A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD) traveled to Damascus for the first time on July 26 and met with Syrian officials. ANF talked to Salih Muslim, the foreign relations director of the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM) about the meeting in Damascus and developments in the region.

Salih Muslim emphasized the importance of a peaceful, democratic solution to the Syrian conflict and said, “We have our model and our legitimate defense forces. That’s why they are forced to listen to us. It depends on our process here how much Syria and the regime will change. We do not say, ‘we will do that in 24 hours or a year’. There is no such a situation. If negotiations begin, the committees will start by developing a roadmap.”

What can you tell us about MSD’s talks with Syrian officials on July 26? What was the goal of this meeting and what was discussed?

A delegation traveled there at the official request and invitation of Damascus. We do not yet know who they met and what was discussed there. However, there were already quite a few technical discussions and some work was done together. But these meetings and works did not take place in cooperation with institutions of the regime. In Tabqa there was a statement made. For the Tabqa dam technicians were needed. They came and met with the management of the dam. For the work then a few engineers came and worked there. However, that was perceived differently.

These were state institutions, not institutions of the regime. From the beginning, we look at the institutions of the state differently. The institutions of the state are at the service of all and serve the population. The institutions of the regime are something else. That is why our meetings with public institutions in Tabqa and the joint work were understood as the beginning of a dialogue with the regime. But that was not the case.

If there are positive developments, then there may be further steps

There was an official invitation to the talks in Damascus, followed by a delegation from northern Syria that meant to understand whether the regime was sincere or not. We do not know the content of the talks. The participants said only that the talks were successful and that they had agreed on the formation of committees. If so, it is a positive step.

Now everyone thinks the problem is so simple that you can solve it with a meeting. However, such a talk is something other than dialogue or negotiation. Everyone’s procedure is different, the ways and means are different. Everyone has their own style. At the moment, we can say it is a preliminary meeting to understand the intentions and build mutual trust. If there are positive developments in this sense, then further steps can follow.

We have never gone beyond the unity of Syria

The regime has been making propaganda about the Kurds since 2011 and says: ‘They are by our side, the Kurds are with us and that’s good’. But it is not like that. We have made a revolution. From the beginning to today, the true Syrian revolution is ours. Both socially, ideationally and structurally, we want to make some changes and have implemented them exemplarily in our areas with our revolution. Therefore, we would like to extend the model we created to the whole of Syria.

The forces that call themselves opposition have no intention of change and only fight for power. Our fight is not like that. We represent a real revolution on both a mental and a social level. We are a part of Syria. We have never gone beyond Syria’s unity, we have always thought of Syria as a whole. But we have our model. We have seen that this model works and it is the best choice and want to spread it.

There are comments that the talks with the regime were based on a pragmatic approach due to the occupation of Afrin. Is the meeting such a pragmatism in the context of the political process?

There can be no return to the old dictatorial system in Syria, that’s over. The rule of a party over the whole system as before 2011 is history. It is necessary to build a new Syria. But how will that work in Syria? We present our model as an example. But there is also the old regime. We will agree on a point so that we can live together in one country. But a lot is needed for that. If we had not protected ourselves, if we had not implemented our legitimate self-defense, no one would have listened to us. Even if we had not built our model, then nobody could have understood us.

We have our model and our legitimate defense forces. That’s why everyone is forced to listen to us. It depends on our process here how Syria and the regime will change. We do not say, ‘we will do that in 24 hours or a year’. There is no such a situation. If negotiations begin, the committees will start by developing a roadmap.

So, when we talk about reconciliation now, that does not mean that we agree on some things and make compromises in other things. Of course we want to do the best in the best way. That takes time, preparation and possibilities. But I think there is a basis for this, we can do something together. We’ve based on our project for us so far and I think if everyone thinks well then they will adopt our model as well.

Does not your model of democratization of the state take the common rule of Syria as a basis?

We defend Syria’s independence, not its fragmentation. From the beginning we say that many ethnic groups live in Syria, such as the Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Circassians, Druze, Chechens and peoples of different religions, such as Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Ismailis and Alevis. Did you see what happened to the Druze in Suwayda? Our model includes the question of how co-existence can work. The previous model was a nation-state model, based on one language, one flag and one nation. Everything was unified. That does not work and that is no longer valid.

Whoever lives in Syria should be able to live with his language, culture, faith, color and identity. Our model is aimed at such a Syria. That will certainly happen. Everyone believes in it. But how will we apply this? We have now entered a process. After the regime accepts it, it can be applied to all of Syria. Of course, there are certain identities that represent this in the regime. This is also a change of the mentality. As an example, one cannot on the one hand recognise the Druze and then impose Arabization under one flag in Syria. The same applies to the Alevis and the Yazidis. We strive for a model in which everyone can live in their own color.

Some press groups are asking about the attitude of the US and say that such negotiations could only take place with US permission. How do you rate that?

There is a deep-rooted attitude in the Middle East: there is no confidence in the peoples’ own forces, they have always looked to external forces. We broke that mentality. If we trust in ourselves and in the organization of our society, then we can achieve much. We have voiced this issue several times. Now in Syria, whether you like it or not, the international powers are present. Russia, USA, England, Iran, Saudi Arabia and others are here.

If these powers really want a political solution in Syria, then they will help. If it is not so, then it means that they do not have the welfare of Syria in mind. We think so and expect this from everyone. Our relations with the US and the International Coalition are at the level of fighting against terrorism. That’s our agreement.

Our political will belongs to nobody

The Americans are here. But we have never tied our political will to anyone. Our political will lies in our hands. We have not lent anyone our political will, the will of the peoples and the structures we represent. When we have talks, we do that out of our own will. Be it the Russians, be it the Americans, if the international forces really want, then they will know what we have done and what we are trying to achieve. But that does not mean that we get permission from one side or the other, and they have respect for it. They say, “Do this the way you think best.” There is no request for permission from anyone. We do what is best for our people.

But there is propaganda in this regard, what can you say about this topic?

This propaganda has existed from the beginning. Some consider us bound to Washington, others to the regime and others to Qandil. Our relationship with Washington began when we were winning in Kobanê. So it means we exist and we are a force. Who did not create us cannot destroy us either. We are bound to our word. The political will is in our hands, we represent it. What we consider good for our population, for our country, we do.

The regime still exists. How should it change?

Yes, the regime continues. But we will change that regime and democratize it. The regime will accept democratic standards, human rights and the diversity of Syrian society. Instead of the peoples hiding their faith and their identity and becoming Arabized, everyone in Syria will be able to live with their own identity. Citizens will say that I come from Syria and I am Kurd, Druze, Alevi etc. We say that clearly and I believe we will be able to agree on this.

At the moment, the Idlib operation is on the agenda. The regime is preparing for it. Could these talks be the prelude to a joint operation to liberate Idlib from the hands of terrorist groups?

Idlib is important to us for two reasons. First of all, we said earlier that it concerns us wherever terror is taking place and there is a terrorist group in Syria. We defend Syria against terrorism. And on this basis we have an alliance with the international forces and have fulfilled our part in it successfully to this day.

Wherever there is a terrorist organization, we are ready to fight it, but who we do it with depends both on us and on the military capabilities. That is another matter. But in principle we will do our part if there is a terrorist organization that harms the peoples of Syria. We will fulfill our task.

To free Idlib is also our task

In previous interviews, we said that Idlib is a powder keg in which all terrorist groups have gathered. The majority of them have been expelled from our region, they have previously fought against us. They fought us in Serêkaniyê, Kobanê and Raqqa. They fought us under the name of the ISIS. After that they cut their beards a little shorter, put on other uniforms and fought against us again. Then they have gathered there again. It’s almost like a blood feud between them and us. Surely we have to do something about it. That’s the first question.

The second point concerns the plans of Turkey. Afrin is intended to be made the capital of terror in the place of Raqqa and other places. Afrin, however, belongs to us. Our population lives there. But many terrorist groups have moved to Afrin. For example, groups such as Ahrar-al-Sham and Faylaq-al-Sham were previously in Idlib but now some of them have moved to Afrin. To drive them out of Afrin, to fight them, is our duty. We certainly have to do something, but it is not clear yet how we will participate.  

Concentration of terrorist groups in Idlib is a threat to the entire Middle East

There are daily actions against the gangs in Afrin. To defend Afrin, we must certainly do something about Idlib. But does Idlib only affect us and the regime? The Americans once said, “They have not been dropped on Idlib with parachutes.” The Americans know who brought them there, which routes were used, and who supports them to this day. Certainly, those who have brought them there will try to continue to support and defend them.

Therefore, it is not just a problem of Syria. I think it is up to all the forces fighting against terror; the international coalition, the regime, us, Russia and America. The fact that so many terrorists are in Idlib is not only a threat to Syria, but to the entire Middle East and to the entire world.

We have seen tensions between the Baath regime’s army and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in places like Tabqa, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. The regime tried to occupy certain places. How will the talks with the regime affect the situation on the ground?

Today some say, “I conquered this place and now it belongs to me” or “The regime has conquered that place and now it is theirs.” But this is not the case. That’s the difference of us. Some places are liberated and after the liberation they are managed by the local population. They build their own civil and defense councils, we help them. The rest depends on the will of the local population.

There are two commissions in the Council. A civilian and a military commission. The population and its commissions decide there, not us. This also applies to Tabqa, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. After liberation, the population decides itself. The regime would not allow that. It would not want to accept that everyone builds their own system and lives in their identity. Then the ISIS came and everything got worse anyway. But now we have freed these areas. The people of Tabqa, Raqqa and the other places are now making their own decisions.

We want the people’s will to be respected

I assume that nobody wants to live as a slave in Tabqa, Manbij, Deir ez-Zor or anywhere else, nobody accepts the dictatorship. We help them with that. We never wanted anyone to obey us. There, the Tabqa Council met with those responsible to put the dam back into operation. We definitively accept and respect that. There is a need for electricity and water, why should not they do that? The council there has decided and done so. It’s always like that.

We expect the regime and everyone else to respect the will of the people. So far this has been the case in these areas. We support that. Everyone should express themselves freely and build the system they want. I think nobody will say, “No, I do not make peace, or I do not love peace, I love slavery.”

At the Sochi meetings it was made clear that none of you will be part of the commission for a new constitution of Syria. Can productive conversations take place in consideration of such a background?

Without a representative of us, there can be no constitution of Syria. Yes, in Sochi it was like that: 50 people from both sides; the opposition and the regime. Within the opposition, two Kurds are supposed to be and their right to decide, we know already, is in the hands of Istanbul or Turkey. But they know that it cannot work without us. There are various deceptions, it is suggested that civil society organizations could take our seats.

We say it openly, any constitution or law that we do not agree on with our own will and identity has no validity for us and its implementation is impossible. A decision in which we do not participate with our identity will not be binding us. For these discussions to lead to a real solution, the Constitution must be talked about jointly. If negotiations progress, there will certainly be a constitutional commission. There will be many commissions: politics, laws etc. every topic will be discussed for itself.

Talking about Sochi, the dimension of Russia’s relationship to the regime is well known. Do you think this first meeting in Damascus indicates a positive approach of Russia for the progress of the talks and development of a solution?

That will be for sure. Anyone who thinks and wants to help the future of the Syrian population can take part. Russia is certainly in the picture. Well, they want to keep the regime on its feet and protect it. But if they think about all of Syria, then they have to develop a different perspective. They must think along with the Kurdish, Alevi, Druze and Sunni Arab populations. If they do that, then we will be happy. But imposing what the Baath Party wants on others is not possible. We hope that no one encumbers the political will. If they say to people in Syria, “Well, we can help you, we can act as guarantors,” then that would be very good.

Our people have to believe in themselves. An organized population can do anything. They do not sell their will. We try to be worthy of the will of our people and will succeed.

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