The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) recently met with Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in northern Syria. The PYD is primarily responsible for setting up the governing bodies of Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan.
Salih Muslim is one of the founding members of the PYD, and has travelled all across the world promoting awareness about the Kurdish cause, particularly in Syria. In the interview below, Muslim talks about the ethnic and religious tolerance practiced in the PYD, as well as the future of Rojava, and a message for the American people.
WKI Interview with Salih Muslim
Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI): We are honored to conduct an interview with you to discuss currents events in Syria and Rojava. To start, how would you describe the Kurdish situation in northern Syria?
Salih Muslim: The Kurdish people, along with other peoples who inhabit Rojava (northern Syria), are the most organized among the Syrian people. Thanks to their organization, they were able to expel the [Assad] regime from their areas first and then subsequently defeat the terrorist organizations threatening them. They are leading the march of democracy across Syria.
WKI: How will the People’s Protection Units (YPG) factor into Rojava’s future?
SM: The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are a defense force consisting of representatives of all ethnicities of Rojava (northern Syria), including Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs, and Turkmens — it is a revolutionary force that defends the Syrian people in general. If these revolutionary forces can form a suitable coalition with other Syrian forces, then they may be able to liberate all Syrian territory from ISIS and from the Syrian [Assad] regime.
WKI: How many Kurds in Syria have been displaced? What is the level of destruction in Kurdish cities?
SM: It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have been displaced, though there are no accurate statistics. Some of them fled to south Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) and some fled to northern Kurdistan (Turkish Kurdistan) as a result of war, destruction, economic distress, and scarcity of materials.
Kurds are returning to their villages and areas in large numbers after the brunt of the war has passed, especially in Kobani. Many villages and areas were destroyed – for example, in Kobani the rate of destruction reached 80%, and Gire Spi (Tel Abyad), Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn), and Al-Hasakah have endured great destruction. The war is still ongoing, and every day we are seeing more destruction in north Aleppo.
WKI: What are the long term goals for Rojava? Are you going to declare a federal government similar to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq? Or do you aim to establish a independent Kurdish state?
SM: We cannot achieve long-term stability in Syria alongside any organization that carries the same mentality as ISIS. As for our goals, we aim for a decentralized, democratic Syria, where all peoples enjoy freedom and democratic rights according to universal treaties and conventions. The Kurdish people in Syria have their own specific cultural and societal characteristics and they do not represent the Kurdish people in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and we are not aiming to establish a national Kurdish state in Syria.
WKI: How is your relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq?
SM: We have good relations with all the Kurdish parties in Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) helped us in our fight against ISIS — mainly through military support and logistical relief. Most notably, the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces participated in the defense and liberation of Kobani. We are keen to have good relations with all Kurdish parties.
WKI: Does the PYD have any international relationships?
SM: We, as a party, seek dialogue with all regional and international powers to convey our goals and our aim of democratic self-management, which has become a reality and a model for the future of Syria. There is not yet any state supporting democratic self-management, but there is an understanding of this project as path to democracy in Syria.
WKI: What is your message to the American people and their government?
SM: America is a superpower that fosters democracy globally, and has tried to develop and disseminate it in throughout all parts of the world. My message to the U.S. government and the American people is that there are Kurdish people in the Middle East who seek to protect their existence and secure the democratic rights that the American people believe in.
These Kurdish people were able to triumph over the forces of terrorism and extremism which threaten human values, and they are strong defenders of the democratic values that the American people spread throughout the world. For these reasons we must solidify our relationships with the American people and their government. The Kurdish people, as the vanguard of democracy, are ready for this.[To read the entire interview, visit WKI]