Syria: Arabs and Kurds fighting to rebuild a democratic and inclusive revolution
July 8, 2015 -- Rojava Report, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The following interview with Burkan al-Firat Command Center spokesperson Şervan Dervîş was conducted by Ersin Çaksu for Özgür Gündem.
In the interview Dervîş speaks about the recent victories won against ISIS [also known as Islamic State] in Rojava, the current fighting in Aleppo and the larger trajectory of the Syrian civil war, as well as the role of Burkan al-Firat in rebuilding a democratic and inclusive revolution. It has been translated into English below.
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What is the Burkan al-Firat? Why was such an organisation created?
Burkan al-Firat is the creation of some groups within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the YPG/YPJ [Peoples Protection Units/Women's Protection Units]. Its formation was announced on September 10, 2014, five days before the beginning of the ISIS assault on Kobanê.
Following the fall of area around Kobanê to ISIS forces certain groups which had been stationed there and which had not been part of the FSA but which did not identify with ideology of the radical gangs also pulled back into Kobanê. Other than these groups no other FSA forces remained in the area. When the attack began it was just small groups that pulled back to the Kobanê city centre. Then there emerged the objective of creating a joint force.
It became necessary in order to protect the people of the region. We all knew that the Syrian revolution had gone off track. Syria is a country which is a mosaic of peoples and faiths. However a revolution that began with the demands for equality and democracy came to take on a Sunni character. The revolution fell into the hands of Salafis. Those who would not accept this oriented themselves toward Kobanê.
This is how is Burkan al-Firat first emerged. The peoples of Syria needed such a force. A force that was not tied to one group of people, religious faith or sect…We are aiming for a democratic Syria. Our goal is a Syria in which everyone lives with freedom and justice and in common with one another.
What was the objective of your role in the Kobanê resistance?
The YPG/YPJ was the primary force in the Kobanê resistance but the Burkan al-Firat was also a part of this resistance. When the attack began some groups within the Burkan al-Firat wanted to evacuate from the city and left. However a number of the groups within the Burkan al-Firat such as the Shemsi Shimal, Cephe al-Ekrad and the Liva-i Suwar Rakka struggled here with the YPG/YPJ against the darkness of ISIS. As ISIS, although it is not foreign to these lands, is bringing together all the monstrosities and inhumanities of history we, who are ourselves also not foreigners to his land, are defending enlightenment, morality, humanity and co-existence. We also struggle against those who work together with ISIS and those who support them in their policies.
What was the meaning of the liberation of Girê Spî?
The primary meaning and importance of our liberation of Girê Spî was in cutting off a main channel feeding ISIS This came before the unification of our forces in the Cizîrê and Kobanê cantons. We all knew that the help coming to ISIS from abroad was coming through Turkey. At the same time they were shipping their oil through this area. With the liberation of Girê Spî we can say that we cut off one of ISIS’ life lines.
The attack ISIS launched on Kobanê was also undertaken with this in mind. For us it was important both because it allowed us to unite our forces in the Cizîrê and Kobanê cantons and to cut off a major supply line to ISIS. We had enough concrete data about the shipments that were coming to ISIS [from this area].
Following this operation the media in Turkey and particular those outlets close to Turkey's ruling AKP accused the Burkan al-Firat and the YPG/YPJ of engaging in a policy of “ethnic cleansing” of local Turkmen and Arabs in the region. What degree of truth does this have?
It was not just ISIS that was defeated in Girê Spî but also its political supporters. It was also those who don’t appear to be a part of ISIS but who secretly share the same ideology that were defeated.
Among those who lamented the defeat of ISIS were first and foremost Turkey and the Syrian opposition. Following the liberation of Girê Spî many journalists and human rights advocates came [to the down]. Not a single one of them made such a claim. If it is as they say and there was a policy of ethnic cleansing then did all of these people who came and did not witness anything also take part? If they have proof let them present it. For example there are still hundreds of empty villages around Kobanê. Their residents there fled because of the battle. Those who fled [from Girê Spî] also fled for this reason.
We did not remove anyone. When the battle was over most came back. Right now in Syria there are 13 million displaced people. Was it the Burkan al-Firat that displaced them all? The door is open to the United Nations, UNICEF, human rights organisations and anyone interested in doing an investigation in the region.
But it is true that we did not allow the delegation formed by the Syrian opposition. Because within that delegation were people who even a year ago had helped to capture children within Girê Spî and hand them over to ISIS. What were these individuals, who betrayed the people of Girê Spî, attempting to do? This was part of an attempt to show these events as part of an Arab-Turkish war.
In fact half of the fighters in the Burkan al-Firat who took part in the campaign to liberate Girê Spî were Arabs. Did they go and murder their own families? Before ISIS tried to portray its battle as between Muslims and non-believers. Now they are trying to portray it as a war between Kurds and Arabs.
Why has the Burkan al-Firat become such a target?
We are trying to take a derailed Syrian revolution and to put it back on track. When revolutions take place in the world there will be those who participate in the revolution. This is how it was in Syria. However later it was seen how the revolution had been stolen from the peoples of Syria and began to become something other than a revolution.
During revolutions there ought to be a plan, a program and a vision for the future. But when we look over the last five years we see that there was no such thing. Yes, their was an uprising against oppression but nothing else. There was no program. And those who have no program know that there is still no program. This is a much worse situation.
The only power with a program are ISIS and the Salafis tied to al-Qaeda. They infiltrated the revolution with the help of certain intelligence agencies and took it from its path. Does a revolution mean a transition from the torture courts of the Baath regime to the Sharia courts where peoples’ heads are cut off? If so then people would not have risen up for a free life. However when we look back we see that the Burkan al-Firat is the only group that has remained connected to the desire of the Syrian peoples for a free life.
Following the liberation of Girê Spî, the Anatolian News Agency, the official press organ of Turkey, ran a story saying that the Burkan al-Firat had been expelled from Girê Spî. Did you experience anything like this?
Nothing like that happened. Certain military units went to other fronts following the liberation of Girê Spî. YPG and YPJ units were also transferred to other fronts. We had said previously that in any place we liberated we would defer in matters of internal security to units composed of local people from the area. And that is what we are doing.
This is not only valid for Girê Spî but for all the places we have liberated and will liberate. What is meaning of military forces remaining in the city? The administration should be run by civilians and there should be security services attached to them. Today I am in Girê Spî. Nothing like that occurred between us. In fact the YPG is one of the forces within the Burkan al-Firat.
This kind of propaganda is nothing new. This propaganda first appeared during preparations for the attack on Kobanê. In order that this massacre not receive too much attention around the world – and too bad that it turned out this way – this kind of propaganda has been spread. Turkey’s build-up along the border near Jarabulus must also be evaluated within this light. However the Syrian problem is much bigger than Turkey.
You say that the Syrian problem is much bigger than Turkey…
Yes, the Syrian problem is much bigger than Turkey. Turkey is making certain manoeuvres but going into Syria is beyond it. Because the US, Russia, Iran and everyone else has interests in Syria. What Turkey is doing now is only an attempt to stir the waters and get some benefit from it. They have sent troops to the border so that Kobanê in order to keep the massacre in Kobanê off the agenda. They also had a hand in these attacks On the day of the attack we ourselves saw a group of ISIS fighters cross over from Turkey. After they crossed the railroad we opened fire and killed three of them there.
What side of Kobanê were they coming from?
They were coming from the east of Kobanê. After they crossed the tracks we opened fire and killed three of them right there.
Following the Kobanê massacre certain media organs reported that certain people had infiltrated the Burkan al-Firat as intelligence agents for ISIS and that they supported them …
Yes, in fact to blow up things even more, they wrote that the Burkan al-Firat had fled from Kobanê and broken apart. To them we say this. On the very next day we had three of our fighters martyred on Kobanê’s southern front. Two were YPG fighters and one was from the FSA. They were martyred together. As I said before they working according to how the situation develops. Just as they tried to create a war between Muslims and non-believers, and between Kurds and Arabs, now they are trying to create a war between the YPG and FSA.
But the Burkan al-Firat remains above such scheming. With the victories emerging from the Kobanê resistance and Spî and Eyn Îsê this will only grow larger and win even more victories. We have launched an investigation as a matter of precaution. If something comes to light then we will share this with the public. We have no problem on this question.
How has the Burkan al-Firat been affected by your recently won victories?
Right now our forces have doubled. We said that many would come to us wanting to join following a shift in ideological orientation. Those who want to join the Burkan al-Firat must first accept our principals. These principles are a democratic ideology of freedom and co-existence. Every place we approach those who oppose ISIS are joining us.
Before I did not believe that anyone was thinking about Girê Spî. But now anytime and wherever we advance people say that ISIS will certainly fall. And this has become the faith aong people. If we opened the door to everyone who came calling our numbers would probably be 10 times as large. But we have conditions that those who join us have internalised the ideology of democracy and co-existence.
We as the Burkan al-Firat have been trying to bring back to life the spirit and practice of co-existence. And we have taken steps to accomplish this. We want to grow in this regard and become a force for the democratisation of Syria.
An operation has been launched in Aleppo. Can you share some of your thoughts on the operation?
In Aleppo they want to test out the Fetih Army, which has been put together in Idlib with Turkish and Saudi support. But the force on the field is not at all what it is said to be. Once they had taken the city each group took its own territory and planted its own flag. Nusra in one place, the Ahrar-i Sham in another and FSA groups each in their own place.
This is the situation we had two years ago. At that time I was in Minbic. At that time there were 82 FSA groups in that town. ISIS attacked Minbic with a force of 90. A force of close to 3000 ran from Minbic ahead of that group. Now the same thing is taking place in Idlib and it is emerging as a mirror image of Aleppo. All of the groups are fighting for their own interests and the interests of their supporters. Some are supported by Qatar, some by Saudi Arabia, some by Turkey and every otherare fighting on the field.
But Turkey wants them to take Aleppo and turn to fight us. Among the objectives now before us as the Burkan al-Firat have been Girê Spî, Eyn Îsê, Sirrîn, Jarabulus, Mınbic and Rakka. Girê Spî and Eyn Îsê have been taken. Sirrin is currently under siege. They are trying to prevent this. But ISIS is also striking at FSA groups in the Azaz region.
In recent days some FSA groups sent us a message that their fronts had been weakened and they requested that we strike at ISIS from this side. In our response we said that we had continually been fighting with ISIS in Kobanê and we suggested that instead of developing alliances with groups such as al-Nusra and Ahrar-i Sham they ought to form a force such as the Burkan al-Firat. They could get support from the YPG/YPJ forces in the Afrin region. But we said that we would not be in any place with al-Nusra and Ahrar-i Sham. The FSA has yet to develop the spirit to fight against ISIS. We see this for example in those who desert the FSA and come to us. When it comes to ISIS they are hesitating. But when they see the people fighting in Kobanê against ISIS they are going on the attack. That fear has been broken.
What kind of situation will emerge in Aleppo falls?
For Aleppo to fall under these circumstances would mean a great blow to the FSA in the north of Syria. Because the Jihadist groups here will not leave Aleppo to them.