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Interview

Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus, Chairman of the Kurdish Future Movement's Office of General Communications:

»While a people's revolution is taking place throughout Syria, the Kurdish Patriotic Conference is arguing and struggling over money«


KURDWATCH, January 19, 2012—Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus (b. 1962, married, four children) is the chairman of the Kurdish Future Movement's Office of General Communications. The engineer lives in Syria. In a conversation with KurdWatch, Shaikhmus speaks about the Future Movement's political work following the death of its speaker Mishʿal at-Tammu.

KurdWatch: How did the assassination of Mishʿal at-Tammu on September 11, 2011 impact the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: Mishʿals death left us with a very, very deep wound. He was like a protective shield for us. He always placed himself in front of us. He was a gifted politician and a good theoretician. He helped move the Future Movement forward and frequently brought important suggestions to the discussion. Mishʿal was one of the few who stated his political positions openly and without fear. No one else had done this like him before. His death has not only damaged the Future Movement, but the Kurdish movement as a whole. His openness gave many people courage and strength. He was among the few Kurdish leaders who was valued by the Arab opposition. He would have played an important role for the Kurds in the new Syria. During the three years that Mishʿal spent in prison, we knew that he would return and infect the Future Movement with his energy. Now we know he will not return, and naturally our movement misses him very much.

KurdWatch: For the past three months, the Future Movement has not had a speaker. Some claim that leadership cannot agree on one person. Is that true?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: No. Believe me, within the Future Movement there are no disputes about this question at all. Absolutely not. According to our party statutes, the speaker is to be elected directly by the general assembly - incidentally this is the only leader chosen this way. We have an office for public relations that took over the functions of the speaker while Mishʿal was in prison. We are handling this situation in the same way until we hold our party congress and elect a new speaker. Regardless, the speaker of the Future Movement does not hold the highest office. The speaker is only responsible for public relations. The highest function is that of the chairman of the Office of General Communications.

KurdWatch: What role did the other Kurdish parties play in the assassination of Mishʿal at-Tammu?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: The Kurdish parties have a part to play in the moral responsibility for Mishʿal's assassination. We aren't saying they killed him. It is clear to us that the regime is responsible, regardless of which instruments it used. Immediately after Mishʿal was released from prison, he said that he would take part in the revolution and stand on the side of the young activists. He said he would not join any movement that wanted to engage in talks with the regime. As a result, some Kurdish party leaders attacked him, disparaged him, and said that he no longer belonged to the Kurdish movement. After the first attempt on his life, we formed a joint commission with the activists' coordinating committees. The commission engaged in talks with all of the Kurdish parties, appealed to their sense of responsibility, and asked them to release a statement. Unfortunately they did not do this. The Secretary of el-Partî, ʿAbdulhakim Bashar, even claimed that Mishʿal only wanted to make himself seem important with his stories of an assassination attempt and that the tale he presented to us was like one out of a bad Indian film.

KurdWatch: What role did the PYD play in Mishʿal's assassination? It claims that Turkey shares responsibility for his assassination.
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: That is absolutely not true. Turkey had nothing to do with his death; no one there had any interest in the assassination of Mishʿal. Why would the Turks have him killed? We had serious disputes with the PYD; they vigorously attacked Mishʿal again and again. But once more, no one could have killed Mishʿal without the approval of the regime. The Syrian intelligence services killed Mishʿal at-Tammu. The Kurdish movement could have profited greatly from Mishʿal's death. After his death at the very latest, they would have had to have actively participated in the Syrian revolution. Had this been the case, I am sure that we Kurds would have been able to foster the success of the revolution and the achievement of its goals. Such a role would have had positive consequences for the realization of Kurdish demands in the new Syria.

KurdWatch: In an interview with KurdWatch, Mishʿal at-Tammu stated that the Kurds would take to the streets en masse if even one single Kurd were to be killed at demonstrations in the Kurdish regions. Following his funeral, two demonstrators were killed in al-Qamishli. Yet a protest by hundreds of thousands failed to materialize. Why is that?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: On the evening of Mishʿal's assassination, the Kurdish political movement took steps to keep the number of participants at the funeral small. They contacted the family and convinced them to bury Mishʿal in his village. We as the Future Movement wanted to bury him in al-Qamishli in order to turn his funeral procession and the ensuing days of mourning into large demonstrations. If the Kurdish Patriotic Conference is not in the position to defend a single individual, how can it advocate for the rights of a people? The Kurdish political parties do not want the Kurds to demonstrate against the regime.

KurdWatch: Who decided where Mishʿal would be buried?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: The family. But the Kurdish movement sent representatives to Mishʿal's mother and asked her if more people should die like her son, simply because he is buried in al-Qamishli. The mother was put under pressure, and thus it was decided that he would be buried in his village. If a different decision had been made, the demonstrations also would have taken a different turn.

KurdWatch: How are Zahida and Mishʿal's son Marsil, both of whom were injured in the attack on Mishʿal?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: Considering the circumstances, both are doing well. Marsil is doing better than Zahida. She was shot twice in the leg. The bullets were dumdums that shattered her bones. It will be a long time before she can walk again without help.

KurdWatch: Does the Future Movement want to work together with the Kurdish Patriotic Conference? If so, under what conditions?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: Given their stance towards the regime and towards the Syrian revolution, we currently cannot work with the Conference. If they would take a clear stance on the following points, then nothing more would stand in the way of cooperation. Firstly, the conference must take a clear position towards the Syrian regime. Secondly, mechanisms must be developed to offer stronger support to the Syrian revolution in the Kurdish regions. Thirdly, concrete demands regarding Kurdish rights in the new Syria must be formulated, independent of outside influences and in the interests of the Syrian Kurds. Fourthly and finally, activists and nonpartisans must have stronger representation within the Kurdish Patriotic Conference.

KurdWatch: What do you mean by a "clear position towards the Syrian regime"? This phrase itself is anything but clear.
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: We clearly state that the regime must be overthrown. We no longer have any hope that this regime can do anything for the people. This isn't something we've just started saying today. Since our formation in 2005, we've said that we see ourselves as an oppositional movement. That's why we have rejected all talks with the regime.

KurdWatch: Will you continue to engage in talks with representatives of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: The door for a dialogue is always open. Nevertheless, we are working on forming a new political group, the Union of Kurdish Democratic Forces; its entire focus will be on the revolution. It's possible that we will then form a committee to coordinate between us and the other Kurdish coalition.

KurdWatch: The groups that will be represented in this bloc are either only active abroad and have no base in Kurdistan, like, for example, the Kurdistan Union Party in Syria, or they have hardly any supporters, like, for example, ʿAbdurrahman Aluji's Kurdish Democratic Party-Syria. Only the Future Movement and the activists' coordinating groups are politically active in Syria. Doesn't working with these weak political groups hurt the Future Movement?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: There are seventeen or eighteen Kurdish parties in Syria. The Kurdish Patriotic Conference also represents large and small parties. The same is true for our bloc. We have parties with a broad base; others have less influence. What connects us is our common political stance. Why shouldn't we come together on this basis? We want to build a civil, pluralistic, and democratic Syria. We don't mind if Syria has two Kurdish blocs that, along with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), represent the Kurds in Syrian-Kurdistan. There are simply two blocs, representing two different political directions.

KurdWatch: Do you really believe that one can more easily build a modern Syrian state with ʿAbdurrahman Aluji and ʿAbdulbasit Hammu than, for example, with ʿAbdulhakim Bashar?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: We have set our hopes above all on our young activists and their coordinating committees. We have them to thank for the fact that the Kurds are a part of the Syrian revolution. What these young people have achieved in eight, nine months, the Kurdish parties have not achieved in fifty years. We want to build the new Syria with them. We want to form a new bloc with them in the hope that we can later jointly form a new, influential Kurdish party.

KurdWatch: Aside from the Yekîtî, the Future Movement is the only party that has been demonstrating with the activists for the past eight, nine months. The other parties have only been taking part in the demonstrations in the Kurdish regions for the past month. Nevertheless, six youth groups have joined the Kurdish Patriotic Conference. Why?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: Those who have joined the Kurdish Patriotic Conference do no represent the independent youth; they are a part of these parties.

KurdWatch: To what extent do your demands specific to the Kurds differ from those of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: The essential difference is in our stance towards the regime and towards the Syrian revolution as well as in our relationship to the opposition. We say that the new Syrian constitution must recognize the Kurds as a main ethnicity. They say that the Kurds are the country's second ethnicity. Second ethnicity means that we will not have equal rights. Being a main ethnicity means that we are equal partners in this state. The other Kurdish parties see the Kurdish question as a regional matter. In contrast, we want to be partners in all of Syria. We say that just as the Arabs are partners in our regions, so are we partners in their regions. We also want to participate in the political processes in other parts of Syria in which there is no Kurdish majority, as, for example, in Damascus. Together with the Arabs, we want to build the new Syria and assume responsibility.

KurdWatch: At the end of November, the Kurdistan Regional Government Iraq invited twenty-one members of the Kurdish Patriotic Conference to Erbil to discuss the situation of the Kurds in Syria and the Syrian revolution. After the members of the delegation returned, disagreements allegedly arose. What happened?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: While a people's revolution is taking place throughout Syria, the Kurdish Patriotic Conference is arguing and struggling over money that was used to bribe its members in Iraqi-Kurdistan so that the Iraqi-Kurds would gain influence. Salih Gado announced his resignation from the executive committee after each of the twenty-one delegates allegedly received ten thousand US dollars from the KDP-Iraq. This behavior is shameful and not worthy of political organizations. There must be consequences.

KurdWatch: How do you see the future of the Future Movement? Will it fade into irrelevance without a charismatic leader like Mishʿal at-Tammu?
Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus: I am convinced that the Future Movement will play a role in the period of the revolution and in building the new Syria. The number of friends and supporters of the Future Movement is growing day by day. It may be that today we have no one who can take Mishʿal's place. He really had charisma and possessed leadership qualities. We are trying to fill the void that he left behind by energizing the Future Movement's institutions, pushing teamwork, and enlisting everyone in formulating political decisions. We in the Future Movement are determined to carry on Mishʿal at-Tammu's politics, a politics that serves the interests of the entire Syrian people.

December 18, 2011

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