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Zahida Rashkilo, Kurdish politician:

»They said that they and eleven other Kurdish parties would liquidate Mischʿal at‑Tammu«


KURDWATCH, June 15, 2012—Zahida Rashkilo (b. 1966) is a member of the Office of General Communications for the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria. She spoke with KurdWatch about the assassination of Mishʿal at‑Tammu, during which she too was seriously injured.This is the first interview in which the Kurdish politician, who is currently in Germany for medical treatment, has spoken about the exact circumstances of the assassination.

KurdWatch: How is your health?
Zahida Rashkilo: First I would like to thank the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Organization of the Kurdish Future Movement for making it possible for me to receive medical treatment in Germany. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is covering the entire cost of my treatment. In the first week that I was here my femur was operated on at the Bad Saarow Hospital. I already had an operation in Syria, but it was not successful. I still cannot walk without help. I am currently in rehabilitation and will have another operation on my leg in the next few days. All in all, my health is good and it keeps getting better.

KurdWatch: You were with Mishʿal at‑Tammu when he was assassinated on October 7, 2011. Could you tell us what happened that day?
Zahida Rashkilo: The day before Mishʿal had called me in Aleppo at 11 pm and said that I should come to al‑Qamishli the next morning. I was there at 3 pm the next day. In al‑Qamishli I contacted Mishʿal by phone; he said I should go to his brother ʿAbdurrazzaq. So I then went there. Later Mishʿal's son Marsil also came. When we—Marsil, ʿAbdurrazzaq, and I—left ʿAbdurrazzaq's apartment together, we saw a car with tinted windows. It was a car like those of the intelligence service. The passengers greeted us and we joked with one another; each of us told the other, that greeting was for you. The car then headed in a different direction, we made sure that we were not being followed. We drove to a house in the Western quarter, and there we met Mishʿal, the host, whose name was Rasho, and his wife. We had just arrived when Marsil got a phone call. It was the escape agent who was to organize Mishʿal's departure from the country. Marsil told Mishʿal that they would need to leave around 4 pm in order to leave the country by around 6 pm. When they received the phone call it was about 3:45 pm. Mishʿal then told Marsil that they would not leave until the next day. He and Marsil wanted to go to Istanbul together. Shortly thereafter the phone rang again; it was Shergo, a member of the Future Movement who wanted to see Mishʿal. Mishʿal gave him a location and sent Marsil there to pick him up. When Shergo arrived, Mischʿal told him that his life was in danger. He said he had received credible information from Damascus that he was to be killed, either by poisoning, a shooting, or in an accident. He did not say from whom he had received the information. Mishʿal told Shergo they should support Rezan. [Rezan Bahri Shaykhmus is currently the chairman of the Future Movement's Office of General Communications – download interview]. Shergo responded that he understood that Mishʿal had to flee and that they would continue to run the Future Movement according to his ideas. While Mishʿal and Shergo were deep in conversation, the doorbell rang. Then it was very still outside. Normally if we were traveling with Mishʿal, we always asked ourselves who was at the door. But since both Mishʿal's brother ʿAbdurrazzaq and his son Marsil, along with the host, were in the courtyard, we didn't worry about it; we felt safe. About five minutes after the doorbell rang, the door to our room opened, and a man entered with a machine gun in his hand. He held the gun to Mishʿal's head. In Arabic he ordered Mishʿal to stand up, and he shot him in the head. After the shot was taken, I stood up and put myself between him and Mishʿal and screamed that he should stop shooting. The assassin then shot at me as well. A bullet grazed above my knee. When I didn't move to the side, he shot me again and hit me in the thigh. I fell, and he shot Mishʿal again. I was screaming and crying loudly, and at that time a second man entered the room. Both were undisguised. When I fell, I could still see Mishʿal's face. He had put his hand under his head; then his eyes closed. Then I lost consciousness. I was later told that the man fired more shots at Mishʿal. The whole thing didn't even last a minute. I can't remember the men's faces. I later learned that they also shot at Marsil. When Marsil heard the shots, he tried to come into our room and they shot at him. A total of five attackers are said to have been involved, but I only saw two. I don't know what went on outside. My friends haven't told me yet, and I don't want to know.

KurdWatch: Was there anyone other than you, Mishʿal, and Shergo in the room?
Zahida Rashkilo: No, just the three of us.

KurdWatch: You said Mishʿal knew that his life was in danger. Didn't he have bodyguards?
Zahida Rashkilo: Yes, we had people who were protecting him. There had already been an attempt on his life two months earlier. But we thought we were in a secure house. We assumed that any attempt to kill him would happen on the open street. It seems that word had gotten out that Mishʿal wanted to leave the country. So they wanted to kill him before.

KurdWatch: Why did Mishʿal want to see you before he left the country?
Zahida Rashkilo: Like with many other friends, he wanted to speak to me about several organizational matters. He wanted to tell me how the Future Movement should proceed.

KurdWatch: Why didn't Mishʿal leave the country after the first assassination attempt?
Zahida Rashkilo: He didn't want to leave too hastily. Instead he wanted to prepare the Future Movement for his departure. Moreover, he didn’t have confidence in the Syrian opposition in exile. He wouldn't have left the country if he hadn't been sure that he was going to be killed. He said again and again that the opposition in exile isn't a serious opposition and that we must become active within the country. When the Istanbul Conference took place [information on the conference], he sent Haitham al‑Malih to Istanbul. He himself opened the conference from Damascus. He could have gone to Istanbul, but he said we must show the world that there is also a strong opposition within the country, an opposition that isn't directed from the outside as is alleged of the opposition abroad. For that reason we were actively involved in this revolution, more actively involved than most of the Kurdish parties and many of the Arab parties. Mishʿal paid for this position with his life.

KurdWatch: In an interview with KurdWatch, Mishʿal said that he was being threatened. Who was threatening him?
Zahida Rashkilo: Yes, that is true, we were being threatened. We were threatened by the PYD/PKK. The whole thing began on a Friday during a demonstration. On that Friday, we demonstrated together with the PYD and other Kurdish parties. Mishʿal was also present. During the demonstration, PYD supporters carried PKK flags and pictures of Öcalan. Mishʿal asked the other party representatives why they accepted this. Not only that, but while demonstrations throughout Syria were taking place under a single slogan, the PYD was demonstrating under its own slogan. Mishʿal said that he would not accept this. He demanded that the PYD put down their flags and the picture of Öcalan and walk under the all-Syrian slogan. Mishʿal said that everyone should walk behind the Kurdish flag and the Syrian freedom flag or else we would follow our own route. He also said that he was not prepared to exploit the Syrian Kurds against Turkey. He said: »I live in Syria; I want to support the Syrian revolution, and I do not want to give the impression that we are not against the regime. Our politics should be directed against the Syrian regime and not against Turkey. If we change the slogan and carry pictures of Öcalan, this means that we are not a part of the Syrian revolution.« There was no agreement. Mishʿal then told the young people that they should move in the direction of the city center and destroy the statue of Assad. That was when the problems with the PYD began. They then came to Mishʿal's home and threatened him. They said that they and eleven other Kurdish parties would liquidate Mishʿal at‑Tammu. After this ʿAbdurrazzaq and Marsil went to the PYD member who had threatened Mischʿal and told him that the PYD should do what it thinks is right. Later Kurdish parties released a statement in which they claimed that Mishʿal had threatened the PYD.

KurdWatch: You were also present at the first attempt on Mishʿal at‑Tammu's life in al‑Qamishli. Did you recognize the assassins?
Zahida Rashkilo: I am not from al‑Qamishli and therefore did not know the assassins. Marsil and I were sitting in the front seat of the car and Mishʿal was sitting in the back when two young men on motorcycles approached. They were both Kurds; Mishʿal knew them. I don't know if they were members of the PKK. They tried to stop us twice. Later we saw that a car was following us. As the car was trying to catch up to us, one of the passengers pulled out a gun. I called to Mishʿal that he should take cover, but he just laughed and asked why I hadn't taken cover. Suddenly a woman with a child appeared in front of the car so that the car had to brake and we could escape. Mishʿal should have left the country immediately back then, but he kept delaying his departure.

KurdWatch: Were there official investigations after Mishʿal's assassination? Did anyone attempt to find the murderers?
Zahida Rashkilo: No, only the PYD came to us once and wanted to make peace. I said that they needed to make a public apology for insulting Mishʿal; then there would be no more problems between us. They left and we never heard from them again.

KurdWatch: There are people who claim that the Future Movement is seeking rapprochement with the PYD. What do you think of this?
Zahida Rashkilo: Since the assassination, I have frozen my political activities for the party. I don't know if the Future Movement has approached the PYD.

KurdWatch: Did you have problems with the regime after the assassination?
Zahida Rashkilo: Yes, I was clearly being watched. When I was in the hospital in Aleppo, they put pressure on the director of the hospital and said that I was not allowed to receive any visitors. Once, someone from the intelligence service tried to enter my room at four in the morning. When my brother opened the door, the man claimed that he had come because he needed a signature from me. After I was released from the hospital, I did not return home, but rather changed my location frequently. The intelligence service told one of my hosts that they knew exactly where I was staying.

KurdWatch: Were you able to leave Syria without difficulties?
Zahida Rashkilo: My name was registered at the border. That means that I actually should not have been able to exit the country. No one in my circle knew that I was leaving the country. And we had changed the name in my passport a little so that I could cross the border without problems.

KurdWatch: Can you return to Syria?
Zahida Rashkilo: In Syria, intelligence service employees visited me once a month or else I was forced to report there. I believe that if I returned now, they would arrest me at the airport. During the interrogations, they repeatedly accused me of having contacts abroad. Now I am here at the expense of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As long as the regime remains in power, I cannot return.

May 26, 2012

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