| ALI SHEMDIN: “WE WANT SELF-GOVERNANCE OF KURDS IN THEIR AUTONOMOUS ZONES IN SYRIA”
In Syria, which has entered in the process of a serious change since March 2011, one of the most important dimensions is the attitude, organization and expectations of Syrian Kurds. Therefore, opinions and policies of the Kurdish parties in Syria are of particular importance. One of the most significant parties of Syrian Kurds, with many parties, is the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party. Therefore, we talked to Shemdin Ali, the Northern Iraq representative of the party led by Abdulhamid Hadji Dervish who is the prominent political figure of Syrian Kurds.
ORSAM: Could you introduce yourself and your party to us?
Ali Shemdin: My name is Ali Shemdin. I am the senior official of Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria and its representative in Kurdistan Regional Government. Abdulhamid Dervish, leader of our party, is also one of the founders of Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria (KDPS) established on 14 June 1957. Since the first day of our party's foundation, we have been fighting for establishing peace and democracy in Syria. What we demand from Syria is that; as the second largest nation in number (approximately more than 3.5 million) in Syria following Arabs, we have been fighting for ending the Ba'athist dictatorship. We want to adopt a parliamentary and democratic system in Syria. In the future constitution of Syria, we ask for autonomy in order to defend the rights of Kurds.
ORSAM: Does the autonomy you have mentioned include a right as in Iraq?
Shemdin: Federalism is not for us. We do not want a federalism with institutions such as parliament. In order to establish a democratic, pluralist and parliamentary system in Syria, Kurds should be recognized in the new constitution. We want Kurds to govern themselves in their own regions. This should be within the frame of a decentralized political system original to Syria, not within the frame of a federal system like in Iraq. A system close to federalism, but not exactly federalism. We believe that our situation is different from the one in Kurdish Regional Government. As Kurdish parties, we want to govern ourselves in Kurdish regions in Syria. It might be considered as a kind of autonomy. The new government would not accept federalism. To sum up, we aim at a regime that we govern the Kurdish regions ourselves; and in country-wide, a regime that Kurds participate in government in proportion to their populations. Besides, we want Syria's incomes to be transferred to the regions, where Kurds live, as well. We ask for cultural, social and political rights as the second largest nation in Syria. Kurds should be provided with the right to education in their native language. Creating a region is not on our agenda.
ORSAM: Is that because Kurds live in different regions in Syria?
Shemdin: In Syria, Kurds live in Haseke and Jazira located in Turkey's borderline. In addition to this, they also live in Afrin and Kobani, a part of Aleppo. Thus, there are three Kurdish regions. Haseke-Jazira is a region, Afrin is another, and Kobani is another region. The majority of the Kurdish population live in those regions. Therefore, what you said is partially true. But there are other reasons as well.
ORSAM: Do you believe that Bashar Assad regime can make reform? Or, is a new system adopted only if the current regime is toppled?
Shemdin: The opportunity that the reform could be achieved was missed 4 months ago. The regime had a chance to make reform, but the opportunity could not be used. The Syrian people, Arab League and international community gave chance to the regime for many times, but the regime could not use it.
ORSAM: The Assad regime tried to take positive steps towards Kurds. The regime gave identities, but wasn't it sufficient?
Shemdin: The regime promised, but did not took concrete steps. It is true that it made somethings right as propaganda, but not in practice. What the regime actually did was to try to cut the relations between the Kurdish and Arab opposition. The reason why the regime gave those identities was not to give Kurds their rights, but to try to cut their relations with Arabs. The Kurdish nation understands the politics in Syria best. They have major experiences. Because they have been living in oppression under a tyrannical regime for a half century. Kurds understand how the regime implements its own plans.
ORSAM: Do you believe that the Bashar Assad regime can be toppled through current demonstrations?
Shemdin: We have no doubt that Bashar Assad will be toppled. The question is that when it will be toppled. There are various scenarios on how the regime will be toppled. Nevertheless, which scenario is right is not certain yet. Assad has tried to solve the problem through military methods from the very beginning. The Syrian people, on the other hand, have been determined not to give up until they save their honors and gain freedom from the very beginning. I do not know how the uprising will end. But it is for sure that Bashar Assad will not be able to rule the country as he did in the past. Over 7000 people have been blatantly killed. And thousands of people are in prison.
ORSAM: Do you believe that opponents can topple the regime through demonstrations or by attacking against the Syrian army?
Shemdin: Armed struggle is the biggest threat that will cause Syria to become paralyzed. Bashar Assad has been striving to bring the country to this stage. International silence and the fact that people are killed everyday forces people to be armed and to defend themselves.
ORSAM: Which one is worse; toppling the regime through international intervention, or through armed conflict?
Shemdin: The best way is that Bashar Assad leaves power voluntarily. We do not want to witness a civil war. The international powers can involve in the process through legal channels and through UN. However, if great powers intervene in the developments in Syria, it won't be a good solution. We want developments to take place under the supervision of UN.
ORSAM: Do you want a solution like the Arab League Plan?
Shemdin: It should be like Libya and Egypt, Iraq was not successful. The decision of Arab League buys extra time for Bashar Assad. The best solution is is to send Syria's file to UN and to create a safe haven. After that, the Syrian army will be divided into two. Thus, what I mean is that the whole Syrian army is not in favor of the regime. However, if safe haven is created, that alters the case. There are major disagreements within the Syrian army. Nevertheless, there is no place they can leave the army and conduct their operations.
ORSAM: The majority of the Kurdish movements in Syria ask for change of the Assad regime, but the number of demonstrations is less compared to the other regions. What is the reason?
Shemdin: This is not a correct information. It is not right to relate deaths with the number of demonstrations. The number of our demonstrations is not insufficient, but it cannot kill people as it wants, because we are powerful in our region. As Kurds are civilized and can handle controlling their demonstrations, less problem comes out in demonstrations. Besides, Kurds are the biggest opposition. Because the Kurdish movement is more organized in terms of organizing people. The regime wants to keep Kurds out of this game. We had been busy with organizing the voice of Kurds for the last 10 months. I can happily say that we achieved it. The first Kurdish congress was held in Syria, on 26 October 2011. This congress is called the Syrian Kurdish National Congress. 254 people and 11 parties attended this meeting. In addition to this, organizations such as youth union also took part in the meeting.
ORSAM: Was the conference held in Arbil helpful? Did it reach its goal?
Shemdin: I am one of the organizers of this conference. The objective of the congress was to gather all Kurdish forces outside, to put them in order, and to carry actions to a higher level. It was aimed to bring all different groups together, and generally, to enable them to contribute to the revolution in Syria and then to support the Kurdish opposition likewise. The congress lasted for 2 days between 28-29 January 2011. There were 254 participants from 27 countries. In addition to the political parties, groups such as the representative of Youth and Women's Union also took part in the meeting. Representatives from 27 different countries participated. A declaration was issued after the the congress finished. Therefore, I believe the congress was successful. It was the second congress after the congress in Qamishli. The Congress in Qamishli aimed at bringing the forces in Syria together, and the Congress in Arbil aimed at bringing the forces abroad together. As Mr. Massoud Barzani stated in the last meeting, a great Kurdish Congress is planned to be held soon. During this meeting, all Kurdish forces will be brought together and discourses of Kurds will be united. I do not know if it will be successful or not.
ORSAM: How is the relation between the Kurdish opposition and other Syrian dissident parties?
Shemdin: Our relations are getting better. None of the opposition group in Syria can be successful on its own. Comparing the activities of the Arab opposition and Kurdish opposition since the beginning of the events, it is seen that Arabs have not worked in coordination. Among many different formations, only the Muslim Brotherhood worked in an organized manner. They escaped abroad from Syria following the big damage they went through in 1980's. The Arab opposition strived to be able to become a coordinated organization within the last 10 months. As a result of these conferences, the Syrian National Council (SNC) was created in the leadership of Burhan Ghalioun. While the Muslim Brotherhood is more powerful within this formation, Arab nationalists are more powerful within the country. And they created the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change led by Hassan Abdulazim. These two groups pioneered the Arab opposition. On the other hand, we wanted to lead the Kurdish opposition and we achieved. So that, there are 3 major opposition groups: SNC, National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change and Kurdish National Council (KNC). Our opinion became more clear after the Qamishli Congress. This regime should be toppled. We will never reconcile with Bashar Assad. However, if all the dissident parties come together and talk to Assad, then we also take part in this meeting. We have always carried out meetings, but Arabs have not recognized the rights of Kurds yet. As the Kurdish Bloc, we ask for change, but we do not accept all kinds of change. We want a change that will accord rights to Kurds. Our leader, Abdulhamid Dervish, convened with Burhan Ghalioun and Hassan Abdulazim in Cairo and also with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi not long ago. All of them stated they do not want a change without Kurds. Basically, the fundamental right given to Kurds is citizenship. SNC indicated that they will support enacting the Article to recognize Kurds as the second nation in the constitution. And Kurds agreed they could play a new role in the new democratic regime. Nevertheless, as Kurds, we demand Syria to recognize the autonomy of Kurds within the frame of the unity of Syria. We have good relations with them, but they have not totally recognized the rights of Kurds. This is for sure that change cannot take place in Syria without Kurds. Although there are many Kurdish parties, they could be a union. However, it does not go for Arabs.
ORSAM: Thank you.
* This interview was carried out in Sulaymaniyah, on 5 February 2012.