By Saleh Muslim:
In March 2015, the UK Government published a report in response to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (titled: UK Government Policy on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq). In this report, the Government outlined its policies towards Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurds. The report (paragraph 15) unfairly criticised our party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), despite our latest discussion with UK Special Representative for Syria, Mr Gareth Bayley and the clarification we have already provided. Although we in the PYD welcome the UK Government’s engagement with Kurdish affairs, this paper seeks to clarify our stance regarding the issues raised by the report. The report’s text is in bold and the PYD’s response is in plain text.
1. The UK has consistently made it clear that it will be very difficult to provide any support for the PYD while they maintain links to the Assad regime and refuse to co-operate fully with the moderate Syrian opposition.
We can assure the UK Government that we have neither direct nor indirect links to the Baathist regime in Syria. Since March 2004, the PYD has been fighting the Assad regime following the Qamishli uprising. More recently, the PYD, People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) have clashed with Assad’s forces and their local clienteles in Aleppo city and Al Hasakah Province.
The PYD and other Kurdish forces have always sought full co-operation with moderate Syrian opposition groups. However, the so-called “moderate Syrian opposition” is exclusionary and has ignored the demands and rights of minorities including the Kurds. Nonetheless, the PYD and the YPG have worked with moderate factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), such as the Euphrates Volcano and Raqa’s Rebels, fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists in Kobani.
The PYD welcomes any efforts aimed at opening a more direct dialogue with moderate Syrian opposition groups.
2. We are also concerned that the PYD maintains some links with the PKK, which is a proscribed organisation in the UK.
Once again, we assure the UK Government that the PYD is an independent Kurdish political party in Syria with its own local leadership. The PYD maintains strong and equal relationships with all Kurdish political parties in the region, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). We have repeatedly clarified to the UK Government that the PYD does not hold any organisational links with the PKK. The latest co-operation between the PYD and the KDP in Kobani and Shengal has proved that the PYD can work with other Kurdish political parties.
3. The PYD also needs to demonstrate a greater commitment to pluralism, human rights and respect for other political forces within Kurdish controlled areas.
The report ignores the fact that there is an established democratic, pluralistic and self-governing region in Syria’s Kurdistan (Rojava), which fairly represents all local communities, such as Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians and has many socio-political achievements fully compatible with Western democratic systems. The report also ignores the role played by the YPG and YPJ in protecting ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Yazidis, Assyrians, and other Christian groups both in Iraq (Shengal, Mosul) and in Rojava. In addition, the report does not mention the heroic resistance of the YPG and the YPJ and their military co-operation with the Peshmerga and the US-led international coalition forces in fighting and ultimately defeating ISIL in Kobani.
4. We do not support the PYD’s unilateral announcement in November 2013 of forming a temporary administration in the Kurdish areas of Syria. This move was not conducted in consultation with the wider Syrian population or the international community. It will be for all Syrians to decide the exact nature of the political settlement in Syria as part of a transition process, including whether an autonomous region will be created for the Kurds in Syria.
We are concerned that this characterisation of Rojava initiative bears no relation to the actual situation on the ground. The self-administration was not declared unilaterally by the PYD, but by all diverse ethno-religious communities, including forty socio-political organisations in Rojava, as signatories of the “social contract.” Furthermore, Syria is currently a war zone with no clear possibility of any immediate resolution in sight. In such a dangerous context fraught with tremendous uncertainties, the Kurds cannot be expected to give up Rojava in the expectation that some supposed future transition process will secure the democratic aspirations of the Kurdish people. Given these uncertainties, the PYD insists that the Kurds and all the diverse communities in the liberated cantons should be permitted to hold onto Rojava self-administration at least until guarantees of representation of their demands in a future transition agreement is a genuine possibility. In fact, we would propose the devolved democratic model that has been established in Rojava as a viable model of popular democracy that should be adopted in a future free and democratic Syria.
Finally, we would be very grateful if Her Majesty’s Government would send an independent fact-finding and advisory mission to the three Kurdish cantons in Rojava to report on those matters.
Saleh Muslim is Co-chairman of the PYD