YPG’s Polat Can on Situation in Kobane

Polat Can

* This interview was conducted on October 29, 2014

The spokesperson of Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) Polat Can evaluated arrival of the peshmerge forces to Kobane border, relations between YPG and the international coalition.

Mr. Polat Can, first I want to ask you about the front lines. In the last couple of days, ISIS has ramped up its attacks against Kobane. They are trying especially hard to take the Mursitinar border crossing gate with Turkey. What is the current situation on the ground?

A couple of days ago, ISIS suffered a major defeat. As a result, they brought reinforcements from Derezor and Raqqa. These reinforcements, led by a few emirs [prince], included a large quantity of modern and heavy arms, as well as a large number of terrorists. After previous defeats, the former emirs lost their morale and chose to be replaced by new ones. Their major goal in these last attacks was to take the gate to Suruc in Northern Kurdistan [Turkey]. The coalition air-dropped munitions for us. One motivation for ISIS to take the gate is to prevent the scheduled peshmerga reinforcements from crossing into Kobane from the north. We are 100% confident that ISIS is doing this in collaboration with Turkey. For this purpose, ISIS has ceased all its operations on other fronts and is laser-focused on the Eastern front, but to date, has not advanced even a bit. Also, they are running a disinformation campaign, claiming victory and progress against us, and these are all lies. To the contrary, they suffered enormous losses. They also have resorted to suicide truck bombs, with no success. We have successfully thwarted the attacks by destroying those vehicles and killing their drivers before they could reach their targets.

You talked about airdrops and Turkey’s attitude. Could you be more specific please? Not just the Kurds but also other countries sharply criticize Turkey’s attitude. What exactly is Turkey trying to do, in your opinion?

Turkey’s plans in Syria have been foiled by us. Obviously, Turkey is trying to achieve its goals in Syria by collaborating with ISIS. Turkey’s only goal is the Kurds, not YPG or Kobane. For that reason, Turkey is openly confronting the international coalition and the US. Rather than Turkey, we could say the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is doing this despite the fact that it is ruining Turkey’s image in the West. Turkey helps ISIS with all it has, to prove that the US has failed in its war against ISIS. Not only is Turkey helping ISIS, it is also showing unspeakable animosity toward the Kurdish nation’s struggle against ISIS by the YPG. Turkey closed its border crossing and tried to prevent the US from sending munitions to YPG. Turkey has created all kinds of impediments to prevent the peshmerga from reaching Kobane in the last 10 days. At times, Mr. Erdogan speaks for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), at other times, he speaks in the name of the YPG, Democratic Union Party (PYD) or the peshmerga. Who has appointed Mr. Erdogan as spokesperson for these forces one wonders? No one can make sense out of what he says. He gives a press release, then another that annuls the previous one. Erdogan’s only goal is to defeat the Kurdish political establishment and the international coalition’s Syria policy.

But at the same time, Turkey allowed the passage of the peshmerge through its territory. In a short time it is expected that peshmerge will cross into Kobane. What do you have to say about this?

There has been massive pressure on Turkey in the last 10 days to allow these reinforcements to reach Kobane. President of the Kurdistan Region Mr. Masoud Barzani asked Turkey to allow peshmerga to pass to Kobane on the first day ISIS attacked Kobane, well over a month ago. In the last 10 days, Turkey has been dragging its feet to allow peshmerga to pass to Kobane. Every time, Turkey has created another excuse as to why peshmerga would not be allowed to go ahead. Also, Turkey negotiated a reduction in the original number of peshmerga reinforcements, and in the end, only allowed 150 peshmerga to go to Kobane. We are grateful for our Peshmerga coming to fight together with us, but one should not forget that a mere 150 fighters would not have a big impact military-wise.

So, was the number of peshmerga reduced due to Turkey’s pressures?

Yes. Due to the pressure of Turkey the number of peshmerga was reduced. Since several conditions were put forth by Turkey before peshmerga’s departure. However, under pressure from many nations, and in the end, under the ultimate pressure of the US, Turkey gave in to permitting the peshmerga reinforcements to reach Kobane.

You are claiming that Turkey has opposed the demands of the US and the international coalition, but it looks like Turkey was not successful in such efforts. You are collaborating with the US, and we see that is leading to positive developments in Western capitals’ attitudes towards the YPG.  

Such efforts by Turkey only hinder our war against terror, and delay our victory. Turkey considers this a gain. That perpetuates this war, and this is something we do not want. We want to defeat ISIS as soon as possible so that people can return to their homes and we can thus continue our struggle against ISIS in a stronger manner. Turkey wants to prevent us from reaching these goals any way it can, in order to impede our success.  Despite international public efforts and media attention, Turkey has still been effective in such attempts.

You mentioned the Free Syrian Army. You have been fighting with the FSA for some time now, and we see that in practice in Kobane. Also, Turkish President Erdogan recently claimed that 1300 FSA fighters would be going to Kobane. Is there any truth to this claim by Erdogan?

First of all, we and the FSA are collaborating by our free will, and this is not happening because of Erdogan. It is not appropriate for Erdogan to speak on behalf of the FSA. The FSA can speak for itself. Also legally this is not right because the president of a foreign country [Erdogan] cannot issue statements in the name of or make decisions for a military force [FSA] in another country. He openly means FSA is an army of Recep Tayip Erdogan. Erdogan’s statements reveal these for us.

A second point, we are the supporters of an army that accepts the Kurds and their national rights, and fights for human rights and democracy in Syria. Our alliance with such groups of FSA is continuing in Afrin, Aleppo, Kobane and in other places. As you know we formed a joint force the “Volkano of Euphrates” two months ago. These groups of the FSA are still in Kobane and have had several martyrs and wounded. Together we keep resisting.

Also, the head of the Aleppo Military Council Zahir Es Sakid denied that they had any such force, right after Mr. Erdogan’s statement. Not only that but he also said that they would not abandon their front in Aleppo when it had the upper hand against the regime, to go to Kobane. The FSA simply was unaware of [any such force Erdogan mentioned].

Yes, we also read his statements.

All these so-called representatives of the FSA have been operating in Turkey for the last two years. They have no official or legal relationship with the actual FSA in Syria. Who are these so-called FSA members operating out of Turkey? How come they claim to be FSA but in reality, have never fired a bullet against the Assad Regime? How can the president of another country make decisions on their behalf and give them orders? With the real FSA, we are collaborating on many fronts in Syria, and we will continue to do so. We are ready to join forces against ISIS with the FSA in Aleppo and Afrin.

If the FSA really wants to help YPG in Kobane, they can attack ISIS to the west of Kobane, in towns such as Manbij, Bab and Jarablus. This will cut ISIS’ fighting power in Kobane by half. There are already FSA forces in Serekaniye [Ras al-Ayn], and they can also open up a frontline against ISIS from the east and march towards Girespi [Tilabyad]. In the name of the FSA, some want to become a Trojan horse against the YPG, and we know they are not the true FSA. Jabhat Al-Nusra and others in the past claimed to be part of the FSA and we later saw that they did not represent the FSA.

Well, then what role does Abddul Jabbar Akidi play here? Is Akidi one such member of the FSA in Turkey?

Akidi is the former president of the Aleppo Military Coalition. Later, he established relations with Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS. He has admitted this himself. There is video evidencing all of this. He led a bloody war against Kurds. Kurds are very much antagonized by him. He later stopped fighting and moved to Turkey, where he has been for the last 1.5 years. He is not in Syria anymore. Then, he wanted to establish good relations with Kurds. We told him this is not a problem for us, our doors are open to anyone who genuinely wants to help us and serve Syria. He went to Afrin and met with our Chief Commander Sipan Hemo, and they reached an agreement. Later, he claimed he met with YPG on his own, not on behalf of any organization, and that he was no longer an official member of the FSA. A short while ago, he came to Kobane and we told him he could bring a small group to fight with YPG. But we told him, if he really has the 1300 fighters he claims to have, to open a new frontline against ISIS west of Kobane, in Bab and Manbij, as that would be the best use of such a force.

Also, now the FSA is facing defeat in places like Aleppo, and are holding only one frontline there. FSA is also in an existential fight in Aleppo and they really can use some help. If Akidi has such a force, it would make more sense for him to go fight in Aleppo help out FSA. We would assist him in such an effort. On the other hand, if his intentions are to create trouble in Kobane, we would not let that happen.

There are groups amongst them that are trouble makers such as Jaysh al-Islam, which is not a member of the FSA, and has already indicated that they want to come to Kobane to fight against YPG. Few days ago, they reached an agreement with Akidi, stating with Islamic front leader Zahran Aloush that they wanted to join forces against YPG in Kobane. Obviously, these forces are willing to come to Kobane not to help YPG, but rather to fight against YPG. Do they think we are stupid enough, after all of this struggle and all of this martyrdom, to allow groups which fought against us to take over Serekaniye and Afrin in the past ando Kobane now?

Today, the world knows Kobane. The international coalition and the US value the struggle in Kobane. If those [Akidi group] want to join the collation, we are ready to help facilitate that. If they are sincerely wanting to fight ISIS, we would be glad to help them, but this should not be interpreted as though we are collaborating with anyone. For example, we would not collaborate with terrorist groups such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and others like it. We are only willing to work with all of those groups that accept and respect Kurds.

What do you think about recent attacks that just took place in Canada? How do you comment on this?

 As YPG, we are fighting terror on the frontlines and hence, we a have first-hand experience with the pain involved in this fight. We have been the victims of this terror episode, more than any other nation. We have been fighting this terror for more than 3 years now, and have been pleading with the world community to help us for well over two years. We know if we do not stop this terror, it will spread all over the world. We told everyone this, even before ISIS attacked Iraq, and before it attacked the Kurdistan Region. However, no one listened to our warnings. Not only Canada, but other nations have to rise up against terror. We express our condolences to all the families of the victims of terror, particularly in Canada, but also around the world, and we feel their pain. We know first-hand what it is like to be a victim of terror. Again, we would like to reach out to the international community to unite against this terror threat that aims to destroy humanity.