Kurdish campaign activists Choulia Mola and Alican Ercol spoke to Solidarity
Some prominent Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Unit (YPG) fighters from the UK seem to have welcomed the bombing because of US air strikes supporting the battle for Kobane. How has the UK joining bombing raids in Syria been taken more widely by Kurdish organisations and people in the UK?
CH & AE: We need to be very careful. Bombs, no matter how smart they are, cannot distinguish between civilians and jihadists. Bombs have resulted in creating many more enemies than those they have eliminated. We learned this lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bombings that took place in Kobane were successful because they were directed by the Kurdish forces fighting on the ground. If we want our strikes against Daesh to be successful we need to push governments to ask for directions from the YPG who have been fighting Daesh on the ground for year and have the experience.
The Kurds fear that if this does not happen, we will experience civilian deaths and fail to defeat Daesh.
A simple “no to war” is not a realistic approach either. It seems to us that this is a left over from the 1968 left and war in Vietnam. But we are in 2015 and this is Syria. We need to update the discussion and educate the public as well. Left interventions on the Syrian issue need to be synchronized with the democratic and secular revolutionaries of the region.
What is your assessment of the protests against the bombings and the argument in the British parliament?
CH & AE: Until now the Syrian issue has been seen through a limited political perspective. Public discussions have not been wide enough to encompass all the different aspects of the topic. So now people cannot relate to it from a broader perspective. There is an anti-war atmosphere, but the topic needs to be opened up, so that people can see clearly all the issues. What we find very interesting is that even though Kurds are the only force fighting Daesh, they are not given the importance they should have. Corbyn did support Kurdish rights in the parliament, which made us happy, but we need to push him even further.
Can you tell us anything about the Syria Democratic Forces that were recently formed? Do they share the secular and democratic aims of the YPG or are they only a very temporary alliance for limited military gains? How numerous are they?
CH & AE: Numbers in the SDF should reach 40,000. They are an alliance of a variety of ethnic groups from the region: Assyrians, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians etc. Thirteen military groups are included in the SDF forces and including YPG/YPJ of course. The hegemonic role is played by YPG, which is the backbone of SDF. Due to the particularities of the time and region, there was a need for such an organisation. The organisations that have signed the declaration of the SDF are generally secular and progressive forces. It is difficult to say whether it is temporary or not as the terrain can change very fast. But as long as there is a need for it, the organisation will continue to exist.
How would you assess non-Daesh military and non-YPG forces that are not under Assad’s control, the much-spoken-of 70,000?
CH & AE: First of all the 70,000 are not a homogeneous group. Within the 70,000 there are lots of opportunist organisations that have supported different kinds of policies. There are Islamic extremist groups, groups that are not secular and are pragmatic about their policies. They have sometimes supported Daesh and sometimes have been against it. The groups are also sometimes opposing each other. Relying on them [for a campaign against Daesh] is not very realistic.
On 8 December the Saudi regime is co-ordinating a conference in Riyadh, supposedly to “unify the opposition” against Assad. It has the sponsorship of Turkey. The PYD and YPG have not been invited to this conference. The UK and US appear to be backing Saudi Arabia in co-ordinating ground forces in Syria and organising the Syrian opposition. How seriously is the initiative taken by the HDP or PYD?
The Riyadh conference is a response, or a counter-balance to the Vienna talks, where Russia and Assad were the effective players. When Russia became more actively involved in Syria, Assad’s position strengthened. The anti-Assad forces looked for an opportunity to re-organise against Assad. The Riyadh conference is basically that.
It is impossible for the secular and democratic PYD, which advocates a totally different governance system for the Middle East, to participate in a conference that is designed to re-organise all the backward forces against Assad. We need to make clear that the anti-Assad militaries are a plethora of jihadist groups. The US/UK will observe the conference and its results and will act accordingly. PYD will definitely observe and assess the events, but its involvement with these non-democratic groups is impossible.
How are the HDP or other Kurdish organisations responding to the very large Syrian refugee communities in Turkey?
CH & AE: HDP is very strong in the councils in southern Turkey, i.e. North Kurdistan. These regions are receiving many refugees on a daily basis. HDP attempts to respond and provide for the refugees in the region. Not only local councils, but the Kurdish people that live in the region welcome the Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian refugees that arrive there from other regions of the Middle East. In Turkey and internationally, a variety of campaigns are trying to raise awareness and help for the refugees and tare run by the Kurds. The policy of PYD and that of HDP is to welcome all the peoples living in that area.
And anybody and any group that wants to discuss with them is more than welcome. Sometimes longer or shorter relations might develop, however the primary collaborator is the SDF.
There are other Syrian organisations in the UK under the Syria Solidarity Movement umbrella which opposed the UK launching of bombings in Daesh-held territories, mainly because for them the battle against Assad is more important. Does the movement in support of Rojavan Kurds have any contact with them?
CH & AE: We have not heard of any solid contact between the Kurdish communities and the Syria Solidarity Movement. It is obvious that they are seeking a solution to the Syrian issue but this does mean that they have a programme. Their declaration is abstract and we are having difficulties determining what their stance is on the Syrian issue. The Syria Solidarity Movement is clearly anti-Assad but we are not sure how they position themselves against the other jihadist groups.
Syria Solidarity call for a no-fly zone, largely to defend Syrians from the aerial bombardments of Assad which are backed by Russia. They argue that this will allow Syrian civil society to reorganise. However none of the big powers seem interested in it. What do Kurdish organisations think of this idea?
CH & AE: Even though it sounds very pleasing, it is unrealistic. A while ago Turkey also proposed a no-fly zone above a region inhabited by Turkmens next to the Turkish borders. Turkey’s proposition was promoted as something impossible to realise by the international forces.
A no-fly zone also does not ensure that the population is safe. What would happen with attacks carried out on the ground? To create a no-fly zone, military forces are needed to ensure overall peace in the region. Wars are now fought through proxy forces and a no-fly zone does not really affect all the different groups fighting on the ground on behalf of foreign interests. For Syria, rather than trapping ourselves in unrealistic and ineffective propositions, we need a serious program. What the Kurds are doing in the Middle East is exactly this: they are building what they want, instead of just calling for it.
Do you have any further comments on how the struggle for democracy can be fought for across Syria?
CH & AE: The basic problem in the Μiddle Εast is that lines between the different religious, political and economic interests are very well defined. The different social groups find it easy to express anger against groups that different to theirs. When borders change in Middle East and old dictators fall, when a new Middle East is born, what needs to be ensured is that all the different ethnic groups can live together. That is what we need to help the progressive forces in the Middle East to realise.
The cantons in Rojava, as a self-governing system that consolidates the different ethnicities and geographies of the region, is the realisation of such a plan. And it has succeeded to a great extent. And this kind of politics is exactly what the Middle Eastern hegemonies and capital wanted to poison in the Arab Spring. They wanted to prohibit these new forms of organisation that were bound to start appearing. The oppressive forces were looking (and still are) for a means to resurrect themselves and chang the direction of the insurrections in the Middle East. They needed to create the grounds for the capitalist relations to flourish and of course keep them, or their like in power.
The Kurds decided not to chose between the dictatorships of the past and the new imperialist relations, but have proposed a third way. This includes the unity of the ethnic groups of the Middle East in the most secular and democratic manner. The proletarian forces of the world should support the Kurds in their struggle.