By Syrian Democratic Times
Syrian Democratic Times: Who is Mazlum Kobane? What was your life like before the beginning of your political career?
General Mazlum Kobane: I was born in the Kurdish city of Kobane in the northern countryside of Aleppo in the year 1967. I attended elementary school in my city and then moved to Aleppo to complete the preparatory and secondary school stages there, then I was qualified to study architecture at the University of Aleppo. I was involved in political and organizational work with Kurdish students in the early 1980s while I was in Aleppo.
SDT: Do you find yourself closer to political or military action?
MK: Being a Kurd means that you have a politics combined with military action, and it is not possible to protect the Kurdish people without doing both. With the beginning of the revolution in Syria, I began working here on political and administrative affairs at the time, but with the increasing frequency of attacks against our regions by the Free Syrian Army, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, I wanted to start military action in organizing the military forces in Rojava to protect my people. Now I care about both the military and the political sides.
SDT: You were among the first leaders who rushed to participate at the beginning of the 2011 Syrian uprising. What are the differences between the beginnings of your political work and your work in Rojava revolution, and what are the differences in society between the two phases?
MK: In the 1980s, we were facing great pressure from the Syrian regime against any political movement in Syria. The people at the time were apprehensive about the harassment of the Syrian security services, but I can say that we were able to organize the majority of the Kurdish students in the Syrian universities and the masses in the cities and countryside. Even I was arrested three times. Now the people have become more organized, and it is our great responsibility to escort these people to safety and protect them from massacres.
SDT: What can you say about the period between 2011-2014? What were the difficulties? It is known that the political positions toward the Rojava revolution were not clear from international powers, America for example. How did you manage to create the capabilities you had when there was no aid or cooperation from abroad, unlike the other opposition forces that received material, political, and other support?
MK: We started organizing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) with the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, when the matter was entirely dependent on the self-efficacy of our people. We did not receive support from any other party. Whoever supported us with sticks carried the sticks with them. People supported us with personal pistols, their own cars, and their own money. I remember that our most powerful weapons at the time were hunting rifles. But after the ISIS attacks on Kobane and the great resistance shown by our fighters there, the International Coalition aircraft began providing support to our forces by air, and with every step we made in liberating the Syrian geography from ISIS terrorism, we were fulfilling our obligations towards cooperating with the International Coalition transparently. This enabled us to provide a platform to receive support and cooperation.
SDT: Why were the YPG after Kobane chosen to be an ally of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS?
MK: These YPG were totally committed to defending Kobane and resisted for 120 days against a terrorist organization that had conquered large cities such as Mosul, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Manbij within a few days. After achieving cooperation with the International Coalition, the YPG committed itself to the Coalition’s plans to provide air support and achieved success in this regard. It was the first force in the region to achieve victory over ISIS in the framework of this provided air support.
SDT: Tell us about the sentiments and morale of the military forces as the first experience in fighting the most powerful terrorist organization? And about the critical period when Kobane was on the brink of falling. What were the factors that tipped the scales?
MK: I do not deny that this war marked a significant turning point in the history of our struggle. Before Kobane, ISIS attacked us in al-Jazah and in Tel Koger and we were able to break the attacks there. In retaliation for that resistance, ISIS prepared for a larger attack against Kobane. Not only with regards to Kobane and that stage. Since the beginning of the revolution we pledged to protect our people and lands against any attack and committed ourselves to doing so in all steps.
SDT: Do you confirm the Republic of Turkey’s complicity with ISIS? Was the battle of Kobane militarily the turning point in the war against ISIS? How many martyrs are in Kobane?
MK: The Turkish collusion regarding ISIS is clear to the public and has been documented publicly with media reports and videos. I believe that all the intelligence services active in the region have documented this collusion. All ISIS terrorists arrived in Syria via Turkish territory. During the Kobane war, ISIS launched its largest attacks on the city using the Turkish border crossing, with several Turkish armored vehicles on the battlefield. Also it is public knowledge that all the Syrian border crossings with Turkey were open during the ISIS control of them from 2014 to 2016, but the border crossings with Turkey were closed to us and remain closed. We acquired the documents of the commercial transactions that took place at the time between ISIS and Turkey.
Yes, the Kobane battle was the beginning of the end of ISIS.
1,253 of our fighters and supporters were martyred in the defense of Kobane.
SDT: How were Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) established, and why?
MK: After our liberation of all the Kurdish areas under the leadership of People’s Protection Units (YPG), we began planning to liberate the Arab-majority areas with the support of the International Coalition. At that time, it was necessary to involve the youth and the people of those areas in a larger and broader military formation of protection units. We benefited from the experience of the People’s Protection Units, which included all the ethnic and religious components of the region, and we expanded its foundation to become SDF. Today, the SDF is a military formation with military councils managed separately by the people of each local area.
SDT: It is known that the major powers were reluctant to send their own forces to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. Why were the Kurdish forces and the newly created SDF chosen to fight ISIS in its alleged “caliphate capital” of Raqqa? Did you not fear failure? What motivated your determination to end ISIS in Syria? Do you consider it a Kurdish battle against terrorism or a global fight against terrorism?
MK: We had committed ourselves with the International Coalition to liberate all Syrian lands from the terrorist threat of ISIS and we were ready to go everywhere to fight ISIS. Raqqa was the backbone of terrorism at the time, and that city had to be liberated to break ISIS’s control in the region. At first, Turkey was completely against it and obstructed our approach to Raqqa. At that time, we had experience in liberating Manbij and we gained the confidence of the Syrian people in being able to liberate and manage the regions democratically.
Our battle was for saving humanity from ISIS, and many international youth from all over the world participated with us, and they were martyred here alongside the young Kurds, Arabs, and Syriacs.
SDT: Are the SDF a Kurdish force or a Syrian force? Can you describe the Syrian Democratic Forces in two sentences for us?
MK: The SDF is a Syrian national force. We are a base to form the future Syrian army.
SDT: The battle of Afrin and its resistance and sacrifices were painful. Tell us about it. Why did you withdraw at the last moments as Turkey approached the city, after the fierce resistance and the great sacrifices in the countryside? What are the reasons for withdrawal? And why was Afrin occupied? Why did not you succeed as in Kobane?
MK: We were forced to fight the battle of Afrin against an international force in an unbalanced battle. However, our forces resisted with the people in Afrin for two months alone against the aircraft and second-largest ground army in NATO. More than two thousand of our fighters were martyred. Turkey began in the last days of the battle to commit massacres in the city, as their planes began bombing the heart of the densely-populated city and killed hundreds of civilians, including children and women. We were forced to withdraw to avoid the massacres and complete destruction of the city. Turkey was targeting thousands of civilians, assisted by an international conspiracy of complicit silence applied to all violations committed by the Turkish army.
SDT: About the battle of Ras Al-Ain (Serê Kaniyê) and Tel Abiad (Girê Spî). It was supposed to form a “safe zone” between you and Turkey at a depth of 5 km with a guarantee from the US and International Coalition forces. Heavy equipment was withdrawn, but a broad military invasion led to Turkey occupying an area 140 km wide and 20 km deep. What happened behind the scenes?
MK: At that time we were working with the Americans to reach an agreement with the Turkish side, we launched the security mechanism, we shared all the points of that agreement transparently with the public, and our people committed to all of these points: from removing the ground defenses to the withdrawal of all SDF soldiers and heavy weapons. We withdrew our defense forces from the border points with confidence in American mediation. Turkey violated the agreement and the Americans did not fulfill their obligations as a mediator in this agreement, and we saw ourselves within hours in front of a second fierce war.
SDT: How do you deal with the great powers in the region that you control? Russia, the United States, and in addition, the Syrian regime. This is a big dilemma. How can you deal with them all?
MK: We know full well that the solution to the Syrian crisis passes through an agreement with the aforementioned international powers. We seek to work within a coordination mechanism, in coordination between these countries. The dilemma is difficult, of course, but we work within the Syrian issue, and this type of work is necessary.
SDT: You launched the Kurdish-Kurdish Dialogue Initiative. Where are you now in this? And how do you describe the concerns by the forces in the region and your partners about this Kurdish rapprochement? Will this dialogue help the Syrian-Syrian dialogue?
MK: The Kurdish-Kurdish Dialogue will be a key to reaching a Syrian-Syrian solution. The process of Kurdish unity is a difficult process, given the interference of external forces in it and their negative impact, with external forces having declared their opposition to Kurdish unity. But we are working with our American allies and support from other international bodies to make this initiative successful. So far we have been able to reach agreement between the two factions to adopt a common political vision and we are working on completing the followup steps.