"Israel is our only friend in the Middle East"

Against the background of the changing reality in the Middle East and the possible establishment of an independent Kurdish state, one of the leaders of the Kurds in Syria in an exclusive telephone interview to Israel Defense: "The Turks support the wrong side," he says, and insists on making it absolutely clear that the fight against ISIS will take a long time

Kurdish Forces In Action (Photo: AP)

The situation in Syria is unique. The Kurds are one of the oldest groups in Syria, with a long history of fighting for their independence," says one of the leaders of the Kurds in Syria, who wishes to remain unnamed, in an exclusive telephone interview to the Israel Defense website. "On March 17, 2016, a Kurdish autonomy was declared in northern Syria. The autonomy does not mean separation from Syria, but an option for the Kurds to maintain self-rule in the regions they dominate under a central Syrian government – a Syrian federation of sorts.

"Other minorities live in the Kurdish autonomy respectfully and peacefully. The autonomy represents all of the ethnic minorities in that region. We believe that Russia and the USA should support the federation. We follow the negotiations in Geneva, and it seems that the superpowers are interested in a federation in Syria. The leadership of the federation is mixed – an Arab man and a Kurdish lady. This federation is based on democratic values – a federation that is not based on religion."

"The situation now is that armed Kurdish groups under the name YPG defend the federation. These are our own military groups that defend our people against terrorists. These groups also endeavor to consolidate the civilian regime in the Kurdish federation in Syria. We have state institutions of sorts that are being run by Kurds: a judicial system, economics – everything we need to conduct a civil way of life, and it works. We have established a routine," says the Kurdish leader.

The Syrian government does not interfere?

The Kurdish federation consists of three independent Kurdish districts in Northern Syria – Jazira, Kobani and Afrin. The unified region has a new name – Rojava. "Since we declared (the establishment of) the Kurdish canton in Afrin, Kamichli and Kobani, a small number of Syrian troops remained only in Kamichli. They have no effect on our everyday life. The Kurds dominate the entire region," says the Kurdish leader.

"We respect all of the groups that live in the historic land of the Kurds. Our history in Syria goes back 5,000 years. We are a people's people. After many years of suffering, the Kurds want to live in a traditional, quiet society."

Do you want an independent state?

"Historically, the Kurdish region had been split by the Syrian regime into three districts, based on political considerations. What happened after the liberation of Jazira and Kobani was that most of the people saw how the Kurds from all three regions fight together. Currently, all three districts – Jazira, Kobani and Afrin – are a single entity," says the Kurdish leader. "Additionally, our relations with the Kurds in Iraq are very good. The border between us is open for business and trade.

"The Kurds have a historic right for self-determination. Owing to the occupation of the Kurds' lands in Syria, Iraq and Iran, each Kurdish section in the Middle East has an experience that is different from those of the other sections. But if you ask any Kurd, he will tell you that he wants a state of his own. I cannot say when such a state will be established, but when the conditions are right, a state will be established. After we declared our autonomy we were condemned by all of the Arab parties. Regrettably, since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the government and the opposition did not agree on anything – except opposing the establishment of a Kurdish autonomy.

"Throughout history, the Kurdish population feared nothing – neither the hangman's rope of the Iranians, nor the gas attacks or the genocide in Turkey. The first people who stood up against the Syrian regime in 2004 were Kurds. At that time, no other Muslim group did that. At that time we were not afraid of the Syrian regime as we had the right to live the way we wanted."

Don't the Turks give you a hard time?

"The Turks suffer from Kurdish-phobia," says the Kurdish leader. "We have a common border that is 900 kilometers long. We understand that we have to be good neighbors, it is in the interest of both sides. The Turks support the wrong side" (ISIS – A. R. D.).

There is a Disease in the Middle East – Terrorism

"There is a disease in the Middle East, and it is called terrorism. This disease cannot be fought without the Kurds," says the Kurdish leader. "There are currently numerous types of terrorism. The worst is ISIS and the second worst are the rebel organizations.  They are just like ISIS: the same barbaric concepts. Ask the people in Idlib, Syria, which is under the rule of Jabhat al-Nusra, about the kind of life they have – a routine based on 1,400 year old punishment. If your shop is open while you hear a prayer from a mosque, they will beat you up."

"ISIS started out a few years ago as an organization with several hundred combatants. That's all. It grew to its present dimensions as there are countries that help it. Russia presented evidence of oil trading between ISIS and Turkey. One should realize that 75% of (the people of) ISIS belong to the Sunni faction – that is a fact. If you look at the map of the ISIS state, you will see that the primary cities, like Mosul in Iraq, al-Raqqah and Deir ez-Zohr in Syria, are located in Sunni-dominated areas.

"Subduing ISIS is possible if you cut off their supply lines. The Russian Defense Ministry presented evidence of how ISIS makes a living by selling oil to Turkey. How hundreds of oil tankers travel to Turkey every day. The other thing is to fight this ideology. You have to fight it by using an alternative ideology. Without that – the entire international community will suffer.

"And you should bear in mind that there will always be some groups that would not want to live with you, even after the ISIS era has ended. For this purpose, you must build a wall between groups that cannot live together. Just like they did in Israel. There will be groups that would want to live with you and for those that do not – you will have no choice except building a wall. You cannot force other groups that do not want to live with you to do so."

What ideology can replace the ISIS ideology?

"After what happened in Brussels, it became known that the curricular materials for Muslims in Belgium are determined by the Saudis. It began in the late 1970s," says the Kurdish leader. "Most of the curricular materials originate with the Wahabi movement. Unfortunately, this material, these concepts, are assimilated by the Sunnis. These concepts are studied in the Middle East and in Europe. If you ask a Sunni Arab if he prefers to live in an Islamist country or in a modern country – he will prefer to live in a Muslim country. You must change the education if you want peace with them. It is a long process."

What about good friends in the Middle East?

"The first prime minister, worldwide, who supported Kurdish independence was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel. We are grateful for what he said. For what Israel did. It is a model for the Kurds," says the Kurdish leader. "The Kurds have no other friends in the Middle East except Israel. We know that for the security of the coming generations we have to cooperate and work together against terrorism.

"We must look reality straight in the eye. We are trying to explain to our neighbors in other communities that we support peace and democracy. When we see the response of the people – it is a negative response. For example, a few days ago the Arab League held a conference around the fact that they are opposed to a Kurdish autonomy. A special conference just for that. Why do they have double standards? Are they opposed to people who want to live in peace?

"We have not received declarative support from any other group in the Middle East, nor will we receive such support. We believe in our own strength and in our rights.

"If you want to understand the Turkish or Arab culture, we have a good example. When Kobani, a Kurdish city near the Turkish border, was under ISIS domination, they received support from Turkey and from Sunni countries. When the Kurds replaced ISIS, they turned against us. Right now they are using old politics to lure us to (accept) a political solution like the old one that had existed in Syria. As far as we are concerned, that would mean going back in time. Assad the father and Ataturk had already deceived us in the past. We will not allow it to happen again."

"The Fight against ISIS will take a Long Time"

"The fight against ISIS will take a long time. Most of the population in the Arab communities support ISIS," says the Kurdish leader. "They will do anything to support this organization. Additionally, ISIS exploits the Syrian population by forcing it to fight for the organization. Some countries are cooperating with ISIS by providing supplies and intelligence. According to Russia, ISIS troopers were treated in a Turkish hospital. Countries turn a blind eye, and I do not know why."

Do you have any connections with Russia?

"At the moment we have very good relations with Russia," says the Kurdish leader. "A few months ago we opened an office for Kurdish affairs in Moscow. At the moment, the regime in Moscow plays an important role in the Middle East. We believe in countries that want to make peace in Syria."

Finally, what are your expectations from Israel?

"There is a substantial community of Kurdish brothers in Israel. They live in democracy and peace," says the Kurdish leader. "We expect Israel to establish connections with the Kurds. We expect Israel to be more active in the Middle East. It should choose the right people. We believe that if Israel helps the Kurds in Syria, it will be a formula for a safer future for both sides."