SNC Leader Abdulbasit Sieda: Kurds Have to Pick a Side In the Revolution

22/11/2012 RUDAW – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Abdulbasit Sieda is one of the major figures in the Syrian revolution and leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC). Though a new umbrella organization, the National Alliance, was established in Qatar last week, Sieda says the SNC will continue to exist. Sieda was in Erbil last week to meet with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, and Rudaw conducted this interview with him on the recent developments in Syria.

Rudaw: What was the purpose of your visit to Erbil?

Abdulbasit Sieda: I am here for a number of reasons. One is to discuss the situation of Sere Kaniye. Another is to discuss the situation of the Kurds and Kurdish relations to the newly formed alliance.

Rudaw: It is said that the militant group who recently invaded Sere Kaniye was the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Abdulbasit Sieda: There are many groups who claim to be part of the FSA. Many unpleasant things are done in the name of the FSA. People are kidnapped, made to pay money, etc. But I believe the main organized force today is the Joint Army Council. We met with them and asked them to stop assaulting civilians and their property. However, several groups have emerged that are not under control. One of these groups is Jabhat al-Nusra. In fact, these groups are out of control.

What happened in Sere Kaniye is unacceptable. If a group fights the government and pushes government forces out of town, that is fine. But they cannot attack civilians, particularly in Sere Kaniye which has served as a bunker for many civilians. I believe this step taken by Jabhat al-Nusra was completely useless.

We talked about the incident at the SNC. We published a communiqué where we asked the armed groups to withdraw from the city. The people of the city need to sit together and decide how they want to run their city. Those who have left the city need to come back to their places as well.  We hope this incident does not spread to other areas. Meanwhile, the propaganda these two groups are spreading against each other is inappropriate.

“There are many groups who claim to be part of the FSA. Many unpleasant things are done in the name of the FSA.”If the Kurdish forces affiliated with the PYD (Democratic Union Party) do the same thing [as Jabhat al-Nusra], it will anger people. You have to be careful with this area and know that it is sensitive; if played with, it could turn out to be dangerous.

I do not support arming young people. Many young people say they will start using arms; this is not a good thing. However, if we have to carry weapons against the government, we have to be united — Kurds, Arabs, Christians, etc. As Kurds, we cannot unilaterally go and attack the secret services building. In order to avoid problems, we have to take Arabs and Christians with us. If you destroy a statue, you have to have them with you. This has been my thought from the very beginning.

Rudaw:  It is said that there is a Turkish plan for the FSA and some other groups to attack the PYD and finish them. Is this true?

Abdulbasit Sieda: The Turks are not secretive about their intolerance for having the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) on their border. They publicly state this. In the Erbil meeting that the Kurdish National Council (KNC) attended, Ahmet Davutoglu [Turkish foreign minister] repeated this statement. Davutoglu said that they were not against the PYD if the PYD works as an independent Kurdish party in Syria. But if they consider themselves PKK, then Turkey will not tolerate that.

The Turkish policy is clear in this regard. However, I believe if the Turks had any such plan or wanted such a thing, they would not start in Sere Kaniye. They would start in Qamishli, which is the major city. Why would they start in Sere Kaniye?

Rudaw: It is said that Sere Kaniye might be the first step towards occupying Qamishli.

Abdulbasit Sieda:  No, Qamishli is closer to them. Qamishli is on the border. Sere Kaniye has its own characteristics. This conflict did not emerge today. When the Kurdish delegation withdrew from the Istanbul conference, in Sere Kaniye people were chanting “here is Kurdistan.” Sere Kaniye is a mixed city. When they started chanting, that is when the conflict started. Back then, we asked that this conflict be avoided. Not only in Sere Kaniye, but also in Hasaka. We have to be sensitive in this regard; we cannot just chant a slogan and not calculate the ramifications.

The situation in Turkey is very sensitive. Turkey cannot make unilateral decisions on Syria. At the beginning [of the revolution], it was said that the Turks would come and attack Syria, but they did not. For Turkey, occupying Qamishli and Amude in a military invasion would be very easy. They could do so easily, militarily speaking, but there are other calculations. Therefore, I do not think they would do something like that. And I hope they will refrain from any such steps, instead of solving problems with diplomacy.

Rudaw: How do you see the future of the PYD in Syria?

Abdulbasit Sieda:  If the PYD becomes part of the Syrian nation, then it is going to be welcomed and it will become part of the revolution. Today, Syria is revolting and asks for democracy. In order to achieve your rights, you have to be part of this revolution. When you consider yourself part of this nation, you have to view the injustices done to the people of Daraa and Damascus as injustices done unto you. You have to at least not be an obstacle in the way of the Kurdish activists in your area. You have to avoid becoming an obstacle in the raising of the freedom flag.

“Today, Syria is revolting and asks for democracy. In order to achieve your rights, you have to be part of this revolution.”

Let Kurdish flag fly too. In the SNC, the problem [of the Kurdish flag] no longer exists. They [members of SNC] say let the Kurdish flag and the Syrian revolution flag be raised, but not flags from political parties or independence flags. No one says flying the Kurdish flag will divide Syria. These flags have become symbols for all Syrians. I cannot say, “Do not fly this flag.”

In the meantime, we have to know that the FSA has become a symbol for all Syrians. When you stand against this army, you are removing yourself from the situation. When there is something wrong, you can stand against it and say it is wrong. But if you deny all of the FSA, this means that you and the people of Syria are in a confrontation.

You have to think. The Kurds have their own characteristics. We have always been victimized. We are still being victimized. We are victimized once as Syrians, and once more as Kurds. As Syrians, we are attacked, and as Kurds we have been denied our social and administrative rights. As Kurds, we are deprived our identity and our land. The names of our villages and towns have been forcefully changed into Arabic names. Kurdish students are not allowed to attend military or police academies. Kurdish students are not allowed to attend universities. Our areas are economically behind and looted.

All of these should be our rights. We have to ask for them loudly. But if you patrol one part of town and the Syrian secret services patrol another part, people will not accept this. They will ask questions. And they have to be answered. Could the country be liberated with the secret services forces remaining in their own places? This cannot be.

Therefore, it is clear; you have to side with one side. You either have to be part of the revolution, or not part of the revolution. Even if you are silent, then this is something else. But if you stand against the revolution, this is a totally different matter.

Rudaw: How does the alliance that was established a few days ago see the Kurdish problem and their rights?

Abdulbasit SiedaLet it be clear that this alliance was established in a hurry. The different groups were to reach an agreement on the Cairo documents [the National Pact — documents for the transition phase]. Before this meeting, and in the meeting, I said that the Cairo Pact would be accepted, but that there were certain sections that needed to be changed in order that everybody accepted. One of the sections was the Kurdish section.

In the SNC, there were no disagreements about the Kurdish demands. What happened in Cairo was not caused by disputes in the SNC, but some other groups stood against the Kurdish demands. We wanted to eliminate the disagreement on the Kurdish demands. We managed to get some to agree to the demands, but failed to get others to consent. We will try again to get their consensus.

Rudaw:  Does that mean a common ground has been found on the Kurdish issue?

Abdulbasit Sieda: If you take a general look at the Cairo Pact, it is not a bad thing at all. Some of the leaders in the KNC know this. There were discussions on the term “nation.” In the SNC, much debate was held over this term. The SNC said that we would use the term to refer to Syrian people of all ethnic groups and origins. This is to say that “Syrian Nation” would refer to Kurds, Arabs, etc.

Today, among the Kurds, the conflict is over the term “Kurdish Nation.” The SNC does not have any problems with that either. In its documents, you find sentences like “acknowledging the Kurdish Nation’s rights,” “acknowledging the constitutional rights of the Kurdish Nation” and “annulling all segregationist policies.” However, a committee was formed with help from international experts to review the Cairo Pact.  I believe once an agreement is reached in principle, experts can discuss the details after.