Interview with Serhad Ayers, from the YPG: “Our system gives power to the people”

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In the framework of the International Festival Utopia in Marica (Brazil), The Dawn News and Resumen Latinoamericano interviewed a YPG militant, Serhad Ayers. He talked about the situation of Kurdish people in Syria and the relationship of the Kurdish people with Bashar Al Assad’s government.

What forms and methods do you use to create more autonomy in Rojava?

Autonomy in Rojava is not like we do something to generate it. Now we have a system, but in the beginning the territory came to our hands because of the ongoing war in Syria, when it started to be obvious that there was going to be a war inside of Syria, Assad decided he didn’t want the Kurds to fight as well, because he knew everybody would turn against him. This was something that came from the West. First he wanted the Kurds to help him in Syria, but the Kurds said no. So he told the Kurds “if you remain on your side, i’ll remove my soldiers from there. It was a tactical move, it wasn’t to favour the Kurds, he wanted to build a wall between himself and Turkey, and also to bring his soldiers down South, where they have a stronghold. So what our organization did, in 2004 there was an uprising in Northern Syria, but at that moment they weren’t ready for something like that, none expected something like that to happen. So, because that happened in 2004, this time the organization was more ready. We had members in Rojava, as we call it (West of Kurdistan), when this happened, it didn’t take long until they started to work for this new project, this new system. So the territory was in our hands, but no one in the world knew about it. I didn’t know either. But I went there in 2012 to Kobani, Arfin and Halab. Halab is a Syrian city, it’s not Kurdish, but there are two Kurdish neighborhoods. So we wanted to do the same thing Assad did when he took his soldiers from the North. We told our people in these two neighborhoods in Halab to go the North, to Kurdistan, because this is not our city, and it’s very difficult to protect you here. And the people said “this is our home, we live here”, they had been living there for a very long time. Most of them were born there. So then the YPG started a fraction in Halab, and now the toughest and the hardest wars are there, because you have Assad’s soldiers, the Islamists, the opposition… It’s a mess, but still we’re there, because of our two neighborhoods. But in the North, when I went there, it was one of the luckiest days in my life, when I saw our checkpoints, ours, I had never seen something like that because we never had our own territories, and they are red, green and yellow. And you see this checkpoint, and you see your comrades standing there, holding the checkpoint, it was very beautiful.
So I met the ones in charge, and they said to me: we can’t announce that this is in our hands today, we want to wait until we can build a strong base, and then we will announced it. So it has been in our hands for a longer time than it was announced.

So, in this way, when we announced it, no one could do anything or say anything, because it was already secured. Previously, in Barkur, North of Kurdistan, we announced not autonomy but self-governance, but we didn’t have a base, it was just an announcement, but in Rojava it wasn’t like that, the basis was there and everything was set.

The problem right now is that there’s a war going on at the same time that we’re facing the problem of generating autonomy. That’s why it’s very difficult. If we didn’t have the war, it would go faster and be much easier, but still not everyone in there is a fighter. So you have the YPG, the YPJ (women’s fraction) and also you have the traffic police, etc, everybody is doing their job. At the same time there are social movements, that are working for society.

It’s very difficult because the people in Rojava are not used to this system. They’re used to Assad always oppressing them and with this system it’s still hard to change some things so radically. First of all, you have to change the mentality, and this is what they’re working on, every day, almost 24/7. The comrades in Rojava barely sleep. They have a very hard time. I saw how they work with the people in those organizations, especially in the public offices there are in each neighborhood. This is where decisions are taken, and they are taken by the people. But it’s very hard to give power to the people when they don’t understand the system, so first you have to educate them, and this takes time. It’s dangerous because it can become a formality. The system has to be for real, not just on papers. So this is what the comrades are working on, every day, to make people understand the decision-making. Today, it’s not fully democratic. It’s impossible. Because education is 100% and the war is ongoing. Because of the war, if you give full power to the people, anything can happen, and then the West can intervene and take control of it, like the coup in Brazil, and we don’t accept it now. So now, there are other Kurdish parties, and they say “there’s no democracy, they don’t let us speak our mind”. There’s no arresting, there’s no killing unless they attack. But it’s true, this is not the time to make these discussions, when the enemy’s at the front door. So first, you have to stabilize the territory and then you can discuss, if someone else has a better project than this, and the people want it, then that’s OK, but we’re a hundred percent sure that that’s not the case. And there are very few people that don’t like this system. And those few that don’t like it, it’s because they don’t understand it, if you ask me. So,  there’s a lot of difficult aspects. One of them is: I went to the police station, and they didn’t have a police telephone number at the time. It was an office number. Also, they don’t beat people who commit crimes. There were some young guys fighting, cutting each other with knives, and they arrested them. A couple of years ago, they would have beaten them, they would have tortured them in prison, but they didn’t like that. They were just building up the prison system, and they didn’t know how to do it correctly, because we talked a lot about ideology and it wasn’t easy to translate it into practice. But what happens is that, in that vacuum in between systems, people don’t understand, they say: “so, they don’t beat us now, we can do anything”. And then the comrades had to stop that. It was very difficult. But now things are better, because I met people that had been there and they told me that. They work day in, day out, to change the oppressed people’s mentality and to educate them. Because you have to have knowledge about the system and the ideology to make it work. When you give power to the people, and you choose two representatives (one woman and one man for each seat), some think that they are leaders because they are in power, but that’s not what the system stands for, so you have to teach them: “it’s not you who is in power, you are just representatives. You represent the people”. And also the people need to understand that they don’t have to follow the leader in power, but that it’s them who are the decision-makers.

In spite of the difficulties, there are changes, and lots of things have developed. But because of the war it takes a longer time.

Iraqi Kurds Protest Turkish Airstrikes in Kurdish Areas
Iraqi Kurds Protest Turkish Airstrikes in Kurdish AreasBashar
  • How is the relationship with Syria now?

As I said in the beginning, Syria withdrew their soldiers —not all of them, they keep some in points across Rojava —, and we want to keep it like that as well, because in one of the larger cities they have the airport and some other areas, and it’s safer for us to keep them there. We had some clashes with soldiers in that cities. They killed some of ours, we killed some of theirs, and then it stopped. Same thing happened in Halab, it’s been back and forth like that. Something happens, and then things go back to normal. And Daesh says that we work together with Assad. That’s not true at all. In the beginning, Assad wanted to show the outside world that we were with him, that was one of the arguments that Daesh used. But the main reason is that the West doesn’t want a system like ours to exist. So they created Daesh. Daesh’s soldiers may be unaware of this, but from the top, this is a project to destroy this system, and they’re doing all they can to eliminate the system. With alternative Kurdish parties, with Daesh, with whatever they can. But we made the base really stable, so it’s very difficult for them to change it now. It’s been too many years.

But the relationship with Assad has never been good. Before, our leader, Abdullah Öcalan lived in Sham, in Syria, and although he didn’t have a good relationship, he had a deal with Assad’s father. Later, Assad’s father said he had used them. He’s a very smart man, Abdullah. He had to do that. It’s politics, they are not allies. The same thing happens with the American soldiers in Rojava. Some people think that we’re allies, and that we made a deal with the US, and we’re with them. It’s not that. It’s just a coalition for the moment. It was either them or the Russians. Because we don’t have the money or weapons to fight Daesh. They’re funded by the West and by many Arab countries, but we don’t have those resources. So we have to make some decisions to stabilize the area.

In the last few months, the relationship between Assad and the Kurds has gotten worse. He bombed the Kurdish areas in Halab with airplanes and also with chemical weapons. Also, when Turkey said they would never accept the system of Rojava, Assad said he supported that position. So no one wants to see this system: Daesh, the opposition, the West, they all agree on that. Because it’s very dangerous to the nation-states and the imperialist states because it gives power to the people. Because if we succeed in implementing this system in the North, maybe the South will want to do the same instead of following Assad. And they know that this is going to be an example.


Read the rest of the interview here: PART II

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