Senior Syrian Kurdish official urges West to sever ties with 'radical' Turkey

Ilham Ahmed says Syrian Democratic Council had no choice but to turn to Assad government

The President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, Ilham Ahmed, poses for a portrait in central London, Britain, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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A senior official of the Kurdish-led autonomous administration in north-east Syria has pleaded with western countries to cut ties with Turkey and accept that the Erdogan regime has been lost as an ally.

Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council in Rojava, said its “alternative” project emphasising justice and equality was under threat from a “radical” Turkey and its rebel allies, and needed protection.

Last month, Turkish-backed groups launched an assault on north-east Syria when US troops withdrew.

It led the autonomous administration to turn to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government for help, but Ms Ahmed said there was no guarantee these talks would be a success.

Turkey regards Syrian Kurdish forces as terrorists who are the same as the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

But the US-led coalition allied with the mainly Kurdish fighters to defeat ISIS as it retreated to north-east Syria.

Overcrowded, ramshackle prisons in north-east Syria are home to thousands of ISIS members, many of them foreign, who are yet to stand trial.

Ms Ahmed warned that during the Turkish attack the ISIS members could break free and return to Europe to unleash terror.

She has been touring the US and Europe to gain support for the fledgling project in north-east Syria.

“We know right now that the people who support us, the people who stand with us, will be standing with the right way,” Ms Ahmed told an audience at the London School of Economics.

“Many of these international states and countries, their stances are not very clear, they’ve been quite weak positions because they’re still operating within the framework of not wanting to lose Turkey.

"But we can say this 100 per cent, that Turkey has already been lost.”

She said a key demand of the autonomous administration was to be included in political talks in Geneva but a Turkish veto would continue to stop this.

By only inviting two parties, it gave acceptance to the “chauvinism” of the Syrian regime and groups the Democratic Council regards as extremists, Ms Ahmed said.

“Many of these international countries that say they defend or support democracy have separated us or not allowed us to be involved in the political discussions," she said.

"This has forced us to engage in talks and negotiations with the Assad regime. And this has no guarantee.”

Ms Ahmed, who is from Afrin, suggested foreign ISIS members held in north-east Syria could be tried in local courts and sent back to their countries to serve their sentences.

An alternative would be to build secure local prisons if the administration received funding.

But it is unclear how much influence it has after Syrian government troops moved to the north-east border last month as part of a deal to save the Kurds from Turkey.

Ms Ahmed said the agreement was necessary to protect against a genocide that needed to be stopped.

She said the autonomous administration wanted recognition from the Syrian government but there was no guarantee of this, although talks continue.

Most western countries are refusing to take back ISIS suspects and many militants have had their citizenship’s revoked, further complicating matters.

Ms Ahmed said the administration had discussed ISIS families living in camps with many governments.

"What we can do is set up some sort of a court or justice system in our region because that’s obviously where the evidence is,” she said.

“What we can do is try these people there and, if necessary, once they’ve been tried they can be repatriated to serve sentences in their own countries.

“It is important that these people don’t go away without punishment, especially because if there was another attack many of these people can escape, go to Europe and continue their terror."