News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
(ANF/STOCKHOLM) I a recent interview for ANF, Murat Kusyeri spoke with Lahdo Hobil, the president of the European Syriac Union (ESU), about the proclamation of democratic autonomy in Rojava and the role that Syriacs were playing in the revolution, the history of political violence and genocide in the region, as well as the condition of Syrian and Assyrian communities in Europe.
Lahdo Hobil has lived in Europe for 32 years and has been active in politics for the last 18. He has twice served as president of the ESU.
-Can you tell us a little about the conditions of Assyrian/Syriac communities living in Europe and the integration into the countries in which reside?
The Syriac people were forced leave their lands and migrate to Europe because of oppression and tyranny. When they came to Europe they thought about how to get by. Life conditions were different in Europe and they did not know the language. But when you compare them to other migrant peoples living in Europe they were one of the quickest to integrate. Because they were forcefully removed from their lands they had no hopes of return. They were forced to establish new lives in the countries to which they migrated.
-Is this valid for Syriacs living in all the countries of Europe?
Yes, this valid for them all. They built churches and monasteries in all the countries in which they settled. They integrated into society. For the past 8 or 9 years and at our encouragement an idea of returning to the lands has begun to form among our people. To Iraq, Syria and Turkey. If there are positive developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey some our people will return to their countries.
Our people love their country. They did not leave it by their volition. They came through massacres. They were removed by force and forced to leave. If they had left under their volition they would not want to return today. There are many people and families which go to Turabdin and stay through the summer months. These are normally older or retired. There are those who return permanently as well. An estimated 100 families have permanently returned to Turabdin.
-In what countries is the ESU active and what kind of work do you do?
We have foundations, organizations, local offices and institutes in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Italy. Here we do work in the field of sports and culture but mostly around politics. We struggle against injustices and oppression faced by our people living in our country in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. We attempt to be their voice in the European Parliament and the national parliaments of Europe. We have relations with parliamentarians in many European countries. Recently we have given a lot of emphasis to developments in Syria. We organized a conference in the European Parliament.
Our people have also lived in fear. Despite living in Europe they couldn’t talk about the Seyfo – or Assyrian genocide. They could only speak about this at home. This was one of the reasons we went out and began to organize. We as a people thought that we must explain the Seyfo. In 1995 were began to have demonstrations around the Seyfo. We held marches and hunger-strikes every year in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands. At the same time that we held these demonstrations were were coordinating and organizing. We held a three-day walk from Stockholm to Södertälje.
By the time we came to the 2000’s are people had already started to speak out about the Seyfo. The overcome the fear to a certain point. Other organizations and those which we founded began to approach this topic. We said that the Seyfo was part of our identity as a people and that if we didn’t warn the world about what had happened we would be finished as a people. In the next step all of our organizations including our churches put Seyfo on the agenda.
Sweden and Austria recognized the Seyfo. Seyfo memorials have been constructed in many countries. We need to take this one step further. For that reason we are planning to hold conferences in a number of different parliaments in Europe. Another task on our agenda is to forward the brief prepared on Seyfo to the United Nations. We want the UN to discuss and debate this brief on the one hundred-year anniversary of the Seyfo. Our goal is to have the churches, our civil-society organizations and the people remember the 100 year anniversary of the Seyfo together.
-What are your demands of Turkey?
Turkey should recognize the genocide now. We will keep this subject on the agenda until Turkey recognizes the Seyfo and we will not give up. Turkey should recognize our people. This people was on that land long before the Turks. They should recognize this people, and they should accept that they have a different language, culture, different traditions and customs, and that they carried out a genocide against them.They must have economic and political rights guaranteed in the constitution so that they cannot be denied recognition again. It is not enough to make promises. All of this needs to be legally formalized and made clear in the constitution. For this to happen the Seyfo also needs to recognized.
Syriacs can serve as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Our people have made advances in every sphere throughout Europe. If we are completely broken apart from the lands where we lived for thousands of years this bridge will collapse. For us to really be able to be a bridge the Seyfo needs to be recognized.
Circumstances need to be created which allow for return. There is no infrastructure in Turabdin. How will people returning from Europe live there? We need to found new settlements there. There is nothing left for them to do to this people. If Turkey really wants to win them over then they must pay the price for what they did in the past. In the past we had a problem with the Kurds. But the Kurdish people changed. Our people have come to a level where they understand that they can live together with Kurds. And Relations among the two people can develop more. but Turkey needs to allow this and to create the circumstances for this.
How do you assess the peace process? Where are Syriacs in the process?
The peace process interests Syriacs to the highest degree. Our people suffered the most damage from the war. We were in the middle of the war waged between the PKK and the State. Around 100 Syriacs were murdered by unknown assailants thought to be working with the state (faili meçhul). The people left their lands out of fear. The state wanted to remove Kurds from the area by cleaning it of Syriacs but they were not successful. We are not in a position to fight. For that reason we benefit the most from peace. We want to live in peace with both the Kurds and Turkey. For that reason we support the peace process. We are in the 21st century and Turkey has come to a certain stage. But it has not made progress in mental sense of not denying [the existence] of other peoples and accepting them. If Turkey could come to such an understanding they could be the strongest state in the Middle-East.
-Do you think that the AKP has fulfilled its responsibilities as regards the peace process?
The AKP did not carry out its responsibilities. Kurds tried to implement a withdrawal and they were successful in this. Kurds who did not give their votes to the BDP gave their votes to the AKP which was inside the peace process instead of the CHP or MHP. They received the support of some Kurds by claiming that they would implement a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue. But they did not take any concrete steps. The only step they took was to meet with Abdullah Öcalan. The PKK fulfilled its responsibilities but the AKP did not do the same thing. I think that developments in Syria and Rojava had an effect on this. Turkey was made uncomfortable by the proclamation of democratic autonomy in Rojava. In Iraq Kurds are also governing themselves. They were afraid that if the same thing happened in Syria Kurds living in North Kurdistan would be affected and are doing everything to inhibit developments in Rojava.
-What are they doing?
Many different countries are involved in the Syrian civil war. But three countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey – are working to increase the influence of ISIS and Al-Nusra over the opposition.
Turkey is behind the attacks on Rojava. They want to destroy the developments in Rojava by having Islamic groups attack but they have not been successful. Turkey is putting a wall up by Nusaybin. Then Barzani is digging a trench on the other side. Turkey and Barzani are working together against Rojava. In fact this cooperation between Barzani and Turkey is long-standing. It used to help the Turkish army in operations against the PKK. It used to do this secretly. Now Barzani has been legitimated and they are openly cooperating. They want to liquidate the PKK in Rojava and in Turkey. Today, in my opinion, if Kurds have seen developments in Iraq it is thanks to the line developed by the PKK. But whether Talabani or Barzani will prevent it is another subject. But both men are indebted to the PKK for their common gains.
-What is the situation of Syriacs in Syria and Rojava?
Our people are living mostly in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Qamişlo and the Cizîre region. All have been affected by the war. Before the war they were tied to the regime. Because there was no political organization there the people were under the influence of the church. The church was close to the regime. After the war our people were without a side. They did not fight and wanted peace. But as the fighting grew more violent and attacks against Christians increased some Syriacs grew close to Assad. It was at this time that the Syriac Union Party came together. It worked together with the PYD and Syriacs are represented in the cantons. Syriac youth are fighting together with the YPG against the gangs. A military school for Syriacs as well as a Syriac Military Council have been founded in Rojava. Women’s and youth organizations have also been formed. Democratic Autonomy has increased the moral of our people.