Lihevkirina PYNK û ENKS û helwesta Amerîka yê.
Amerîkayê bi #Kurdî pêşwaziya rêkeftina aliyên #Rojava kir
Lihevkirina PYNK û ENKS û helwesta Amerîka yê.
Amerîkayê bi #Kurdî pêşwaziya rêkeftina aliyên #Rojava kir
A pregnant woman was reportedly beaten to death this week in a Syrian refugee camp housing tens of thousands of people displaced by the war against Islamic State where they live among the militants’ wives and children in conditions described by international agencies and reporters who have visited the camp as harsh, dire, and even apocalyptic.
The woman, identified as 30-year-old Sodermini by ANHA news agency, was six months pregnant, and originally from Indonesia. On July 28, her body was discovered in a tent and taken to a hospital run by the Kurdish Red Crescent, where an autopsy determined she had suffered tremendously before she died.
The Indonesian government said it is investigating the circumstances of her death, and the woman is believed to be among about 50 Indonesian adherents to Islamic State living among about 70,000 people in the camp. It’s not known yet who killed her or why.
Children have died in the camp, and the International Committee of the Red Cross said recently that, despite the efforts of international NGOs to treat people with war wounds, infections, or who are suffering from malnutrition, the humanitarian needs in al-Hol remain “tremendous.”
Last month, Kurdish analyst and journalist Mutlu Civiroglu visited al-Hol camp and other areas managed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the de facto government in northern and eastern Syria. He found al-Hol to be a “ticking time bomb” – dangerously overcrowded, too large for the Kurdish internal security police force called the Asayish to control, and full of children deeply at risk of becoming the next generation of ISIS fighters.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Defense Post: To start, tell me about the camps. Who runs them? How many people are there –how many women, men and children? How many are believed to be ISIS adherents and their families? How many are civilians?
Mutlu Civiroglu: According to the U.N. over 70,000 people live in al-Hol Camp. UNICEF estimates that more than 90% of them are children and women. Nearly 20,000 of the children are Syrians. According to Kurdish officials I spoke with, in total there are about 30,000 ISIS women and their children from 62 different countries. They are mainly in al-Hol but also in Ain Issa and Roj camps.
The whole of al-Hol camp is very crowded. Over 70,000 people live there. Considering the very hot summer, the camp residents live under very tough circumstances.
We were there one day when it was very hot. The sewage water was outside, on the surface – a very unhygienic environment and invitation for disease and illness. There are not enough doctors or health centers, according to the people we spoke to.
Security-wise it’s very risky because it’s over-crowded, hard to control. A few weeks ago an Asayish officer was stabbed. A 14-year-old Azeri girl was killed because she was not covering her hair, according to the people on the ground. I had to go to the camp with strong protection after this incident. It’s like a ticking bomb. The Kurdish administration runs the camp but UNICEF [the U.N. children’s agency], UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the Red Cross, World Health Organization, and other intergovernmental organizations are there to support them, from what I could see.
Abdulkarim Omar, head of foreign relations in Jazira canton, told me that including Syrians and Iraqis there a total of 30,000 ISIS women and children under their control and around 12,000 are foreigners (muhajirs) and 8,000 of them are children. Of course male suspected ISIS members are kept in prison in different locations. Currently some 6,000 ISIS fighters are under SDF control: 5,000 are Iraqi and Syrian, and the other 1,000 are foreigners from 55 different states.
TDP: How are they separated?
The ISIS families are separated from the rest of the Iraqis and Syrians. There are wires separating them from the rest of the refugee community in the camp, and their location is known by the security and Asayish forces.
TDP: Do they live more or less freely within the camp or are their schedules and movements restricted?
The camp residents were allowed to go out for shopping until recently, but several escape incidents took place, and some ISIS women were taken out by smugglers, so the camp administration recently banned residents from going out. Instead they set up a new market inside of the camp, called Baghuz market. The administration is more strict now.
Their movements have to be restricted because of the killings. I was told the Russian women did that [killing of a 14-year-old Azeri girl] – by Russian I mean women from Chechnya, Dagestan, the Muslim republics of Russia – so their movements are more restricted and security is tightened after these incidents. Some camp residents have complained that because they’re not allowed out of the camp, the prices became more expensive and they’re having a hard time living because things are more expensive now. But they also acknowledge that by the mistake of some of the ISIS wives they’re all suffering.
I was told that kids are encouraged by women to throw stones at the camp officials. This also creates pressure on the security forces to be more careful.
TDP: What is the food and water supply like? Medicine? Sanitation? Are international organisations helping with humanitarian needs?
Based on what I saw I think there is enough water, but because the camp is overcrowded it causes problems especially with the water and in the summer. The Red Cross, WHO and UNHCR are there to provide help in addition to the Kurdish administration. They are also in-camp hospitals and health centers being built and mobile health centers set up by the Kurdish Red Crescent, so I don’t think there is a very desperate need, but because of the large number of residents I’m sure from time to time food and water is becoming a problem. International organizations and the local government are there trying to do their best.
However, Kurdish officials are asking for more support from the international community in terms of medicine, hospitals, water and cleaning materials. They also want countries to take back their citizens so that the population of the camp will be reduced.
TDP: There were some reports recently that some women escaped – do you know how? What is internal security like?
I was told the same thing and also read that some people in the Asayish are involved in taking the women out of the camps, but Kurdish officials strongly denied that and said it’s propaganda and their members would never be involved in such a thing because money is nothing for them, and they do this because of their values.
But the way different sources explained it to me is this: The women were allowed to leave the camp before for shopping, and since they all have the black burqa on, they look alike, and when they leave, they never come back because their families arrange a smuggler who is waiting for them in the town. Once these women go out of the camp they change their clothes and they are smuggled out. Since the camp is very large it’s not possible to have 100% control. That’s why the camp administration has now stopped allowing the women to leave for shopping. According to sources it’s arranged by families who pay a large amount of money to smugglers.
Internal security is tight. There are many Asayish forces guarding the camp, and the main gate is also a checkpoint. Before you reach the camp you pass through several checkpoints on the road from Hasakah. After you enter the main gate there’s another gate that’s also well-protected, and visitors are strictly controlled. When you’re inside they give you protection so stabbing incidents won’t happen. With me I think there were four people guarding us.
But again, because of the large area and a huge number of residents it’s not very easy to control the camp, and since you don’t know what’s inside of the tents or what kind of weapons they might have it’s not 100% safe or secured.
TDP: Do the families seem to be repentant?
I observed mixed feelings. Some were defiant; for example an Egyptian woman was cursing us. She was using bad language and was very aggressive towards us, and was chanting pro-ISIS slogans. Also Russian-origin ISIS wives were very aggressive, so you see that they’re very motivated by what they’re doing. Some Turkish ISIS families seemed defiant, but at the same time I saw some Azeri women look very regretful. They seemed willing to go back home.
One Tajik woman showed me drawings by her child, saying her son drew their home and they want to go home. And you see people saying they were deceived, especially Dutch and Belgian ISIS wives, they say they believed everyone was equal but realized that the rich lived better lives, and the emirs paid money to smuggle their families out of Baghuz before the SDF took control, but these women ended up in these camps in very tough circumstances.
They were criticizing Baghdadi, saying he was in Libya living a good life but they are like this [in al-Hol], and they want their countries to take them back. When I pressured ed them, saying they had many opportunities to leave and that they came to Syria willingly, they said they are ready to be in prison in their countries, but at least their children would not live in camp conditions. They hoped even when they are in prison, their families will be able to take care of children. They were well-aware that they might spend long years in prison, which I found very interesting.
Because of the tough circumstances in the camp I think going home is a common desire. But to me the most important thing was that the vast majority of the camp residents are children, and especially children under 12. They are on the dirt, they play in dusty alleys – no playground, no sanitizing, under the sun – I think no child should be living under those circumstances, no matter what their parents did. Children have nothing to do with this, so they need to be given the opportunity to play and be a child, to flourish. They need help to get out of this trauma and be de-radicalized and rehabilitated, and the camp is no place for that. They need expert support and psychological support.
I am hoping that the governments will understand that children desperately need help, because if they stay there they will be brainwashed by their mothers. In a few years these children are going to be core ISIS members, so there’s a danger waiting for societies if these kids are not helped as soon as possible.
TDP: Do you think there’s a realistic possibility of a tribunal? Why in North and East Syria rather than the International Criminal Court, or trials in Iraq for foreigners, as with some French citizens who already have been sentenced? The Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized as a government, so how would sentences or verdicts given by the tribunal have any force in international law?
The Autonomous Administration feels like they’re under pressure because there are thousands of ISIS fighters, their wives and children. It’s a heavy burden for them to carry so they need the international community to help them. Especially after the Turkish statements about a military operation inside Syria, there are concerns that such a move may help these people to flee from the prisons and camps. But so far very few countries have taken back their citizens so the problem remains on Kurds’ shoulders and they feel like they need to do something.
The idea of an international tribunal is a step in this direction to push the international community to do more to share the burden with them.
Currently the administration is not recognized officially but a tribunal can be different. The legal experts in International Forum on ISIS conference agreed that there is a base for establishing a tribunal in Rojava because there is already a judicial system, legal experts, lawyers and with the support of the international community a tribunal could be established and it would be a good way to start to find a solution to the huge problem of post-caliphate ISIS.
Again, there are thousands of fighters under SDF control, many of their wives, and tens of thousands of children and they feel like they need to do something because so far the international community is turning a blind eye to the issue.
The caliphate was ended in March. Western countries are not open to the idea to expatriate their citizens. So the problem is with Rojava, with the Syrian Kurds. The attacks show the gravity of the situation, and since nothing is being done, Kurds and their allies feel like they need to take the initiative.
Iraq is motivated to do that in a way to clear its name that was ruined when it was overrun by ISIS. The Iraqi army fled from ISIS and left it for them. But at the same time, Iraq is also driven by the idea of revenge. Numerous ISIS members have already been executed.
The system in Rojava is more progressive and closer to Western systems and it is a better location for an international court because most of the fight was done in Syria. The caliphate’s heart was in Raqqa. Manbij is where the attacks against the West were planned. Kobani is where ISIS was first defeated and ISIS’s unstoppable advance was first prevented. Baghuz was the last remaining stronghold of the caliphate. They’re all in Syria. And the SDF, YPG, YPJ, Syriac Military Council are there so Syria is more suitable than Iraq considering these people have done the work, they have paid the highest price. These people defeated ISIS.
TDP: Are there plans to help the victims of ISIS?
There are some orphanages for the Yazidi children, de-radicalization centers for Yazidi children and other ISIS children, and some villages for Yazidi women who were not accepted back by their communities, but the resources are very limited in the Kurdish parts of Syria. Finances, expert advice and equipment are limited, so there has to be external support. The West especially should step in because the problem is very serious and requires a joint effort by Kurds and the West, especially the countries that are members of the international Coalition. The camps have the support of the international, humanitarian organizations but mainly Kurds are running them. There are great efforts, but it’s not enough.
TDP: Do you see any sign that the International Forum on ISIS conference has influenced foreign countries to change their Syria policies? Will they leave troops in the north, will they take their citizens back?
Such international forums are good venues to understand what’s happening on the ground and hear what people people on the ground – activists, experts, military and political leadership – say. It’s very important. There were representatives from the U.S., France, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other European countries, as well as South Africa. It’s important that people from different backgrounds come and learn about the situation in Syria, ISIS captives, operations against ISIS families, and also share with the local people what their countries think about it. So it’s a good platform for them, and when these people go back they talk to the public, media and think-tanks. I’m optimistic that they’ll have an impact in their own countries.
I think the countries that have a military presence in northern and eastern Syria will continue; I don’t foresee any significant change in the plans of these countries, specifically the U.S., France, Germany and others. They’ll be there because they all know the ISIS threat is not fully resolved yet. The caliphate is ended but the danger, the ideology is there, the support base is there, sleeper cells are there. CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie and Ambassador William Roebuck’s recent visit shows that the Coalition gives the same importance to Rojava.
The world has almost forgotten Syria. International foreign policy priorities change so rapidly that Syria does not have the same spot it used to have, but ISIS is a global problem and it hasn’t been fully resolved. The resolution needs a global effort. Taking back citizens from Syria is one way of doing that, because the more people who stay there, the more is it is a ticking bomb.
All countries should repatriate their citizens, and they should try these people in their countries. If not, they should support the idea of helping to set up a tribunal in Rojava so that these people can be brought to justice and pay the price for the atrocities they committed. But I think the world is still turning a blind eye, although recently I see more awareness in terms of countries taking back at least the women and children and sentencing them in their own countries instead of keeping them in Syria.
Sipan Hemo is the commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), perhaps the most organized fighting force in Syria. Based in predominantly Kurdish areas, which are known as Rojava, the YPG has fought Islamic groups for two years and is controlling security for the region.
In a wide-ranging interview, Hemo addressed the state of the current conflict in Syria and the rise of Islamic extremist militias in Iraq and Syria, which he claims is intertwined with global powers. Hemo also makes the case why YPG and the Kurds should receive US funding.
Rudaw: Mr. Hemo, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which you have fought for a long time, has received a lot of international attention since they took Mosul. What are your thoughts on ISIS as an organization and its attacks in Iraq?
Sipan Hemo: To understand the latest attacks by ISIS in Iraq, you have to understand the background as well. ISIS was shaped by some powers about a year and a half ago to carry out their plans in Syria. ISIS isn’t a random Al-Qaeda organization. We have intelligence on them. There are documents that we acquired. There are also the statements taken from members we captured. When we put all these pieces together, we reached to the conclusion that ISIS was directed under the command of some intelligence services and their agents to implement the policies of certain states in Syria. The most recent developments, as well as what occurred earlier, prove that our theory is correct.
A city like Mosul or some other cities in Iraq aren’t the types of places that a group can take overnight. It’s clear there have been preparations underway for a long time. There are various forces behind these preparations and behind those who launched these attacks. It’s impossible for a city like Mosul to fall under a group’s control without the intelligence apparatuses of international powers knowing it’s happening. Thousands of armed people get together, transfer their heavy artillery and move forward to attack a city like Mosul. It’s illogical that no one was aware of this. Mosul and Kirkuk constitute only one part of these attacks. These are attempts to divide the region in a different way. These are attempts to turn people, cultures, societies, beliefs and groups against each other. These are the attempts to drag the Middle East into a civil war — to have fighting and to create a quagmire. This will serve the interests of international powers, beginning with the arms trade.
To understand the latest attacks by ISIS in Iraq, you have to understand the background as well. ISIS was shaped by some powers about a year and a half ago to carry out their plans in Syria.
We, as YPG, fought in battles with Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) against ISIS gangs in the town of Rabia (on the Syrian-Iraqi border) and in some places near Shangal (Iraq). It doesn’t matter whether it’s Rojava, Mosul or Kirkuk: if required, we YPG, are prepared to use our experience and abilities with our people in the south to fight along the same front against these gangs — this so-called ISIS — to protect our land and victories.
Returning to the subject of ISIS, what seems clear from their actions on the ground is that this organization is at the service of several intelligence agencies and it acts in accordance with their interests. Specifically, there are some western countries — along with the Turkish state on one side and Iran, Iraq and Syria on the other — that have their own plans and calculations over ISIS. In a way, ISIS was merely turning itself into a stick made of fire and everybody was willing to use this stick against one another. They were taking steps in this direction. In other words, these intelligence services have attempted to use this cruel, terrorist structure — created by those who don’t know anything about humanity, leave alone civil law — against one another and against the people in the region.
Rudaw: Is it possible that the ISIS is also using some of the states that support them?
Sipan Hemo: Of course! By standing out with its shrewdness, ISIS has taken advantage of the intelligence services of these countries in a very cunning way in order to establish its own rule all around the region. For example, it’s been almost two years since ISIS began atrociously attacking the Kurds in Rojava. Why has ISIS been attacking or has been made to attack the Kurds? This is because ISIS knew very well that only when it was done attacking the Kurds it could have binding ties with the Turkish intelligence service. And indeed it happened this way because through our fight against them on the ground, we could uncover their true intentions. When they fought us, ISIS was using Turkey’s borders without the objecting of Turkish army and authorities; they were treating all of their wounded militants in Turkish hospitals. Some may say this is an allegation. However, we have official documents in our hands backing what I am saying. One of the ISIS commanders in our captivity said he was treated at Ceylanpinar Public Hospital for nine days.
In reality, if it weren’t for the YPG and the Kurdish people’s struggle against ISIS over the last two years, ISIS would have done the same in northern Syria as what it’s done in Iraq the past few (weeks). They’ve done what they’ve done in Iraq to pave the way for a deep sectarian conflict. ISIS’s success in Iraq certainly isn’t normal. I can sincerely say that there’s no other power in the world that knows as much about ISIS as we do, and ISIS alone — without the backing of other powers — doesn’t have the capacity to take Mosul and capture areas as far as Samara. Can you believe that in just an hour and a half every government official in Mosul surrendered and gave away Mosul?
In reality, if it weren’t for the YPG and the Kurdish people’s struggle against ISIS over the last two years, ISIS would have done the same in northern Syria as what it’s done in Iraq the past few (weeks).
I want to state my views without lending credence to conspiracy theories: Iran, Iraq and Syria are parts of this plan. On the other hand, Turkey and other powers that are working together were also aware of this plan; they even took part in it in one way or another. Iran believes that the more the Middle East is dragged into a quagmire and chaos, the better their chances of protecting their own interests. This is because the western nations’ plans for the Middle East make their job extremely difficult. At the same time, Iran has the dream of uniting and protecting the Shia. In other words, Iran is trying to build sovereignty over the crescent of Shia from Iran all the way through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This dream can only be possible via the deepening of a sectarian conflict.
Rudaw: Where does Turkey stand in this picture that you are describing?
Sipan Hemo: There’s no doubt that Turkey has several distinct calculations. In its effort to assimilate and suppress the Kurds, and its policies of denial, Turkey won’t stop at anything to sabotage Kurdish gains. Turkey itself has always stated that it hasn’t given up its dreams for Mosul and Kirkuk. For this reason, Turkey instructed its special fighting units in Mosul not to fight, but to negotiate. The same instructions were also given to the soldiers protecting the Suleiman Shah Tomb in Kobane. By working with ISIS, Turkey has, for a long time, been changing and renewing her forces at Suleiman Shah Tomb. Turkey hasn’t ever felt uncomfortable about this, nor has any global power.
Of course what I’m saying isn’t valid for the people of Turkey. Innocently, and without being aware of the policies that their government implemented, they’ve been dragged into a catastrophe. I am sure that the people of Turkey aren’t at all happy about this. Unfortunately, however, those powers in Turkey who adopted this unsuccessful policy made Turkey a partner in these dirty games as well. The fact that ISIS is still holding hostage the Turkish diplomatic staff (at the consulate in Mosul) and Turkey’s truck drivers is a plan of Turkish state. The Turkey that we know shouldn’t have acted so passively in this kind of a situation! What happened to the phrase, “A Turk is worth the world!” What has changed? Now so many people from Turkey are in the hands of the gangs but they’re acting so passively. This means that there are things that are organized behind “closed doors.”
If America and other western countries really want democracy and foster the development of democracy in the region then they should acknowledge Kurds.
Rudaw: There are serious discussions in Washington about arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition. What do you think of this? Who are the “moderate opposition?”
Sipan Hemo: Supporting the moderate opposition is among the policies discussed in the US. Isn’t it too late for this? Why has it taken so long? The conflict in Syria is in its fourth year. Firstly, the US should think about what its support for the Syrian opposition has accomplished so far.
Furthermore, whom has the US supported so far if it’s now deciding to support the moderate opposition? This is also a question that comes to mind. As far as we know, the US and western countries have supported certain groups in Syria since 2001. This is nothing new. Maybe they’ve just now realized that their policies over the last three years were wrong.
I have information that the US has promised to support some groups it has contacted via its intelligence chief in Jordan. If the US sees them as “moderate,” then we need to ask what “moderate” means. If the US is serious about this statement, then the Kurds and YPG deserve this support the most. As a matter of fact, I can state that the Kurds are ready in all respects to play a pioneering role for democracy in Syria.
Supporting the moderate opposition is among the policies discussed in the US. Isn’t it too late for this? Why has it taken so long?
We, the Kurds in Rojava, have faced all kinds of attacks over the last four years. We’ve been involved in a relentless war against (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad’s regime forces, against groups supported by outside powers, and against groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, in areas stretching all the way from Afrin to the Jazira region. Al-Qaeda groups have taken control of all of northern Syria except the Kurdish areas. This is a huge victory not only for the Kurds but also for the western world.
We, as the official military forces of Rojava, have stated that we’re prepared to fight ISIS in Mosul. At this point, I’d like to state first to President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and then to the people of America: If they don’t want the situation in the Middle East to descend further into chaos, then Washington absolutely needs to change its policy toward the Kurds. This is because the policies thus far haven’t done much to help anyone. Unfortunately, the US to this day hasn’t yet explained where the Kurds in Syria stand politically and what kind of role they play for democracy in Syria. I’d just like to say this: If the goal truly is for democracy to come to the Middle East, and if the moderate forces in Syria are going to be supported, the Kurds are prepared for this and are the ones who deserve it the most.
Rudaw: Your successes against ISIS and other radical Islamic groups have garnered a lot of global media coverage. What do you think of the world’s assessment of YPG? Do you have ties with global powers?
Sipan Hemo: Indeed, YPG’s founding pre-dates the revolution in Syria. Specifically, when the attacks against the Kurdish people in Qamishli (Syria) occurred in 2004, there was a secret decision to create defense apparatuses. Some work was done at that time. So these defense units were created before the revolution in Syria.
However, when the Arab Spring began in Syria, in order to set the Kurdish regions free and to protect the Kurdish victories, YPG started to take action and has been doing so since 2011.
First, on July 19, 2012, we led the effort to drive enemies out of the Kurdish regions, and then we continued to struggle to preserve this victory. Later, YPG declared that it would stand against any threat to the Kurds. YPG declared that it would respond to everyone, regardless of who they might be, if they don’t accept the existence of the Kurds; if they want to overshadow Kurdish victories; and if they plot against the Kurds or make other plans. We’ve been struggling against these kinds of threats to today. We wanted to stay away from politics, or, in a sense, we didn’t want to be involved in a political argument. We’ve been operating according to this principle.
YPG declared that it would respond to everyone, regardless of who they might be, if they don’t accept the existence of the Kurds.
With regard to your question, I’ll pose a question as well: have Kurdish politics been able to change our position to a diplomatic one? Unfortunately, no! Kurdish politics has fallen short in this regard. There are some different reasons behind this. For example, the global powers haven’t understood the politics in Rojava, nor have they decided yet how to deal with it. They also want to make it possible for the central government to do what they want. However, the politics harbored in Rojava aren’t in line with what the world powers want.
Rudaw: Has there been any change recently in the worldview about the YPG? I ask this because in some panels and conferences in Washington, the YPG is being mentioned frequently, especially your successes against ISIS and radical groups.
Sipan Hemo: If America and other western countries really want democracy and foster the development of democracy in the region then they should acknowledge Kurds. Today, in the Middle East, besides the Kurds, there is no other organized force to support democracy. The force that is both sophisticated and has the potential to bring everyone together is this force to which I refer.
If America and west really want democracy, they should build a close and firm relationship with the Kurds. Solving the Kurdish issue will put the global powers in a better and stronger position both in Rojava and anywhere else in the Middle East. This is because the Kurds aren’t imposing their own borders on anyone, and they aren’t isolating themselves from anyone. They talk about democracy. This means they talk about collectivity. The pro-democracy dialogue means they want to work with various groups.
There is a war here, and why is this war is being fought against us? This means we have views that don’t conform to those of radical Islamic groups. Regardless of their intentions, what’s happening in Rojava meshes with the west’s interests as well. One should consider whether they’d be better off if a regime like the (current) one survives in Syria or if there’s the kind of government that the Kurds want. The west’s interests weren’t being met until a cooperative system was formed in south Kurdistan, which shows that the Kurds are more in line with diversity and democracy.
In this Interview with Rudaw, Polat Can, Head of the Information Center of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), says that Islamist groups are attacking from many fronts in order to include the Kurdish areas in their proposed Islamic state.
However, says Can, the YPG has withstood the attacks and killed hundreds of fighters from these groups. According to Can, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is waging its war on Rojava with the support of the Syrian regime.
First of all, can you tell us of the latest situation of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), especially around Kobane (Ain al-Arab) and other towns?
Polat Can: As you know there have been fierce clashes between the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and ISIS gangs. Their purpose is to occupy the Kobane Canton and putting an end to the freedom Kurdish people are enjoying in Rojava. They wanted to include Kobane into their Islamic state. That is why they launched broad attacks against Kobane from the east, west and south. They attack us with the support of the Assad regime, and also Turkey is turning a blind eye. However, thanks to the heroic resistance of the YPG and people of Kobane, the intensive attacks of the ISIS were repelled and they were defeated.
During those attacks the ISIS suffered more than 400 causalities some of whom were senior leaders. In clashes around Girkendal, Ashme and Dilkino villages as well as the town of Sirrin, ISIS gangs suffered big losses, and could not reach their strategic goal which was separating the Kobane Canton from Jazira and Efrin Cantons. In order to isolate Kobane and prevent the YPG from receiving reinforcements from other regions, those gangs wanted to open another front in Jazira in Tirbespi (Qahtaniya), Derik (Malikiyah), Jaz’a and Sarekaniye (Ras al-Ain). In Jaz’a our forces killed number of senior ISIS commanders of the Hasakah region including Abu Maria, Abu Yousef, Abu Ma’az al-Ansari, Abu Faruq Omar al-Turki.
Also, on the Sarekaniye front, they suffered severe casualties. They wanted to attack some villages—that the YPG had previously liberated—to open a new front there, and prevent the YPG from advancing towards Kobane. As a result, they launched a huge attack on Manajir and Tal Khanzir Xinzir regions. Not only did the YPG successfully repel their attacks, we also liberated some more villages. The ISIS’s intense attacks against Rojava were defeated by the YPG and I can clearly say that Kurdish people’s resistance has gained a strategic victory.
You said that over 400 ISIS members were killed by the YPG. Some say that this number is exaggerated. Did you really kill that many ISIS members?
Polat Can: It is our principle to avoiding exaggeration or misinformation. When a comrade gets martyred, we declare it publicly. We will openly announce the true number of our losses and publish their photos. We hold official public funerals for our martyrs. As for the mercenary groups we kill, we decided not to publish any pictures of their dead bodies. But, if any media wants to see those photos, we are willing to share the photos we have with press. Besides, the ISIS and others also announce the death of their members on their websites and via Facebook and Twitter. They also publish pictures of their own casualties through the Internet. There is certainly no exaggeration in our figures.
I want to remind you that these mercenary groups came to Kobane from other regions such as from Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, and Raqqah. They come from a wide range of countries including Chechnya, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Libya, Tunisia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. So, the figure of 440 is not an exaggeration. It is precise and certain.
What about YPG losses?
Polat Can: In these clashes 35 of our comrades got martyred. We declared them all with their names and pictures. Our martyrs are the children of the people of this region. Their deaths are publicly known and cannot in any way be hidden.
You mentioned that ISIS members come from other regions to fight the YPG with the help of the Assad regime. Some experts are not convinced that Assad is supporting the ISIS. Also, there is a common notion that Turkey is no longer actively supporting extremist groups as it used to. How do you comment on these two points?
Polat Can: We should, first, look at who is benefiting from those attacks against Rojava? The answer is the ISIS and the Syrian regime. The Assad regime does not want the Kurds to make any advances. As you know, numerous units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were defeated by the ISIS. These days, many FSA fighters have taken refuge in the Kurdish regions. In many fronts the YPG and FSA forces are fighting side by side against extremists. It is not in the regime’s interests that Kurds are powerful and that Rojava remains safe. Furthermore, the regime wants to play Kurds and the FSA-related groups off against each other. We have some certain intelligence in this regard.
It has been several months since the ISIS forces have not fired a shot against the regime forces. Plus, regime warplanes have bombed so many civilians in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other places, yet not raided any of the ISIS military bases. The public should know that most of the ISIS fighters attacking us came from Deir ez-Zor, Shaddadeh, and Markadeh, passing through Kawkar Mountain in Hasakah. If the regime forces wanted, they could have easily shelled and exterminated them all. But, they did not.
As for Turkey, the leaked tapes of [Ahmet] Davutoglu and other Turkish officials revealed their plan to invade and occupy Rojava. What the ISIS is doing serves Turkey. Ankara thinks it is not in its interests that its neighboring Kurds establish their own government, make progresses, and run their own affairs. They continuously use a negative rhetoric against us. Besides, Turkish soldiers, sometimes, evacuate their border outposts to let ISIS pass through and attack Kurdish villages. We have proof in our hands about this.
Now, on the border between Rojava and Iraqi Kurdistan, some trenches are being dug and some demonstrations are being held against it. However, the Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP) officials say that the trenches are to prevent terrorists from crossing into the Kurdistan Region. How do you comment on this statement? What do you think these are trenches for?
Polat Can: Those trenches are disgrace! After the Sykes–Picot Agreement was signed and Kurdistan was partitioned into four parts, no trenches were dug. Between the state of Syria and Turkey there were no trenches dug. They planted mines and fenced the borders. Similarly, even when the Baath regimes in Iraq and Syria were on worst terms, they did not dig any trenches; they had just raised the soil on the border.
Today in the Jazira Canton, there is a Kurdish administration. On the other side, there is another Kurdish administration. It is a pity that the KDP is building such a thing. KDP’s statements about these trenches are not convincing at all. On the Rojava side of the border, there are YPG forces, so the border is protected. Until now, no one has ever witnessed any terrorists crossing into Zakho from Derik! Such statements are baseless allegations. Terrorists they are talking about use Sunni Arab regions while crossing the border!
In the region where trenches are dug, poor Kurdish villagers cross the border in order to buy some basic needs such as food, medicine, gasoline and necessary stuff. Digging these trenches is a political decision which aims at deepening the existing embargo and further isolating Rojava.
My last question is about YPG’s call for support against the ISIS attacks, and reactions to this call. It was widely reported in the media that people have actively responded to your call, but what about the political parties, especially those who are in the Syrian Kurdish National Council (SKNC)?
Polat Can: First of all, I would like to mention that Murat Karayilan made an appeal in Newroz and asked the Kurdish youth from Northern Kurdistan (Bakur) to support Rojava. We want to thank him for that stance. Many Kurdish parties from Northern Kurdistan and other parts made statements in support of Rojava, but not much in terms of direct help. But, many youth from northern, southern, and eastern parts of Kurdistan arrived Rojava, and they are now active within the YPG ranks.
From the North, especially from Urfa some youth joined YPG. People in Kobane and Urfa belong to same tribes and they are relatives. Also, the proximity makes it easier for the youth of Urfa to cross to Rojava. Some grab their guns and cross from their villages into Kobane villages and fight with us. Some others support us by bringing medicine and other things. The Kurdish people have shown their support for Rojava and responded positively to our call and stood with us.
What about political parties?
Polat Can: The stance of political parties in Kobane or their regional organizations in Kobane was brave and deserves appreciation. Many party members joined the resistance although their parties did not have central decisions on this. The Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYDKS) which is a KNC member positively responded to our call for support. Party leader Mohieddine Sheik Ali’s call was very meaningful when he asked his party members to actively support the YPG and defend Kobane. Jamal Sheikh Baqi’s Kurdish Democratic Party also actively responded to our call. Their members are currently fighting with us. Some members of the KNC parties were disappointed that their party headquarters were insensitive to the attacks against Kobane. This was the case with the Al-Party whose members left the party and KNC and joined the resistance. Such decisions clearly showed that, not only we were disappointed about the stance of the KNC to the recent events, but that their own members were disappointed too.
We want everyone to know that the YPG is the protector of Rojava, and the success of Rojava is the success of all four parts of Kurdistan. With the help of our people we are sure that we will succeed.
You last spoke to our newspaper in July, what has been happening since then in the Kurdish areas?
Sipan Hemo: The Islamist groups plan to attack the Kurdish region in new ways, such as suicide attacks. They have threatened the Kurds with suicide attacks and they have attempted 18 suicide attacks but failed. The YPG has checkpoints and has tried to prevent such attacks. War has never been a priority for Kurds, yet the attacks forced us to take up arms. These radical groups are the affiliates of foreign forces, and they cannot tolerate Kurds gaining power. These attacks are targeting the Kurdish gains.
Despite your efforts to confront these groups, how long do you think these attacks will continue?
Sipan Hemo: Some of them are trying to end the fighting in some areas. But groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insist on staging attacks. We will never let them into the Kurdish region, no matter how insistent they may be. But if they insist on continuing their attacks, it is they who will suffer, not us! The source of our power is the support of the people, and we trust ourselves, too. With that support and confidence we can counter anything. We have paid a high price and we have had martyrs for the last 64 days, but we did not let anyone cross our region. On the contrary, we have expanded our defense field in Derik and Serekaniye. They tried to defeat us in Aleppo, but did not succeed. They even keep away from our forces. In short, we are better off both in tactical and military skills.
Some argue that people do not support you as they did before, and that most people are said to be fleeing to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Sipan Hemo: As you all know, the war in Syria and the struggle for revolution took longer than expected and people suffered a lot. There is an economic crisis, health problems, people cannot get treatment. For all of these reasons people tried to survive and find new ways. Migration is one of these ways. Some people migrated to north (Turkish) Kurdistan, and some to south (Iraqi) Kurdistan. We cannot tell these people not to leave. For instance, children need immunization and here we are out of vaccines. When a person comes and says that his child will have a stroke without vaccines and you cannot provide vaccines, there is not much left to say. We cannot oppose migration related to these kinds of problems. There are also some who migrate for business reasons. Yet, 80 percent of the people have not gone anywhere and are supporting the YPG. If people weren’t left here we would not exist. YPG is the people itself.
In our last interview you said that Turkey was not an enemy and that you wanted to improve relations with Ankara. Have you seen any change in Turkey’s attitude? Do you think Ankara continues to support radical groups?
These radical jihadists come from Turkey. Even if they come from other countries, they enter Syria through Turkey.
Sipan Hemo: Unfortunately, the attitude of Turkish officials on that matter is very negative. They might think their current stance will benefit them in the future, but their stance will have huge negative results. These radical jihadists come from Turkey. Even if they come from other countries, they enter Syria through Turkey. They have direct connection with them, and they operate together. We know that during the clashes in Kobane these forces brought ammunition from Turkey. These groups have even met with the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) several times. It is with Turkey’s support that these forces fight with us, and that reflects the position of the Turkish state very clearly. The Turkish people should not accept this and should react.
Turkey does not accept your allegations. Also, why do you think it supports such groups, for what purpose?
Sipan Hemo: A war between Kurds and Islamists would be in Turkey’s interest. Turkey has relations with the EU and US. For that reason it cannot accept these allegations. If Turkey accepts them, this would harm its international interests. But if the USA wants it can send experts and ascertain these allegations. These radical groups cross the Middle East through Turkey. Who could think that these radical groups cross Syria without the information of the MIT and the Turkish military? Everyone knows that without the knowledge of these two, even a bird cannot fly over the border. We have seen these radical groups get treated in Turkish hospitals. If they really want to know this, they can go to Ceylanpinar and see with their own eyes. Most of the radical Islamists are treated in this city. If this is not a proof of support, what other proof could I put forward to prove these facts? Maybe the whole world sees that Turkey helps these radical groups, but they all keep quiet.
Does Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) get any support from Kurds in Turkey?
Sipan Hemo: Kurds in Turkey tried to provide humanitarian aid such as food, vaccine, medicine. But I really think that north Kurdistan should approach Rojava in a revolutionary sense. Furthermore, the attacks in Rojava were staged from north Kurdistan by these radical Islamist forces. For instance, these groups had meetings in Gaziantep where they planned to attack Afrin. Could they not find just four people to go and protest in front of the hotel where they had these meetings? We find the reactions and approaches of north Kurdistan to Rojava inadequate. The support they provided does not go beyond humanitarian aid. They have been inadequate in demonstrating a revolutionary and political support. You can provide humanitarian aid to any people, but the support that you give to brothers and sisters in Rojava should have been different and from heart. They can support us in every field, and they should increase their political support. Showing affection or pity for us does not work.
What would you say about the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)?
Sipan Hemo: I would like to thank our people in south Kurdistan. From the very beginning they have pursued a positive approach towards our revolution. Yet, Kurdistan officials have also pursued politics in their interest, similar to Turkish officials. I said that before — when clashes took place in Afrin – the Kurdistan Regional Government closed the border crossing. We could not even pass a wounded child through the gate. The Turks kept all border gates open for the (Jabhat) al-Nusra front and such radical groups. The Kurdistan government’s attitude was very wrong and inflicted harm. Unfortunately, this attitude still continues. We would like to know this: What do Kurdish officials really think about the Kurdish revolution in Rojava? I have never heard any clear statement. Sometimes, we hear some positive statements, but only on a personal level which has no effect. I really ask them, what do Kurdish officials think politically of Rojava? There are times that they act very negatively towards our military units.
Recently, there has been more news in the American press about the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria. And retired former CIA deputy director Mike Morell has said that the biggest threat against America’s national security is al-Qaeda in Syria. What do you think about this?
Sipan Hemo: In our view, the United States has responsibilities towards us and the region. America has been fighting al-Qaeda for many years now. Yet, what we have achieved against al-Qaeda is much more than the United States has done. Of course, we do not fight with these groups for America. We fight against these people for the sake of humanity and ourselves, as we see these groups being a threat to humanity and enlightenment. America has responsibilities on that matter and should fulfill these responsibilities. The American people face the same threats that we face at the hands of these radical Islamist groups. American people should be concerned about Kurds in Syria. Just in the way that these radical Islamist jihadists attacked America on 9/11, they tried a similar attempt to attack us. I cannot see a difference between the attack on the Twin Towers and an attack on Serekaniye. It is the same violence.