SALIH MUSLIM : ‘Western Kurdistan could be a model for a free and democratic Syria’ / WITHIN SYRIA ? OR INDEPENDENT?
‘Western Kurdistan could be a model for a free and democratic Syria’
Salih Muslim, co-president of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) addressed a well-attended seminar entitled The Kurds and the conflict in Syria at the London School of Economics last Friday. The LSE Middle East Centre hosted the seminar, which was chaired the Centre’s manager, Robert Lowe.
Providing an overview of the latest developments in the ongoing conflict in Syria, Mr Muslim argued that the anti-regime uprising is no longer a struggle for democracy but a fight for control over the country. The bloody conflict that has ensued since the early pro-democracy protests of 2011, he stressed, is the result of regional and international powers arming the revolution and providing military, diplomatic and practical support to extremist factions.
By contrast, the struggle for genuine democratic change by Kurdish groups in Western Kurdistan, in the northern region of Syria, has been largely ignored or undermined by both the internationally recognised opposition – the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – and by Western governments and the Western media.
Relative peace has been secured in many parts of Western Kurdistan, Mr Muslim continued, with the People’s Defence Forces (YPG) providing self-defence where necessary and the Kurdish political parties, having united under the banner of the Kurdish Supreme Council at a conference in Erbil in July last year, beginning to administer the region under the principles of democratic self-rule. Democratic self-rule, Mr Muslim emphasised, does not entail the formation of a separate Kurdish state. Rather, the PYD advocates for a free, democratic and plural Syria in which all minorities are recognised and respected within the country’s political framework. In this sense, he added, what has been achieved so far in Western Kurdistan could be seen as a model for the rest of the country.
The fact that thousands of internally displaced people from all over Syria are flowing into Western Kurdistan as refugees looking for a safe haven is testament to the advances the PYD and Syrian Kurds have made over the last year. That no international humanitarian aid has been offered to Western Kurdistan to help support these refugees is, Mr Muslim argued, also the result of a stubborn refusal to recognise the Kurds as a people or as a political reality. As Mr Muslim explained, the PYD and the Kurdish people joined the early uprisings but opted to take their own path by not sending fighters to Damascus and instead defending their own areas in the North. The FSA, however, is not at all interested in defending themselves or Syria, he said, and they are instead fighting for the interests of their foreign backers.
This independent approach has been cynically and erroneously reported to be the result of some kind of agreement with the Assad government, but Mr Muslim clarified that in reality, the Kurds have long struggled against oppression in Syria, with grassroots uprisings taking place as recently as 2004.
When asked about what possible effects the renewed peace efforts between Turkey and the PKK may have on Syria and Western Kurdistan, Mr Muslim expressed support for the talks and the positive effect it may have on the struggle for recognition in Syria. “This has mostly been rejected by Turkey’, he said. “If they recognise the Kurds of Turkey, they cannot continue to deny recognition to the Kurds of Syria”. He stressed that the most important change Turkey has made in the last couple of years is the decision to restart peace talks with the Kurdish leadership, and also suggested that events in Syria are also likely to have impacted on this decision.