Salih Muslim: "We are defending Western values"
Ergun Babahan's first guest on Perspective was Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD)
Ergun Babahan: When we have a look at the developments in your region, you have just declared a state of emergency in Rojava. What are the reasons behind this decision?
Salih Müslim: Yes. The state of emergency (was declared) according to our previous experience (with) what we got in Afrin, Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) and Girê Spî (Tell Abyad). When there were attacks, we were not ready as the people, all the services for logistics, or even in terms of hiding the people or moving (them away). So we have to be ready because every day, we are threatened by other people with attacks. Therefore, we have to get the people ready, from logistics to weaponry, because it is usually the civilians who are the victims of such an occupation and such attacks. And our experience with Turkey suggests that they don't make difference (between) civilians and the fighters; they just bombed everywhere.
So to protect the people and direct their movement and their immigration from their places (for) they are the people of our villages and they continue to resist in their villages; they didn't leave. And in a daily basis, they are shelling and attacking by those drones so there are many people from the civilians who are being injured and killed as well. So we have to care for them and we train to prepare ourselves for possible attacks against us in all the areas. For the sake of our defence units, our people; to be ready for that. I believe that all countries are taking the same emergency measures in the face of the worst situations.
EB: So it's not only the Kurdish, but Arabs and other minorities are joining these efforts.
SM: Yes, the administration included everyone, especially after the attacks on the Syrian villages like Tell Tamer, in the announcement they made. We expect large-scale attacks, according to what they say, in the threatened areas, such as Tal Rifaat and Manbij, and we have all the elements there; we have the Turkmen, the Circassians, etc., and everyone in there is subject to that attack.
EB: So are you expecting a ... attack by Turkish government? Because Erdogan said that Turkey is not going to make a move against Rojava which will disturb the international community but they will do the kind of attacks that doesn't bother or disturb international community so what's your expectation, a direct attack or a kind of bombing and menacing attacks by Turkish government.
SM: Well, actually, they are bombing every day so maybe (with) these attacks he is preparing (for) something different; larger than what he's doing every day. I mean, the drones are over us every day and the shelling is continuing for the villagers so it means when he threatens maybe he's talking about something else in a larger scale. I mean, the drones are over us every day and the shelling is continuing for the villagers so it means, when he threatens maybe he's talking about something else in a larger scale. Maybe larger scale attacks or even an invasion so we have to be careful about that, we have to take our preparation for it.
EB: After Biden-Erdogan summit in Madrid, the White House declared that Biden told Erdogan that the United States wants Turkey to refrain from any provocative action in Syria or Aegean Sea. So you think they are again trying to cheat Rojava government or Biden was sincere in his declaration and will stop Turkey from attacking Rojava?
SM: Yes, we are aware of the warning of the United States. They want quietness in the Eastern Mediterranean, in Syria but at the same time, we have been hearing the threats again. They are saying: we are going to do (it), we are not going to listen to the United States or the Russians or the others so we take these threats very seriously. So you cannot depend on what they said before.
Also, maybe the Russians, in Afrin, may have seen what they've done and the Americans in Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî, they recommended us to throw some distance from the border and then there were attacks. So they didn't never listen, they've got going with what they've in their mind. You know, this fascistic mentality of xxx; you are aware of them.
EB: Any attack or occupation by Turkey or the forces it's cooperating with in Syria, especially in Tal Rifaat and Manbij, will threaten the survival of Syrian regime. But we still see that Asad is quite stubborn against being in cooperation with Rojava administration. Why do you think he doesn't accept it as a reality and still tries to go back the time before the civil war?
SM: Actually, we don't know but we were talking to the Syrians; if you are talking about the sovereignty of Syria, it is a duty for all of us, all the Syrians take care of that; I mean, (they) should defend the sovereignty of Syria. But they have done it; they have done it in Afrin and they have done it (…) and now, in 2019, as you know, there was ceasefire between two sides and then according to the agreement with the Russians there were some Syrian soldiers to come to the border to protect those ceasefire lines. There were some movements, I mean, the Syrian army's movements and even the Russians'; they're located in these lines. Now, they have some context for protection, we're reminding them again, you haven't done before but we can protect Syrian territories. We should defend Syria and we can do it together. And we have heard some news, news from them, but of course practically, also maybe there are some movements, let's say, some soldiers, more soldiers are coming to those points.
EB: So you are in talks with Assad regime?
SM: That's right. I mean, militarily. Armed forces are contacting the commanders of the Syrian so that they try to arrange something with them.
EB: So it's a kind of... just a military cooperation, not a political solution to the situations you are in Syria just now?
SM: No, it's not a political solution or it's not even a force for the political situation.
EB: What about the Russians, what's their thinking? I mean, do they see it fit that if Turkey occupies Tal Rifaat and Manbij? Is it going to create any problems for their military bases in Syria because when Turkey occupies these areas they will bring in these Islamic jihadists who are the enemy of Russian regime so the military basis of Russia will not be safe if these two big, important (…).
SM: Well, we are trying every sharing, everybody and even the United States and Russia and so. For all the information we have; those mercenaries are located over there they are just remnants of Daesh and (…) and others. I mean, they are terrorists, al-Qaeda... All of them are located in this area, occupied areas by Turkey. They know that very well.
For the Russians, I mean, what they are saying that they are here to protect the regime from falling at the beginning and that's OK but also they promised for to protect sovereignty of Syria and they've never done it. And as you know, during the invasion of Afrin, they were there and they left a kind of consensus between them and the Turkish and Syrian regime and Iranians.
So we are afraid of doing the same (mistakes by trusting in them) so we are mainly depending on ourselves and we know that they know the truth. They know (about) the Turkey's relation with those terrorist groups, with the jihadists and especially with the Daesh they know it very well because you will remember that in 2015 when they published everything...
EB: Well, not everything, some part of it.
SM: Yes, not all of them, yes. And, they are maybe keeping the others. So they know this, they're aware and even the groups which Turkey is dependent on, those mercenaries, they know who they are most of them came from Turkic republics; like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and son on. They also know it very well that some of them are fighting against Russians in Ukraine so they are aware of that. We don't know, maybe they don't want any misunderstanding with the Turkish or they don't want any crushes or conflict with Turkey. It's their problem, but they know the situation very well.
And we are in contact with them. As you may know, they have announced many times they are not satisfied with these attacks and they don't agree with them and it will complicate everything. They are saying (it) openly... It doesn't mean they are saying... They're kind of keeping Turkey from an invasion when Turkey decides to do it.
EB: Senator Graham was in Ankara, Erbil and Rojava. He contacted (with), talked with Mr. Kalin in Ankara and went on to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan to talk to Mr. Barzani and came to Rojava. What he was trying to do is to find a solution or convincing Turkey not to attack Rojava or try to 'save' Kobanê. What's his main purpose? He is a very influential figure in Washington DC.
SM: Well, yes we know Mr. Graham before (from) his talks with Erdogan, from what he said before. Maybe he's trying to understand the situation and maybe even the stances of these sides. And it's OK; any effort for solution for preventing any war, large scale war. So we of course welcome such efforts. And I don't know, we don't know really what he has talked in Ankara and even in Kurdistan, in Iraq but here he met the official of the Democratic Syrian Forces. We don't really know up until now, I haven't any knowledge about what they had to discuss but I expect that maybe they welcomed him, listened to him and thanked him for his efforts...
EB: Do you think the military representative of Rojava were content with their meetings with Mr. Graham or you know nothing about it?
SM: No, I don't know what happened. He was a guest of them. He visited the prison of al-Hasakah and visited the Camp Bucca which includes the families of Daesh people so he met with some SDF forces and that's all. We don't know the details of what they have discussed but they expect... because maybe any effort should start with something different. Now we have some areas occupied just like Serê Kaniyê, Tell Abyad, Afrin and we have hundreds of thousands of refugees whom were removed from their places. They are living in the camps in Afrin, in (…), even in Serê Kaniyê and (…) and (…) and other places. We have hundreds of thousands of them, I think but those should be sorted, I think, before any talks or anything or any step for peace with Turkey. We are not rejecting any dialog for finding a political solution. In Syria, we welcome any efforts for that but we have those problems to be solved. I mean, you cannot keep everything and then leave and forget it to sit to talk about something else because this is a main headache for us now... this occupation and the results of this occupation.
EB: Mr. Graham saw it by himself then how delicate the situation for ISIS becomes -you call it Daesh- so attacks by Turkey, he knows that might end freedom for these fighters and a new threat for all the region and even for Europe, right?
SM: Yes, yes, Turkey is doing it from the beginning. As you know the Democratic Syrian Forces and the international coalition against Daesh are mainly against those sleeping cells. And those sleeping cells were caught by those forces. Mainly, they are saying, they are admitting that they were supported by Turkey or trained in these occupied places. And they have their quarters in these places like Ras al-Ayn, Tell Abyad and so. There are training centers and more than that, I mean, these attacks on the (…) prison was organized and directed from these occupied places according to what the captured people have admitted. They admitted their (…) and some of them they were related directly to the MIT of Turkey so they know that very well. This is one.
Secondly, during the Tall Abyad invasion, Serê Kaniyê-Tall Abyad invasion, there was a camp for these families and some prisoners of Daesh near (…). First of all, when Turkey reached to them, they just took all those people from Daesh and they took them to Turkey, sent some of them to Europe and some of them were located in these areas in Tell Abyad. So they are trying to rescue them and to give them freedom. And maybe you are hearing what Daesh is doing, how they are organizing themselves inside Turkey. And even those xxx border in the xxx of Turkey, I mean, on the border, just two kilometers under the protection of Turkey.
So they other are trying to help those organizations and to use them as a tool for threatening everybody, not only the Syrians, even the Europe and the countries. So it is very dangerous, really. And if they are to reach their plan in Hasakah prison... the plan in Hasakah prison was just like all to release all those about 5000 prisoners in the prison, to release them and to weaponize them to occupy Hasakah and then, of course all ISIS will be (…) again. So they will kind of become alive. So this is what they plan and they're trying to reach two places, according to their admins. To reach the camp of Anbar (?) which have about 30 – 40 thousand people, I mean, families. This is one and the second, to go to the border of Ras al-Ayn through Abdulaziz Mountain which is close to Serê Kaniyê.
This is what's their plan, to connect all these to Turkey. It is very dangerous, really.
EB: The western governments are aware of this threat, the Daesh threat, is very alive and (can) come back very quickly...
SM: Well, we are fighting everyday, on a daily basis, and with the international coalition. There are daily clashes between that forces and Daesh's sleeping cells everywhere. They are aware of everything, I think, they know.
EB: And they still do nothing to stop the attacks from Turkey against Rojava. Why do you think they do nothing? Including the Unites States government do nothing for the people of Rojava?
SM: We are telling them...
EB: And they succeed...
SM: ...well, Turkey is a NATO member, you cannot to something against (…) okay? We maybe will have some (…) sanctions and not more than that.
EB: I think there was a meeting, a visit actually, by British, American and French soldiers to Manbij. They talked to authorities in Manbij Military Council. It happened during your talks with Damascus and Assad regime. Is there something special about this meeting or it was just a regular visit by these military representatives of US, France and Britain?
SM: No, this is the first time and it doesn’t happen every day. There was a meeting as I have heard, I heard even from the public that there was a meeting, maybe for a coalition; a meeting with the Manbij Military Council. What they are discussed, I really don't know. But maybe we can expect, maybe they have discussed this situation because Turkey... I mean, Manbij is under threat again. So maybe because of that, they discussed with them.
This Manbij situation has two sides, on one side is the regime and Russian (…) and the other side is those mercenaries from Turkey, and Turkey itself. So it is surrounded from three sides. So maybe they have discussed this situation.
EB: Okay. My last question is what’s your administration’s expectations from the US and the West? What do you want them to do for Rojava?
SM: Well, I think they should know, those Western countries, Europe and so, they should know we are defending the values of them. I mean freedom for democracy and we only, aside (from) protecting these values and defending them, we have paid a lot for that. Can you imagine, just imagine, if Daesh succeeded to occupy Kobanê, what would happen? Can you just imagine what will happen? What will happen to Turkey, what will happen to Europe and to the others... So we are not only defending ourselves, we are defending ourselves and we are defending the values of Europe and these countries.
And if they do not support us, we will have difficulties with such a fascist mentality of Turkey. They have to do something against Turkey. Really, Turkey still... they just want to destroy the Kurds everywhere. Still, their mentality is “the best Kurd is the death Kurd.” So it is not a matter of PKK or PYD or one party. No! They just want to eradicate all the Kurdish people. And even for the remnants of the genocides happened in the beginning of the 20th century, like the Assyrians and Armenians, and so on.
Now we are living together and we have democratic relations between all those nations together in a democratic system. Turkey just wants to destroy everything, to eradicate all those Kurds, Syriacs, and Armenians, and even Arabs in these areas to make demographic changes which are convenient for them. That is all Turkey is trying to do. I hope Europe should be aware of that.
If you go back to the 20th century, they said for Hitler the same. He is democratic, he is (…) and then Hitler came and everybody knows what happened to Europe. Really, Erdogan in this mentality, is not less than Hitler in his dangerous position. I think everybody should take care of that and be aware of this.
EB: Thank you. Do you want anything else to add?
SM: Thank you. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to your audience and to your people. Thank you very much.
*Ergun Babahan graduated from Istanbul University Law School in 1981. After a short time working as a lawyer, he stepped into journalism as a reporter in Yeni Asır. He worked as an editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief in Söz, Hürriyet, Sabah and Yeni Binyıl newspapers, respectively. He joined the John Knight Professional Program at Stanford University with a German Marshall Fund scholarship in 1988, and the American Foreign Policy Process program at the University of Maryland in 1990 with a Ford Foundation scholarship. Babahan served as the editor-in-chief for +Gercek and now works as editor-in-chief for +GercekNews.