by Chris Den Hond — Octo­ber 24 2017 | Roj Info
Inter­view of Patrice Franceschi by Chris Den Hond and Jean Michel Morel.

Fol­low­ing the fail­ure at the attempt­ed inde­pen­dence in South­ern Kur­dis­tan (Irak),the day after the offi­cial announce­ment of the fall of Rak­ka, and between two of his trips, Patrice Franceschi grant­ed us an inter­view on the sit­u­a­tion of the Kurds in Irak and in Syria.Writer, sailor, explor­er, orig­i­na­tor of sev­er­al human­i­tar­i­an expe­di­tions, Patrice Franceschi has been at the side of the Syr­i­an Kurds since the begin­ning of the confrontations.


Patrice Franceschi: “The Kurds of Irak or else­where have full legit­i­ma­cy for orga­niz­ing an inde­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum on their ter­ri­to­ry, giv­en the oppres­sions they have lived through. But legit­i­ma­cy is not enough. You must also have a polit­i­cal out­look, a prag­mat­ic approach and this was undoubt­ed­ly not the right moment. Every­one asked Masoud Barzani to push back the date of the con­sul­ta­tions even if he said inde­pen­dence would not be announced on the day fol­low­ing the results. He made a tac­ti­cal error. In my opin­ion, it is due to his great iso­la­tion. An iso­la­tion that is both geo­graph­i­cal – he lives locked inside his cas­tle, so to speak – and intel­lec­tu­al. He is sur­round­ed by advi­sors who do not sup­ply him with cred­i­ble infor­ma­tion on the world as it is: for instance, peo­ple such as Bernard Hen­ri-Lévy make him believe he is not iso­lat­ed, that the legit­i­ma­cy of his move garan­teed its success.He is now pay­ing the price of a seri­ous polit­i­cal mistake.

Nei­ther the North-Amer­i­cans nor the French approved the hold­ing of this ref­er­en­dum. They want­ed it pushed back. Barzani can now mea­sure the con­se­quences of his stub­born­ness. In the end, the Ira­ki Kurds lost por­tions of their ter­ri­to­ry. Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan is very dif­fer­ent from that of Syr­ia. Its politi­cians are cor­rupt. Over the past twen­ty years, mon­ey has become the dom­i­nant val­ue. The polit­i­cal class has lost its ini­tial integri­ty. The pesh­mer­gas do not have the same fight­ing spir­it as do the YPG fighers. We know, for exam­ple, that they left the Sin­jar with­out fight­ing ISIS.” 


Patrice Franceschi: “Today, the pow­er of the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces (FDS) rests on their abil­i­ty at includ­ing the great­est num­ber of peo­ple into a com­mon project. This is very dif­fer­ent from what is hap­pen­ing in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan. The FDS project is tru­ly on the move. In Rak­ka, as in all the ter­ri­to­ries they con­trol, in the seats of pow­er, all parts of soci­ety are rep­re­sent­ed. The Kurds of course, but also the Chris­tians, the Arabs, the Yazidis, the Turkmen. 

A long road lies ahead nonethe­less in order to inte­grate all the social com­po­nents into the con­crete real­iza­tion of a polit­i­cal project. But the will to avoid exclud­ing any­one is a real one. And when you work with them, you get very tired… in a pos­i­tive way, when you real­ize the huge efforts they put into appease­ment and con­vinc­ing every­one. Notably the Arab pop­u­la­tions with whom they don’t always agree. On the ques­tion of sec­u­lar­ism, for one. Plus, on the ground, the Arabs are some­times a hand­i­cap. In Rak­ka, they pil­laged the town and the YPG had to inter­vene to stop them. The Arabs are less dis­ci­plined, less com­bat­ive and the notion of a demo­c­ra­t­ic fed­er­a­tion, respect­ing minori­ties and man-woman equal­i­ty, strikes them as very strange. The Kurds try to main­tain a friend­ly pres­sure suf­fi­cient to con­vince them to change their men­tal­i­ty and con­tribute to set­ting an exam­ple for the rest of the Mid­dle East. 

I’ve been liv­ing this real­i­ty for the past five years and these last months in Rak­ka have been the hard­est. So I’m rel­a­tive­ly opti­mistic but one can’t exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty that, depend­ing on the bal­ance of pow­er, the Arabs might turn against the Kurds at some point. The Kurds are aware of this. Co-habi­ta­tion is a risk. Once the bor­der zone of Deir Ezzor will be recon­quered, Arabs will con­sti­tute the major­i­ty in the lib­er­at­ed territories.”


Patrice Franceschi: “Their pol­i­cy of civil­ian coun­cils works fair­ly well. There’s the notion that mil­i­tary cam­paigns aren’t enough to win the peace and that peace must be pre­pared before the end of war. Inte­grat­ing civil­ians into a polit­i­cal process, decid­ing who will do what, who will han­dle what, what must be decid­ed right away. As I was able to see, it worked very well in Mem­bij. Also in Tal Abyad (or Gere Sipi in Kur­dish). I saw all kinds of peo­ple in the Rak­ka civil­ian coun­cil. But it won’t be sim­ple because they’ll need to nego­ti­ate with the tribe chief­tains. Still, I think it should work. As evi­dence, up until now, there’s been no civ­il war. Even in the zone with an Arab major­i­ty such as in Tal Abyad, peo­ple have accept­ed co-habi­ta­tion and co-man­age­ment because the Kurds have strength on their side. We must­n’t set­tle for illu­sions. If the Kurds were weak, the Arabs cer­tain­ly would­n’t accept them.

The Kurds are doing a very good job of play­ing the pop­u­la­tion inte­gra­tion card. It’s very risky but very smart. It’s the best method but they are aware of the risks because those who don’t join the polit­i­cal project aren’t always the fun­ni­est of guys. 

Beyond the region, the Kurds’ cap­i­tal of sym­pa­thy is start­ing to pay off. They’re no longer looked upon as just anoth­er geopo­lit­i­cal com­po­nent but as a peo­ple with an inter­est­ing project that may serve as an exam­ple for oth­er peo­ples in the Mid­dle East. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Turkey first and fore­most but also Iran and Sau­di Ara­bia work at keep­ing this demo­c­ra­t­ic process away from its goal. Yet, the Kurds of Syr­ia have garan­teed that, should they get sup­port, they would not serve as a rear base for an attack on Turkey. If the Kur­dish ques­tion in Syr­ia is uncou­pled from that in Turkey, the autonomous Kur­dish region of Syr­ia will be able to exist. If it is not uncou­pled, it will be a lot more complicated.”


Patrice Franceschi: “At the inter­na­tion­al lev­el, the Kurds are capa­ble of dia­logue with France, the Unit­ed States, Rus­sia, in short, with every­one, in order to explain that their project is a plu­ral­is­tic one. It is the only one that can bring back peace. 

The Syr­i­an min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs,Wallid Boualem, has opened the door to nego­ti­a­tions. He did it sim­ply because he is also under pres­sure, notably from the Rus­sians who tell him: ‘There will be no return to the sta­tus quo. Once ISIS and Al Nos­ra are elim­i­nat­ed, you must for­get about attack­ing the Kurds to recon­quer their ter­ri­to­ry.’ The return of peace is in the Russ­ian inter­est. So they ask the Syr­i­ans to exam­ine the Kur­dish project. ‘You don’t like it, we know, but you must exam­ine it. We’re putting a bit of pres­sure on you, because you can’t have every­thing.’ In my opin­ion, it is in the Russ­ian inter­est to sup­port the Kurds as a coun­ter­weight to Dam­as­cus and Tehran, and if Rus­sia does not sup­port the Kurds, Iran will col­lect the prize. 

In any event, in a few months when ISIS will have been elim­i­nat­ed, because that’s what’s going to hap­pen, part­ly by the regime South of the Euphrates, and the rest by the FDS in the North and East of the Euphrates, there will be only two seri­ous mil­i­tary forces on the ground: the FDS and the army of the Dam­as­cus regime. This will be the high point for the Kurds to nego­ti­ate because the mil­i­tary cam­paign will be over for them. They will not fire a sin­gle oth­er shot. Dam­as­cus must be made to under­stand this sim­ple log­ic: «Under pres­sure from the great pow­ers, we nego­ti­ate and for­get about return­ing to a pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tion. But, as a coun­ter­mea­sure, the regime will be saved because no one will attack it.” 


Patrice Franceschi: “The alliance that has exist­ed between Rus­sia and Turkey for the past year and a half is unnat­ur­al, it’s momen­tary tac­tics. In sup­port­ing the Kurds, the Rus­sians prob­a­bly tell them­selves: ‘Besides coun­ter­bal­anc­ing Tehran and Dam­as­cus, we main­tain a threat over Ankara. In this way, we keep a suf­fi­cient grip on the Turks while garan­tee­ing noth­ing will hap­pen in the short term.’ This is why the Kurds are count­ing quite a bit on the Rus­sians along with the North Amer­i­cans and the French in the upcom­ing negotiations. 

On the oth­er hand, I don’t think the Unit­ed States have a long term pol­i­cy. As the French do, they tell them­selves: ‘In three months, ISIS is fin­ished ter­ri­to­ri­al­ly. Will we act as in Afghanistan and Irak? Will we leave when the mil­i­tary cam­paign is over?’ At the same time, they real­ize the exist­ing sta­bil­i­ty in Roja­va, the absence of civ­il war. This sta­bil­i­ty would be great­ly threat­ened if there was not inter­na­tion­al sup­port. The Unit­ed States’ idea at the moment favors stay­ing. Cer­tain­ly not in the present mil­i­tary con­fig­u­ra­tion but by shoul­der­ing the Kurds to sta­bi­lize the region, and keep­ing a hand in to weigh on future negotiations.”


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