|Syrian Kurdish Leader: Muslim Brotherhood ‘Not A Great Threat’|
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan -- Ismail Hama is the Secretary-General of the Kurdish Union Party,
one of the 10 parties that recently formed the National Kurdish Council (NKC) in Syria. An NKC delegation recently visited Iraqi Kurdistan and met with President Massoud Barzani. The following is an interview that Rudaw conducted with Hama.
Rudaw: At the NKC founding meeting, you all agreed on the right to self-determination for Kurds in Syria but have not yet disclosed what you exactly mean by that. Is it autonomy, decentralization, federalism, confederalism or independence?
Ismail Hama: Our decision was for all of Syria; that it should become a democratic, parliamentary and pluralistic state. Politically, it should be decentralized; globally, political decentralization means a federal state. We demand that regions be created in the new Syria. Therefore, the right to self-determination that the Kurds decided on is federalism. While, we haven’t completely clarified what we exactly mean by self-determination, we are now in the process of formulating a project as to what Kurds should demand. In the NKC’s meeting, some members believed it will be difficult to gain federalism.
Rudaw: The Syrian National Council (SNC) says the NKC hasn’t clearly spelled out its demands. Iraqi Kurds asserted their demand for federalism in the former Iraqi opposition meetings in London in 2002 and later in Salahaddin (Iraqi Kurdistan). Don’t you think it will be a mistake if you don’t do the same now?
Ismail Hama: Mr. Barzani asked us to formulate our demands in clear terms and he will support us. Now our NKC delegation is in Cairo, taking part in preparations for the Syrian opposition meeting which will be held under the auspices of the Arab League. The Kurdish delegation has been told to demand that Kurdish rights be enshrined in Syria’s new constitution; for Kurds to be considered the second ethnic group in Syria; and for the Kurdish issue to be resolved through the right to self-determination. The SNC has not offered a proposal saying that Kurds are an ethnic group in Syria and that the Kurdish issue needs to be resolved as such. But this is only a proposal. The Arab League has also said that Kurdish rights needs to be enshrined in Syria’s new constitution and that the opposition should accept the Kurdish demands.
Rudaw: You ask for federalism but the Democratic Union Party (PYD) demands “democratic autonomy.” Yet other Kurdish groups only ask for cultural rights. Wouldn’t that create problems for others to understand Kurdish demands?
Ismail Hama: The KNC now demands a system of political decentralization for Syria, meaning federalism for Kurdistan. The PYD does not demand autonomy but rather asks for self-rule. Autonomy means having a Parliament and government in an autonomous region, but self-rule only means expanding the administrative powers.
Rudaw: Won’t the councils appointed by the PYD in Syrian Kurdistan become a problem for you?
Ismail Hama: Yes, they will be problematic. We were all together in creating the KNC, but 20 days before the convention they pulled out and the reason was political. They said Kurds should not negotiate and establish ties with the Syrian Arab opposition based outside the country because, they argued, the SNC and the opposition were created by (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan. We rejected that demand.
Rudaw: Do you think the PYD has sided with the Syrian regime?
Ismail Hama: They have not organized even one demonstration against the Syrian regime so far. They have not done any protests in Afrin, where they are powerful. They have not been part of the Syrian revolution and say that Islamist forces will take power after this revolution. That is why they have not staged any protests yet.
Rudaw: The PYD’s representative in the Iraqi Kurdistan region said Barzani should have also invited them to the meeting with the KNC and that failing to do so will cause division in the Kurdish ranks. Why didn’t the PYD take part in the meetings with you?
Ismail Hama: We’re not currently allies with the PYD. They don’t sit down with us in Syria. There are now efforts to create some coordination between us, but no agreement has been reached yet.
Rudaw: Did the KNC meeting with the Kurdistan Region President happen at the right time or was it overdue?
Ismail Hama: We believe it was held at the right time. The president of the Kurdistan Region (Barzani) explained his position and said we are ready to do what is needed to help Syrian Kurds. Barzani said it’s very important that we reach an agreement with the Syrian opposition on the Kurdish demands.
Rudaw: After protests erupted in Syria, the Syrian government extended an invitation to Barzani, in his capacity as the president of the Kurdistan Region, to visit Syria. But he rejected the invitation. Was Barzani’s position in the interest of or against the interests of Syrian Kurds?
Ismail Hama: In fact, had Barzani visited Syria at this time, it would have been harmful for Syrian Kurds because it has been repeatedly stated that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (of Barzani) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani) had encouraged the Syrian Kurds to talk to Bashar al-Assad’s regime and reach an agreement with the regime.
Rudaw: Many countries have expressed fears that civil war might break out in Syria. Do you share the same fears?
Ismail Hama: The civil war has begun in some areas. Syrian people are killing each other because of their sectarian identities. We, as Kurds, are against sectarian fighting.
Rudaw: Do you fear that war will reach the Kurdish areas?
Ismail Hama: No, because there is no sectarianism in the Kurdish areas and we share borders with Sunni Arab areas in the country. Therefore, there is no fear of civil war in the Kurdistan region of Syria.
Rudaw: Iraqi President Jala Talabani said recently that Iraq has fears about the alternative to the current regime in Syria. Don’t you share the same fears that the next regime might be even worse for Kurds than Assad’s regime was?
Ismail Hama: It’s impossible for a worse regime to take power in Syria. We have some fears about the Muslim Brotherhood but they really don’t hold enough power in Syria to become a great threat for us. They aren’t the majority and can’t rule the country alone. Apart from the Alawites, there are Druze, Ismalelis, Christians and others in the country.
Rudaw: Assad had requested a meeting with you. Why did you reject the invitation?
Ismail Hama: He made that request in the first few months after the outbreak of protests in Syria. We also had some demands including amending the Syrian constitution to recognize Kurds as the second ethnic group (after Arabs). But Assad wasn’t prepared to respond to those Kurdish demands and that is why we rejected the meeting. They have asked to meet with Kurds several times but we have insisted on our position.
Rudaw: Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, didn’t vote for suspending Syria’s membership in the Arab League and imposing sanctions on the Syrian regime. What do you think of that?
Ismail Hama: We know Zebari is a Kurd but he represents Iraq’s foreign policy. So we understand his position because he didn’t take that position in the name of the Kurdistan Regional Government but in the name of Iraq.