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Qoja: 'Kurds fighting for other democratic states'

Jeanette Seiffert / ksb
October 11, 2014

Nihad Latif Qoja, mayor of Irbil, criticizes Turkey's reluctance policy. He's calling on Ankara to grant the peshmerga fighters access to Kobani but worries Turkey could use the fight against IS to their advantage.

Nihad Latif Qoja mayor of Arbil
Image: DW/S. Sharef

DW: What form do you currently have contact with the Kurds in Kobani and how's the situation looking at the moment?

Nihad Latif Qoja: We keep up to date through Kurdish media, but I'm also in constant contact with our friends in Kurdistan. At the moment, the situation's very dramatic. Kobani is surrounded on two sides. The one place where the city is still accessible is on the Turkish border. Turkish tanks are also stationed there, but they do not intervene.

Many military experts believe that, at least in Kobani, without using ground troops, IS militants won't be stopped. What's your opinion?

From my point of view, it would be sufficient for the Kurds to allow free access to Kobani, so that Kurdish fighters can get support into the city. We also need massive airstrikes to weaken the positions of the IS militants. But Turkey is not doing that. At the moment they're engaged in an incomprehensible policy, and if it continues like this, there's going to be a huge human catastrophe.

In recent weeks, the IS militants have also spread across northern Iraq: can Kurds in the Irbil region feel safe at the moment?

The people in Kurdistan can feel completely safe. Ever since the allies bombed the IS positions a few weeks ago, the peshmerga troops have been in position to push the terrorists back far enough that the northern cities are now safe again. In the meantime, IS has become very weak and has lost most of its positions there.

In your opinion, should the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters come to help the Kurds on the Turkish-Syrian border?

At the moment, the peshmerga don't have any access to Kobani, which is about 80 kilometers from eastern Kurdistan, and there are also Arab areas in between. The only possibility would be if Turkey allowed us to send peshmerga through there to defend Kobani.

Over the past few days, you've repeatedly demanded that Turkey intervene with military action. You're not concerned that Turkey could use the fight against IS as a pretext to take action against the Kurds?

We're not asking that Turkey intervene in the area. Turkey should either open the borders for Kurdish fighters, who come from other parts of Kurdistan, or provide military support to the fighters in Kobani. Of course, this support should be safeguarded by the international community. My fear is that Turkey has adopted a policy that aims to sacrifice Kobani in order to achieve domestic political goals. The Turkish government could aim to weaken the Kurds in their own country and then, of course, the PYD fighters - the Syrian Kurdish party which has close ties to the PKK.

What does the current conflict mean for the peace process between Turkey and the PKK? Will the ceasefire stay in place or is the PKK already gearing up for a new confrontation?

If Turkey's attitude remains as it is now, the peace talks could come into great danger. We all hope to find a solution and that these negations can be continued. Putting aside Turkey's opposition to the PKK and the PYG, this is about the lives of thousands of people who live in Kobani and the Kurds fighting against the IS militants, which, ultimately, is a fight for other democratic states. They're the only ones who bravely stand against them.

Kurds demonstrate against the "Islamic State" in Dusseldorf, 11.10.2014
Kurds demonstrate against the 'Islamic State' in Düsseldorf,Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch

You're currently in Bonn, Germany, and have no doubt noticed that there have been clashes between Kurds and Islamists, often resulting in violence, in Germany. What advice would you give to Kurds living in Germany regarding how they should behave?

I would advise my compatriots to demonstrate peacefully. We must not compromise safety and peace. These are our host countries and we're grateful for the support from these states. But there's one thing that makes me uneasy - how is it that Salifists or other Islamists in Germany or other European countries have the freedom here to so openly express their criminal opinions that seek to incite or kill other people? That's inexplicable to me.

Do you think then that the Kurds could potentially harm their own cause if pressure on the streets becomes too great?

That's why it's so important that these events remain completely peaceful. We have to do a better job at selling our concern since, fundamentally, everyone knows that we are only taking to the streets to defend our rights. But as soon as the peace and order of the German people becomes endangered, then we should avoid that.

Nihad Latif Qoja is the mayor of Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region and office of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which is located in Iraq. In 1981, the former sports teacher fled Saddam Hussein's regime to Germany and lived for more than two years in Bonn. He was active in the Iraqi opposition movement until he moved back to his homeland in 2004.

Interview by Jeanette Seiffert.

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