The Syrian Kurdish population is primarily associated today with the Syrian Democratic Forces and its project in the north and east of Syria. However, a small minority continues to associate with the insurgency in the northwest of the country. One example of this phenomenon is the Harakat Salah al-Din al-Kurdi ('The Movement of Salah al-Din the Kurd'), though the extensive use of the Turkish language in its media output suggests Turkish-Kurdish Islamist presence and influence in the movement.*
On 6 August 2019, I conducted an interview with the group about its history, current activities and assessment of the situation. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Interview with the journalist Aymenn Al-Tamimi
Q: When was Harakat Salah al-Din al-Kurdi formed and what were the reasons for its formation?
A: We began jihadi work in Bilad al-Sham from 2012 in the areas of the north of Syria but officially we are the Harakat Salah al-Din al-Kurdi since 7 Dhu al-Hijja 1436 AH corresponding to 21 September 2015 CE.
As for the reasons for the formation of the movement, we can summarize as follows:
Protecting the rights of the Kurds and removing oppression from them and returning them to their roots, for the Kurdish people are a Sunni people and if you go back to Islamic history history there is a Kurdish sahabi [companion] called Jaban Abu Maymun al-Kurdi (may God be pleased with him and may God be pleased with all the companions of the Messenger of God) and indeed our sayyid Salah al-Din, around him rallied the Kurds, Arabs and non-Arabs of the Muslims. And we have borne the name of Salah al-Din al-Kurdi such that we can say that we are one so that the banner of Tawheed [monotheism] may flutter.
Q: In which battles has the movement participated and how many martyrs has it offered?
A: First off, may God accept our martyrs and accept from them and place them in the spacious gardens of His Paradise, but we do not mention the number of martyrs. Verily God knows them. For in the time of Omar bin al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him), there were in his army many mujahideen who did not write their names in the Diwan al-Jund such that only God- Almighty and Exalted is He- knew them. And as a result of that [i.e. their not being registered in the Diwan] they did not obtain a salary.
As for the battles in which the movement has participated since 2012 until now in the official portrait of the formation or unofficial: we have participated in most of the battles of the north of Syria, in the beginnings with the liberation of the city of Aleppo and the locality of Taftanaz and the city of Raqqa and Basanqul etc., until the battles of the liberation of the city of Idlib and the al-Sahel [coastal] battles.
But when there are no battles, we do ribat [frontline manning] in formations specialized in sniper fire and operations in the deep [i.e. against deep targets].
Q: Is the movement independent currently or is it affiliated with a larger faction like Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham?
A: We are Muslims before we are factions, battalions, movements and commissions. And we- the sons of the Harakat Salah al-Din al-Kurdi- are a part of the Islamic Ummah. Therefore we must not ask about independence and affiliation for we all have one aim and that is to resist the enemy transgressing against the field of al-Sham, whether or not we are independent.
Jihadi cleric Abd al-Razzaq al-Mahdi giving a lesson to members of Harakat Salah al-Din al-Kurdi on ribat in the Sahl al-Ghab area.
Q: Currently on which front does the movement fight?
A: Jabal al-Akrad and in particular the Kabina area and the Sahl al-Ghab area and the al-Sarmaniya area.
Q: How do you assess the situation of the field of al-Sham now?
A: We must carry out the divine command. We are fighting because we must fight in the path of God so that we may support the oppressed and make high the words of there is no deity but God, or we die. And we have no other choice besides that. And to God do we belong and to Him do we return.
In the Book of God (Almighty and Exalted is He), al-Sham has been mentioned seven times, and the Messenger of God (SAWS) conveyed glad tidings of victory from Him as SAWS said in a hadith of Abu al-Darda': "Indeed there is faith when fitan [tribulations] occur in al-Sham."
And of the cosmic Sunan is that when the rod of faith is unified it cannot be broken and the best example of that is the Kabina area in Jabal al-Akrad as the criminal regime and its allies have tried countless times to advance as their plan was to reach Jisr al-Shughur within 20 days and to reach Idlib by the time of Eid al-Fitr. But now they have not been able to advance an inch since 1 May 2019 CE until now during a period of more than 90 days and the inability of the plans of the enemy to break the force of faith has become clear.
For all this, the rod of faith must be one like the structured edifice, for if we separate as individuals, our rod will be broken into individual pieces, and the field of al-Sham will be defeated.
As for in the Idlib area, may God reward best the factions that come under the banner of the al-Fatah al-Mubin operations room and the Wa Harridh al-Mu'mineen operations room which do all possible to protect the land of al-Sham and Idlib and the free people of Idlib who offer what they can to support the mujahideen.
Q: Do most of the Kurds in Syria support you? If most of them don't support you, why?
A: Indeed most of the Kurds do not support us, whether politically or materially. And that is because the thought of Salah al-Din al-Kurdi has not yet reached the majority of the Kurdish people. This is not a shortcoming on their part but ours because we have not yet reached them in any case. But we will reach them if God wills, and the Kurds and the majority of them will know of us and they will see us and see our aims.
Q: What are your aims and your activities on the ground in addition to military work?
A: The aim for which we work as a movement is in the first degree to remove oppression from the oppressed in Syria against whom the different criminal sects have gathered and whom the whole world has abandoned. This is the substance of the Almighty's words: "And what is the matter with you that you do not fight in the path of God and the oppressed from men, women and children?" We also strive to bring down this criminal sectarian regime. On this basis, we stand with all the wronged and oppressed in this world and we strive to support them as far as we can.
As for our activities they can be summarised as follows:
Military training in all its aspects: whether for members of the movement or others besides them.
Supporting the local councils in the places of our work (materially and morally).
Supporting the orphans and families of martyrs.
Supporting education, whether Shari'i or general.
Providing relief for IDPs and helping them.
Q: What do you want from the Kurdish youth in Syria and the Muslim youth in general?
A: At the very least, prayers. Prayers do not diminish from their health and wealth. Nor are their backs made tired by bearing them. But rather it is a reward and recompense upon God (Almighty and Exalted is He).
But we hope they do not forget our land, people, honour and blood as well as the wounds of the detained and prisoners.
And we hope they do not forget that repelling the transgressor enemy is an individual duty upon every Muslim.
And may God reward you best.
(Update 7 August 2019): The movement issued a clarification to me saying that it has Kurdish fighters from Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.