Riyaz Dirar is the co-leader of the Syrian Democratic Council. He is from Derazur, and is one of the key figures of the Syrian opposition. He was detained by the Syrian regime from 2005 to 2010 over charges of having preference for the Kurds who long for separation and try to separate the country.
Dirar spoke to Rudaw about the Syrian Democratic Council, inter-relations between the YPG, PYD, Syrian regime, ENKS, the Roj Brigade, the inherent rights of a Western or Rojava Kurdistan, as well as a Greater Kurdistan.
Rudaw: What is the objective of the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD)?
Riyaz Dirar, Syrian Democratic Council co-leader:
The Syrian Democratic Council works for the entire Syria, wanting to assist and deal with all the components of Syria without any discrimination. It wants to introduce new thinking in the project for a national state.
Is ending Bashar al Assad’s regime or his Baath party your aim?
Our political vision is that this regime’s foundation is shaken and therefore can’t be repaired. It should therefore be changed. It is an oppressive authority, believing only in controlling others. Hence, it is impossible to deal with them.
Why did the opposition oppose your participation in the Astana and Geneva talks?
Our participation in the Geneva talks was rejected because of the geographic location where the opposition is based, which bears on their objectives and thinking. They thought that groups such as the PYD [Syrian Democratic Union Party], which Turkey fights because they directly confront these forces, want to go to Damascus via Raas Ayn. Some were arguing that these don’t represent
[SDF-Damascus relations] happened only once, in Manbij.
the opposition, or they were accusing them of being part of the regime whose establishments they didn’t expel in the areas they control. In truth, the regime has changed its powers in the region and its institutions pay the salaries of the people living there and provide services. These are the state institutions which shouldn’t fall, and this is different from the position of the opposition which wanted to collapse everything for the sake of securing power.
But the opposition, the Alliance or the Negotiation High Committee doesn’t regard you as opposition. They say you are close to the regime.
This is merely an accusation until the opposite is proven. If forced, we will confront the regime as the regime not as the Syrian army which we will protect as an establishment of the state of Syria. We will not confront the army unless they confront us in the name of the regime. We don’t want to confront them militarily. We will confront it politically. But others have only words, nothing else other than some dispersed force fighting itself. These people will achieve nothing from negotiations.
Are there relations or coordination between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian army or Damascus?
Of course not. It happened only once, in Manbij. And this was because Turkey was threatening to attack the forces in Manbij. Penj Gund wouldn’t have been handed to the Russians if there was no such threat. We did a tactical thing to protect Manbij from Turkey’s interferences.
But the Syrian army is not confronting you?
They will be responded to if they confront us, just like what happened in al-Hasakah where they couldn’t move one step forward. On the contrary, they lost territory.
There are Syrian establishments like the intelligence agency, the army and Baath party headquarters in areas where your forces are based. High officials come from Damascus to hold meetings in areas you control.
We have broken away from Syria, and have declared that the Baath party should be expelled from the political spectrum. They don’t have power, but have put pressure on people. They campaign just like any other organization. But they haven’t controlled areas as the
the Baath party should take permission before others.
establishments are those of the state and not those of the regime. That is why they have survived. Syria is still alive and we haven’t collapsed the Syrian state, and we will not try to collapse it.
So, you have relations with the Baath party in these areas?
The relations are not direct. The existence of these relations owes to state establishments.
Has the Baath party taken permission from the local government for its activities?
I think the Baath party should take permission before others.
Has the Baath party gotten permission, or not?
I have no information about this.
The Baath party headquarters have not been closed in Qamishli or al-Hasakah. This is while the local government says no party headquarters should be opened without permission.
Yes, they need to get a license, and the decision is made on this.
Are there political dealings between the US and the Syrian Democratic Council?
They have paid more than a visit for coordination purposes. This subject might be developed. But the process is going slow as the US
We are an opposition to the regime which we take to be oppressive
support coming to the Syrian Democratic Forces for the war on ISIS is a joint allied support which could be turned into a political process.
Is there recognition on the part of the US to the Syrian Democratic Council?
There is coordination and visitation, but there is no direct recognition yet.
Do you support Bashar Assad staying in power?
As I said, this regime.
By regime, do you mean the Syrian government, the Baath party and Bashar al-Assad?
No, we mean all the establishments of the Syrian government and the Syrian state. Our project is that of staying, making reforms in the army and security forces which require change. Currently, the army and security forces need to be rebuilt. This is a suggestion just like any other political suggestions which we will put forward. It doesn’t need pressure, and we are not facing a military confrontation.
Are you prepared to negotiate with the regime?
It is better for us and the rest of the Syrian opposition to negotiate. This is a first step, and we are ready to work on it. And this will be
[US military support] comes through air.
a pressure on the opposition in which we should be an effective member as we are a main part in the opposition.
Do you consider yourselves an opposition?
Yes, we regard ourselves as opposition. We are an opposition to the regime which we take to be oppressive. It has suppressed its nation and is now practicing a policy of destruction against the Syrian nation. That is why we are the creators of this opposition which seeks a political settlement.
What is the nature of your agreement with the US to retake Raqqa and eject ISIS? Are you as a Council aware of this?
The US has come to the region to rid it of ISIS. They might stay for a long time. They run the way things change in the region. They don’t accept that the Russians run the game alone in Syria. Their interference requires that we understand the game and know how to protect our interests through their presence.
Is the agreement written, oral or just a protocol between the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces?
There is no published written thing. The coordination is direct.
How does the US military support sent to the Syrian Democratic Forces reach you, through air or ground? Does it come from Turkey or the Kurdistan Region?
It comes through air.
And tanks, artillery?
This is the job of military officials. They can send it their way.
So, you are not aware how they arrive?
As a politician, no I am not aware of this. I am not close to military matters. I am unaware of the subject of weapons, how they are sent or who sends them.
The US dealings with you are not written or based on a protocol. Will these relations remain verbal after ISIS is finished?
There are certain steps in forging relations which should be recorded.
Do you not think the US is using you only to eliminate ISIS?
I agree with you that this should be part of the interpretation, and we should have other plans as we work for the entire Syria. Our problem will be solved if we find a solution to the problem of Syria.
Do you fear that the US and coalition forces might abandon you after ISIS is gone?
We don’t take this as a danger. We will rebuild ourselves if the leave us.
It’s said that the YPG or PKK has controlled you? Are they running you?
No one has talked to me that wasn’t Syrian. In all our interviews, we’ve only discussed the policies and programs which we had
There are disagreements among Kurds, who are brothers and friends to one another
investigated. I think there is no directing and this is only the word of hostile media.
What is the nature of your closeness or friendship with the PYD?
The PYD is a Syrian party. Our relations with them are similar to those we have with other parties.
Do you have any role in supervising or running the autonomous Kurdish areas or their security forces?
Thus far, there is no central leadership to determine these directions. We are a political entity. The Syrian forces confronting ISIS belong to us. There is autonomous administration which does its work. It is an establishment which was in existence before the Syrian Democratic Council was established. That is why it has some kind of power in the form of a federal system which has a joint leadership. There is coordination among all these powers. I think in the future they will all have a natural position through which political and military relations will be built.
Do you have relations with Turkey?
Turkey is a big neighbor with which we share a more 900 kilometer border. We want Turkey to deal with us on the basis of Syria, not
I call upon [the KDP] to practice wisdom
on the basis of a Kurdish component or other components, or for an Arab component to be supported at the expense of the Kurds, which is not acceptable. Hence, we tell Syria to look at Syria as the state of all.
What do you make of the complex relations between the PYD and the Kurdistan Region?
There are disagreements among Kurds, who are brothers and friends to one another. Political disagreements can be settled in a political way. I think positive steps should be taken in order for political disagreements to be settled. It shouldn’t be based on one meeting in which some decisions are made. It should be done step by step, and the decisions should be enforced step by step, beginning from small to big decisions.
Do you have any message to the Kurdistan Region, especially the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and President Masoud Barzani to resolve these disagreements?
I call upon them to practice wisdom through which they can rebuild relations, and to reconcile the two parties in disagreement in Syria so that they build some kind of relations with the Kurdistan Region. This will be in favor of the whole region.
The Kurdistan Region and ENKS say that there has been an agreement before, namely the agreement of Erbil and Duhok. But they accuse the PYD of violating these agreements. Is there any guarantee that the second party will abide by this agreement?
Many things have changed due to these agreements. Four years after these agreements were made, we should reassess them and meet to make a new agreement. The old agreement has become dusty due to the given rivalries. The Kurdish National Council (KNC)
[The Roj Brigade] can return and should be able to return freely
supports those who reject that they exist. They are in alliance and are negotiating with the regime. They accuse those inside the circle of being part of the regime. That is why we should be more courageous to express the fact that the policies have changed and start to design a new policy between the two. I call upon the alliance to review itself and prove itself if it wants to open its headquarters inside Syria.
But these parties and outlawed and their headquarters have been closed?
No one can block the alliance as there is currently an agreement. There is political rivalry in closing their headquarters. In the first
What is going in Geneva is nothing. It is just appearance
meeting, all offices will be opened and the alliance in the first meeting can open its headquarters.
How do you think disagreements between the PYD and ENKS could be settled?
I am a friend of both and I know there is readiness within the Democratic Council to meet and talk to all the parties. I think we should first discuss everything on the negotiation table, and then determine the things which we can solve easier. We can then build relations step by step in an attempt to reach the great result which can unite decisions and directions.
The PYD and the Syrian Democratic Forces prevent Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga (the ‘Roj Brigade’) living in southern Kurdistan from visiting their hometowns. This is while the Peshmerga forces assisted the PYD in Kobani to liberate the city. Do you support the Rojava forces returning to their areas?
Of course, they can return and should be able to return freely, rather than being subjected to rivalries. This is their natural right. But
The historic Kurdistan is a natural right.
they shouldn’t return claiming they do so through force. This is what they shouldn’t do.
What do you make of the stance taken by the Syrian opposition regarding the situations of the Kurds in Syria?
In all honesty, the Syrian opposition still carries on the Baath party’s mentality. They still look at the Kurdish cause as if it is a question of separation. Many intellectuals think of the Kurds as backward.
So, the alliance has turned a back on its promises to the Kurds, through taking these stances?
The alliance didn’t fulfill its duties with respect to the promises it made to the Kurdish National Council. The delegation that went to London had some documentation and didn’t discuss the country’s different components. Their rhetoric was similar to the language which the former Baath party used in all its statements. We put the burden of responsibility on the alliance. What is going in Geneva is nothing. It is just appearance rather than real representation.
Do you believe in the existence of a part of Kurdistan in Syria, which is called western Kurdistan?
The historic Kurdistan is a natural right. It should exist and have its own entity. Kurds are the only nation without a state. I believe they should have the ability to build their own state. I look at the subject from a broader perspective, which is the Greater Kurdistan.
The Greater Kurdistan has one of its parts in Syria.
The way I see it is that the four parts of Kurdistan have become part of the region after the region was divided. These regions should be run within the framework of citizenship, human rights which are recognized by international organizations. How can we respond to these requests? We should accept the right of self-determination.
What about the right to determine your future, even independence? Building an independent state for the Kurds?
The right of self-determination is a natural right for every group that has its own entity. This right is recognized by the international community, and it is a human right. That is why we should defend it.