Bashar al Assad On Kurds April 17 / 2013

SANA – Interview (Syrian Arab News Agency)

Question: But Mr. President, there is talk about separation between major cities and surrounding rural areas, Aleppo being an example; and in the northern and northeastern regions, like Raqqa and Qamishli. There is also talk that these areas are outside the control of the authorities, and possibly completely separated from the rest of Syria. Does your description and assessment apply to these regions as well?

President Assad: No this is not for the purpose of division. These so called divisions have not been formulated along ethnic or religious lines, but rather by the presence of terrorists. If we want to talk about state control in terms of state presence, there is no area that the armed forces attempted to enter and failed. So, there are no fixed lines. This is why I have said that for us the humanitarian and military priorities come first; they determine our presence and what military tactics we use. We should look at Syria as a whole in the same way we look at communicating vessels or pounding utensils. If we pour a liquid into some of the vessels and connect them with pipes, we find that the level in certain vessels has an affect on the levels in the others. The same applies to the terrorists. When they are hit in a certain area, this has a direct and positive impact on other areas. Military tactics sometimes force intervention in one area before the other, or require you to be present in one place before the next. These delays are purely due to military considerations and have nothing to do with the issue of division or buffer zones.

Question: Turkey seems to be heading towards a crisis on the Kurdish issue. There is talk that Erdogan might give a state to the Kurds, that he might make concessions on certain demands and in the end divide Turkey. The Kurds will be given their right to a state in return for paving the way for Erdogan to run for the presidency. What is the situation is Syria, particularly with regards to the Kurds?

President Assad: As you imply in the first part of your question, Erdogan, is prepared to offer his whole country in return for his personal ambitions. As for the Kurds in Syria, I want to repeat what I have always said on this issue. The Kurds in Syria are a natural and essential part of the fabric of our society. Like the Arabs, the Turks, the Persians and others who live in this region, they have been here for centuries. They are not guests and their presence is not fleeting. Most of the Kurds in Syria are Syrian patriots, but as in every society, there are those opportunists who seek to use certain causes for their own personal gain. We have a number of groups that call themselves Kurdish parties in Syria, yet they have always patronized other Kurds. They consistently attempt to create a Kurdish issue relating to the alleged oppression of the Kurds in Syria, which is not the case at all. They have tried to use the issue of naturalization for some time – well 2 years ago, about 110,000 Kurds were naturalized and granted Syrian nationality. They then shifted gear and started to talk about the language – as part of the measures taken, the Syrian government has added the Kurdish language and literature as one of the subjects taught at Syrian faculties and universities. So as I said they are always looking for an angle to use to create a position for themselves on the national arena; this is evident from time to time, but does not cause us any concern. The majority of the Kurds consider Syria to be their homeland. In order not to be accused of being too romantic, I won’t go back in time and detail their fighting role in the Syrian revolution against French colonization, but rather focus on their role in the current situation. Many of the families of the martyrs I have met have been Kurds. This became apparent during our conversations rather than being a prerequisite for the meeting. Many times I have heard how proud they were that their sons and husbands were Kurds yet had died fighting for Syria. Is it possible for someone who does not believe in this homeland and who seeks separation, to sacrifice his own life or the life of his children for this nation? This is illogical.

Question: Mr. President, allow us to talk about this highly sensitive issue. We have been observing the policies of the Turkish government and they have played many cards. It is said that the Kurdish card is the last in Erdogan’s hand and that he won’t give it up easily. He will be fiercer so that it gives him some advantage in Syria at least. It is striking that he seeks settlement at this particular time. To what extent is the Syrian government keeping an eye on this issue and what are you preparing in the eventuality of a clash?

President Assad: This is an important issue and cannot be oversimplified. Erdogan has both an internal and an external objective. The external objective, as you suggest, is Syria. Even though the Kurdish issue in Syria differs completely from that in Turkey, he aims to use it to apply pressure on Syria. In the history of our relationship with the Kurds, we have never perpetrated massacres against them or oppressed the Kurds in the way that they have been since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire: so the situation in Syria is completely different. In Syria, there is full harmony and brotherhood. It is only in the last few decades that this issue has been stoked in Syria by opportunistic forces. Despite this, our relationship with the Kurds is good, including the Kurdish parties that have been fighting for their rights in Turkey. The other objective Erdogan seeks to achieve is internal. He incurred political losses inside Turkey on the backdrop of his failure in what was called the ‘zero problems’ policy. The zero problems turned into zero policies, zero vision, zero friends, zero credibility and zero moral values. He gained zeros in every domain except zero problems. He lost a great deal, even among those loyal to him, so it was inevitable that he use the Kurdish issue to his advantage; maybe in order to benefit from the large Kurdish population bloc in the next constitution through which he is hoping to become president of the republic with broad powers. However, Erdogan has a problem of credibility in relation to the Kurdish question, amongst those active in this area in both Syria and Turkey; they don’t trust Erdogan. This is why we are interested in these developments, because whatever happens in any neighboring country, whilst may not necessarily cause concern, but it will affect us – both positively and negatively.