Interview with the syrian national council president Burghan Ghalioum regarding syrian kurds
18 April 2012
Rudaw, which is one of the prominent newspapers of the Kurdish region in Iraq, made an interview with Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, on Syrian Kurds. We publish this extremely important interview by courtesy of Rudaw Newspaper. In this interview with Rudaw, the leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC) Burhan Ghalioun says all Syrian parties acknowledge that great injustice has been done to Kurds in Syria over the decades, but that federalism for Kurds in that country is not and has never been on the agenda of the Syrian opposition. Ghalioun says Kurds will enjoy their rights in a future democratic system in Syria, but that there is no such thing as Syrian Kurdistan.
Interview: Sirwan Heji Berko RUDAW: The Kurdish National Council (KNC) demands the right to self-determination for the Kurdish people in Syria. That is a solution that is close to federalism and is what currently exists in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. What do you have to say about their demand?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: Since we formed the Syrian National Council (SNC) and held talks with a large number of Kurdish groups and figures, we have not talked about federalism. That has not been part of our discussions. We believe Syria’s situation is different from Iraq’s. This has not been a point of discussion over the past 10 years in the front and coalitions parties, in which Kurdish parties have participated. This issue has not been on the agenda and Kurds have also not demanded talks on this … Kurds have always asked for recognition of their ethnic rights, as an ethnic group different from others in Syria. Kurds have asked for equal rights because a policy of discrimination and marginalization has been implemented over the past decades. A great injustice has been done to Kurds and all Syrian parties acknowledge that. Another point Syrian political parties and democratic movements accept is the recognition of the national identity of Kurds. I say the Syrian state and the political rulers must provide the conditions for protecting this identity. The right to education in Kurdish and developing Kurdish culture and literature, as the second culture in Syria, must be provided. The third point has to do with the right to have a decentralized administrative system. Unlike the current regime, which applies a strong centralized system whereby all people have to go to Damascus for work, we will create a decentralized system. In that system, the provincial and city councils in Syria will have a broad range of authority so that they can control a great part of their areas. A real democratic system in Syria can provide equality for all citizens, including all ethnic and religious groups.
RUDAW: Will you recognize autonomy for the Kurdish people in Syria?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: There is no region in Syria that is 100 percent populated by Kurds. We are talking about self-rule in the regions. The administrative powers of the regions allow anybody to have power, whether Kurdish or not. For example, in an area such as Jezira, we cannot create a system that prevents the participation of the non-Kurds in administering the area. We should not remove one injustice and introduce another.
RUDAW: Even if not in the political sense, will you accept the term “Syrian Kurdistan” in a geographical sense?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: No, there is no such thing as Syrian Kurdistan. This is duplicating Iraq’s experience. In Syria, there is an area where the majority of the population is Kurdish. In some cities, Kurds constitute the majority but there is no region or area called “Kurdistan.” Syria is Syria. As an area, (the Kurdish area) it is called Jezira. It has been called the same throughout history … Kurds do not only exist in Jezira, but also in Damascus, where there is a significant number of them. They are present in Aleppo and Afrin as well. So, Kurds are everywhere. The term (Kurdistan) that is now being talked about did not exist in history and has not been mentioned in the literature of the Kurdish parties. This is all duplicating the experience of Iraq in Syria. The Kurdish parties in Syria have some views that do not match the reality of Syria. The Kurdish history in the pre-Baath era was different from that of the Baath era. Kurds were a main component of the state and were partners in building the new state of Syria. There were Kurdish historians, intellectuals, a prime minister and a renowned military commander in Syria. Kurds do not live in ghettoes. Kurds are not separate from the Syrian people in general. They are not different from other citizens in Syria. This feeling emerged under the Baath, because the Baath Party really pursued a discriminatory, racist and marginalizing policy against the Kurds. But that is not the real history of Kurds in Syria. Kurds occupy a great position within the real history of Syria. I hope Kurds will abide by these memories because they really assisted in building the state. Kurds should not be taken over by the illusion of federalism because it will not benefit anybody and will cause a misunderstanding on the other side. It will further isolate Kurds. It will appear as if the Kurds are demanding secession, which we know is not true. So, why should doubt be instilled in the minds of others? The parties that present this project do not serve the interests of the Kurdish people in Syria.
RUDAW: A few months ago, you made a secret visit to Erbil at the helm of the SNC delegation and you met with Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani. What did he ask of you and what did you ask of the Kurdistan Region?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: We had common views. At the time, we said there were three points on our agenda: 1) Genuine equality and the elimination of injustices against Kurds and compensating them. 2) Guaranteeing the cultural and national rights of the Kurdish people, i.e. the right to identity, education in Kurdish and assisting the development of Kurdish culture and literature in Syria. 3) Recognizing a system of administrative decentralization in all the areas of Syria, among them the areas mostly populated by Kurds. President Barzani said at the time that he supported our views and described it as a just project. He said there was no reason to have Iraq’s experiment duplicated in Syria. Before that, we had discussed these two points with him in Rome and we went to Erbil based on that. President Barzani and other government officials received us very warmly and there was full consensus among us over these three points. We went to Erbil based on these points and the Kurdish National Council needed to merge with our council. Abdulhakim Bashar, then head of the Kurdish National Council, received us. He came with us to the Friends of Syria conference in Tunis. He acted as a member of the executive committee of the Syrian National Council. He was sitting to my left at the conference. We met together with the foreign ministers of several countries, including Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state. I don’t understand the change in Mr Barzani’s position now. He told the newspaper Al-Hayat that as long as the rights of the Kurdish people are not recognized in Syria, Kurdish parties will not be part of the Syrian National Council. Mr Barzani has not talked to us about a different vision regarding those rights. We do not know what his current vision is for Kurdish rights. If it is about returning to the idea of federalism, we will say that for the time being this is not part of our agenda as the Syrian National Council. It is not our right to decide on federalism because we would be violating the right of the Syrian people. Only an elected parliament can decide on federalism or autonomy. It would be wrong to make such a decision now. We are not the representatives of the Syrian people. We only represent their wish to get rid of the current regime. We cannot confiscate the will of the Syrian people about the country’s future. In the future, Kurdish parties in Syria will have the right to demand what they want. But the deep feeling I get from Syrian youth is the wish to be together and discover their Syrian identity. Before being Turkish, Iraqi or Kurdish, they are Syrian. The issues of federalism and autonomy should not be talked about right now in any way … In my opinion, the broad participation of Kurds in the revolution and their coordination with opposition groups will strengthen their future position when it comes to demanding rights and a bigger role in Syria, not only in the areas where they form the majority, but in all of Syria.
RUDAW: Some analysts believe that the chance of bringing down the Assad is slim without the participation of the Kurdish political movement. The Kurdish National Council also says the U.S. will not support the SNC if it does not recognize Kurdish rights.
BURHAN GHALIOUN: The Syrian National Council said in a statement, and reiterated at the Tunisia conference, that it will constitutionally recognize the Kurdish national identity in Syria and the need to eliminate persecution against Kurds. It recognizes Kurdish national rights within the framework of the territorial integrity and unity of the Syrian people. We do not need to repeat that because it is part of the documents of the Syrian National Council. But I will rephrase your question in a different way: Will Kurds accept the regime being brought down without their participation? Aren’t Kurdish people now part of the revolution? Does the position of Kurdish parties toward the opposition determine the participation of Kurdish youth in the revolution? Kurdish youth have been taking part in the revolution since day one. They played a major role in raising the flame of revolution. The Kurdish youth can never be far from the revolution. No matter what the position of the Kurdish parties, I have great faith in Kurdish youth. This is not only the Arabs’ revolution, but the revolution of Kurds, Assyrians and others as well. But it especially belongs to the Kurds because they have been persecuted more than others.
RUDAW: How do you see the position of the parties in the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) toward the Syrian regime?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: It is clear so far that the PKK’s position is closer to the regime. But I believe the parties in the Kurdistan Region are with the revolution. And there is no reason for them to be against it. We know that in PKK, there are elements who have not yet cut off their line of communication with the Assad regime.
RUDAW: As an intellectual, aren’t you afraid of the power of Islamists in the “new Syria”?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: The Syrian regime spreads that fear about Islamists. We do not need to magnify it. Some of those who do not want to take part in the revolution or some countries that do not want to assist the revolution say such things. Eighty percent of those who have taken to the streets do not have any links with political parties, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor others. What is being spread now is part of the fight against the revolution. In the executive committee of the Syrian National Council, out of 12 members, only two of them belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime and those who are not taking part in the revolution spread such rumors … Syria is not Egypt or any other country. I do say categorically that there is no threat of an Islamic government in Syria. You see that people have taken to the streets in a civic way, using slogans demanding democracy and freedom.
RUDAW: What are the guarantees that the future system of rule in Syria will be a secular, democratic one?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: There is no need to talk about this issue, not because I say so, but because Syria needs such a system of rule. The Syrian people will not accept an Islamic, Afghanistan-like system, that is to say a system that imposes views on people about religion and religious thinking. People have died and shed their blood for freedom, the freedom of opinion and choice. Those who do not have their freedoms guaranteed will become slaves. No religious movement can impose itself on the Syrian people.
RUDAW: The Kurdish National Council is now waiting to attend the Friends of Syria conference to be held in Paris, so that their demands will be accepted. What is your opinion about that?
BURHAN GHALIOUN: If they make this issue into an unpleasant situation, they will harm the Kurdish people and the Syrian people. They will then show that they demand the partitioning of Syria or aim to undermine its territorial integrity, and this will not be in the Kurds’ interests. Besides the two points I mentioned above, there is going to be nothing else. We said that in Erbil and will repeat it in Paris as well. We must strengthen the concept of unity among the Syrian people. The current talk of federalism will weaken the revolution and divide the Syrian people. And this will be in the interests of the regime. Today, our main task is bringing the regime down, not dividing the state. If we are busy dividing up the state before the regime has collapsed, then we will be making a mistake with regards to our rights as Kurds, Arabs and Syrians. And if the situation is made tense in a way that leads to a Kurdish-Arab conflict, then we will plunge ourselves and the revolution into a complicated problem that we do not need in any way.
RUDAW: The Kurdish political movement in Syria says that Turkey has affected your stance toward the Kurdish issue in Syria and that is why you do not accept the Kurdish demands.
BURHAN GHALIOUN:That is not true. It is hard to have Turkey agree on our solution to the Kurdish issue in Syria. There is no state or party who has set the bar higher than the Syrian National Council when it comes to resolving the Kurdish issue.