George Sabra, the president of the internationally-recognized Syrian National Council and the deputy chairman of the Syrian opposition delegation attending the scheduled talks on Syria in Geneva, said the PKK's Syrian wing PYD could not attend the talks aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis because it was not a member of the opposition. Sabra, speaking to Daily Sabah, said Turkey had supported the Syrian people by advocating for a safe-zone within the country and through its decision to open its doors to all refugees fleeing violence. He said due to the international community's objections, there was no safe place in the country. He shared his doubts about any talks taking place in Geneva at all, arguing that Russia added new obstacles every day. He said 13 separate Syrian Kurdish parties were represented in the Syrian National Coalition, dismissing claims by the PYD, which he accused of harassing Arabs and Assyrians living in regions under its control, that it represented the community.
What is your evaluation of the current situation in Syria?
The situation in Syria should be evaluated in regional and international terms. Unfortunately, the struggle is not between the Syrian opposition and regime any more, but has rather turned into a fight between regional powers that try to expand their control in the region. These powers include Iran and Israel and other international powers. The Russian interference is itself a clear example of the regional and International conflict in Syria.
How do you evaluate the Turkish position toward Syrian conflict in general? And what do you think of the Turkish demands to establish a safe zone? Would that serve the Syrian people?
The Turkish position is appreciated by all the friends of Syrian nation. Firstly, because Turkey and the Turkish administration were on friendly terms with the Syrian regime, and when the revolution started, the Turkish government made serious efforts to solve the issue. I remember that Davutoglu – as foreign minister at the time – visited with the Syrian regime several times to persuade it to change its approach against the Syrian revolution. However, these efforts were not successful. Then, Turkey took the position it should take to support the Syrian people.
In fact, what Turkey has done for the Syrian people is more than what the rest of the world has done. Coming to the safe zone, I should say that it is not only a Turkish demand; rather, it is a need for all Syrians. Turkey started calling for a safe zone to fulfill the need for a safe place for Syrians, after all the Syrian land became like an inferno. The need and importance of a safe zone became stronger after the Russian airstrikes that continue blindly, especially in the liberated areas like Idlib, Latakia, and Homs.
Now Syrians do not have a safe place to go to. Especially after neighboring countries, like Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt started applying stricter measures, which forced high numbers of Syrian refugees in these countries to go to Turkey, and join the millions of refugees already hosted there. Despite the calls by Turkish officials to establish a safe zone, the international community did not give the green light to this righteous and just demand. A safe zone can save a lot of victims, and stand against extremism and terrorism.
What are your expectations of the coming talks in Geneva? Do you expect a result to be reached after negotiations?
First of all, we should ask whether any talks would take place in Geneva or not. I personally think that there are a lot of constraints in the way of Geneva talks. And Russians add more problems every day. Lately, Russia has tried to forcefully apply its stance and will continue to do so with the opposition delegation. Russia has tried to include specific names in the delegation, and threatened to displace other names. Russians also threatened to send a parallel delegation to represent the opposition.
This is in a blatant and unacceptable interference that violates Security Council resolution Number 2254 stressing the respect of the Syrians' will. It also does not align with the international and political levels of decency.
Therefore, I do not expect talks to occur and, even if talks start on this base, chances are less than likely to reach a conclusion.
Reports say that the PYD may be included in the opposition delegation in Geneva talks. Do you confirm this and what is your take on inviting the PYD to Geneva?
We are strongly against inviting the PYD to talks. Until now, no official invitation was sent to the PYD, but many parties tried pressuring us to include it in the delegation. We refused. Firstly, because the PYD is not an opposition group and, rather, has strong ties with (Syrian) regime. This is not a political opinion – that is a fact. Photos of the Syrian interior minister, Mohammed Alshaar, during his meetings with PYD leaders, at the PYD's headquarters in Qameshli and Haseke, were leaked just a week ago. No clashes have ever been recorded between regime and YPG. So how can we call PYD an opposition group?
The second point, known to everybody, is that the PYD is the Syrian branch of PKK, internationally recognized as a terrorist group. That is why we refuse to include the PYD in talks.
They say that the PYD represents Kurds. Our take is that Kurds are already represented in the Syrian National Coalition and in the Supreme Commission of negotiations through the Kurdish National Council, which includes 13 Kurdish parties, and a large number of Syrian Kurdish figures with a long history in politics and opposition.
Kurdish presence in the Supreme Commission is strong, and is active in negotiations.
Add to this the fact that the Kurds are under the oppression and detention and harassing acts of PYD, just as Arabs and Assyrians in the areas of PYD's control.
Do you have any requests from the Turkish government?
In fact, we had a lot of requests, and the Turkish government has fulfilled many, with regard to the Syrian refugees' needs and opposition support. Recently, Turkey granted Syrians the opportunity to work in accordance with law, which is a good step.
On the other hand, some negative signs can be seen: such as the requirement of a visa to enter Turkey. We hope that this process of obtaining a Turkish visa will be easy with no obstacles.
We also hope that the Turkish position would continue to be supportive to the Syrian opposition, including both political and armed wings.
We thank the Turkish government and people for all they have provided. We recognize that some of the international pressure on Turkey is a result of its honorable and humanitarian stance in Syrian issue.
We send our apologies to the Turkish nation and government, for any mistake which came as the result of the refugee crisis, and for the pressures these host countries may bear. And we also say that we Syrians and Turks are the original inhabitants of this land, and we have both lived together under the same state for a long time. I think we can continue to live together in cooperation and harmony in the future. The future is bright for the people, and the policies that make the nation's interests, security and stability in the region top priority.