The co-chairs of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Council, Besê Hozat and Cemil Bayık, have responded to questions by Medya News on a number of topics, including the recent resurgence attempts of the Islamic State (ISIS) in North and East Syria, the allegations about Turkey’s support for ISIS, the situation in the Yazidi homeland Shengal, Turkey’s incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan, Iran’s approach, and KCK’s international relations with political parties and groups.
The KCK is a Kurdish political umbrella organisation, committed to implementing Abdullah Öcalan’s (imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK) paradigm of democratic confederalism.
There are allegations that the Islamic State (ISIS) received support from some foreign powers in its recent attacks in Hasake that began on 20 January. It has been claimed that most of the ISIS fighters came from Turkish-occupied town of Serekani. There are also claims that some NATO weapons seized from ISIS had the serial numbers of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). On the other hand, the Syrian government was also accused of having given a green light to the ISIS attack. Do you have any information that supports these claims?
ISIS receives support from some international and regional powers in its organisations and attacks. It’s particularly due to the support provided by Turkey that ISIS grew in strength and had earlier been able to carry out its attacks to gain control over large territories. The whole world is aware of the support provided by Turkey for ISIS. This has been stated in the reports of intelligence agencies. However, states are reluctant to disclose these reports for concerns over economic and political interests invested in relations with Turkey. In a period when a crisis emerged between Turkey and Russia after a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey, Russia had released some documents that revealed relations between Turkey and ISIS. But these were shelved after the two sides came to an agreement. The Turkish support for ISIS did not only consist of arms, munitions and logistical support during the battle of Kobane, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally implied that they would recognise the existence and sovereignty of ISIS once Kobane had fallen. His words, ‘Kobane is about to fall,’ was not only an indication of his expectation. It was at the same time a political remark, revealing an assessment that they were actually on the verge of recognising the presence of ISIS. In fact it was Turkey that drove ISIS against Kobane. Turkey has used ISIS in attempts to destroy the Rojava revolution.
It was Turkey again that provided support for ISIS in the group’s recent attack on Hasake. The ISIS members who took part in the attack came from Serekani [Ras al-Ayn] and Gire Spi [Tell Abyad], both under Turkish occupation. Reportedly, there were also some who came from Iraq. Statements released by the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] indicate that they have evidence documenting this. There are many records, besides evidences such as the weapons used in the attack, which reveal Turkey’s involvement. There are records of phone conversations and other communications. There are also testimonies and confessions of ISIS members who surrendered once the attack was crushed. The actual power behind the Hasake attack is Turkey. This is very clear.
We have also heard rumours about the Syrian administration’s support for the Hasake attack, but we’d prefer not to rely on these rumours. The strengthening of ISIS will weaken both Syria and the Syrian administration. The Kurds have become the target of ISIS and other Salafist groups because they chose to remain a part of Syria. Here, it must also be noted that this policy of the Kurds ought to be understood and assessed well.
At the end of January, the Guardian reported that ISIS and some other armed organisations’ members can easily travel to various countries from Turkey with fake documents they obtain in Turkey. Are you aware of the existence of such fake document networks?
It had been earlier disclosed by various documents that members of ISIS and other fundamentalist gangs such as Al Nusra made constant border crossings through Turkey. The Guardian’s report on some new documents is revealing in this context. The Turkish state actually does not only provide passports for members of ISIS and other gangs including Al Nusra. It also hosts them in Turkey, trains them and sends them on field missions. The MIT [Turkish national intelligence agency] in Turkey has centres in many locations that have been set up for these tasks. The gangs are trained in these centres. The MIT itself coordinates the activities of these gangs. When the Syrian civil war broke out, the United States had pursued a tactic to unite various groups, mostly Muslim Brotherhood groups, to build an opposition front against the Syrian regime. This project had both political and military aspects. At the time, it [the military aspect] was referred to as the train-equip-deploy tactic. Turkey and the US carried it out together. Political and military centres were officially established for this in Turkey. But later, first Al Nusra, then ISIS, emerged out of these groups. In the process there have been significant changes in the Syrian policy of the US and in its attitude towards Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups. However, similar changes did not occur in Turkey’s attitude, and furthermore, its ties with ISIS, or the remnants of ISIS, continued to grow. Turkey provided, and continue to provide, all sorts of support for these gangs.
In the present situation, ISIS can survive only with the support of Turkey. It can move from a territory to another when it’s cornered, and it can do this thanks to the support it receives. Currently, the ISIS headquarters are set up in territories under Turkish occupation. The US and other forces in the international coalition do not respond to this situation with sincerity. Due to their political relations with Turkey, they prefer to turn a blind eye on the relations between Turkey and ISIS, and on the support provided by Turkey for ISIS.
The ISIS attack in Hasake did not get much attention from around the world. The world’s politics and media were, and are still, mostly focused on the war between Russia and Ukraine. How would you comment on that?
The attack on Hasake was a comprehensive one. It was a major attack not only in military terms, but also in terms of the possible political outcomes it could have had. It wasn’t restricted only to Hasake neither. If it had succeeded, like it was planned, ISIS would regain control over large territories. It would then try, as a now effective political power, to impose itself as a sovereign entity on states with the support of Turkey. Raqqa was liberated from ISIS in 2016 by SDF and the international coalition forces. The city was the de facto capital of ISIS back then. Liberation of Raqqa weakened ISIS considerably in both political and military terms. It lost its status as an influential political and military power that controlled territories and which had a hold on people. The objective of ISIS in the Hasake attack was to reclaim that status. As the attack was defeated by SDF right inside of Hasake, the next phases of the plan could not be then implemented. We can say that one of the following steps would have involved Iraqi territories. Iraq is currently living through political uncertainty. ISIS wants to increase its influence in Iraq by taking advantage of this uncertainty. If it had managed to succeed in Hasake, it would move on to capture large areas in Iraq, including Ninova. This didn’t happen as its attack was crushed in Hasake. When the possible objectives of the attack is considered, the scope of the danger can be better understood.
We think that a lack of a strong global attention to the Hasake attack of ISIS implies a great risk. The Ukrainian-Russian war is obviously of great importance, but the political situation likely to emerge in the Middle East is capable of having even more immense global outcomes. Therefore, the fight against ISIS deserves more attention from all parties. The forces that ally with the SDF in the fight against ISIS should at the same time react against the Turkish state who is providing open support for ISIS.
The Iraqi army recently made a move in Sinjar to impose the Sinjar agreement that the Yazidi representatives were not a part of. What’s the current situation in Sinjar?
We want to underline that an armed conflict with the Yazidi people is not in the interests of Iraq and the Iraqi state. Their interests lie in a consensus with the Yazidis in Shengal [Sinjar]. The current Iraqi constitution is capable of responding to the needs of the Yazidi people. The Yazidis are not asking to be a part of the central political administration. They only demand autonomy for Shengal. Through autonomy they want to survive with their beliefs and culture, and to be able to defend themselves against possible attacks. These demands are perfectly legitimate, and are within the context of rights entitled by international laws.
The Yazidi people were subjected to genocidal attacks by ISIS. Thousands were killed in massacres. Many perished of hunger and ilnesses on the road. Thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and sold in markets. Thousands of women are still missing. Hundreds of thousands could survive the massacres only due to the rapid intervention of our forces. What can be more natural and righteous than the demand for self-governance and self-defence of a people who recently lived through such a tragedy and trauma?
Not only the United Nations but also the Iraqi parliament resolved that a genocide was carried out in Shengal. This approach is an indication that the Iraqi government recognises the existence and will of the Yazidi people. What’s expected of the Iraqi state is a political approach to resolve the Shengal issue in accordance with the current situation. However, it hasn’t come up with such a policy yet, and it’s the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party] that’s holding it back. The KDP exerts pressure on the Iraqi state to prevent the latter from reaching an agreement with the Shengal autonomous council based on a consensus. So the real obstacle before Shengal’s autonomy is the KDP. If it hadn’t been for the KDP’s pressure over Iraq, the Iraqi state would have long ago recognised the autonomy of Shengal, and the question of the survival of the Yazidi people would have been resolved. The Iraqi state has a tendency to recognise the autonomy of Shengal and to resolve the question without getting into a conflict with the Yazidis. As the KDP is actually after establishing its own hegemony in the region, it doesn’t want the Shengal issue to be resolved on the basis of autonomy. They are actually not concerned at all about solving the problems of Yazidis. They just want to be the dominant force in Shengal, just as they were before. But it’s not likely that the people of Shengal will accept the KDP’s presence, and consent to it becoming the dominant force in their homeland.
The people are now much more aware of the importance of self-governance. They have their own institutions and their own self-defence forces. They are now capable of resisting against attacks. The Turkish state has already been targeting Kurds everywhere it can. They continue with their attacks to prevent the Kurds from claiming a [social and political] status anywhere. The people of Shengal respond to these attacks by resisting, and render [Turkey’s] policies useless. Neither the attacks by Turkey nor the political, military and economic pressures by the KDP have managed to derail the Yazidi people’s struggle for autonomy. It’s a legitimate struggle, and both Iraq and the rest of the world ought to recognise Shengal’s autonomy. This will be a solution that will strengthen Iraq at the same time. It will turn Iraq into the most democratic country in the region.
How do you assess the Kurdistan Regional Government’s position regarding Turkey’s incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan?
The Turkish state has realised attacks against Sinjar, Mexmûr and Rojava just before the planned visit of Nechirvan Barzani to Ankara in order to give a message to the public opinion. Nechirvan Barzani on the other hand could not develop any attitude towards such an approach by the Turkish state. The Turkish state has always realised its attacks and massacres towards the Kurds relying on another section of the Kurds. The Turkish state knows that it will not be possible to suppress the struggle of the Kurds for their existence and for their freedom without relying on different cooperative-betraying sections within the Kurdish society; therefore they have always maintained and used such segments. If there were no such segments acting in collaboration with the state, the Turkish state would not be able to suppress the demands of the Kurdish people at this level or delay the solution to the problem. Then, the Turkish state would either take a step for the solution of the Kurdish problem or would disintegrate itself. Therefore the most important factor preventing the solution of the Kurdish problem is the collaborative Kurdish policy. The attacks by the Turkish state to the guerilla regions in South Kurdistan can only take place because of the support of KDP.
If there was no such support the Turkish state could not take the risk of making such attacks and to target the guerilla regions. The KDP is giving the Turkish state information, intelligence and when necessary logistics and accommodation support. They let the Turkish army to settle in their regions while they are trying to squeeze the guerilla regions and to pressurize the guerilla. These are all clear for us. The Turkish state is targeting the guerilla regions and fighting with this support they take from KDP. This support from KDP is sufficient for the Turkish state. Because today the wars are waged using techniques based on intelligence. On the other hand there are no real institutions of the regional authority or the parliament in South Kurdistan that are really functioning. The parliament or the government does not have any power. In the south everything is controlled by KDP. This is not even hidden, it is very apparent.
What is the recent situation regarding the Kurdish freedom struggle in Iran?
We want the Kurdish problem to be solved within the current boundaries, based on association of the related states and struggle in this direction. In Iran also we are for the solution of the problem based on democratization. Iran has to take some steps for the solution of the problem. Not only in terms of a solution of the Kurdish problem but also for the solution of the peoples of Iran, there should be democratization in Iran. What will guarantee the union of Iran and protect Iran from foreign interventions are steps for democratization, and realization of political and social reforms.
Iran and PJAK forces are preserving their ceasefire position. We are for this ceasefire position to continue. We are for the solution to the problem through dialogue and negotiation preserving this position. We see this as necessary and possible. We believe that the most correct approach is to see the nuclear negotiations of Iran with the West as an opportunity for solution of the problems in Iran and for democratization and to take such steps. A permanent peace can only be possible through democratization. Otherwise problems which seem to be solved turn into a crisis when there is a different conjuncture. And since the current political and social problems will become even deeper many powers will be able to do politics and be influential on Iran. We always emphasize that Iran has to solve its problems with it’s own dynamics in order for these not to take place.