The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) recently met with Polat Can, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) Representative to the U.S.-led international coalition against the self-declared Islamic State terrorist group.
Polat Can is one of the founding members of the YPG, and has interfaced with western media organizations for years. In the interview below, Polat Can talks about the YPG, the role of women in Kurdish society, Kobani, the relationship between the U.S. and the YPG, and the future of Kurds in the region.
WKI Interview with Polat Can
WKI: What are the People’s Protection Units?
Polet Can: The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are revolutionary volunteer forces. We believe in coexistence and brotherhood among all nationalities and ethnicities in the region. We respect the identities of all ethnicities in our society, including Kurds, Arabs, Christians (Armenians, Assyrians and Syriacs) and Turkmen. The YPG includes fighters from all of these ethnicities and aims to protect everyone without distinction or discrimination. Our units respect women’s rights. Women play a significant role in incorporation, regulation, and resistance at all levels.
WKI: Can you describe the role of women in Kurdish society?
PC: Throughout history, Kurdish women have been known for accomplishments and courage. Kurdish society is an open society that respects women. They are involved with men in all businesses and activities, and they do not hesitate to engage in military resistance. Since the foundation of YPG, Kurdish women have played a major role in leading battles and in organizing and preparing the units to defend all peoples of our society – Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac, Assyrian, Armenian and Turkmen. During battle for Kobani, many women fighters in the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fought bravely, and became famous around the world for their heroic resistance against the forces of evil. Kurdish women are our pride!
WKI: Can you describe the importance of the victory in Kobani?
PC: The self-proclaimed Islamic State’s war in Kobani was a war against humanity, democracy and free will. Kobani was, and still is a very important symbol for Kurdistan’s revolution, and it was targeted by ISIS starting in mid-2013. ISIS attacks against Kobani have peaked in magnitude and brutality since September 2014. Our forces showed historical resistance and did not collapse like the other armies in the neighboring countries and regions.
This historical resistance resonated in international media and public opinion, which resulted in assistance from the international coalition for our heroic fighters on the ground. This strong solidarity led to the liberation of the city of Kobani on January 26, followed by the liberation of the rest of the region. The victory in Kobani is a victory for humanity, justice and democracy. It is a victory for civilization against barbarism, terrorism, racism and extremism. It showed the persecuted people emerging victorious against torturers and murderers.
WKI: What is the relationship between the United States and the Syrian Kurds?
PC: We have good relationship with a lot of countries, especially the ones that are participating in the international coalition against ISIS — and the United States is leading that coalition. We have a direct and strong relationship with the United States, and we have worked together to coordinate in targeting terrorists in Syria generally and Rojava (Western Kurdistan or Syrian Kurdistan) in particular.
I believe that the United States found a strong, serious, brave, and disciplined partner in the Syrian Kurds and I do not think that it is in the interests of the U.S. to step away from this relationship, which is strengthening day after day. Our victories over the ISIS terrorists are victories for the coalition forces as well. Many opposed this relationship and sought to create disagreements but they were not successful.
WKI: Should the United States recognize Kurds in Syria?
PC: The US is obliged to recognize our rights and our usurped nationality! They see the injustice that we been exposed to and still remain in certain areas. We will be the dynamic force in the fight against terrorism and the construction of the civilized model for the region – we seek to spread the spirit of brotherhood and coexistence and the foundations of democracy in our region and across the country. Everyone must realize that the Kurds will not be reduced to simple cards to be played in a regional game; they are a major player in the region, and in Syria especially.
WKI: What future role can the Kurds play in the Middle East?
PC: Kurds have an important and essential role in the Middle East and this role will increase more and more. The political movements of the Kurdish people are the most organized and open to the democratic system compared to other nations in the region. Kurds are fighting terrorism and are seeking freedom. No one can subjugate the Kurds and keep them out of the regional and international political area. Kurds are the key for many solutions to the outstanding problems in the region.