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Fighting back

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Qamishli, SyriaOctober 17, 2014

Besieged and under attack, the Syrian enclave of Kobani is hanging on due to the joint action of US airstrikes and the resistance of the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units). DW spoke to YPG spokesman Redur Xelil.

Image: Reuters/Rodi Said

Redur Xelil is the spokesman of the Kurdish People's Protection Units, YPG.

DW: What is the current situation like in Kobani?

Redur Xelil: Clashes are still very heavy but we've made a significant step forward. Now we are not only resisting the assault but also striking back against enemy positions. However, we still rely on our light weapons against the heavy ones used by the "Islamic State" (IS) forces against us. We need supplies of all sorts as we are not facing just one armed group but the army of a whole state.

But you do have US air cover. What is the degree of coordination between the YPG and Washington?

Airstrikes are important but not enough to get rid of the enemy. Regarding coordination with Washington, it is obvious that we have to give them our exact position so that their bombs don't fall on us. I cannot give you any further details about it. All I can say is that we're looking forward to improve cooperation between us.

If airstrikes are not enough, will it be possible to defeat IS without the presence of international troops on the ground?

Mosul - Iraq's second city - fell in three days while a town like Kobani has already endured a whole month of fighting, and that's only thanks to our highly motivated fighters who are defending their land. So far, the YPG has proved to be the only armed force that has successfully fought IS. However, we're not in a position to go beyond our borders, we cannot fight them outside our boundaries unless we coordinate with local Arabs in those areas, as we've done on previous occasions. International support is doubtless necessary but I think the different communities in the Middle East could defeat IS if they were properly armed, trained and coordinated. If the West wants to defeat the Islamists it will have to help us.

When you say you're ready to defend your land, do you mean the three enclaves Afrin, Kobani and Jazeera or the compact strip of land along the Turkish-Syrian border many Syrian Kurds claim to be their own?

What we claim as our land are the three enclaves you mention. It's true that at the beginning of the conflict, we could move from this canton - Jazeera, in Syria's northeast - all the way to Afrin in Syria's northwest because we kept in contact with the Free Syrian Army and we would allow our respective forces to criss-cross the northern territory. Unfortunately, the emergence of Islamist groups like Jabat al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham … and finally IS made overland routes impossible.

Redur Xelil copyright: Karlos Zurutuza
Redur XelilImage: DW/K. Zurutuza

So there's hardly any way to get either fighters or supplies from the two other Kurdish enclaves in Syria, is there?

Today the only way into Kobani is across the Turkish border. If you want to get to Kobani from here you'll have to fight with all the Islamist units along the way.

For the time being, Turkey appears not to be lifting a finger to help from the other side of the border fence. What is your assessment?

From the beginning of the war Turkey wanted to interfere not only among us, the Kurds, but in the whole of Syria. Ankara thought Assad would fall sooner rather than later so they tried to control the Syrian opposition through the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey has allowed the Islamists we're suffering today to travel across their country and reach our territory; they backed them militarily, and even treated their wounded in their hospitals.

The YPG has been accused of recruiting young people by force to shift them to Kobani. Is that true?

It's completely false. From the beginning of the revolution, every single fighter within our ranks has joined us on a voluntary basis. The situation in Kobani has increased the number of volunteers, many of them Kurdish civilians from Turkey who crossed the border to help their kin on the other side.

Over the last weeks, the focus on Kobani has intensified in the media to a point where public opinion is increasingly showing support for the Syrian Kurds. What is the real impact of events in Kobani for the future of the region?

The world is opening its eyes to see that not only are we the only force to stand up to IS, we're probably the only movement in Syria which speaks of democracy and human rights. And you have to bear in mind that the four parts in which our land is divided -Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq - are linked: what happens in one directly affects the rest. Kobani could even contribute to solve the Kurdish issue in Turkey as international pressure mounts on Ankara. The PKK could even be removed from the terrorist organizations list thanks to this pressure. Turkey needs to understand that either they befriend Kurds or they head toward disaster. I'm sure that Kobani will be a turning point for all the Kurds.

Do you foresee an end to the war in Syria?

It won't be anytime soon due to the overwhelming presence of Islamist groups in the country. However, we must tackle the issue from a military angle, but also politically and at a social level. The high degree of destruction among Syrian society, especially among Sunnis, has paved the way for the Islamist phenomenon we're facing today.