Interview with Kinan al Nahhas
This interview was conducted by Ömer Özkizilcik Kinan al Nahhas is an independent member of the Syrian opposition, close to the armed groups in Idlib, and former member of the Leadership Council of the National Liberation Front. What do you think about the agreement? Actually, we don’t know the details of the agreement yet, we hope to have a more detailed understanding soon. It’s clear that they stopped the bombing of Idlib. It is a problem for us not knowing the details, at the least the part that affects us in Idlib and Aleppo. A lot of the people are worried about the details. We have 1 million refugees and they won’t go back to their homes to stay under the regime’s control. Until we know the details, we can’t know the benefits or the risks and threats of this agreement. The Turkish government announced several times that they demand the withdrawal of the regime to the frontlines of the Sochi agreement. After they announced the latest agreement, no one talked about it anymore. This is an issue that needs clarification. Are the security corridor and the joint patrols implementable? This is the second point that raised concerns. The agreement talks about the M4 but didn’t mention the M5 highway which is under regime control. There will be a security corridor for the M4 but there is no mention of the M5 road. It will be difficult for Syrians in Idlib to welcome Russian patrols and the idea of a security corridor only on the M4, which the M5 was captured by the Russians and the regime despite the Sochi agreement, there must be a balance and the Sochi agreement in regards to the demarcations has to be respected. At the moment we have a security corridor for M4 but nothing for M5. What will the armed groups in Idlib do in regards to the agreement? There is great coordination between Turkey and the revolutionary armed groups, and they will come to an agreement but all this will be closely linked to the future of our lands and if the Sochi agreement will be respected or not. Recovering the M5 is a necessity for us, and our Turkish partners perfectly understand that and take it into account. What is the position of HTS? I think HTS is in a sticky situation. They are the major responsible for the last loss in the battle against the regime and I think they are not in a situation to negotiate or impose conditions. They are currently trying to find a way out, but they made it very difficult due to their actions. People in Syria see them as the main responsible party for weakening the revolutionary armed groups and by providing excuses to Russia to bomb Idlib. So they don’t have any allies left in Syria, and the vast majority of the population is against them. But they need a way out, and they are trying to change their narrative. Turkey can play a big role in deciding the fate of HTS, in a way that minimizes the damage. Do you see HTS dissolving itself soon? I hope that but I don’t think they will do it now. It is difficult for them to do it after what they have done in the recent 3-4 years but, but if this was to happen, it will have to be as part of a Syrian led initiative to dissolve and absorb HTS. We have to take into account that the group is not keen on the ideology anymore. Does HTS fear revenge? Maybe in some cases duo the elevated number of injustices and crimes they have committed against Syrians, but this isn’t the reason why they rejected offers in the past to dissolve. Their priority is control and power. Do you think the current ceasefire is a fragile or a lasting one? Turkey is trying its best to make it a real ceasefire, but the problem is Russia. Russia never respected any ceasefire agreement before, in fact, they didn’t respect any agreement at all. The information that we have about the agreement does not reflect any details about how it will be monitored and protected, and it leaves the door open for attacks from the Russian side. I think it is very possible that a confrontation might happen soon due to the actions of the regime, Russia and Iran. Turkey and we should be ready for that. After the Turkish drone strikes why could the regime recapture Saraqip? The Turkish attack was very effective, and shocked the regime; for the first time since the beginning of the revolution the regime had to face airstrikes, and we all realized how weak they are. In just 3 days the regime lost control over its command structure in the battlefronts but they have received heavy help from Hezbollah and Iranian militias on the ground, and the Russian air cover. We know that Hezbollah has sent 500 elite forces, the Radwan forces, only to Saraqip. Meanwhile, Russia continued its airstrikes against the armed groups. Therefore we have seen the retake by the Russian and the militias. We are talking about two different types of attacks. The Turks were attacking with drones; the Russians used Sukhoi, tanks, and everything. Why was the armed Syrian opposition so weak? It is not correct to say they were weak. What we have seen last month was the ninth month of continuous battle. Our groups remained steadfast at the frontlines for several months. After losing the fronts we had many military and human difficulties. The Syrian revolution is the only army in the world that consists only of volunteers. The majority of these volunteers have their families close to the frontline. A lot of them were forced to leave the front to save their families and went back to the war. We are fighting against the regime, Russia and Iran and sectarian groups from Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere simultaneously. What we have seen the last month is not one month but the last month of a long battle. If we look from a different point of view, the regime army was severely shaken and damaged after 3 days of drone strikes. We sustained 8 years of airstrikes from the regime and later Russia. The resistance of the Syrian people is a true miracle. What should be done in Idlib? Idlib cannot be seen in isolation from the Syrian conflict as a whole. The problem is not only Idlib, but it’s also the regime and the future of the entire country. For Idlib, and in the short term, we need to achieve the ceasefire but according to the demarcations before the last wave of attack, and create the necessary conditions for the return of displaced people to their homes in Idlib. This should be the first step before any discussion about reactivating the political track or the opening of the M4 and M5 highways. We need to think about the people and their security first. We also need to be aware that Russia is and has always been keen on achieving a military victory rather than a negotiated solution, and they will continue in their efforts until they see sufficient resilience and strength from our side, Turkey and the Syrian revolution. Turkey must see that their real strategically in this war are the Syrian rebels and opposition, and we should work on making this alliance stronger and more effective.
Syria Situation Map According to the Russian Ministry of Defense
Syria Situation Map According to the Russian Ministry of Defense
Interview with President of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly Dr. Muhammad Wajih Juma
Interview with President of the Syrian Turkmen Assembly Dr. Muhammad Wajih Juma Born in 1960 in Aleppo’s district Manbij, Dr. Muhammad Wajih Juma is a member of a Turkmen family of rural Jerabulus. By profession, he is a surgeon/medical doctor. Dr. Juma served as the chief physician of the Manbij Public Hospital from 1995 to 2003, and from then until 2011 as head of the department of General Surgery at Aleppo’s El Razi Hospital. Between 2010 and 2012, he served as president of the Aleppo Chamber of Physicians. Taking on an active role in Syria’s political opposition in the wake of the revolutionary movement, Dr. Muhammad Wajih Juma was appointed to the position of Health Minister of the Syrian Interim Government in 2014, as which he remained until 2016. Dr. Muhammad Wajih Juma also served as the founding president of the Syrian Turkmen National Movement Party between 2014 and 2017. He has been serving as the President of the Syrian Turkmen Council since February 10, 2018. For more information about Dr. Muhammed Wajih Juma and the Syrian Turkmen Council, please click: M. Wajih Juma : http://en.suriyegundemi.com/dr-muhammed-wajih-juma-president-syrian-turkmen-assembly/ The Syrian Turkmen Council : http://en.suriyegundemi.com/the-syrian-turkmen-assembly/ Interview: Kutluhan Görücü, Ömer Özkızılcık When did the Turkmen presence in Syria begin and in which regions of Syria do they live? The existence of Turkmens in Syria is at least 1000 years; the most important proof of this is the Suleyman Shah Tomb. The state founded by the Seljuks was also centered in Aleppo. Before the Seljuks, the Turkmens were also present in the region, but this was in a military way, they were with the Abbasids. And these regions were at peace after the Turks came, before the Turks there was no understanding of giving importance to people. The Turks had the understanding of “Let people alive, so that the state alive.” Turkmens are found in almost every region of Syria, but there is also our presence especially in Aleppo, Bayir Bucak, Hama, Homs, Damascus and its rural areas and also in Raqqa. In Tel Abyad, we have many villages in the area, especially in Hamam Turkmen. There are also Golan Turkmens, Golan Turkmens have relatives in Sivas, and after they came here, when they met with eachother, they came up with very nice images. How does the Syrian Turkmen Council carry out its activities? And do you have any effort for the return of the Syrian Turkmens? We are preparing ourselves to return home. We launched a campaign for the return of Syrian Turkmens in March of this year. When we visited the camps, we received very good feedback, but of course there is no possibility of 100% return. Because, here, we have jobs or educational facilities to stay in Turkey. But our main goal is return home. In Syria, our numerical existence has not been a simple entity throughout history. We are a society that builds the civilization of Syria, there is a trace of a Turkmen in every corner of Syria. We also have the blood of our ancestors and martyrs. We will not leave Syria to anyone. The Syrian Turkmen Council has now moved into Syria, and now we have an office in Cobanbey. We currently have 8 non-governmental organizations and 3 cultural centers in the region. We have also started language courses teaching Turkish. Homs Turkmens were also deported and came to these regions, how are their situations and do you connect with them? In fact, our communication with them has existed since they were under siege. We are very sorry because of their exit, the international situation has brought them to this point, and they are mostly in the area of the Operation of the Olive Branch and we have very close connections with them. We’re always visiting, and we’re going there. With the support of Turkey and Turkey’s NGOs, we want to keep them in a reasonable condition but the only thing that will satisfy them is their return to their homeland. I hope it won’t be long before they leave the country. With a general solution in Syria, these people will return to their homeland. From your point of view, what should be the general solution in Syria and do you have the steps to be taken as the Syrian Turkmen Council? In fact, the Syrians rebelled for the implementation of democracy and law. If there is no democratic transition, this revolution does not achieve its purpose. We want to be listed in the constitution as a founding element of Syria. Some people look at citizenship enough, but we clearly want to take part in the constitution. You do not have a separatist agenda in Syria; you defend the territorial integrity of Syria and a free Syrian state. So, do you want the Syrian Turkmens in the constitution to have the right to education in the mother tongue? Do you have any expectations for this? In fact, some say that if you take your cultural rights, it is enough. But we want all rights of a society, not just our cultural rights. We want to have a share in the important decisions of Syria, we want our political rights. The issue of language is now a very democratic and principal issue. Mother tongue is a topic that should not be discussed. We want more than just our cultural rights, and we struggle in the political and international arena to get all of our rights, and we have an important presence on the ground. And of course, we have Turkey, thank to God. While talking about the constitution, decisions were taken to start the constitution process at the Istanbul summit. How does the process of the Constitutional Commission work? Do you take part as the Syrian Turkmen Council? We have a different view on our constitution. According to the UN Security Council resolution, that is, according to the decision no. 2254, there will be a political transition and then the constitution is written. But international powers, let’s start with the constitution, they say. This situation is not very correct for us, we say yes because it is an international alliance. However, we do not find the timing of the constitution issue right. Let’s say the constitution has been written, and this constitution will be approved by Bashar Assad? There is no transition process with Assad. Do you have a problem with Assad’s personality, or here with the Baath regime and system? If there is an alternative to Assad from the Baath regime, can you accept it? Again I say, we want a democratic system. If Assad goes as the name and the Ba’ath remains, we go to the same dictatorship system. Assad doesn’t even have control at the moment; he is taking instructions from the Russians or the Iranians. In addition, now 40-45% of Syria is not in the hands of Assad. In case of the Baath regime remains in power, how do you see Turkey’s defacto ‘Free Syria’ state model in the area from Morek to the east of the Euphrates? We can only accept this as the first step, but we are considering a future that covers all of Syria. But from here, very logical and beautiful step can be taken. In fact, this process has started, Manbijis want Afrin and Jarablus model. Idlib, believe me, is more willing than any other. In later times, Hama sand Homs also wants. Gradually everywhere in Syria become emancipated, with Turkey’s support, of course. Let me tell you one key thing; Syrian revolution without the support of Turkey is zero, zero in every aspect. 4-4.5 million in Idlib, Afrin or Jarabulus and, 3.5-4 million people in Turkey lives under the Turkey’s control. Nearly half of the people of Syria is under the Turkey’s custody. Some people say where Turkey will be in the future of Syria. Turkey currently is both in the field and at the table. Now Syria is nothing without Turkey. Different from politics, as a social question, is there a tension or friction with other elements of Syrian society because Turkmens are preceded by Turkey? No, there is not. As I said before Turkey looked equally to everyone. As the aids came, they were distributed equally to everyone in Syria. We have also contributed to this issue, when we received help, we demanded that other elements prioritized. Because our project was where all the people live, we live. There are people who are our neighbours for hundreds of years. No one can break that. We have an understanding of giving importance to people. Has the influence of selefist waves in Syria had an impact on the Syrian Turkmens? If so, how are the Syrian Turkmens affected? We have adopted, moved and spread the religion of Islam throughout history. Therefore, I can say that there is almost no such influence on the Syrian Turkmens. We have never approached Nusra and Daesh. I can say that the most durable society in Syria is Turkmens. Now, we have fought against them and won. Now we will give an ideological war and we want to be an example to these people, to share our values with these people. Currently in Manbij Turkey and the US are patrolling together and if conditions develop, do you have any idea to turn? Also, will the Turkmen troops take part in the transfer of the Suleyman Shah Tomb to the old place or a possible operation to the east of the Euphrates? Actually, I wanted to start with that. Suleyman Shah Tomb must be moved to the old place and we will protect the tomb as Turkmens. To the east of the Euphrates must definitely be crossed, because there are many places where terrorists have established nests, along the border. They need to be cleaned. There is now a great hatred and uprising against YPG in the east of the Euphrates. We have a different point of view on Manbij. Manbij must be governed by Manbijis. But they will need a brother, he is also Turkey. Manbijis people want the Euphrates Shield model. We don’t want America. I’m going to say it clearly, it’s the USA who brought PYD to our city and make us occupied by them. We Manbijis, we can make the management, we make the security well but we will need the support of Turkey. As a last question, what do you think of the possible operation of the Tel Abyad? We are used that what Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan says comes true. Mr. Erdogan said that there would be no terror in these regions. I think these operations should go to Kandil, the head of the snake must be crushed. What happened in Afrin can happen there, even more easily. How people threw away PYD from Afrin they can do it there.
Interview with Hussam Tarsha, member of the political office of the National Front for Liberation
Interview with Hussam Tarsha, member of the political office of the National Front for Liberation M. Hussam Tarsha (Abu Omar): Member of the Political Bureau of the National Liberation Front and Director of External Relations in Ahrar al Sham Interviewer: Ömer Özkizilcik 1) How do you see the Sochi Agreement? Answer: This Agreement received by all the institutions of the people’s revolution and events and people in the north with satisfaction. We have shown our reservations about the Russian presence in areas of heavy disarmament whether police or monitor. The Turkish brothers understood this reservation. We support Turkey’s efforts in this regard. We seek to consolidate that this will be a permanent agreement to move toward a comprehensive political solution in accordance with UN resolutions, in particular resolution 2,455 building on the political transition, which guarantees the success of the efforts of the work of the constitutional committee in order to make the road map for the political process of the feasibility of achieving the aspirations of the Syrian people, and end the state of tyranny in Syria. 2) Since Sochi’s deal has changed in Idlib? Answer: Nothing has changed at the level of the revolutionary movement through the preparation and processing of any future military benefit and strengthen, the revolution and its forces. The heroic Syrian people have no confidence in the Russian side due to the previous experiences in violation of pledges and agreements. Many areas, especially in the areas of Hama and villages close to the frontlines, have seen the return of civilians. You can see the reports of the Syrian response coordinators who have details in this regard, which we have seen through the media and have seen good efforts to build on. 3) What are your main concerns about the demilitarized zone? Will you implement it? Answer: The fundamental concern about the region lies in three issues: First: The fear of a betrayal of the regime instigated by the Russians or the Russians directly and this must be prevented by the existence of guarantees by the brothers in Turkey. Second: There are discussions in some detailed points but they are not affecting the essence of the agreement. We support this agreement and we thank the Turkish leadership represented by Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the intensive efforts he has made for the interests of both Turkey, Free Syria and its people. Third: The fears of the Russians confirm that it is a temporary agreement. There is a reminder of the previous de-escalation areas that ended with the capture of Russians and the regime. 4) Are there any developments on the side of the regime in line with the Sochi agreement? Answer: The regime invests in this agreement by listing what it deems to be a temporary agreement and and that the issue of extending their control is only a matter of time! The violations by the regime have been recorded since the date of the agreement in Sochi. 5) What do you think of the Turkish role in Idlib? Answer: The role of Turkey is essential, and it serves as a pole to achieve any of the aspirations of the rebellious people of Syria. The revolutionary forces all have a consensus on the unique Turkish role and stand in its alliance. It is in the interest of our country and our people to maintain its biggest and best ally in Syria after God and his success. We look forward to further and further support for Syrian satiety, which is worthy of the likes of this inspirational Turkish leadership.
Fatimiyyun BrigadeOne of the foreign fighters communities who are backing the Assad regime in Syria are the Hazaras from Afghanistan. In 2012 the Afghan fighters who were operating under the wing of the Iraq-based group Abul Fazl el-Abbas, later in 2013 started to form the Fatimiyyun Brigade after their numbers soared. The Fatimiyyun brigade, made up of Afghan Shia Hazaras, are the second most capable paramilitary organization mobilized by Iran, after Hezbollah, to keep Iran’s ally Assad afloat. The group’s core is made up of Hazaras who settled before 2011 near the Seyyide Zeyneb shrine in southern Damascus. Because they know the Arabic language rather well, they have not really struggled with coordination in Syria and had put up tough resistance in southern Damascus when the war began. The Fatimiyyun brigade’s numbers have risen to 20.000 fighters after Iran’s efforts to mobilize Afghan refugees in Iran and especially Tahran and Mashad. The tourism agencies Iran has opened in Kabul and Herad have facilitated the flow of fighters from Afghanistan to Syria. The Fatimiyyun brigade has fought in the most intense battlefields like in Aleppo and Daraa. They have lost at least two thousand fighters until now. The brunt of the Afghan fighters in the Fatimiyyun brigade comprises of unemployed, poor and low educated young fighters who are motivated by their desire to defend the shrines of Seyyide Zeyneb and Seyyide Rukiyye. The Fatimiyyun brigade is backed by Iran in terms of military, logistical and financial support. The Fatimiyyun brigade’s former commander Murteza Atayi who died in Latakia in 2016, claimed in an interview that the Afghan fighters get a monthly payment of 2.500.000 Iranian Toman. Another source claimed that they get 600 dollars a month from Iran. Those fighters who pass away are met with ceremonies at their crowded funerals where important Iranian state elites pay their respects. This has in turn motivated Afghan refugees to sign up for the Fatimiyyun Brigade. The main motivation for the Fatimiyyun militias is, like all other Iran-backed Shia militias, the protection of the Seyyide Zeynep shrine. The Fatimiyyun Brigade plays an important part in changing the demographics of Syria in a way that favors Iran. The Fatimiyyun Brigade, after capturing Albukamal near the Syrian-Iraqi border announced that: “For the sake of the Zeynep and Rukiyye shrines, we will continue our fight for the independence of Syria and are ready to go anywhere.”