No solution for
Syria without the Kurds: PYD leader
By Jonathan Spyer -
The Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post
interviews the leader of the Kurdish Democratic
Union Party in Syria, Salih Muslim.
Salih Muslim, co-president of the Syrian Kurdish
Democratic Union Party (PYD), the biggest Kurdish
party in western Kurdistan (north and northeastern
Syria). Photo NNA
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December 13, 2013
Salih Muslim Muhammad, 52, is the leader of the
Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) in Syria.
This movement, often referred to as the Syrian
franchise of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is
today the de facto ruler of around 10 percent of
Salih Muslim, an engineer by profession from the
town of Kobani in northern Syria [western
Kurdistan], served several jail sentences in
President Bashar Assad’s jails in the pre- 2011
period for his political activity.
The outbreak of the Syrian crisis found him in exile
in northern Iraq. He returned to coordinate the
activities of the PYD, which he has led since 2010.
The Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) militia
has since October fought a series of successful
defensive battles against attempts by Sunni jihadi
elements to invade and destroy the Kurdish enclave
in northeast Syria. They have also pushed forward to
capture territory and secure the western borderline
of their enclave.
The Kurds now control an area taking in the greater
part of Hasakeh province, stretching from the border
with Iraq to the town of Sere Kaniyeh further west.
They also hold two additional enclaves further west,
around the towns of Kobani (Salih Muslim’s hometown)
and Afrin. Hasakeh province contains the greater
part of Syria’s oil reserves.
On October 9, Salih Muslim’s son Shervan, a YPG
fighter, was killed in a battle with al-Qaida-linked
jihadis near the town of Tel Abyad in Syria. The PYD
leader was subsequently refused entry to
Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq – a testimony to
the fraught divisions that continue to plague the
internal politics of the Kurds.
Earlier this month, Salih Muslim took part in a
conference on Kurdish issues at the European
Parliament in Brussels. The Jerusalem Post spoke
with the PYD leader at the gathering.
Amiable and heavyset, Salih Muslim is a fluent
English speaker. After taking part in a panel
discussion with this reporter, he confidently
dismissed the prospect of jihadi success in their
efforts to conquer the Kurdish-controlled areas.
“The Salafis have experienced our forces and they
know we can resist,” he said.
“So now they are afraid of us.”
“The regime in future may support them, or maybe
they will attack together,” he added. “We fought the
regime, and today we are fighting the Salafis.”
Informed Kurdish sources suggest that the YPG’s
success in the battles of the last two months was
not the result of Syrian Kurdish efforts alone.
Rather, senior PKK commanders from the movement’s
stronghold in the Qandil Mountains area on the
Iraq-Turkey border almost certainly arrived in Syria
to help coordinate the fighting.
The less disciplined and poorly trained jihadis
proved unable to match their skills.
On the nature of the Kurdish enclave itself, Salih
Muslim gave a diplomatic reply – clearly seeking to
avoid accusations of Kurdish separatism. “This is
not autonomy,” he told me, “It is an arrangement, to
continue until a permanent solution is found for
Syria. We have these cantons, in Afrin, Kobani and
the Jazeera area, and they will have their own
councils to look after the people until this
“Anyway,” he continued with a smile, “we won’t
create anything like the Islamic Emirates in Raqqa
and elsewhere.” (This reference is to the very
repressive rule of the al-Qaida-associated factions
in the city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital to
have fallen to the rebels.) But when I quizzed Salih
Muslim as to the likely timeframe until this
permanent solution was found, his response was
carefully ambiguous: “It’s a transitional period.
It could take three years, four years, 10 years. In
the meantime, we can’t live in a vacuum. And maybe
after 10 years, it will still continue; and if after
10 years they still don’t find a solution, then
maybe this will become permanent.”
“The regime should be changed, anyway.
And they should accept the democratic steps we have
taken. Otherwise we will need to resist again.”
The Syrian rebels in the north are convinced that
the aim of the PYD is Kurdish separatism. This
sentiment is not confined to the al-Qaida-linked
jihadis. A commander of the “mainstream” rebel
Tawhid Brigade, who I interviewed in late 2012, was
adamant that the rebels would prevent any attempts
to “divide” Syria.
This brigade took part in actions against the YPG
during the October and November fighting.
In our Brussels conversation, the PYD leader seemed
unconcerned about calming any such fears on the part
of the Sunni rebels and their supporters. At the
same time, he stopped short of openly advocating the
permanent secession of the Kurdish area.
Salih Muslim held out little hope for the prospects
of the upcoming Syrian peace talks in Geneva,
scheduled to take place on January 22. Rather, he
had a warning for all those who persist in regarding
the Syrian war as a two-way fight between “regime”
and “rebels”: “They are trying to keep the Kurds
away from Geneva.
And we won’t accept any decision made at Geneva if
we are not involved in it. Right now, we’re not
Finally, I asked the PYD leader about his attitude
toward Israel. His reply reflected the ideological,
PKK-associated orientation of his party: “We support
[jailed PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan’s idea of
democratic confederalism in the Middle East.
Israel, if it is democratic, can be part of this,
and can live in peace along with the Arabs and the
other nations. We are not enemies to them just
because of the Prophet Muhammad or something like
The Kurdish dominion in northeast Syria has survived
an attempt to destroy it in recent months. As a
result of the fighting, it now controls the Yarubiya
border crossing between Syria and Iraq. The
intention of the YPG is to eventually link the three
existing enclaves into a single body. There is much
There have been complaints from other Kurdish
factions regarding the nature of the party’s rule,
and its alleged suppression of other factions. But
internal arrangements notwithstanding,www.Ekurd.net
as Salih Muslim made very clear in Brussels, it
will be impossible to implement any arrangement in
Syria which seeks to ignore the voice and the
ambitions of the country’s Kurds.
This in itself represents a major achievement for
his party and movement. It is an achievement for
which both the PYD leader himself and the Kurds of
Syria have paid a heavy price. They are set to guard
it with continued vigor.
Salih Muslim reiterated his main message to me, just
before we parted ways and headed into the wintry
Brussels night: “The US is seeking to keep the
Kurdish issue from being discussed at Geneva –
because of Arab chauvinism and so on.
But nobody can force us to obey Geneva decisions.”
The world, and Washington, might take note.
Region names in Kurdish may have been changed or added to
the article by Ekurd.net
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