Ismaʿil Hami, Secretary of the Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî):
»Our goal is the self-government of the Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan«
KURDWATCH, September 17, 2011—Ismaʿil Hami (b. 1964) is a founding member of the Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekîtî), which was established in 1999. Since 2010 he has been the party's secretary. He lives in al‑Qamishli. In a conversation with KURDWATCH, Hami speaks about his party's role in the Syrian revolution and about the Kurdish Patriotic Movement's relationship to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria.
KurdWatch: Since the middle of March 2011, there have been demonstrations in many Syrian cities. To date, with the exception of the Future Movement, none of the Kurdish parties have made a call for this. This includes your party, which was originally one of the more radical Kurdish parties and was one of the first parties to organize demonstrations at all. Why such restraint?
Ismaʿil Hami: This information is completely incorrect. We, as Yekîtî, have taken part in the demonstrations from the beginning and have been on the side of the revolution since the first day. Three months ago, we issued a joint declaration with the Future Movement and the Azadî. We declared that we are taking part in the demonstrations. This is also true of the Yekîtî leadership. As secretary, I often take part; our comrades from the politburo are present as well. We have also organized demonstrations ourselves; in the Kurdish regions it is well known that in many places, the Yekîtî actually initiated the demonstrations.
KurdWatch: Is your party also calling for the demonstrations?
Ismaʿil Hami: Yes. Every week we publish a report, which mentions, among other things, who among our leadership participated in which demonstrations. We are taking part in the protests with all our strength.
KurdWatch: Until now the opposition has met several times, both within the country and abroad. The Kurdish parties have not participated in most of the meetings. Why is that?
Ismaʿil Hami: We have participated in the various meetings within the country itself. We even founded the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change along with other parties. However, we do not believe that the meetings that have thus far taken place abroad are that serious. Rather these were hastily organized meetings for the purpose of propaganda. This does not serve the Syrian revolution.
KurdWatch: There are analysts who claim that the Kurdish parties wouldn't take part in the meetings abroad because the majority of the groups invited to those meetings are demanding the fall of the regime.
Ismaʿil Hami: We, the Kurdish Movement, have not yet explicitly called for the fall of the regime, but rather we have called for a change in the system. This is a clearer demand than calling for the fall of the regime. We, as Yekîtî, have repeatedly issued declarations in which we say that the regime no longer has any legitimacy.
KurdWatch: Your party did not participate in the Damascus Declaration because you felt that its position on the Kurds did not go far enough. Then you joined the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change, but left this coalition only a short time later. How do the positions of the Damascus Declaration and the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change differ with respect to the Kurds? And why would you join a coalition as a founding member, only to leave it just a few weeks later, claiming that its position on the Kurds does not go far enough?
Ismaʿil Hami: The difference is that the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change has a clearer position on the Kurdish question than the Damascus Declaration. The National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change realizes that the Kurds in Syria are a nation, that the Kurds need constitutional guarantees that recognize their existence, and that the Kurdish question must be solved within the framework of a democratic Syria. At the same time, they see no contradiction between this and the fact that Syria is an indivisible part of the Arab nation. We were somewhat dissatisfied with this last point; we did not think it was necessary to mention this. The fact that this point was included in a joint declaration by the group shows the spread of Arab nationalist positions among the Arab groups. We were not satisfied that our representatives signed the declaration as it was.
We want the Kurdish parties to form their own bloc. We think it is wrong if we or other parties join the Damascus Declaration or the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change. We should negotiate with the Syrian opposition as our own bloc. Our idea is for our Kurdish bloc to build a coalition with the Damascus Declaration and the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change. We believe that we only serve as appendages of both oppositional coalitions. However, we want the Kurdish bloc to be united and independent. Unfortunately, the Kurdish parties represented in the Damascus Declaration have not supported us and have thus weakened our position. If we would appear as an independent Kurdish bloc, we would have a stronger position. We hope that this problem can be solved during the Kurdish National Congress. We have asked that this point be addressed there.
KurdWatch: When will this congress take place?
Ismaʿil Hami: We are currently making the practical arrangements. We have formed a planning committee, which will start its work next week. First we will elect the nonpartisans that are to take part in the congress.
KurdWatch: Which of the Syrian opposition groups can your party work with?
Ismaʿil Hami: We can work with the Damascus Declaration and the National Union of the Forces for Democratic Change. By the way, the Kurdish Patriotic Movement, not just the Yekîtî, decided that the Kurdish parties should form a common bloc with these two groups.
KurdWatch: The Kurds are demanding that they be recognized as a "second ethnicity" within the state. What exactly does that mean? What rights are connected to this position?
Ismaʿil Hami: We want constitutional guarantees. If there are constitutional guarantees, one cannot take away our rights so easily. If the constitution states that the Kurds are a second nation within the state, it is easier to establish all other national rights. Our second most important demand is a solution to the national Kurdish question. Here the Kurdish Patriotic Movement has different goals. For example, we are calling for the self-government of Syrian Kurdistan. Moreover, we want Kurdish to be the second official language in Syria. Other Kurdish parties want self-administration; others want a regional self-administration; yet others only want cultural and political rights. We want to hold this National Congress in order to come to an agreement on common goals. Another important point is that the Kurdish Patriotic Movement does not have a unified position on the revolution. Some have been involved in the revolution since the first day and have a clear position on the regime; they want this regime to end. Other groups do not support these demands and still aren't participating in the demonstrations. We also want to solve this problem at the congress.
KurdWatch: Many of the meetings that have been held abroad are said to have been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the Yekîtî stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood?
Ismaʿil Hami: The Muslim Brotherhood is a political force in Syria and we are not opposed to talking with them. We are prepared to talk with all groups in the Syrian opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood did dominate the meetings in Antalya and Istanbul. We would say that the Muslim Brotherhood is a part of the Syrian opposition, but they are not the strongest group. The fact that many overestimate the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood also has to do with the propaganda of the regime. For decades, the regime has been spreading the rumor that the Islamists will come to power if the regime falls apart. We do not believe that one group alone will rule Syria. Not the Muslim Brotherhood, not the secularists, not the liberals. Syrian society is too heterogeneous for one group to be able to rule alone. Thus far we've had no contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. We keep our distance from them and they from us. We believe, however, that we must talk to them about Syria's future, and we must reach an agreement.
KurdWatch: What is your take on the Muslim Brotherhood's stance toward the Kurds?
Ismaʿil Hami: That's the problem. They don't have a clear position on the Kurdish question in Syria. The Islamic groups don't want to concern themselves with national or ethnic problems. That has to do with their ideology. For them, Kurds and Arabs are simply Muslims.
KurdWatch: The PYD is surfacing by disrupting demonstrations with pictures of Öcalan, kidnapping and torturing activists, and threatening members of the Future Movement. What are the other Kurdish parties doing about this?
Ismaʿil Hami: Whoever is committing such acts, we condemn them. The PYD denies responsibility for these acts. They blame the regime. You know that the PYD is one of the parties in the Kurdish Patriotic Movement in Syria. In this group we discuss these acts again and again. There is no proof that the PYD is responsible for these acts. Certainly, the PKK and members of the PYD have committed such acts in the past. In general sessions we repeatedly put pressure on the PYD. We have also resolved to investigate these incidents. If it were proven that the PYD is responsible, our stance toward the PYD would change. Some things suggest that the PYD is behind these acts. On the other hand, the situation today is different than it was fifteen years ago. If it turns out that the PYD is responsible for these acts, it will only hurt them. I don't believe that the PYD can commit such acts again in Kurdish regions.
KurdWatch: Why did the Kurdish parties accept the PYD into the Kurdish Patriotic Movement in Syria? Prior to this the Kurdish parties were unwilling to work with the PYD. What has changed?
Ismaʿil Hami: Syria is currently experiencing an exceptional moment. This requires that we Kurds act together in order to establish ourselves and our demands in the new Syria. No one has any intention of having more internal disputes. We accepted them although we disagree on many points.
KurdWatch: Is the PYD at all interested in the fate of the Kurds in Syria or do they merely want to co-opt Syrian Kurdistan as a place to retreat from the battle in Turkey, especially now that the PKK is coming under pressure in Iraqi Kurdistan?
Ismaʿil Hami: Perhaps the PYD is dreaming of this. It could be that they assume there will be a vacuum when the regime falls and that they can fill this vacuum because they have weapons. I don't believe that they will be successful in this regard. Ninety percent of Kurdish society is not on the side of the PYD. The PYD has lost many supporters in Syria. At their last party conference, the PYD moved closer politically to our demands for the Kurds in Syria. We hope that we can be successful together and that we won't work against each other. We hope that the PKK does not make the mistakes of the past. In Turkey, the PKK has prevented other Kurdish parties from developing. The situation in Syria is different. The other Kurdish parties are firmly anchored in the population. The PYD cannot control Kurdish society in Syria, as the PKK controls the Kurds in Turkey. The Kurdish movement has been active here for more than fifty years and has made many sacrifices.
KurdWatch: Many say that there are no dissident demonstrations in ʿAfrin because the PYD is very strong there. Is that true?
Ismaʿil Hami: That's true and has to do with the fact that the other Kurdish parties in ʿAfrin are weak. In ʿAfrin, the PYD can assert its politics.
KurdWatch: What is your stance toward the Future Movement, with which you are at least formally still united in the Kurdish Coordinating Committee?
Ismaʿil Hami: We as a party have no problems with the Future Movement. We have accomplished much so that the Future Movement would be accepted into the group of the twelve parties of the Kurdish Patriotic Movement in Syria. Many parties didn't want to include them because in their opinion the Future Movement has made mistakes. On the day that Mishʿal at‑Tammu was released from prison, all the Kurdish parties visited him together. No sooner had he entered the tent than he said he did not belong to the Kurdish movement, but was a part of the Syrian revolution. He greatly hurt the Kurdish movement with this statement. We spoke with him later about it and told him that the Kurdish movement is also a part of the Syrian revolution and that it would have been better if he had forgone his critique. He then withdrew from the coalition of twelve parties. Later, he wanted to return, but no one wanted to readmit him. It was his mistake; he distanced himself from the Kurdish movement. We asked that he apologize, but he wasn't willing to do so.
September 8, 2011