23 February 2016
ANF - Serkan Demirel - Geneva
ANF spoke to Syrian Democratic Council (MSD) Co-President Ilham Ehmed about the advances of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Geneva III and recent developments in Rojava, including attacks by Turkey.
The Syrian Democratic Council is a secular, left-wing opposition group formed of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians and Armenians. They are one of the organisations leading the Rojava revolution, and are also the political body of the SDF.
“Turkey does not want a solution in Rojava”
What is your evaluation of Turkey’s recent escalated attacks on Rojava?
This is not the first time Turkey is attacking Rojava, it has been attacking for a while now. Turkey has been hostile towards Rojava since the beginning of the revolution here. Turkey does not want the formation of a political will and the solution of problems in Rojava. For these reasons, Turkey sometimes supports gangs targeting Rojava and other times shells Rojava itself. Turkey has increased its shelling of Rojava recently for multiple reasons.
Turkey has claimed that its recent attacks aim to prevent the SDF’s military operations targeting Azaz, but this is not the case.
The actual reason for Turkey’s attacks is that Turkey is out of the political equation in Syria and attempts to become a player in the region by attacking Rojava.
The majority of the opposition forces in the region are loyal to the Al-Nusra Front, and all of these groups have been under Turkey’s protection. These groups are proxies with no political program, which is why they ran away after recent Russian bombardments. This situation enabled the recent advances of the Syrian regime.
What is the SDF's policy on this issue?
The SDF has been trying to prevent the advance of regime forces by capturing the areas evacuated by jihadis. Turkey has been upset at the SDF’s stance and has increased its attacks on Rojava. With its attacks, Turkey is trying to tell the international community that it is influential in this region and should be taken seriously.
“Turkey is looking for an excuse to attack Rojava”
Turkey blamed the People’s Protection Units (YPG) for the attack carried out by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) in Ankara, what was Turkey’s goal here?
By blaming the YPG for the attack, Turkey wanted to portray the YPG as a terrorist organization and create the grounds for the attack it wants to carry out against Rojava. With this accusation, Turkey also wanted to stop the international support for and the military coordination with the SDF.
Turkey tried to link the attack to the YPG and argued that the attacker was from Amude, but this attempt failed. Turkish officials met with the representatives of international powers right after the attack but their claims were not bought.
Turkey’s claims are false because the YPG never targeted Turkey even during the attacks and bombardments targeting Kobanê. The YPG is relatively more comfortable now, and does not have a strategy of attacking Turkey. Its main strategy is defeating ISIS and realising a democratic change in Syria. Turkey’s false accusations did not convince anyone.
“Turkey wants to control the Azaz Border Gate”
Why does Turkey attach this much importance to Azaz, or is this not really about Azaz?
Turkey wants to control the Azaz gate because it dispatches arms to the gangs through that border crossing. Turkey is disturbed over the closure of the road between Azaz and Aleppo because it was the area from which Turkey would spread its policy; through that border crossing and Aleppo to the entire Syrian territory. After the closure of this road, Turkey got stuck and therefore started to bring Azaz into question. Apart from this policy, Azaz means nothing to Turkey.
Yet, it must be known very well that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will be fighting the ISIS terror everywhere it exists. The areas where SDF have made advances so far are those held by Al-Nusra, which is listed among the terrorist organisations. Nobody can question our progress in this territory. Those not acting with the Al-Nusra Front in these areas are joining the ranks of the SDF and defending themselves. Our goal is to unite the forces acting separately from Al-Nusra and wage a harsh struggle against both ISIS and Al-Nusra.
What will your response be if Turkey continues its aggression against Rojava?
We do not believe Turkey can resume this policy because of the fact that Turkey is suffering heavy and unresolved problems within its own borders. As a matter of fact, Turkey is making this much noise in an effort to hide its internal situation from the world.
The Turkish state is massacring civilian people in Amed, Sur, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi and many other areas, and this state of affairs is already on the world agenda. Turkey is being criticised in this regard, which is why it wants to turn attention back on Rojava to hide its own failures.
Turkey has to stop its attacks and abandon this approach towards Rojava. It has no right to bomb Afrin or Tell Rifaat where there are civilians. These acts do not serve Turkey's interests anyway. Turkey must be convinced that it cannot bomb its neighbors whenever it wants. This is a different region, a different border and a different land. Turkey must respect international rules.
The United Nations has called upon Turkey to obey these rules. In this regard, our policy is not focused on escalating this issue. We are acting otherwise.
We have not declared a war against Turkey so far, nor will we adopt such a stand but Turkey must stop its bombardments. Our patience has limits.
“There maybe no Geneva III”
The failed Geneva III talks are expected recommence on 25 February but the current developments on the ground may result in another suspension of the talks. What do you think in this regard?
We don't believe that talks can be held under these circumstances. There may be no Geneva III at all. The situation of the opposition is different now than what it was before the Geneva meeting. They had been present in and around Aleppo before, but lost it, too, now. If the Damascus regime takes entire control of Aleppo, it might also refuse negotiations because there will be no opposition.
“A federal system for Syria...”
What about the forces in Rojava?
The current state of affairs shows that Kurds and other forces in Rojava are determining how the Syrian system should be through military achievements and the policies they are implementing in areas they are present. A federal system is being discussed in Syria now, in which Kurds in a Federal Northern Syria will sustain an autonomous region and the system they have been building.
Do you mean the existing system in Syria will turn into a federal structure and a decision on this has already been made?
I do not want to talk bout this matter in detail for now. What is essential is the fight waged in Rojava and it is inevitable that we will attain democratisation in Syria in line with this struggle.
Observations during discussions, which include international powers, about structures, are for the formation of 3 federal regions in Syria. This is what the peoples of Syria want and the states, parties and groups that are seeking a political solution to this crisis. America and Russia are also of the same opinion.
Has this decision been made already and how will the formation of 3 federal regions be recognised?
As I've just said, I do not want to detail this issue for now. Yet, I can say that it is this idea that will be discussed from now on; i.e. the formation of a Federal Syria constituting of Northern Syria, Southern Syria and Central Syria. Every one of these federal regions will preserve its distinctness of identities and ethnic diversities. Each federal region will have its own parliament. This is all I can say for now.
What about the attitude of the regime and opposition forces towards the federal system being proposed?
In comparison to the opposition, the regime is much more moderate on this subject. Those seeking a political solution in Syria believe that the Syrian crisis can be resolved through this system.
If this happens Geneva III will be rendered meaningless. Will the result be as Kurds proposed it from the very beginning?
I do not want to say anything else on this. We will wait and see.
What will happen with the Syrian regime, will it continue with Assad?
An election, which includes the three federal regions, could be held in order to choose whom the people want.
In line with the military initiatives of the Syrian Democratic Forces, will it take time to unify the Canton of Afrin with the other cantons?
It will require some time to unify this line. Military operations are aimed at not only unifying the cantons but also eliminating the threat of ISIS in these regions. ISIS is a major threat on this line, and not only for Kurds but also for Arabs. This threat needs to be removed.
Despite Turkey's growing reaction, does the U.S. also want the unification of this line?
The U.S. and Russia know it is ISIS that hinders the unification of the cantons and that its elimination will enable the achievement of this objective.
Edited by Kurdish Question