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Rojava will persevere, says Aldar Khalil

By Rudaw 7/11/2018
Turkey cannot launch an attack on Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates the same way it did in Afrin, argued a senior leader in the Rojava administration. The balance of power, especially considering the international stance, is completely different, explained Aldar Khalil in a wide-ranging interview with Rudaw’s Vivian Fatah.

Turkey has a “phobia towards Kurds,” he said, explaining it is to be expected that a revolution like the one they have staged in Rojava will come under attack, but the people of Rojava will persevere. 

Khalil is former co-chair of the governing TEV-DEM coalition in Rojava and current diplomatic representative for the self-autonomous region of northern Syria. 

This interview was done on November 2, 2018.

RUDAW: Now Turkey is attacking Manbij, Kobane, and Gire Spi. What’s your evaluation of the situation? 

ALDAR KHALIL: The Turkish state’s attacks on western Kurdistan [Rojava] and on the north and east of Syria in general are not a new thing. Turks and their governments have acted against Kurdish will throughout history, no matter where. They will never accept the emergence of Kurdish will and the progress of a democratic process on the borders. 

If you remember, the people’s spring began in Syria in 2011. Since then, Turkey has been struggling against all components and progresses in the region. They attacked us through the media and politically and militarily, in various ways. They sent military groups


  Turkey is against any will of the people  

to Sare Kaniye in 2012. Then they sent some groups to Afrin and around it. Later they attacked Kobane. All these groups attacked according to instructions from Turkey. They continue now. 

If you recall, when southern Kurdistan [Kurdistan Region] held the referendum, Turkey opposed it before everyone else. This means that Turkey is against any will of the people. Typically, they have a phobia towards Kurds.

This could be the beginning of an extensive offensive. If so, will it be stopped?

This depends on the progress, preparations, and positions. Surely we, as Kurds and other people who live with us and share a project with us, can create pressure if we struggle and conduct activities diplomatically and culturally through international organizations and create public awareness. Also, if there are local preparations and people work diligently, surely these things will be taken into consideration. However, we do acknowledge that Turks will never easily or swiftly accept a democratic experience or project in this region.

Then how will it accept it? What alternatives do you have to persuade Turkey to accept it?

We are staging a revolution. We have begun our revolution to liberate our country, establish a democratic system, secure stability in the region, and let our region become democratic. This requires struggle. We have never had the notion that we can achieve this democracy and freedom and everything will proceed normally without struggle and hardship. When you stage a revolution, you have to realize that the enemy could attack you and make obstacles for you. You have to be ready to react. 

Our people have done a great job since 2011, such as historical resistances and they became examples for the region and the world for their skills in fighting as well as a high level of sacrifice. They also sacrificed their children for the sake of their lives and progress in


  When you stage a revolution, you have to realize that the enemy could attack you   

their revolution. 

We have taken good steps so far, but there is a long process before us. We will never say and have never said that everything has been completed. We believe that we are in the initial stages of the revolution. We are revolutionizing, therefore we have to expect hardship.

Has the international community, mainly the US, given you any promises they would halt these attacks?

These countries have interests in the region, Syria, and in our own region. Each of them acts in accordance with their interests. They could have a short-term interest by staying alongside us or prefer our existence in the region. But when their interests change tomorrow, they may neglect their promises. We always try to improve our relations with them, make them decide in our favor. And when they want to make a decision about Turks and us, we try to approach them. 

We realize that we should not only depend on their promises in our revolution. These promises can sometimes work, but the most significant thing is our own promise – whether we can proceed in this revolution or not and whether we will continue to work collectively for a free state and life. If we fulfill our own promises, the fulfillment of other people’s promises does not matter. If they do fulfill them, our work will be easier. Otherwise we have to persevere.

In case they don’t fulfill their promises, what pressure cards do you have to compel the international Coalition? For example, the fight against ISIS.

The fight against ISIS is a fact on the ground and it continues. The last areas of ISIS around Deir ez-Zor are being sieged and the SDF is progressing. Additionally, we govern more than 30 percent of Syrian territory. We have enough power to have a say about the


  We have enough power to have a say about the future of Syria  

future of Syria. 

These forces have to do something to find a political solution after ISIS is gone. If they really want to do something or maintain their presence here, they must recognize our presence for the political solution or consider us as a force. They have to take some things into consideration to include us and gain our approval. Otherwise, the future of Syria will be complicated. 

Another thing is that we as Kurds did not revolt alone, but made Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmens, and others who live here our partners. If they commit injustice, it will also affect the project. If they commit injustice to the project, it will also affect other ethnic and religious components as well. This will be a burden for them. Therefore they have to take these things into account. 

No one in the Middle East has a project of people’s brotherhood like ours where everyone practices freedom and lives together. We want to resolve the Kurdish question without cutting from other groups. We rather say that we will resolve our question alongside other peoples’ issues. 

They see that this is not found in other countries. Therefore they have to consider these things.

You said that you are an effective force and control 30 percent of Syria. You had the same force in Afrin. What can you do to prevent a similar scenario in other parts of Rojava?

The Afrin case was somehow different in respect to the dominant forces and international forces. The balances were different. Turkey had already controlled a range of areas in the centre of Rojava and Afrin. This was hard because there was the regime in the south and Turks in the east. The Afrin offensive was conducted from three directions. And politically, the region was under the control of


  The situation [east of the Euphrates] is very different from Afrin  

Russia, which cannot decide alone. All these countries have to come together in order to sign an agreement against us. 

If Russia suffered from supporting Turks, their suffering will increase ten times in the Euphrates. What are these hardships? Here we are the centre of struggle and the dominant force, and the region is geographically extensive. Additionally, the existing forces, like the coalition, are dominant, unlike Russia. Russia has no power here. There also the regime’s security branches, Arab, Syriac, Assyrian, and Kurdish forces. 

This means that the situation here is very different from Afrin. All these factors can create a different image. Yet, this does not mean that everything is okay and there will be no attacks. We have to be prepared and provide protection through our force and decisions.

Will the presence of US bases in Kobane have any impact, although they are not huge bases like those found in Turkey and Shatt al-Arab?

If Americans are present here, surely they will have an impact. If two of their soldiers are somewhere, they can make many changes for the sake of their soldiers. Of course, as long as they are present, they will be an obstacle for Russians, Turks, and the regime when they want to do something. Nevertheless, they can move their bases if they reach an agreement. You cannot say that only because they are here nothing will happen. Instead we have to benefit from their presence. If they decide to leave, they can abandon here within hours.

Are you considering requesting support from the Syrian government to prevent Turkish forces from advancing east of the Euphrates?

There is something better than support, which is the Syrian representative to the United Nations. It also has a representative in the Security Council. All of the international forces contact the regime when discussing Syria. The United Nations will not come to a region


  [Damascus] should not turn a blind eye to these issues  

without the approval of the regime. The regime has to do its duty as it represents Syria. By using this mandate, the Syrian regime has to urge at the United Nations and other places that there shall be no attacks on Syrian territories, no areas shall be separated from Syria, or Turkish attacks shall stop. It should not turn a blind eye to these issues. It is significant for the regime to officially support this case and clarify its position. If they do not do this, then it means that they and Russia are also in agreement to bring Turks in.

Have you been invited to help crafting a new constitution for Syria? What demands will you present if you join the talks?

In the absence of a new constitution for Syria, there will be no progress in the resolution of the crisis, agreement, or stability. Additionally, a future cannot be built. There have been no invitations. It is still being discussed, but there is nothing clear about it. When the new representative to the United Nations starts working, new topics will come up and efforts to make amendments will begin. 

However, there is a reality: as I said that we are force in Syria, governing 30 percent of the country. When it comes to the constitution, what is a constitution? It is an agreement between those people who live together and say that their relations are based on certain principles or they will govern their country in a certain way. It is not possible for a constitution to exclude us.

What are your specific demands for the constitution?

Surely, the rights, freedoms, culture, history, and identity of Kurds are practically present in western Kurdistan [Rojava]. These are


  It is not possible for a constitution to exclude us  

undeniable facts. Western Kurdistan will not prevail if only governed by Kurds. If we say that western Kurdistan is only for Kurds and avoid partnership with other nations in this project, then there will be no democratic system and Rojava will not prevail. 

However, Syria will also not be democratic if Kurdish rights are not granted and their presence is neglected. We believe that the key to this issue is to be under a federal system, meaning that our regions shall be part of the federal government of Syria. The regions shall not only include western Kurdistan, but let all of northern Syria be a federal region that includes separate, self-governing regions and cantons.

What will happen to the Rojava administration if a federal region is formed in the north? What about Kurdistan?

Western Kurdistan [Rojava] will be a region within the federal region. The federal region will only be a geographic label because currently there are some regions in northern Syria that are not considered part of Rojava. Them you cannot describe them as Rojava.

Does this mean that you will submit this project of the north region of Syria, including Rojava, if you attend the convention for a new constitution?

That’s true. There will be a federal system which will be formed as per negotiations. There are coastal, northern, and southern regions in Syria. All these will be separate federal regions. Within each of these regions, there will be a federal administration system and


  Our relations with France have reached a high level   

western Kurdistan will be one of them.

A delegation from Rojava visited France recently and some representatives from France visited Rojava as well. Can we say that this is a good beginning for strengthening relations with France? Is this on your agenda?

Our relations with France have reached a high level and some things reached the point of daily contact. Our meetings continue. Their delegations come here and ours go to there. It is not only French delegations, but others from other powerful countries in the world always come to Rojava. These powerful countries have had high-level meetings with the Rojava administration and the newly-established northern administration. France possesses an exclusive place in these meetings. We aspire to turning these relations into a force to develop our project and gain the rights of our people.

Iraq intends to close Semalka crossing border with Syria. Has anyone discussed this subject with you? If the crossing border is closed, Rojava will suffer from another siege.  

We have only heard about this in media.

What if it is closed? How will you react?

Generally, we do not want to be besieged. There is already a siege. There should not be embargos on these regions and necessary


  These borders, which were the result of the division of Kurdistan, should not be there  

actions – diplomatic and others – shall be taken so that this region can have a door for negotiations.

Do you have alternatives in case this border is closed?

There are some efforts to open the Tal Kochar – [Rabia] crossing border as well. During the ISIS war, our gates with Syrian regions were cut, but now they are open, such as Aleppo. However, it is significant to open border crossings with other regions as well.

The crossing borders that are within Syria could be different from those with other parts of Greater Kurdistan. How are your relations with the Kurdistan Region?

We hope that our relations are not limited to border crossings as if we are from two different countries. These borders, which were the result of the division of Kurdistan, should not be there. Our nation has mutual determination. For instance, during the Kobane struggle our people from south [Kurdistan Region], east [Iranian Kurdistan], and north [Turkish Kurdistan], and even those who have migrated to Europe, were conducting activities and had a mutual purpose. The same reaction was seen during the Afrin struggle. 

Even now when attacks are conducted against northern Syria the same reaction is observed. This is a sacred thing. This means the borders that were drawn by the invaders were basically meaningless. Therefore, there shall be no borders between us. However, there is a reality: these countries have been divided by the international community therefore our relations happen via borders.


  [The regime] does not want to take serious steps, but steps that are survival in the moment  

What about the Syrian Democratic Council’s (SDC) relations with the Syrian government? After two fruitless meetings, is there any hope for an agreement with Damascus?

Yes, that is possible in the future. There are ongoing efforts. We can find a way and a dialogue has to be followed. Despite issues and hardship, we have to find a way and develop that dialogue, no matter today, tomorrow, next month or next year.

Do you have any plans for another meeting with the regime soon?

You must address this question to the SDC.

What were the disputes between you and the Syrian government during the meetings?

Basically, we did not want disputes to rise because it was an initial meeting, not one to discuss a solution. The discussion was about whether to start discussing a resolution or not. Additionally, some developments came up where the SDC representative handed them [the regime] their project and they commented on it. They were supposed to meet again but they have not yet. 

They [SDC delegation] have not informed us of any such things. But as far we understand, the regime does not want to work on a new constitution and also wants to restore the situation to pre-2011. It also says, ‘I will be somehow closer to Kurds.’ They mean to provide some small and basic rights to us as a minority who live with them and as citizens. It has not reached the point to say we


  [ENKS can] receive the permit and open the office  

have to change the constitution and Syria and bring about new changes. It fears taking these steps. It does not want to take serious steps, but steps that are survival in the moment.

Currently 52 offices of ENKS have been shut throughout Rojava. Why do not approach to Kurdish parties as you are approaching Arabs and Syriac?

I did not know they were 52 offices. If so, it is good.

Fifty-two ENKS offices have been shut.

Yes, but you know no one has prevented them. Now, they can reopen their offices by visiting official institutions. This exists in all democratic countries. When someone wants to open a bureau, they have to visit relevant authorities to inform them about the location of the bureau and its activities. Then, they receive the permit and open the office. No one has stopped them. 

Your TV’s office is present here. What did you do? You visited the press council, received the permit and…

We are media but they are Kurdish political parties. Why do not they have the right to conduct their political activities here as Kurdish parties, without being compelled to seek permission – as they claim?

They do have right. The PYD has received a permit from the committee of parties. What is a permit? It does not have anything to with bylaws or other things. They only have to say, ‘I am a party, my office is located in a certain place or city, my bureaus are located in these certain areas, and I want to start working.’ They submit their program and the committee approves it and provides protection. And when it has an activity, congress, meeting, or march, Asayesh [security] and the relevant authorities will protect them. 

However, they have not done these visits. Let them visit tomorrow and if they are provided with permits then we can be side-by-side


  Some countries even doubted we could resist for three days  

with them against the northern Syria’s administration and Rojava. We also can ask them, ‘Why are not you issuing it?’ But as far as I know, they have not visited.

Will you give them permits if they visit?

Of course. I am not the one who gives it, but the committee that is associated with the administration. As far as I know, the administration has often asked them to visit them, offering support.

In this regard, you have been criticized. Some members of ISIS were freed on different occasions under a general amnesty. But you are being criticized for keeping some members of the ENKS in prison. Why don’t you free them?

You can ask the court and justice about their case and sentence. The prisoners require a judicial decree. Actually, I have no clue whether they are one, two, or ten. We have often asked and as far as I know they are not as many as mentioned in media. They could be one or so. The reason for their arrests is not their association with ENKS, but other convictions and crimes. These things are related to the court. They can hire a lawyer and report to the court to follow up on their case and find out whether the case is ongoing or not, or whether a sentence has been given or not. This is a judiciary issue, not a political one.

We are running out of time but I also want to ask about mistakes that resulted in the loss of Afrin? Were you under pressure? Or were your calculations wrong?

Worse than mistakes was a powerful enemy like Turkey, a member of NATO that attacked Afrin. It was a matter of power such as planes and wars. And during wars you have to consider the fact that two sides are fighting: one attacking with military capacities and another side resists. All the experts thought that it would be impossible for us to resist for ten days. Some countries even doubted we could resist for three days.

Who were they?

Some friendly countries that wanted to know about the situation in Afrin. At that time I was in France. The French officials asked, ‘Can you resist for three days?’ We resisted for 58 days, not three days, which was not expected. 

We had more than 1,500 martyrs. Our people did not leave the city until the last moment. All preparations – medicine, logistics, water and food – were provided. All these were available until the last moment. However, we were militarily weak. Nearly 32 planes were


  We have to prevail  

flying over Afrin for observation purposes in addition to airstrikes around the clock. 

When they targeted the centre of the city – hospital, downtown, and houses – the fighters realized that the longer the fighting lasts, the more people will die because the city was surrounded. The fighters would have fought until the last moment if they were alone. But when Turkish planes targeted the hospital and people, it was clear that the Turkish aggression had reached a point where they would not retreat.

Turkey is the second largest force in NATO and fifth in the world, but you withdrew quickly. Was there an international agreement?

No no, there was no agreement. It was merely a field and military issue, related to the military commanders on the ground and the condition of people, as I mentioned before. These fighters intended to fight until the last moment, but when civilians are involved in the war one cannot do some certain things. It was not a political matter or related to agreements.

Can you answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ about a possible offensive on Rojava similar to the one in Afrin?

One like Afrin is not possible because other places are different from Afrin. But there will be pressure to bring about changes similar to Afrin – but not the same.

Will they prevail?

We have to prevail.


Unite | 8/11/2018
I am sure Rojawa will persevere and prevail at the end. One may accept as it is a known fact that the Fascist regime of Turkey is against freedom of the Kurdish nation and against all democratic and peaceful people of Kurdistan. What I cannot comprehend, and am sure that I am not alone, is that US and Europe is on the fascist side while they are bragging about democracy and peace and lecturing other third world countries on democracy. Unless democracy and freedom have different meanings and we only know the wrong ones.
FAUthman | 8/11/2018
Not very pragmatic nor very reassuring answers by Mr. Alda Khalil although he is a dedicated spokesman for the Rojava Kurds. Words like revolution, struggle, sacrifice, "we have to prevail", have proven vacuous and disconnected with the reality of Kurds in Syria. Without US protection you would be gobbled up by Turkey in two days. US says we are staying in Syria not only to defeat ISIS but we have two other objectives in Syria to accomplish and we will stay until we accomplish them: defeating ISIS, resolving the war in Syria politically (with Kurds participating in shaping the political solution), roll back and block Iran's influence in Syria. These are US objectives that work in your favor. US is not about to pack up and leave then the Kurds in Rojava under the mercy of Erdogan and Assad. Show the world you are worthy of support in peacetime as you did in the war with ISIS. Build a model government for all Syrians in the territories east of the Euphrates with a path forward towards prosperity, equality and security for all in your region with a measure of self rule within Syria. Initiatives of support and donations for rebuilding will start coming in and your voices will be heard.

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