News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
A Syriac Orthodox Priest in Germany, Şemun Demir, spoke in a recent interview with ANF about the problems confronting minorities in Syria and the possibility for a common future for all the peoples the Middle East. Among other things, Şemun spoke about the cooperation between the PYD and the Assyrian Unity Party and the role that Öcalan’s philosophy can play in constructing a new life for the peoples of the Middle East. Below is the interview, translated to English.
In the fighting in Syria the Syriac/Assyrian people have suffered a lot of violence that has been directed at them along with other minorities. What do you think awaits the Syriac/Assyrian people in a future Syria?
In countries where there are dictatorships everyone is oppressed. And all those segments of society that are not inside the system are forced up against each other. This situation is a culture in the Middle East. Historically minorities and those who are different have been oppressed. This is what is being experienced in Syria. With the place we are at today this problem has enveloped the whole region. Repressive regimes which have continued on for centuries are about to fall. And this is how it is happening. If you want to solve the first problem of course it is necessary to offer an alternative to it. If the opposition is simply going to oppress minorities under a new administrative system then there is no difference than from before. In fact the reason that the Baath regime has had so much support and that it has not fallen until now is that the Syrian opposition is not democratic enough, and that the different segments of society that live in the country have not worked together. The fact is that because there has not been a sufficiently good and democratic system to follow the systematic changes that have been experienced in other Arab countries – and Egypt in particular – after the departure of dictators, Syria has been swept toward a kind of hopelessness. Yes Bashar al-Assad needs to go but who will replace him? This we do not know. But if we are to look at what is happening now the state of affairs does not seem particularly bright. As the fighting and the conflict goes on longer the people who are hurt first and foremost are minorities like ourselves. If you are different and in particular with respect to your faith then you are unable to get away from this violence and this massacre. For this reason migration and exile become mandatory.
Groups like al-Nusra that are inside of the opposition and claim to be fighting against the Baath regime do not recognize the right of different faiths to exist in Syria…
It is necessary that a group which is struggling against a dictatorial regime and claims to be democratic be more humane and more just, so that we can all be successful together. If a group that rises up spreads its own ideology by force, and does not recognize the right of existence for those that are different from itself it will not be possible for it to be successful.
As a Priest do you think that a religion commands one to kill members of other religions?
In the past such things also happened in Christianity. Especially during the time of the Crusades it was used a lot. But Christians have undergone a revolution and this revolution happened within the religion and the church. It experienced a change that happened 500 years ago after the lead of Martin Luther. Religion and State were separated from one another. I think that religion and politics should be entirely separated from one another. Religion is something between a person and god. However far religion stays from politics, it gets that much closer to the essence of religion.But when religion becomes a part of politics it opens the way to disaster. Unfortunately that is what is happening in the Middle East. For that reason the reforms which have taken place within Christianity need to take place in Islam. And the people to do this are Muslim religious figures.
How will this happen?
This change should happen within Islam. Here a large role falls to religious figures and imams. As a priest I do not have a position to speak. I do not feel I have such a right. What is my right to reexamine the Quran in an authoritative manner? But as we say as Syriacs and Christians that “all men are brothers and god created everyone equal” imams can also speak this way.
Do you do this?
In the sermons I give at a church where there are no Muslims I say “As you love and respect yourselves and you love brothers, also love and respect Muslims. No one is different than anyone else.” If everyone thought about this there would be no problem between people, they would become closer and there would not be these massacres.
Do you think that those responsible religious figures in Islam are not doing this enough?
If you only look at the television channels in Europe they are saying “All people are brothers. Allah created everyone.” But then behind closed doors among themselves they are preaching “our religion is the best, they are infidels and do not know anything.” Here there is no brotherhood but discrimination.
Now the safest place in Syria is Rojava. The PYD has said that “we guarantee the safety of all minorities.” At the same time the PYD has decided to work together with the Assyrian Unity Party. What do you think that this partnership will do to create a common existence for the peoples of the region?
The oppressed of the Middle East understand each other better. Kurds have been oppressed like us throughout history. There is no different between us. But because they are more populous and their experience of 30-40 year struggle they are in a good position. But because we have shared the same fate we look at Kurds as being closer to us. The Assyrians, Armenians and Kurds who live in Mesopotamia are a community. We share the same geography. We have been together for a thousand years. For this reason we should struggle together with the Kurds against this backwards and murderous mentality. The struggle of the Kurds, which is in the service to humanity, needs to be supported. But this does not mean that that because Kurds have been oppressed by Turks that they will oppress their own minorities. Because we have also experienced problems with the Kurds in the past.
Representatives of Kurdish organizations haves said many times that “our ancestors played into Turkey’s hand and took part in a massacre against peoples they had lived with for thousands of years.” How do you evaluate this?
If there had not been such a thinking and such an approach we Assyrians would not have been in a situation to work together and engage politically. On this subject Abdullah Öcalan has spoken time and time again and Ahmet Türk has also made statements. There have been statements such as “our ancestors did such a thing. And in order that something like this does not happen again we apologize.” These are positive. When a leader gives these kinds of statements it reassures other people and encourages them. We can live as brothers in line with the philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan. We should live without anyone denying anyone else.
What do the Assyrians want from the Kurds?
We are brothers. We have lived together through history. There were mistakes. But the important thing is to accept these mistakes. If they are going to accept their mistakes then we have an obligation to accept this. In the Christian religion someone else does you wrong and the accepts this you are obligated to forgive them. If you do not accept this then you are even more guilty.