ERBIL — As the establishment of a ‘Safe Zone’ in the Kurdish territories of northern Syria is in the heated debate related to the region, Turkey continues insisting on having control over the proposed safe zone while the US rejects the idea. Turkey says it is concerned about the presence of the Kurdish forces, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), on its border while the Kurds ensure they are not a threat to Turkey.
In a detailed interview, Ilham Ahmad, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) — the political wing of the SDF — explains the current situation in the areas under their control, as well as the proposed safe zone.
Below is the interview which was translated from Kurdish and edited for clarity and length.
Bas: You visited Erbil and met with HDP’s Nasir Yagiz who is on a hunger strike calling for an end to the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. I would like to ask if you had a plan in Erbil for political talks as well?
Ahmed: My visit to Erbil was not official. It’s been about five months that many Kurds and Turks are on hunger strike to protest the violations again human rights. Nasir Yagiz is one of those who is on hunger strike and I visited him at least as an ethical commitment. I sent my greeting to all those participating in the hunger strike to reach their goal. However, I hope that they will end the strike. This is one of the peaceful means [to struggle for your rights]. Those who call these people terrorists should have a look at themselves first.
Bas: You recently had a trip to the US. Could you explain the outcomes of your meetings there?
Ahmed: It was not the first time I visited the US. It is a strong and important country with whom we fought against Daesh [Islamic State] terrorists and we were victorious. However, after our victory, IS could revive if there are no political and administrative plans. Therefore, the US support is vital hereafter. We were well received in the US and I can say that the visit was positive. We asked for support to the Kurds everywhere.
Bas: You played an active role in the battle against the Islamic State. The group is physically defeated now. What is your next goal?
Ahmed: It is true that IS is physically defeated, but their sleeper cells live on. Our next goal is to eliminate these sleeper cells. Also, we work in the liberated areas to provide a deserving life for the locals, such as good education, a good welfare. Self governance is one of our principles. Besides all these, the IS detainees are another issue that we have to deal with. We need to institutionalize [the rule in our areas] so to send the detainees to a fair trial. For these, we will need support from the international community.
Bas: IS has committed countless crimes that may not fade away from people’s memory. After WWII, a special court was established in Nuremberg to try Natzis. Do you have any plans for such a trial or anything similar?
Ahmed: We previously called on the international community to help us with the trial of IS detainees. We have the capacity to host the trials, but we need the I nternational involvement to send lawyers and judges. We have documents to prove that IS committed horrendous crimes, and there are people who can speak as witnesses, but these all will need preparations. There are hundreds of men, women and children who were subject to IS brutalities, but cooperation is needed to bring them together to speak as witnesses.
Bas: There are reports indicating that, after a while, your channel of communication with the Syrian regime was restored. Would you approve?
Ahmed: Here I would like to make it clear to everyone that there is no talks between us and the Syrian regime. There were some talks last year, but they were cut and not restored yet. The reason is that we wanted the Syrian regime to play a role in resolving the issues in these areas, and it was reluctant. We hope that Syria would take steps to address the issues in these areas through peaceful and democratic means.
Bas: Turkey and its allies took Afrin from you, and now there are tragedies happening in Afrin on a daily basis. Have you taken any steps on an international level to take back Afrin? Do you have any plans to address the current issues there?
Ahmed: Afrin is a historic Kurdish town. Turkey violated all international laws and it occupied Afrin. It now works to change the demography of Afrin. Turkey ousted the Kurds from their ancestral land, and it is now building a wall to divide Afrin and annex it with Turkey. It, however, is not doing this alone. Turkey’s plan is being implemented with other countries which are already accused of human rights violations. This plan by Turkey was devised after the international community chose to stay silent at the face of the developments. We will not give up upon Afrin because northern and eastern Syria will not be stable without addressing the issue related to Afrin. We will not abandon our goal until Afrin is handed over to its true people.
Bas: There talks about the establishment of a safe zone. What is your vision into it and how it will look like?
Ahmed: Concerning a safe zone, the US is taking every possible measure to prevent a conflict in the region. The presence of our forces in such a safe zone will not be a threat to Turkey because our presence there has not created any problems to Turkey and we have not attacked them. We will not attack Turkey if they don’t. But we, within the international laws, will defend ourselves if they attack us. The people of Turkey should remember that it has been the Turkish government using violence against us, and we only defended our selves. We, as a neighbor to Turkey, have always been seeking dialogue.
After all, the creation of a safe zone is only in talks now with no conclusions so far. What is important is that such a safe zone should bring peace and stability, not war and violence.
Bas: Turkey threatens to attack Manbij because the SDF is there. Do you think that Ankara will really attack Manbij?
Ahmed: We believe that Turkey should reconsider its domestic and foreign policies. It sees attacking everywhere outside Turkey as its own right, but the price is being paid by the Turkish and Kurdish people collectively. It has also affected [the plans of] the international community and puts Turkey in a bad situation. Turkey will have to bear the responsibility whenever it attacks a democratic force.
Bas: What is the status of your relations with ENKS (Syrian Kurdish National Council)? Do you have any plan to work together?
Ahmed: We have relations and we see them of significant importance. We believe that ENKS puts importance on its dialogue with us, and we welcome this position.
Bas: What about your relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)?
Ahmed: We have continuous and official relations with the Kurdistan Region. Such talks and relations which serve the interests of the people of Kurdistan are important for us and we will do everything possible in this regard.