The commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Kobane (a.k.a. Mazlum Abdi) has been waging a successful campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for several years with the backing of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Even though ISIS has been territorially defeated in Iraq and Syria, its militants and sympathizers continue to conduct terrorist acts throughout the region. The accompanying excerpt from Al-Monitor, a news site with analysts from the Middle East, features an interview with Mazlum Kobane, who provides a Kurdish perspective on several key issues facing Syrian Kurds.

The first issue is ongoing unity talks among Syrian Kurds. The Kurdish National Council (KNC), a Syrian Kurdish political party backed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG), insists on adding a paragraph in the agreement that explicitly states that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a leading political party among Syrian Kurds, will commit to severing ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed armed group waging war on the Turkish government since 1984. Mazloum Kobane says “we refuse to name any group” in the final agreement. He also states that Russians perceive these talks as positive and Syrian Kurds have been briefing them on the progress of the talks.

The second issue is Russian insistence that Syrian Kurds engage with the Syrian regime. While Syrian Kurds expect Russia to press the Syrian regime, Kobane states that the regime is not ready for a solution. Kobane also states that they have stopped the efforts of the Syrian regime and Iran to “provoke Arab tribes against us [SDF].”

The third issue is the ongoing tension between the PKK and KDP in the KRG. He notes that this tension could cause harm to the Kurds. Syrian Kurdish leaders are in contact with both parties to diffuse tensions while remaining neutral. Finally, the interview concludes with the issue of Turkish-backed groups cutting off the water supply to Hasakah from the Alok power station. While Russians are trying to solve this problem, they have not been successful.

Another issue is whether Syrian Kurds will engage in a dialogue with Turkey. Kobane states that Syrian Kurds would be willing to sit down with Turkey to ease Turkey’s national security concerns. However, this would depend on Turkey’s intention and willingness to commit to a peaceful resolution. He continues to say a dialogue between Syrian Kurds and Turkey would positively impact Turkey’s relations with the PKK and its Kurdish population.

Everyone here agrees that Rojava must be administered by the Syrian Kurds and that Syria’s territorial integrity needs to be preserved… any administration in Rojava needs to be formed by Syrian Kurds alone…

Source: “Syrian Kurdish commander sees chance to ease tensions with Turkey under Biden,” al-Monitor, 09 November 2020.

Al-Monitor: Sources tell us the talks [unity talks between the KNC and the PYD] keep getting hung up over the issue of the PKK. More precisely, the KNC is demanding that any final agreement must contain a paragraph saying that the PYD is committed to severing its ties with the PKK or for the PKK to be expelled from Rojava, or something along those lines. And you have refused. Is that correct?

Kobane: Everyone here agrees that Rojava must be administered by the Syrian Kurds and that Syria’s territorial integrity needs to be preserved. Its commonly agreed that any administration in Rojava needs to be formed by Syrian Kurds alone, that all decisions made by that administration need to be made by Syrian Kurds alone and that all such decisions need to be made transparently. It is agreed that the Syrian Kurdish identity needs to be nurtured and fortified. On this, we are in agreement. Therefore, if the KNC is truly sincere about this territory being self-administered without any external interference, there is no problem.

Al-Monitor: So what is the problem then?
Kobane: At the moment there are some problems between the Kurds. There are tensions between the PKK and the KDP (the Kurdistan Democratic Party). We do not want to be a party to those tensions. We as the Syrian Kurds, as the Syrian Democratic Forces, as the Autonomous Administration in Rojava — we refuse to take sides…

Al-Monitor: But the KNC has been insisting on referencing the PKK in a final agreement. And you are refusing. Right?
Kobane: Yes, that’s right. And it’s not just the PKK. We refuse to name any group in this context. We as the Syrian Democratic Forces sought the help of everyone in our fight against terror, against DAESH…

Al-Monitor: What about the Russians? What is their position on the talks?
Kobane: This process developed independently of the Russians. However, nothing negative about the talks was communicated to us by the Russians through their official channels. Though they are not part of the process, they want to be kept informed about it. They are constantly briefed about them by us… The number of Russian forces has expanded in our area in the wake of Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, and when problems arise on the ground, we always manage to solve them.

Al-Monitor: But the Russians want you to strike a deal with the regime?
Kobane: It’s true that they are pushing us to make peace with the regime. But we expect them to put more pressure on the regime. In any case, overall the regime is not ready for a solution… It’s not ready for a democratic solution. It’s been unable in particular to shake the Baath mentality when it comes to the Kurds. However, we remain in constant contact with the regime because we live side by side and we face common security problems.

Al-Monitor: The regime and Iran are seeking to sow discord between you and the Arab tribes.
Kobane: The regime and Iran work in concert in the territory under our control. They are trying to provoke the Arab tribes against us. We made our displeasure known to them. We can say we have stopped their mischief for now. We have good relations with the tribes everywhere, and we wish to make them even better…

Al-Monitor: One of the main purposes of the unity talks is to improve relations between the Rojava administration and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). If tensions between the PKK and the KDP continue, isn’t this likely to cause harm to the talks?
Kobane: Of course… It will cause a lot of harm. At the end of the day, you have Kurds on both sides… A conflict like this will cause harm to Rojava as a whole as it will to the ongoing dialogue between the Syrian Kurds. That is why we are doing our very best to help reduce these tensions. We are in contact with all the different parties. We are talking to officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. We are also in touch with Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani. This fight is of a kind that will cause harm not only to Rojava but to all Kurds.

Al-Monitor: What caused this quarrel?
Kobane: There is only one cause: Turkey. Turkish pressure. There is nothing to be gained by either the KDP or the PKK in this fight. Both sides continually say they are against Kurdish infighting… This situation is the result of the intervention of outside forces. It’s the result of Turkey’s military operations against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Al-Monitor: … Are you ready to sit down with Turkey without any preconditions?
Kobane: It depends on their intentions. Our intentions are open and clear. We want peace. We want stability. If Turkey doesn’t espouse a cynical approach, if it is ready to take steps with a real solution in mind, and if that solution is to the benefit of the people of Rojava, and if all outstanding issues are put on the table, why not?…
On the question of Turkey’s national security concerns and interests, we are very clear. We are ready to accommodate them…
However, before talking about mediating between the PKK and Turkey, we first need to solve the problems between ourselves and Turkey…

Al-Monitor: There’s the chronic problem of Turkey cutting off the water supply to Hasakah from the Alok power station in Serekaniye. What’s the latest?
Kobane: However much this problem occurs within Turkey’s full knowledge, it’s first and foremost a problem caused by the Turkish-backed Sunni opposition armed group there. They keep cutting off the water. They place Turkey in an awkward position. The Russians are mediating to solve the problem but they have failed so far. So we are working on a lasting solution that involves carrying water from the Euphrates River to Hasakah.

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