What future for Syria’s Kurds?

Syrian Kurds protest in 2011


Azad Muhiyuddin* (b. 1981) is a member of the Movement of the Youth in the West and lives in al‑Qamishli. In a conversation with KurdWatch, he comments on the current situation in the Jazirah and on the politics of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in particular.

KurdWatch: What does the situation in the Kurdish regions and in the Jazirah currently look like?

Azad Muhiyuddin: The regime’s opponents are growing more and more active and the demonstrations are also increasing in size. The population is becoming less and less afraid. At the same time we, the politically active groups, have various problems amongst ourselves. To date we still haven’t managed to demonstrate together. In al‑Qamishli alone there are at least four separate demonstrations each week. The coordinating groups, the Future Movement and the Islamic groups are on one side. The Kurdish Patriotic Conference is on the other side. And then there is also the PYD. The PYD pursues its own politics. Their demonstrations are concerned, above all, with Öcalan and Turkey; they rarely demand the fall of the regime. We hope that some day we will all demonstrate together, but the hope that this will actually happen diminishes every day.

KurdWatch: How is it that not even the groups in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference demonstrate together?

Azad Muhiyuddin: The problem is the parties. We used to be afraid that the intelligence service would drive the youth groups apart, but currently the Kurdish parties are responsible for this splintering. They have weakened the youth movement; each party has won over one of the youth groups and made that group dependent on it. These groups now only represent the interests of their respective parties. Thus most of the youth groups do not work together. They have taken on the conflicts that the parties have been waging for more than forty years.

KurdWatch: Some experts believe that there will be a split in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference. Your group also belongs to the Kurdish Patriotic Conference. What do you think?

Azad Muhiyuddin: We froze our membership in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference about two months ago. We no longer feel bound to the decisions of the Conference. It is true that there are many disagreements within the Conference. It is composed of many small groups and these groups cannot agree on a common course. Above all, they are increasingly losing the people’s trust. They are being criticized because they have organized almost no activities. They are hardly present on the streets. The Kurdish Patriotic Conference is nothing more than a name. Compared to the PYD it has accomplished nothing.

KurdWatch: Why did you freeze your membership in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference?

Azad Muhiyuddin: The Conference is losing credibility daily. It is no longer concerned with the young activists. When the Conference was formed, the idea was to support young people when they need help and to demonstrate alongside of them. None of this has happened. Committees were supposed to be formed. None of this has happened. We froze our membership because of the Conference’s half-hearted efforts.

KurdWatch: Which concrete problems exist within the Kurdish Patriotic Conference? Why doesn’t the Conference become active?

Azad Muhiyuddin: Around eighty independent members of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference have declared that they are no longer prepared to work within the Conference under the current conditions. They want the Conference to perform practical work in the Kurdish regions, and they want to participate in decision making. Thus far, the parties have made the political decisions, and the youth groups and independent members have organized the work in the streets. We, the Movement of the Youth in the West, are convinced that the parties are hindering our work.

KurdWatch: What is your stance toward the PYD?

Azad Muhiyuddin: Thus far we have viewed them as a party that stands on the side of the regime. The PYD was even described as the regime’s militia. But at the moment the PYD is behaving much differently. Its work is very convincing and is gaining more and more supporters. The PYD has formed active committees that are present everywhere. Its members mediate disputes. They arrest thieves. They care for the sick or injured. Today they even took on the security forces in al‑Qamishli. They are showing that they are a Kurdish party that advocates for the interests of the people. The PYD is becoming more and more popular; we must recognize this, even if we have different political opinions and do not support the PYD.

KurdWatch: How is it that the PYD has become so strong within such a short period of time?

Azad Muhiyuddin: When the revolution began, the PYD had hardly any support. On the contrary, they were seen as the regime’s henchmen. Moreover, the people hadn’t forgotten the 1980s and 1990s, when the PKK tortured critics, cutting off their ears and noses. If Bashar al‑Assad should remain in power, this story will repeat itself. At the moment, however, the PYD is trying to show the people that it represents the interests of the Kurds. Thus they have founded citizen committees. Thus they offer numerous services and are active in social welfare. The Kurdish Patriotic Conference should have become active in these areas. This did not happen, and thus the people are joining those who do things for them. In addition, the PYD has explained to the people that it has brought fighters into the country in order to protect people if attacked by Arabs.

KurdWatch: The PYD is being criticized for kidnapping, torturing, and even killing people. How is it that they are gaining more supporters in spite of these crimes?

Azad Muhiyuddin: When Mishʿal at‑Tammu was assassinated, everyone said that the PKK or the PYD had a hand in it, that is, in assassinating him. But after all of the activities that the PYD has carried out, the people believe that the PYD is innocent. The PYD cares for people, it mobilizes people for its demonstrations. As far as the assassination of the Badro family is concerned [further information on the case], the PYD says that was a matter internal to the party. And the people are satisfied with this explanation. The PYD argues that one of its greatest fighters was killed by Badro’s children. A fighter who stood up to the Turkish state for more than fifteen years—and the Badro family killed him without batting an eye. That is the PYD’s version of the story. It says that the Badro family deserved death. It can convince the people. The PYD says only traitors are kidnapped, people who do immoral things, thieves are punished, etc. And the people believe this and think it’s all right. If we’re being honest, most people in al‑Qamishli believe the PYD.

KurdWatch: You young activists began this revolution because you wanted to free yourselves from a dictatorship. How is it that you are prepared to accept a different authoritarian rule?

Azad Muhiyuddin: There are no alternatives to the PYD. We activists cannot counter it; we are not an alternative either. If the Kurdish Patriotic Conference had supported us and become active itself, then we could have freely expressed our opinion and countered the PYD. Moreover, the PYD is currently trying to give the impression that it has distanced itself from its old claim to sole representation and accepts differing opinions. In this manner it has won over some of the independent young activists who are represented in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference; they are working together. The PYD says, as long as you don’t criticize Öcalan or insult our martyrs, you can say what you want; you can criticize us at any time. The PYD is trying to sell itself as a guarantor of freedom—and it has convinced many people with this line of argument. At the moment, we can hardly avoid cooperation. For example, we have formed security committees; our people protect certain districts. The PYD committees do this as well. In order to avoid clashes, we have to reach agreements. Whether we want it or not, the PYD is currently the strongest force in al‑Qamishli. Without the PYD nothing works. What the PYD has accomplished in fifteen days, the Kurdish Patriotic Conference could not achieve in five months.

KurdWatch: Why? You were also in the Kurdish Patriotic Conference, why didn’t you do anything?

Azad Muhiyuddin: One reason is the old conflicts among the parties. Another reason is the lack of financial support for the activists and the Conference’s unwillingness to become active on behalf of the people. I personally believe that the Kurdish Patriotic Conference will not survive another month in its current form. There will be a split.

KurdWatch: How do you see the future of Syria’s Kurds?

Azad Muhiyuddin: The PYD will control the Kurdish regions; it will do what it pleases, and no one will be able to do anything against it. I’m afraid that its ideology will replace that of the Baʿthists, and it’s possible that the politics of the 1980s and 1990s will be repeated. I hope that it doesn’t come to that. I hope that the PYD will be a force that protects the Kurds and guarantees them freedoms instead of taking them away from them. But I am rather pessimistic about the future.

KurdWatch: Will Turkey accept such a dominant PYD at its borders?

Azad Muhiyuddin: The PYD says that Turkey will not march into Syria itself in order to fight the PYD, but rather that it will give the Free Syrian Army this task. This could result in many deaths. I personally also doubt that Turkey will readily allow the PYD to assume control of the Kurdish regions in Syria, which are directly on its borders. But what will Turkey concretely do to prevent this? I don’t know.

*The name has been changed by the editors.

March 12, 2012

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