ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman, politician and activist:
»Khabat Derki kidnapped me, he held a gun to my head«
KURDWATCH, December 25, 2012—ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman (b. 1977), is a founding member of the Union of Cooperation of Kurdish Youth in Syria and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria. The activist, who has been suffering from polio since the age of five, fled Syria after being threatened by the PKK. After several months in Istanbul, he ultimately received political asylum in Germany. In a conversation with KurdWatch, he spoke about the current situation of the coordinating groups in the Kurdish regions and about his abduction by the PKK.
KurdWatch: Since the beginning of the revolution, numerous coordinating groups have been established in the Kurdish regions. Can you introduce the most important groups and say something about their origins?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The first coordinating group that was established was called the Coordination of Youth Resistance. On April 1, 2011, it organized the first demonstration in al‑Qamishli. We began the demonstration in front of the Qasimo mosque and demanded freedom for all the people of Syria. Two weeks later, the Alliance of the Movement of Young Kurds was founded. At this time, there was also a group that called itself Youth of Jazirah, and it, too, wanted to join the revolution. Three weeks later, the alliance split. The splinter group called itself the Alliance of Sewa Youth. Later there was a meeting—all of the coordinating groups were to work together under one roof—and a decision was made to found the General Council of the Kurdish Youth Movements. The Youth Resistance, the Alliance of the Movement of Young Kurds, the Alliance of Sewa Youth, and the Youth of Jazirah were all represented in this council. Unfortunately, this association also broke down. The Sewa Youth and the Alliance of the Movement of Young Kurds left the group. In the meantime, many coordinating groups were established in the other Kurdish regions as well, and so we sent activists to al‑Malikiyah, Ras al‑ʿAyn, ʿAyn al‑ʿArab, ʿAfrin, Aleppo, ar‑Raqqa, and Tall Abyad, and on July 7, 2011, the Union of the Cooperation of Kurdish Youth in Syria was founded.
KurdWatch: In the beginning, demonstrations only took place in al‑Qamishli. Were you in contact with activists in the other cities? Who initiated the groups there?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: We established contact with activists in other cities and they then founded the coordinating groups. After that, demonstrations took place in these cities as well. ʿAmudah was the only place where the situation looked different. There, activists were demonstrating even before we became involved. They operated for a long time under a common name—they called themselves the Youth from ʿAmudah.
KurdWatch: Which coordinating groups are important today?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The Union of Cooperation of Kurdish Youth in Syria, Avahî, the Youth of the Birth of Freedom, the Movement of Revolutionary Youth, the Kurdish Youth Movement, and Sewa. These are the most important ones.
KurdWatch: Can you say a few sentences about each group? What political programs do they have and how do they differ?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: None of them have a plan for Syria's political future. They don’t differ much politically. One exception is the Movement of Kurdish Revolutionary Youth. This group has a program for all of Syria. Most of the other coordinating groups pursue policies that are explicitly aimed at the Kurds, although, as a rule, they want to achieve Kurdish rights within Syria.
KurdWatch: Can you say something about the number of their supporters and where they are active?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The groups that I've mentioned are primarily active in the Jazirah and the majority of their members live there. The coordinating groups were initially very popular. After a while their popularity decreased. The people saw that the coordinating groups were behaving more and more like our parties. At the moment they are very weak; they cannot change society.
KurdWatch: When young people in the Kurdish regions began to form the first coordinating groups and organize demonstrations, high hopes were placed on these activists. One assumed that they would bring new political ideas into society, shake up the political parties, and take a leading political role. In fact, after nearly two years of revolution, they hardly play any role at all. Why is that?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: Initially it looked as if they could play an important role. The young people who organized the demonstrations were very motivated to overthrow the regime and open up new possibilities for Kurdish society. But they failed to develop a program for Syria's future. As a result, they were easily influenced by the political parties; they became like the parties. The sickness of the Kurdish political parties has also infected the coordinating groups. The parties have split the coordinating groups. They don't just operate like the parties, no, they work under the patronage of the parties, and that is even worse. A further problem is that some of the current leaders of the coordinating groups were never active at a grassroots level. They never organized demonstrations.
KurdWatch: Which coordinating groups belong to which parties?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The Kurdish Youth Movement initially sympathized with Ismaʿil Hami's Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî). At least the Yekîtî verbally supported the revolution; for that reason, they were close to us politically. Now ʿAbdulhakim Bashar's Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (el-Partî) is gaining increasing control over the group. This shows how opportunistic it is. The Syrian-Kurdistan movement is very close to ʿAbdulhamid Hadschi Darwisch. After the Kurdish Youth Movement became a member of the Kurdish National Council, it too drew closer to the Kurdish parties; it did not play the role in the Kurdish National Council that it should have played. The Avahî Alliance ist not a member of the Kurdish National Council; I think that's because it is a member of the Supreme Leadership Council of the Syrian Revolution. This council is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. But they are almost exclusively represented in ʿAmudah and had only a few activists in al‑Qamishli, who have since deserted.
KurdWatch: Let's talk about you. You were among the first activists of the Syrian revolution in the Kurdish regions. What sort of difficulties did you personally encounter?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The security services, especially the State Security Service, repeatedly threatened me. They wanted to arrest me and ultimately kill me. The Political Security Directorate was also interested in me. I have been charged before the Criminal Court in al‑Qamishli a total of twelve times, mostly for participation in unauthorized demonstrations, disturbing the peace, and attacks on State Security officials. At the same time, Kurdish informants have been sent to me to convince me not to be politically active or to switch to the side of the regime. On the evening of August 10, 2011, I was kidnapped when I wanted to go home from a demonstration. I was taken by the PKK. They held me for three days. On the last day, they said to me: »We want you to work for us. We want to win Kurdish society to our side, and you can help us with that. We want the Kurdish streets to accept us.« In addition, they threatened me: »Don't think that we couldn't arrest you at any time. Wherever you are, we can find you and pick you up.«
KurdWatch: Where and how were you kidnapped?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: They kidnapped me in al‑ʿAntariyah. The State Security Service and the Political Security Directorate arranged the abduction with a man named ʿAbdulʿaziz Yunis. He was known for working with the Syrian Intelligence Service. He called me and wanted to come to my house. I declined. We then met in a restaurant. He told me that the regime does not want us to support the revolution. He wanted me to work together with the regime. I declined. I said that couldn't do that and that the whole people support this revolution. On this day there was a demonstration that I participated in. After the demonstration Yunis said I should dissuade the young people from going into the city center. Yunis wanted to take me to them. I got into his car with him and another person from al‑ʿAntariyah, whom we drove home. Yunis then drove to a dead end. He stopped and as I turned to the right, someone opened the door and held a pistol to my head. He pulled me out of the vehicle and into another car.
KurdWatch: Where did they take you?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: I don't know exactly. Near al‑Malikiyah.
KurdWatch: How do you know that the PKK kidnapped you?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: Khabat Derki [a well-known PKK‑functionary, who was fatally shot in a conflict in al‑Qamishli in 2012—further information on the case] kidnapped me, he held the gun to my head. They even said themselves that they were from the PKK.
KurdWatch: Is that why you left the country in December 2011?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: I didn't want to do what was demanded of me. It was clear to me that if the regime didn't kill me, the PKK would. That's why I fled.
KurdWatch: Why Turkey?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: That was the only possibility for me then. I was standing, so to speak, between two fronts. I was forced to flee to Turkey. Initially I lived with relatives in Mardin. Then there was evidence that the PKK was looking for me. I subsequently continued on to Istanbul.
KurdWatch: Many activists who were active in the early days of the revolution have left the country and gone to Turkey. They are criticized for this. Do you think this criticism is justified?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: I don't find the criticism justified, and I also can't see a problem here. Many activists live in Turkey and some have also fled to Iraqi-Kurdistan. Those in Turkey can pursue their political work much more freely than those in Iraqi-Kurdistan. The activists in Iraqi-Kurdistan are not nearly as active as those in Turkey. They are being watched and do not have the freedoms that we have in Turkey.
KurdWatch: Why is that?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: Both countries have interests. Depending on these interests, one grants more freedoms and the other fewer.
KurdWatch: You have been in Germany since yesterday, the Federal Government recognized you as a political refugee while you were still in Turkey. What are your hopes?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: We began this revolution in order to live a free life. Although I no longer live in Syria, I still hold high hopes for this revolution. We are far away, but we are still active revolutionaries. In our region, the revolution is still not as advanced as in other parts of the country. We are working on strengthening the revolution in our area as well. For me personally, a new life starts here in Germany. As a wheelchair user, I have very different opportunities here than I did in Syria or in Turkey. I'm looking forward to this; I want to use this opportunity to become even more politically active.
KurdWatch: A peaceful revolution has become a very bloody one. The opposition is also becoming ever more violent. Salafists and al‑Qaida groups are playing an increasing role on the part of the opposition. Why is that?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: The demonstrators who took to the streets for more freedom were peaceful. The brutal actions of the regime forced the people to take up arms. If they had not armed themselves, the regime would have exterminated them. They took up arms to protect the people around them. Today we are dealing with an armed revolution. The Kurds should also have prepared themselves for this. Unfortunately they did not. They did not arm themselves.
KurdWatch: Is the PYD prepared?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: Yes. But whatever the PYD does, it does not do it for the Kurds or for the revolution in Syria, but only for the PKK.
KurdWatch: What does the PYD, or rather the PKK, want in Syria?
ʿAbdussalam ʿUthman: For the PKK, our regions are like a cow that they can milk. The PKK earns a lot of money by controlling the borders and the sale of gas and fuel, as well as through other activities. Most of the PKK prisoners have been released. The missiles that the Syrian regime had confiscated have been returned. They want to use Syria as an area for retreat and for training their fighters, as they did from the middle of the 1980s until the end of the 1990s. The PKK and Bashar al‑Assad's regime are very much alike. Bashar al‑Assad is not interested in the Syrian people. For him it has always been about himself and his family. For the PKK it is about the party's interests.
1. December 2012