By HOSHI KHAIRADDIN
Abdul Halim Khaddam, Syria’s vice president from 1984 until his defection in 2005, was a close friend of Hafez al-Assad, the former Syrian leader and father of the embattled President Bashar al-Assad. In an interview with Rudaw, he accuses Iran and Russia of propping up the Syrian leader, and lays out his views on the post-Assad era Syria. He strongly opposes federalism for the Syrian Kurds, saying that such an attempt would lead to Syria’s division.
Rudaw: Why do you think the Syrian regime has managed to still hold on to power?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: The regime would have fallen had it not been for the Iranian and Russian logistical support. Iranian militants fight for the Syrian regime against the Syrian people. No matter how much support the regime receives it will eventually fall.
Rudaw: Will the establishment of the Syrian interim government contribute to a solution, or deepen the crisis?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: There was no excuse to establish an interim government. The legitimacy of any government depends on two things: Election, which is very unlikely for Syria’s situation now, and national consensus, which is also not available at this point.
Rudaw: Don’t you think the interim government will be able to serve the liberated territories in Syria?
There was no excuse to establish an interim government.
Abdul Halim Khaddam: These territories have been liberated at the hands of the political groups. I doubt that the people from these areas would allow for someone, who has lived abroad for 30 years and has not played any role in liberating their territories, to rule their territories.
Rudaw: What does nominating a Kurd as the head of the interim government mean to you?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: No opposition group has the right to establish an interim government. We are not against the interim government because a Kurd has been nominated as its head. Instead, he is under the shadow of a group which doesn’t have the potential to lead a country.
Rudaw: What do you think about the fact that Kurdish is studied in schools and universities in Syrian Kurdistan now?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Now, our main concern is how to liberate Syria. Our country is burning. We have no time to waste on this matter.
Rudaw: Back in 2005, the opposition groups criticized your defection from the government. But they now welcome the defectors. Why?
Our country is burning. We have no time to waste on this matter.
Abdul Halim Khaddam: We must always welcome those who defect from the Assad regime. Back then the opposition groups lacked a clear vision for the future and their evaluation for the situation.
Rudaw: The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is accused of having ties with the Syrian regime. Was there such a connection when you were the vice president of Syria?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Under Turkish pressure, Abdulla Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader, left Syria in 1988. After that, the relationship between the PKK and the Syrian government had dissolved. I only hear in the media that this relationship has been restored.
Rudaw: You were the vice president of Syria when the Kurds rose against the Syrian regime in 2004. What did the regime do to the Kurds at the time?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: You see what is happening in Syria and how the regime is responding to the revolution. The end is near for the regime. We don’t have to discuss an event that happened in the past.
I am in the heart of the opposition.
Rudaw: Which opposition group are you close to?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: I am in the heart of the opposition. I was sentenced to life in prison due to my political views. The Syrian regime had confiscated all the financial resources of my family. I consider myself the strongest opponent of the regime.
Rudaw: Syrian opposition groups have different views for resolving the Syrian crisis. Which ones do you agree with?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Such division between the opposition groups is not well studied. The national coalition is part of the Syrian opposition as well as other opposition groups, who are against dialogue with the regime.
You cannot start dialogue with a regime that has killed more than 100,000 people and has destroyed the entire country.
Rudaw: Do you support the idea of starting dialogue with the regime?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Such an idea is not acceptable. You cannot start dialogue with a regime that has killed more than 100,000 people and has destroyed the entire country. Such a regime must be dissolved, and those who are involved in killing people should be held to account. It is the Syrian people who decide what is best for them. The Syrian people reject such a step. The representatives of the Syrian people wouldn’t negotiate with a regime that has killed more than a 100,000 people.
Rudaw: How do you see the future of Syria?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Syria will become a democratic state where the rights of everyone will be protected, regardless of their ethnicity.
Rudaw: How do you see the future of the Assad family after the fall of the regime?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Those who are involved in fighting and killing the Syrian people will be punished.
Rudaw: What about the future of the Baath party in Syria?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: The Baath party has long lost its role in decision-making in Syria. Those Baathists who are involved in killing people must be held accountable as well. The Baath party has more than two million members in Syria.
Rudaw: You were one of the Baath party leaders yourself. Will you stand trial?
Neither federalism nor kingdom; Syria is a united country with a united system.
Abdul Halim Khaddam: I have always said, whoever has something against me can bring it to the court of law. I will stand before the court.
Rudaw: Which kind of system works for Syria?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: Neither federalism nor kingdom; Syria is a united country with a united system.
Rudaw: Will Syria be divided?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: It cannot be. Whoever tries to divide Syria, will face accountability by the Syrian people.
Rudaw: Which Kurdish opposition group do you approve of?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: I am not viewing the cause based on being a Kurd or non-Kurd. The Kurds are Syrian citizens. They have rights and responsibilities in Syria. Every Syrian citizen has the right to be part of running the country.
Rudaw: The United States and the West labeled the al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group. Do you think it is a terrorist group?
There are no extremist groups in Syria.
Abdul Halim Khaddam: There are no extremist groups in Syria. The Syrian people fight to oust the regime. We reject evaluation of the groups based on them being extremist, Islamist or Kurdish.
Rudaw: What do you think is the best solution for the Kurdish issue in Syria?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: There is no solution based on ethnicity. The Kurds are Syrian citizens, they have rights and responsibilities like all other Syrian citizens.
Rudaw: Syrian Kurds demand federalism. What do you think about this?
Abdul Halim Khaddam: How do they plan to create such federalism? First, they must build bridges connecting the Kurds in Aleppo, Efrin, Kobane and Qamishli in order to gain this. Having to do this means dividing Syria, which is not acceptable.