News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
The following interview with YPG commander Rêdur Xelîl was conducted by M. Ali Çelebi for Özgür Gündem. It has been translated into English below.
– What meaning does the YPG’s victory in Girê Spî (Til Abyad) carry for the Middle East?
Girê Spî was ISIS’ most strategic position. It was the center of ISIS’ relations with the outside world. For this reason it was very important. It was a major artery. With this operation that artery was cut. The most important part of the operation concerned Turkey. ISIS’ ties with Turkey here were cut and it can only continue these ties through Jarabulus. However the al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are also present in this region. For this reason it was important. This was an important step for everyone fighting against ISIS. And in particular it was an important victory for the Kurdish and Syriac peoples.
-Who took part in the operation?
The YPG, YPJ, Burkan al-Firat and the Liwa al-Tahrir all took part. On the other hand there was the Syriac Council, or what you had called Şammara and which is in fact a division of the YPG. Within the YPG there are Chechens, Turkmen, Arabs, Syriacs, Assyrians and members from almost every other group in the region. Today if you come to the YPG and speak of any people living in Syria you will find that they have representation within the YPG.
-Girê Spî was captured quickly, in just two days between June 15th and 16th. This was the case although the area had been significantly reinforced with the help of trucks belong to MIT (Turish Intelligence). Rakka had been continually supplied through Girê Spî. It wasn’t expected that it would fall this quickly.
Girê Spî’s main defense was Sîluk. That is why it was so difficult to take Sîluk. The fighting there went o for a long time. Following the fall of Sîluk (June 14th) Girê Spî was left defenseless. After Sîluk fell ISIS had already been militarily and symbolically defeated. At the same time ISIS forces began to break apart and therefore they couldn’t hold in Girê Spî. As a result yes there was a battle but it was not the serious resistance that everyone had expected from ISIS and they were quickly broken.
-Did the coalition forces play a serious role in the Rubar Qamişlo Offensive directed at Girê Spî?
Coalition forces actively participated in the operation. For this reason there were serious results.
-It is reported that ISIS had been throwing people down a very deep well in the Hoti district of Girê Spî. What were the first things that you encountered when you first entered the city?
Yes, it was reported that ISIS was carrying out massacres in this region. Certain images came out in the press. Operations against certain areas are still ongoing. Of course we will share any developments that emerge as a result of the operation and any indications of a massacre with the public.
-How will the capture of Girê Spî affect Kobanê, which has experienced intense fighting and destruction. How important is it for Kobanê?
As is well known Kobanê is a place that experienced months of battle. Its homes were destroyed and its residential quarters ravaged. And Kobanê was completely isolated and could not receive aid from the outside. With the opening of the route through Girê Spî a route was opened between Kobanê and Cizîrê. Now the people of Kobanê can get their daily needs. This means life for the people of Kobanê.
-What is the demography of Girê Spî?
In terms of its population Girê Spî is home to all the peoples [of Syria]. Among the most prominent are Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs. On the other hand there used to be a lot of Armenians there. But we can say that there are people there of many races and ethnicities.
-The victory in Girê Spî has made Ankara uncomfortable. They have stated that the existence of the PYD and YPG is a dangerous situation and that it does not bode well. The members of the General Staff as well as the army took part in the most recent meeting of the council of ministers. Even if it is certain central powers are opposed they want the formation of a buffer zone along the border to put onto the agenda. Within the pro-AKP media there have been calls for an intervention…
Turkey’s fears over the YPG’s capture of Girê Spî are unwarranted. We also cannot understand them. We are in Rojava, not in Turkey. Therefore can we ask the Turks this very general question. Turkey was not afraid when ISIS was patrolling along its border. But now when the people of the region – Kurds and Arabs – push ISIS from the area why is Turkey suddenly afraid? We do not understand this. This fear is misplaced. If it continues in this direction it will mean an intervention in the internal affairs of Syria and this will be accepted by noone.
We share a 850 km border with Turkey. Because it is us who are protecting these borders we have experienced no problems with Turkey. We always want our relations with Turkey to be good. They cannot build any future with ISIS. They can only do this with the people of the region. For this reason Turkey should be celebrating the YPG victory. Once more they should mobilize all resources for this success. On the contrary they should not be engaging in slander and spreading false propaganda.
-When Girê Spî was surrounded what did Turkey do for ISIS?
A lot has already been said on this subject and we would prefer not to speak about it anymore.
-Did ISIS fighters cross over to Turkey among the civilians?
Yes. There were many ISIS fighters among the civilians who crossed to Turkey. A significant portion of the crossed into Turkey.
-There were many in Turkey enraged by the end of the ISIS occupation of Girê Spî. The racist media accused the YPG of carrying out ethnic cleansing. At the same time they started a debate about the return of civilians…
These claims are absolutely false. We know the reason for such claims. This was nothing more than propaganda spread to slander the YPG. There is nothing like this going on in the region. In fact we have already made a statement on this subject. Let those who accused us of this come and see for themselves what kind of brotherhood among peoples is being created by the YPG. They would understand better how these people fight [so effectively] against ISIS within the ranks of the YPG.
-When I spoke with you before you said that ISIS could return to attack Kobanê. In fact ISIS returned with a huge force to attack Kobanê in September 2014. What do you predict will happen now? What kind of strategy will ISIS pursue in Jarabulus, Azaz, and the Aleppo region?
Of course ISIS has been dealt a big blow with the Girê Spî offensive. However it continues to control a huge area. It still has many resources. There is still no certain indication what ISIS will do after Girê Spî. There is a possibility it will re-concentrate its forces in an effort to attack the areas we have liberated. We need to work in order decide how we will be able to defend against these attacks and how we can prepare for them. And such work is underway.
-Following this defeat might ISIS attack the Efrîn Canton?
ISIS is a little far from the Efrîn Canton. Because in between are the al-Nusra Front and the Free Syrian army. For this reason such a possibility does not seem likely. However if there is such an attack our Efrîn forces will do everything they can to offer a struggle.
-They lost many of their experienced fighters in Kobanê. According to your own findings what were the nationalities of the ISIS fighters in Girê Spî?
They had many fighters from abroad. There were Turks and also fighters from Arab countries. There were also Chechens. This is the composition of ISIS here.
-Is there a risk of attack around Hesekê (Al-Hasakah) or in the Kewkeb region?
In Kewkeb there are Syrian regime soldiers, however ISIS is also present in the surrounding area. Right now there is nothing in Qamişlo. There is only some issues around the question of arrests between the asayış (public security forces) and the forces of the regime but no major problems.
The Cairo Conference
-Prior to the victory you took part in a conference of Syrian opposition groups in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. This was your first meeting abroad, how did it go?
We went in the name of the Administration of Democratic Autonomy. In order to bring out the political position of Syria we made it clear that as a military force we also have a political will and that will is for democratic autonomy. We made it clear that we are ready for a peaceful solution following a political path and that we had both a military and political will. We said that this too was the Administration of Democratic Autonomy. This was our message for the conference.
-Did the participants listen, what was their reaction?
This a peculiarity of the Syrian opposition. In this sense it is not very different from the Baath regime. In particular they are like this around the Kurdish issue. For this reason we need to struggle a little to make the opposition in Syria accept the Kurdish people. This same attitude confronted us at the Cairo Conference. However it is important to gain a legal status for the Kurdish people within Syria and to work toward this end.