PYD leader to Turkey: Stop arms to Jabhat al-Nusra

Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim exhorts the Turkish government to clamp down on the flow of Jabhat al-Nusra operatives and their arms across the Turkish border into Syria.

al-monitor Salih Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), is seen during a Reuters interview in Berlin, Apr. 18, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay.

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al-qaeda, syrian, salafist gunmen, salafist, pyd

Aug 7, 2013

Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), is expected in Istanbul next week following his July 25 visit to the city for meetings with Turkish officials. Muslim says that his group expected Turkey to intervene and keep the jihadists in check as clashes escalate between the Syrian Kurds and jihadists. 

Although he does not say it, the Syrian Kurds are increasingly suspicious that the Imrali peace process is nothing but a ploy to get the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to withdraw from Turkey and then smash it in Syria. Sadly, that the Turkish government has yet to deliver on any of the Kurds' serious demands adds credence to this suspicion. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP), and even the PKK command at Kandil, appear to be doing their best not to unsettle the negotiation table, but they are squeezed between Turkey and Rojava.

We caught up with Muslim in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Sulaimaniyah where he shared his concerns and fears prior to his second Istanbul visit.

Taraf:  During your Istanbul visit, the Turkish side said they see Jabhat al-Nusra as a threat to Turkey. That was recently repeated by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Did Turkey promise anything about Jabhat al-Nusra?

Muslim:  We discussed Turkey not allowing them to cross the border and for Turkey to exert pressure on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other opposition groups to isolate Jabhat al-Nusra. This was promised. But on Aug. 2, eyewitnesses reported to us that between 8 and 10 pm, vehicles carrying weapons and ammunition crossed from Karkamis gate of Gaziantep. Our people on the Syrian side confirmed the reports. The weapons were transferred to Arab villages, mostly Shiyoh, west of Kobani. They are getting ready to attack Kobani and civilians. Salafists killed so many civilians, but the world kept silent. Kobani is next.  

It is impossible to understand how Turkey can permit this. If Nusra is an enemy, then this must be stopped. If Turkey is against Nusra, then it must be on our side. Did you have any problems along the border area controlled by the Kurds? Was a single rifle round fired into Turkey? No. Why should it be fired? It is our people who live on the Turkish side. We want peace and friendship with Turkey.

Taraf:  Isn’t Turkey keeping its promises?

Muslim:  I don’t want to use such expressions. I don’t want to damage our dialogue. I still believe in the Turkish government’s goodwill. Are these events happening beyond the will of the government? Are there other “deep forces” in play? I don’t know. But it is definite that weapons are still flowing to Jabhat al-Nusra via Turkey. How bizarre it was to know that while I was meeting with the Turkish officials in Istanbul, FSA and Jabhat al-Nusra were meeting in a hotel in Gaziantep to prepare annihilation plans for the Kurds. Now they want to implement those plans. Is it conceivable that the state is unaware?

Taraf:  Another matter you discussed with the Turkish side was to allow border crossings for humanitarian assistance to the population.

Muslim:  We have problems with that also. Look, 12 truckloads of humanitarian assistance put together by the BDP are kept waiting at the Senyurt crossing in Mardin Kiziltepe. Why aren’t they allowed to cross? There is a human drama going on. Is it possible to understand this attitude during the holy month of Ramadan? It will be good if the assistance reaches the people before the coming Eid holidays.

Taraf:  Clashes are continuing at Serekaniye. The Turkish army says they instantly respond to bullets ricocheting into Ceylanpinar. What are the targets of the Turkish fire?

Muslim:  This is a strange situation. They fire at random and hit civilian areas. I am not saying they are firing intentionally. It is not against us and thank God there are no casualties. But I wished their target was Jabhat al-Nusra.

Taraf:  Turkish officials said you were summoned to Turkey to be warned. Did they warn you?

Muslim:  No, definitely not. Our meetings were warm, friendly and cordial. I learned about the flag issue before I came to Istanbul and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) flag at Serekaniye was replaced by a flag of the Kurdish National Council. The Turkish side was upset with the YPG flag. This is possible, but it should not be exaggerated. They told us they have no objections to a transitional administration that will help the lives of civilians and establish order. We emphasized that the administration will not be solely made up of Kurds but of all peoples in the region. There is no problem. Next week we are coming to Istanbul, not secretly but openly. We will continue discussing all these matters.

Taraf:  After your Istanbul visit, a photograph of you with Abdullah Ocalan was circulated.

Muslim:  That photo is authentic. We met in Aleppo on New Year’s Eve in 1992. We had met before that, in Lebanon in 1991 and in Damascus in 1986 and 1987.

Taraf:  Did you join the PKK?

Muslim:  Never. I was busy with my own affairs. In the 1980s, I was working in Saudi Arabia. I was stopping over during holidays and I had sympathy for them.

Taraf:  What kind of a person is Ocalan?

Muslim:  He is a man of vision who could be the leader of the entire Middle Eastern peoples.

Taraf:  Did you ask to see him?

Muslim:  No, but it would be great if I could see him. It would be good to see an old friend.

Taraf:  Did you get a message from him?

Muslim:  No, I didn’t.

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