Mr Gabriel Kino, spokesperson of the SDF, is a Catholic Assyrian and was a leading representative of the Syriac Military Council (SMC) during the early days of the Syrian Civil War. The SMC was established to protect the Assyrian Christian people from the attacks and persecution from the Islamic State and Jihadist groups that had established themselves in Syria.
He oversaw the formation of the Syrian Democratic Front, which included a wide section of Syrian society, including different Arab tribal and secular groups, Assyrian, Yazidi and Syriac groups, and the YPG and YPJ defence forces.He led military campaigns with the SMC and SDF and was one of the leaders that led the military offensive to liberate the ISIS HQ of Raqqa and went on to accept the defeat of ISIS at Baghouz in Deir Ezzor.
He very kindly agreed to an interview for Medya News.
Kino Gabriel has personally witnessed the sacrifice of his people and forces in the fight against ISIS in Syria and knows, first hand, the consequences of any invasion and attack by Turkey and their affiliated radical Jihadist gangs for the hard-won religious freedoms that the Autonomous Adiministration of North and East Syria (AANES) are respected for by religious rights groups around the world. I began by asking him about the threats to religious freedom following the ISIS attacks near Hasakah.
Following the murders of Hind Latif Al Khadir (Head of the Economy committee of Til Shayir) and Sa’da Faysal Al Hermas (Co-president of Til Shayir People Council) by forces affiliated to ISIS, what threat does Turkey’s continuous attacks on North and East Syria pose to the religious freedoms enjoyed by the people of the SDF-controlled Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES)?
Gabriel Kino: I think the threats that Turkey is making and the military operations that Turkey has launched so far in areas such as: Northern Syria; Afrin; around Manbij; the Northern countryside outside of Aleppo, and the area between Tal Abiyad and Ras al Ayn, has already threatened and reduced the religious freedoms of the peoples in these areas.
This reduction in religous freedoms is something they are already living through. The situation has already deteriorated for several religious groups in those areas occupied by Turkey including the Yazidis and the Christians including other prominent groups living in those areas, especially the Yazidis in the areas around Ras al Ayn and Afrin. And also the other Christian communities and groups based around Ras al Ayn and also other Kurdish Christian groups who were living in Afrin.
Of course, the continous threats made by Turkey are adding to the problem of people’s fears of a new military operation. And yes, I think, those threats is mostly problematic for those groups such as the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis the Armenians, and others who live in North and East Syria.
Of course, it also affects the Arab population also, although the other groups are mainly feeling more threatened because the Turkish military threats are directed specifically against them. On the other hand, the groups who are supported by Turkey, which are known for their terrorist and extremist radical mentality, they pose a threat for those groups in particular of North and East Syria in particular, we have witnessed what they have done. We have seen how these groups, including Jabat al Nusra and ISIS have been part of the military operations and attacks launched by Turkey and part of the groups and militias supported by Turkey.
It is widely recognised that the AANES has been able to build a tolerant inclusive society in NE Syria, unparalleled in the Middle East, promoting and enjoying religious freedom, gender equality, and human rights. Do you think that this model could be a positive example for the wider region?
Gabriel Kino: I think the democratic administration is really a unique example and experience in the Middle East. Different groups that previously had problems with each other have been able to come together, work together in order to make this administration work. This is completely unique, and I think we can take this positive example and look for where we can apply it to other parts of the Middle East and other parts of Syria so other groups can benefit.
I think this way of administration could potentially be a solution for the Syrian crisis in general. Of course, I think we need more work and more support in order to be more inclusive and more able to develop our political and administration experience, but again I think the work that has been done is great.
And with the support from democratic countries and Europe I think we can make the administration even better than what we have now.
Despite almost daily attacks by the Turkish state on NE Syria, especially recently around the town of Ain Issa, and the recent indiscriminate bombing of Tel Rifaat with civilian deaths, we do not hear condemnation from any of the anti-ISIS coalition members that the SDF have been fighting with, nor from Russia, which is supposed to be a guarantor of the ceasefire agreed last year. How do you interpret this silence?
Gabriel Kino: I think it is safe to say that it is not just about North and East Syria. I think it is the worst Syrian situation that has been governed so far by complicated relations and complicated intersections of global and regional interests/powers and governments involved in the Syrian crisis.
I think this is one of the main reasons there is so direct condemnations of Turkey for their attacks on North and East Syria.
Lastly, are you able to give us any indication on the progress of any talks with the Syria government on any possible negotiated agreement on autonomy and protections of religious freedoms, hard-won since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War?
Gabriel Kino: I think mainly and have to say that this is not my area of expertise or knowledge. I think it is a question for the political administration, but as far as I have information there isn’t really any progress in the talks.
There have been several attempts to have mutual talks or talks that were to be mediated by Russia but I think so far they have not worked out.
I think in the future we will see more progress and development but again I think this question is better suited for the Syrian Democratic Council or the Executive Council of the Administration of North and East Syria.