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Mishʿal at-Tammu, Kurdish politician:

»All of our actions should be aimed at the fall of the regime«

KURDWATCH, July 20, 2011—Mishʿal at-Tammu (b. 1957) in conversation with KURDWATCH on the role of the Kurdish opposition in the revolution.
At-Tammu is speaker for the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria. In May 2009 he was sentenced to a prison term of three and a half years for political reasons. In June 2011, he was released from prison ahead of schedule [KURDWATCH reported]. The Future Movement supports the anti-regime demonstrations and calls for the end of the Baʿth regime.

KURDWATCH: Demonstrations against the regime have been taking place in Syria since the middle of March. More than 1,500 people are dead and over 10,000 have been arrested. Where is Syria heading?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: The actual number of dead and imprisoned may well be much higher. We are dealing with a police state. The number of victims of state aggression is not made public. There are myriad missing persons and I am afraid that many of them are dead. We know that this regime has mass graves to answer for — after its end we are sure to find out many new and appalling things about the way the police state functioned. But regardless of what happens, the majority of the population has made their decision. They want freedom, and they will be successful in getting it. The regime can kill, can imprison thousands, can plunder cities or level the earth. But it can no longer prevent the population from deciding upon a change in regime.

KURDWATCH: For a long time one didn´t hear anything from the opposition parties in the country. Only in the last two weeks have they begun to organize themselves. Why is that?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: We must not forget that the Syrian regime has fought these opposition parties for the last 45 years. It took away the opposition´s freedom of movement. The Syrian opposition has up until now only worked illegally and for this work its members have been persecuted and arrested. The opposition has no experience with legal activities. We live in a country in which a single party has the say and in which diversity of opinion is suppressed. The opposition parties have experienced many defeats. Many of their members were in prison for years or had to leave the country. Under these conditions opposition work was difficult. The opposition is thus very weak. Only now are its members learning to communicate with one another. The people are also just now learning to express their opinions and to respect differing opinions. Because of these conditions it has taken a while before the opposition has come to reorganize itself. At the same time, there is a new generation of young people in Syrian society who do not share the same fears as the older generation. These young people will build the new Syria.

KURDWATCH:The opposition parties are not only weak, but also fragmented. In the last weeks there have been various meetings in the country and abroad, in Antalya among other places, which many opposition parties in Syria have boycotted. On June 27, a coalition of eight Arab and five Kurdish parties was formed, but other groupings, such as those of the Damascus Declaration, have kept their distance from the alliance. And finally you, along with other personalities, have founded a committee to organize a national conference. How can the estranged opposition be brought together?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: All of that is true. Nonetheless, all of these meetings and formations of groups are necessary and appropriate at this time. We have to figure out who can be worked with and who can not, and we also have to consider how the new Syria will look after the change in regime. We need a new constitution; we need to re-determine our relationships abroad, and much more. The entire opposition is working in this direction. It may be that some groups have problems with one another, but one thing brings them all together: the wish to be free. The coalition founded by me and others should be preparing for a national rescue conference*. This conference should become an alternative to the regime. In our coalition parties are scarcely represented, but rather predominantly young people, who are leading the Syrian revolution. Because of this I believe that we could bring many opposition groups together. Certainly not all of them will take part, but the most important will, including several Kurdish parties, groups from the Damascus Declaration and many others. Together we will advance the revolution. We are united by the facts that we do not want to deal with this regime and that we see us as an alternative to the ruling government. We want to talk openly with one another about the new Syria. A civil, democratic Syria should be built, in which the different ethnicities will be granted their rights. Our meetings are open to all who share these goals. The sessions will not take place in secret. Everyone should be able to take part in the discussion.

KURDWATCH: Other than the young activists, most of the opposition parties have not demanded the resignation of the regime until now. How do you want to bring these people to the table if the end of the regime is one of your essential goals?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: Day by day those who demand the resignation of the regime become more numerous. The more people the government murders and imprisons, the more opposition parties and politically unorganized Syrians are going to demand the resignation of the government. More and more people believe that this government has lost any and all legitimacy. Hardly anyone still wants to deal with this regime.

KURDWATCH: Are there already plans for the time after Bashar al-Assad? Has the Syrian opposition been working on concepts such as a new constitution or new party and organization laws?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: On this point the entire opposition is united: there must be a new constitution. This constitution should be a mirror of the cultural diversity of the Syrian people. Laws must be developed for parties, voting, the press, and so on. These are foundations of a modern civil state. I believe, those groups who want a modern and civil democratic state will win out. The first step in this direction is a new constitution.

KURDWATCH: How does the Syrian opposition view the relationship between the state and religion?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: Whether we like it or not: the majority of Syrian society is religious. Religious, but not radical. The successes of Erdoğan have influenced the people more than anything else. The people and the groups we want to organize the national rescue conference with would like to show that their religion is open to other ideas and notions. We want a new, progressive constitution; religion should play a subordinate role.

KURDWATCH: Europe and the USA have been reluctant to talk about sanctions against Syria. Why?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: They are afraid that after a change in regime, chaos could break out. They fear a civil war or other disturbances. The Syrian government has fed many of these fears and even spread propaganda that the entire Middle East could sink into chaos if the government of Bashar al-Assad goes. The more time passes, the more the West will arrive at the view that a change in regime will contribute not only to the stability of Syria, but to that of the entire region. Criticism of the regime will grow in the same way.

KURDWATCH: What should Europeans and Americans do in the current situation?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: They can do a lot. They can impose an economic embargo und exercise much more political pressure. They can support the opposition. We do not want military intervention from abroad; we will solve the problem ourselves. But Americans and Europeans can, with a correct assessment of the situation, clear words and unequivocal sanctions, contribute to a situation where the regime no longer kills people indiscriminately.

KURDWATCH: If a change in regime comes, what will relations with Israel look like? How is the Golan question to be handled? It is often to be heard from the opposition that Syria has served the interests of Israel and not fired on Golan in 40 years. Does this mean that the opposition wants to fight a war over Golan?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: No. The current opposition wants peace and the Golan question must also be resolved peacefully. There must be an internationally observed peace treaty. We no longer wish to exploit this conflict for propaganda in order to distract us from our real problems. We earnestly want to address the internal problems of Syria.

KURDWATCH: Turkey, and above all prime minister Erdoğan, is exercising the most pressure on Syria at this time. There are voices arguing that Turkey could establish a safety zone for Syrian refuges along the Syrian side of the mutual border. What does the opposition mean?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: Turkey has its own interests and wants to play a new and important role in the Middle East. It wants to become a power in the region; it is also because of this that she represents a clear position. The Turkish government does not want to repeat the errors of the past and has positioned itself on the side of the Syrian population. At the same time we realize that Turkey has engaged itself more strongly before the elections than after. We hope that engagement in favor of the the population increases again. We share a border of approximately 800 km with Turkey and when you consider that, it´s very understandable that the recent events in Syria should be of importance to Turkey as well. Kurds live on the Syrian and on the Turkish side of the border; the Turkish government wants no additional problems there. Turkey also wants to play a role in the transitional phase because of this. In terms of the safety zone, without a UN resolution such a thing is difficult to put into effect. Such a safety zone cannot be an unilateral effort on the part of the Turkish government; it must be supported by the world community. We hope, however, that it does not go that far at all and that the populace brings down the regime before.

KURDWATCH: For more than three months, the Syrian security forces have been killing demonstrators. In Hama some even fear a repetition of the events of 1982. How much longer can it go on like this? Could it come to civil war?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: The events of Hama will not be repeated. We live in different times. Today the populace is on the barricades across Syria, not just in one city. Another question is central: How long will the Syrian military participate in the murder of peaceful demonstrators? Soldiers have already been leaving the army and are no longer ready to open fire on the populace. If it goes on like this much longer, the army will disintegrate. Right now there are demonstrations in all fourteen provinces. The army can kill ten, twenty people daily and arrest 200 but they still won´t silence the populace in this way.

KURDWATCH: What role did the hunger strike of the prisoners in March 2011in the ʿAdra Prison, in which you participated, play for the revolution?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: The hunger strike was certainly a trigger for the nation-wide demonstrations. The political situation was such that it required only a spark in order for the population to express its discontent. We were aware of this and we wanted to perform our part. When we began the hunger strike, we had only one goal: to incite the populace to rise against the regime.

KURDWATCH: The established opposition parties hardly seem to play a role in the demonstrations. Rather it´s predominantly young people who mobilize over the Internet. How is it that the parties are holding back?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: We shouldn´t forget that many of the young activists are also members of the established opposition parties. Nonetheless it´s correct that the parties are not playing the leading part. The parties must mobilize more strongly for the revolution. We must work toward that. The young people who are leading the revolution are well networked and well organized. They are very motivated, work very professionally and know exactly what they want. They have decided that this regime must go; this is the goal they are working for.

KURDWATCH: Up until now it´s been assumed that the best organized opposition forces are the Kurdish parties and that they will take over an important role in the downfall of the regime. In reality this has so far not been the case. You yourself have not yet called for people to attend demonstrations. Why?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: That´s unfortunately true. The Kurdish opposition was the best organized opposition group in Syria and it was also very active in terms of party politics. Right at the beginning of the revolution, the Kurdish parties could have taken on an important role, but they missed this chance. On the one hand the regime treated the Kurds very deftly, on the other hand several Kurdish party officials have contributed to the weakness of the Kurdish opposition. Several Kurdish parties still don´t have any clear position in relation to the regime. Some still have the perception that it would perhaps be better after all to talk to the regime. That naturally weakens the demonstrations in the Kurdish areas and as a consequence proportionally fewer Kurds go into the streets. That doesn´t mean that the Kurds won´t get their rights in the new Syria. The Kurdish youth have actively participated and performed an important service for the entire Syrian revolution. We — the Future Movement, the Kurdish Freedom Party in Syria [Azadî] and the Kurdish Union Party in Syria [Yekîtî] — have participated in the demonstrations from the beginning onward and will also always be there in the future. Our young members demonstrate just like the young members of other parties and independent protesters. We have, as everywhere in Syria, consciously made the decision that the young people should take over the organization of the demonstrations. The Future Movement, the Azadî and Yekît have already organized demonstrations in Syria when no one else dared to protest publicly. We are glad that our young people are now taking on an important role.

KURDWATCH: Are the Kurdish and also the Arabic opposition hiding behind these young people? You want to shape the future of the country, but you´re holding back in a critical phase of the revolution, leaving all of the responsibility to the young people. Isn´t that a contradiction?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: For us as Future Movement it´s not a contradiction. We participate in the demonstrations. The three parties which I have named could, with no further ado, release a declaration and call upon people to demonstrate. We don´t do it because we want our young people to become active and come to a decision independently of us. We show them respect.

KURDWATCH: The Future Movement has removed itself from the grouping of the twelve Kurdish parties because it was of the opinion that the other parties are too hesitant in supporting the revolution. What is the Future Movement now doing differently than these parties?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: We left the grouping because of the position of some parties vis-a-vis the regime. They wanted to meet with the government and conduct negotiations. We declined to do that, and said instead that you simply cannot speak with a regime that kills its own population. The idea of beginning a conversation with the government is still consistently advanced by some of the Kurdish parties. We have different political ideas. We can work only with those groups which decline to converse with the government. All of our actions should be aimed at the fall of the regime. We say that completely openly. We have the same position in this affair as the young people in the street. Most Kurdish parties don´t represent this position. There are political differences.
Right now we Kurds, parties and other social groups, should play an important role in this significant phase of the revolution. We can only do so if we represent a consistent position and engage ourselves more strongly in the revolution. We are working on achieving this goal. Aside from this, we are active on the Syrian level. We have to assert ourselves as Kurds and defend our interests as a distinct people. Today the path of the future is being laid.

KURDWATCH: Is the position of the Kurdish parties being weakened by the fact that they aren´t participating actively in the demonstrations and thus in the revolution?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: Naturally their position is being weakened. Their position is so weak because several Kurdish parties are still not adopting a clear stance toward the regime. Not only do they not support the revolution, they even work against it.

KURDWATCH: How is it that everywhere in Syria demonstrators are being fired upon, except in the Kurdish areas?
Mishʿal at-Tammu: The regime has already had experience with us. When Kurdish demonstrators were fired upon in the Kurdish areas in 2004, hundreds of thousands of Kurds went to the streets, in Damascus and Aleppo as well. The murder of protestors joins people together. The government knows very well that if a Kurd is killed in a demonstration in the Kurdish areas, hundreds of thousands of Kurds will take to the streets. As fragmented and weak the political groups might be, in such a situation the Kurds will stick together. That is the reason why the security forces do not intervene in demonstrations in the Kurdish areas. They know that then the Kurds in Damascus and Aleppo will also demonstrate. They want to avoid that by all means possible.

* The »National Rescue Conference« has meanwhile taken place — for more information see the news published on KURDWATCH on July 19, 2011.

July 7, 2011

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