Salih Muslim (Party of Democratic Unity): 'There is no rebellion against the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria'

Salih Muslim

First published at ANF English.

Between 27 August and 8 September, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) carried out a major operation against Islamic State (ISIS) cells, corruption and drug trafficking in Deir ez-Zor. There were clashes with dead and injured on both sides. In particular, the deposition and arrest of the corrupt commander of the Deir ez-Zor military council, Abu Khawla, who collaborated with the Syrian regime, and several accomplices led to an escalation in fighting. The regional powers, above all Turkey and the Syrian regime, inflamed the conflict and portrayed the fighting as a “Kurdish-Arab conflict”. The Western media readily picked up on this portrayal and spread it.

In an interview with Hivda Hebun, the co-chair of the Party of Democratic Unity (PYD), Salih Muslim, spoke about the importance of the operation and its process and says that there is no rebellion against the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

Operation against ISIS resurgence

On 27 August, the SDF launched an operation in Deir ez-Zor. The Turkish state and the regime in Damascus tried to portray the ensuing clashes as a war between the SDF and the Arab tribes. What is happening in Deir ez-Zor?

First of all, we need to understand how the “Security Reinforcement” operation came about. There were many complaints about Abu Khawla and some people who worked with him. These reports came from the local population, the leaders of the tribes and from employees of the Military Council. Abu Khawla and his men were members of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council. Of course, the military council is much larger than these few people, but they were the most influential members of the association.

There have been many incidents in the region, including crimes such as assassinations, kidnappings and drug trafficking, which have become widespread. This was due to the weakness and toleration of the military council. It was necessary to put an end to this. ISIS has carried out many attacks in the region. Therefore, the “Security Reinforcement” operation was launched.

The operation had to begin with those people who had received the most complaints. On this basis, they were questioned and found guilty. At the same time, they were removed from all their positions. In addition, their relationships with various people and forces were uncovered, including their contact with regime militias active west of the Euphrates, in particular with Difa al-Watani (also National Defense Forces, or NDF for short).

Criminal networks have become mobile

Furthermore, these people belonged to criminal networks or had contact with them. As was expected, when they were arrested, these networks also mobilized. They all rose at once. As justification for this uprising, they claimed that the SDF had used violence against them. However, the people of the region knew this was not true and did not believe them. These criminal networks gradually began to widen their rebellion. On the third day of the operation, they ferried troops and weapons from regime-controlled areas west of the Euphrates. They occupied some villages on the river bank and tried to incite the population.

The population does not support the mercenary groups

We know the population of Deir ez-Zor very well. We know that they have nothing to do with these criminal activities. We have good relationships with the people there. As a party, we also have relationships with the leadership of the SDF. The people there do not accept these gangs because they are involved in drug trafficking and commit murders. On the second and third days of the operation, it turned out that it was in fact a much larger and more comprehensive plan. Many people were caught in this context and made statements that made the connections even clearer. It turned out that the Turkish state was also involved in this plan.

Attacks had already been planned in advance by Turkey and Damascus

These attacks were discussed, planned and organized under the leadership of the Turkish state.

This also emerges from the four-way conversation in Astana. What was the plan? That was already said openly at the 20th session: the aim was to overthrow the Autonomous Administration and to remove the coalition forces from the region. At the end of the second day of the operation, waves of attacks began in the north. The attacks on Til Temir, Manbij and other regions are related to this. The propaganda that the tribes in Til Temir had rebelled and conquered the villages clearly showed this.

Some audio recordings have emerged in Deir ez-Zor. The Turkish state has apparently assured these groups that it will attack from the north, parallel to the attacks in Deir ez-Zor, from five different points. This is clear from the audio recordings. The Turkish state and the Syrian regime have tried to put people one against each other. However, the people in the region did not believe them and did not support them in any way. These mercenary groups were led by men named Ibrahim al-Hafl and Nawaf al-Bashir. The region is being combed and the results will be announced today or tomorrow.

The Turkish state is waging a propaganda war against the Autonomous Administration

With the start of the offensive in Deir ez-Zor, attacks on Manbij, Til Temir and Ain Issa also began. What is the connection between these attacks?

Since the war for Kobanê, the Turkish state has been waging a permanent propaganda war together with its mercenary groups who call themselves the “opposition” and are actually Turkey’s agents. From the beginning, the Autonomous Administration was viewed as the enemy. The justification that the Turkish state has always put forward was that the Kurds would establish a democratic order in Northern and Eastern Syria and this would also strengthen the Kurds in North Kurdistan. The Turkish state cannot accept that.

Democracy and coexistence of all peoples in northern and eastern Syria

A real democratic structure has been established here. Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and all peoples live together here. And there is a system, a democratic model, that they created together. This model could also be a solution for all of Syria. For this reason, the Turkish state was against this model of a solution from the start because it was afraid of it. Because the peoples who live here are everywhere. They are in Turkey and many other countries. A democratic system that is built here will also have an impact there. And that should be prevented. For this reason, the Turkish state is working around the clock to stop this. Turkey is ready to enter into all possible alliances in order to stop our model from being implemented.

The USA and Europe watch in silence

The Turkish state is blackmailing many countries, including in Europe. Does the US still not know or see what is going on here? Of course they know it, but they don't speak out against the Turkish state. They hide behind the justification that the Turkish state is a member of NATO and, although they know all of its machinations, they remain silent. Europe behaves the same way. On the one hand, the EU allows itself to be blackmailed by the Turkish state. On the other hand, it is only pursuing its own interests.

ISIS spread from Deir ez-Zor

Why Deir ez-Zor?

Deir ez-Zor is of great importance to us. This place used to be the heartland of ISIS. Al-Baghuz was ISIS's stronghold and its last retreat. The final blow was dealt to ISIS in that area. There are still remnants of ISIS in the region. Where did ISIS first develop? It developed in Deir ez-Zor and spread from there. From Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa was occupied and made the capital of ISIS. We will not allow ISIS to develop again. So something has to be done. But we can only do something with the people on the ground, by supporting them and working with their military and civilian self-government structures.

ISIS and other mercenary groups have their focus on Deir ez-Zor

In this sense, Deir ez-Zor is of great importance for the security of the region. Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and other places must not fall into the hands of ISIS. These groups are currently focused on Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. All mercenary groups and ISIS cells supported by the Turkish state have their origins there. In this sense, Deir ez-Zor is very important for us. The people there are our people. We live together. We are intertwined. While part of the tribe lives here with us, another part cannot live there under the control of ISIS or the Turkish state. They cannot be under the control of the Turkish state. They can't go over to the other side and let these mercenaries attack us. What we are trying to do here is live together.

Some tribal leaders have made statements against the SDF. What can you say about that?

Tribes or clans are not political organizations. Tribes are based on blood ties. In this sense, tribes have no political position. They can never be a political party. The problem, however, is that tribal leaders often work for their own interests. They exploit tribesmen for their own interests. However, when these people wake up or become politicized, they stop listening.

Tribes are being politically abused

What we are trying to do in these regions is to build a moral and political society. We come into contact with the people in the tribes. We are trying to create awareness among them. We want them to at least have political representation. And this representation cannot be the tribal structures. If you look at the situation, there are three brothers on three different sides. One of the brothers is on the side of the Turkish state, one brother is on the side of the government in Damascus and one brother is on our side. In other words, they have no political stance or point of view. They act in a way that suits their individual personal interests.

Nawaf al-Bashir, for example, has changed sides several times. At first, he sided with the Syrian regime. He then fled to the Turkish state and joined its side. From there, he fled to Syria. Then he went to Iran. And now he is trying to mobilize the Shiites from there. It's a question of self-interest. It has become a business. In this sense, the tribes cannot be considered a political structure and there are forces that exploit them.

The Autonomous Administration takes care of the people

As for people, they live in a system. People are connected to the Autonomous Administration. Who do they ask when they need something? The Autonomous Administration, naturally. So a lot depends on the Autonomous Administration here. And that's how it should be anyway. People elect an Autonomous Administration in their village, in their district and in their region, and this administration takes care of the needs of the people. This system leads to self-government based on autonomy. In this sense, the people are far removed from the interests of the tribal leaders.

For example, members of the Okaidat tribe are active in the SDF today. The same applies to the Baqaras. Then someone stands up and says they don't accept that. But of course, people here won't tolerate something like that. This also applies to many other tribes in the region. Most of them participate in the SDF and the Military Council. For this reason, people stay as far away as possible from those who are controlled from outside and are involved in crimes and do not want to have anything to do with them.

There is no rebellion against the Autonomous Administration

There is an attempt to portray what is happening as an uprising against us, but there is no such thing. If people don't accept them, then they have no basis. The people there support the Autonomous Administration. They will not fall for this propaganda and they stand with us. For example, Hajj al-Bashir, Nawaf al-Bashir's cousin, is a very popular figure. He is respected by everyone and is on the side of the people. He did not allow Ankara and Damascus to drag him into this game. The situation is similar with the Hidil family from the Okaidat tribe. Among them there are many cousins and siblings who work with us. They are also part of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council. For this reason, these people will not listen to or approve of those who collaborate with foreign powers, or the Turkish state and who are involved in drug trafficking and many other crimes.

The Turkish state uses mercenaries

The Turkish state in particular is once again trying to portray the clashes as resistance by the Arab population against the SDF. But isn't a large part of the SDF made up of young Arabs?

The fascist Turkish state will try all sorts of tricks, but it will not succeed. They are the Arab sons and daughters who fought against the SDF in Serêkaniyê, Girê Spî and many other areas attacked by the Turkish state. They come from Deir ez-Zor and fought against the Turkish state here. Of course, among all peoples and tribes there are people who are ready to sell themselves.

Who are the members of Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham? The vast majority of them are Arabs. Who are they murdering? They massacre their own people. The Turkish state is making them attack the Kurds. It lets them attack Manbij, Til Temir, Girê Spî. There are such people not only among the Arabs, but also among Kurds. Today there are people who have settled in Afrin for money. The Turkish state is taking advantage of this. This is not what we want in Deir ez-Zor. Those who attacked in Deir ez-Zor were nothing but mercenaries. The Turkish state sends them wherever it wants. It sends them to Azerbaijan, Libya and Armenia. What are you doing here? They go for the money. These mercenaries would go anywhere. Their only goal is money. The Turkish state is doing the same in Serekaniye and other occupied territories. Just as the Ottomans used to say that wherever they sent Janissaries they could do whatever they wanted for three days, today the Turkish state allows these mercenary groups to operate. The Turkish state cannot openly call them mercenaries. In order to legitimize them, it has to find a cover for them, and so the argument is the presence of the PKK and the Kurds. But that doesn't work in Deir ez-Zor. Because we have been living there together for eight years. We have a common system. We share our worries and problems and find solutions together.

The democratic system does not suit many forces

What is the attitude of the local people? How do they face the SDF offensive?

There is a democratic system here that we have created, and this system is developing within the framework of the project of the democratic nation. This project is based on the principle of brotherhood and coexistence between peoples. This project is nothing new: it has been fought for theoretically and intellectually for years. When the time came, we tried to make it happen. However, this does not suit many people and powers today.

There are certain things we can rely on: the organization of the people and the development of society within a ethical-political framework. Why did the international coalition want to work with us? Because we organized our people and were able to defend ourselves. In this case, the more we can organize ourselves, the stronger we become and the better we can implement our project. In other words, if you consider yourself a subject, someone will certainly make an effort to cooperate or ally with you. Just like the International Coalition does. It's a matter of self-interest. Their interest is to fight against terrorists. The coalition has benefited from this situation, and so have we.

Defense capability increases with organization

The more a society strengthens its own organization and the more politicized the people in that society are, the better it can defend itself. We want to strengthen and develop what has been achieved to a certain extent in Kurdish society. We would like to implement it in the same way in Arab society and in other societies. Of course, the desired result has not yet been achieved. There are still some aspects missing. If there are still some problems today, it is a sign that improvements are still needed in some areas. So it requires further effort and work.

Actually, it's a question of mind-set. The more we can evolve and change mind-sets, the stronger the outcome will be. For years, our society was ruled by the Baath system with a chauvinistic mentality. This chauvinistic attitude that believes in military solutions still exists. We will change that. We talk about democracy, about the dignity and honor of people, about living together and coexistence. For example, the changing position of women in society has changed the entire form of government.

Arab women are the strongest advocates of our system today

Today it is Arab women who are the strongest advocates for our system and join us, because they are the ones who are most oppressed in their own society. In this sense, the question of attitude requires perseverance, time and sincerity. I think we will be successful, as today's practice shows. Today, the people of Deir ez-Zor are no longer just concerned with self-interest, but with questions of principle. This shows that there are successes in changing the mind-set. But that's not enough.