İlham Ehmed is a member of the Executive Committee of the Movement For A Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), the leading political movement in the self-governing cantons in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). She was interviewed by Günay Aksoy and Zana Kaya for Özgür Gündem on October 26. The following is abridged from a translation by The Rojava Report.
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A new group called the Democratic Forces of Syria (HSD) has recently been announced. What role will this group have in the future of Syria?
There has been a war underway in Syria for a long time. Many different armed groups emerged and many received substantial support from foreign powers. The regime has gone on the attack without mercy. Its attacks are still continuing.
These different armed groups were never able to build alliances among each other and fought against each other. Each group sought the support of either Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey. As a result each group fought for the interests of the country from which it received support. For this reason no larger force emerged.
Now such a force is in the process of emerging from the Democratic Forces of Syria. This is an alliance of democratic groups. The program and project of this newly formed group is the democratisation of Syria. This is a new sunrise in Syria's future that will lead all groups in Syria in coming together in unity.
What is the meaning of Turkey's enmity toward Rojava?
Turkey has always adopted a hostile attitude regarding the Kurds. Turkey is now at a dead-end and in the middle of a deep crisis bordering on chaos. Everyone knows that Turkey does not want to solve its Kurdish problem. At every time and place it wants to start conflict.
It has always been this way in North (Turkish) Kurdistan. In Rojava, Turkey has supported criminal gangs.
Furthermore, Turkey has interests in Syria. It wanted to fight in Syria in order to realise dreams left over from its Ottoman legacy.
For this reason Turkey has been constantly adopting a policy of enmity toward the Kurds. The Turkish state has just recently made some new statements. They made a lot of noise and asked how it could be that “foreign powers were supporting the Kurds.” In particular they asked how it could be that the United States was supporting the Kurds. Turkey reacted very strongly.
Turkey's reaction was entirely misplaced. We know very well that Kurds have developed relations with Turks based on peace and friendship and want to continue to develop such relations. Such a strong reaction will only lead to Turkey defeating itself.
Especially today, as the AKP government is attacking the PYD [the Rojava-based Democratic Union Party], the Kurds have been recognised by foreign powers, who realised there would not be a Syria without the Kurds.
Great resistance and heroism have been exhibited in Rojava. Turkey is constantly angry because the PYD has been accepted as a legitimate party and is enraged by the fact that the Kurds in Rojava have come to possess a political system and status.
Operations against Jarabulus and Raqqah are on the agenda. How are Russia and the United States approaching these operations?
Projects for Syria have always been changing. The US were going to offer us support up to a point, to the banks of the Euphrates, and they have continued to offer such support.
Russia is now intervening in Syria. This intervention has led to strong reactions on the part of other major powers. The US was saying that it would solve the situation in Syria along its own lines. Now with the intervention of Russia, which is known as a rival of the US, practical results are being achieved.
Within this framework one can say that they are looking positively at a push against Jarabulus or Raqqah.
How is the relationship between the Rojava government and the United States and Russia important in terms of the democratisation of Syria?
The Kurds have a project now. In particular we can talk about the project of the Movement for a Democratic Society. It is carrying on specific work toward the construction of a democratic Syria.
While the US and Russia have accepted this project, Russia is not thinking about a Syria without Bashar al-Assad. The US, on the other hand, has said that there cannot be a democratic Syria with Bashar al-Assad. So there are contradictions.
Both ourselves, as well as the US and Russia want the democratisation of Syria. Our project wants to bring together all ethnicities, peoples and cultures. While Russia claims to be of the same mind and want the same thing, it also wants Bashar al-Assad to remain in Syria and to impose this.
Whenever the terrorist groups fall into line and the regime comes to a certain point then there can be a chance for reaching out and making alliances.
How will Russia's intervention in Syria and the attacks carried out by ISIS against the al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups affect the existence of these gangs in Syria?
We can characterise Russia's strike against al-Nusra and its intervention against these terrorist groups as kind of a step forward. It is thought that there are groups attached to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, however the situation is not as imagined.
For example, when al-Nusra entered Idlib all groups came under the sway of al-Nusra. All the aid that came to these groups in fact went to al-Nusra. Just the other month a group that had been trained by the US was immediately compelled to join al-Nusra as soon as it entered Syria. All of the weapons and supplies ended up under al-Nusra control. Russia's intervention is aimed at clearing out al-Nusra.
On the other side, ISIS wants to advance as far as the city of Aleppo. Russia is also hitting al-Nusra and its allies there. This is opening the way entirely for ISIS. The battle in the rural areas of Aleppo will get worse. Even so, it is a good thing that Russia is striking at these groups. In the end there is no difference between ISIS and al-Nusra. Both of them are terrorist groups.
What is important is whether or not we can move these other groups toward a more democratic foundation. Russia needs to show this kind of approach and attitude.
How do you evaluate the massacre carried on the democratic forces in Ankara by ISIS and President Erdogan's government?
The Ankara bombings and terrorist attack were an attack and a massacre carried out against all democratic forces. A new democratic understanding had been developing in Turkey. And the HDP was leading these efforts. The struggle of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and those marching with it represented a new understanding from different democratic elements and different ethnicities.
Turkey was scared by this and reacted accordingly. It terrified Turkey that a newly formed party which had won so many votes would attract such interest and sympathy.
The AKP looked upon this democratic understanding as its own death.
As part of the Rojava government you are taking part in international diplomatic meetings. How have your meetings with the US gone?
Our meetings have gone well. The US is changing its thoughts about the Kurds. In the past it had fears and concerns.
Compared with in the past, it appears in our most recent meetings that even if there are still many question marks, we sensed an atmosphere in which they had received answers to their questions — from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. In this meeting they didn't ask “What is the level of relations between the regime and the PYD”.
They let us know that they reached the opinion that our two forces were fighting on the same side in Syria. We also saw them use words along the lines of: “We recognise you both as the military power in Rojava and a political force.”
They made it clear that they would support us. They made promises that they would support this project materially and in every other aspect. We can say that a new path is now being considered in the US. They said that they would support the Kurds and work together with them in a diplomatic relationship built on friendship. In this respect the US has opened a new diplomatic door.
We discussed the democratisation of Syria more than any other topic. They asked us which groups have joined in this project. We made it clear that we have endeavoured so that every ethnic group in Syria would take part.
They looked very positively upon this project and said that they would support it. For us it was a surprise.
The US and Russia have discussed things among themselves and have come up with their own formula. As Obama and Putin met to discuss dividing up the tasks of who would attack which targets and who would stay away from which areas, Russia immediately went into action. Everyone else taking part in the meetings was upset with these actions and this attitude.
We went there and took part in the meetings. They were still debating what needed to be done. What the democratisation of Syria urgently requires is the formation of a force. They immediately said they would support the newly formed Democratic Forces of Syria. I can say that there has been positive support against both terrorism and the regime's dictatorship. They came out with the understanding that they would completely support the Kurds.
That both Russia and the US have sought to built an alliance with the government of Rojava has elicited strong reactions from Turkey. What impact will Turkey's reaction regarding Rojava have on these two powers?
Turkey is trying to change the agenda with its warnings, but it is also experiencing a period of deep chaos and stalemate. It started a war against the PKK. The PKK once again declared a period of ceasefire. Turkey has once again fallen into a hole.
While Turkey's government is attempting to start a war, the PKK opted for a cease-fire. While Turkey is getting nowhere, all major powers have requested that Turkey once again sit down at the table and enter into a dialogue with the PKK.
When Turkey attacks Rojava it is also attacking the foreign powers supporting Rojava. Turkey's entire agenda is Rojava and the government of Rojava. While Turkey is drawing up meaningless schemes, its strong reactions and attacks will not achieve anything. We have always wanted to develop a relationship of friendship and neighbourliness with Turkey.