The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) met with Mr. Polat Can, the Representative of People’s Protection Units (YPG) to international coalition. Mr. Can, one of the founding members of the YPG, was previously a YPG spokesperson and headed the Kobani media center. He has spent many years working in media, helping found a number of radio and TV stations in Rojava (western Kurdistan), and has published numerous articles in Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish. Mr. Can also previously served as chief editor of the newspaper Mesopotamia in the Caucasus, and the magazine Middle East in Baghdad. He also founded and served as the General Coordinator of the Patriotic Kurdish Students’ Confederation and was the general supervisor of the Mazlum Dogan Academy for university students.
WKI: Mr. Polat Can, we are pleased to meet you today to discuss the current political and security situation in Syria and Rojava (western Kurdistan). We congratulate you on the recent victories achieved by your forces against the ISIS terrorist organization. What are the People’s Protection Units (YPG)? What are their principles?
Polat Can: The People’s Protection Units (YPG) are revolutionary volunteer forces. We believe in co-existence and brotherhood among all nationalities and ethnicities in the region. We respect the identities of all components of our society including Kurds, Arabs, Christians (Armenians, Assyrians and Syriacs) and Turkmens. The YPG includes fighters and Brigades from all of these components and aims to protect everyone without distinction or discrimination. Our units’ respects women rights. Women play a significant role in incorporation, regulation, and resistance at all levels.
Our units have gained great experience in the fight against terrorism and have achieved victories to create an atmosphere of justice and freedom. Our alliances are with democratic and moderate forces in Syria to stand together against ISIS [the Islamic State terror organization] and the regime that caused so many tragedies in the country. Our units allied with many Arab tribes, for example with Arab revolutionary forces in the Euphrates Volcano (Burkan al-Furat) joint operations room in Kobani, and with the Syriac Military Council (MFS) in al-Jazira, also with several battalions and brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Afrin and Aleppo.We fight terrorism and we will not stand idly by – we seek to bring freedom, justice, security, and stability to the region, we believe in justice and equality for all, and we do not tolerate any efforts leading to threaten humanity.
WKI: How do you describe the victory achieved in Kobani?
Polat Can: The terrorists’ war in Kobani was a war against humanity, democracy and free will. Kobani is a very important symbol for Kurdistan’s revolution and it was targeted by ISIS since mid-2013 and ISIS attacks against Kobani has reached peaked in magnitude and brutality by September 2014. Our forces showed historical resistance and did not collapse like the other armies in the neighboring countries and regions. This historical resistance resonated in the international media and public opinion, which resulted in assistance from the international coalition for our heroic fighters on the ground. This strong solidarity led to the liberation of the city of Kobani on January 26, followed by the liberation of the rest of the region. The victory in Kobani is a victory for humanity, justice and democracy. It is a victory for civilization against barbarism, terrorism, racism and extremism. It showed the persecuted people emerging victorious against torturers and murderers.
Victory in Kobani proved to the world and to the people of the region that the ISIS terrorist organization becomes stronger whenever we are frightened of it, but they are in fact a paper tiger, fragile and cowardly with have no place in the international community. Kobani was a universal victory over terrorism.
WKI: Do you think your organization is able to achieve victory over ISIS in all military confrontations?
Polat Can: Our force is the only one that has achieved victories for several years against different terrorist organizations such as the al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and ISIS. The YPG have proved themselves on the ground through consistent victories over ISIS in Kobani, Tel Hamis, Tel Brak, Tel Temir, Tel Abyad, Ayn Issa, and Hasaka. I can tell you, in spite of blockades and other obstacles and limited abilities, our units are the only trustworthy force that can defeat terrorism.
WKI: Can you tell us more about the role of women in your units and the sacrifices that have been made by them?
Polat Can: Throughout history, Kurdish women have been known for accomplishments and courage. Kurdish society is an open society that respects women, they are involved with men in all businesses and activities, and they do not hesitate to engage in military resistance. Since the foundation of YPG, Kurdish women have played a major role in leading battles and in organizing and preparing the units to defend all components of our society – Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Assyrian, Armenian and Turkmen. During battle for Kobani, many women fighters fought bravely, and they became famous around the world for their heroic resistance against the forces of evil. Kurdish women are our pride!
WKI: The official Turkish position still casts doubt on your victories and accuses you of ethnic cleansing in areas liberated by YPG in Hasaka, Tal Abyad and Kobani.
Polat Can: From the beginning, the Turkish role was negative regarding all political, social, and military victories which has achieved by the Kurds in Syria. Turkey interferes in our internal affairs -they are trying to defame our troops and abuse us by publishing rumors and lies against us. In the early stages, foreign countries were affected by the Turkish propaganda and adopted negative attitudes toward our struggle, but the resistance of Kobani turned the scales – the world realized who is truly fighting terrorism and achieving victories, they know that the YPG protects all of the Syrian people without discrimination and is ready to create a democratic free homeland. Today the world knows who hinder the international coalition’s efforts to fight against terrorism, who turns a blind eye to the movements of terrorists in their country, and whose transportation is used to send foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq!
Whenever we achieve a victory over terrorism, smear campaigns and false rumors starts against our forces, and this shows that some states are comfortable with the presence of ISIS on their borders and inside their cities and they do not want us to expel them. As I expressed earlier, we will continue our fight against terrorism despite the presence of pro-ISIS voices.
WKI: Was there any logistical assistance, training, or arms provided by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to your units?
Polat Can: There are differences among the Kurdish political parties in the region. Some parties have taken positive and fraternal role relative to our resistance and struggle in western Kurdistan (Rojava) and they worked as much as possible to support us diplomatically and politically, while others have sought from the outset to impose a siege on us and prevented us from getting arms, ammunition, and equipment, trying to slander us diplomatically and politically in their media. The official position of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not rise yet to the required level. Of course, we cannot deny the role of the 150 brave Peshmerga who came to Kobani and fought alongside us and we thank them.
WKI: How do you see the future of the Kurds in the Middle East? Do you find that there are regional players who seek to cause an internal fight among the Kurdish people?
Polat Can: The Kurds are one of the major ethnic groups of the region just like the Arabs, Persians and Turks. Kurdish is the oldest nationality in this area. The Turks came to the region with the Mongols and the Seljuks one thousand years ago and Arabs came with the campaigns that imposed Islam 1,400 years ago. However, we are deprived of all national rights – they divided us, we have endured ethnic cleansing, they restricted our linguistic and cultural rights and they erased our civilization from the books. For more than a hundred years we conducted revolutions against injustice, persecution and crimes, and I would say that this century is the century of victory of the Kurdish people everywhere.
Kurds have an important and essential role in the Middle East and this role will increase more and more. The political movements of the Kurdish people are the most organized and open to the democratic system compared to other nations in the region. Kurds are fighting terrorism and are seeking freedom, no one can subjugate the Kurds and keep them out of the regional and international political area. Kurds are the key for many solutions to the outstanding problems in the region.
Enemies always been working to divide the Kurds, differentiate among them, and use them against one another. Today our people are aware of the games of the enemy and they will not be fooled! The Kurdish people will not have mercy on any Kurdish party that wants to start a civil war, which would be political suicide.
WKI: There were certain individuals who had discussions with US decision makers concerning your forces and defended your case by calling on coalition forces to immediately and decisively help you, especially when Kobani was on the verge of falling. What do tell them today?
Polat Can: I was personally was in the front lines of our military diplomatic work since February 2014. I helped a lot of my comrades to meet with representatives of regional and international players, I know well those who contributed significantly in helping us to build international relations and to persuade countries to approach us and meet with us, especially in building the relationship between us and the United States. We thank all those who helped us in secret and publicly. We should also mention the parties and the sides who worked hard to prevent us from building good relations with the United States and other countries. Our determination to build international diplomatic relations and our troops’ historical resistance convinced the coalition forces to aid us in Kobani in the fall of 2014 and until now.
WKI: The United States played a crucial role in the battle by supporting your fighters. Is this a message to the forces working against your goals and your role in the region? Is it possible to take advantage of this trend and move toward a new stage?
Polat Can: We have good relationship with a lot of countries, especially the ones that are participating in the international coalition against ISIS, and the United States is leading that coalition. We have direct and strong relationships with the United States, we work together to coordinate in targeting terrorists in Syria generally and Rojava (western Kurdistan) in particular. I can say that the US found a strong, serious, brave, and disciplined partner in Syria and I do not think that it is in the interests of the US to astep away from this relationship, which is strengthening day after day. Our victories over the terrorists of ISIS are victories for the coalition forces as well. Many opposed this relationship and sought to create disagreements but they were not successful.
The US is obliged to recognize our rights and our usurped nationality! They see the injustice that we been exposed to and still remain in certain areas. We will be the dynamic force in the fight against terrorism and the construction of the civilized model for the region – we seek to spread the spirit of brotherhood and coexistence and the foundations of democracy in our region and across the country. Everyone must realize that the Kurds will not be reduced to simple cards to be played in a regional gme, they are a major player in the region overall and in Syria specially.
WKI: Some accuse you of receiving arms from and coordinating with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Are these allegations true?
Polat Can: All of these accusations have been directed at revolutions and revolutionary movements, particularly the Kurdish ones. Those entities hostile to the aspirations of the Kurdish people prefer to see Kurds with spiritually and morally dead, and without any national consciousness, they prefer to see Kurds divorced from their identity and to be servants for repressive regimes that oppress people. Thus, we are not surprised by such rumors and accusations made by entities seeking to reduce the Kurdish people, especially those in Syria, to a tool in their hands.
When we refused to be a tool for certain sides, they immediately start to defame us by spreading rumors against our units. From the outset, we wanted to protect our areas and Syria in general. Had every side done what we have done, you would not see Syria like it is today! Syria is destroyed and has collapsed. Everyone knows that Kurdish people stood against the regime for five decades, we were the first one to liberate a Kurdish city almost entirely from regime forces on July 19, 2012. At that point, the regime was is in control of most Syrian cities. We liberated our cities since the beginning, and we were also the first ones stood in the face of the regime and its gangs in the city of Aleppo when we began liberating the Kurdish neighborhoods located within the city of Aleppo on March 11, 2012. We have to understand that the regime did not want to be involved and open another front line with Kurds, and they realized that Kurds have strategic depth in other parts of Kurdistan as of Iraq, Turkey and Iran. We have been fighting on three different fronts – against the regime, ISIS, the al-Nusra Front. Those who accuse us of receiving weapons and support from the regime should take the initiative to provide us with real support in our fight against terrorism. All states are required to provide logistical, military, and moral support for YPG.
WKI: Do you have information or evidence indicating that Turkish government is supporting ISIS against you? And that Turkey is facilitating the movements of extremist groups to Syria?
Polat Can: Turkey has phobia against all things having to do with Kurds and Kurdistan, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly said that he will do everything possible in order to prevent the Kurds in Syria from obtaining their rights. He pushes the coalition forces to avoid cooperation with us, and as long as the terrorist groups fight the Kurdish fighters he would be fine with their movement and use of Turkish land – they do that against the free will of Syrian people in general and the Kurdish people specifically.
The Turkish government has imposed a tight blockade on our territory for years, but at the same time they opened their official and non-official border crossings with ISIS (in Tel Abyad before and in Jarabulus now) and with the al-Nusra Front in Idlib and Azaz. Turkey demands that all the Syrian parties to work against us in order to allow them to operate on their territory or to provide them with the required support. Previously, the whole world saw large trucks loaded with weapons and projectiles that were sent by Turkey to terrorists in Syria under pretext of humanitarian and medical aid. Turkey is also the main gateway for the transit of terrorists to Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan. According to reliable information that we have recently obtained, Erdogan’s daughter (Sümeyye Erdogan) oversees the committee handling the treatment of ISIS terrorists in Turkish hospitals. They are obstructing international efforts in the fight against ISIS.
Many Turkish and non-Turkish prisoners who have been captured by us in Rojava acknowledged that they were recruited by state-backed Turkish entities or by Turkish intelligence, and captured ISIS fighters emphasized the key role of Turkish intelligence in the terrorist attacks against our people in the Kurdish areas.
The Turkish government is completely involved in supporting terrorism with the aim of eliminating the Kurdish gains in Rojava and stifling any democratic and peaceful solution in Syria
WKI: How to do you see the future of the region?
Polat Can: The whole region is on the verge of a deep and radical change. The region will not return to what it was before 2011, that era is gone forever – a new world and new system is forming and nothing will remain the same. This state of chaos will result is great changes, however, I am optimistic that the Kurdish people will defeat ISIS and terrorism and the Kurds will obtain their rights and no one will be able to keep the Kurdish people from determining their own future.