Ibrahim Biro, chairman of the Kurdish National Council in Syria:
»Like the Baʿth Party, the PYD is afraid of democracy.«
KURDWATCH, June 30, 2016— Ibrahim Biro, b. 1965, is the secretary of the Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî). Since July 1, 2015 he is also the chairman of the Kurdish National Council in Syria, an organization of eleven Syrian-Kurdish parties, the Yazidi council, various women’s and youth organizations, as well as independent individuals. Ibrahim Biro talks to KurdWatch about the difficult relationship to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Islamic State (IS) and the future of Syria’s Kurds.
KurdWatch: On May 30, 2016 the PYD’s security forces in Syrian-Kurdistan abducted four members of your party, including a central committee member and a member of the politburo. Why does the PYD take such severe action against the Yekîtî?
Ibrahim Biro: The PYD never stopped taking severe action against the Kurdish movement. It takes action against anyone who openly criticizes the party and is politically active. This applies not only to the Yekîtî, but also to the Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria (PDK‑S). The PYD has abducted a number of leading members of the PDK‑S as well as independent people, writers and journalists. The PYD shows no mercy to those who openly and publicly criticize the party.
KurdWatch: The Kurdish National Council has described a number of PYD actions as terrorism. At the same time, the Kurdish National Council says that it would work with the PYD if the PYD were ready to cooperate and were to meet the conditions of the Duhok Agreement [further information]. How can the Kurdish National Council work with a group it accuses of using terrorist methods?
Ibrahim Biro: The PYD is responsible for the flight out of Syrian-Kurdistan. It introduced forced recruitment, students were kidnapped right out of the universities and even minors were forced to serve in the military. We have little hope that this will change. Yet we don’t want the situation for Syrian Kurds to escalate even further. Although they kill us, take us captive and torture us, an armed struggle against the PYD is a last resort. We don’t want to reach a point where we start killing each other. We want an agreement, a true partnership. Personally, I don’t see this happening in the near future.
KurdWatch: The PYD says that the Kurdish National Council has no base in Syrian-Kurdistan and its demands with reference to participation in the administration are unrealistic and exaggerated.
Ibrahim Biro: This reminds me of the Baʿth party. It also said it had a million members and therefore had to lead the people and take over the leadership of the state. Even for a minor position in the trade union, an independent’s Baʿth loyalty would be checked. Like the Baʿth party, the PYD is afraid of democracy. It obtained control over the Kurdish regions by force of arms, not by vote. The fact that the PYD will not enter into a partnership with us also shows its fear of democracy. The parties of the Kurdish National Council have a lot of influence in Syrian-Kurdistan as well as a long political history. Most have a long tradition of advocating for the political rights of Kurds and democracy in Syria. There were many sacrifices made for this political stance. The PYD knows that the Kurds in Syria stand behind the Kurdish National Council and therefore uses undemocratic means and force to fight it. A further strength of the council is its good relationship with the Syrian opposition. We too are a part of the opposition and work closely with the other groups. We also have no issues with the Kurds’ neighboring countries. In particular, we have a good relationship with the regional government of Iraqi-Kurdistan. We would also like to improve our relationship to the Turkish government. After all, we share a common border of more than seven hundred kilometers, which makes good relations unavoidable. The PYD knows that it doesn’t have any of this. Of course our participation at the talks in Geneva is another one of our strengths. We are the ones negotiating the future of Syria at the international level, not the PYD. These are the reasons why the PYD is fighting against us.
KurdWatch: You emphasize the good relations to the Arab opposition and participation in Geneva. But are not elements of the Arab opposition radical Islamists and really no better than the Islamic State?
Ibrahim Biro: The Kurdish National Council has two delegates at the talks in Geneva. We are a part of the Syrian opposition. At the same time, our relationship to the opposition is not easy. There are a number of groups that support our demands and others who don’t. But we have to stay in the conversation with the opposition and convince them of our political ideas for a future Syria. I hope that we can achieve this and that in the new Syria radical Islamic groups have no role to play.
KurdWatch: The PYD claims that without them, the Kurdish regions would be under IS control, that the Kurdish National Council is not in a position to protect the Kurds.
Ibrahim Biro: When the PYD took control of the Kurdish regions and started persecuting anyone who did not share their political convictions, we hadn’t even heard of the IS. Back then the PYD dismantled our small military unit and arrested or killed its members. It didn’t allow us to create units so that we could today protect ourselves against the IS. Not only that, the PYD doesn't even allow us to protect our offices or ourselves. That’s why the PYD alone is responsible for the crimes committed against the Kurds in Syria. They didn’t allow others to also defend the Kurdish regions.
KurdWatch: The PYD accuses the Kurdish National Council of having no strategy for the future of the Kurdish regions and Syria. The PYD has a self-administration project, they have built up an administration and are now demanding federalism for northern Syria. Does the National Council have a political strategy?
Ibrahim Biro: We are the ones who pushed the PYD to designate the Kurdish regions as Syria-Kurdistan in the negotiations that produced the three agreements between us. The project of federalism is our project and we introduced it into the negotiations with the PYD. We insisted that the federal constitution of the Kurdish regions be adhered to in the agreements. Although we knew that there was no plan to include federalism in the political program of the PYD, we managed to push this point through in the negotiations in Erbil. At the time when the second round of talks began in Geneva, the PYD had founded its cantons, and shortly after the third round began, they announced their federalism. They wanted political recognition and to be invited to the talks. But this calculation did not work. Nothing has happened since the PYD announced its federalism. Nothing has changed in their cantons, everything is just as it was. They simply founded another committee. We fear that they have no idea what federalism should look like. But it doesn’t really matter: whatever they call their system of government, it remains the same authoritarian regime.
KurdWatch: Does the Kurdish National Committee have an idea what a federal system should look like?
Ibrahim Biro: We are working with experts to formulate a concrete blueprint for a federal strategy. We hope to be able to present it in the next few weeks.
KurdWatch: At its penultimate congress in July 2015, the Kurdish National Council decided that the so‑called Roj-Peshmerga, Syrian Kurds who are currently fighting against the Islamic state in Iraqi-Kurdistan, would henceforth be under the control of the National Council. Eleven months have passed since then. If the Peshmerga really are under the control of the Kurdish National Council, why hasn’t the council brought them to Syrian-Kurdistan?
Ibrahim Biro: The Kurds of Syria, who have joined together under the name Roj-Peshmerga in Iraqi-Kurdistan, have been armed and trained by the local regional government. But they remain the Peshmerga of Syrian-Kurdistan and we are their political representatives. The Peshmerga themselves are predominantly independent people and don’t belong to any political faction. There is no longer any reason for these fighters not to return to Syria. It is mostly the president of the Kurdish regional government who wanted them to stay, since he didn’t want to provoke a war between the Roj-Peshmerga and the Peoples Defense Units of the PYD. Up until now we have tried to come to an agreement with the PYD that the Peshmerga could return. We want to prevent the Kurds from killing each other. But this can’t last forever. They will have to go back one day, and we won’t stand by and watch the PYD persecuting us forever. Eventually we will get active, and the other side will be responsible for the consequences. We can’t remain inactive any longer. The repression of the PYD is getting more and more unbearable.
KurdWatch: Anas al‑ʿAbdah, president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (Iʾtilaf), was in Iraqi-Kurdistan two days ago and met with the president of the Kurdish regional government Mas’ud Barzani. One of the things they talked about was the return of the Roj-Peshmerga to Syria. Did they reach an agreement?
Ibrahim Biro: No, but Anas al‑ʿAbdah’s visit was very important. We know Anas al‑ʿAbdah to be a politician who is open to the Kurdish point of view. He also belongs to the group of people who signed the agreement between us and I’tilaf. Many topics were discussed in Iraqi-Kurdistan, among others the question of the return of the Peshmerga to Syria. There was also discussion about the deployment of the Peshmerga in other non-Kurdish areas of Syria. No agreement has yet been reached. But it is important to us that the Peshmerga of Syrian-Kurdistan be deployed in the Kurdish regions and not in other areas of Syria. We are trying to exert international pressure on the PYD, particularly the Americans can do this. The Americans even entered into talks with the PYD about this issue. As I said, we won’t stand by and watch forever. Our Peshmerga will return one day.
KurdWatch: Why is it important for the Kurdish National Council that the Roj-Peshmerga be deployed in the Kurdish regions? Wouldn’t there also be an option that they support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Revolution in predominantly Arab regions, if this was wished for there?
Ibrahim Biro: We believe that it is first of all important that our Peshmerga defend Syrian-Kurdistan. If we are successful and have the capacity, and if the Free Syrian Army wants it, then we can certainly support them.
Berlin/Erbil, June 2, 2016