A French scholar, famous for his studies an Islam and the Middle East, Professor Jean-Pierre Filiu, commenting on the relationship between the PKK terrorist organization and its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has opened offices in Germany and Sweden, said: “The PYD and PKK are two organizations that are intertwined. There is one headquarters for these two organizations, and it is in Qandil. The PKK and PYD are working hand-in-hand with the dictator Bashar Assad. The U.S. is making a big mistake by supporting the PYD.”
Filiu was one of 10 independent experts who was appointed by former French President François Hollande to contribute to France’s 2013 White Book for National Defense and Security, and has consulted French governments of both the left and the right over the past 30 years. The scholar was recently in Istanbul for a series of conferences that attracted great attention in Turkey. The well-known Middle East expert, promoting his new book “The New Middle East,” spoke exclusively with A Haber’s Duygu Leloğlu.
Daily Sabah: You published an article about France being alone in its fight against terrorism, right after the terrorist attacks in France. Do you think that Turkey is more alone in counter-terrorism than France? Wouldn’t you agree that the rest of the world isolates Turkey in its fight against not only DAESH, but also the PKK?
Jean Pierre Filiu: I can totally empathize with Turkey, especially about feeling abandoned by the U.S. in its fight against terrorism. Both countries (Turkey and the U.S.) feel the threat of terrorism, but they have allies who cannot understand these threats. This is why I mentioned being terribly alone. I think both France and Turkey are going through the same phase. Whenever I talk about terrorism in Europe, I stress the fact that these terrorist attacks also strike Turkey, Tunisia, Indonesia, Jakarta and California. The most terrifying thing is that some people, and even some governments, evaluate the terrorist threat within the concept of their own countries. They cannot comprehend that this is a global threat and a common response should be given against terrorism. Hence, I believe that the collaboration between France and Turkey is crucial.
DS: How would you describe the PYD?
JPF: The PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK. It is often said that these two organizations have different structures, different programs and different agendas, but it is definitely not true. I observed this situation with my own eyes. I went to Syria during the revolution and recently. The PKK and PYD are organically intertwined, and this is very clear. Furthermore, both organizations are militarily masterminded from Qandil. There is strategic integration between them for waging war. They are trying to sabotage the revolution in Syria, seeking their benefit. They are also supporting Assad in the regions that they control in Syria.
DS: What does the PKK want to achieve?
JPF: According to the PKK’s military headquarters in Qandil, Turkey and Syria is an integrated theater stage. They can easily move from one border to another. Since my area of specialization is Syria, I can tell you the PKK’s plan in Syria. The PKK is after autonomy in Syria, whether by dividing Syria federally, or all together. The term “Rojava,” which is used to define these territories today, is a very new concept. They created this term in order to initiate their politics concerning the division of Syria.
DS: You said that you have seen the connection between the PKK and PYD with your own eyes, but the U.S. rebuffs this relationship. John Kirby, the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, claimed many times that the PYD is not a terrorist organization. Why?
It is actually pretty clear. Abdullah Öcalan (the jailed leader of the PKK), was residing in Damascus between 1994 and 1999. Back then, the PKK was in touch with Assad’s Mukhabarat (the intelligence agency of the Syrian regime). Moreover, they had privileges in places heavily populated by Kurdish people such as Afrin, Jazira, al-Hasakah and Qamishli. These privileges were restored in 2011, and the PKK and PYD occupied some regions with the help of Assad. We observed collaboration between Assad and the PKK-PYD against the Syrian revolution. Unfortunately, the U.S. made a mistake by making the PYD one of their partners in the region, instead of giving priority to the logical actors.
DS: But why does the U.S. – Turkey’s biggest ally – lie to Turkey?
I think the U.S. fell victim to its own mistakes. Instead of taking responsibility for its mistakes, it has continued to follow false politics and add new mistakes to those it already made. These inaccurate policies began when U.S. president Barack Obama didn’t abide by the red lines of the U.S., although they confirmed that chemical weapons were used in Syria in 2013. Since then, they have been denying the revolution in Syria and Turkey’s proposal for a safe zone. If they had agreed with a safe zone, this action would have been more logical and effective. However, the U.S. was searching for a partner in the region, and impressed by the fact that both the PKK and PYD were being managed from a single headquarters. This partnership has been going on since then.
DS: Would you say that there is perception management used on the Western public about the PYD? Isn’t the PYD portrayed as a savior against DAESH?
I have been very clear about this subject. France’s stance is crystal-clear. Americans did not want to help the Syrian revolution and they still don’t want to. This denial dragged them into a collaboration with the PKK-PYD. The PKK and PYD might have concrete success against DAESH, but they cannot do anything more from now on. They cannot go further than Kobani and Tal Abyad. In other words, whether or not they are declared as a terrorist organization, nothing will change. According to France, the Syrian revolution, the Syria talks and the fight of the Free Syrian Army are legitimate. First of all, Russia should stop bombing the Syrian opposition, and then the opposition should be supported from the air. A while ago, the town of Rai in northern Syria was taken by DAESH because they did not have any support from the U.S. The biggest fight against jihadists in Syria is in those regions.
DS: Does the PYD want to establish a Kurdish state in Syria?
The Americans are paying the price for their own mistakes. And they are falling into error each time they make a new mistake. They believe that they can bring stability to Syria by dividing the country. The French are aware that this is nothing more than an illusion. While France was one of the biggest powers in the world, they divided Syria into five provinces together with the British; however, it did not work out. Back then, Syria had a population of no more than 5 million and they did not have proper weapons. Today, the flag of the Syrian opposition features three stars standing for Damascus, Aleppo and the other provinces in Syria. Syria should not be divided. The position of minorities in Syria, the language that will be spoken, and other problems, these can be sorted out later on. The current portrait of the region demonstrates that the PKK and DAESH are trying to change the borders to impose their own political agendas.