Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi warned against “comprehensive normalization” between Ankara and Damascus.
In an interview to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said such an approach serves the interests of the Ankara government and will lead to many risks on the lives of the Syrian people.
The approach will not be conducive to reaching a serious political solution, he added. “We must urge our Syrian people to stand against such a deal” between Ankara and Damascus, stressed Abdi.
The majority of the countries involved in the Syrian crisis are convinced that any Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria will lead to major suffering among the Syrian people, he continued.
The Turkish army carried out during the past two years 70 drone attacks that targeted civilians and top military commanders that were combating ISIS, he said.
Furthermore, he noted that several rounds of dialogue have been held between Damascus and top officials in northeastern Syria, but the talks did not lead to tangible results.
“The SDF cannot be militarily dismantled into individuals here and there. These forces have ongoing missions to defend Syrian territories and they boast a unique organizational structure. It is in our interest to maintain and support these forces,” he urged.
On the political crisis, Abdi said decentralization was key to the political solution. He noted that the regime acted in a decentralized manner when it was on the verge of collapse.
“Logically, the American or Russian deployment cannot remain in Syria forever. As long as the political solution remains out of reach, then we must urge the parties to act as guarantors of a negotiated political solution and exert pressure to end foreign meddling and the occupation of our territories,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave several signals that he may potentially normalize ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. How do you view this?
Actually, the security ties have been ongoing for years. The two sides are only now discussing comprehensive normalization.
The Turkish government has said that normalization hinges on the deportation of Syrian refugees and reining in the power of the autonomous democratic authority in north and eastern Syria. There is talk about various reconciliations to determine the fate of military factions that are operating under the Turkish military in the occupied regions.
We believe that this approach reflects the interests of the Ankara government and will lead to many dangers to the future of the Syrian people. Such reconciliations are only a temporary tactic that will soon lead to the re-emergence of other issues, as we have seen in Daraa, for example.
In general, the normalization they are talking about will not lead to a serious political solution. We cannot tackle the suffering of the Syrian people in this way, especially after long years of destructive war.
Are you concerned about a Moscow-sponsored deal between Damascus and Ankara?
We are taking this issue seriously and taking measures to address it. Should the deal be struck, then it will target the will of our people, who have been fighting terrorism for years and bravely defending Syrian territories. We should also emphasize that the deal would exploit the Syrian refugees for political purposes.
We must warn our Syrian people of the need to stand against this deal, which consolidates Turkish interference in our internal affairs and makes it a constant source of crises.
Any deal should reflect the will of the Syrian people alone. It can be achieved through open political dialogue between the political parties. In spite of all the challenges, the fate of our country still lies in our hands. That way, we as Syrians, will determine, the framework that suits us. This cannot happen through deals that are being struck at the expense of our wounded people.
Syrian national security chief Ali Mamlouk had met with Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan. There has been talk about security cooperation against the SDF. Does this alarm you?
As we have said, security contacts have been ongoing. Now, as the Turkish elections draw near, the Turkish side has started to take open steps. The Syrian regime must not join such tradeoffs at the expense of the Syrian people. Moreover, the SDF has for years been defending the unity of the country against foreign meddling in order to preserve Syrian sovereignty. The SDF is still cracking down on terrorist remnants with the cooperation of the international coalition.
The terrorism we are fighting is a threat to all Syrian territories. Our forces are therefore, protecting all citizens from Damascus to Aleppo, Daraa, Latakia and other regions. The presence of the SDF is a guarantee of the unity of the country against global terrorism and blatant foreign meddling. Damascus must prioritize the national interest and refuse to be dragged into short-sighted political calculations.
Erdogan has warned that he may launch a military operation in northern Syria. He has spoken about establishing a “safe zone”, but the operation has not been carried out yet. How do you interpret this?
The Turkish threats have never really ceased. Everyone realizes that such an operation will bring about more suffering on the Syrian people and the unity and sovereignty of their country.
We believe that the majority of the countries that are involved in Syria share this view. And yet, we must not claim that the threat has eased. Self-defense is a legitimate right and we are working with that view in mind. We will act against any possible development.
Turkish officials have claimed that you have not committed to agreements and understandings, including the ones reached in 2019. They claim that you have not withdrawn the SDF forces 32 kilometers away from the Turkish border.
Such claims are blatant propaganda aimed at prolonging the war and justifying it against the citizens. For our part, we have committed to the agreements and still respect them. The other side is violating the agreements. We constantly urge the guarantor countries to deter the ongoing Turkish violations.
Türkiye is an occupying force and it has no intention to withdraw from our territories. It carries out daily attacks against the best military commanders who are leading operations against ISIS cells. It is also carrying out attacks against political leaderships and civilians, including women and children. It has waged its attacks through drones and forces on the ground with the support of its allied factions.
Even agricultural fields and cattle have not been spared from the Turkish attacks. These practices are flagrant violation of international law and relevant international treaties that seek to limit the barbarity of the war.
We want to use your platform to urge the guarantor parties to again assume their responsibilities against the series of daily flagrant violations.
Are the drone attacks still ongoing?
Of course. Over the past two years, Ankara has launched over 70 drone attacks. This year alone, it struck 59 targets against civilians, our regions and forces.
As the Turkish elections draw near, Erdogan will try to divert the Turkish public’s opinion from the severe crises that emerged from his internal policy and seek to export his problems through becoming more engaged in wars and with extremist movements.
What assurances have you received from Washington?
The United States has officially announced that it stands against the military operations, but we believe that this stance is not enough to deter the Turkish violations because Ankara has kept up its war approach through other means.
That is why we urge each of Moscow and Washington to commit to the agreements and understandings that have been reached with Türkiye and firmly impose a de-escalation mechanism and rules of engagement.
Of course, rights and legal mechanisms must also be in place in case of any violations so that parties committing war crimes in northeastern Syria and all occupied territories are held to account.
What of the Russia-sponsored dialogue with Damascus?
We are in contact with Damascus and several rounds of dialogue have been held, but we cannot say that we have reached positive results.
We firmly believe that the dialogue is the only way to save the nation. We are always open to dialogue and understandings with Syrian parties, including Damascus. We are approaching the dialogue with the national interest, the rights of the citizens and unity of the country in mind.
Russia has reinforced its positions at Qamishli airport given the Turkish threats. How do you view these reinforcements? Do they support you or are they aimed at provoking Washington?
In truth, we are coordinating with Russia over the de-escalation operation and ensuring the implementation of understandings that have been signed with Türkiye. Perhaps the Russian move is logistical. We haven’t seen any actual changes on the ground.
Damascus has previously demanded the dismantling of the SDF and that it merge with the army. What do you say about that?
Let us make one thing clear, as it is known, the SDF is working very hard on combating terrorism and defending Syrian territories in the northeast. The forces operate within their areas of jurisdiction and derive their legitimacy from the local social environment: The Kurds, Arabs and Syriacs. It has gained field and social expertise through its fight against terrorism.
The SDF cannot be dismantled militarily into individuals. These forces have constant field missions in defending Syrian territories, including northeastern regions where they are deployed. It also boasts a unique organizational structure and it is in the interest of our people and territories to consolidate and support these forces.
What about the future of the autonomous administration? What is your position towards Damascus’ proposal on decentralization?
Unfortunately, the idea of decentralization has been tarnished given the lack of the voice of reason in the country. We believe that there can be no tackling of Damascus, Daraa, Sweida, Idlib, Latakia and Qamishli’s problems through the central bureaucratic apparatus that caused the current crisis.
There is a false belief in Damascus that its field advances, against factions that are complicit with Türkiye, support the centralized model. This is far from the truth and will pave the way for a new crisis in the future.
We believe that decentralization is key to the political solution. It reinforces the will of the people in determining their own fate and way of life. It offers them opportunities of local development in areas that have been marginalized for decades.
Decentralization also bolsters national cohesion. Everyone in Syria is now criticizing the centralized system, especially after the eruption of the conflict. Even the regime in Damascus is critical of it.
In order to confront the challenges, we must distribute responsibilities, duties and rights across all regions. Agreement on general principles, through our constitution, rights of our citizens, and national and economic security, must be centralized. Decentralization is the practical local implementation of these rights.
The loyalty of the citizens and national components is deepened through their local sphere. Therefore, making concessions for the rights of the citizens is a purely political and moral act.
How has the Ukraine war affected equations in the area east of the Euphrates and the roles of Türkiye and Russia?
The rules of engagement have not changed, but the impact has been felt in inflation, food security, energy and the rise in prices.
We are also observing Türkiye’s growing role in the Ukrainian conflict. Unfortunately, Ankara is exploiting this role to further its own agenda and its war policy against our regions in northern and eastern Syria. We have been discussing with the concerned international parties the need to prevent Türkiye from exploiting its role to further its occupation agenda in our regions. We are also taking our own measures to confront it.
The deployment of American forces has been unchanged since the arrival of President Joe Biden to the White House. Do you sense that troops will be deployed indefinitely?
Logically, the American and Russian presence cannot last for forever. As long as the political solution remains out of reach, then we must urge these parties to act as guarantors in a negotiated political solution and exert pressure to end the foreign meddling and occupation of our territories.
Terrorism is also a problem. The local means alone are not enough to confront terrorism. Cooperation with the international coalition is therefore necessary to that end. The same applies to the Russian forces. Serious initiatives must be activated to reach the political solution.
The autonomous administration has allowed investments in the region east of the Euphrates. Are there any projects underway?
Given the current challenges, we are seeking to diversify sources of income and the economy. We are encouraging investments to meet our needs. On the practical level, we are working on the implementation of these projects.
What about tasking the US Defense Department in handling the investments and American sanctions waivers?
The region has witnessed massive destruction by terrorism. We therefore, positively view these waivers. The aim is to improve the living conditions of the people, secure job opportunities and develop projects, especially in infrastructure, electricity, water and agriculture.