Sep 2, 2015
Mr. Salih Muslim is the Chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Deputy Coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC) in Syria. Mr. Muslim is one of the most prominent Syrian Kurdish political figures, known for his political activism and involvement in the Kurdish movement since early 1970’s. He graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Istanbul Technical University in 1977 and worked at the General Organization of Petroleum and Minerals (Petromin) in Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 1990 before returning to Syria in 1992, where he worked as an engineer in a private office after becoming a member of the union of engineers in Aleppo.
Mr. Muslim was one of the founding members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in 2003. Due to his involvement in politics, he was jailed several times by the Syrian regime, including a year in 2004 and 3 months in 2006, during which he endured brutal physical and psychological torture. His family was also targeted by the regime – in 2009, Syrian security forces raided his home and arrested his wife to use her to pressure him. Mr. Muslim’s wife remained in prison for nine months and suffered psychological torture during this time.
In 2013, Mr. Muslim’s son, Shervan Salih Muslim, a fighter in the People’s Protection Units (YPG) was martyred in battle against ISIS terrorists in Gire Spi (Tel Abyad). Mr. Muslim has played a major role in the fight against terrorism in Syria, particularly through his support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in defending people of Kobanî and liberating large portions of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).
WKI: The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) is honored to conduct an interview with you to discuss currents events in Syria, Rojava, your fight against ISIS, and political issues in the region. What is ISIS in your opinion? And who is behind it?
SM: The global powers are rearranging the Middle East, and this reconstruction must remove the old and build up the new. Some regional powers took advantage of this situation and created destructive tools such as ISIS and its similar terrorist organizations to implement their regional plans.
WKI: There is almost daily coverage of the events taking place in Syria by the U.S. media, especially of the battles among the various armed groups. How do you find the Kurdish situation in the Syria arena?
SM: The Kurdish people, along with other peoples who inhabit Rojava (northern Syria), are the most organized among the Syrian people. Thanks to their organization, they were able to expel the regime from their areas first and then subsequently defeat the terrorist organizations threatening them. They are leading the march of democracy across Syria.
WKI: How do you see the People’s Protection Units’ (YPG) campaign against ISIS progressing? What is required from them today, especially after liberating a large area outside the Kurdish region?
SM: The YPG are defense forces consisting of representatives of all components of Rojava (northern Syria), including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, and Turkmens. It is a revolutionary force that defends the Syrian people in general, and these revolutionary forces, if they can form a suitable coalition with other forces, are willing to liberate all Syrian territory whether from ISIS terrorists and similar groups or from the Syrian regime.
WKI: What are your goals in Syria post-ISIS? Are you going to declare a federal government similar to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? Or do you aim to establish a independent Kurdish state?
SM: The problem is not restricted to ISIS only, but also includes other similar organizations. We cannot achieve stability in Syria alongside any organization that carries the same mentality as ISIS. As for our goals, we aim for a decentralized, democratic Syria, where all peoples enjoy freedom and democratic rights according to universal treaties and conventions. The Kurdish people in Syria have their own specific cultural and societal characteristics and they do not represent the Kurdish people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and we are not aiming to establish a national Kurdish state in Syria.
WKI: Do you have a clear plan to manage your region?
SM: With the participation of the other components who share Rojava with the Kurds, democratic self-management was established. We have developed a social contract among the people equivalent to a constitution, which determines how the relationships should be managed between various components. We want to apply this experience across Syria.
WKI: Who is opposed to your plans?
SM:Dictatorships — those who embrace intellectual chauvinism that rejects others, those who reject equality and the brotherhood among people, and those who are trying to maintain previous structures and circumstances.
WKI: Has the PYD achieved any non-military achievements in your region?
SM: The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is one party among eleven others in Rojava. Achievements in Rojava are the result of the struggle waged by Rojava‘s various components including the PYD. All democratic institutions and civil organizations that were created and have become a reality are among our non-military achievements.
WKI: Do you know the number of Kurds displaced and the level of destruction of their cities?
SM: It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been displaced, though there are no accurate statistics. Some of them fled to south Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) and some fled to northern Kurdistan (Turkish Kurdistan) as a result of war, destruction, economic distress, and scarcity of materials. They are returning to their villages and areas in large numbers after the brunt of the war has passed, especially in Kobani. Many villages and areas were destroyed – for example, in Kobani the rate of destruction reached 80%, and Gire Spi (Tel Abyad), Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn), and Hasakah have endured great destruction. The war is still ongoing, and every day we are seeing more destruction in north Aleppo.
WKI: Does PYD have any international relationships? Which country is providing the most support to Syrian Kurds?
SM: We as a party seek dialogue with all regional and international powers to convey our goals and our aim of democratic self-management, which has become a reality and a model for the future of Syria.There is not yet any state supporting democratic self-management, but there is an understanding of this project as path to democracy in Syria.
WKI: What about your neighbor Turkey? We have noticed many statements by you and by People’s Protection Units (YPG) officers stating that Turkey is cooperating with some radical groups in Syria. Is there evidence of such cooperation?
SM: Turkey, as one of the major regional powers, has ambitions and plans in the Middle East. They are trying to take advantage of the dire conditions in the region to implement their plans, and they have suspicious relations with the extremist forces of ISIS and similar terrorist groups, according to repeated reports by the Turkish and international media. There are Turkish citizens who were killed and arrested belonging to terrorist groups, and foreign elements have confessed to receiving training in Turkey, not to mention the safe passage secured for many of the terrorists.
WKI: What is the purpose of the buffer zone that the Turkish government wants to create on the Syrian territory? And, in light of ambiguity and questions being asked in Washington, what is the US administration’s position on this, and what does the buffer zone mean to you as Syrian Kurds?
SM: Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Turkey has called for and sought to establish a buffer zone under their hegemony or participate in the management of such a buffer zone in order to implement their plans and effect demographic change compatible with their ambitions. The US has repeatedly stressed its rejection of the buffer zone, and we trust the statements by the US. Nonetheless, if Turkey implements this plan, we will consider it is as an occupation of Syrian land.
WKI: Some accuse you of receiving support from Syrian leader Bashar al-Asad and Iran. How do you respond?
SM: These are false accusations made by hostile forces to the Kurdish people in order to tarnish the Kurdish movement and create a rift between the Kurds and the Syrian revolution. We are part of the Kurdish people struggling for our existence and democratic rights against states that rule over Kurdistan, including Syria and Iran. It is not possible for Syria and Iran to support a Kurdish movement fighting for Kurdish rights. Note that we were, and we still are, in a bitter struggle against the Syrian regime since the 2004 Qamishlo uprising. We lost martyrs as a result of this struggle, both under torture in the dungeons of the Syrian intelligence agencies since 2004 and during the Syrian revolution when we liberated our areas from the Syrian regime forces.
WKI: Is there a unified picture of the situation in Syria and Iraq?
SM: Both Syria and Iraq are witnessing brutal attacks from the forces of terror like ISIS and other similar groups, and the Kurds in both countries are the principle forces of resistance who are capable of achieving victory against them.
WKI: How do you view your relationship with the Kurdish parties in Iraq? Did the Kurdistan region assist you in your war against terrorism?
SM: We have good relations with all the Kurdish parties in Iraq. The Kurdistan region helped us in our fight against terrorism, through military support and logistical relief, as the Peshmerga forces participated in the defense of Kobani. We are keen to have good relations with all Kurdish parties.
WKI: As prominent leader, what is your opinion on the issue of the presidency of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?
SM: I am a son of this nation, and I think that “prominent leader” is a bit too great of a description for me. The issue of the presidency in the Kurdistan Region is an internal affair that is relevant to the political parties there, and we are confident that they are able to overcome this crisis without complications. The situation of the Kurdish people is sensitive and has entered a crucial period, and Kurdish forces should not be preoccupied with any side issues.
WKI: How do you explain your relationship with the US?
SM: The People’s Protection Units (YPG) belongs to a system of democratic self-management, and relations with the international coalition against ISIS exist within a framework of military cooperation against those are threat to humanity, and the US is leading the coalition. This is a positive step. We seek to expand our relations with the US politically and diplomatically, and we hope that we will succeed in doing so.
WKI: What is your message to the American people and their government?
SM: America is a superpower that fosters democracy globally, and tries to develop and disseminate it in throughout all parts of the world, and the American people have their own standards and fundamentals for democracy. US President Roosevelt had principles of democracy when he was a citizen before becoming a President. My message to the U.S government and the American people is that there are Kurdish people in the Middle East who seek to protect their existence and secure the democratic rights that the American people believe in. These Kurdish people were able to triumph over the forces of terrorism and extremism which threaten human values, and they are strong defenders of the democratic values that the American people spread throughout the world. For these reasons we must solidify our relationships with the American people and their government. The Kurdish people, as the vanguard of democracy, are ready for this.
WKI: Thank you very much for your time, we hope to host you in Washington.