News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
PYD co-President Salih Muslim has given an interview to M. Ali Çelebi of Yeni Özgür Politika on the recent Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) attacks in Sinjar (Kurdish: Şengal). Muslim told the paper that ISIS and its foreign backers were implementing “Plan B” following their failure to capture Rojava.
The capture of Sinjar by ISIS comes almost two months after its capture of Mosul. Tens of thousands have fled ahead of the ISIS advance and a growing humanitarian crisis is looming. The Sinjar region is home to a large Yezidi population as well as being the place where thousands of Shia Turkmen from Telafer had sought refuge following ISIS’s occupation of Mosul. Both minorities are now under serious threat with growing reports of ISIS massacres against local civilian populations.
Muslim also speaks about the situation in Rojava and his parties relations with Turkey. Below is a translation of the interview into English.
-ISIS occupied Mosul in June. ISIS told local Syriac Christians “either become Muslims or leave.” Now around two months later they have occupied Rabia, Zumar and Sinjar. Although there were peşmerge forces there. Did the KDP and YNK fail to take sufficient precautions?
It means they had not made enough preparations. We warned them from the beginning. Sinjar needed to be protected. We spoke with our friends and they told us “we have our peşmerge there and we are protecting [the area]. Our belief was that organizing the local people was the best measure. This did not happen. Such measures were not taken, the local people were not organized or armed. That so many peşmerge withdrew so quickly meant that no measures were taken. The President of the Federal Kurdish Region Barzani blamed the Iraqi government saying that the peşmerge had insufficient resources. He said that Bahgad did not support the peşmerge. Let them use the weapons at their disposal and then look for other weapons. They did not use the weapons at their disposal. Now do the YPG have better weapons than the peşmerge? They have neither helicopters or heavy weapons. Our weapons are the same as are those which ISIS has. The heaviest weapons are DShK (Dushka) machine-guns. They have them and we have them. It means they need something other than weapons. That is the withdrawal of the peşmerge there makes no sense. I do not think that the peşmerge are the kind of people to run away easily on their own initiative. There is something wrong here. Certain people gave orders.
-That is an order came from the center?
They say that an order came from the center. And Mr. Barzani needs to go after whoever gave this order. There has been fighting in Zumar. In the villages around Zumar. They walked into Sinjar and looked around and no one was left. They had not armed the people.–
Following the capture of Mosul by ISIS the YPG stepped in?
The YPG crossed into Rabia. Our forces were in Til Koçer. When the Iraqi Army pulled out our forces gave support to the peşmerge from Rabia.
-Since the 3rd and 4th of August new YPG forces have crossed into Rabia and gone up into the Sinjar mountains. Are Yezidi youth being armed?
Yes. And youth from Suleymaniye and other places are joining up. Hundreds of youth are joining. They are taking up arms and fighting along the side of the YPG. This is a positive development.
-Will the YPG have a lasting presence in Rabia and Sinjar?
I do not think so. In fact their own forces are being formed there now. The Sinjar Resistance Units have been formed. They will stay. Now it is up to the people there they will determine their own destiny.
-What is the situation of the refugees according to the information coming to you?
Before they were encircled by ISIS. A YPG unit broke that ring. They opened a road that created the opportunity for civilians to get out. Following the opening of the human corridor tens of thousands were able to pass. Fighting is still ongoing. YPG forces are just arriving in some places. In the thousands of people fleeing there are also Turkmens. They are also under our protection. We opened a corridor for them and our arms. It doesn’t matter that they are Turkmens or this or that. For us this is a human value. Everyone has value for us. We will do what we can without any discrimination. If only, we are saying, the Syriacs and other Christians who fled from Mosul had come to us we would have been able to help them more.
-There are refugees but there are also the ditches the KDP dug on the border with Rojava…
The ditches were dug in the north. From Semelka on the northern side…now peşmerge have also crossed. They have come and entered Til Koçer. They crossed over those ditches. Now the peşmerge are filling in those ditches dug with construction equipment with shovels.
-That is to say those ditches very nearly cost the lives of peşmerge?
Of course. If someone else had been there instead of the YPG the situation would have been different.
-In the Second Battle of Kobanê the YPG did not let [ISIS] through. Later clashes broke out in al-Hasakah (Kurdish: Hasekê) and came to Sinjar. What were the goals behind this?
Their A plan was to empty Rojava. Now that the plan to empty Rojava did not work the plan has proceeded to a second stage. They want to hold the Kurdish regions. Sinjar is also suffering through this. This is the P plan of those forces using ISIS. That is it’s the second phase of the plan. They consider Sinjar to be strategic for the Kurds. The KCK called on everyone to mobilize for Sinjar and that it was necessary the HPG to be allowed in. I believe the HPG has sent a special unit. What else can be done? It is like this for the Kurdish people and for the peoples of Kurdistan. All ethnic and faith groups need be together on this and a military council is required. That is a Supreme Military Council. Wherever necessary the defense forces should follow a common strategy. In order to protect the people and minorities there. It pains us that churches are being burnt down and destroyed in Mosul. Some were more than a thousand years old. Yezidi places of worship are being destroyed in Sinjar. Shia shrines as well. To protect Yezidis means protecting Kurdistan. It is necessary to protect all centers of faith and houses of worship. That it is why the formation of a common defense force for all is something so desperately needed.
-In Kobanê mothers and fathers and the elderly have taken up arms and mobilized to go to the front. Do you expect the same thing in Sinjar?
If the people are organized they can do anything. The reason for this in Kobanê is that the people are united around a single will. The people are organized. Wherever there is an organized people anything can be overcome. If only all of our people had been so organized. If we had had the opportunity in Sinjar, if they had given us the opportunity to organize the people in Sinjar this tragedy would certainly not have happened.
-When we look at Kobanê, Hasakah and Sinjar what is the new strategy in Rojava?
Hasakah is now quiet. There has been fighting. To the south of Qamişlo and to the east and north of Hasakah. They have bases around Til Hamis and Til Barak. There sometimes they try something hasty now and then. Our people hit back. This is mostly a lot of noise we only want to protect our people. We are trying to avoid being pulled into the chaos there. We are working to protect our people and so that our villages are not destroyed. Like a swarm of locusts they destroy every place they pass. We are defending ourselves to prevent this. Right now I do not know how long this will go on for. But we are determined.
-Is the mountainous region in Hasakah under the control of the YPG?
There is a place called Kewkeb Mountain. It is a very strategic location. Its a high place. A volcanic mountain. It is very important from a military perspective. It controls other places in Hasakah. For this its very important.
-ISIS, which has bases around Jarabulus and Til Abyad, has come to us the area as a supply route to Turkey. Is the YPG anticipating an attack on this supply route?
We want them of of there. There were recent clashes in both Til Abyad and Jarabulus. that is on the east bank of the Euphrates. They are creating difficulties there. If they expend themselves there we be happier.
-You had been to Turkey twice before but it wasn’t shared with the public. In April you are reported to have come for a third time?
Is that so?
I guess it’s so then…
-To Istanbul or Ankara?
I haven’t been to Ankara yet. I went to Istanbul.
-Are there any meetings on your agenda for period ahead?
There are telephone calls with the Foreign Ministry. Sometimes we check up on one another. If there is an invitation we will go back.
-Was there communication during the Battle of Kobanê?
There was telephone contact.
-What do you expect from Turkey now?
We expect them to keep the promises they have given.