Îlham Ehmed: Turkish Attacks Divide Syria & Inspire ISIS
By KCS Editorial Board
This interview was originally conducted in Kurdish on October 23rd, 2023 and can be found here (including the original video).
“It is possible that the Turkish state will continue these attacks and attempt to displace the local population. We have seen historical examples of this, even in recent history, such as the forced displacement of people from Afrin, Serê Kaniyê, and Girê Spî.”
— Îlham Ehmed
The Kurdish Center for Studies (KCS) has been conducting research on the ground in Rojava as part of our focus on Turkey’s recent military attacks on the region’s infrastructure. In light of this, Îlham Ehmed, the Head of the Administrative Council of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), agreed to an exclusive sit-down interview to answer a series of our questions.
In the following interview, Îlham Ehmed reveals that the Turkish government’s goal with these attacks is to intimidate the local population, force them out of the region, and foment discontent against the Autonomous Administration. Furthermore, she discloses that these attacks by the Turkish state have caused approximately one billion dollars in damage to the region’s infrastructure. Îlham Ehmed also emphasized that when Turkey initiates these attacks, it creates opportunities for ISIS to regroup, as daily escape attempts from al-Hol Camp are attempted by ISIS prisoners amidst the chaos.
KCS: In the Turkish state’s series of recent attacks against Rojava (North and East Syria), they targeted the region’s infrastructure directly. What is the Turkish state’s purpose in doing so?
Ehmed: “The Turkish state has had a long-standing plan for North and East Syria and the interior of Syria. Turkey aims to exert greater influence over the changes occurring within Syria through armed opposition groups that have occupied some areas. This allows Turkey to play a role in Syria’s decision-making processes. Specifically, in North and East Syria, Turkey has multifaceted plans, including occupation, population displacement, and altering the region’s demographics. This began with the occupation of Afrin and extended to Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî. This time, they made the entire regional infrastructure their target. The Turkish government seeks to intimidate our population, displace them, and generate discontent against the Autonomous Administration. Even the institutions of the Autonomous Administration were targeted to undermine the region’s democratic and collective administration. Consequently, Turkey’s attacks have caused significant damage to the region, including the loss of approximately 30 members of the anti-narcotics department of the Internal Security Forces in the most recent attacks.”
KCS: You mentioned significant damage to the region’s infrastructure. Could you elaborate on the extent of this damage?
Ehmed: “The damage primarily affected essential service institutions such as fuel, gas, grain, and electricity. These institutions were not profit-oriented; in fact, the Autonomous Administration subsidized them to make life easier for the local population by providing essential services such as electricity, fuel, and other vital resources. The estimated damage from these attacks amounts to nearly one billion dollars.”
KCS: What are the consequences of targeting services and destroying infrastructure?
Ehmed: “We are approaching winter, and this targeted infrastructure is essential for the well-being of the local population. These attacks will undoubtedly have a significant impact. We are currently in a state of war, and this is not a normal situation. We are, in essence, in the midst of World War III. Consequently, society should prepare accordingly and take a long-term perspective on this situation. This war is unlike the first and second World Wars. Turkey aims to be influential in this new global order and plays various roles. Therefore, it is possible that the Turkish state will continue these attacks and displace the local population. Historical examples, even recent ones, such as the forced displacement of people from Afrin, Serê Kaniyê, and Girê Spî, indicate the importance of heightened awareness among the local population regarding the Autonomous Administration.”
KCS: With regard to the targeting of the region’s infrastructure and its consequences, as these attacks continue and the security forces of the Autonomous Administration deal with Turkey’s assaults, do you believe that these attacks on infrastructure might lead to the resurgence of the ISIS terrorist organization?
Ehmed: “During the Turkish state’s attacks, there were four ISIS attacks against the bases of the Syrian Democratic Forces. ISIS consistently exploits the chaos resulting from Turkish attacks. Prior investigations have shown that the Turkish state allowed ISIS to expand its presence within the region, as seen in Kobanê and other instances, including attacks on the Hasakah prison. In other words, Turkey has played a substantial role in strengthening ISIS. Therefore, when Turkey initiates these attacks, it paves the way for ISIS to regain momentum, reorganize, and pose an even greater threat. The Turkish state consistently employs different methods to advance its agenda.”
KCS: Concerning ISIS, what is the danger of Turkish attacks on the Al-Hol camp and ISIS prisons?
Ehmed: “There is indeed a significant danger. Currently, the Al-Hol camp houses approximately 70,000 ISIS and Iraqi families. Moreover, the camp’s security forces face daily threats from ISIS. Simultaneously, the camp’s institutions come under attack. This is not a typical camp; it primarily accommodates ISIS families, and their threat is escalating. Therefore, when the Turkish state initiates attacks, this danger intensifies further, as security forces must focus on resisting Turkey’s attacks. Consequently, ISIS members attempt to escape from these prisons, along with ongoing daily escape attempts from Al-Hol camp.”
KCS: In your meetings with American representatives, do they not acknowledge the threat that Turkey’s attacks pose to the efforts of American forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in combating ISIS and its sleeper cells, and what is their stance?
Ehmed: “In this instance, their stance was rather clear, but it raised doubts. Turkish planes approached an American base, and they could have acted, but Turkish planes continued to fly over the area without being intercepted. Turkey aims to weaken the anti-ISIS coalition and pressure the International Coalition to withdraw from the region by targeting it in this manner. The Turkish government also seeks to disrupt the Coalition’s collaboration with the SDF, despite the sacrifices made by the SDF for the region’s population. Essentially, Turkey wants to undermine this anti-ISIS alliance. We have conveyed our concerns in meetings and highlighted the communication issues and the short-term and long-term risks of these attacks. Meanwhile, the Astana bloc and Russia, by permitting these attacks, do not serve the interests of the Syrian people or the integrity of Syria. Instead, these attacks contribute to the division and protraction of the conflict in Syria.”
KCS: You mentioned the Astana bloc, in particular Russia and the Syrian regime’s silence regarding the targeting of the region’s infrastructure. What does their silence signify?
Ehmed: “After each Astana meeting, there are statements alleging that the US is pursuing a policy to establish a small Kurdish state in eastern Syria. The blame often falls on the US for this, while the infrastructure and the local population remain vulnerable to Turkish attacks. The Turkish state opposes any form of autonomous or democratic administration. By making such statements, these forces effectively encourage Turkey to conduct these attacks. Concurrent with Turkey’s attacks on the region, Russia is targeting Idlib, showing that these forces aim to destabilize the entire composition of Syria. We disagree with this perspective and have requested Russia’s position regarding these attacks. In general, the silence surrounding these attacks is not constructive for Syria’s future. Turkey is altering demographics along the border and gradually solidifying its occupation of the region. This raises the question of which force can remove Turkey from this territory. Will it be Iran, Russia, or another power? This situation poses significant danger, and their silence allows this threat to grow.”
KCS: One final question. There are numerous independent Syrian opposition groups, distinct from those affiliated with Turkey, but they have remained silent regarding these Turkish attacks. Why do you think that is?
Ehmed: “In reality, there are no strong opposition groups with significant influence. Some opposition parties consider themselves democratic, but they lack substantial power. However, when someone voices their support, it is significant and effective. The people of Syria, in particular, should take a stance in this context. The targeted infrastructure and service institutions were not only for the people of North and East Syria; they served the entire Syrian population. These facilities provided resources like grain and fuel to other regions. Hence, these attacks do not solely affect the 4 million residents of the region but impact a considerable portion of the Syrian people. Therefore, we encourage the Syrian people to express their discontent. Before expecting a response from states, this protest should come from the Syrian people. Those who claim to be democrats should not differentiate among the Syrian people in this regard.”