It is wrong to think that the war between the Kurds and takfiri groups only started after the Islamic State (IS) took control of Mosul and advanced toward the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
In fact, Kurdish fighters fought fierce battles against takfiris — battles that began about two years ago — when IS tried to take control of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria, and especially the strategic town of Ras al-Ain (Siri Kania) on the Turkish-Syrian border. At the time, the radical group was fiercely resisted by the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units, the most prominent Kurdish formations in Syria.
Yesterday [Sept. 16], Kurdish fighters achieved significant progress in the countryside of Qamishli in Hassaka province following clashes that began last Thursday [Sept. 11]. They managed, with the help of fighters from Arab tribes, to regain control of 14 villages in this region, in northern Syria.
Between these two developments, Kurdish fighters fought several battles in Syria, as in Iraq, the most prominent of which were in Kobani, Chenkal and Makhmour.
In the heart of these battles, a pivotal role for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) emerged. The PKK officially entered the battle against IS in August, when the PKK called on the Kurds to take up arms, stressing the need that all the Kurds in the north, east, west and south, rise up against these gunmen. The PKK also urged all forces and Kurdish political blocs to participate in this battle shoulder to shoulder.
This came in response to directives issued by the historic leader of the Kurdish people, Abdullah Ocalan, from his prison in Imrali. The most prominent directive was a message transmitted by his visitors. He warned that “IS terrorist gatherings want to create a line of attack on western Kurdistan after their recent seizure of Chenkal and Tal Afar. The Kurds must take a common national position against IS terrorists and they must fight together, as the presence of IS is a danger to the democratic coexistence of the peoples of the region.” He stressed that the matter “requires a struggle by all [peoples], Turkmens, Assyrians, Yazidis and others against the terrorist IS.”
Leading figures in the PKK asserted that the party’s intervention has played a crucial role in limiting the Islamic State's progress in the Kurdistan region. They showed great confidence in the victory over the takfiris, who are only good at psychological warfare that sows terror in the hearts of many, thus preventing effective resistance, according to the PKK figures.
In an interview with As-Safir, the head of the PKK Leadership Committee, Jamil Bayek, said that IS is only a “group of mercenaries that recently appeared in this new name.” Bayek said that these “mercenaries” entered into a confrontation with the People’s Protection Units in the western region of Kurdistan and targeted the will of the Kurdish people in particular.
He stressed that the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units exerted every effort to repel the attack and prevented IS from achieving its goals, which began, according to him, due to “schemes and strategies behind which stand Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia specifically, in addition to other world powers.”
Bayek said that the Islamic State's failure to achieve its goals against the people of western Kurdistan (Syria) may have pushed it to go into Iraq, where it took control of Mosul and created a propaganda atmosphere by committing brutal acts that caused a particular psychological condition, acts such as beheading women and children and destroying cultural and holy sites.
Bayek said that the Islamic State's decision to advance toward Erbil, after controlling Mosul, changed the situation and the plans because it seemed that the group has reached a dangerous stage. That pushed the Americans to take action and they took “objective” and “good” measures. But he also said that the danger won’t go away without a “radical solution” that is based on the idea of “democratizing” the Middle East and by including guarantees of freedom and equality for all its components.
Bayek said, “The Islamic State will not be able to make more progress in Iraq, and we believe that its strength has begun to decline,” stressing that the PKK directives are clear: ‘We will attack IS wherever it is found and with all our capabilities. We will not allow it to progress and achieve its goals. And we will be ready to lead a joint struggle alongside all those who resist IS and have a clear position about it, so that we inflict defeat on these mercenaries, liquidate them, and obliterate them from existence.’”
Bayek sees that “things in Syria and Iraq arrived to this point because of the policies of Western powers, including the European [powers]. The interests of those powers had a big role in [producing] the dangers we are witnessing today.” He added that the war on terrorism that is being talked about is not enough as long as it is not accompanied by destroying the structure on which IS stands. This should be done through a comprehensive solution that would address all of the roots of the Middle East crisis at the historical, sociological, religious, social, and political levels.
In light of the field data, Bayek did not rule out that IS may focus its operations on Syria during the next phase, pointing out that the organization “has moved advanced weapons from Mosul to Syria and will use them to fight the Syrian people, especially the people of western Kurdistan, which poses a great danger.”
Bayek sees that “the role that was given to IS has reached its limit. [IS] is expected to try to continue to play this role inside Syria and western Kurdistan but it will not win.”
Of the talks that Kurds are trying to establish an independent state in northern Iraq, Bayek said, “If the Kurdish people in part of Kurdistan decided, out of their own free will and true consciousness, to request establishing an independent state like other peoples in the world, then this is their right without the slightest doubt.” But he stressed that the PKK does not see that the nation-state represents a valid and appropriate solution to liberation and democracy, saying that “we do not adopt the option of the nation-state, but of the democratic nation, which means the coexistence of peoples and religions in a confederation.”
Bayek said that the IS danger has worsened the Syrian crisis and that IS is not a solution but that it has caused greater problems. He pointed out that external intervention was attempted through Geneva I and Geneva II but achieved no progress because these efforts have not been directed toward a democratic solution for Syria.
Below is the full text of the interview:
As-Safir: What do you think of the military expansion by IS in Syria and Iraq during the past period?
Bayek: It is no secret to anyone that IS is a group of mercenaries that recently appeared in this new name. Two years ago, these mercenaries entered into a confrontation against the People’s Protection Units in the western region of Kurdistan and targeted the will of the Kurdish people in particular. The People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units exerted every effort to repel the attack and protect the people of western Kurdistan. Those units led a fierce resistance that prevented IS from achieving its goals, which are due to schemes and strategies behind which stand Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia specifically, in addition to other international powers.
It seems that the Islamic State's failure to achieve its goals against the people of western Kurdistan may have pushed it to go into Iraq, where it took control of Mosul and created a propaganda atmosphere by committing brutal acts that caused a particular psychological condition, acts such as beheading of women and children and destroying cultural and sacred sites.
We think that IS did not act unilaterally but benefited from the atmosphere of dissatisfaction prevailing in Iraq to achieve its goals. It is well known that the Sunni community in Iraq has severe problems with the Baghdad regime. And there is a large presence for the Baath Party. There is also a clear incitement [directed] to the Sunnis by several parties, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In such a climate, IS moved and managed to occupy Mosul.
Up to that point, the above-mentioned plan was proceeding normally. But after the occupation of Mosul, it seemed clear that IS has decided to advance toward southern Kurdistan. So the plans got mixed. And there appeared a psychological condition that prevented confronting [IS]. So it turned into a hurricane that hits and advances everywhere. But we believe that this is nothing more than exaggerated propaganda.
IS committed massacres against the Yazidi people in Chenkal. The reason for that was the absence of resistance and the fleeing of the peshmerga [belonging to the] Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP). It was clear that the withdrawal of those forces was the main factor that enabled IS to commit these massacres. In contrast, the Islamic State's will was broken when the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units were able to open a passage between Chenkal and western Kurdistan. And this is what contributed to the protection of the Yazidi people. Also, the Kurdish Popular Defense Forces made a great resistance in Makhmour and other regions of southern Kurdistan, despite the escape of some of the KDP peshmerga.
There is no doubt that IS has become aware that it can no longer achieve its goals in light of the resistance of the Kurdish people and the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units. After that, there was an appeal by the KDP to intervene against IS. Then came the US and Iraqi support. Based on the reality we are witnessing today, we can say that ISIS will not be able to make more progress in Iraq. And we believe that its strength has started to decline.
As-Safir: What steps is the PKK taking to confront this terrorist threat?
Bayek: We have a clear strategy, the most important thing in it is that we do not view IS as an organization, but as a group of mercenaries and murderers who pose a threat to the region’s peoples, cultures and religions, even a threat to all humanity. Since the PKK is a humanitarian movement and in light of this brutal onslaught against the peoples of the region in general and [against] the will of our people in western Kurdistan in particular, we are determined to break the will of those mercenaries. Our directives are clear in this regard: we will attack IS wherever it is found, with all our capabilities. We will not allow it to advance and achieve its goals. And we will be ready to lead a joint struggle alongside all those who resist IS and who have a clear position toward it, in order to defeat these mercenaries, liquidate them, and obliterate them from existence.
As-Safir: What is your position regarding the international coalition led by the United States against the Islamic State?
Bayek: Humanity should be aware what IS is and how it arose. This group did not fall from the sky and did not appear accidentally or suddenly. Many analyses indicate that Middle Eastern and international powers used IS to achieve their interests. At the moment, we see that the US does not want IS to achieve progress that allows it to become a great Middle Eastern power, especially since it has reached a dangerous point.
There are objective and good American attempts to confront this danger. But the problem, in our view, is not limited to IS, as there is a structure upon which these mercenaries stand, launch from, and protect themselves with. Therefore, we see that there is a need to get rid of this structure by establishing a shared democracy and freedom among the peoples of the Middle East on the basis of fraternity and equality as a substitute for the authority of the nation-state. We believe that the basis of the solution starts from here. Regarding the US measures to address IS, they are good steps without a doubt. They may produce certain results at a certain time. As long as IS constitutes a threat, military measures remain necessary. But achieving the desired results requires a radical solution. It involves, as I said earlier, “democratizing” the Middle East and achieving freedom for its all peoples.
As-Safir: Given that Turkey is a NATO member and given the US-Turkish partnership, some say that the US intervention in Iraq may be used at a certain stage to hit the PKK, considering that Western governments see the party as a terrorist organization.
Bayek: This analysis, in our opinion, is lacking and illogical. Linking the PKK with IS is wrong, and there are no grounds for comparison. Such a comparison is unrealistic and unethical. Of course, Turkey is a member of NATO and a partner of the US. But the PKK, as is known by humanity at large and peoples and religions, is a humanitarian movement that calls for democracy and freedom for all the peoples of the region, in all their different religions and cultures. Therefore, there is no ground for Turkey to use its influence within NATO to launch an attack on the PKK. We believe that any such action would have no meaning. And we do not believe it will happen in the first place.
Some have put IS and the PKK in one basket under the label of terrorism. We say to those that the PKK has faced the Islamic State’s terrorism before any country made a move against those mercenaries. I think that the PKK should be thanked rather than taking positions that are contrary to the truth [regarding the PKK], just to serve political interests. We are working in western Kurdistan and in southern Kurdistan according to the [model] of the leader Apo (Abdullah Ocalan). We have achieved important results that contributed to the defeat of IS to a large extent. Humanity should not accept that the words ‘Kurdistan’ and ‘terrorism’ be put in the same category. The ideology of the party is for the brotherhood among all peoples (Armenians, Turkmens, Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Christians, Yazidis, etc.) and coexistence in accordance with the principles of democracy, freedom, and equality.
As-Safir: What do you expect from US military operations?
Bayek: Things in Syria and Iraq have reached this point because of the policies of Western powers, including the European [powers]. The interests of those powers had a big role in [producing] the dangers we are witnessing today. As we already said, the intervention against IS is objective. But the basis of the solution remains in “democratizing” the Middle East and responding to the will of its [peoples], and consecrating coexistence between peoples and religions and cultures in a mindset that is more democratic and has more freedom in the form confederations and federations that will replace the controlling nation-state oligarchy. The solution lies here. This fact is being confirmed day by day. Internal problems are not solved by foreign interventions because its roots are deep historically, sociologically, religiously, socially, and politically. I think that Western powers and Europe should use their power to democratize the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. If [military] force gets used based on this mindset, it will have a great benefit. Without that, it would be difficult to find a radical solution.
As-Safir: In light of the Islamic State's decline in the field in Iraq, do you expect that the radical group will try to direct its operations intensely to the Syrian interior, specifically in the Kurdish areas?
Bayek: Among the Islamic State's basic objectives are to suppress the revolt in western Kurdistan and [to suppress] the Kurdish people’s will. We are sure that the Islamic State's will will break little by little, and that it will leave Iraq. The PKK has a big role in that, given the battles waged by the Kurdistan Popular Defense Forces and the People’s Protection Units in parallel with the strikes carried out by the US, the peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army.
Faced with this reality, we believe that IS will go to Syria. In effect, it has already moved advanced weaponry from Mosul to Syria, and it will use them to fight the Syrian people and especially the people of western Kurdistan. This represents a significant threat.
However, we believe that the largest and most powerful weapon is the will of the resistance of the peoples. No weapon can break that will. There is no doubt that IS constitutes a major threat to Syria. But it will not reach its objectives. It has not achieved, over the past two years, any results in this framework. We believe that it will not be able to achieve its goals. It is clear that Syria will witness a bloody war in the next stage, especially against our people in western Kurdistan. But I am sure that these mercenaries will not win against the will of the Syrian people and the people of western Kurdistan. The role that was given to IS has reached its limit. This group is expected to try to continue to play inside Syria and western Kurdistan. But it will not win.
As-Safir: You were first to expose the Turkish support to takfiri groups. How do you view this support?
Bayek: We don’t have the slightest doubt that Turkey has from the beginning supported these groups of mercenaries against the peoples of the region, especially the Syrian people and the people of western Kurdistan. Among the groups [that Turkey supports] are Jabhat al-Nusra and IS, to which Ankara provided support in secret, and sometimes openly. ... This matter is now being mentioned in the global media, not only in Kurdish media. We have been warning about this support for a long time. Hundreds, if not thousands, of mercenaries have come to Syria by using Turkish airspace and territory. Turkey provided them with logistical materiel and arms. ... These mercenaries have [centers] in Istanbul, where they gather and organize themselves, and then they go to Syria by using Gilanbanar and Hatay as crossing points. Also, the Islamic State's wounded [members] are being treated in hospitals in Gaziantep and Hatay. These things have been mentioned by Turkish media also. Moreover, the confessions of IS prisoners who have fallen into the hands of the People’s Protection Units have revealed how Turkey has given them assistance, opened the way for them to fight in Syria, and provided them with logistical materiel. These facts are clear and documented. We have no doubt about this matter.
The truth is that Turkey has supported IS, which was done against the will of the peoples of the Middle East, and in particular against the entity of western Kurdistan. But by doing so, [Turkey] has put itself in trouble. It is today a hostage of IS, as 49 [Turkish] nationals and diplomats are in the hands of this terrorist group. Therefore, Turkey can no longer move right or left. The calculations of the Turkish state have targeted the will of our people in western Kurdistan. [Turkey] made a mistake. It is now clear that its policy has failed and has been emptied of its contents.
As-Safir: In the words of its foreign minister, Turkey has recently objected that the West arms the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), expressing concerns that these weapons may fall into the hands of the PKK. How do you respond to that?
Bayek: This position confirms Turkish support for IS. The issue is not the possibility that the weapons given to the Kurdistan Democratic Party and to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan may fall into the PKK’s hands. [The issue is that Turkey] wants to stand in the face of the growing strength of the will of the Kurdish people. It is trying to confront the growing strength of the PKK and of the peshmerga by supporting IS, Sunni militias, and the Naqshbandi [army].
I want to assert that we are not against the Sunnis and the Naqshbandi. We can say with confidence that in light of the fact that the Middle East is suffering from deep and historical crises, no party has a solution project except the PKK. Neither Turkey nor Syria, nor the KRG, and not even the international powers have a solution based on democracy and freedom. Everyone is working within pragmatic policies that lead to the killing of the peoples of the region and the elimination of religions and cultures. Only the PKK has a clear and transparent project: that all peoples, religions and cultures live together freely without oil, or any interest or authority, being a reason for repression and civil wars. This is our clear project for which we are struggling. But Turkey does not want the Kurds to have [their own will] and does not accept the emergence of a democratic will. So we see that whenever the Kurdish people, especially the PKK, show a positive attitude, Turkey stands in their face. That’s because this state [Turkey] lives in a mindset whereby it doesn’t accept the Kurds and refuses the history of the Kurdish people. It is a dictatorial, oligarchical mindset.
As-Safir: Some believe that the Kurds are trying to exploit what happened in the region to implement their own agenda. ... How do you respond to that?
Bayek: The fate of the Middle East and the region is between two options: The peoples of the region will either live in a democratic mindset and a free life, or everything will go according to the policies of the nation-state and the economic and oil interests. There are two ways. The first is the way of the nation-state, interests, oil, and energy, and that is the way that leads to danger, civil war, and the peoples and religions repressing each other. This is what we are seeing today. The second way is what we [PKK] are talking about: The way of democracy, freedom, equality, and co-existence. This is our direction and our approach. ... But if the Kurdish people in parts of Kurdistan decide, out of their own free will and true consciousness, to request establishing an independent state like other peoples in the world, then this is their right without the slightest doubt. But, in the PKK, we don’t see that the nation-state represents a valid and appropriate solution to liberation and democracy. For us, what’s more important is living in a free democratic way. We do not adopt the option of the nation-state, but of the democratic nation, which means the coexistence of peoples and religions in a confederation.
As-Safir: Do you think that international intervention against IS will contribute to solving the Syrian crisis or will complicate it?
Bayek: IS has worsened the Syrian crisis. It is not a solution but has created greater problems. External intervention has not succeeded. That option was tried in Geneva I and Geneva II and achieved no progress because these efforts have not been directed toward a democratic solution for Syria.
For us, solving the Syrian crisis lies in the democratization of Syria, by [making it] a democratic nation, not by fueling conflicts between peoples and religions or by them choking each other. The solution, in our view, is through the development of a democratic Syria project by considering the various peoples and religions in Syria to be a source of richness and diversity, and for these components to respect each other.
If the approach is done in this way, the solution will inevitably come. Otherwise, the crisis will worsen, the IS threat will grow, and this will result in external interference. Western powers have made several attempts to change the reality on the ground, either by supporting and developing the Free [Syrian] Army and by doing other steps. But they failed. Instead of that, and as better way, [those powers] should use all their energies toward the democratization of Syria.
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