Published by The Maghreb and Orient Courier, May 2015
Akram Hesso is the Prime Minister of the Regional Government of the Jazeera (Cizîrê), one of the three Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, called « Rojava ». Each one of the three cantons has declared its regional autonomy, supported by the YPG, the militia of the Rojava, mainly constituted of Kurdish fighters. But in the Jazeera, 45% of the population is Arab and about 10% are Syrian Christians. An autonomous government has hence been put in place that has two vice-prime ministers, one Syrian Christian and one Arab, two presidents, one Kurd and one Arab, and two presidents of the parliament, one Syrian Christian and one Kurd. An example of ethnic cohabitation; and a project for a federal and democratic Syria…
The Maghreb and Orient Courier – The Jazeera Canton is now under control of the YPG and Damascus’s government doesn’t make the laws any more in this part of Syria. What is your goal for the future? What about Syria? Does Jazeera wish to stay inside Syria or to create a separate country?
PM Akram Hesso – The Syrian people, in general, with all its components and different communities, suffered for a long time from isolation and repression, not being taken serious or not receiving their rights… So, in the Jazeera region, all the components of this Syrian people, after a long time of discussions, succeeded in finding an agreement. After numerous meetings, we managed to finda kind of compromise, a mutual understanding for a way to live together, all of them, to create a model including all the political parties and communities of the region. The result is the foundation of the Democratic Self-Administration.
The goal of the Democratic Self-Administration is to change the political situation, to reach democracy, but not to modify the geographical borders of Syria.
And the other thing is that the first rule of the social contract for the constitution of the Jazeera Canton is clearly that Jazeera is part of Syria and, therefore, we don’t want separation; we don’t want to divide Syria… But the reason why we built this Democratic self-Administration is to build a new democratic society and to change the current regime and situation in Syria, building a new democratic Syria.
MOC – How are your relations with the government in Damascus today?
PM A. Hesso –The foundation of the Democratic Self-Administration has as goal to represent all the components of Jazeera canton’s population, and not to negotiate with the regime. So, basically we do not have relations with the government in Damascus or with the regime itself. But some governmental services or governmental sectors are still working here. The services in Jazeera, and the officers and civil workers that constitute them, in important matters, such as education, health, agriculture or other administration inside our area, belong to the Syrian country and, hence,belong to the Syrian people; when we have relations with them, with these administrations, it is only for the benefit of the people.
MOC – So, for the moment, do you not have any negotiations with the regime, to find an agreement to obtain your autonomy in exchange for supporting Damascus and recognising al-Assad authority on Syria?
PM A. Hesso –We do not have any relations at all with the regime. And, if the regime wants to recognise the Democratic Self-Administration, the regime has to accept an agreement to recognise as well a democratic change inside Syria and the solution that we propose to end the war in Syria.
We are clearly part of the Syrian revolution. The regime has to accept the democratic change that is going to happen, and not only for the components of the Jazeera, the region, here, but for all the Syrian people.
MOC – But the matter is that al-Assad’s regime was already supported by Russia -and Iran of course-, and, now, on one hand, Tehran is making agreements with Washington and, on the other hand, Western governments, because of the danger that the Islamic Sate represent, consider the stability of Bashar al-Assad and its regime as a good way to fight off the jihadists. So, it seems that the Baath party will keep the power in Damascus… If it will be the case indeed, what would be the plan of the Jazeera regional government?
PM A. Hesso–Syria will never come back as it was before 2011. It is something we have to believe in, and to be sure about! About the recent developments in the international Community… I don’t think that Western governments will support the regime of Damascus.
Of course, because of Daesh, some governments are thinking to use the Syrian regime as a wall against Daesh; but the fall of Daesh will not end the war in Syria. It is impossible to go back to the situation as it was before the revolution: people are demanding freedom, rights, and they are pursuing that goal. So, the international Community will have, finally, to work to find a political solution for all the Syrian people, through democracy. But the matter is that the international Community must understand that Daesh was created by the regime.
As I told you, we are part of the revolution and we believe in that. We take our legitimacy from the revolution. How could we keep this legitimacy if we would be linked to a regime that is not legitimate and not democratic? In other words, it is simply impossible for us to accept the persistence of this regime. But if Bashar al-Assad would accept to change the regime into a real democracy, in that case, we wouldn’t have problems to negotiate with him.
We believe indeed that, if it is possible to find a political solution, it must be in Damascus, inside Syria, not in a foreign country, in Geneva, Moscow, Cairo or any other place.
MOC – The future of the Regional Government of the Jazeera also depends on Turkey’s attitude about the “Kurdish matter”. How are your relations with Ankara?
PM A. Hesso –At the beginning of the foundation of the Democratic Self-Administration, we sent a lot of messages to different countries through our minister of Foreign Affairs, asking and calling for agreements with them, including the Turkish government. We don’t want to make any problems for any country in the world and, particularly not for our neighbours, such as Turkey.
I insist: we are part of a united Syria, and we don’t want to create a separated Kurdistan.
But we did not get any answer from Turkey… And the Turkish government is very clearly supporting Daesh… For us, they do the same as the Syrian regime… The Syrian regime is bombing its own people with explosive barrels, and the Turkish government is opening its borders to facilitate the movements of Daesh’s fighters. So… We need to ask them to change their behaviour.
MOC – It is clear. Thank you.
What are your relations with the PDK, the Iraqi Kurdish party of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government? He controls your only open border (the others are common with Turkey and the Islamic State); and it is a fact that Barzani and the PDK are linked to Ankara and follow its policy…
PM A. Hesso –The Democratic Self-Administration represents all the components of the Jazeera community. So, it is not concerned by the Kurdish component only, and the relations between us and our brothers of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq are not affected by their particular relations with the Turkish government… It is a matter belonging to them… And the Kurdistan Regional Government doesn’t interfere in our interiors affairs and our policy. We have good relations with our brothers who are in our neighbourhood, in the different countries like Turkey, in Erbil or Suleymania.
Just to clarify our position: the Kurdistan Regional Government is part of the Iraqi State; it is the Republic of Iraq, and, here, it is Syria. Their decisions about Turkey are their business…
MOC – I understand the principle. But, for the economic development of Jazeera, you need to import and export crossing this only border with Iraqi Kurdistan. It is the case for oil. You need to export your main good, which is oil. And we know that the PDK impeaches your exportations, obeying Ankara’s orders, to make Syrian Kurdish areas weak in front of the Islamic State, hoping for the destruction of these areas…isn’t it true?
PM A. Hesso – I don’t agree with what you are saying about oil. Jazeera’s oil is a strategic resource of Syria; we believe in the unity of Syria and, so, we don’t have the right to export oil, to sell it outside Syria by ourselves. We will not export this oil before we havea new and democratic government in Syria. And it will be the new Syrian constitution to decide what we can do with this oil, because it is not only for us, the Jazeera region, but for the wellness of all the Syrian people.
MOC – Yes… I apologise for insisting… But, to cross the border from Iraq is very difficult, because of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and especially because of the PDK that controls that zone. They make some difficulties… Even for journalists, sometimes…
PM A. Hesso – To tell the truth, we also criticise the KRG… for that matter… And we talked with the KRG…
But the point is that the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Jazeera is not an official one. It can be used mainly for the humanitarian matters; KRG says they try not to use it too much for economic exchanges and goods transportations… That is an international matter, which needs agreements… and it cannot be managed very quickly…
We had numerous meetings about the question of that border…
But, as I told you, the oil matter is linked to the national sovereignty of Syria, and we cannot take a decision by ourselves; our behaviour in that matter shows that we really don’t want to leave Syria and that we are part of this country.
MOC – Speaking with some officials from UPK [second main Kurdish party in KRG, rival of the PDK]and PKK, their allies, I learned about their plan, to create a large Kurdistan, including the three cantons of the Rojava. For them, Rojava is part of Kurdistan. And one of their main goals, creating this new country, would be to join the Alawite zones of Syria, Latakie and Tartous, on the Mediterranean Sea, to be able to export the oil of the Kurdistan –now “Iraqi Kurdistan”, I mean- without any involvement of Iraq or Turkey.
PM A. Hesso – We cannot accept that policy! The Rojava is completely part of Syria. The partition is not the policy of the Democratic Self-Administration.
MOC – The main military force in the Rojava is the YPG [Units for population’s protection]. Initially, the name of this organization was “YPK” [Units for Kurds protection]. A military organization created by the PKK and still under its control. Doesn’t the Regional Government think that it will be difficult to stop them, if, finally, after the danger of the Islamic State will disappear, they want the partition?
PM A. Hesso – I will answer your question speaking, for instance, about the case of Kobanê. When Kobanê was under the attack of Daesh, the place was defended by the YPG, and it was a lack of help from the international Community, even if they tried to help us with their airstrikes. For us, Kobanê is also part of Syria… Even if, in Kobanê, there are a majority of Kurds and a real Kurdish regional identity.
During the battle for Kobanê, YPG was the main force to defend the city, with other groups, as the revolutionary group from ar-Raqqa, some units from the Free Syrian Army, and so on… And, of course, some Peshmergas from Iraqi Kurdistan, after the acceptance of Turkey to let them cross the Turkish territory. All these groups, including the YPG, were fighting together, for Kobanê, as a part of Syria.
MOC – Speaking with Arabic citizens, here in Jazeera Canton, I know that a lot of them don’t trust the YPG; for them, it is a Kurdish military group and they are afraid of a Kurdish separated state for the future of the area…They don’t believe in the Regional Government… They think that it is just a step before a Kurdish government in all Rojava.
PM A. Hesso – The Arab population, not only in Jazeera but everywhere inside Syria, doesn’t have any organized leadership to be represented. Because of that, they feel lost, and that is a problem they are suffering from. But the YPG is concerned by all the components of the population in the Rojava; and they are working with the Syriac Military Council and with some Arabic groups too. There are Syriac and Arabic fighters too inside the YPG. You cannot say that this force concerns only Kurdish people.
But, you know… Some Arabic personalities try to diffuse rumours, because they have personal interests to refuse the cooperation of the different communities inside the Democratic Self-Government.
The YPG has always defended all the communities from Daesh’s attacks, the Arabic villages as well as the Kurdish ones, and in the Khabur Valley, now even the Syriacs’ and Assyrians’ villages.
MOC – The question is also, to know if the YPG headquarter is autonomous, controlled by people from outside Syria, members of the PKK organization, for instance; or if this military group is under control of the Regional Government, under your control, Mr Prime Minister, as the only executive authority in the Jazeera Canton…
PM A. Hesso – Yes! When the Democratic Self-Administration was founded, the YPG came under the control of the Defence Minister, of course, of the executive Council. You met our Defence Minister; as you know, he is a civilian personality. Not a member of the YPG headquarters. That is the case in Jazeera, like in most parts of the democratic governments in the world. The YPG headquarter has to submit the plans for the defence of Jazeera to the minister, to make them approved by the executive Council, and they also have to make reports.
But… Because of the war situation… You understand… We give them some space… the possibility to take their own decisions…
MOC – My last question… Does the Regional Government of Jazeera receive support or recognition from others countries?
PM A. Hesso – We try to manage some relations… With the work of our Foreign Affairs Minister… And with the help of the Syriac or Kurdish diasporas, living in other countries… We try to manage meetings and diplomatic relationship…
MOC – Your Foreign Affairs Minister told me you had some contacts with Moscow… What are the reactions of Russia, the better ally of the al-Assad regime, concerning your federalist project?
PM A. Hesso – Our contacts were… formal.
It doesn’t matter how much Russia is supporting the Syrian regime…
But they have to understand that they need to help Syrian people to find a political solution to reach democracy and to end the Syrian crisis.
We just begin to walk on the road… The way is still very long.