Interview with Zaher Baher by Bulgarian comrade
How would you describe the current situation in Rojava?
The situation is very complicated. There is still the war against ISIS going on. They are not that strong as 3 years ago when they tried to invade Kobane. But this does not mean ISIS have been defeated. Isis is not just a military force, it is ideological force as well. It may be simple to defeat any military forces, but it is very difficult to defeat them ideologically.
This is one side of the situation there. Another one is the external pressures. One of them comes from Turkey. The Turkish State would be happy to do anything to suppress the movement in Rojava. Probably the main reason is that Turkey afraid of Kurdish people uprising on local ground.
Another reason is that the movement in Rojava is quite progress. It is a democratic movement claiming democratic confederslism . None of the states would like to have this kind of movement. The people in Rojava want to take back the state power to themselves. This means to govern themselves. None of the governments in the region like this. They do not want the people to copy what happens in Rojava.
So the President of Turkey, Erdogan, and Assad are enemies of Rojava for obvious reasons. While the have not openly declared itself as hostile state as the Turkish state to Rojava , it is also not happy of what happens there. So this is the second complicated side of Rojava’s situation.
The third is that the future of Rojava after the war is very unclear. We do not know what is going to happen there later on. If you look at the situation in Iraq Kurdistan, KRG from the very beginning of its Rule was pro-Turkey and also very pro-US and Western countries. When KRG recently, on 25/09/17, did a referendum for independent state, all the powers in Europe, US and many more states denounced the KRG for its referendum and allowed the Iraqi government to occupy the oil-rich area of Kirkuk. While the KRG had long term oil contracts with few of these governments, and their oil corporations are exist there but they still betrayed KRG. So most probably they will betray also Rojava. Currently, as the war goes on and people from Rojava die in the front lines, US is their ally. But we know US has no loyalty, so I am not very optimistic about the final outcome of this war in the future.
Next month, December, there is a peace talk between different sides of the war. So far they have denied the representative from Rojava to join the peace talk. For this meeting PYD was promised to join the meeting. But we need to wait and see whether that will be happened or not.
ZLATKO: I believe we need to change this. I understand from the news you sent, they have been allowed to participate and YPG high officials started to promise things without the asking the people. But I would not like to comment myself, as I do not know the situation very well – maybe this is simply a way to bargain and they would not do this thing without a referendum or something. [ sorry Comrade I do not understand your purpose here , please clairify it. What part I need to change, if you mean whether PYD has allowed or not . for this you have two choices . 1- either put the date of Interview as November. Second, In fact the meeting failed because there was some complaint from Assad Regime about the opposition in the meantime they dd not let PYD take a part in the meeting]
I must say, whatever happens in the end, the movement in Rojava already set up a good foundation. For the last 3-4 years they created an anti-state culture. Also they made the women very powerful, there was many article in their social contract in the interest of women. And at the same time they liberated the religion, they made the religion as a personal issue. They proved in practice and in the reality, that the religion cannot change the society. If you go back to history you can see the religions have been in the region for over 2000 years and couldn’t change the society. But the Rojava movement has changed the society in many ways.
The other thing is, they made the people believe in changing the society from the bottom. By empowering and encouraging the people to set up local groups and communes in every area of life – economics, women and gender equality, education, culture, business, ecology, reconciliation, trade & business and many more of different groups . These groups come under umbrella that calls the Tev-Dem ,[ the Movement for Democratic Society ]This is what they call Tev-Dem.
So whatever happens in the end, like conspiracy against them, the people in Rojava have already set up a foundation for lots of things which have not happened for a long, long time not only in the Middle East, but also in South America, Far East, Africa and anywhere else.
Do you see any essential problem within this process?
There are problems. One of them is having two major political parties behind it – PKK and PYD.
There is an example to show the PYD do not let the decision to be made by people in Rojava instead itself made that decision. When there was a negotiation 2 years ago between the Kurdish opposition political parties and PYD, the opposition was offered by PYD to have 40% of the seats of DSA, Democratic Self-Administration. However, the opposition couldn’t make a decision by themselves, they had to go back to KRG. It was clear that the KRG did not accept the deal, therefore the opposition in the end turned down the offer. Although the DSA was elected by the people and also the Tev-Dem was an umbrella for the all local groups but still PYD did not go back to Tev-Dem, DSA and the people in Rojava .
Another example is when PYD allied itself and YPG with US and the Western Countries in fighting against the Isis, PYD again did not go back to people in Rojava to get their approval.
At the present YPG fights ISIS outside of their land, this is in my opinion is not a self-defense so again this decision has not made by people in Rojava but by PYD. This is a problem. I believe it is important for the people to understand the danger of this political party that seems controlling the movement and staying behind it. Tomorrow they could compromise with US after the war and they may put an end to everything. Or they may go and compromise with Assad and say they are happy with some sort of cultural and educational rights, rather than building their current aim – democratic confederalism.
ZLATKO: So the House of People is something like a local parliament, or a board council, right?
It is the Tev-Dem in fact is the main mass organisation in Rojava. It is umbrella organization to achieve democratic autonomy in Rojava that gathered all the local groups and communes. The House of people is a part of the Tev-Dem that we can say is the main committee on the level of the towns or and villages has been elected from the local groups in the villages, neighborhoods, towns and cities. In other words the House of People is a committee that represents the local people there.
All these decisions regarding the existing issues that people made by people in the groups and communes in the end refer to House of people. Once the decision taken into consideration then those need to be carry out refer to Democratic self- Administration, DSA.
DSA is a selective administration that work in the interest of the people, it is the main and higher executive body in the Canton. This body has authority for implementing the decisions that have been referred to.
Doesn’t PYD oppress the political opposition on local level?
There are different opinions about this, the media of the Kurdish opposition political parties and the Rojava enemy says so. In truth there are people there, who are not oppressed by PYD and people not in prison because of having different opinion. There is also some truth there while sometime the opposition ally themselves with the enemy or acting terrorist occasionally, so they can be arrested and persecuted. In addition again there are people in prison due to committing some kind of crimes.
When I was there with a friend of mine in May 2014 , there were a couple of Arab people that came to us and said “Our son have been imprisoned and tortured by PYD for no reason ”. but when we spoked the main person in Tev-Dem in the town we were told , “ yes they are in prison because they collaborated with ISIS and set up an ambush against our people and 7 of our fighters were killed”. And the guy was happy to contact the Asyish ( the security force) to arrange for us to see the prisoners in order for us to hear form themselves that they supported the Isis and to see if there is any sign of torture.
Can PYD be trusted in forwarding the financial or other meaning of support to the refugees, like , Syrian Kurdish or Ezidis?
I do not trust any political party at all. In 2015 I was a part of the delegation from UK that we went to Turkish Kurdistan. There were lots of refugees from Iraq and Syria. We saw around 20 local groups there, some of the people we met were later killed by the Turkish government. We had a big meeting with them and we talked about what was happening. We asked the people that were helping the refugees how we could assist them. They said they need us to popularize the situation and to collect money. But I insisted the money should not go to PYD or PKK, as we are not happy to donate money to political organizations. We only can provide money for humanitarian things or to anarchist groups or anarchist people. So they provided us certain account to donate directly to these organizations. I mean you need to find the right way to assist the needy people, rather than going through some political organizations – they may use the money for different things than what you are trying to support, like they may give salary to their own members or its followers.
As for PYD itself, I do not trust it as I do not trust any other political organization. But I know anarchist people working with PYD I do trust these people. They are working with PYD in some levels or supporting the local groups, women movement and many other things.
I must say we should not trust politicians, they cannot be trusted at all. For example here in Britain we can do campaign with local groups and some political groups on daily basis, we cooperate with them on local issues, as long as they do not try to occupy and control the situation. But if they try to run their own political agenda, we stop cooperating with them.
If the PYD fails to satisfy the expectations, will the YPG stand up against this? or the population by itself has the opportunity to stand against the PYD structures?
YPG initially was voluntary forces and more or less was under the control of the people who belongs to. It was not totally controlled by PYD. But when ISIS started fighting the people in Rojava PYD started designing the policy and the strategy of YPG. So all the plans and the polices for YPG in term of military operations are made by PYD. So right now the YPG is somehow between the people and PYD in a way that emerged from the heart of the people and the society and designed to protect them but once it come to fighting it curries out the PYD’s command.
In my report of visiting Rojava in 2014 I said probably there will be a competition between Tev-Dem, DSA and PYD that causes the unbalanced of the situation, in other words all depend on the balance of power. If the PYD stays as powerful as it is like today, YPG would not go against it. The more powerful the political party, the PYD, is, the less powerful the Tev-Dem will be. There could be a power change, if people are not happy with the situation.
In brief the power of the people in Rojava is the power of their mass organization , the Tev-Dem and their DSA. Once the power of PYD is getting weak the power of Tev-Dem and DSA is getting strong and the vise-versa is correct.
Some people thinks Erdogan’s policy especially towards Kurdish in Bakur is very stupid , in the same time some other say his policies so far were successful. What do you say about this?
I believe that Erdogan and his Turkish Secret intelligence, MIT are very smart. In April 2015 was the last time that Ocalan’s solicitor and the politicians saw him after that Erdogan, the Prescient of Turkey banned any visiting. The MIT and Erdogan tried to make a plan how to involve PKK in the war again, In other words how make or find a way for PKK to breach the peace process. Turkey knows that Ocalan is very smart and analyzing the situation very well, so Erdgan believed Ocalan would be against the war.
In addition , I personally believe there was a big struggle between the minority of PKK, which has an anarchist tendency and the majority, who are still living in the past, they still believe resolving Kurdish issue can be through the guerrilla war, I think Öcalan was the head of this minority. In a situation like that while Ocalan cannot be visited and his messages to his people cannot be reached his people, the majority who I mentioned above can make any decision they want.
As I said in April 2015 Erdogan cut off this connection, by doing that Erdogan managed to set up a trap for PKK by involving it in unnecessary and terrible war to end the peace process. Obviously the plan worked very well for the State of Turkey. Erdogan and the Medea showed that “PKK is a terrorist group and has not been changed especially after acting few terrorist operation by the other fraction that has split from PKK while ago. I thinks this was a good excuse for Turkish State to resume war fully to do whatever they wanted in destroying many Kurdish villages and activists. In the meantime Erdogan try to show himself to the world he really fights the terrorist groups including Isis.
After two years the Turkish State allowed Öcalan’s brother, Mohammed , visiting him. In his visit Ocalan sent a letter to PKK leaders and shows his sadness about the current situation .Obviously PKK has not published the completed letter to know what exactly its content was.
I believe now the minority inside PKK that have anarchist tendency has been defeated and has no power at all.
You said it is hard to fight ISIS on ideological ground. Do you think that the Islamic ideology is more powerful than before and how would you explain it?
Maybe I am not right, but I think that US wanted to change the map of the Middle East. Before and until recently Iraq, Iran, Syria were very close to Russia,. In the same time the Gulf countries in general were closer to US and western countries. So Middle East became a center of struggle and competition between the US/West and Russia.
When the Russian empire collapsed, the Western countries and US wanted to fill in this vacuum to invest, doing business and spread their influences. The only place they didn’t control very well were the countries in the Middle East that previously in Russia’s camp. However, there were still a couple of main countries like Iran and Syria remained more or less in the same camp . They were still trying to prevent the influences and the interests of US.
Another reason is that the Middle East is economically very important. Because of the oil and natural gas US for long time had their own project about the Middle East, so 9/11 was a great gift for them. They expelled the Taliban and created a new situation that suits them in the central Asia. They managed to export their own crisis by creating a war and establishing dominance in the area. Another gift also was the attack on Kuwait by Saddam Hussain. So they were able to settle in Iraq which is a very, very important place, between Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf although in 1991 they had to leave Saddam there, but in 2003 they were able to replace him.
Many documents show now directly or indirectly US and some of the Gulf States had a hand in building radical terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS. The US and some of the Western Countries support these groups indirectly through Turkey and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar
So if I come back to your question I would say the Islamic terrorist groups are there. When they need them they can use them, once the job done then they do not need them.
On local level, how do ISIS win sympathies among the people?
There are many reasons for that. For instance during the occupation of Iraq the Americans treated people very badly. Other reason Saddam had about 2 million soldiers, all of them on the order of the US Chief at the time in Iraq , Paul Bremer, dismantled and sent them home without jobs or anything, so what you expect from them in this situation?. . Many of them tried to join the groups including the terrorist group who were resisting the occupation. The other reason is in view of the American the next government after Saddam’s had to be democratic. While Shia population in Iraq was around 70% of the total population of Iraq so when it came to General Election in 2005 the Shia won the elections by majority and came to power. Once they had a power they started treating Sunni very badly. This including arresting, kidnapping and assassinating of individuals from them. They completed the work of American, probably you heard how the American treated the Iraqi prisoners in the notorious prison of Abu- Ghraib like what they did in Guantanamo.
All these with the support of Turkey & Qatar made the ISIS to win sympathies among the people in Iraq. The Western governments never were serious to take action or to tackle the roots of the problem. Their policies are only to get votes and come to power, they did not care what was going on in the county. For instance here, UK, the government allows of having over 40 Sharia court, many faith schools without inspection or monitoring the method of their teaching, their plan & program and the activities that taking place in the school. So many people from the ethnic minorities: from Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran even from Iraq, they send their children while they are very young to these religion schools “madrasa”. So this is like a factory to produce fanatical people, terrorist people for the future. Having say so it does not mean people should be banned from knowing their religion or freedom in choosing and practicing their religion. The faith school should be inspected, monitored, to be watched closely and check their curriculum.
I brought up these stories in order for you to see our governments supporting the religion and the war in the Middle East in three different ways. Look at the foreign policy of US and Western governments about Palestine. They never ever wanted to sort out the Palestine’s problem. This is also their general attitude against the Muslim people on the Muslim countries. But when the Muslims people come here, they still oppressed by their religion because the state giving the opportunity under the name of the multi-culture policy and equal opportunity. The State allows the parents when they force their children to wear hijab. They are currently trying to make the schools not serving Pork or Ham in the school dinner. The Muslim parents are allowed to dominate their children and invade their rights by choosing for them a religion from very beginning. In other words, this means the government approach is letting the parents to impose the religion on their children and to abuse them.
It is unbelievable when you see our politician in the power on one hand talk about equality between men and women, but on the other hand allowed the Muslim women be treated according to their own backsword custom & tradition and religion. The Muslim women here consequently suffer quite a lot. For example they cannot walk to court to get divorced. They are forced to go to Sharia court, and the mullahs or Imam of Mosque usually let the children and the property go to the husbands.
This is why the ISIS and other fanatical Muslim groups are strong. Because the government here, some of European countries and US supports them indirectly. They support religion as a tool to manipulate people’s minds, to use it against people to be segregated and subordinated.
All these creates the climate and atmosphere that support the terrorist groups to be formed , grow and fight, not that much against the government, but against the ordinary people on the streets, markets any busy places in anywhere they can.