One of the heavy weights in the Kurdish political movement in Europe, Remzi Kartal, co-chair of Kongra Gel, the legislative assembly of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), answered questions on Turkey’s intervention into Syria and Abdullah Ocalan’s recent message from prison at the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) 8th congress (24-25 September) in Brussels.
Figen Gunes: The struggle in Rojava became known worldwide after the Kobane resistance. Kurdish cities in southeast Turkey are currently under heavy attack, at the same time the Syrian Democratic Forces are gaining control of larger swathes of land in Rojava. In this regard, is the PYD’s 8th Congress timely?
Remzi Kartal: This congress is being held at a strategically important time; the number one reason for this is that Rojava is becoming acknowledged at the regional and international level. It is seen as a capable land force, which brings good results against Daesh (ISIS) in the region. But also, Rojava has managed to create a participative democratic model amongst its diverse ethnic and faith groups. It has also raised hopes that the model can be applied to Syria as a whole, so that its people can live side by side in peace and fraternity. Initially, federalism was declared in northern Syria, but Rojava has a federal perspective that aims to solve the issues faced by the rest of Syria too.
Turkey’s intervention came at this point. Historically, Turkey has worked towards not allowing Kurds to acquire any sort of status in the Middle East. This is the main motivation behind their recent Jarablus incursion. After Saddam Hussein was toppled Kurds gained a status in Iraq. Turkey now says they won’t repeat the same mistake they made in Iraq by allowing Kurds to gain a status in Rojava. With this in mind, Turkey supported Daesh and other jihadist factions in Syria against the Kurds. But this didn’t work and now Turkey has entered Syria militarily to try and weaken Kurds.
The congress coincides with a critical period in Syria. Turkey is taking ever-bigger risks to prevent Kurds’ status. The Cantons of Kobane and Afrin should not merge according to Turkey. In later stages, Turkey hopes to be on the Syria resolution table to block Kurds’ demands and participation. Syria is a sovereign foreign country, not a part of Turkey, so their aggressive intervention is illegal.
F.G: Did Daesh (ISIS) surrender in Jarablus?
R.K: Daesh had always shown resistance when attacked. It took Kurdish forces a long time to take Kobane and Manbij from Daesh. However in Jarablus, Daesh withdrew the same day Turkey entered. In my opinion this is proof of cooperation between Turkey and Daesh. It was a handover from one force to another; there was no battle whatsoever. Daesh left Jarablus to Turkey and the Free Syrian Army.
F.G: Will Turkey open new fronts in Syria?
R.K: The Syrian crisis has become more complicated after Turkey’s intervention. If Turkey goes deeper into Syria and attacks Raqqa, this will turn the Syrian crisis into a mess bigger than it already is. The US’ main interest is to get rid of Daesh. Iran, the Syrian Regime and Russia are all criticising Turkey’s involvement. But the Americans had Turkey bow down to their wish by moving together with Turkey in this operation. An example in point is the opening of the Incirlik air base to the US after their recent co-operation. By working with Turkey, America is hoping to limit and ‘redesign’ Kurds.
However, there is no ground for Turkey to advance further in Syria. Currently Daesh and the Free Syrian Army are in competition. How will this be settled? This is largely Turkey’s problem now. Turkey’s interference and their reported claims of joining the Raqqa and al-Bab operations are only to put further pressure on the Kurds in my opinion. I don’t think Turkey will be engaging in these military operations in Syria. However, if there had been no criticism, Turkey would be willing to take part. As for the US, they want to sort out the Daesh issue swiftly with a land force.
F.G: Does the US genuinely want to wipe out Daesh?
R.K: The US prioritised the rescue of Manbij due to the upcoming elections there. Preparations to enter Raqqa are seen as a positive initiative for the Democrat Party. However, solving the Syrian crisis will take years, even after Manbij and Raqqa are taken back. America wants Turkey to take part, however the power dynamics in Syria won’t let this happen.
F.G: Is Rojava seen and used as a ‘muscle power’ by America? Will Rojava’s international diplomacy help it progress and make the participative model viable for the future?
R.K: One needs to analyse Rojava’s strategic position and how they fight back against all the forces in that part of Syria. If Rojava had alligned itself only with one group or a country, then rightly it could have been said that some power centres are using them as a ‘muscle power’. However this is not the case. Rojava is supporting the third way in Syria and proposing a democratic federal Syria. They have positioned themselves to have an impact on the whole of Syria. We shouldn’t see this as either a Russian or American way. Rojava has a bright future as it sides neither with Iran, Russia, Damascus nor America.
The Rojava initiative raises the hopes of all the communities there. It is now impossible for central government in Damascus to rule with an iron fist as they did in the past. The Syrian regime cannot take Kurds and other Sunni Arabs under its rule. As for the Salafists, they are engaged in in-fighting. When we look at the wider picture, Rojava is the only unifying force in the region.
F.G: More than 100,000 people lost their jobs under emergency rule in Turkey. Do you expect an uprising in south-east Turkey soon?
R.K: Turkey is going through a historic period. Erdogan is in panic and fear. With this panic he is removing a large number of dissident voices from government institutions. When you take into account the families of those purged, up to five million people have been affected with the job losses.
Kurdish society, as well as its politicians are also under great pressure in Turkey. Members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Regions Party (DBP) have been imprisoned, including the co-chair of the DBP. Even more co-mayors are under arrest. The state has appointed trustees to 28 municipalities. This is fascism and is making Turkey drift into an even darker position.
There is a war against civilians and politicians in Kurdistan. This is the real coup; the parliament is not in use. Decisions are made and implemented through decree laws. There is no opposition apart from the HDP. Now the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has applied to the constitutional court [against decree laws], however in the first days of the coup they positioned themselves alongside the government. The CHP became a stick in Erdogan’s hand.
Turkey is heading towards a big social explosion. We are witnessing a process similar historically to the ones that led to the French and October Revolutions. This crackdown on dissident voices in Turkey is bringing together the Kurdistan freedom movement and the other revolutionary voices. This social explosion, through democratic revolution, will change the century old unitary Turkish state. It will force it to transform its laws and constitution.
Solving the Kurdish question through democratic initiatives in Turkey and Rojava will have significant ripple effects in the Middle East. It will have an impact like the French Revolution.
F.G: What did you make of Abdullah Ocalan’s recent message from prison?
R.K: Ocalan made that it was Erdogan and not the Kurdish movement who destroyed the peace process. Ocalan also said that the reason why Erdogan knocked over the negotiation table was because he didn’t have a project to solve the Kurdish question in the first place. Kurdish leader Ocalan developed the peace process to garner more support for a political resolution. He reiterated in his last message that the Kurdish issue could be solved within six months if the government sent two officials to Imrali prison.
F.G: As political and democratic avenues are blocked in Turkey, what will the future survival strategy of the Kurdish people be?
R.K: Parliament is bypassed in Turkey. There are no checks and balances on the legislative and judiciary. The government’s cabinet only has discussions about whatever is on Erdogan’s agenda. The Prime Minister has been reduced to a simple government officer. There is a de-facto presidential model in Turkey now. There is a parallel state that is centred in Erdogan’s palace; all of the decisions for military, cabinet, media and non-governmental organisations are actually made there. All sections of society who are against fascism need to work hand in hand and use weapons if necessary to protect and defend themselves.
Figen Gunes is an Al Jazeera English service journalist with a focus on freedom of expression, the change of media ownership and journalists’ trials in Turkey. Having graduated from a MSc degree in International Relations, she wrote her thesis on the future viability of Rojava. Read her news reports about Kurdish matters in the fields of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran as well as the Kurdish movement in Europe. Follow Figen on Twitter @FigenWrites and @Facebook