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WASHINGTON DC -- Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Turkey, says that US officials must meet directly with the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria.
In an interview with Rudaw he adds that the PYD, which is the Syrian arm of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), advocates a ‘”third way” for Syria, where all groups in the country are represented equally and “the unity of Syria is preserved.” Demirtas adds that Syrian Kurds should not be criticized for trying to remain neutral in the civil war, and blames Turkey for channeling Western arms and funding to al-Qaeda groups in Syria to fight the Kurds. According to Demirtas, it is imperative that Syrian Kurds attend the Geneva II conference as a united force. Here is an edited transcript of his interview:
Rudaw: Did this first Kurdish conference in Washington meet your expectation?
Selahattin Demirtas: This conference was very important for us because of the fact that it was the first one in America. It is important that such a conference was organized successfully and with the participation of a large audience in the US capital. I can say the conference has drawn significant attention. As we came from Turkey we predicted the conference would be a success, but the attention and interest shown to it was beyond our expectations.
Rudaw: One of the topics of the conference was the situation in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). How do you find US public opinion on Rojava?
Selahattin Demirtas: The Kurds and their reality have been newly acknowledged by the American public. Denying the existence of Kurds and trying to wipe them from history had made the Kurds unnoticeable on the international level. It was especially after the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq that the US government and its people started to know the Kurds. After the significant developments in Syria -- as well as the situation in Turkey and Iran -- the Kurds are noticed a lot more. What is happening in Rojava is closely followed here in the US media and the government watches the events closely. However, we noticed that there has been a campaign of misinformation by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs against Rojava.
This propaganda, which claims that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is on the side of (Syrian president) Bashar Assad, had negative consequences and created wrong perceptions against the Kurds in Rojava. We are hopeful that, thanks to this conference, such a false perception is now open to discussion. This perception was also discussed in our formal meetings with government officials. Changing such a false perception certainly requires more work.
The Kurds in Rojava are not on Assad’s side. They are neither with Assad nor the opposition.They have their own position, which is called the “third way.” Nobody has the right to blame or criticize Kurds in Rojava just because they did not choose to carry guns for someone else! Their position must be understood. We have seen clearly that there is lack of knowledge about this important issue here in Washington.
Rudaw: Salih Muslim, leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has tried to come to the US. Have you talked to the US government about this issue, or do you have a plan for his possible visit in the future?
Selahattin Demirtas: We have definitely told the US that it would be beneficial for them to meet the PYD and listen to their political views directly. We have told them that it is wrong not to grant Mr Muslim a visa so that he could visit the US. We also conveyed PYD’s message to the American government, because they could not be present here.
Rudaw: What was that message?
Selahattin Demirtas: As I mentioned before, it is the “third way,” a model on which all peoples and identities in Syria are represented equally, and the unity of Syria is preserved. PYD officials say they are ready for a diplomatic solution, and they do not have animosity towards anyone. They say that what they are doing is just protecting their own territory. They also say they want to participate in the Geneva II Conference independently as Kurds, with their own identity. However, they do not rule out part of a unified opposition. This is the view of the Supreme Kurdish Council (SKC) as well. We shared these thoughts with (US) government officials in our meetings.
Rudaw: Speaking of Geneva II, how do you think the Kurds from Rojava should approach this conference?
Selahattin Demirtas: The Kurds of Rojava will have to make their decisions by themselves. We do not have the right to speak on behalf of them. But we think that unity is the way for our brothers who live there. It is very crucial for the Kurdish parties to unite their names and forces. Going to Geneva under the Syrian opposition without any political guarantees is very risky. Such a scenario can lead to a second Lausanne (Treaty) and the Kurds can be deceived once more!
However, Kurds can go to Geneva with their own identity and defend their rights at that conference. Only after they receive assurances about their rights and demands should they unite with the Syrian opposition. As BDP, our suggestion for our brothers in Rojava is that they should put their differences aside and participate in Geneva II as a single force.
Rudaw: The US is concerned about radical groups like al-Qaeda in Syria, yet the Obama administration seems reluctant to acknowledge the PYD’s fight against these groups.
Selahattin Demirtas: Actually, I think Turkey has a role in this issue. Ankara channeled the support it received from the US and Europe to these radical groups. Many countries provided humanitarian assistance, logistical support and weapons to the opposition groups in Syria, but they did not intend such assistance to end up in the hands of al-Qaeda and other similar groups. However, Turkey, as a coordinating country, has facilitated the delivery of this assistance to reach al-Qaeda. As a result, this has made the US and European countries uneasy.
The Americans cannot accept the fact that help sent by the US to Syrian civilians ends up in the hands of al-Qaeda. In my opinion it is also making the American people uncomfortable that they are feeding al-Qaeda militants in Syria. This is the result of Turkey’s wrong foreign policies. There are legitimate forces and civil society organizations in Rojava that could be supported, but unfortunately the help went to radical militants who poured into Syria from all over the world.
Rudaw: Experts believe that the People’s Defense Units (YPG) control of the Tel Kocer border point between Syria and Iraq is a significant achievement for the Kurds. What are your thoughts on this?
Selahattin Demirtas: Seizing Tel Kocher (Yarubiyah) has been one of the most significant achievements of the Rojava revolution. This move will change many things militarily and politically. I am certain that everyone, including the neighboring countries and international powers, have realized the power of the YPG. This has shown that the YPG, the Kurds and the Supreme Kurdish Council should be taken more seriously. This move has also made the PYD powerful in the international arena and a legitimate party to talk with.
The control of the gate has also been an effective move towards removing the embargo that is implemented over Rojava. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG’s) policy that may remind one of the embargoes on Rojava is not appropriate for the spirit of Kurdish unity. This policy can no longer be continued. Nobody has the luxury of making a mistake while dialogue, cooperation and solidarity among Kurds have such a historical importance. I am optimistic that there will be an end to this wrong policy.
Rudaw: How is your relation with Kurdish parties in Rojava? I know you invited some of them to Turkey to meet EU and US officials?
Selahattin Demirtas: Any time representatives of the Supreme Kurdish Council came to Turkey we tried our best to assist them. We are in equal distance to all parties in Rojava. We support all parties who struggle for the freedom of Kurdish people, and we consider ourselves their friend. We will continue doing our best for Kurdish parties in Rojava to come together and join their forces to serve their people. We defend the rights of Rojava Kurds diplomatically as well. As much as we struggle for the Kurds in Turkey, we outspokenly defend the rights of our brothers and sisters in Rojava, both in the political and diplomatic arenas.