open one in Washington. We are keen on the idea and would like to open more offices when there is a chance.
F.G: Tell us how Manbij is administered at the moment. There were some critical media stories that appeared in the British media accusing the PYD of expanding its own rule. Did you leave the control of Manbij to its locals after its liberation?
A.A: We have liberated a big area in Manbij so far. And after its liberation it is the responsibility of the Manbij Military Council, which is part of SDF to protect Manbij and its surrounding areas. The city centre of Manbij is fully liberated now and lots of villages around it are also free. Now the Military Council is in charge. There is also a civic council made up of Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds and all other locals. They are part of the civic administration.
F.G: Will the YPG be part of Raqqa operation alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)?
A.A: The SDF is defending a large part of northern Syria. There is also a Turkish project and the SDF want to open a front for Al Bab. There are political and military discussions in this regard. If there are any threats on Al Bab, the SDF will protect its area.
Raqqa is a big city under Daesh control. It is difficult without a comprehensive deal with the US. Discussions are ongoing between our allies. We have not decided as of yet if we will take part or not.
F.G: There are criticisms that Rojava's leaders are not working enough towards cooperating with the International Cooperative Movement. What is the economic situation in Rojava under the current border isolation?
A.A: One of our main economic obstacles is the siege; we are literally landlocked. Borders are closed due to Daesh, Turkey and Iraq. We don't have any communication lines because of Daesh and the border crossing with Turkey is also closed. Moreover we don't have an open path to Northern Kurdistan [Turkey's Kurdish region]. It's difficult for us to secure the economic future of Rojava. If there was trade, it would get better and we would have exports and imports. But that's not happening because of the siege.
Another thing is that we are at war and there is no infrastructure. Some of our towns are destroyed. In Kobane 3,800 houses were reduced to rubble. There is no shopping area in Kobane which makes life difficult. Recently there was a big lorry explosion in Qamishlo, which Daesh took responsibility for. Attacks like this make daily life unsafe for us. For this reason, there has not been much economic help for Rojava.
In Kobane, there is support provided by organisations. But that has its own limited capacity. There is official international aid for other parts of Syria but not for our part. So far we have only had civic support from organisations.
Economy and health is essential for us in the movement. We are depending on our own resources so improve them. For example, we are developing the system of cooperatives in Rojava. A lot of cooperatives have been formed by women. A good number of women are working within them. Some of them are focused on trade, agriculture; others are for helping others find work in cooperatives. Around 50 people come together to start a cooperative.
We are improving the cooperatives system as much as we can. One thing we like achieving is bringing cooperative members together for solidarity. This empowers people and helps them see their own capacities for future projects.
F.G: Are you in talks with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to lift the border blockade from their side?
A.A: We don't have any problems with the KRG government however the border crossing is closed. We don't want the border crossing to be a political issue between South Kurdistan (KRG) and Rojava. They closed the Semelka bordergate for trade however the border crossing is a humanitarian issue as we are at war. It would help our Kurdish movement grow if it was open. Both sides are Kurds but it will also help all the communities living in Rojava-northern Syria.
We receive help from charities in South Kurdistan but not from the government itself. We held a conference in Europe for the reconstruction of Kobane, but again we didn't receive any help from the Kurdistan Regional Government.
F.G: Thank you for your time.
A.A: Thank you.
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