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Kurdish Reaction To Turkey-Russia Deal To Patrol Northern Syria


As the United States moves out of northern Syria, Russia is now moving in. Russia struck a deal with Turkey yesterday. A joint Turkish-Russian force will now take charge of parts of northeastern Syria near the Turkish border. These are areas historically held by Syria's Kurds who had been working alongside U.S. forces before President Trump pulled them out. To talk about the future for the Kurds is Sinam Mohamad, who is meeting with U.S. lawmakers in Washington this week. She's U.S. representative for the Syrian Democratic Council. That's the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the coalition of Kurdish, Arab and other Syrian resistance groups fighting in northeastern Syria with the United States. Welcome to the program. Thanks for coming in.

SINAM MOHAMAD: Thank you. Thank you, and good morning.

GREENE: Good morning. So what does this deal between Turkey and Russia mean for Syrian Kurds?

MOHAMAD: Yes. As you know, the - we are allies together with the United States, with the Global Coalition in countering terrorism of ISIS in our region. And we worked very well together at that time. We were happy with these allies to end the terrorists in our region. We paid about 11,000 people lives from our people - women and men - in fighting the terrorists of ISIS. And suddenly what happened that Mr. Trump - he declared the withdrawal of all the - his - I mean, troop - American troops from the border of Syria, and then leaving this place for the Turkish to come and attack our people there. So they started to attack our people, killing the people and occupying two cities from the Syrian territory which is Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad. And now they under the control of the Turkish. And the groups who are backed from Turkey who are named the National Army, actually they are terrorist group. They are killing the people and executing the - arresting the people, executing them just before - because they are working with the administration north of Syria and working with the SDF or SDC.

GREENE: Well, can I ask you - do you mind if I ask just about the future now? I mean, the Turkey-Russian agreement suggests that there would be a zone where Syrian Kurds would leave, and they would control that area. I mean, I - looking forward now, do you see a path to working with Russia and working with Turkey that would keep Syrian Kurds safe?

MOHAMAD: Actually when - U.S. leaving us, so we have no choice. We have to work with Russia. We have to work with the - deal with the Syrian government, as we are Syrian and a part of Syria. But we - till now we don't trust Turkey, actually. We don't trust who would be guaranteed the safety of our people on the border. If the - our forces - be pulled back. So who would be guaranteed the lives of the people there? We have now about 400,000 people displaced after this occupation of the north of Syria, but now if they could - the Russia could stop the Turkey from invasion - another invasion and aggressive action to the border, that will be OK. If the Russia could guarantee this saves - and safety of the lives of the million people there, that will be OK. But still, now, it is not very clear to us. You know, yesterday, this agreement happened and we are waiting just to see how it will - the mechanism of this agreement will go on.

GREENE: What it looks like. Well, I wondered - I mean, as I mentioned, you are facing this reality now after President Trump removed U.S. forces. I mean, this is a move that even his Republican allies have criticized. But I just want to play you something that President Trump said this week about the U.S. obligation to Syrian Kurds.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're no angels, but we helped the Kurds. And we never gave the Kurds a commitment that we'd stay for the next 400 years and protect them. They've been fighting with the Turks for 300 years that people know of. And nobody ever committed, gee, if you do this, we're going to do that. We're going to stay with you forever.

GREENE: So Trump's argument is the U.S. commitment to working with Kurdish forces was never open-ended. But what is your response to that?

MOHAMAD: I mean, we know that the U.S. will not be staying in Syria forever. We know that. But we hope that they will stay unless the stability will be there, unless the - to stop Turkish aggression to the area, unless we end ISIS. And this will not happen till now.

GREENE: Another thing that President Trump said there - the Kurds are no angels. And I mean, we hear this from Turkey, of course, trying to tie Kurdish forces in Syria to the Kurdish Workers' Party, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group. I mean, Turkey says they are trying to keep their country safe by creating this area in northeastern Syria. Can you categorically say that Turkey does not face a threat from here?

MOHAMAD: You know, during all this year which we are - I mean, I'd been stating this earlier, we never shoot one bullet toward Turkey. So who is threatening our security, actually? It's Turkey, not we. And the people who are in the region - they are Syrian people, they are Kurds, they are Arabs, they are Syriac together, Christian, all together. They are defending their land and defending their people. So we didn't make any threat toward Turkey. On the contrary, they threat us. They killed us. They are the people who sent ISIS to us. They are the one who tried to violate all the agreement happen to cease-fire. They are the one, not we. But we committed to all the agreement that happened with the U.S. and Turkey for the cease-fire, even though they could not stop it.

GREENE: Did you say Turkey sent ISIS to you? That's a very explosive allegation.

MOHAMAD: Yes. They opened the border that time to facilitate - I mean, crossing the ISIS toward our region. And when we have now thousands of detainees in our - I mean, detainee centers - when you ask them, where do you want to go, where do you prefer to go, they will say we would like to go to Turkey. And this is what's going on. So we are not related to the PKK as he said. We are Syrian Kurds. We are defending our Syria. We are defending our Syrian people.

GREENE: Sinam Mohamad is the U.S. representative for the Syrian Democratic Council. She is in Washington meeting with U.S. lawmakers this week in the wake of President Trump's decision to pull out U.S. forces. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

MOHAMAD: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLOATING POINTS' "LESALPX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.