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Syrian Kurds ready for dialogue with Turkey, says SDF chief

Mazlûm Kobanî October 2019 (Voice of America Kurdish/WikiCommons)

Mazloum Kobani, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), expressed the group’s readiness for dialogue with Turkey.

“We have tried our best to fix our problems with Turkey. As the SDF, as the YPG, we have had direct talks with Turkey in the past and are ready to do so again. We want peace,” he told Al-Monitor on Thursday.

“Turkey should never mistake our goodwill for weakness and should be prepared to reciprocate our goodwill.”

Ankara conducted an operation in northern Syria in early October against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the dominant group in the SDF.

The YPG and the SDF have been among Washington’s main allies in the fight against Daesh. As such, Ankara’s operation created another point of contention between Turkey and the US.

On Oct. 22, 2019, Ankara and Moscow reached a deal under which the YPG would pull back 30 km south of Turkey’s border with Syria, to open an area for Turkish-Russian security patrols.

Amberin Zaman, an expert on Kurdish affairs who conducted the interview with Kobani, said dialogue presents clear benefits for both sides.

“Dialogue could pre-empt further attacks by Turkey,” she told Arab News, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “has threatened to expand operations, so that’s the first big advantage.”

Dialogue also gives the SDF some leverage vis-a-vis the Syrian regime and Russia, and makes it easier for the US to remain in northeast Syria as its protector, she said. “For Turkey, it would expand its influence in Syria immediately and directly,” she added.

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a separatist group that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than 35 years and is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Zaman said dialogue between the SDF and Turkey offers opportunities for trade, and for an easing of tensions between Ankara and Washington, at least over Syria.

“Most critically, it will set the stage for re-engagement between Ankara and its own Kurds if and when Erdogan feels ready and in need of doing this. It’s by now well-established that a military solution is no solution to the Kurdish problem,” she added.


Ankara’s operation in Syria created another point of dispute between Turkey and the US.

The tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, was moved by Turkish troops from the Syrian city of Kobani to the village of Esme when Kobani was besieged by Daesh militants.

“We know that Turkey wants to return Suleiman Shah’s remains to Kobani and to rebuild his tomb there. Provided that Turkey does not mistake our goodwill for weakness we would be happy to help Turkey … conduct such an operation in a spirit of peace and based on the understanding that this spirit of peace will be reciprocal,” Kobani said, underlying the importance of “confidence-building and goodwill gestures.”

Residents of the rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib “are welcome to seek shelter in the areas under our control,” he added.

“We know that Turkey, which already has a huge burden with nearly 4 million Syrians living there, is deeply concerned by a fresh influx of up to a million Syrian refugees from Idlib because of escalating regime attacks on Idlib. Our call to the people of Idlib helps relieve Turkey’s burden,” he said.

“Again, in the spirit of goodwill and above all on humanitarian grounds we are ready to work with Turkey if and when the need arises to help move civilians out of harm’s way in Idlib and bring them here.”

He said US President Donald Trump gave him his word to help broker peace between the SDF and Ankara. “We do want to end our differences with Turkey,” Kobani added.


© 2020 the Arab News