"Rojava could be a model for all Syria"

Salih Muslim

West Kurdistan leader and PYD Co-Chair

- Seen from a historical point of view, the establishment of a self-governing West Kurdistan -or Rojava as it is referred in Kurdish to- is a new development in the area. One of the the most interesting things is the fact that this process is being introduced by the West Kurdish leadership not as a Kurdish-only one, but as a multiethnic one, comprising Assyrians, Arabs and other peoples. Which is the goal of this process?

-We believe in the Mesopotamian nations, who have been living together for thousands of years. Kurds, Syriacs, Armenians, Arabs and other minorities are the original nations of Mesopotamia. We think that Mesopotamia is a garden and all those nations are the flowers: equal, original peoples. Many mistakes have happened, especially in 20th century, for example when the Sykes-Picot Agreement divided Mesopotamia into four countries -Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. We believe in Rojava, we have the historical opportunity to rebuild the relations between those original, genuine, equal nations in this multinational area. We are working according to this belief, and [we want] to do it in a democratic, modern, and secular way. We are not taking the other nations just as a declaration: they should share everything with us in the democratic self-administration in Rojava. They are sharing the defending units, the Asaysh, the judicial system, the schools, and Assyrian and Arabic have become official languages there, alongside Kurdish.

- Do you feel it is sometime more difficult to build relations with other sides of the Kurdish people than with Arabs and Assyrians in West Kurdistan? I mean that the West Kurdistan cantons find it sometimes difficult to be in good terms with the government of South Kurdistan (Iraq).

-We have a little bit different views with the main party in South Kurdistan, the KDP, but we have no problem with the Kurdish people there or with other parties who are supporting and standing besides us, like the PUK, Gorran, the Islamic Movement... We have no problem with them. The problems with the KDP will be solved soon, if people are persuaded about unity, and live besides each other. Thus, for us this is not the main issue. Maybe conditions in Rojava are a little bit different from conditions in South Kurdistan, so everyone should respect the conditions and the will of the Kurdish people in the other side. And that is what we are doing.

- West Kurdistan is now fighting a very tough battle against the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) in Kobanê, which has been under attack for several weeks now. Why do you think foreign supporters of IS are helping them one way or the other, and why should they be interested in putting the West Kurdistan cantons under attack?

- Because many forces supporting ISIS are not willing to accept Kurds being in Rojava. They have plans to destroy and evacuate Rojava.

- Populations are included?

- They want [our] people out of Rojava. They are trying to do what they have done in 1991 in South Kurdistan, when the area was evacuated and again replaced. They are trying to do the same in Rojava. We are defending ourselves.

- Who do you believe is the main supporter of IS in this goal?

- We believe ISIS is a kind of tool created by other countries. It is a branch of Al Qaida, and everybody knows who created Al Qaida. ISIS is related to them. Within ISIS you have many, many streams. Some of them obbey Turkey, some of them obbey the Syrian regime, some of them obbey Saudi Arabia, the Qataris... Even though, who created ISIS is mainly those Western countries, specially NATO, who created Al Qaida in the 1980s for their purposes. ISIS is a branch of this. And now maybe it is not going to be under control.

- You said before that improved relations with the KDP in South Kurdistan are possible. But the KDP has close relations with the Turkish government. How can this KDP-Turkey privileged partnership be combined with a better relation between West Kurdistan and the KDP?

- We are talking about normal things: it is normal to have good relations with all nations in the Middle East, with the Kurds in South Kurdistan -because we are brothers and one nation-, and of course we would like to have very friendy relations with Turkey too, because we share a border of about 900 km long and on both sides of it Kurdish communities exist. We are enforced to have good relations with them.

- But it is not always like this.

- We do not mind if South Kurdistan has relations with Turkey. But those relations should not be against the Kurdish people in Rojava. We are for peace, friendship and brotherness.

- Which is the external support the West Kurdistan cantons enjoy? Do they have support from other governments?

- Till now we have no support outside the Kurdish people, who have supported us from the four parts of Kurdistan and from the diaspora. They are supplying us with humanitarian aid, in political and diplomatic ways... But from governments, we do not have any support at all.

- The Syrian war will hopefully be over some day. Whatever the future government of Syria will be, what is your idea about the relations that the West Kurdistan cantons should have with it: a partnership, an option to get Kurdish independence...?

-We are part of Syria. We have very good relations with all the communities of Syria: Alevis, Druzes, Ismailis, Christians... We respect eveybody and everybody respects us. The other thing we believe is that Syria is not going to be the old Syria anymore: it should change. It will be decentralized, maybe a kind of federation, or autonomies, where all those peoples can be recognized and live together in a united Syria. Our [Rojava] model could be a model for all Syria. We hope in a united, plural, democratic Syria, with everybody respecting each other. The past dictatorship cannot exist anymore.

- But you will be willing that this democratic, decentralized Syria also allows West Kurdistan to keep relations with the other Kurdistans. How do you conceive that?

- For sure we want that. In the long term we are working for democratic confederalism in the Middle East, where everybody can be like in the EU, where all nations are living together and have their borders removed: you can go from Spain to Finland without borders. Maybe you can say it is impossible, but it is a nice dream to work for.

-Obviously there is a major power in the Middle East who is Israel, which has the strongest army there -together with Turkey- and the region's strongest leverage in the world. When South Kurdistan announced it would hold a referendum on independence, the only government that overtly supported the move was Binyamin Netanyahu's. But what is your perception about Israel's stance towards the West Kurdistan process?

-Till now we do not have very clear positions [from Israel] regarding Rojava. If Israel is talking about democracy, they should implement it even in their land, and I mean respecting Palestinian rights. If they are talking about the suppport to independence of the Kurdish nation, they should accept a similar right for the Palestinians. They are attacking Gaza, killing the people... They should think of a democratic way, including the Palestinians. The old mentality of solving the problems through the use of force is a past one, it is not acceptable. Problems should be solved in a democratic way with all the nations. It is the only way to have more stable conditions in the Middle East.

- The governments of West Kurdistan cantons tend to stress the role women are having within the defense units, within the government councils...

- Our women are struggling for their rights and to share the nation building. Kurdish women are now sharing all the organizations with men. It is a social contract that was issued by the councils of areas under the democratic administration to include at least 40% of members of each gender, be it women or men. Of course women are now able to defend themselves, to defend their society through the YPJ -women's defending units-, and in society they are sharing all the organizations including PYD party, which has a co-presidential system, led by Asya Abdullah and myself. Asya [Abdullah] is now in Syria, but she has been in Europe for a while, making contacts... We believe in such a society. Life is not good without women. We want to see women besides us all the time. We feel that any work that has no woman besides it is not complete, or that there is something wrong with it.

David Forniès