''Kurdish struggle in Syria is a fight for death or life. If Kurds lose, they know they will be wiped out''
Syrian human rights defender about great Kurdistan, friendship of Russia and Turkey and vassalry in front of the USA
Kurdish opinion journalist Cahit Storm who has quite a popular social network account and is cited by even The Daily News, The Washington Post, Sputnik News is going to come to Moscow in May. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent reached out to the expert and talked about the Kurdish issue on Big Game.
''The Kurdish relationship with Russia is quite old and not unfriendly''
Why did you start using Twitter and covering the situation in Kurdistan?
My name is Cahit. I have been on Twitter for a long time since maybe 2008 or 2009, I have been fighting for Kurdish rights since the 80s. Therefore, every opportunity to be informed and to inform is good.
What is happening to Kurds in Syria now? Can we call them vassals of the USA?
Kurds in Syria are in the middle of the revolution. Before 2011, Syria was maybe one of the most racist places in the world where Kurds were a 2 nd class citizen. They didn't have the right to have a passport, to own land, to speak their own language or wear their traditional clothes. After the war started, the regime forces withdrew from the area that was less important for Assad and Kurds took it over. It was the first time in their life when Kurds in Syria were in power. Since then, they tried to liberate all the remaining lands under the jihadist rule in northern Syria. They have their own agenda, of course, but we can't say they are vassals of the USA. They are certainly allies, and it's a mutual profit for both parties.
Kurds get weaponry and aerial support, the USA gets effective forces against jihadists without putting many troops on the ground.
We can't say they are vassals of the USA. They are certainly allies, and it's a mutual profit for both parties
What relations do Kurds have with Russia? Russia even provided a consignment of weapons when the relations with Turkey became colder. What has changed after the normalisation of relations between Ankara and Moscow?
Historically, Kurds have a long relationship with Russia/the USSR. There was a Soviet administrative unit that existed from 1923 to 1929 named Курдистанский уезд. In 1946, Kurds declared independence in Mahabad (Iran nowadays) with the Soviet support. After their defeat, Mustafa Barzani sought refuge in the USSR. In 1999, when Abdullah Ocalan left Syria, he went first to Moscow where he met FSB and several officials members.
There is also a Kurdish diaspora in various parts of the former USSR, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia. During the USSR, it was the only country in the world who was broadcasting Kurdish radios on TV or radio. So the Kurdish relationship with Russia is quite old and not unfriendly. Russia doesn't see PKK as a terror group, for example.
So in Syria, the situation is more complicated. Kurds want autonomy and political rights. Russia is willing to push for that, as we have read in their draft for a new Syrian constitution.
Kurds also want to be part of peace negotiations like in Astana or Geneva, and Russia is willing to invite them but Turkey opposes it.
Russia understands that if minimal demands of Kurds are not satisfied, they might go further and eventually break away from Syria. There are several high-level contacts between Russia and the Rojava administration and even a certain level of military collaboration.
To resume, Russia and Syrian Kurds are not hostiles to each other.
I don't think the relations between Ankara and Moscow have normalised totally. Putin outplayed Erdogan during the Aleppo battle. We are seeing it today, Turkey provided many weapons to jihadists in their recent Hama offensive, while Moscow prevented Turkey's attack on SDF-held Manbij. Erdogan was forced to bow in front of Putin, so he could invade Syria.
''They aren't fighting for independence''
Is it possible that the Turkish army in the north of Syria will start to attack Kurdish enclaves?
Turkey attacks Rojava on a daily basis, so it won't change because they have been bombing Kurds for decades. If you mean by ''attacks'' whether they will go full scale or not, it depends on whether Erdogan can break a deal with Assad on Kurdish support.
Kurds certainly will liberate Raqqa with their Arabs allies
What relations do Kurds have with Assad?
Kurds with Assad have a complicated relationship. Firstly, unlike what we are reading here and there, PYD opposed the Assad way before the Syrian civil war.
During the last 6 years, Kurds repeated it again and again, they want Assad to leave power. However, if they are structurally enemies (Assad wants centralised Syria, Kurds — decentralised, Assad's philosophy is based on Arab chauvinism, Kurds' one — on confederalism, democracy, etc.) they are both pragmatics because of the circumstances. Assad's priority is to defeat the Arab rebellion in ''useful'' Syria, which is quite far from the Kurdish areas. The Rojava administration wants to get rid of jihadists that they consider their homeland. Kurds surrounded by hostile powers can't afford to open the frontlines and regime as well. Clashes erupted regularly, but both sides don't have any interest in going to all-out war against each other for now.
Are Kurds able to occupy Raqqa?
Kurds certainly will liberate Raqqa with their Arabs allies. Before the war, there were around 30,000 Kurds living in that town. However, when the Raqqa question has been politically sensible because some Arab supremacists are trying to smear Kurds, they will probably be well observed and won't stay in the town after liberation.
Do they want total independence or do they accept federalisation?
Kurds in Syria, no matter what their political side is, are asking for large autonomy inside federalized Syria. They aren't fighting for independence.
Are collisions of Kurds with the Syrian army possible?
Collisions between Kurds and the regime are possible in a middle term because they follow antagonist goals.
Where do Kurds take weapons from? Do they have heavy weapons?
Kurds have weapons from various sources: black market, supplied by allies (Kurds, international coalition), seizure from their enemies, although they lack heavy weapons such as long-range artillery or anti-aircraft weapons.
Kurds have weapons from various sources: black market, supplied by allies (Kurds, international coalition), seizure from their enemies, although they lack heavy weapons such as long-range artillery or anti-aircraft weapons
''If Kurds lose, they know they will be wiped out''
Why were Kurds successful in the fight against ISIS?
In the fight against ISIS, Kurds were successful for several reasons:
Firstly, they are very disciplined, they have a unique commandment (unlike rebels), they have a very clear political agenda, they have decades of political mistakes behind them.
Also, a large number of Kurdish women are fighting, unlike rebels/ISIS who are leaving aside 50% of the population. And I will add, the Kurdish struggle in Syria is a fight for death or life. If Kurds lose, they know they will be wiped out. No Kurd left in the city they failed to liberate like Jarablus or Al-Bab. Kurds know they can't afford a defeat, no matter who will win. That's a powerful motivation.
Which parties are Syrian groups representing today? Are they communist or another group?
Kurds in Syria regroup various ideological partners. Some are nationalists, some are communists, some are primary feminists, some wants democracy, some wants just to not be ruled by foreigners, Kurds in Syria are very diverse.
Could you forecast what will happen in Turkey in the next months?
What will happen in Turkey in the next months depends a lot on the referendum outcome. I have no doubt Erdogan will ''win'' because elections in Turkey are always a sad joke, and the results won't be fair. If he wins, he will need less support of far-right MHP. Therefore he will lower his hard-core nationalist tone. The Turkish economy is in very bad shape, you can't politically get people on your side for so many years if they realise they are getting poorer every day. We have seen how Turkey struggled to get small of Al-Bab defended by a very weak group of jihadists, they don't have might for more for now.
Why did the Kurdish government become Turkey's ally?
The Kurdish government in South Kurdistan (northern Iraq) is not Turkey's ally. Only KDP (who represents 1/3) is their ally. They became their ally in the early 90s because KDP was controlling the border (and smuggling) towards Turkey, so they needed good relations with Turks. Also, PKK was allied with YNK that was in war with KDP. Turkey's becoming an enemy of PKK was another reason for Turkey to ally with KDP in order to divide Kurds. Nowadays Turkey has many military bases on the KDP-held territory. That's one of the reasons of the KDP embargo against Rojava or Senegal.
Does it support Syrian Kurds?
KDP doesn't support ruling Syrian Kurds at all, on the contrary. They try to push their own forces for political gains like ENKS who are allied with Turkey and jihadists. They are also undermining the Rojava administration around the world. However, YNK and Gorran support Rojava, YNK, for example, sent some of their troops for the Raqqa battle.
''20 years ago most of the people didn't know what a Kurd was''
Who are the most charismatic Kurdish leaders?
Some charismatic Kurdish leaders are Abdullah Ocalan, (leader of PKK) actually in Turkish jail, Salahettin Demirtas (leader of HDP) actually in Turkish jail, Leyla Zana (member of HDP, deputy) actually in Turkish jail, Can Polat, who is from YPG or Hussein Yazdanpanah (one of leader of PAK, a party of Kurds from Iran).
How many Kurds live all over the world, Syria and Iraq?
There are 35 million Kurds in the world, which makes Kurds the largest group without their own country. Around 3 million live in the Kurdish part of Syria and around 6 million — in the Kurdish part of Iraq.
There are 35 million Kurds in the world, which makes Kurds the largest group without their own country
Do you believe in the creation of big Kurdistan?
I do believe in the creation of big Kurdistan because it's a natural right for the Kurds to decide what they want. The right to self-determination is a fundamental right of people guaranteed by the United Nations. Everything that happened in the last century proved (including in the USSR) that you can't oppress forever an entire group of people. We are witnessing big times, 20 years ago most of the people didn't know what a Kurd was. Nowadays, I think most of the people in the world know that there is a group of people named Kurds and who are fighting for their rights. In 2017, there is already a territory as big as Hungary where Kurds are free. There are many better things to come.
Do Kurds really have their own embassy in Moscow?
Kurds don't have technically an ''embassy'' in Moscow because this word is only for a recognised independent country. However, Kurds from Iraq had an official office until 2016 when it was shut down due to the economic crisis. Kurds in Syria have a representation office as well, it aims to strengthen relations with Russia but it was open as an NGO.
Cahit Storm is an observer under the handle Cahit Storm who published a big number of twits, photos of the siege and strikes in Kobane with iPhone, which drew great attention of the media. Cahit has 14,500 followers. His photos are published by such newspapers as The Daily News, The Washington Post, Sputnik News, Mother Jones.