Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, speaking at the 17th Scandinavian Kurdish Culture Festival on Sept. 16, voiced strongly worded accusations against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP government. Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), identified as the Syrian extension of the PKK, charged the AKP government with supporting jihadist groups fighting the Kurds. He said, "On the one hand you are talking to us, but you let loose your dogs, jackals and foxes against us. We will defend ourselves with our free will and our own people, and we will achieve victory."
I was curious about what prompted Muslim, who visited Turkey twice last month on official Turkish invitation, to speak so angrily. Since he began coming to Turkey on official business, he has been careful to use prudent and moderate language, hoping to build relations on solid grounds. But when I contacted him at Geneva on Sept. 17, his rage against Turkey continued.
Taraf: Why are you so angry with Turkey?
Muslim: What your government is doing is no secret. They are still sending Syrian gangs against us. Look, east of Serekaniye they removed barbed wires and cleared paths through minefields for these gangs to move easily.
Taraf: Who are you talking about exactly?
Muslim: Roads are opened for the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, Jabat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda to fight us. There is the village of Alok, a mixed Arab-Kurdish village, west of Ceylanpinar. There is also the village of Susik. There have been heavy clashes in those areas for the past two days. Turkey is using these gangs to fight us. They give them artillery and ammunition. We have documented all this. They do it in broad daylight. Turkey is helping these gangs who chop off the heads of people, eat the hearts of their opposition and rape our women. The world is watching silently.
Taraf: You had started dialogue with Turkey. You said Turkey wasn’t helping the jihadists as much as before and that Turkey had accepted the Rojava reality. What happened?
Muslim: We don’t understand it also. It shows they were not sincere. When we visited Turkey, we provided them with a file on the dirty war these gangs were staging through Turkey. We exposed those who were helping these gangs in Turkey under the guise of humanitarian agencies or civil society organizations. The Turkish side told us that these things were happening without their knowledge. We thought at the time that the Turks were sincere and a new page in our relations was in the offing. But they were not sincere. Those wounded in clashes against us were treated by the Turkish state. You, Turkish citizens, are paying for this with your taxes. You saw the wounded gangsters undergoing treatment in Urfa's public hospital. You wrote about it. Our civilians are hurt but they get no help from Turkey. Only the other day three of our people died at Viransehir because they were not treated in time. You know that Turkish citizens, among them Kurds, join those gangs. Their funerals are sent back to Turkey but the media is not reporting it. Three Turkish citizens were killed recently fighting against us. Their bodies are about to be repatriated to Turkey.
Taraf: Why is Turkey behaving like you described against the PYD?
Muslim: Their objective is obvious. To weaken and eliminate the Kurds. Turkish authorities have become ill-tempered of late because they were expecting America to carry out a strike against [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad. They were hoping that would weaken the Kurds. But when it didn’t turn out that way, they became angry and started to lean on us. It is not easy to understand Turkey’s policy. On one hand they are giving guns to gangs, but at the same time they are talking to us. We were wondering about it.
Taraf: Are your talks continuing with Turkey? Are you coming to Turkey again? Or is your dialogue ruptured?
Muslim: There is no meeting scheduled at the moment. We are ready to meet anytime. We don’t want to say that the dialogue is severed. To the contrary, we want it to continue. We want friendly and brotherly relations with turkey. Not the slightest act was committed against Turkey from our side. This is why we have problems understanding Turkey’s attitude. Look, the border is still closed. Not a single assistance convoy crossed to our side in one month. Our people are living under difficult war conditions. We have acute shortages of electricity, water, fuel and medicines. There is an embargo against us. We are open to further talks with Turkey. But signs are not good.
* * *
Listening to Muslim, I become aware that indeed the signs are not promising even if they may sound exaggerated and pessimistic. One wonders if what we call a cease-fire is merely a diversion. Did the war actually shift from Turkey to south, to Syria? Who is tricking who? What are the calculations? Where is the Imrali process in all this? I do not know, but I agree with Muslim: signs are not good at all.