Syrian Kurdish Leader Discusses Son's Killing by Jihadists

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In an interview just weeks after his son was killed fighting Islamist groups, Syrian Kurdish Leader Salih Muslim criticizes Turkish support for these groups and hopes to talk with the United States.

Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, gave an interview to Taraf only days after his youngest son, Shervan, was killed while fighting in the ranks of the People's Protection Units (YPG) against radical Islamists in Syria. Muslim, who buried his son in Kobani, had been expected to be angry. But on the contrary, we found him to be in a calm and thoughtful mood.

TarafMy condolences. It’s a hard time for you. Could you tell us how the tragic incident occurred?

Muslim:  You know that my children have been involved [in the struggle]. Shervan was the youngest — I mean, my youngest son — 21 years old. I have a daughter, Pervin, who is actually the youngest of all, only 19 years old. Shervan had been taking part in regular clashes since the attacks against us began one and a half years ago. Two months ago, he started fighting in the front lines to avenge Dilovan, his friend and also a relative of ours, who was martyred.

Taraf Did Dilovan fight in the YPG ranks as well?

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Muslim:  Yes. Shervan took an oath of revenge. I used to caution him to be careful. We used to speak regularly on the phone. We had spoken two days before his death and I had cautioned him again. On that day, they were digging trenches near Tel Abyad [the region opposite Turkey’s Akcakale border crossing].

There was no fighting whatsoever. He was moving from one trench to another with his comrades. There were snipers positioned on the opposite side. The boys were aware of them and always took precautions when moving. The risk, however, was there. So, just when they were moving that day, a sniper hit my son, and our boys shot that sniper. I got the news only two days after the incident, on Oct. 11. I was in Erbil. I went back to Rojava immediately.

Taraf Do you know who the sniper was?

Muslim:  No.

Taraf And how did you feel? I’m sorry, I know it’s kind of a silly question.

Muslim:  No, it’s not silly. The death of my son was very painful for me, but it was not a surprise. We knew it could happen any time. All fighters there are our children. We cannot make distinctions between them.

Taraf You have long said that Turkey supports the radical Islamist groups that fight against you. Did your view of Turkey change after your son’s death? Did your anger subside?

Muslim:  No. I thought this way: None of this would have happened if Turkey had not supported those gangs, if it had not allowed them to cross the border and use its territory. Without Turkey’s support, those groups would have been unable to hold out that long against our people. I’m asking their supporters to think of this.

Certainly, Turkey’s objective was not to kill my son. I don’t know what its objective is. It must be acting according its own political interests. But for me, it is hard to understand. Those groups are harming our people. Everything else aside, they are harming Syria. They have nothing to do with revolution or democracy. They are slaying anybody — women and children alike. They want to seize our homeland and establish a so-called Islamic emirate. How could Turkey deal with such people? They pose a great threat to all of us; they are an enemy to humanity.

We have to join hands with Turkey and stand together against them. We are ready to do that. Let me repeat once again that we want friendly and brotherly relations with Turkey. It is out of the question for us to harm Turkey in any way. We have never resorted to any retaliation to date. As Kurds, we want to live freely in a united, democratic Syria, with our language and culture. And that’s all. We have no objective of independence or any federal structure.

Taraf In our previous conversation, you suggested that Turkey’s policy might change after militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized the town of Azaz and the border crossing opposite [the Turkish town of] Kilis. The Turkish military said several days ago they had opened fire on ISIS positions. Do you believe that Turkey’s support for those groups could be continuing, given these circumstances?

Muslim:  I think it continues. To me, [recent developments] appear to be mostly a sham fight.

TarafThe Free Syrian Army, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS are all different groups. Which one killed your son?

Muslim:  It was ISIS. But for me, they are all the same. In our region at least, all those groups are intertwined.

Taraf:  Do you have any fresh evidence that Turkey continues to help radical groups?

Muslim:  I have to investigate. When I know, you’ll be the first person I call.

TarafMany parliament members from the Peace and Democracy Party attended your son’s funeral. They crossed to Syria from Turkey. Their passage, at least, was facilitated.

Muslim:  That’s true. They crossed from Suruc. There were also mayors in the group. It was a high-level attendance.

Taraf:  Shortly before your son’s death, ISIS carried out a suicide bombing in Erbil. Did the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] change its attitude toward you after that incident?

Muslim:  No, it didn’t. On the contrary, border crossings were further tightened.

TarafBut they, too, reacted strongly to Shervan’s killing.

Muslim:  True. [KRG President] Massoud Barzani sent me a telegram [of condolence] and I appreciate that. All senior officials of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and other parties called me. There was an extensive media coverage. Frankly, I had not expected such a big outcry.

TarafAnd did any Turkish officials call you?

Muslim:  Yes. A senior official from the Foreign Ministry phoned on Oct. 11 and conveyed [Turkish Foreign Minister] Ahmet Davutoglu’s condolences.

Taraf:  What else did you talk about?

Muslim:  Both of us stressed that we should continue to keep contact. That is, both sides are willing to maintain the dialogue. We promised each other to continue talking. Let the mourning period end and we’ll see. Hopefully, it will materialize.

Taraf The last time we talked, you mentioned you had applied for a US visa to attend a series of conferences in the United States. Did you get a positive response?

Muslim:  There has been no response so far. We would like US officials to meet us face-to-face and get to know us personally, not by listening to what others say. The PYD is not on any terror list and can never be. We are not terrorists. We are a legal party. But obviously, it is a state policy [not to have contact with the PYD]. Other countries could be advising [the United States to that effect]. We hope this will change.

Taraf I understand you have other sons fighting in YPG ranks.

Muslim:  That’s correct. There is 26-year-old Amed. There is also Azad, who is in his 30s, but he stays with the family and serves in the militia when need be. And there is also Welat, the eldest. He is doing business in Ukraine to sustain our family.

Taraf You wife must be devastated.

Muslim:  No, not at all. My wife Ayse is very well, better than me.

Taraf Women are always stronger.

Muslim:  That’s true.

Then Muslim’s telephone rang, and our conversation came to an end.

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Found in: ypg, turkish intervention in syria, turkish foreign policy, turkey-syrian border, syrian kurds, syrian civil war, rojava, pyd, kurdish issue, krg
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