Ilham Ahmed is the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council that is the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces and includes predominately Kurdish actors in northern Syria, but also other groups including Arabs, Turkmen, Christians, and Circassian. As the fight against ISIS winds down and the United States intends to withdrawal troops, the SDC has few options.
It remains a part of Rojava’s ruling TEV-DEM coalition and has turned to negotiating with Damascus as it faces an imminent assault by Turkey. Ahmed was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday trying to encourage pressure on the US administration to change its expressed support for Turkey.
‘If all [foreign] actors join forces to conduct such an attack — which is a weak possibility — we will try to solve crisis in Syria as we have done before through dialogue and politics in order to find a general political solution for Syria,’ she said.
Ahmed does not want Turkey to be a part of any proposed safe zone on Syrian soil. ‘[It] can be established only when it is under the control of the United Nations troops as well as no-fly zone,’ she argues. She also does not see the deployment of Roj Peshmerga, trained by the KRG, as feasible because of ‘outside’ influence.
Fahad Sabri, Rudaw: Is there a possibility to conduct deals with Syrian government again?
Ilham Ahmed, SDC co-chair: There was already a dialogue but was it was suspended for a while. This dialogue is significant for a general approach to reach a basic solution to the current Syrian crisis.
What is your agenda when making deals with the Syrian government?
We have established a system in the past in the framework of a unified, yet non-central and democratic state where all Syrian colors are protected. These are some main principles which we can use when making agreements with Damascus. A central or uni-party system will not be tolerated.
The regions have to be self-governed and there shall be cultural freedom. There shall also be equality in economy, culture, and politics. These will be our main principles when making deals with Damascus in order to establish a democratic Syria.
Will there be an international guarantor?
It is significant [to have a guarantor]. It would be good if we, as two Syrian parties, can solve this crisis by ourselves, but if this is not possible then an international guarantee would be a main criterion for Syria to be democratic.
There are reports of a possible safe zone in Syria. How do you think this zone shall be established?
Our region [northern Syria] has already been safe and we will try to maintain it. However, after Turkey threatened the region, its security is in danger. [The safe zone] can be established only when it is under the control of the United Nations troops as well as no-fly zone. This zone can be for those people who have been displaced, so that they wait there until there is a solution and reconstruction in Syria.
This is how the situation [in SDF-controlled areas] is where all ethnic and religious groups live together and there is equality. Therefore, we can say that the region is already a safe zone if there is no [Turkish] threat.
What steps you have to take to prevent a second Afrin in other parts of Rojava?
All parties have tried to conduct political talks and initiated agreements and do their best to stop the potential [Turkish] attack on the region. We will be open to all sorts of deals.
If the US and Russia allow Turkey to govern the safe zone, what can you do to prevent the displacement and killing of people?
If an international agreement like this one is made, not only the security of this region will be under threat but the security of the whole world. If all [foreign] actors join forces to conduct such an attack — which is a weak possibility — we will try to solve crisis in Syria as we have done before through dialogue and politics in order to find a general political solution for Syria.
Our struggles will still continue in this case because our approaching is strategic not tactical. On this basis, we are always ready for talks with any party that supports the stability of this region and the prevention of people’s displacement and destruction [of Syria]. Therefore, we are always open to talks with the regime.
What diplomatic struggles do you have against Turkish threats to attack your territories?
The big diplomacy is conducted in the region through the agreement between people … and with the international community, typically with those forces who have supported us against Daesh. We have defeated Daesh in Syria with the help of these people.
We have developed our relations with these people to solve Syrian general crisis together, not only the crisis of one part. This is to allow Syrians return to their lands. We still have and will continue to have relations and talks with international community.
There are reports of Rojava Peshmerga deployment to the proposed safe zone in northern Syria. How do you see this?
External solutions to Syria will not be wise and valid, typically under the control of Turkey. All the available forces [in northern Syria] are from the region. They are the children of Kobane, Gire Spi [Tal Abyad], and Derik. Those are the ones who protect the region and located on borders.
No foreigner has come to protect these borders. Therefore, they can protect their region more [than other people] and there is more familiarity and understanding between these local forces and the people. This is the healthiest solution. The United Nations troops can also be on the borders.