In an interview with Russia’s RT, Kurdish female commander Cihan Sheikh talked about the rising civilian death toll in Syria and the possible consequences of Turkish intervention, but avoided discussing the impact of US-led coalition strikes.
Cihan Sheikh is the official spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)’s Operation Wrath of Euphrates, aimed at dislodging Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from its stronghold in Raqqa, in northern Syria. Sheikh is also a commander in the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), the all-female branch of the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG and SDF are currently fighting IS with aerial support from the US-led coalition.
Sheikh told RT’s Lizzie Phelan that being from Raqqa herself made her determined to liberate her hometown from the Islamist group.
“I remember my city and neighborhood, the family, the neighbors, we used to be as one family, including all ethnic groups,” she said. “When I see my city being used by IS in a barbaric way, I am outraged and become more determined to participate in the liberation of the city.”
“It’s also a sad feeling because this lovely city in Syria became a stronghold for the biggest terrorist organization in the world.”
Sheikh accused IS of using the local population as “human shields.”
“They [IS] are using barbaric methods. In the village of Menzil, IS tried to take civilians who refused to be used as human shields. They were killed, and we consider them martyrs of the operation because they were our people. Seven civilians were killed because they refused to be used by IS.”
The majority of civilian deaths, Sheikh says, are at the hands of IS.
“All the massacres are being committed by IS, but they are claiming that it is from US airstrikes,” she said, though she shied away from commenting on civilian casualties from any US bombings.
“Regarding the international coalition, I think you should ask them,” she said, before replying, “No comment,” when asked whether the SDF would join an American-led campaign to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
As well as the United States, Turkey too has been active in the Syrian conflict and recently announced it would launch new operations on Syrian soil against the YPG (Euphrates Shield is officially over). Sheikh warned Turkey not to get involved in Kurdish areas.
“Turkey now is not in a position to enter Syrian territory, especially the areas that have been liberated by the YPG and YPJ under the umbrella of the SDF, because a Turkish intervention means occupation, not liberation, while the SDF is liberating the land and the people.”
“The sons and daughters of the land are doing this [liberation], so what Turkey would be doing is occupation, and it would be legitimate to defend against that occupation and respond to it.”
Among Turkey’s aims in Syria is to suppress the Kurdish rebellion that might spill over into its southern regions, where Ankara is involved in a long-running conflict with the Kurdish group the PKK, which it considers a terrorist organization. But Sheikh stressed that the YPG and SDF seek no quarrel with Turkey.
“Our main goal isn’t to fight Turkey, it is to fight ISIS and defeat them. At the beginning of the operation we said we are neighbors with Turkey, and we hope that they wouldn’t interfere in our domestic affairs.”
But above all else, Sheikh and the rest of the Kurdish fighters are determined to defeat IS.
“As a fighter, it brings a lot of pride and dignity to fight for your people. It’s also my duty and the duty of all SDF fighters to protect their people.