Question : Because I cannot speak Kurdish I have to conduct this interview in Turkish, for which I apologise.
Mahmud : There is nothing wrong in communicating in Turkish as that is also the language of a nation. In Rojova Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Turkmens, Circassians, everbody, talk in their own language freely. We respect differences and freedom here. We see them as wealth, our wealth. In this respect Rojova believes in freedom…
Question : I would like to start with a topic which is also on the agenda of the West. How many ISIS militants and their families are in your prisons and in the camps under your control?
Mahmud : We cannot give you an exact number these days as their surrender continues. The war in Bahoz is ongoing and thousands of ISIS members who participated in the foundation of ISIS continue to get out of there. Before we had identified more than 800 captives from 48 different countries. Today the number has increased even more. We have thousands of terorists from a lot of countries. With their families and children. Again many surrendered in Bahoz yet none of them are Bahoz locals. All have settled there from outside regions. Only terorists and their families surrendered or were captured.
Question : As you know most of the countries are not keen on taking any action about the captives you have and this has turned into an international crisis. A very serious situation indeed as they do not want to take any sort of responsibility for their citizens. How do you appraise this situation ? How do you intend to overcome this crisis?
Mahmud : We were alone in fighting against this terror especially until Kobani. Following Kobani we collaborated with the international coalition in the fight against this terror. They stood by us. Except that until now, the international community has not fulfilled its responsibilities despite international law. We have terrorists who have been involved in acts of terror in Asia, in Europe and in the USA. We know that the ISIS terorists in our custody have international court cases.
That is why this issue requires serious attention and international involvement. Most of the governments think of their national interests, rather than the benefits of their countries or peoples. At this point they are unable to put international regulations and laws into practice. We expect international forces to assume their responsibility in accordance with the framework of the alliance.
Question : How many countries have applied for the return of their captured citizens until now ? Have any actually returned ?
Mahmud : In the past some families came and, as YPG, we sent some individuals who were not involved in acts of terrorism back to their countries. Russia for instance took back some of its citizens. They were women and children. But until now no country has officially requested the return of their citizen terrorists.
Question : Most of the countries have not claimed their ISIS member citizens. Why do you think they do not want to take these people into their country?
Mahmud : To be honest the responsibility Rojova and Northern Syria has with regard to this problem is very heavy. Today everybody knows that we are at war against a form of terrorism which is a curse for the whole world. The International coalition took its place by our side in this war.
However the political, economic and legal embargo against Rojava is unfortunately still in force. Up until now international forces have not established a relationship with legal scope towards Rojava and northern Syria. In this respect we have been left alone.
The important issue of prisoners has been put on the shoulders of a community which has had a very hard time building itself up by its own means. Rojova and the Northern Syrian administration covers 32% of Syrian territory. These regions amount to 40% of the Syrian population. People who live here are also Syrian citizens. They need to form their own institutions in order to solve the problems they face. Here also international forces have important duties. I mean they should take control over the issue of ISIS prisoners of war and assume a role in solving this problem.
Unfortunately, however, no positive action has been taken on this matter until today. Countries still think in terms of the interests of their governments. They do not want to take action for judging ISIS member citizens. They act on the basis of their own self interest.
Most of the terrorists we have here are dangerous. If they ever get the chance to organize they would do the same thing again; as the wives of most of them have emphasized. These women declared that they would raise their children, and also the children of their children for this cause.
Frankly the world has to learn its lesson and take its responsibility. For the sake of the future of their countries as well as for the future of their citizens. How this terror has come into existence and how it has come to this level should be analysed well, in all its aspects, psychologically, socially, etc.
However, as we mentioned, governments act on behalf of their daily interests. They are not acting in accordance with existing international practices and their allied responsibilities.
Question : There are claims that the prisoners in your custody are guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Where are these people? How, where and by which courts will they be judged ? Can you share your opinions and recommendations with us ?
Mahmud : After the revolution in Syria, especially after the resurgence of nationalist or terrorist groups, communities became organized, especially in Rojova cities. They discussed the kind of revolution they desired. At that time legislative and judicial institutions and constitutional (legal) councils were established in community centres. First in neighborhoods and villages, and later at the level of cantons. Today there is a constitution in Northern Syria. The community discusses and takes decisions at the communal level. Rojova and Northern Syrian courts act within this framework.
In accordance with international law and the framework of the alliance these institutions act on behalf of human rights in the service of truth and humanity. In this respect our laws or the laws prevailing in Rojova constitute the Constitution of Northern Syria. In other words, the Canton of Kobani, the Canton of Cizire, the Rakka Civil Congress, the Tabka Civil Congress and the Deyrezor Civil Congress form a legal system within the Syrian Autonomous Administration.
However, this is not sufficient. In order to judge terrorists in court we need international law practices. This is required for the condemnation of terorism. Our law system is a regional one. But these terrorists are terrorists of the world. They have undertaken acts of terrorism in Europe, Asia, the USA and in the Middle East and they have cases filed against them in various countries.
This is why international law is needed. An International court is required so that they may receive fair judgement. The trials we have conducted are more like first base trials.
However in order for the truth to emerge the world has to intervene. On financial, security, legal and moral grounds. To comfort the conscience of people who have suffered from international terrorism, like us, like people in Paris, Berlin, Washington and Moscow among others, the world has to take responsibility for the trial of these terrorists.
We do not want to put ourselves in the place of other victims and pass judgement. What we want is for the world to take responsibility. Therefore an international court where everyone can seek justice has to be established. This court will also acknowledge the victory won against ISIS.
At the same time all parties have to assume legal, security, economic and ethical responsibility in this matter. In Northern Syria we defended everyone. This is why cooperation is required. We have succeeded in ending terror.
Question : An interesting situation indeed. Many countries in the world have capital punishment but there is no capital punishment in Rojova. Will thousands of people be given a fair defense? An organisation which has commited crimes against humanity will be tried. This will be the trial of the century perhaps. Do you have the sufficient conditions for an international court to be established here ? We are speaking of a court where thousands of people from different countries are to be judged.
Mahmud : You are undoubtly right. This is exactly what we are talking about. We do not have sufficient resources to realize this. There is political, economic and legal embargo against Northern Syria. We are also subject to a diplomatic embargo. We are surrounded by the Syrian regime, Turkey, the Kurdistan Region and we are under their diplomatic embargo. All sides are closed to us and therefore Rojova and Northern Syria do not have sufficient facilities to judge these terrorists. Trials should comply with international law standards.
We consider the courts we have as preliminary courts. Thus we appeal to the world to come forward. In order to resolve this issue we need to act jointly.
In order to appease both our and the world’s conscience, and in order to render this terror meaningless, the international community needs to come together on this issue.
Fascism, which pits people from one religion against another has to be counteracted. Such a trial can be the trial of the century in which the leaders who conducted the ISIS attack - just like the Mongol invasions of the past - will be judged. It should be treated in accordance with its priority. Mongols and ISIS have similar moral characteristics. The world has to see this. The Northern Syrian administration is making huge sacrifices. This teror should be taken under control and prevented from reorganizing. They have the potential to reorganize. Only the cooperation of the world powers can prevent this.
Question : The prisoners you hold, the prisoners of war, have some rights, some of these rights are carried out by your administration (accomodation, health, food, communication needs, etc) which require serious financial assistance. How do you do it? Do you get support from international organisations or have you applied for support from organisations such as the Red Cross or the Red Crescent?
Mahmud : As I said before, communities should be able to form their institutions by their own means and abilities. In Rojova and Northern Syria these institutions were formed to solve their own economic, legal, and defense problems. They were sustained by their own strength. With the presence of these institutions we managed to control terrorism. However this is a very heavy burden for us to keep on bearing. These terrorists have health problems, they need rehabilitation because they are mentally ill. Their children have to be educated, they have to be prevented from growing up under their fathers’ culture.
On the other hand there is also the legal side. We can’t keep them away from terrorism just by providing food for them. To this effect we are trying to build a relationship with the UN and the Red Cross but they are developing a relationship with us via Syria. They do not establish a direct relationship with Northern Syria. They come to Northern Syria only if Damascus allows them. If Damascus doesn’t then they don’t come. Institutions in Damascus are under the control of the Baas regime. Although 40% of the population lives in Northern Syria they do not benefit from any services. Only the Baas regime gets these services. All state institutions provide service for the Baas regime. International institutions only address Damascus.
Relationships need to be built with the communities in Northern Syria. However up until now this region has not been addressed directly. Their relationship with us is not in accordance with international law. Rather, it has been somewhat shy.
We take this opportunity to launch an appeal to the UN and to other international bodies to act in accordance with international law and criteria in educating these people, in their rehabilitation and other related areas. The Red Cross is visiting prisons but they take Damascus as the basis. We expect them to strengthen their relationship with this Region as well.
Question : You have citizens of Switzerland in your prisons and camps. This issue and their future is being heavily debated in the Swiss media nowadays. There are intensive arguments but the general opinion regarding their return to the country is negative. A persona non grata situation. Has there been an official or indirect attempt on the part of Switzerland on this subject ? Or have you made any attempts yourself? What is your opinion on the future of Swiss prisoners of war ?
Mahmud : Neither Switzerland nor any other country has taken responsibility for their citizens until now. People in this region wanted a life without terror, they wanted a democratic, free, equal and peaceful way of life, just like in Switzerland. So these countries have to assume their responsibility. This community knew how to make a great sacrifice for the world. So these countries in turn cannot say, ‘we do not want to take our citizens back’. We can host an international court here. We can host a fair trial, in accordance with human rights in order to punish the terrorists. People here paid a great deal, made great sacrifices. Therefore, once more, we ask the world to take responsibility to end the terror.
Question : Switzerland is a neutral country, especially the Geneva Canton hosts the European Headquarters of the United Nations, the International Red Cross and more than 500 international institutions and NGOs. As you know Geneva also hosts Syria’s peace negotiations. Taking all these into consideration, how can Geneva take part in the issue of the future of the prisoners of war in your custody which interests a lot of countries?
Mahmud : Undoubtly the problems in Syria as well as many other issues have been discussed in Geneva. The terror problem is also an international problem.
The opposition in Northern Syria should be taken into consideration in Geneva. This is an important agenda. If Geneva and the international powers do not take this responsibility, the potential for terror can be relived once again.
Governments seeking status quo in the region benefit from this terror. The terrorists in our custody have the potential to serve these powers. There are powers supporting these terrorists indirectly. The AKP government in Turkey supports ISIS indirectly. The attack in Afrin almost brought our war against terror to an end. Again threats against Kobane and Rojova served to stop our war against terror. Declarations of war weakened our challenge against ISIS.
These forces were helping ISIS in reorganizing and spreading their forces around the world. If Geneva does not take responsibility with its international power, this burden will be too heavy for Northern Syria to carry.
ISIS can trouble the world just like it did before. The heads of this organisation have not been captured yet, el Bagdadi is still at large. This is a very serious threat, Bagdadi might have gone to Idlib.
He might have gone to some other place where he can reorganize. Many of his leaders and subordinates are in our prisons. They are the ones who administered the ISIS terror, therefore the danger potential is big. If courts are not established to try and rehabilitate them they are capable of causing great danger. In this respect Geneva and the UN should seek an international response against these terorists.
Question : What do you plan to do if no country responds to the calls or attempts you make for the trial of the prisoners ?
Mahmud : We cannot say that we have not received any responses until now but we can say that we received shy responses. Some things exist at the level of discussion. But this is not sufficient. We have been left alone to face this burden until now. As I mentioned before there exists economic and legal embargos in the international arena. We only have a military relationship with the international community. This is not sufficient to hold the terrorists under control. Each country has to take up its responsibility in this matter.
As per the goals of the revolution, we will fight against terrorism with all our power in order to protect our community, the communities of Northern Syria and our children. We will assume humanitarian responsibility, but we also expect the world to assume its own responsibility.
Undoubtedly Kurds are playing a leading role in the war against terrorism in Syria. The World has seen this, the people of the world have seen it. In the end we cooperated with the West to fight against terror. In this respect we do not owe gratitude to anyone and noone owes gratitude to us.
We took this decision in accordance with our own means. It was a decision which served the world and humanity and it was realized. Just as we have fulfilled our responsibility towards humanity, no doubt the world needs to fullfill its responsibility as well. Our struggle will continue until the rights of the Kurds and other societies are accepted.
Kurds have been living on this land since the beginning of history and have succeeded in protecting their existence against all forms of cruelty.
Therefore our struggle will continue until our most basic right to rule ourselves and to live freely in our own land is guaranteed.
Qamichli, 17 mars 2019
Fotoğraflar: Ersin Çaksu
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