Fawzi Sleman, 51, is the spokesperson for the defence committee of Afrin canton.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Uniting their three cantons of Afrin, Kobane and Cizre, remains the key goal for the Kurds of Rojava, a self-declared autonomous region in northern Syria, and they are now just 50 kilometres away from accomplishing that.
Fawzi Sleman, spokesperson for the defence committee of Afrin canton, the western-most enclave of Rojava, in a wide-ranging interview with Rudaw explained that “Uniting the three Rojava cantons is decisive for us and now only 50 kilometers are left for our forces in Kobani and Afrin to unite in Shahba.”
Shahba stretches from the western edge of the Kobani administration until Al-Azzaz, on the border with Afrin canton. It has a 150 kilometre long border with Turkey to the north, and the Syrian provinces of Raqqa and Halab to the south.
“Uniting the three cantons won’t happen only by liberating Manbij, but the key to unite the three cantons is to liberate Shahba,” said Sleman who is also the spokesperson for the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) in Shahba.
He explained that events in Syria made Shahba an important area as “Many actors such as Turkey and the Gulf countries want to turn the area into a base for those armed groups backed by them to implement their agenda under different names. For example, they call it a security zone. And even if their goal is not to attack Rojava, it will create trouble for Rojava.”
“For us,” he continued, “uniting the three cantons is very crucial and strategic, directly linked to the security and stability of Rojava. It’s in our interest to prevent those forces who are standing against the goals of our people. Therefore liberating Manbij and Shabha are our main duty.”
After liberating Manbij and Shahba, the Kurds’ goal is to seek a federal system for Syria. “We are in Syria seeking a federal, democratic and decentralized government. The Syrian question and the Syrian people are more important for us and the Syrians as well,” explained Sleman. “People from Idlib and other provinces in Syria came to us and asked for our support.” Idlib is the Syrian province that geographically includes Afrin canton.”
Sleman denied that the Kurdish forces have any agreement with the Syrian regime and dismissed reports of the army’s advances around Raqqa. “The movements of the Syrian army around Raqqa villages recently, despite the propaganda, it’s very limited and not worth mentioning.”
He disagreed that the United States and Russia, two key international players in the ongoing Syrian conflict, could bring a solution to the country’s crisis. “Both the US and Russia have interests in the region and the existence of a balance between the two is not a secret thing. They are supporting forces and groups that are against each other, but it’s obvious they agree on many things and this will make the Syrian crisis continue longer.”
Sleman rejected news reports that Russia was backing YPG forces in Afrin, stating, “There are many rumors. Even sometimes they accuse us, as you mentioned, saying Russia supports Afrin. Or they talk about divisions over Rojava between the US and Russia. But frankly, I will say this is just a rumor and does not exist in reality.”
On their relations with US and coalition countries, he was positive, saying, “Against terrorism, we have a position within the international community. On this basis our relations with the US and the international coalition is in our and their interests.”
“We hope that relations will develop on the political level as well,” he added.
To those Gulf countries who asked for the Kurds to collaborate with them in Syria but then refused to support Kurdish aspirations, Sleman had harsh words. “When the Syrian people’s revolution started, many states, under the cry of ‘Where are you generations of Saladin Ayubi?’ asked us to collaborate and become an ally with them. But we told them this song expired a long time ago and we are passed those tricky politics. Therefore now they are against us.”
Saladin was a Sunni Kurdish leader who led the campaign against the invading Crusaders in the twelfth century.
Fawzi Sleman, 51, became a guerrilla fighter 26 years ago. He underwent training at the Mahsum Kurkmaz Academy in Biqah, Lebanon in 1991 and then came to the Kurdish mountains where he continued his political, military, and media activities.