REVOLUTION IN ROJAVA – Documents and Debates Part III 2018

Is the Rojava dream at risk?

by Giuseppe Acconcia   Internationalist Commune of Rojava  

The initial demonstrations and riots in Northern Syria between 2011 and 2012 sparked the formation of new means of popular mobilisation and triggered mass participation in alternative networks that aimed at recruiting ordinary citizens to provide social services, security and self-defence. On the one end, there emerged Local Coordination Committees (LCC’s), set up by grassroots activists who were committed to nonviolence and direct, radical democracy. These became, to many leftist and secular activists, the basis from which Syria would be rebuilt and the basic structure of a grassroots Syrian revolution, lying below and to the left of the official opposition which was now basing itself in Ankara, Turkey.

On the other end, particularly within Kurdish areas, there emerged popular mobilization committees that were inspired by the thought of Abdullah Ocalan and the ideological perspectives of the PKK. In Turkey, their counterparts had already built communes and popular grassroots power to construct their own stateless democracy. Like their Syrian counterparts across the country and their Kurdish counterparts in Turkey, the popular mobilization committees that were built by TEV-DEM (Movement for a Democratic Society) in northern Syria were, too, infused with a radical democratic spirit and predicated on the commune form.

Due to the war, there emerged in Syria popular committees all across the country which provided a blueprint for alternative forms of governance, as opposed to the centralized, bureaucratic, and despotic Assad government which most Syrians rose up against in 2011. Later on, in the context of war in Northern Syria between 2012 and 2016, and with the further emergence of a very diverse range of jihadist groups, including ISIS, the participants within the Local Coordination Committees (LCC) and the popular mobilization committees felt the need to be involved in direct action, including the armed struggle, in order to protect their neighborhoods and substitute the constant absence of security personnel. Thus, in Syria, those social movements evolved into militarised organisations all across Syria.

At that stage, in Northern Syria the Local Committees were pivotal in forming armed entities, such as the People’s Protection Units and Women’s Protection Units (YPG-YPJ) [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel-Yekîneyên Parastina Jin]‎, that began to provide systems of patrols to guarantee local and external security, building up an embryonic autonomous government. When these committees were set up across the country, as self-defence committees, none could imagine the future. It was unpredictable for everybody at the time.

Rojava: A project of radical democracy

Compared to mid-20th-century approaches to guerrilla warfare (e.g. Mao, Che Guevara), the Kurdish communalist project provided a non-violent critique of hierarchical and capitalist societies after Ocalan’s “paradigm shift” in prison. Abandoning the quest for a Kurdish State, Abdullah Öcalan – the ideological figurehead for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – proposed theories of democratic autonomy, ecology and women’s liberation as a way forward for the Kurdish Freedom movement, and the peoples’ of West Asia more generally. In Syria, his followers saw a potential to put these ideas into practice with the outbreak of the civil war.  As Bookchin explained in order to define his notion of “libertarian municipalism”, “Communalism seeks to recapture the meaning of politics in its broadest, most emancipatory sense. Thus, in Northern Syria popular assemblies have been organised; local councils have been formed in respect to ethnic and gender differences, and work has been coordinated in cooperation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

In the context of war, voluntary networks of self-defence, forged in an environment of increased political participation, evolved into a more structured military force to confront the growing emergence of jihadist fighters. This process entailed a stronger level of hierarchical organisation and the institutionalisation of daily practices at both the military and civilian levels. Those soldiers were working both to manage and defend Kobanî and its surroundings sometimes with similar tasks or overlapping duties with the security and political apparatus.

This determined the need for a very structured division of duties and a continuous mobilisation of the popular mobilisation committees working simultaneously as service providers and self-defence groups. Women’s participation both within self-defence groups and resistance units has been noticeable. Equality between men and women fighters is an essential part of the political formation of those fighters, as much as their gender awareness. “Love is essential, it is part of everyone’s instinct. The philosophy of death is a way of living. In past times, everyone knew death could come quickly; now it is different and this disconnects us from nature and does not allow us to accept the idea of death. Religion exploits death: if you are a martyr you go to heaven. For us love and death are in contradiction, one YPJ fighter told The Region.

The Enemies of the Kurds after ISIS

If, at an initial stage, YPG/YPJ joined local Committees only with the aim to protect their homes from a lack of security, with the emergence of ISIS’s fighters and their permanent occupation of Rojava, they became highly motivated to be part of the armed struggle. Some of them had a relative killed by ISIS and this was enough to motivate him or her to join the armed struggle. Others felt a duty to defend their homes. “One of my brothers is a martyr” said one participant to us over the course of this research.

The al-Assad government does not have a strong reputation among the YPG/YPJ. In Syria, the major Kurdish political party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has always fought its autonomous struggle, characterized by being neither supporting al-Assad nor the rebel opposition, but taking a pragmatic and situational position, depending on what would best benefit their cause. On the one hand, the Arab-led opposition has appeared to be hostile to the Syrian Kurds’ demands. They often accuse the PYD of being in agreement with al-Assad against the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and have even enlisted their own fighters to help Turkey take territory from Syria’s Kurds. On the other hand, the PYD has accused many of the anti-Assad militias of working in coordination with the Turkish army. Whereas some Free Syrian Army battalions work in a strong alliance with their Kurdish counterparts in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the relationship between the Kurdish-led PYD and the Syrian Opposition, is quite simply, based on mutual resentment.

The PYD is also quite hostile to the Turkish State, which returns the hostility in kind. Ankara accuses the PYD of being an extension of the outlawed PKK. The PYD believes that Ankara’s disdain for them goes so far as to push the Turkish government to deliver weapons and fighters to ISIS through the Syrian border.

Then there is the relationship between the PYD, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraq (KDP). The KDP, an ally of Turkey, resents the PYD. It’s political extension on the ground in Syria, the Kurdish National Council, is also equally hostile to the PYD. Both have accused the PYD of being too utopian, and exclusionary (The KNC refuses to acknowledge the autonomous administration of Rojava as legitimate).

And whereas the PYD, in the most literal sense, finds itself surrounded by hostile armed and political forces. The YPG/YPJ, its armed wings, have gained some tactical support from the US coalition against ISIS, due to their effective combat performance against IS.

Territory under the governance of the PYD, moreover, has not had to deal with the vicious bombardments of the al-Assad government, particularly as the Syrian Arab Army and its affiliated militia’s have focused themselves more on fighting against the rebel opposition with the strong military support of Russia and Iran.

It has been over six years since the first popular mobilization committees were formed in Syria. Due to shifting geopolitical dynamics, the Rojava revolution is now under threat.

With the beginning of the Turkish “Olive Branch Operation” on January 20, 2018, it has been even clearer that the Rojava project was perceived as a danger by the neighbouring countries. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, engaged in strengthening his ties with Iran and Russia, considered, both internally and externally, as more dangerous a pro-workers, pro-ecology, pro-women liberation and communalist movement than ISIS or the regional chaos. A month and a half later, Erdogan successfully occupied the Kurdish held enclave of Afrin, a place of relative peace in war-torn Syria, and a haven for IDP’s. It’s only crime, it seems, was that it implemented the radical democratic vision of the Kurdish Freedom movement in practice.

The Rojava Project and the Afrin attacks

After the Turkish army entered into the Afrin Canton on March the 18th, pro-Turkish rebels have been in complete control of the town, declaring who goes in and who goes out, and holding the enclave under a total occupation. They are joined by Euphrates Shield territory, taken by Turkey in 2016 to separate Afrin from the other cantons of Jezira and Kobani. All what is left, territorially, for Rojava are the cantons of Jezira and Kobani which are, at this point, secured by the US and the anti-ISIS international coalition.

Turkey has threatened to attack these territories as well. And given that the U.S. is an ally of Turkey, it is not clear for how long these cantons will be secured from a Turkish incursion. In these circumstances and with the latest invasion by Turkey, the United Nations estimates that hundred thousands of civilians have been forced to leave Northern Syria.

The Turkish invasion of Afrin, to be sure, is part of a broader reaction from nation states; an ongoing targeted campaign against any kind of left-wing project made possible by the 2011 uprisings in the MENA region. Put succinctly, to be left-wing in West Asia and North Africa today is to be considered a threat for the internal stability by the states of the region. This happened with the labour unions in Egypt and Tunisia, and it happened with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey. The persecution of the YPG/YPJ in Syria, and the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria is part of this same pattern.

The leaders of the Turkish left and other pro-Kurdish leftists are in prison. Parliamentarians within the HDP, a pro-peace alliance between the Turkish left and Kurdish leftists, have been stripped of their immunity. Moreover, the June 24 early elections might have as their first aim to erase the HDP presence in the Turkish Parliament. However, the Rojava project, as the most relevant vanguard against ISIS, is not over yet. “The resistance in Afrin is still strong”, one YPG fighter simply put it to me, so Turkey will not stop until it successfully gets rid of the Kurdish presence across its border.

Despite the tactical support received by the Syrian Kurds, the US, Russia and the al-Assad government did not react to the Turkish attacks on Afrin (with the latter only sending very scant reinforcements), carried out during the UN ceasefire. Thus, the anti-Turkish state sentiment among the Kurdish fighters has flourished again. “Erdogan supported jihadist groups who perpetrated war crimes, murders, tortures and looting” one fighter told The Region. “We knew that the military alliance with the US and Russia would most probably finish after the victory over ISIS” another said.

However, despite the Turkish attacks and a lack of consistent external support for the Syrian Kurdish fighters, the recent opening of the first university in Kobani confirmed that the Rojava dream of forging a more equal society based on gender liberation and a permanent grassroots mobilization in Rojava, regardless of national borders, is still alive. “When we will be back to Afrin, we will be more motivated, as it happened in Kobani after the liberation from ISIS” one fighter hopefully told me. With their morale, he just may be right.

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Anna Campbell’s father: ‘I don’t think I had any right to stop her fighting in Syria’

Dirk Campbell was shocked when his 26-year-old daughter said she was going to join Kurdish forces in Syria. Following her death in action, he talks about her journey from idealist to freedom fighter

Anna Campbell was killed by a Turkish missile in Afrin
Anna Campbell was killed by a Turkish missile in Afrin, northern Syria, on 15 March. Photograph: YPJ/PA

When Anna Campbell told her father of her plan to join Kurdish forces fighting Isis, he made a joke that he will forever regret. It was May last year, and the 26-year-old had travelled from her home in Bristol to his, in Lewes, East Sussex, to break the news.

“By then, I knew enough to know that it would imperil her life,” says Dirk Campbell, 67, “but all I could think of to say was: ‘Well, Anna, it’s been nice knowing you.’ I think I was trying to be funny, but she just looked miffed. I think she wanted me to engage with it and either go, ‘Oh, how wonderful,’ or to try to argue her out of it. But I sort of just accepted it. Ten months later, she is dead.”

Anna Campbell died on 15 March when her position was struck by a Turkish missile as she and five other female soldiers helped to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Afrin in northern Syria. She was one of eight British nationals killed fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) since the first foreign volunteers arrived in the autumn of 2014.

“People have called Anna a hero and a martyr,” her sister Sara says. “But what’s really difficult for the public to fathom is that she was also this big walking bundle of love: idealist, activist, dedicated bookworm, lover of insects, storyteller, creator of everlasting childhoods …”

Yet it was as a soldier that Anna died, a beaten-up AK-47 in her hand and a pair of old trainers on her feet. Having smuggled herself into Syria, after being recruited by Kurdish activists online, she had signed up with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) – all-female affiliates of the YPG, a guerrilla group in which officers are elected by their troops.

Dirk Campbell, father of Anna Campbell
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Dirk Campbell: ‘I was really proud of her. She was a 26-year-old woman. I had to trust her.’ Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

She gave her life defending Kurdish-held territory from a Turkish invasion. Some might call it someone else’s war. To Anna, her family says, it was personal.

“It was almost as if she was searching for the perfect way of expressing all the values she held closest – humanitarian, ecological, feminist and equal political representation,” says Dirk. “Those were the issues she came to dedicate her life to, and she came to the conclusion that Rojava was where she had to go.”

This Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria is in the throes of revolution. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011’s “Arab spring”, people have organised themselves into grassroots assemblies and co-operatives, declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy. Anti-capitalist, Marxist and feminist ideas are flourishing, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level.

“We were shocked when she told us she was going there,” says Dirk, a silver-haired man with a warm smile. “But we weren’t surprised.”

Anna was 11 when Dirk realised there was something different about her. “It seems a small thing, but I remember when she was at school she protected a bumblebee from being tormented by other kids,” he says. “She did it with such strength of will that they ridiculed her. But she didn’t care. She was absolutely single-minded when it came to what she believed in.”

We are sitting in the living room of Dirk’s flat, where three of Anna’s five sisters and her brother have gathered to support their dad. Sophia, at 28 the eldest sister, brings tea. A gallery of obscure musical instruments hang along the wall, all of which Dirk, a folk musician and composer who was a member of the seminal prog band Egg, can play. Books on ecology, veganism, philosophy and politics – some Kurdish – line the bookshelf.

The Campbell household was one where politics was always discussed. “Her mother Adrienne and I were once arrested for staging a sit-in in Boots after they moved the HQ to a Swiss tax haven,” Dirk chuckles.

“Most of her early interest in activism came from Adrienne,” he says. “I remember in 2011, they went to a demonstration at the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the first Suffragette protest. They stormed the Houses of Parliament in Edwardian clothes.”

But really, friends say, it was when Anna went to university in Sheffield to study English and French that those seeds of political activism began to sprout. “The coalition had just started and the government began introducing cuts and increasing fees,” recalls one friend, who prefers not to be named. “It was a big thing and there were student occupations all over the country.”

She was soon reading less of her beloved English classics in favour of books about anarchism, feminism and ecology. She became vegan and dropped out of university after her first year because, as Dirk puts it, “she was much more interested in doing what she was passionate about”.

Anna Campbell with her mother Adrienne
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Anna with her mother Adrienne, who died from cancer in 2012. Photograph: Family handout

That same year, 2012, Adrienne died of breast cancer four years after being diagnosed. Anna, then 21, threw herself deeper into the life she had chosen. She had started training as a plumber, but was increasingly drawn to anti-fascist, animal and human rights protests across Europe. She became an anarchist, too, and had the letters ACAB (standing for the punk-era slogan “All coppers are bastards”) tattooed on her ribcage. “She was one of the first people to go into the Jungle in Calais to protect refugees from the gendarmes,” says Dirk. “She wrote letters to prisoners. She gave blood, was a hunt saboteur, protested the Dale Farm eviction and would always rope me into playing the Highland bagpipes at prison demos.”

In 2015, she was beaten unconscious at an anti-fascist march. “She told me a woman had been dragged into the crowd by some fascists and no one was helping her,” recalls sister Rose, 24. “So Anna covered her face so they wouldn’t know she was female and ran in head first after this woman. The fascists beat her to the ground with sticks until a policeman dragged her off.”

By the summer of 2017, her attentions had turned towards the Middle East, where the war in Syria was entering a bloody new phase. The YPG/J, backed by US airstrikes, had all but flushed Isis from large swaths of Syria’s north. But, with the jihadi group now on the run, Turkey saw an opportunity to finally cleanse its borderlands of the Kurdish forces and their revolution. Ankara has long-argued that the YPG/J is linked to its own insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). The US and EU, however, do not consider the YPG terrorists, and have supported them since 2014.

With the Kurds’ fight for existence now on two fronts, Anna’s mind was made up. She didn’t tell her friends of her plans, just her family. She made them promise not to tell a soul. “Of course, I was seriously worried,” says Dirk. “Then, the day that she flew out, the Turks bombed a YPJ position and killed 12 women. I panicked.”

Over the months, Anna stayed in regular touch, sending texts, WhatsApp voice messages and the odd call when she could. “The thing is, whenever Anna called, she gave us a false sense of security,” says Dirk. “Every time she would say: ‘Hiya, everything’s fine. I’m just growing vegetables, sitting at a lookout post. I’m not in any fighting. It’s all a bit boring, really.’ We thought she wasn’t actually in any danger, and that she was coming back in a few months.”

What he didn’t know was that she had, in fact, been deployed to Dier ez-Zor, the stage for Isis’s bitter last stand. “I think if I had known that she was facing lethal fire I would not have been able to sleep,” says Dirk. “I would have tried to get there, to be with her. After all, who’s going to fire on an unarmed white-haired old man?”

Then, on 20 January, Turkish-backed rebels attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen,” another British YPJ fighter, who asked to be known only by her nom de guerre, Ruken Renas, told me from her frontline position last week. “The bombing was really heavy, especially just before the city fell. They hit the hospital; people were fleeing. It was chaos. Hundreds died.”

Anna Campbell with a fellow YPJ fighter in northern Syria
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Anna (on right) with a fellow YPJ fighter in northern Syria. Photograph: YPJ/PA

Nevertheless, Anna was determined to help defend the revolution she had joined. She dyed her blond hair black, and begged her commanders to let her go to Afrin. Finally, they gave in. Two weeks later, she was killed.

When Dirk thinks about the afternoon when Anna told him she was going to war, emotions conflict. “I should have taken her far more seriously,” he says. “I should have got on the internet and looked up everything that was going on. I just didn’t know enough about it. All I knew was that it was a war zone. Perhaps I could have stopped her.”

He pauses for a moment. “But, at the same time, I was really proud of her. I don’t think I had any right to stop her. She was a 26-year-old woman. I had to trust her.”

Of course, there is still the issue of Anna’s body. The Campbells want it back, but with Afrin now under Turkish control, they aren’t sure where to begin. “They’re not going to be putting bodies in a morgue waiting for someone to identify them,” says Dirk. “They’ve probably collected them all up, dumped them in a truck and buried them in a mass grave, which means that if she’s going to be repatriated, it’ll depend on DNA evidence. That will take a very long time. There will be a lot of bodies to examine.”

In the meantime, he will commemorate his daughter by continuing her fight. “I would be betraying Anna’s memory if I didn’t do everything in my power to bring the Kurds’ plight to the attention of the world. Something must be done. And it needs to be done now, before anyone else’s children are killed.”

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TO THE PEOPLES AND THE PUBLIC OPINION

           The AKP-MHP fascism has been waging a genocidal invasion operation against Afrin for 51 consecutive days. This genocidal aggression aims at eliminating the democratic system of Afrin and deterritorializing the Kurdish society living there. Therefore, infringing all the laws for war, they have been bombing all villages and towns, killing hundreds of civilian, particularly women and children. They have been destroying the olive groves, raised at great pains. This genocidal invasion operation is being carried out under humanity’s very eyes. One city faces elimination by NATO’s second largest army supplied in arms by many countries. This aggression is being legitimized by regarding it as though it happens between two state’s armies. Those forces which supply arms to the state of Turkey, particularly the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, are all accomplices to this crime.

     The people of Afrin have been defending their olive groves and natural wonder lands against the barbaric attacks of ISIS, El-Nusra, and many other jihadist thugs for seven consecutive years. They have beaten off, at great costs, all the aggressions of these inhumane jihadist thugs. Thousands fell martyr in their defense of Arin against the aggressions of ISIS, Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and all the other bandit groups.  Once all these aggressions failed, the AKP-MHP fascist rule, sustaining and supporting these bandit groups for years, took over their duty. Those supporting ISIS and El-Nusra are now attacking the forces who resisted, at great costs, against them. Russia, which claims it is against ISIS and El-Nusra, has, through dirty deals, shown the green light for these aggressions. Opening the airspace for Turkish warplanes, it has abetted this invasion and genocidal assault. The United States, as the main partner of the anti-ISIS coalition, has, by stating that Afrin is not their area of concern, normalized and legitimized the aggression of AKP-MHP fascism on the area. In doing so, they have punished,  with genocide, those forces which resisted against ISIS and El-Nusra, while rewarding the Turkish state, as main sponsor of these jihatist groups. This fact shows the extent to which the political relations and attitudes are going through the most corrupt era of their history.

     The people of Afrin, have been heroically resisting against this invasive and genocidal aggression for 51 consecutive days, while many forces, particularly UN, US, Russia have, by opting to be the onlookers to this aggression, encouraged and thus abetted it. The AKP-MHP fascist rule’s “Afrin does not belong to the Kurds” statement clearly reveals the genocide they want to commit. In the absence of any external support, the people of Afrin have drawn on their own resources to stop this genocide and protect their homes and lands against an army equipped with state-of-the-art warfare technology. They have staged an unprecedented resistance in this unbalanced war circumstances. And now the Kurdish people, the peoples of the world, the democratic circles, and the Permanent Members of UN Security Council should actively intervene to sop this genocidal aggression. Particularly, the peoples and the democratic circles face the historical responsibility of showing their resolve to stop this inhumane and fascist aggression.

The Kurdish people have mobilized to stop this invasive aggression. Our people in Europe have taken to streets to further activate the demonstrations they have consistently been staging since the start of the invasion. It seems that more effective legitimate and democratic actions are needed to raise the awareness and conscience of the world public opinion. Demonstrations in Europe need to be supported and complemented by uprisings in all parts of Kurdistan and throughout the world. Our people in Europe and anywhere in the world should stage more effective protests in front of the headquarters and representatives of UN and the European Union and call on them to take actions to stop the genocide in Afrin.

     Our peoples, democratic forces and all those who stand in solidarity with the legitimate cause of the Kurdish people should carry on with protests in front of the embassies of Turkey – as the invasion force – and Russia and the US who have shown the green light for the invasion. They should call on these forces to stop attacking and abetting.

     Our people in Rojava and Bashur (South Kurdistan-Irak) who can afford going to Afrin, should march there in thousands, as living shields against the genocidal aggression.

     Bashur (South) Kurdistan is under the occupation of the Turkish state, which, through many institutions, has turned into a colonialist state. Our people in Bashur should take actions against the military forces and institutions of the occupant Turkish state. The very being of the Kurds and their free and democratic life in all parts of Kurdistan is closely interrelated. Keeping this fact in mind, all the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan should mobilize all their resources against the Turkish state’s aggression on Afrin. We are approaching Neworz, the day of resistance and survival struggle. Our people should start Newroz preparations from this very day and, inspired by the spirit of Newroz, take to the streets and squares and protest against the Afrin occupation.

       These days are the days of uprising for our people. If they don’t rise up today, the people of Afrin and all the peoples of Rojava will face genocide. Recognizing “If not now, so when”, our peoples and the democratic forces should rise up to protect Afrin, the Middle East’s oasis of democracy, stability, and gender emancipation. This will not only be the uprising of the Kurdish people for Afrin, but also that of the peoples of the Middle East and all humanity against fascism.

Believing that the AKP-MHP fascism will fail and an era of democracy in Syria and the Middle East will emerge, we call on our people and all humanity to fulfill their responsibilities.

 Co-Presidency of KCK Executive Council                  11 March, 2018

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US-backed Kurds brace for dramatic escalation of Turkish invasion that could be bloodier than Aleppo, Raqqa or Eastern Ghouta

AFRIN MAP

The wars in Syria: Kurdish fighters are streaming in their thousands from the front line with Isis to stand up to Erdogan’s forces. But given their six years’ battle experience against a fanatical enemy, Turkey is unlikely to beat the YPG on the ground

PATRICK COCKBURN , MANBIJ, SYRIA, 8 MARCH 2018 , FOR THE INDEPENDENT.

In a field beside an abandoned railway station close to the Turkish border in northern Syria, Kurdish fighters are retraining to withstand Turkish air strikes. “We acted like a regular army when we were fighting Daesh [Isis] with US air support,” says Rojvan, a veteran Kurdish commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). “But now it is us who may be under Turkish air attack and we will have to behave more like guerrillas.”

Rojvan and his brigade have just returned from 45 days fighting Isis in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria and are waiting orders which may redeploy them to face the Turkish army that invaded the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on 20 January. Rojvan says that “we are mainly armed with light weapons like the Kalashnikov, RPG [rocket propelled grenade launcher] and light machine guns, but we will be resisting  tanks and aircraft”. He makes clear that, whatever happened, they would fight to the end.

Kurdish and allied Arab units are streaming north from the front to the east of the Euphrates, where Isis is beginning to counter-attack, in order to stop the Turkish advance. Some 1,700 Arab militia left the area for Afrin on Tuesday and Turkey is demanding that the US stop them. The invasion is now in its seventh week and Rojvan and his fighters take some comfort in the fact that it is moving so slowly. But the Turkish strategy has been to take rural areas before mowing methodically to surround and besiege Afrin City and residential areas.

The big battles in Afrin are still to come and are likely to be as destructive and bloody as anything seen in Eastern Ghouta, Raqqa or East Aleppo. YPG fighters have battle experience stretching back to at least 2012, much of its gained against fanatical opponents like Isis. The likelihood is that, as in Ghouta, the Turkish generals will seek to avoid the heavy losses inevitable in street fighting and pound Afrin into ruins with air strikes and artillery fire. Civilian casualties are bound to be horrendous.

The Syrian Kurds believe they are facing an existential threat. They believe Turkey wants to eliminate not just the enclave of Afrin, but the 25 per cent of Syria that the Kurds have taken with US backing since 2015. Some think that defeat will mean the ethnic cleansing of Kurds from Afrin, which has traditionally been one of their core majority areas. They cite a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the day after the start of the invasion started, claiming that “55 per cent of Afrin is Arab, 35 per cent are the Kurds … and about 7 per cent are Turkmen. [We aim] to give Afrin back to its rightful owners.” There is a suspicion among Kurdish leaders that Erdogan plans to create a Sunni bloc of territory north and west of Aleppo which will be under direct or indirect Turkish control.

syria-patrick-map-01.jpg
Areas of control across Syria

The Kurdish leaders are convinced that Erdogan is determined to destroy their de facto state in the long run, but differ about the timing and objectives of the present attack. Elham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council that helps administer the Kurdish-held area, believes that the Turkish assault on Afrin, if successful, will set “a precedent for a further Turkish military advance”.

Ahmad had just returned from Afrin where she was born and where her family still lives. “Our convoy of 150 civilian cars was hit by a Turkish air strike,” she said. “We ran away from the cars, but 30 of them were destroyed and one person killed.” She is angry that the outside world is exclusively preoccupied with the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but ignores similar bombing and shelling in Afrin where, she says, 204 civilians had been killed, including 61 children, as of last weekend.

She expects that the next Turkish target, if its so-called Operation Olive Branch succeeds in Afrin, will be the Arab city of Manbij that was taken by the YPG in 2016. Strategically placed on the main road from Aleppo to the Kurdish heartlands, with a diversion where part of the highway is held by Turkish forces, it is a prosperous looking place full of shops crammed with goods and produce. Local rumour has it that one small shop recently changed hands for $1m (£720,000). It is the main supply line to the Kurdish zone, the highway crowded with oil tankers bringing crude oil from Kurdish-held oilfields far to the east to the Syrian government refinery at Homs.

If local people are nervous about the prospect of being submerged by the impending battle for northern Syria, they are not showing it. After being occupied by Isis and besieged by the YPG, they have strong nerves. They may also reflect that, if war is coming to their city and its 300,000 people, there is not a lot they can do to avert it. The main reason they might feel secure is a US pledge to defend their city against a Turkish attack, a promise backed up by regular and highly visible patrols of five or six US armoured vehicles carrying large Stars and Stripes. But the US willingness to confront its Nato partner Turkey is nuanced, particularly since Isis was defeated last year, though the movement is not entirely dead.

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YPG confirms entry of Syrian government forces in Afrin


by Wladimir van Wilgenburg   Reuters  

The People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Tuesday evening confirmed in a statement received by the region that after several days of negotiations the Syrian government affiliated forces entered Afrin.

“After more than a month of the legendary resistance of our forces against the Turkish invasion army and the terrorist groups aligned with it from Jabhat al-Nusra, Da’esh and others, and causing severe losses for the invaders in equipment and ammunition, as our units considered to call the Syrian govt and its army to undertake its duties in participating in defending Afrin and protecting the Syrian borders against this evil invasion,” YPG spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud said.

“The Syrian government has thus heeded the call and responded to the obligation call and sent military units today on 20 Feb 2018, and that is to concentrate on the borders and participate in defending the unity of Syrian lands and its borders,” he added.

The entry follows days of negotiations. On Monday evening, there were also reports that Syrian government-affiliated forces would enter, but officials said no agreement was reached yet.

But on Tuesday, it was confirmed regime-affiliated forces entered Afrin to stop the attacks by Turkey.

Turkish officials said they would continue attacking Afrin if Syrian government forces entered. Al-Mayadeen reports that Turkish forces have already begun shelling close to the Syrian Government convoy escorting fighters loyal to Assad

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International Freedom Battalion’s statement on 3 fallen fighters

The International Freedom Battalion released a statement over the deaths of three comrades, Samuel Prada Leon, Oliver Francois Jean Le Clainche and Sjoerd Heeger.

Full text of the statement is as follows:

The Afrin Resistance Marches to Victory with Internationalist Martyrs!

Spanish Samuel Prada Leon (Baran Galicia) and French Oliver François Jean Le Clainche (Kendal Breizh), and Dutch Sjoerd Heeger (Baran Sason), internationalist fighters who have participated in the defense of the Rojava revolution and who had been fighting in the Afrin fronts for a while have been immortalized in Afrin and Deir Ez Zor. Comrades Baran and Kendal were martyred on February 10 in Afrin as they resisted the invasion attacks of the AKP fascism. Comrade Baran Sason became immortal on February 12 in Deir Ez Zor, fighting ISIS fascism. With their internationalist awareness and hearts filled with hope, they fought against ISIS regression and against Erdoğan and his gangs in Afrin just the same. They were the most beautiful response to the unifying character of internationalism, against international regressive ideologies that wanted to smother the resistance.

Our internationalist struggle has grown at all points in history with the labor and daring of comrades like Samuel, Oliver and Sjoerd. They followed on the footsteps of Ivana Hoffman, Reece Harding and Michael Isrel. They learned from the struggles of Halil Aksakal, Alper Çakas and Muzaffer Karademir. They fought to defend the revolution of the oppressed against the fascist colonialist invasion and went down in history with their dignity.

Internationalists Continue to Increase Hope in the Afrin Trenches!

In the wave of lies from “We will take Afrin in 3 hours”, to “3 days”, to “we can’t give an exact date”, our resistance has continued for 30 days. The people of Afrin increase their honorable resistance every day against the AKP fascism and Al Nusra/ISIS derivatives with their fearless and daring stance. The union of the Northern Syrian peoples in this resistance, and the fight of SDF, YPG, YPJ and internationalist fighters respond to the invasion attempt by the second largest army in NATO with this resistance of the age. As fighters of the International Freedom Battalion, we increase our will to fight shoulder to shoulder with the self-defense forces of the peoples in the region in the fight against ISIS in Afrin today. Internationalist fighters who have become immortal in Afrin and Deir Ez Zor will continue to be by our side in this struggle.

We the Internationalist Freedom Battalion fighters act today in Afrin with the same will that knows how to pay a price and how to demand a price in Stalingrad, Vietnam, Kobanê and in every inch of liberated land in Rojava and Northern Syria. We take our place on the battle fronts with this consciousness. There is a harsh and unequal war, we are fighting an enemy without honor. But we have not the tiniest doubt that we will prevail. In all fronts, in all positions, we crack down on the colonialist, invading gangs. Our veterans and our martyrs light our way in this struggle.

Our response to Erdoğan’s and his gangs’ inhuman invasion and massacre attacks will be resistance and the victory of our peoples. The stance of Avesta Xabur and all martyrs who became immortal in a self-sacrifice will be our bar to clear in all our actions throughout our resistance. The courage of comrades Baran, Kendal and Baran Sason will continue to light the path of our internationalist struggle.

We remember with respect our comrades who defend our revolution and the gains of our revolution with their lives and fly the flag of internationalism in Afrin. We offer our condolences to our brothers and sisters in arms in YPG International, the families of our martyrs and our peoples.

Internationalist Martyrs are Immortal!

Long Live Our Afrin Resistance!

Long Live Our Internationalist Struggle!

Victory Belongs to People Who Resist!

The International Freedom Battalion

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Why is Turkey targeting Afrin?

Pinar Dinc and Kamran Matin explain what Erdogan, Iran and Russia have to gain from a bloody war on Afrin’s restive Kurdish population.

RED PEPPER  January 31, 2018

On January 20, Turkey and its allied Syrian Islamist rebels began an unprovoked military offensive on Syria’s predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin paradoxically codenamed ‘Operation Olive Branch’. Despite its sheer size the operation has made very slow progress and there are independent reports of significant civilian casualties as a result of Turkish army’s indiscriminate aerial bombing, artillery shelling, and reported use of illegal ‘napalm’ bombs.

Turkey claims that its attack on Afrin aims at securing its borders from ‘terrorist’ operations by the ‘People’s Protection Units’ (YPG). Turkey considers YPG an extension of the ‘Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK), which has been in armed conflict with Turkish state since the mid-1980s. Unlike Turkey, US and other Western governments do not consider YPG a terrorist organisation.

However, there has never been any independent reports on any anti-Turkish attack launched from Afrin. In fact, Afrin has been one of the most peaceful regions of Syria throughout its six years old catastrophic civil war. It is also host to nearly half a million refugees from other parts of Syria especially Idlib and Aleppo regions.

Turkey has been hostile towards Syrian Kurds ever since they carved out an autonomous region in north-eastern Syria amidst the civil war. But its current war on Afrin is the first large-scale direct military action against them. The reasons behind this violent gear-change lies in a particular conjunction of domestic politics and regional geopolitics.

Blood for Votes

Domestically, Erdoğan and his ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) pursue a strategy of political entrenchment that has increasingly come to centre on winning elections through fanning nationalist fervour against the Kurds and religious sentiments against the secular dissent and foreign powers.

The first trial of this strategy occurred in 2015 following the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish rights ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (HDP) and the brilliant performance by its co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, which deprived the AKP lost from its parliamentary majority. Shortly afterwards Turkey resumed war against the PKK, unilaterally terminating peace talks it had been holding with the PKK since 2012. AKP’s resumption of war against the PKK aimed at attracting Turkish ultra-nationalists’ votes and suppressing HDP in the November 2015 snap elections.

In the ensuing conflict hundreds of Kurdish civilians were killed, large parts of several cities were destroyed and historic sites were gentrified, pro-Kurdish politicians (including co-chairs, deputies, and mayors from the HDP) were suspended or detained, and a large number of journalists and human rights activists were jailed. Even academics were not spared. Several hundred of Turkey’s academics who signed the peace petition have been purged on terrorism charges.

AKP recovered its parliamentary majority but political violence continued. It even expanded. Following the attempted military coup in the summer of 2016, Erdoğan orchestrated an extreme and nation-wide campaign of purge and persecution. His motive was twofold. He wanted to destroy once for all his erstwhile Gulenists allies, who had failed to agree with Erdogan over power-sharing, and to win the popular referendum on a revised constitution that would enshrine an executive system with widespread powers for himself as Turkey’s life-time president.

Erdoğan intensified the policy of social polarisation he had started in 2014. He not only demonised the Kurds but also stigmatised the Alevis, Zazas, and non-Muslims, and promoting antisemitism. In fact, in his ‘new Turkey’ Erdoğan made a clear distinction between the virtuous people with a religiously cemented national identity and impious ‘others’ including Kurds, Alevis, leftists, seculars, liberals and Gulenists. Today, even mild criticism is not tolerated as Erdoğan labels all those who do not support his open-ended autocracy collectively as ‘terrorists’.

The final act of Erdogan’s political entrenchment will be the 2019 presidential election in line with the new constitution. And some recent polls suggest that AKP’s popularity has significantly declined standing well below 50%. This can be chiefly attributed to a sustained economic downturn, which has eroded AKP’s petit-bourgeois social-base and disillusioned some sections of Turkey’s conservative capitalist class known as ‘Anatolian tigers’, with the status-quo. A recent split in AKP’s ultra-nationalist allies in the ‘National Movement Party’ (MHP) and the continued popularity of HDP have further reduced AKP’s popular support.

Against this background, Turkey’s war on Afrin is Erdoğan’s attempt to re-stage the ‘blood for votes’ tactic that he successfully tried following the electoral failure in the summer of 2015. And just like 2015, the main instrument to mobilise Turkish ultra-nationalism is an anti-Kurdish war overlain with opposition to the US which Erdogan accuses of the orchestrating the 2016 coup and supporting the Syrian Kurds with the aim of partitioning Turkey.

Erdogan’s pursuit of relevancy in post-ISIS Syria

Erdoğan’s ‘blood for votes’ electoral strategy at home has a mutually reinforcing geopolitical dimension abroad in Syria. Russia’s foray into Syrian civil war killed any hope for Turkey’s strategy of replacing the Assad regime with a friendly Sunni-Islamist government aligned with its ‘neo-Ottomanist’ project of regional hegemony.

At the same time, Syrian Kurds’ effective resistance against ISIS won them international sympathy and Western support. Erdoğan’s Syria policy therefore duly shifted from the overthrow of Assad towards the containment of Syrian Kurds. For any form of autonomy or political recognition of Syrian Kurds would diminish Turkey’s influence in Syria and weaken the AKP’s position vis-a-vis the HDP and the PKK domestically.

Erdoğan’s new anti-Kurdish policy in Syria was initially pursued through ‘active neutrality’ towards ISIS allowing its recruits reach Syria via Turkey and use Turkish soil for staging attacks against YPG and its female-only counterpart ‘Women’s Protection Units’ (YPJ). This circumstance reached a climax during the siege of Kobani by ISIS when Turkeys’ mighty army silently stood by across the border while Erdoğan himself gleefully declared Kobani will fall.

Syrian Kurds’ determined resistance and eventual defeat of ISIS in Kobani paved the way for US’s tactical military partnership with Syrian Kurds. This was vehemently opposed by Turkey. US was able to allay Turkish fears by emphasising the temporary, tactical and anti-ISIS focus of its partnership with the Syrian Kurds, who came to dominate the new multi-ethnic ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF).  Turkey therefore expected an end to US support for Syrian Kurds after the fall of Raqqa and ISIS’s strategic defeat.

However, Russian and Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the lack of any other effective military-political force with or through which US could affect the eventual political settlement in Syria have led the US to keep its roughly 2000-strong force in north-eastern Syria and continue its military partnership with SDF. This has seriously concerned Turkey, which views this as a prelude to the international recognition and political consolidation of the ‘Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria’ dominated by Syrian Kurds.

Continuing US support for Syrian Kurds have also set the alarm bells off for Russia, Iran and Assad’s regime. Russia and its Syrian and Iranian allies fear that US will try to use the Kurds to direct the peace talks towards a new Assad-free Syria. Iran has its own restive Kurdish minority and fears that Kurdish political consolidation in Syria will have ripple effects reaching Iran across Iraqi Kurdistan where with Turkey’s vocal support and US’s tacit approval it intervened to reverse the results of a Kurdish independence referendum last October. Iran is also concerned that its Syria-based ‘strategic depth’ doctrine will be undermined by Syrian Kurds, who currently control much of Syria’s most fertile agricultural lands and oil fields.

Russia’s rationale for allowing Turkish attack on Afrin is also twofold. It seeks to remind the Syrian Kurds of their vulnerability and therefore force them into compromise with the Assad regime and moving away from the US. In this way, Russia seeks to cement its military success in Syria with a political victory at peace settlement favouring Assad.

At the same time by facilitating Turkish attack on US’s key partner in Syria, Russia is further undermining the strategic alliance between US and Turkey and hence NATO. Russia therefore views Turkey’s war on Afrin as a win-win game. US on the other hand is mindful of Turkey’s irreversible drift towards Russia; a trend that has gathered pace after the 2016 failed coup and the ruthless purges in Turkey’s armed forces. The purges have led to the domination of pro-Russian ‘Euroasianist’ faction of Turkish military and marginalised pro-Western ‘Atlanticists’. This is why US has consistently maintained that it understands Turkish security concerns and at times seems to have made concessions regarding the scale and nature of its support for Syrian Kurds. The US failure to take any meaningful action against Turkey’s current offensive on Afrin is a case in point, one which has expectedly angered the Kurds. However, the zero-sum nature of Turkey’s approach to Syrian Kurds is seriously testing American commitment to supporting them.

All the major actors in the Syrian war therefore see some benefit in Turkey’s war on Afrin. For Syrian Kurds in the firing line, however, the picture is radically different. War has so far brought great loss of civilian life, destruction of cultural and historic sites, and damage to economic infrastructure; a perplexing reward for their heroic and successful resistance against IS. But in resisting Turkey’s aggression, they also see another historic opportunity to affirm their collective existence, cultural recognition, and political autonomy after decades of political and cultural denial and suppression. They deserve support and solidarity from the left.

On January 20, Turkey and its allied Syrian Islamist rebels began an unprovoked military offensive on Syria’s predominantly Kurdish region of Afrin paradoxically codenamed ‘Operation Olive Branch’. Despite its sheer size the operation has made very slow progress and there are independent reports of significant civilian casualties as a result of Turkish army’s indiscriminate aerial bombing, artillery shelling, and reported use of illegal ‘napalm’ bombs.

Turkey claims that its attack on Afrin aims at securing its borders from ‘terrorist’ operations by the ‘People’s Protection Units’ (YPG). Turkey considers YPG an extension of the ‘Kurdistan Worker Party (PKK), which has been in armed conflict with Turkish state since the mid-1980s. Unlike Turkey, US and other Western governments do not consider YPG a terrorist organisation.

However, there has never been any independent reports on any anti-Turkish attack launched from Afrin. In fact, Afrin has been one of the most peaceful regions of Syria throughout its six years old catastrophic civil war. It is also host to nearly half a million refugees from other parts of Syria especially Idlib and Aleppo regions.

Turkey has been hostile towards Syrian Kurds ever since they carved out an autonomous region in north-eastern Syria amidst the civil war. But its current war on Afrin is the first large-scale direct military action against them. The reasons behind this violent gear-change lies in a particular conjunction of domestic politics and regional geopolitics.

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STATEMENT FROM THE KCK EXECUTIVE COUNCIL ON AFRIN

25 JANUARY 2019

TO OUR PEOPLES AND THE PUBLIC OPINION
The AKP-MHP fascist rule, in collaboration with the anti-human gangs has launched an occupation attack against Afrin. They want to totally strip Afrin, an oasis of democracy for Syria and the Middle East, of the Kurdish population and replace them with these gangs. The AKP-MHP fascist rule has once again demonstrated its enmity towards the Kurds. Through this occupation attack, they want to shore up and nurture the reactionary forces in the Middle East. Knowing that a ground operation is doomed to fail, they began the occupation by using the Syrian air space, opened to them only after a dirty deals. They have attacked the city using approximately 100 fighter jets, an unprecedented case in the history of warfare. This occupation has faced the historical resistance of the people of Afrin and its self-sacrificing freedom fighters. The Afrin occupation attack has not only revealed the true anti-human nature of the Turkish state in the person of AKP-MHP fascist rule, but also has, at the same time, proved how a people empowered by democratic community principles can strongly resist. The people of Afrin and their self-sacrificing girls and boys, inspired by freedom and democracy ideals, have given the “no parasan” response to the occupation forces. They have rebuffed all the attacks during the last 6 days. We salute the people of Afrin and their self-sacrificing fighters who defend their homeland and democratic values. We congratulate them in advance for the victory they will gain in the most rightful battle of history.
The Afrin resistance is the resistance of all Syrians, the peoples of the Middle East, and all humanity. There is no difference between ISIS and AKP-MHP fascism and its collaborating gangs attacking Afrin. ISIS’s attack on Kobani and AKP-MHP’s attack on Afrin share the same goal. Recognizing this fact, all the peoples of the world and democratic circles have united around the historic resistance of Afrin. The attitudes of different states regarding this occupation may be driven by interests and have thus heartened it; However, regardless of these attitudes, the peoples all over the world have supported the Afrin resistance. We salute the democratic humanity and all the peoples for their support. Humanity’s conscience and sense of freedom and democracy united around the Afrin resistance have once again showed that humanity will not let fascism triumph. Afrin is a manifestation of the accumulation of humanity’s sense of freedom and democracy. Leftists, socialists, environmentalists, feminists, pro-labor circles and peace activists should organize their stance more effectively so that the sense of solidarity and the power of struggle needed for victory will emerge. Once AKP-MHP fascism is defeated, the wave of freedom and democracy, starting from the Middle East, will spread all over the world.
The Afrin resistance provides the peoples of Turkey with a historical opportunity for achieving peace and democracy. Once this anti-democratic and anti-freedom fascist rule, joined by CHP, is defeated, the hurdles in the way of freedom and democracy will be removed and the peoples of Turkey will achieve fraternity, democracy, and freedom. We salute all the democratic forces who have opposed the AKP-MHP fascist attacks and resisted the anti-democratic and anti-freedom attitudes of CHP. We believe that tomorrow’s Turkey will be found on the basis of your honorable and courageous stance. We reiterate our commitment for staying in solidarity with your hard struggle.
The Afrin occupation has once again had the Kurds see the anti-Kurdish nature of the Turkish state, as the vanguard of enmity against the Kurds. It has been revealed that unless this fascism is defeated, no part of Kurdistan will achieve freedom and democracy. Afrin resistance instantiates the unity, common stance and struggle of the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan and the diaspora. We congratulate our people in Kurdistan and in Europe for their stance. We would like to reiterate our commitment to a Free Kurdistan and democratic Middle East, goals to be achieved through the unity of the Kurds, their unity with other peoples, and their common struggle. We call on the Kurdish people and all the peoples of the Middle East and all over the world to unite and stand in solidarity with the Afrin resistance.
The Afrin resistance will prevail, AKP-MHP fascism will be defeated, all Syrians and the peoples of the Middle East will achieve their freedom and democratic rights.
 Co-Presidency of KCK Executive Council                                                     25 January 2018

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STATEMENT FROM THE

Co-Presidency of KCK Executive Council      

21 January, 2018

TO OUR PEOPLES AND THE PUBLIC OPINION

      The AKP-MHP fascist rule in Turkey has begun the air and ground invasion operation against the Kurdish town of Afrin. This comes after months of threatening and targeting campaign. Turkey wants to destroy the democratic system which was established on the principle of brotherhood of Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen peoples.  There are two main reasons for these attacks. Firstly, the anti-Kurdish AKP-MHP fascist rule wants to destroy Kurdish people’s gains in Afrin. Secondly, the AKP-MHP which have come to the point of losing their power; so they try to shore up their fascist rule by carrying out this invasion operation.

      From the early days of the Syrian civil war till now, the people of Afrin have been defending their area against the anti-human jihadist bandits. They have managed to beat off all the attacks of anti-human thugs, particularly those of ISIS and Nusra Front. Afrin has been a safe and free area within Syria, letting no jihadist foot on its ground. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from the conflict in other parts of Syria, particularly in Aleppo, have found a safe haven in Afrin. During all these years, the people of the Afrin area have been administering their cities and towns. The women have had a leading role in this form of administration based on self-sufficiency. This has not only turned Afrin into a model for the democratization of Syria but also an example of democratization for the peoples in Turkey, too. The AKP-MHP fascist rule tries to curb this democratic  model, because they now the fact that the democratization of Syria will have implications for the solution of the Kurdish question. Recep Tayyip Erdogan got ISIS attack Kobani with the aim of strangling the desire of the Kurdish people for a free and democratic life. Once ISIS failed in fulfilling such an aim, Erdogan has decided to intervene himself. The AKP-MHP fascism stigmatizes all the democratic forces inside Turkey and abroad as terrorists. In doing so, they want to eliminate all the democratic forces resisting their fascist rule. The motive behind their suppression of journalists, academics, and politicians is the same as the motive behind the attack on Afrin.

       The AKP-MHP fascist rule’s enmity towards the Kurds is inextricably intertwined with its anti-democratic nature. Therefore, they attack all the democratic circles which they think may pose a threat to their dictatorial reign. They want to portray the freedom fighters of Afrin as the enemies of Turkey and thereby deepen chauvinistic sentiments in a bid to increase support for their rule while they attack democratic circles within Turkey. Therefore, the attack on Afrin is an attempt to shore up the fascist rule of AKP-MHP and at the same time is a campaign to suppress all the democratic circles opposing AKP-MHP rule.

      Russia and Syria which had closed the Syrian airspace to Turkey, have given the Turkish regime the permission it desperately needed to conduct air attacks. The people of Afrin have been waging a fierce struggle against bandit groups like ISIS, and Nusra Front. Considering the fact that the freedom fighters of Afrin and Syrian states fought the same enemy for years, letting Turkey use Syrian air space for air attacks against Afrin is a clear sign of a dirty deal against the Kurds. The Syrian regime and Russia have made a dirty deal which will not be in their own interests too. They have made a historical mistake which has pitted the Kurds against them. Russia and the Syrian regime can in no way justify their opening of the air space to Turkish jet. This policy will be called into question and they will be regarded as accomplices to this invasion and aggression.   

      The people of Afrin has had no aim other than a free and democratic life on their own land. Their self-defense struggle has had one focal point: resisting the aggression of the jihadist bandit groups on their land. And they are now defending their free and democratic life against the offensive of the Turkish army.

     While Russia and the Syrian regime  let the Turkish state to use the Syrian air space USA motivated the AKP-MHP fascists’ invasion by declaring that Afrin is outside the areas of shared struggle against ISIS. Therefore, USA once again became a party to the Turkish state’s enmity towards the Kurds while it helped Tayyip Erdogan and Devlet Bahceli shore up their fascist rule. Motivating and giving approval to the attack on Afrin and conniving at the aggression means supporting Erdogan and Bahceli fascist regime against the democratic circles. At a time when the Erdogan-Bahceli fascism is about to collapse, not opposing the Afrin invasion only secures Erdogan’s stay in power. Not opposing the invasion of Afrin, both the USA, and the EU countries have supported Erdogan-Bahceli’s oppression against the peoples of Turkey. Thus, Russia, USA, and Europe have become parties to the crimes committed by Erdogan-Bahceli fascism.

      During the 20th century, the Kurds were subjected to genocidal policies. International forces supported and connived at these policies. As a result, one of the most ancient peoples of history has been brought to the brink of elimination. Whenever the Kurdish people have resisted the genocidal policies of the Turkish state, the USA and EU have supported the NATO-member Turkey. The main of Turkey in joining the NATO is seeking support for its genocidal policies against the Kurds. Even today, securing this support is the main condition in Turkey’s EU accession talks. These countries’ silence towards Turkey’s genocidal policies against the Kurds means they have are accomplices to the genocide of the Kurds just for securing some economic interests. If USA and EU don’t oppose this genocidal and invasion attacks they will be regarded as accomplice to genocide against the Kurds.

     The invasion attack on Afrin is at the same time an act of aggression against all the libertarian and democratic circles in Turkey, Syria and all the Middle East. AKP-MHP fascist rule have targeted all the democratic dynamics of the Middle East with the aim of creating a fertile ground for all the reactionary and despotic forces, particularly ISIS and Nusra Front. Therefore, not only the Kurdish people, but also all the peoples in Turkey, Syria, and the Middle East who want democratization should stand against the Turkish invasion of Afrin. The resistance in Afrin is not only the resistance of the Kurds, but also the resistance of all the democratic forces of the Middle East and the world.

The Turkish offensive against Afrin is neither in the interest of US, nor that of Russia, Syira, EU, and the peoples of the Middle East. Therefore, Russia, US, and the Syrian regime who let and motivated Turkish attack on Afrin should review their policies and take clear attitude against the invasion. Irresponsible attitudes cannot sustain the ground for peace, democracy, and stability in the Middle East created by paying heavy prices.

      The Kurdish people in all parts of Kurdistan, particularly in North Kurdistan, and in diaspora should support the Afrin resistance. All the peoples of Syria, particularly the Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Turkmen people living in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria should see the fact that this attack is against them, too, and should participate in the Afrin resistance.

The peoples of Afrin are one the basic democratic dynamics of the Middle East. All of them, particularly the youth and the women should resist shoulder to shoulder against the invasion forces. They should defend their villages, districts, towns and cities against the aggressors and turn Afrin into a grave for the AKP-MHP fascist gangs.  

      All the peoples in the world, , who defeated ISIS by standing in solidarity with the freedom fighters of Kobani on November 1, 2014, World Kobani Day, should stand by the resistance forces of Afrin and defeat AKP-MHP dictatorship which has become a center and guardian for the reactionary and despotic forces of the Middle East. Once the AKP-MHP fascist rule is defeated, the dark days of the Middle East will come to an end and the sun of  freedom and democracy will rise. As Kurdish Freedom Movement, we will stand by the people of Afrin with all our strength. Neither the Turkish state nor any other force will be able to stop our people’s march for freedom and democracy. Turkey will surely be  democratized and the peoples of the Middle East will attain their freedom and democratic rights.

 Co-Presidency of KCK Executive Council                                                21 January, 2018

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Vanguards of Humanity: Why I support Afrin & the Rojava Revolution

by Marcel Cartier    

The dark clouds of 21st-century fascism are once again hanging over the heads of the people of northern Syria. As if the inhabitants of the region often referred to as Rojava haven’t suffered enough over the course of the past 7 years of war, the Turkish state has come to the conclusion that the time is ripe to pick up the fallen, bloodied sword from the corpse that is Islamic State. Together with Salafist mercenaries carrying flags of the Syrian ‘rebels’ – one of the many components of what at one historical juncture seemingly all so long ago was a cohesive ‘Free Syrian Army’ – Erdogan’s regime vows a ‘swift operation’ to destroy ‘terrorism’ in Afrin.

It is Afrin that has been a beacon of stability in Syria over the course of the war, not only taking in tens of thousands of refugees from elsewhere in the country, but establishing the principles of direct democracy, women’s liberation and ecology in the midst of an otherwise catastrophic and tumultuous period. It is precisely this model of a socialistic, multi-ethnic, feminist canton advocated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that Erdogan’s AKP government sees as ‘terrorism’. The irony could not be more obvious.

For those who have been following closely over the past few years the events in not only Afrin, but in the other two cantons that make up the Rojava region (officially the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria), the current battle faced by the Kurdish forces is strangely reminiscent of the 2014-15 battle for Kobane. At that point, the so-called Islamic State was on the verge of reaching the Syria-Turkey border by securing the city known officially as Ayn al-Arab (a brutal reminder of the Arabization and monolithic nation-state mentality of the Ba’athist government). The Kurdish forces of the YPG and YPJ found themselves fighting off the fascist forces as Turkey allowed Daesh militants to enter Syria freely. Turkish tanks sat idle at the border, and soldiers watched the action, hoping for the elimination of the ‘terrorists’ – not Daesh, of course, but of the Kurds! The so-called international community was silent, until the U.S. intervened with airstrikes after an enormous amount of pressure in the form of massive global protests.

Today in Afrin, as Turkish planes and tanks aim to finish the job that the Islamic State was incapable of accomplishing, world leaders are again silent. Although a relationship had been forged in recent years between Russia and the YPG/J in Afrin, Moscow now seems to have withdrawn its forces, clearing the way for the Turkish incursion. The United States, although supportive of the YPG/J’s operations against Daesh east of the Euphrates River, has wiped its hands of any association with their ‘allies’ in Afrin. The Syrian government has said that it will shoot down Ankara’s planes – yet it seems as if the actions of Erdogan’s regime have so far gone unopposed.

This understandably leaves the Kurdish people and their forces in Afrin feeling as if the old maxim ‘the Kurds have no friends but the mountains’ is once again deeply relevant. Perhaps they understood throughout the complexities and twists and turns of the war that this was always the case.

After all, my experiences in Rojava last year confirmed to me that the YPG/J was far from a ‘pawn’ of ‘puppet’ of anybody, despite the often misunderstood relationship between them and Washington. In fact, it was clear to me that they were preparing more than a year ago for not only an eventual Turkish military operation, but for the moment that self-reliance would have to be stepped up and a fight undertaken on their own to protect the territory of Rojava and the gains of their revolution.

My inability to Understand Rojava Before 2015

Today, I am yelling at the top of my lungs in support for the people of Afrin and for the Kurdish forces of the YPG and YPJ. There are hundreds of solidarity demonstrations taking place across the western world. Yet, just over three years ago when the Islamic State was threatening to take Kobane, I lacked the understanding of the situation in the country to adequately provide that same solidarity. I didn’t attend any of these protests despite the considerable threat that was being manifested toward an anti-fascist militia that espoused principles largely in line with my own.

Indeed, this is part of my confessions – or rather, self-critical assessment. I wasn’t always the most supportive of the idea that what was taking place in northern Syria constituted a real revolutionary process. In fact, much of the reason that I have decided to undertake such a considerable amount of writing since the time I spent in Rojava last year is that my experiences there made me feel a sense of urgency about being critically reflective of my previous erroneous positions. I knew that if ‘observation and participation’ in the revolution has altered my understanding of Syria, there was at least the possibility that my work could have that kind of impact on others who perhaps hold positions akin to those I used to.

Let me break it down from the beginning. In 2013, exactly five years ago next month, I visited Kurdistan for the first time. This trip took me to the territory controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. Although I may have set foot in Kurdish lands, the week that I spent there did little to reveal the true nature of Kurdistan as a whole – or perhaps I simply didn’t bother to look hard enough or investigate aptly. Nonetheless, I was convinced that the KRG was little more than a puppet entity of the United States. That assessment may not be so far off the mark – but the problem was that I failed to grasp the differences between ‘the Kurds’ of Bashur (Iraq) and Rojava (Syria), not to mention Rojhilat (Iran) or Bakur (Turkey). [see my previous article ‘The Kurds: Internationalists or Narrow Nationalists?]

Throughout 2013, the focus of the United States was on whether it should engage in a direct intervention in the Syrian war by means of airstrikes on Syrian Arab Army targets. Understandably, this put the anti-war movement and socialist activists in the U.S. in a position of putting its emphasis on opposing any machinations of the Obama administration to launch a wider war in Syria. At this time, my principal obligation seemed clear – oppose the aggression of the Obama administration and my own government. I believe such a position is pivotal. However, all too often socialist activists in the western metropoles have a tendency to put anti-imperialism on ‘steroids’ – in other words, to reduce geopolitics to a single contradiction, refusing to seriously investigate the contradictions of the state in question, or of the other dynamics at play.

To be clear, it’s not as if I saw the Ba’athist government as one that I was ideologically aligned with. It’s not as if I didn’t engage in some level of investigation of the situation on the ground throughout the whole of the country. In fact, in songs like ‘Hands Off Syria’ – which I released in the Spring of 2012 – I explicitly mention that ‘there’s been problems in Syria for quite a long time.’ Perhaps this was too little in the way of expressing the reality in the country, but it did try to account for the fact that the dynamics in the country were complex and that any defence of the Syrian state vis-à-vis imperialism wasn’t the same as overt support for the policies of that state.

Grappling with Kobane and the Resistance of the Kurds

However, the general tendency that I grew to express was more and more toward full solidarity with Syrian Arab state. The problem with this position wasn’t so much the fact that I explained the machinations of imperialism toward a government that defied its diktat in the region, particularly in regards to the colonial settler entity of Israel. The problem also wasn’t that I expressed how the U.S. government’s support for the so-called ‘rebels’ was creating a situation in which Shia, Christian, or even Sunni communities were facing genocidal consequences. It was simply that I was simplifying the narrative, and not giving voice to those who had been the victims of a monolithic Syrian state based on racial and ethnic prejudice for decades.

I first began to grapple with this during the battle of Kobane. It was obvious that the so-called Islamic State was enemy number one in the country. This was largely agreed across political lines – by so-called ‘moderates’ within the FSA, by the Syrian state, and of course by the Kurdish forces who were bearing the brunt of their fascistic attacks.

Kobane first highlighted the fierce resistance of the YPG/J to the world at large. Although these forces had defended predominately Kurdish lands in Syria since the beginning of the Rojava Revolution in the Spring of 2012, this battle would finally bring these fighters’ struggle to international attention, as well as that of the Kurdish question in general. Suddenly, the nearly 40 years that the Kurdish movement had fought the genocidal policies of the Turkish state also began to achieve a certain level of recognition.

It is true that the women’s revolution in Kobane and Rojava was fetishized in the mainstream western press. Beyond the H&M adverts, a more thorough examination showed that it was the consequence of a deliberate policy to liberate women from patriarchal oppression that was first undertaken in the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), not in Syria, but inside of Turkish borders.

It was not until the martyrdom of Ivana Hoffmann, a German internationalist in the ranks of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) in Syria in March of 2015 that I began to seriously reflect on the correctness of my political understanding of Syria. I knew that there were communist parties in Syria that had been in a de-facto alliance with the Syrian state against the moves of imperialism. Yet, I did not realise that there had been Turkish communist groups that had been fighting side by side with the Kurdish forces. Not only were these cadres from Bakur but many of them – like Ivana – were young internationalists. Ivana did not die in Kobane, but her death became linked to that decisive battle in historical memory.

Investigation and Participation

I knew that I needed to investigate the matter further. Therefore, I made it my business to make sure that I travelled to Rojava to see for myself what was taking place in the areas of Syria which were experiencing what the Kurdish forces called a ‘revolution’. Was this really the case? Or was this a mere attempt by the U.S. to carve out a proto-state in a part of Syrian territory?

Any doubts I may have had about whether or not the ‘Rojava Revolution’ was a genuine revolutionary process were put to bed within mere days of arriving in Syria. I soon realized what an absolute travesty it was that people who are generally aligned with the left in the west had fallen into the mistaken position of referring to these Kurdish forces as ‘Zio Kurds’ (despite a historical relationship with the revolutionary Palestinian movement), ‘separatists’ (despite an unflinching opposition to any plans to partition Syria), or imperialist proxies (despite fighting imperialism for nearly 40 years).

Let me be honest: admitting that I have been wrong, especially for years on end on such a key political question, wasn’t easy. In fact, the hardest thing about being in Syria was having to engage in the daily ‘tekmil’ – criticism and self-criticism sessions. Coming from our western experiences, it just isn’t that easy to not take such sessions deeply personally, even if their focus is on improving the character of revolutionaries.

To be clear, this does not mean that I think those journalists and activists who have been to government-held areas of Syria are necessarily wrong in the positions they have put forward in the so-called western alternative media. Given the malicious war propaganda put forward by the western mainstream press, particularly in the U.S, it is important to defy these perspectives. I do not doubt that the Ba’athist state enjoys considerable support in many areas of Syria. Personally, I know countless Syrians who may have been critical of the state before the war, but who have increasingly sympathised with Bashar al-Assad’s leadership and view his presidency as a stabilising factor. This is particularly true, from my experiences, among Christians from Syria who see the Ba’athist government as a secular and moderate force.

In fact, it does not surprise me that many who have been to Damascus and other regions of the country see the government as a progressive entity. Especially given the war and the outlook of the factions opposed to the state, this seems to be an entirely understandable conclusion. In some parts of Damascus, I am certain that the Ba’athist state may be viewed as the bastion of progressiveness, secularism, and inclusiveness. I do not doubt the sincerity of the journalists and activists who have reported on this reality within the country. The only thing I doubt – and have come to understand – is that their views are incomplete.

What is a secular, progressive government to an Arab Christian, Alawi, or even Sunni living in a considerable part of the country is the same government that I came to see that for an Assyrian, Kurd, or other ethnic minority in the north of the country was a ‘fascist’ regime. The stories I heard of the repressive policies of this state were harrowing. For sure, if I had simply gone to Damascus, I may have just reinforced my existing beliefs and perspectives. Yet, I was eager not to do precisely that. I was eager to see more of the country, to do what many of my other journalist colleagues as yet hadn’t done.

It is true that the Syrian Arab state has been part of the so-called ‘resistance axis’ to Zionism and imperialism in the region. Yet, everything has a dual character. The state’s orientation vis-à-vis imperialism may be progressive. It may be anti-colonial. However, it is internal policies have also exhibited a considerable degree of colonialism as far as the Kurds are concerned. It seems laughable to many in the north of the country to seriously speak of a ‘resistance axis’ to occupation when their lives have been characterised by exclusion and suppression of their language and culture.

The Left Must Express Its Solidarity With Afrin

Things changed post-Rojava. Gone was any conception or idea that perhaps the administration behind this region’s transformation was anything less than revolutionary. Gone was any semblance of thought that this governing structure was a proxy of imperialism. Gone was any notion that this system should not be supported overtly. I knew that I had to turn over a new leaf in raising my voice in solidarity with Rojava, and of convincing those who thought as I previously had – who were at the very least sceptical about ‘the Kurds’ – that this was a historical process worth supporting, even if critically.

Of course, I’m well aware that just as the views of those who have only travelled to Syrian government-held areas are limited in scope, so are mine. My assessments are frank, sincere, and I believe correct. However, I certainly won’t fall into the trap of claiming that I am a Syria ‘expert’ or that I possess all of the answers. I will only assert that what I have seen gives me tremendous hope in the potential for humanity and for socialism’s revival.

Until now, I do not think I have clearly expressed that I know my previous position on Syria to have been incorrect – or perhaps to phrase it better, to have been far too simplistic and incomplete. In that regard, take this as my public self-criticism. I will never again be so arrogant and simplistic to believe that major world conflagrations can be boiled down to a single contradiction. I will do my utmost never again to fail to express my solidarity with the struggle of the oppressed and downtrodden resisting fascistic structures and barbarism.

Three years ago, I should have been in complete solidarity with the resistance of Kobane. Honestly, I failed. Today, I am demanding the international left engage in a serious assessment of just how significant the Rojava Revolution is at this historical juncture as the radical left reconstitutes itself globally. Solidarity with Afrin should be front and centre at this moment. I fully believe that anything less than this is a full betrayal of the principles of humanity and abandonment one of the most progressive forces currently in existence.

Although it is, of course, true that my writings on Rojava may be reflective of the human flaw of containing romantic sentiments – and I believe they probably are – I would not consider it an overstatement to say that the revolution being defended with the gun by the YPG and YPJ is akin to the vanguard of humanity.

That makes it all the more difficult to be within the confines of western capitalist modernity while this attack on Afrin takes place. My soul and my spirit are in Rojava at this crucial moment. I yearn to be able to be there to physically resist the attacks of the fascist Turkish government and mercenaries against this radical, democratic experiment. Although I know that this is not possible for the time being, what is possible is that we do all we can in the western metropoles to raise our voices to make sure that Afrin does not become a victory for the neo-Ottoman ambitions of the Erdogan government. Anything less is indeed to betray the principles of revolution and internationalism.

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Could the Kurds beat Turkey in Syria?

  Washington Examiner
After a multi-day artillery barrage, the Turkish Army has begun its push into Afrin, a district of Syria which has been governed by Syrian Kurds ever since they defeated al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists. Turkish officials say they plan to set up a buffer zone extending almost 20 miles into Syria from the Turkish border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a blistering speech threatening Turkey’s Kurds if they speak up on behalf of their Syrian counterparts and promising victory within “a very short period of time.”That may be a fatal miscalculation, one which could cripple Turkey. Erdogan’s paranoia and political meddling in the military have taken a toll. Once the pride of NATO, the Turkish military and security services are a shadow of their former self. They lack the experience, training, and discipline of their predecessors. One in four Turkish pilots is in prison; many Turkish F-16s are grounded for lack of trained pilots. In 2012, Syrian forces downed a Turkish F-4, and Kurds have downed Turkish helicopters.Nor is it clear the Turkish army can fight effectively. The Turks may occupy pockets in Syria, but their presence has long been more symbolic than real. One of the reasons the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) supplied and supported the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and allowed the Islamic State free transit across Turkish territory was a quid pro quo in order to protect Turkish interests inside Syria. In short, Erdogan wanted to assume the status of military commander without actually having to fight the tough battles that originally elevated Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, to prominence.Turkey’s competence gap can be seen in the few incidents where Turkish forces have come into contact with adversaries in Syria or Iraq. In 2016, the ISIS burned to death two Turkish soldiers that it captured in Syria. That ISIS terrorists were able to kidnap them in the first place demonstrates massive security lapses, and that Turkey was unable to determine their location prior to their execution reflects gaps in Turkish intelligence. Rather than acknowledge their murder, Erdogan responded as he often does with denial and deflection, refusing to acknowledge the accuracy of the video and then imposing a media blackout on the murders.Turkey’s weakness is also reflected in deteriorating internal security. Terrorists have for decades targeted Turkey, but Turkish security forces successfully exposed and disrupted terrorist plots. After Erdogan purged senior military and security officials and rotated others out of territories and portfolios they knew inside-out, terrorism surged not only inside Turkey but even in the once-safe cities of Istanbul and Ankara. This should not have been unexpected to any leader cognizant of history. The Red Army hemorrhaged effectiveness after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin purged the officer corps prior to the Nazi invasion during World War II. Iraqi inroads into Iran in 1980 were due not only to the element of surprise, but also to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s hobbling of the Iranian officer corps during his post-revolutionary purge. More recently, ISIS seized Mosul after former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki replaced more professional officers with political loyalists who chickened out and ran at the sound of the first shot.Turkey has fought the PKK since 1984. The group suffered a blow in 1999 when Turkish commandos, perhaps assisted by U.S. or Israeli intelligence, seized PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. While Turkish officials for more than a decade insisted the imprisoned and isolated Ocalan has become irrelevant, Erdogan transformed him into an indispensable Kurdish political leader by agreeing to negotiate peace with him. Erdogan may like to depict the PKK as terrorists — and, without doubt, they have engaged in terrorism — but in recent years, they have transformed themselves into more of a traditional insurgency. And while the links between the PKK and the Syrian-based Popular Mobilization Units (YPG) are real, Turkish officials are hard-pressed to attribute any attacks inside Turkey to Syrian Kurds from Afrin.But while Turkey’s military is a shadow of its former self, the same can’t be said for the YPG. The Kurdish militia has been the most effective fighting force on the ground in Syria against al Qaeda and ISIS. For years, they operated alone — ignored by the United States and Russia, isolated by other Syrian opposition groups, and embargoed by Turkey. And yet, at Kobane and elsewhere, their discipline, high morale, and cohesion paid off. If they could operate against all odds against ISIS, they can likewise be a formidable opponent against Turkey, especially with home field advantage.Nor is the PKK amateurish, especially after years of hardening in battle. In another incident censored by Turkey, PKK operatives managed to capture two of Turkey’s leading intelligence officials.Nor are Turkey’s aims clear. There is hardly a Kurdish farmer or shopkeeper that Turkish officials — in assessments blinded by racism and ignorance — don’t see as terrorists. If Turkey seeks to wipe out “terrorists,” does that mean engaging in ethnic cleansing inside Syria? And, if that happens, what is to stop a blowback that will not only send hundreds of Turkish troops back home in body bags, but will also ignite the already repressed Kurdish population inside Turkey? If Turkey has been unable to defeat the PKK in Diyarbakir and Hakkari, will they be able to do so in Istanbul and Antalya? Just as Erdogan’s forces once supplied al Qaeda and ISIS with weaponry, what might happen if other countries — Russia, Israel, the Syrian regime, or even the United States — decide covertly to provide the means for the YPG to better defend themselves? If Kurds bring the fight into Turkey, can Turkey’s economy survive as the multi-billion dollar tourist industry shrinks 75 percent?Erdogan operates in a domain of ego and ambition unencumbered by reality. He brands those who question him as terrorists, and so top aides understand they must tell him only what he wishes to hear. The result, now that Turkish forces are moving into Afrin against an opponent stronger than Erdogan realizes, could be disaster for Turkey. Erdogan may expect a quick victory. Not only is this not realistic, but he may soon find that what he sees as an ignorant terrorist group is strong enough to bleed Turkish invaders dry and run the Turkish economy into the ground.Erdogan may set the stage not for triumphant victory but for a defeat that will shake Turkey to the core.Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.

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We are trying to build Democracy in Syria.  So why is Turkey attacking us?

 Washington Post
January 22 at 2:16 PM
Hayvi Mustafa is co-president of the Executive Council of Afrin, a region in northern Syria of 1.5 million people that currently includes some 500,000 internally displaced people.
Three months ago, I was sitting here in my office with my colleagues, celebrating the liberation of Raqqa from the Islamic State. The Islamic State’s fighters were vanquished by our own Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with the help of our American allies. We had great hopes that day: Eliminating the security threat meant that we could finally begin investing in education and social services. As a woman, I was especially keen to empower others of my gender, which I saw as a crucial part of our plans to transform our society into a true democracy after our lives under the totalitarian state of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. My duties evolved to include supervising the work of 15 governmental departments that provide security and services to people regardless of their ethnicity, religion or politics. Among our accomplishments is a new university that offers instruction in engineering and social sciences and provides full access to women as well as men.Today I am sitting in that very same office, listening and watching as Turkish jets bomb us and artillery shells our homes. We are getting calls from local officials warning that Turkey pushing deeper into our territory, perhaps even hoping to take the city of Afrin itself. Turkey accuses us of being an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). All of the region’s leaders and U.S officials have denied these allegations. Nonetheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains determined to wage his war against Afrin. His invasion in our territory also serves the purpose of distracting his own people from his authoritarian power grab at home.Our region is religiously and ethnically diverse. Our population includes Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Yazidis and Alawites. Many of us are descendants of the survivors of genocides that were committed by Turkish states against the non-Turkish peoples during and after World War I. All of these communities have refused to leave Afrin despite the threat from the Islamic government in Turkey and the jihadist groups associated with it that publicly threaten us with ethnic cleansing. All of these communities are working together to build a democratic alternative in Syria.Erdogan wants to destroy this freedom; his forces have already killed 18 innocent civilians. Though ostensibly a U.S. ally, Erdogan is not ashamed to use jihadist groups to eliminate Afrin as a democratic alternative. Not only did Erdogan allow al-Qaeda to grow along Turkey’s border with Idlib, but he has also coordinated with al-Qaeda to facilitate the entry of the Turkish troops into our region. Erdogan doesn’t fight al-Qaeda — he works with them.Since 2011, when Assad’s regime started to collapse, the democratic political institutions of our region have worked tirelessly to mobilize people in a struggle for democracy and security against the barbarism of the Islamic State and the chaos of the Syrian civil war. We have organized our self-defense and enforced universal human rights. Most importantly, our security forces do not perform summary executions — with one man as judge, jury and executioner — as frequently happens in the other lawless areas of Syria. Our forces abide by the laws written in our legislative assembly.Ironically, the fact that the Islamic State never took control of our region has limited the American presence here, and we are now paying the price. Unlike some other regions in northern Syria, we do not have U.S. military bases or even military observers. This encouraged Erdogan to wage war against us under the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” He accuses all Kurds of being terrorists by virtue of their birth. But today it is not only the Kurds who are being attacked by Erdogan. Turkish prisons are filled with peaceful political activists from a wide variety of backgrounds, yet all are accused of terrorism.We should not be destroyed because our struggle for democracy and freedom curtails Erdogan’s ambitions. We should not be destroyed because we kept the Islamic State and al-Qaeda out of our region. We look to Turkey as a neighbor and seek a better relationship with its people. We differentiate between Turkey as a government and its people, between Erdogan as an Islamist dictator and his oppressed subjects. We believe that this is a distinction that our friends in the United States and Europe should also make.U.S. diplomacy appears to be having little effect on Turkey, and this is not a surprise. Erdogan failed to support a democratic alternative to the Assad regime and refused to help the United States defeat al-Qaeda in Syria. Our defense forces have recruited many democratically minded Syrians from the areas where al-Qaeda is now concentrated, and we are prepared to work together with the United States to end this threat to global security. To do this, the United States needs to enforce a no-fly zone similar to agreements between the United States and Russia preventing the Syrian air force from bombing SDF targets, and to establish closer cooperation with our security forces in the region. But Washington must act soon. Time is running out.

Kurds say heavy Turkish-backed attacks were repelled in Afrin

by Wladimir van Wilgenburg   Reuters  

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday said they have repelled attacks by the Turkish army and affiliated rebels in Afrin. This, while the Turkish government media claimed the Turkish-backed forces took some villages near the border of Afrin.

On Sunday heavy clashes took place between the Turkish-backed rebels and the SDF. This comes a day after heavy Turkish air strikes pounded the city of Afrin and the villages near the border.

Speaking to The Region, a local official Mustafa Shan said that “A half an hour ago, the Afrin suburb was shelled but the morale is high and we hope nothing will happen,” he added.

Roj Moussa, a local journalist in Afrin told The Region that the Turkish-backed rebels failed to enter into YPG strongholds. “The militants couldn’t cross to the villages of Shinkal and Kurdo. The clashes continued and the YPG forces confronted them and bombed a tank in the Kordo village and two tanks in the Dikmash village,” he added.

Nevertheless, later in the evening several civilians were killed, an official of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) told the Region.

“The Turkish army shelled Afrin today again and until an hour ago the planes were flying in the sky. Today, a massacre took place in the town of Siruj in the north-east of Afrin and some children were killed,” the YPG official based in Afrin said.

“9 civilians were killed, including 6 children and the rest we couldn’t recognize because not much was left of their bodies” the YPG official in Afrin said.

However, the official denied Turkish soldiers were captured.

“The clashes were strong today, especially in Rajo and Bilbil. The operation was carried out by the Turkish army and its militias and is continuing so far in the villages of Adama and Surki in the south of Afrin,” the official added late in the afternoon.

According to a statement made by the SDF, the Turkish-backed rebels and army were repelled later during the day.

“The Turkish occupation army, which failed to advance into Afrin on the ground, once again targeted civilians with multiple airstrikes. The bombardment carried out on Rubar IDP camp, Cilbir village of Sherawa district and the area surrounding Afrin city center caused many civilian deaths,” the SDF said.

The SDF also accused the Turkish Army of attacking Hatay city and placing the blame on the SDF. They rebuked what they insinuated what was an orchestrated media campaign by Ankara.

“The Turkish occupation army attacks Reyhanli district of Hatay city itself only to legitimate the ongoing massacre and blames our forces for this.” the SDF stated in a public statement. “We once again stress that the social media rumors and the allegations delivered by some media outlets should not be trusted unless officially confirmed by General Command statements. SDF General Command will keep the public up to date about the results of the battle and resistance,” the SDF said.

The SDF said they would announce more details on the operation later.

Another SDF official in a public statement suggested that the Turkish-backed forces faced heavy losses after attacks by the SDF, recapturing lost positions and seizing the bodies of dead soldiers and rebels and destroying some tanks.

“Some tanks were left being destroyed on the battlefield, while soldiers escaped. The number of deaths, injured are still not clear, but will be released later. The situation is good, the moral is high and the guerrilla-style attacks are continuing,” the SDF official said.

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Syrian Kurdish YPG says ‘no choice but to resist’ after Turkish strikes

 Reuters Staff
Smoke rises from the Syria’s Afrin region, as it is pictured from near the Turkish town of Hassa, on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province, Turkey January 20, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

“We will defeat this aggression, like we have defeated other such assaults against our villages and cities,” the YPG, which has battled Islamic State with U.S. backing, said.

The YPG urged men and women in north Syria to join its ranks to protect Afrin.

Turkey opened a new front in Syria’s war on Saturday, striking the Afrin region and raising the prospect of deeper strains between Ankara and NATO ally Washington.

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SULAIMANI – The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will not remain silent over the Turkish attacks on Afrin canton, member of the group’s executive council committee said.

Speaking to PKK-affiliate media on Saturday (January 20), PKK Executive Council Committee member Murat Karayilan said the PKK would defend Afrin if Turkey attacks the canton.

“Attack on Afrin is like an attack on the entire Kurdish nation,” Karayilan added, calling on the international community not to back Turkey.

Before formal airstrikes started he said, “If Turkey launches any airstrikes on Afrin, we will consider it as if Russia has allowed Turkey, because the Afrin sky is under control of Russia.”

PKK knows Turkey cannot enter Afrin alone because the group has been fighting Turkey for 35 years, Karayilan said.

Afrin, a hilly region that falls in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, is home to more than a million people including displaced families.

Turkey and allied Syrian rebels on Saturday began an air and ground operation, dubbed operation “Olive Branch,” aimed at ousting the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the Kurdish-majority pocket.

Russia on Saturday said its troops were withdrawing from the Afrin region, where they had been stationed to manage a buffer zone between Kurds and Turkish-backed rebels and also train to Kurdish fighters.

In a statement issued late Saturday, the YPG said it would “hold Russia responsible for these attacks just as much as Turkey.”

Turkey vehemently opposes the YPG because of its links to PKK, which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey for three decades.

But the YPG has been the key ally of Turkey’s fellow NATO member, the United States, in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), playing a key role in pushing the extremists out of their Syrian strongholds.

(NRT)

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The people of Afrin today said no to Turkish occupation and no to Turkish attacks

Last update:
Friday 19 January 2018 10:00 UTC

Thousands of Kurds on Thursday protested in Afrin against Turkish invasion plans, while also denying Turkish claims civilians were fleeing the Syrian canton. “Afrin is a cemetery of Erdogan,” one banner read at the protests.

“The people of Afrin today said no to Turkish occupation and no to Turkish attacks on their ground, against their civilians,” Roj Moussa, 20, a journalist, said after the protests.

“It was a huge protest, despite the rain and wind – I’ve never seen such huge protests before,” he added.

The people of Afrin today said no to Turkish occupation and no to Turkish attacks

– Roj Moussa, Afrin resident and journalist

The protests come after days of mobilisation of Turkish armour and artillery on its border, and threats from Ankara that it will destroy the YPG militia in the canton, which it considers to be a terrorist organisation. Afrin was hit by Turkish artillery on Thursday morning.

The district of Afrin is home to about 500,000 civilians, a population which has doubled with refugees from fighting in other areas of the country.

It has been mostly spared such violence and is protected by the YPG – and the threat of Turkish invasion brings defiance from its people.

Azad, an IT engineer who marched against the Turkish threats on Thursday, said the protest was aimed against the recent shelling of villages by the Turkish army.

“A number of missiles targeted Afrin city centre, but it did not leave much damage,” he said.

“The number of people leaving is limited compared to what the media says,” he said about reports in the Turkish media that people in Afrin were leaving.

A woman holds a picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan during a rally in Afrin (Reuters)

‘We are not afraid’

According to Serbest, 37, who works at the local university, the Kurds in Afrin will not flee their homes.

“We have our mountains and caves, we will defend and stay. I was a half-hour ago in the streets, life was ordinary, markets were open, young people in the coffee shops,” he said.

“Some expect an attack and others not. But some people are worried.”

Nariman Hesso, a 25-year-old pro-Kurdish journalist, told Middle East Eye that despite Thursday’s shelling “men, women and children came to the streets and sent an answer to Erdogan that they are never afraid”.

“The morale of people is very high and they will never give up their land. We will stand until the end against the Turkish attacks until the last drop of blood in their body,” she said.

The sons and daughters of the entirety of Rojava can resist the Turkish invasion in Afrin

– Roj Moussa, Afrin resident

Roj Moussa added: “Life is normal in Afrin, despite the Turkish occupation threats we are here, and we are here to stay.

“All the attacks in the last four days of the Turkish government made the people more powerful.”

“The sons and daughters of Afrin took part in the liberation of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Manbij. Arin Mirkan [a female fighter from Afrin who died in Kobani in October 2014] was a symbol of the Kobani resistance,” Moussa added.

“The sons and daughters of the entirety of Rojava can resist the Turkish invasion in Afrin,” he added.

YPG and US soldiers have fought side by side against IS in Syria. But the US says it has no interests in Afrin (AFP)

Kurds look to Russia

Anger has also spread in Afrin over the US declaration that it had no interests in Afrin. Mohammed Bilo, another journalist in the canton, said all eyes were on Russia, which has military observers in the area.

“Afrin is under the influence of Russia,” he said.

Abdulkarim Omer, the head of foreign relations for Jazira canton in northern Syria, called on both Russia and the US to pressure Turkey.

“A Turkish attack on Afrin will complicate the crisis in Syria,” he told Middle East Eye. “It will affect the political process. We call on the international community and the US-led coalition to pressure the Turkish government.

“Both Russia and the United States should stop the Turkish government from attacking Afrin.

“Any attack on Afrin means the beginning of the end for the [Russian-sponsored] Sochi talks and the entire negotiations process will return to square one,” he added.

“We hope the international community will not stand still and condemn such attacks and pressure Turkey to reconsider its policies in Syria,” he stated.

Turkish tanks are transported to the border with Afrin (Reuters)

Doubts over Turkish threats

However, Omar Aloush, a senior Kurdish member of the Raqqa civil council, which controls the liberated city, doubts Russia or the US would allow a Turkish invasion.

“The US is trying to adopt a policy of dual containment, to ensure our participation in the war against terrorism, and to ensure Turkey does not support Russia,” he added.

“In the meantime, Russia does not want Turkey to have a larger role [in Syria],” he added.

On Thursday, the Syrian government warned it is ready to destroy Turkish planes should they enter Turkish airspace

“This is a Russian message to avoid an agreement with Turkey [on Afrin],” an anonymous YPG official told MEE.

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KCK: 2018 will be the year of collapse for AKP fascism

KCK Executive Council Co-presidency stated that the struggle of 2018 will bring about the end of AKP-MHP fascism and all other centralist and authoritarian governments in the Middle East.

The statement by KCK stated the following:

“2017 became a year of great struggle for the peoples of Kurdistan and the Middle East that gave a great fight in order for freedom to prevail in the Third World War centred on the Middle East. Peoples of Bakurê (Northern) Kurdîstan and Northern Syria led the struggle for freedom and democracy with the fight they have developed. The uprisings in Bashurê (Southern) Kurdîstan and Iran at the end of the year have manifested all Middle Eastern peoples’ desire for a free and democratic life. The democratic revolution developed in Kurdistan on the path of Leader Apo (Abdullah Öcalan) has spread to entire Middle East. The democratic revolutionary struggles based on Leader Apo’s libertarian ecological democratic society paradigm will continue to be the hope of peoples during 2018 as well.

The despotic, authoritarian and centralist forces of the Middle East will obtain no results no matter how cruelly they might attack the peoples’ freedom and democracy struggle. History and society has risen up in the Middle East. Fascist governments in countries like Turkey cannot achieve a result in spite of all their efforts to oppress the people’s freedom struggle. Despite the fact that Turkey has become the center of Middle Eastern reactionism and despotism, the AKP-MHP government is being through its weakest period, so much so that they are afraid of their own shadow even. A slightest criticism and popular movement shakes the AKP-MHP fascism. This fascism brings about its own end as it increases its repression.”

“AKP GOVERNMENT WILL BE BROUGHT TO AN END”

The statement by KCK Executive Council Co-presidency continued;

“Kurdish people and Turkey’s democratic circles gave a significant struggle during the year of 2017. Guerrilla defeated the attacks of annihilation with the self-sacrificing resistance they mounted, and brought the Turkish state to the brink of economic, social and political collapse. Despite the AKP-MHP fascism trying its best to prevent their collapse by stepping up its chauvinism, the struggle to develop during 2018 will counteract this chauvinism and bring about the end of AKP government.

Peoples of the Middle East want to get rid of despotic, authoritarian and centralist governments. The uprising of people even in the areas of most cruel oppression manifests the fact that such governments will not be able to survive. All centralist authoritarian governments, the fascist AKP-MHP government in the first place, will come to an end.

“2018 WILL BE THE YEAR OF ENHANCING THE STRUGGLE”

Stressing that the peoples of Middle East deserve a free and democratic life with all the sacrifices they have made, KCK said;

“Rojava Revolution and forces of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria have proven that significant gains could be made on the path to a free and democratic life in the event of making sacrifices.

The Middle East has entered a process when history will be re-written with regard to freedom, democracy and societism.

We call upon the peoples of Kurdistan and the entire region to enhance the struggle on the basis of democratic nation perspective and make Middle East a territory of socialist free and democratic life during the year of 2018.”

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MEHMET FUNERAL

On September 26, 2017, whilst he was filming the historic liberation of Raqqa from ISIS and doing media work for the People’s Defense Units (YPG), Mehmet was murdered by the cowardly fascists of ISIS. Mehmet’s blood — just like that of thousands of his fallen comrades — is nourishing the soil of that land, where the determined struggle of the people is forming the foundation of a free and just life, in a time and place of chaos, war and brutality.

Until his last breath, Mehmet lived with the pure joy of having finally reached the lands that realized his utopias: Rojava. He traveled there to become the worthy comrade of the free woman. He documented the lives and struggles of the Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Turkmen, Chechens, Syriacs and Assyrians fighting side by side against the forces of darkness.

By transforming himself into a militant of justice, a comrade of peoples, a fighter for truth and defender of life, his direct action made him become a realizer of utopias that many no longer dare to dream of. In his own words: “Don’t surrender to capitalism. Don’t surrender to materialism, ugly relationships, lovelessness, disrespect, degeneration and inequality.”

Today, the heroes that have liberated Raqqa are mourning him, as they promise to make him live on in the futures they create in a free Middle East.

It is impossible to tell the story of a twenty-first century revolutionary, of somebody who smiled at death with the knowledge that the future will be ours. The words that could do him justice can only be found in our constant, tireless efforts to resist fascism and keep his struggle alive.

We don’t have the words to describe this historic loss, not even with the ink of our bleeding hearts. With the deepest revolutionary respect, we share a selected excerpt from Mehmet Aksoy’s last letter to his family:

I am writing this letter to you from South Kurdistan. When you read this letter, I will have crossed to West Kurdistan, to Rojava. Don’t be upset with me for not having let you know beforehand; I did not want you to be worried.

In fact, I should have written this letter to you years ago. For years, I kept writing and re-writing this letter over and over again in my head, but I did not want to sadden you. Even at the cost of living in a system that I reject, of being unhappy, I tried to live this life, but I did not succeed. Time is passing now. Now is the time to take more courageous and more determined steps, and I am trying to take those steps.

References to the Kurdish and Turkish revolutionaries Deniz Gezmiş, Mahir Çayan, Ibrahim Kapakkaya, Mazlum Doğan, and Berîtan (Gülnaz Karataş). Mehmet chose his nom-de-guerre — Fîraz Dağ — in honor of his martyred uncle Fîraz, and Halil Dağ, a guerrilla fighter and filmmaker.

In this sense, I am taking these steps and writing this letter not with my own pen, but with the pens of all the Deniz, Mahir, Ibrahim, Mazlum, Berîtan, Fîraz and Leaders and the faith and courage that I have gained from them. I want you to understand this.Do you know that my return to the homeland is above all for the liberation of women? I have come here to support, live with, and be in common struggle with the women who resist, fight and create a new, free life with their own hands.

Lastly, I can say this: from now on, I want to live my future life in my own country, up close with my own people. An infinite amount of labor, events, love, pain, happiness, thought, people and hope that have all made me who I am pushed me towards this decision. It could not have happened otherwise. I have never lived for individual things, for money, for power, for force or material things. Since my childhood, I have always sought, created and tried to increase love, friendship and sharing. And I am lucky, I have had very beautiful friends. I am sending them my greetings and love from here. Each one of them is invaluable to me. However, I have found the most beautiful friendship in this movement, in this party. I am above all here for that comradeship. And of course, connected to that, for all our martyrs and our leader, who have created this comradeship.

It is serving this movement and people, which provides me with the most valuable and meaningful form of happiness. I hope I can live up to it. Don’t worry about me.

In the wish to meet again in a free country, with a free leader…

Your son, your big brother, who loves you to eternity,
Mehmet

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The REVOLUTION IN ROJAVA – Documents and Debates PART II (2017)

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PKK’s Karayılan: Turkish army can’t fight against the YPG

Turkish army has no strength to attack Efrîn and can’t fight against the YPG, PKK’s Murat Karayılan said.

In an interview with Radio Dengê Welat, PKK Executive Committee member Karayılan said that Turkey has no strength to attack Efrîn citing Turkish army’s operation against 70 YPS fighters which lasted more than 9 months.

“They make it seem like the Turkish state will enter Efrîn in an instant if they attack Efrîn. The whole world should know that the Turkish army doesn’t have such strength. There is no such situation. The people of Efrîn and everybody should know that this army couldn’t enter Şirnex for 9 months, couldn’t enter Nusaybin for 9 months. The Turkish army has come down with Nusaybin syndrome. How could they enter Efrîn immediately? 60-70 YPS guards defended Nusaybin. This army failed to enter Bab, they only could enter with Russian help. They dealt with Bab for 3 months and they couldn’t enter. They were left powerless. They make it seem like they could enter Efrîn any time they want. In Efrîn the YPG/YPJ has experience, there is the SDF. There have been such diverse experiences. They defeated ISIS when nobody could go near them. They took the capital of ISIS. The Turkish army can’t fight against the YPG. If the people and the YPG are united, they can’t handle them. If they come they will lose. They will experience a historic defeat. They will come and see. They have threats, they can come and prove it” Karayılan said.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

“We believe that the patriotic people of Efrîn will stand with the fighters with their courage, sacrifice and their experience and nobody will be able to handle them. The Turkish army for sure won’t be able to take it over. They will be broken. That is apparent. How can a force that couldn’t enter Nusaybin for 9 months enter Efrîn? There are such a large group of forces in Efrîn, there are so many patriotic people. There are the Arab people. There is the resistance of peoples. Faced with the resistance of peoples, fascist Tayyip Erdoğan’s threats won’t prevail. But there is this, they are trying to create a psychology in people, they are engaged in psychological warfare. They make it seem like they are so strong. Now they are at Russia’s feet, so Russia will approve their entrance. So they can fight and fly their planes. They are depending completely on Russia. If the Turkish state attacks Efrîn, that will mean that Russia also approves of that. Without approval from Russia and the US, Turkey is nothing. Russia greenlighted Bab to get gangs out of Aleppo. We don’t know what Russia will ask for in return if they greenlight the attack on Efrîn. But Turkey could do anything. That could be expected of Tayyip Erdoğan. I said Erdoğan is a salesman. He could do anything to make people forget about his thievery and to prevent his collapse. He could even put his honor up for sale. These people are like this. That is why one should expect anything from them, but should not fear. If they come, they will get their answer.”

“EFRIN WON’T BE ALONE!”

“If such a situation does emerge, I believe that all Kurds and all the public will come together around Efrîn. Efrîn won’t be alone. There will be a great strength behind it. Like the support behind Kobanê was strong, there will be a great force behind Efrîn. The whole world will support this. History will be made there again. That is our hope and our belief. With this hope and belief, we salute the people of Efrîn. We expect great things from them, and they are candidates for making history. The forces there issue statements that fit this framework. We can see that they will prevail. How do we know? From practice. The practice of Turkey and the Turkish army is known. They can’t just go in and take over. They don’t have the strength for it. On the other hand, the status of Rojava Kurdistan and the resistance of YPG-YPJ militants are also known. Comparing these, we can say that the Turkish state will experience a great rupture when they go there.”

“TURKISH STATE BOMBED XAKURKE OUT OF FEAR”

On midnight December 14, there was an intense bombing by jet fighters on Xakurke. Aerial attacks started first in Geliyê Reş, Kaniya Reş, Evdalkovî and Desta Heyatê. Then there was an invasion attempt against areas under Southern Kurdistan sovereignty officially, known as the Southern Kurdistan territories. Now there are the Siro Hill and Mavan skirts in Deşta Heyatê. They entered those areas, but there are no guerillas there. It’s not high ground, it’s like a plateau. So it’s on the Xakurkê side, but it’s not Xakurkê. But the enemy bombed Xakurkê out of fear, and in the meantime they advanced their soldiers on that plain. They are holding the Siro Hill. It was empty in any case. There were no guerilla forces there. That’s the deal. It’s not clear if this will expand and spread into Xakurkê as an operation. If they turn towards Xakurkê, there will undoubtedly be great resistance. There will be war. It’s not that easy, or possible for that matter, to enter Xakurkê. There will be a great war. But now they are close. They passed Geliyê Reş and the Heci Beg river, they arrived and are holding that area. That is a hill in the South. According to rumors among the people, the Southern Kurdistani and Iraqi governments are aware of the situation, and they haven’t reacted at all. That might very well be true. Why did they come and hold this hill? This hill is on a triangle. To hold the whole region, all entrances and exits under control over the South line, to control all movement.

“TURKEY IS DEFEATED BY KURDISH STRUGGLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST”

The Turkish state and the AKP-MHP government are at their worst period. Their Rojava policies haven’t amounted to anything. Their Middle East policies have collapsed in general. The core of their Middle Eastern policies was anti-Kurdishness. And they failed at that. They had geared their policies towards Kurds not achieving any status in the process of change and transformation in the whole region. They even wanted to clamp on the status in Southern Kurdistan and weaken it. This is not the first time we are talking about this. We have been saying these things for the last 4-5 years. Look, some opportunities came along, the Southern Kurdistan politics had some mistakes, the Turkish state intervened immediately, they went to Iran and Iraq and formed an alliance. They did all that they could to weaken the status of Southern Kurdistan.

“The Turkish state sees their success in the defeat of the Kurds’ gains. Despite that, if you go to their feet that doesn’t mean anything. There is no place for such acts in politics. As it is known, they employ the same oppositional politics against Rojava as well. As we said before, they employed the same policies in Cizre and Silopi too. Now they employ the same policies everywhere. But they have been defeated. They have lost against Rojava. From the beginning, they used Al-Nusra and the groups who called themselves the “Free Syrian Army”. Until 2014. They were defeated. Then they deployed ISIS, which has also been defeated. Now they come out themselves. With gangs under their control. Everybody knows that they don’t constitute a will, they are agents, they are mercenaries and paramilitary forces.”

“The Turkish state failed in their Middle East policies, in Syria, against Kurds, in the North, in Rojava. Their policies against Kurds and Kurdistan have failed. Now they are attempting to cover up their defeat and their thievery with an operation. Why? See, now there is the Reza Zarrab case in the US. This case is about Tayyip Erdoğan in particular. The crimes and the thievery of Tayyip Erdoğan and his network can be seen clearly. The AKP and Tayyip Erdoğan are deeply afraid of this.”

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IS-fighting British man Jac Holmes killed in Syria

Jac YPG

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A British man who has been fighting so-called Islamic State in Syria has been killed while clearing landmines in Raqqa, the BBC understands.

Jac Holmes had been fighting with Kurdish militia the YPG since 2015.

Kurdish representatives in the UK said they had been told by YPG officials the former IT worker from Bournemouth was killed while he was clearing an area to make it safe for civilians.

His mother, Angie Blannin, said the 24-year-old had been a “hero in my eyes”.

She told the BBC: “He loved what he was doing there, he loved being a soldier. He had the courage of his convictions.

“He was just a boy when he left the UK, a little bit lost. He told me he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. But by going out there, he found something that he was good at and that he loved.”

Ms Blannin said she had not seen Jac for over a year, but that they regularly kept in touch online and had been making plans for him coming home.

“He stuck by his convictions because he wanted to be there and he wanted to see the end of Raqqa and to see the end of the caliphate. That was a moment in history, and he wanted to be part of it.”

“We thought with any luck he’d be home for Christmas. It had been so tough since he had been away but I was always 100% behind him.”

“After all this, he had said he might go into politics, or perhaps into close protection security. He’d seen so much for a boy of his age.”

Ozkan Ozdil, who also fought with Mr Holmes in Syria, told the BBC his friend had become well-known and respected among Kurdish fighting units.

He said: “Everybody knew Jac. By his third tour out there his Kurdish was fluent. We had a bit of a laugh that he was my Kurdish translator.

“He spoke so fondly about Rojava [the name given to the Kurdish region of north east Syria]. He was the reason that made me want to go.”

Mr Holmes also was known by his Kurdish nom de guerre Sores Amanos – “sores” meaning “revolution”.

He was one of a number of British volunteers who travelled out to fight against IS with the Kurds during the Syrian conflict.

As a former IT worker, Mr Holmes had no prior military training, but he became one of the longest-serving foreign volunteers in the conflict.

Since 2015, he had travelled to fight with the Kurds three times, and spent more than a year there on his third trip.

“He loved being out there, he loved the people around him. He had a purpose and he was happy,” said Mr Ozdil.

Mr Holmes fought in operations to push IS out of key towns and villages including Tel Hamis, Manbij, Tabqa and Raqqa.

He always knew he could face arrest from UK authorities for fighting abroad, but had previously told the BBC “you just have to hope that our justice system works in the correct way”.

During the battle for the IS stronghold of Raqqa, he became part of a four-man sniper unit made up of international fighters who, like him, had joined the conflict voluntarily.

In the “223 YPG Sniper Unit” Mr Holmes fought alongside three others from Spain, the US and Germany.

As the fighting for Raqqa intensified, the unit had some narrow escapes.

He described on Facebook how they had survived coming close to IS car bombs and being ambushed by jihadist fighters.

On Sunday, Mr Holmes posted video of himself on Facebook walking into Raqqa’s central sports stadium for the first time since the battle for the city ended.

He wrote: “We spent weeks seeing this place from hundreds of metres away. It was strange walking the streets and finally going inside.”

During his time in Syria, he conducted many interviews with various media outlets, even appearing on Kurdish television outlets giving interviews in Kurdish.

Through his media appearances and the amount of interest in the exploits of this young man from Bournemouth, Mr Holmes drew wider attention to the role the Kurds were playing in the conflict.

Another friend from London, Alan Sahin, told the BBC: “We could see how much he grew up while he was out there. He found his purpose there. He turned from a young lad into a man.”

‘Respect, admiration’

Jac

Jac Holmes with UK YPJ Volunteer Kimmie Taylor.

He described how a close circle had had the news of his death relayed to them from Syria just as they were attending Parliament on Monday evening for a Kurdish event.

“It’s gut-wrenching, as Raqqa had just finished,” said Mr Sahin. “Jac would have gone on to do good things.”

The Home Office has warned against all travel to Syria.

Other former British YPG fighters, along with others who knew Mr Holmes, gathered at the Kurdish Community Centre on Monday evening to pay tribute to their friend and comrade.

Mr Sahrin said “At his age, to go into a war zone with no experience, ask anyone else in Britain and they’d say you’re insane. But there he was, he went out there and was doing it. Even though he knew the danger, you couldn’t help but feel he was brave. I had respect for him, admiration even.”

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The honourable child of his country, Martyr Fîraz Dağ

“The system that oppresses us is global. The system that oppresses us is united and in solidarity with each other. So we need to be in solidarity with each other against the same system that oppresses us”, said Fîraz, calling for greater solidarity.

YPG Press Office released the following statement announcing the martyrdom of Fîraz Dağ (Mehmet Aksoy), founder and editor-in-chief of Kurdish Question, in YPG ranks.

The martyr is the reason for a rose to blossom in the midst of vineyards made from ashes. The martyr is a bright dawn to the skies of thirsty and exhausted geography; so that rain falls, so that life will blossom again. This is the story of Kurdistan and its martyrs. The martyrs are the greatest living thing of a people who turned from the gloomy sleep and stepped into the struggle for freedom. The martyr is the hope of awakening, struggle, self-sacrifice and success. The Kurdish people, who were on the way to dying out with the attacks of the invading barbarians, found their hope of life and freedom in the personality of the martyrs.

Fîraz Dağ (Mehmet Aksoy) was from the Elbistan district of Northern Kurdistan in Maraş province. He grew up London after his family’s migration to Europe. Since the early years of his youth, he has never been separated from the path of anti-capitalist, democracy and human rights struggle as part of the rightful struggle of the Kurdish people. Especially after the Şengal massacre on August 3, 2014, he ceaselessly carried out work and gave all his effort to inform and organize the Kurdish community and many others.

He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Kurdish Question, which examines the problems of the Kurdish people and other ethnic groups, and has managed the virtual platform for a long time. He completed university education on film making and took his place in many literary organizations. He produced pieces in cinema, literature and other fields of art with a series of short films, poems, and poetry. He wrote evaluations and managed the internet platform Kurdish Question, where he gave a lot of space to explain and advocate the Kurdish Freedom Movement, the Rojava revolution and the women’s struggle to the international community.

“The system that oppresses us is global. The system that oppresses us is united and in solidarity with each other. So we need to be in solidarity with each other against the same system that oppresses us”, said Martyr Fîraz, calling for greater solidarity among oppressed nations.

With a heart beating with the passion of freedom for his people, Comrade Fîraz felt the longing for freedom in Kurdistan, and while his patriotism lived at the deepest level, he kept this spirit alive and never let go of his identity. He became the loud and clear voice of his people when they were massacred in Kurdistan, because he wanted the whole world to find out about these atrocities. When Kobanê was attacked by Daesh gangs in 2014, he led the Kurdish people in London’s streets and train stations with great determination and willpower. He believed strongly that the YPJ and the free women of Rojava was a beacon and model to the Middle East, and told, through his words, about their revolution.

MEHMET ASKOYComrade Fîraz came to the conclusion that the freedom and hope of a free life were under the philosophy of the Freedom Movement and Leader Apo. He was in search of the free life and found it in Leader Apo’s ideas. Although Fîraz grew up in England, one of the centres of the capital system, nothing but revolutionary life could satisfy him. So, on his way to the source of free ideas, he came to his country. Comrade Fîraz, who could not accept for himself a life in the midst of Modern Slavery, headed to Rojava in order to record the Kurdistan Revolution into history with a pen and camera.

He felt the need to show greater action for the social and political revolution in Rojava, the need to respond greatly to the invader and reactionary attacks. Because of this, he could not be satisfied with his studies abroad, he directed his feet to his country. After the air attacks on the mountain of Qereçox on April 25, 2017, by the occupying Turkish state, he became clear on this point and made the decision to go there. YPG press members were martyred in the Qereçox mountain, Fîraz immediately took his place in the YPG press centre in order to take on the role of these friends and become a voice to the people and comrades, in order to tell the world about the injustice. Comrade Fîraz left a picture of a treasure to humanity and the freedom fighters through his military uniform, his weapon and camera on his shoulders, a picture that will remain in the hearts of his comrades at all times.

Comrade Fîraz was carrying out all his work in English in order to introduce the whole world to the truths of the revolution and make the occupation and exploitation of the Kurdish people visible. Comrade Martyr Fîraz worked day and night to record the lives of the fighters from the human, social, democratic, cultural and moral aspects. Finally, in order to watch his comrades in the battle against Daesh reactionism and share it with the whole world, he participated in the operations of Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor and recorded the struggle moment by moment.

On the morning of September 26, he reached martyrdom in the vicious attack of the Daesh gangs while on duty in Raqqa.

Martyr Fîraz Dağ, by taking on the free press and revolutionary art tradition of Martyr Halil Dağ comrade, successfully represented him in Rojava. In a short time he made places in the hearts of his comrades and became loved by everyone. Under all kinds of harsh conditions, for months he witnessed the emotions, excitement and joys of the fighters in the battle fronts. He was one of those who reflected the new era of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement to the world.

We will adhere to the struggle and life line of our comrades martyred at such a time; we repeat the word that we will walk and fight like them and reach victory. On the way of Comrade Fîraz; we will grow and strengthen our struggle in the free press line. As Kurdistan’s freedom fighters, we will undoubtedly triumph in our struggle. Because our life philosophy consists of struggle for the sake of a free life. It is resistance against the persecution of the cruel. As this philosophy continues to live in the minds and hearts, the tyrants will never win!

The ID information of our martyr is as following;

Nom de Guerre: Fîraz Dağ

Name Surname: Mehmet Aksoy

Mother’s Name: Zeynep

Father’s Name: Kalender

Date and Place of Birth: Malatya, 1985

Date and Place of Martyrdom: 26-09-2017 Raqqa

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Interview with an anarchist who fought in Rojava

Comrade Berhadan. an anarchist from Spain, gave an interview about how he had spent a few months fighting against ISIS and why Western anarchists are preparing for the battle that has already happened. This is a translation from the book “Life without a state: The Revolution in Kurdistan” which was published in Russia in 2017. The book’s principal contributors are:

Dmitry Okrest – the RBC correspondent, who also works with magazines OpenDemocracy, GQ and New Times. He writes about political radicals, the Caucasus and Middle East.

Dmitry Petrov – a researcher of The Institute for African Studies of the Russian academy of studies, PhD in history.

Maxim Lebsky – a historian, the author of “Kurds. Lost in the Middle East” and “Turkey. On the Fault Line of History” books.

The book’s contributors – anthropologists, sociologists, journalists and political activists – talk not only about armed resistance to the hordes of religious fanatics but also about social ideals for which local people abandoned the state and took up arms. More information about book here. Information how to buy — commonplace1959(A)gmail(.)com or heval_rusi(A)riseup(.)net 

“WHEN THEY TRUST YOU — THEY WILL MAKE YOU THEIR BELOVED FRIEND”

Why did you decide to come to Rojava? What inspired you to make that decision?

The Kobane city resistance was the decisive moment for me. Back then we all heard about the people’s militia and civilians fighting in the streets of Kobane. They chanted: «Kobane will be the tomb of fascism!», «no pasarán!» and other antifascist slogans referring to the Spanish Civil War. Mass media and military experts had claimed that the Kobane resistance would fall within 4 days, but it did not. Back in those days we were under the influence of what had happened in Ukraine after the Maydan revolt and in Syria after the revolution. Although we knew very little about Kurdish stateless society ideas, some of us decided to take part in it.

What were the main problems you faced there? Was it easy to find mutual understanding with the local people?  

The main problem was the language barrier. Very few people speak English there. You need to spend a few months before you start to understand Kurmanji. At least for me it was the case, maybe others have better language learning skills. The attitude towards international volunteers differs from group to group. In some groups you might feel a bit overprotected while in others there’s a feeling of real brotherhood. During the first couple of months you learn how to live amongst them, how to solve problems at the assembly. And when they begin to trust you, when they learn about your revolutionary ideas, when they see you take fighting seriously, you have self-discipline, then they make you their beloved friend. In general Kurdish people are very friendly, they help you a lot from day one.

“THE RESISTANCE WORKS AS A CULTURE SCHOOL”

How many anarchists are there? What organizations or anarchist groups do they represent?

Now is not the same as in the beginning of the Kobane Commune and the Tell Abyad operations. Now there are more people who came there just to fight ISIS rather than represent certain political groups. There I met about a dozen of anarchists from the West. Some of them are connected to certain anarchist organizations, but I don’t know if they want me to be public about it. Also, lots of Turkish anarchists were involved in the actions near the border during the Kobane resistance. There were a lot of international volunteers with different ideas, from marxists to the apolitical who just had a sense of social justice. Now we have created the libertarianbrigades.noblogs.org blog to give them a voice, support and opportunity to discuss.

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What do the Kurds think about anarchism?

There’s a difference between the Kurds who come from the mountains, a.k.a guerrillas, and the ones from Rojava or Bakur (Turkey). The mountain folk, they understand anarchism and accept it, especially young people. Their political knowledge is excellent. The Kurds from Rojava are politically unaware. They grew up during the Syrian regime so they know very little even about Apo’s ideas. They are only learning now about culture and politics, at the YPG/YPJ institutions. The resistance works as a culture school.

The Kurds from Turkish towns and the Turks themselves are more into marxist ideas. Although they feel affinity with anarchist ideas too. The PKK ideology was developed as a way to criticize Marxism-Leninism, so now the movement is open to new anti-authoritarian concepts.

Have many of them actually read works of Murray Bookchin, the latest works of Ocalan or do they just believe it is a good thing?

I’ve met a guerrilla commander who identifies himself as an anarchist, his ideas were based on M. Bookchin and N. Chomsky works. These authors are known among the Kurds, definitely. I have also met a Kurdish fighter who admired Peter Kropotkin’s work (a Russian anarchist). He was very interested in anarchist atheism as well. I’ve met fighters from Georgia, Armenia, Iran, who agree with anarchist ideas too.

It is as in the classical revolutionary concept of anarchism. Although they don’t like other types of «anarchism” that they have heard of “Anarchists” like western youths who drink alcohol and have weird haircuts. They know about that and they are prejudiced against that. They stand against this kind of self-expression, individualism and pseudo-radicalism. Another criticism I received was that some of them would say: “Yes, anarchism is a good idea but it is not a real political alternative”. They recognize Democratic Confederalism as a real alternative. They believe it lies beyond marxism, anarchism or any -ism.

What kind of solidarity actions for people outside Rojava would be the most useful to take, in your opinion?

I think at the moment the most important action to take would be generating pressure against the Turkish state. Kurdish organizations get a lot of support so, considering our limited resources, maybe it would be better to focus on supporting our comrades fighting there or specific anarchist organizations in Turkey, Iran and all over the Middle East in general. It is important not to focus just on the Kurds. It’s a trap created by western mass-media. Social uprisings take place in different states of the Middle East and we must support them.

The only thing our Kurdish friends say we should do in our own countries, is that we must organize revolutionary movements, fight, and develop communal relations. It’s a simple way: organize self-rule to take care of our daily necessities in a participative form; organize self-defense to gain strength so that we can defend ourselves and our territories.This can be done on every level, from a small community or collective to a neighborhood, a city or the entire region. So, let’s do it!

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“AGAINST THE STATE, AGAINST THE AUTHORITY, ONLY ALLAH”

Have you had an opportunity to communicate with Assyrians, Arabs, Armenians and those people who have been recently liberated from ISIS?

I was in contact with some Syrian activists before coming to Rojava, some of them identified themselves as anarchists. They were fighting in the FSA. Then in Rojava I was fighting alongside Burkan al Firat (ex-FSA) freedom fighters and it was a good experience. I understood their simple idea of «against the state, against the authority, only Allah». I’ve met a few revolutionaries from Armenia but they weren’t local. They fought in HPG guerrilla groups for some time.

There are talks of ethnic cleansing as well as an anti-Arabic and anti-Turkmen line of the Kurdish movement. Participation of some Arab people in the movement is sometimes called a cover to hide racism and discrimination. Are these charges based on reality?

Some Kurds may express racism. This happens because they have suffered repressions from Arab states, from their policies of arabization which encouraged Arab colonization in Kurdish areas. The same applies to the Turks and the Turkish state. This issue is about nationalism. Most Arabs in the region are Syrian nationalists, most Turks are Turkish nationalists. Besides that, ISIS attacks contribute to a climate of ethnic hate .

However, the Kurdish movement and their organizations are not involved in this. They do try to create a political system without racism and invite everyone to be involved regardless of their ethnicity or social status. Ideas of KCK-PKK work as a cultural school for the population, they work against racism. This is a genuine attempt, they do make a significant effort to stop ethnic hatred. Even so, it is clearly not the easiest time to find mutual reconciliation.

The Islamic State has support among some of the Arab population, especially amongst the middle-class and landowners. Moreover, in some areas the Arab population suffered the consequences of the war only after the Kurds defeated ISIS. Enemies use this against YPG. Yet a lot of Arabs fight against ISIS and work together with Kurds in order to create a confederal system.

There is no problem for me to talk openly about the fact that we entered houses abandoned by ISIS supporters, we took stuff for the resistance and for poor families. We seized buildings and land for common use. I have not seen any discrimination of the Arab population, only some bad words and shots in the air when civilians tried to enter the battlefield. ISIS suicide bombers naturally made people paranoid. As a result, Arab people got searched more carefully at checkpoints.

I witnessed military mistakes that caused civilian casualties, and I cannot justify it nor lie about it. ISIS tactics are based on using suicidal car bombings, mines and using civilians as human shield. I can honestly say that the YPG are not aggressors who attack civilians, but the war must end. Any kind of war, even defensive or revolutionary war, cause pain and suffering to people.

“THE ECONOMY IS CONTROLLED”

Have you had an opportunity to learn more about the local economic system? The news is very controversial: on the one hand there is cooperative development, on the other hand – private property still exists. Please explain the relationship between “socialism” and “capitalism” in this system. What about exploitation and wage labour?

To be honest I spent very little time in peaceful areas: a few weeks in Kobane after the liberation, the city was devastated after the war, the economy was just reviving. In Jazira canton the economy is doing better because the war didn’t affect it that much, there are also different political powers active, not just PKK. I know it’s a mixed system with elements of both capitalism and socialism.

This is caused by the low level of political culture. The Rojava system is moderate, PKK/KCK do not want to force elements of communism against people’s will. It’s rather a system that gives people an opportunity to develop their political culture and be a part of it. Cooperatives keep appearing, some land gets collectivized, the economy is controlled so it’s neither liberal capitalism nor communism.

Some comrades do a very good job of analyzing the economic and political aspects. People who want to see just a class revolution would be disappointed. Their minds are imprisoned by obsolete ideas. All of this is the consequence of Syrian and Middle East Arab social revolts. The main idea was freedom and social justice, the war against tyranny and repression. This allowed the creation of space for the Kurds, the opportunity to defend their autonomous territory. The main source of inspiration for the Kurdish people is their ethnic identity which has been threatened for centuries now. Kurds have been fighting for decades against every state in the region, so now they have formed the confederal system that made it possible to ensure genuine civil rights, equality of men and women as well as participatory democracy. That happened in the region where Kurds are forced to live a poor life, are not recognized as an ethnicity, their language is forbidden.

Концерт левого ансамбля Grup Yorum в Стамбуле

 “EUROCENTRISM IS AUTHORITARIANISM”

The Kurdish movement is often accused of “collaboration with imperialist powers”, with the US and at the same time – with Russia and the Assad regime. What are your thoughts on this?

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the Kurdish organizations in north Syria have been making certain pacts with the Syrian regime as a way of retaining the balance of power. As well as this they fought against the Syrian army and took part in demonstrations and blockades.

With the help of those pacts, the Syrian state created a safety zone against Turkey which supports Syrian nationalists and the islamist opposition.  The Assad regime avoids confrontation with well organized Kurdish militias. The Kurds protected their cities from airstrikes using those agreements. Airstrikes were to be focused on civilian buildings using the logic: “Assad or we will burn it all the ground”. I acknowledge this as a strategy; we must understand that the Syrian opposition fell under islamist and nationalist control and they do not recognize Kurdish autonomy which made the Kurds a third party from the beginning.

However the Kurdish people and their organizations do not like the Syrian state nor the Assad regime, they always say harsh things about them. The city of Qamishli is divided between the regime zones and the Kurdish zones. A few skirmishes have happened, the situation is very intense.

An alliance with the US was meant to help in fighting against ISIS, which was made possible by growing public pressure in the Western countries. Thanks to this, they survived and we defeated ISIS. This is the truth. Now they are negotiating with Assad and Russian intervenors again. It is difficult for us to support that but they need to survive, it’s the only option other than genocide or living like refugees forever. The Kurds will pact with anyone who can help them, but at the same time they will fight fiercely against anyone who attacks them.

Some anarchists are convinced new libertarian ideas of PKK are there to disguise the old authoritarian ideology of this party. Some people insist that anti-authoritarian ideas cannot be brought from “above”. Like in the case with PKK, Abdullah Ocalan is the person who changed the movement’s ideology on his own. 

It’s not an ideological shift. They were expressing those ideas initially, but in their early years there was a significant influence from USSR and national liberation movements. One of the best things about this revolutionary movement is their ability to criticize, including self-criticism. Because of that, they’ve managed to avoid the mistakes of marxism, marxism-leninism, the national liberation concept, authority, and their early ideas.

These ideas came from «above» because there are people with a higher level of political culture. Kurdish people are poor, they have no access to culture, we can’t expect them to do a complex radical political analysis of the history of patriarchy, classical philosophy, the formation of states and different socialist movements. There are no social movements. Only recently the Kurds were able to meet and discuss. The ideas come from the guerrilla, from the resistance. These structures are very interested in creating participatory forms of discussion; they developed a common idea which emphasized the importance of subjectivity and consensus. Therefore, those ideas didn’t come from “above”, it’s a common development.

The ideas are not artificial. They represent Kurdish people’s perceptions, including the sense of community and being nature-friendly.

That’s if we talk about «pure» PKK-KCK ideas. Not every kurd understands these complex things hence there are different tendencies. We must be accurate when we talk about KCK because it’s a name of a real organization. If we criticize PKK party structure, then I don’t understand why we continue talking about PKK in the same way the mass media and the Turkish state do. They mention PKK’s name to explain the confederal model. KCK and PKK are popular names but when you talk with the commanders, and attend lessons in YPG, they insist KCK should be mentioned in terms of explaining the confederative model. It’s not a mask.

Criticism of the western radical left and anarchists can be very destructive. They say: “PKK is authoritarian, we should not support them, and that’s all fake”. They accuse PKK of libertarian change as a strategy to win the population’s sympathy. Bullshit! Being an anarchist is not the best way to come to an agreement with the rest of our modern society! Of course it isn’t utopian there. They have a military structure, there are different parties and organizations, but we must support these libertarian tendencies and their evolution.

Учредительная встреча НОРД

What are your thoughts on the ideological shift of PKK that you could see for yourself?

Those ideas didn’t come from Ocalan alone. The Kurdish revolutionary movement have a method of forming their ideology. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s not like Ocalan wrote something and the whole KCK accepts it because he is the leader. It’s more about communicating, discussing, criticizing and being open to self-criticism. They have formed their own method of common thinking. It’d be fair to say these ideas about confederalism, radical anti-patriarchy, anti-authoritarian views come from KCK and HPG/YJA Star umbrella organizations which consist of guerrilla fighters who have read and studied a lot about philosophy, history, political and economical concepts. Everyone puts their ideas together, then Ocalan and other intellectuals act like guides. In that sense the Kurdish leaders are developing an ideological model based on Kurdish nature, in accordance with pre-capitalist communal society ideas.

These guerrilla “leaders” don’t want to be bosses or presidents, they only want to study different philosophical movements, history, politics to bring liberation tools to their people. They want to be close with nature with no material possessions and fight until they die to protect people’s freedom. It’s really interesting even from an anthropological point of view. It’s difficult for us to understand because we are infected with western prejudices. We don’t trust in Kurdish revolutionaries because we don’t trust in others. This is because we don’t trust in those who are different and this is our problem.

We must also speak about other ideological leaders like Sakine Cansiz, a woman, the concept of Jineology or woman liberation sociology, a call to revive living in the rural areas, break the urban way of life and industrial production. The Kurdish movement has a lot of interesting things. Anarchists should support this interpenetration because no one else would. We must promote these tendencies. If we attack them instead, we would be attacking the development of libertarian ideas in other societies.

Eurocentrism is authoritarianism, a lot of so-called revolutionaries and anarchists are bringing it to life. Anarchism and socialism are concepts from European history and culture. In other parts of the world the people have their right to develop their own liberation ideas, not to adapt the Western ideas. I’m talking about examples like Zapatistas, Mapuches, the MEND in Nigeria, and many others.

Now the situation is changing, the «Rojava spring» has finished. There is only war and political pacts left. Of course there are opportunities to develop social projects, but I’m talking about revolutionary intervention, action, it should be rapid. Making this happen we can support libertarian forces and anti-authoritarian sides. Their ideas will be a real power in current event. Freedom and liberation have a lot of enemies, and it is our responsibility to defend them.

We must be prepared for the next situation to support our friends from the beginning, not waiting for years to see what happens. We lost the opportunity to support anti-authoritarian revolutionaries in Syria, we came late to support the Kurdish people in Kobane and we were fighting there without any support. Before that, we hadn’t done enough to support anarchists in Ukraine and Egypt during their revolts. Now there is an insurrection in Turkey and there are signs that a global conflict will be growing. So be ready to act in any part of the world!

Курды танцуют говенд в Шейх Максуде (Алеппо)

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We, supporters of Rojava, should be worried about its partnership with the United States.

category Thursday May 18, 2017 12:50author by Zaher Baherauthor email Zaarif1 at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address UK Report this post to the editors

This article covers the current military situation in Rojava. While the PYD and Syrian Democratic Party are getting closer and closer to UNited States some of the anarchists and anarchist-communists are happy with that . The Article tries to bring the attention of those anarchists that the partnership between them is in the interest of US and its allies in Europe and the region . In the end, Rojava, might lose what it has been achieved so far.

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We, supporters of Rojava, should be worried about its partnership with the United States.
By: Zaher Baher
17th May 2017
The political and military balance in Syria is constantly changing. Relations between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), co-founded by People’s Protection Units (YPG), and in turn Russia and US constantly ebb and flow. The dynamic behind these changes has very little to do with ISIS. In fact, it all depends on the respective interests of the great powers and their struggle against one another to establish predominant power there.
The past year has seen a steady erosion of the US position in Syria vis-à-vis Russia, who has since overtaken it. Russia’s heavy involvement in Syria and becoming a major ally with Turkey has changed many things. The relative inactivity of the USA has given the opportunity to Russia, Turkey and Iran to play a significant role in making decisions there.
Under Trump’s new administration this has changed somewhat. He probably has a different approach to Syria. While US still is one of the major powers in the world, it cannot sit and do nothing in the region especially in Syria.
After a long pause, Trump has decided to ally with SDF against ISIS to defeat them in Raqqa regardless of Turkey’s position and reaction. Trump has now approved a deal to supply arms including heavy weapons to SDF directly, seeing them as the most effective and reliable force especially after the SDF capture of Tabqa City from ISIS. The US administration is at present more than any other time determined in recapturing Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital. It is now quite clear that the US administration and SDF and the People’s Democratic Party (PYD) are getting very close to one another to the point that SDF strife to achieve what the US wants to achieve, even though this can be at the expenses of what have been achieved so far in Rojava.
We supporters of Rojava should be very worried about the current development in relation to Democratic Self-administration and the Movement of Society (Tev-Dem). We should be concerned because of the following consequences:
First: It is a matter of influence for the US while seeing that Russia almost controlled the situation and managed to take Turkey onto its own side. US wants to be very active before losing its power there. It wants to play the major role and achieve its own goal, this can be only done through SDF and PYD. There is no doubt that the US is more concerned about its own interests rather than Kurdish interests in Rojava.
Second: To contain SDF and PYD, to make them a tool by using them for their own interest. This is the best way to make PYD and SDF lose their credibility in Syria, the region, Europe and elsewhere.
Third: The current attitude of the US towards Rojava and arming SDF directly might be an effort to cut them off from PKK and decrease PKK influence over developments in Rojava.
Fourth: There is no doubt that whatever happens will now make Turkey more furious against both YPG and PKK. This could create a greater backlash from Turkey. It may repeat last month’s military operations against YPG or even extend these military operations into Rojava and against YPG & PKK in Shangal, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Fifth: With Russia’s displeasure against the SDF and PYD, Assad could be influenced to change Syria’s attitude towards them in the future if not now. If Rojava had chosen the Russian side instead of USA, it could have been much better because Russia is more reliable as an ally than the US. It looks like Assad will stay in power after the defeat of ISIS. Assad normally listens to Russia very diligently. In this case, there was a greater chance under pressure of Russia that Assad would have let Rojava pursue a better future than what US and Western countries may decide for them.
Sixth: Intensifying and prolonging the current war causing Rojava a great deal of dislocation. Continuation of the war costs SDF so many lives and makes them weaker and weaker. The stronger and the bigger the size of SDF in Rojava is, the more it must necessarily be dependent on one of the major power, in the meantime Rojava will be weaker. The more SDF achieves militarily, the more socially and economically can actually be lost in Rojava. The more powerful SDF and PYD become, the less power the local self-administration and Tev-Dem will have. The number of SDF fighters alone is estimated to be 50,000. Just imagine even 10.000 instead of working militarily, working in the fields and cooperatives or building school, hospitals, parks and houses, by now Rojava would have been somewhere else.

Seventh: Often I have mentioned in my articles that a successful Rojava – successful in the way we were hoping – depended on a couple of factors or as a minimum one to preserve the experiment. One was expanding Rojava’s movement at least to a couple of more countries in the region. The other factor was international solidarity. However, neither happened. If one thing can now preserve Rojava, it is ISIS and the opposition forces in Syria holding out against the odds. In short only a prolonged anti-ISIS military campaign can preserve Rojava.

In my opinion after defeating ISIS in Kobane’s region, YPG should have suspended it military operations except in self-defence of its establish perimeter. After defeating ISIS in Kobane region and the greater intervention of US and Russia, UPG and PYD should have withdrawn from the war. PYD should have dealt with the situation better and withdrawn from power for Tev-Dem and let the rest of the population to make their own decisions about peace and war. Clearly the current nature, direction and the potential course of the present war in Rojava has completely changed. It is a war of the major powers, European governments and the regional governments over securing interests and sharing domination.

The situation at the moment looks very grim. It appears that once ISIS has been defeated in Mosul and Raqqa then more than likely war will start involving Rojava and PKK in Qandil and Shangal. These calculation are being made by Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Turkey and perhaps also Iran and Iraq with the blessing of the US, Russia and Germany. Such a war may start by the end of August or September after the military defeat of ISIS in Mosul and Reqqa.

Zaherbaher.com

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WITH AN ABRACADABRA AND HEY PRESTO, DATELINE LONDON BBC’S CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAM MAKES ROJAVA, THE YPG, THE YPJ, THE SDF AND THE SDC AND THEIR ALLIES DISAPPEAR INTO A VACUUM.
By Stephen Becker

Dateline London has a strap line ‘Foreign correspondents based in London give an outsider’s view of events in the UK’ but recently the program asked outsiders to discuss Trump, Burma and Syria. It turned out to be a shoddy affair with none of the outsiders having any real idea of the concrete situation in the Middle East. It obscured more than it elucidated.

Simon Leys demonstrated that the BBC obviously did not run to an accurate briefing before he took to the air. After a piece where he referred to the situation in Burma as ‘bordering on genocide’, the anchor of Dateline London ‘turned to a subject which has dropped out of the headlines’, Syria and Iraq. Referring to this ‘important on-going story’ or ‘saga’, the temporally challenged Leys categorised the ‘fightback’ against the movement which calls itself the Islamic State as ‘going on for more than a year’.

He stated that the Governments of Iraq and Syria were both claiming to have wrested territory from ISIS, before turning to the studio guests to provide expert commentary. In his opening remarks, Leys had asked ‘How’s the fight really going?’.

Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese journalist, Vincent Magombe, Director of the African Journalists Network and Bronwen Maddox of the think-tank the Institute for Government, have no track record in reporting the Middle East. The fourth journo was Michael Goldfarb. He covered the Iraq War as an independent reporter in Iraqi Kurdistan. You would have thought he would have known a modicum about Syria or Iraq but he too demonstrated an incoherent and sketchy understanding of the current situation.

Leys indicated that ISIS is losing territory and the Governments of Syria and Iraq are reclaiming it. He turns to Malik. ‘Nesrine. Its a process you’ve been watching closely for many months now. How do we know whether its working and at what price is this war being waged?’

Ms Malik informed us among other things that ISIS had lost two big cities in Syria and Iraq. Mosul was one. ‘Raqqa is under siege at the moment’ she said, and with considerable but non-specific insight announced that there was to be an ‘upcoming huge battle in a town in Iraq’, the name of which she did not divulge.

She had two points to make. The first was that the end of the Daesh flagship capital meant ‘a vacuum is being created now that ISIS has gone’ ,

Shaun interjected to emphatically agree that ‘Vacuums are dangerous things’.

The second strange point was a bemusing non-sequitor that ‘most of these Hinterlands are so ungovernable that ISIS leaving a city or a town does not mean that pockets of them don’t exist’. She had spoken about atrocities that ISIS continued to inflict, despite the fact that they were facing defeat.

Nesrine Malik was unafraid of enunciating even sloppier statements. She then went back to a second second point. The new second point – really probably the third point – was that ‘There are now three parties. The US, America and Arab League sort of soldiers’ (sic) causing casualties.

Whilst accepting that she probably didn’t mean to confuse the US and Americans as separate entities, there really is no excuse for the reference to ‘Arab League sort of soldiers’. It was an excruciating moment.

A cursory examination of the role of the Arab League demonstrates its marginal importance and real impotence as an organisation, since it in fact has no military capacity.

The Arab League suspended Syrian membership in 2011 because of Assad’s killing of demonstrators, and its Peace initiatives floundered the same year. Its monitoring mission in Syria was described as a ‘farce’ and was suspended in 2012. The Egypt Summit in 2015 agreed in principle that the AL form a military force but to date that has not materialised. In March this year, the AL could do little more than lamely ‘urge Arab Governments to do more to resolve the conflict in Syria’.

So there never have been and are currently no Arab League forces in Syria because Arab League troops are only a figment in Ms Malik’s imagination and as an entity, were hesitantly plucked out of thin air, as she struggled to identify just who the chief fighting forces in Syria actually were.

It was just a straightforward exposure of ignorance. More rigour, and less blather please Ms Malik.

Later on in the program Bronwen Maddox agreed. ‘There is this vacuum’.

Shaun turns to Goldfarb . ‘This raises the question, Michael, what the strategy is?’

Michael was not sure if there was a strategy. At the military level he noted that there is the ‘degradation of ISIS’ and ‘at the other end we have…of what we used to call the chaos of the great powers. Russia’s involved. America’s involved. Turkey which is a NATO ally. This week it was announced they are buying Russian high-tech computers and military equipment. So whose…Where is the organisation at the top. No organisation at the top and at the bottom, there are people, who are, I mean the fighting goes on there as before, except that ISIS is being pushed out and it’s just bleeding away into other places and can as Nesrine mentioned it can jump on any pilgrimage site in the Shia heart of Iraq, if it wants to, but can it rule anything, can it make inroads anywhere, can it send forth, they’re claiming this idiot bombing yesterday in London…’ and at that point Shaun Leys excitedly jumps in to continue a point about ISIS claiming responsibility for bombings which is then echoed by Maddox.

Nobody seemed to have noticed that Michael was blathering and had just gone off-piste. Left for another 30 seconds, he would have been analysing pension plans.

Maddox having joined in with the off-piste party went back to the problem of ‘the vacuum’, and whether the Shia crescent from Iran to Lebanon will be established. She says that ‘there’s a bit more space for that kind of thing’ (my emphasis). Does ‘that kind of thing’ inspire confidence and imply any erudition?

Vincent Magombe, having pointed out the mess following the invasion of Iraq and Libya asks, ‘Have you heard anybody, whether the UN, America or Britain or others, talking about what they’re planning for Syria for after? After mentioning the invasion of Iraq as the cause of the chaos in the region, Vincent wants to know what the post ISIS plan is.

Malik comes back with, ‘The problems with a country like Iraq and Syria is that Kurds, Shiites, Sunni, Pershmarga and all these disparate groups, and in Syria as well…with all the different tribes, ethnicities and minorities, Alawites etc, have all been pushed under the surface by long standing dictators and that’s how we got into the situation in the first place. We didn’t get into this situation because America invaded Iraq. We got in this situation because Saddam Hussein has inflicted an artificial uniformity on Iraq for decades as Bashar Assad is doing now’.

Buried inside is an exoneration of the US. However, the point of a suppressed polyethnicity is valid.

And they continue in this fashion until Vincent says, ‘the bottom line is about democracy’…’and if the foundation are to do with the lack of democracy…look at the Russians. While I condemn the West in their approaches…The Russians as well. Let’s have this Syrian man. He has to be there. But he’s not a democrat. In the first place that’s why his people were trying to agitate for some rights. So unless we try and ask these people…we won’t get that answer. It’s a mess’.

And so, the concluding ‘it’s a mess’, not only applies to the situation in Syria and Iraq, it also summed up the studio conversation. Other points were made by the four experts but the short transcripts indicate the incoherence of thought, the knight’s move thinking, the pitiful state of analysis and dreary arguments, bluffing and hazy evasiveness. All of these pointing to lack of grasp of the subject at hand.

The most obvious and glaring omission made in the program was the complete failure to mention the establishment of the Federation of Northern Syria formerly known as Rojava, the fight by the forces of the YPG and YPJ against the Caliphate, and the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces and Syrian Democratic Council. These political and military organisation, have combined all the ethnic minorities of the region in a remarkable and tenacious fight against ISIS, whilst creating Confederal stateless grass roots democracies throughout eastern Syria.

The participants in Deadline London either through ignorance or deliberate omission, magicked this momentous political movement into the vacuum.

It is to be acknowledged that the current conflict in the Middle East is complex and thus it was shameful for the BBC not to have assembled real experts, of which there are a considerable number. Commentator who have an in-depth understanding of what actually is going on in Iraq and Syria. Instead they assembled people with a wafer-thin comprehension.

Before going back to ‘the vacuum’, it is perhaps looking at some of the more illustrious statements made by the panel and add some brief comments.

ISIS is indeed losing ground and its military capacity is being degraded. In 2014, Daesh exploded across Iraq and Syria thanks to the disintegration of the Iraqi Army before a tiny handful of ISIS fighters. Assad aided this by releasing imprisoned Salafists from his gaols. The Caliphate spread quickly into northern Syria and reached the Turkish border before meeting their match in the Kurdish population of Rojava. The forces of Rojava, made up of Kurds and other ethnic minorities and with support of US air power began the fightback three years ago. Not ‘just over a year ago’. The major force in the fight against ISIS were the militias of the YPG and YPJ of Rojava. They clawed back territory from the Caliphate whilst Assad was crushing the democratic uprising against his sectarian and despotic rule. And then the forces of the SDF were responsible for chasing ISIS and displace them from Taqba and now Raqqa and Deir ez Zor provinces. And this was done despite the assistance of Turkey for Daesh. Only of late has Assad aided by the Iranian PMU militias, Hezbollah and Russian firepower been able to make advances against Daesh and in doing so is re-establishing his dictatorship over the Syrian people.

When Michael Goldfarb was asked the nonsensical question of what the strategy was, he might have asked Shaun, ‘Whose strategy?’. This would have made more sense than his answer.

There are in fact numerous strategies in play depending on the protagonist. The problem is that the strategies are at once conflicting and sometimes tactically contingent and are placed within a complex geopolitics.

To name but a few of the strategies.

America wants an end to ISIS whose spread was a result of its stratospheric and catastrophic failure in invading Iraq. Assad wants the whole of Syria back. Russia’s support of Syria seeks to halt the erosion of its geopolitical influence. Turkey wants to continue its genocidal policy towards the Kurds and says it will not tolerate the continued existence of Rojava. The Gulf states want Assad out. The KRG which is in the pocket of Turkey seeks an independent state. Iraq, Turkey, Iran and the US oppose a Kurdish secession from Iraq while Russia remains silent on the issue. The Syrian Kurds and the Syrian National Council seek a non-separatist Confederal solution.

And to answer Vincent’s ‘Have you heard anybody, whether the UN, America or Britain or others, talking about what they’re planning for Syria for after? It was not apparent if he knew about the peace initiatives.

There have been initiatives from the Great Powers to broker a peace. As the various forces battle on the ground, the Geneva and Astana Peace Initiatives are proving to be ineffective. Virtually every player in the Syrian Civil War political and ideological spectrum, whether they have set foot in the country or not have been invited. The Rojavan Kurds, however, have not been asked to either and the SNC, though invited, will not take a seat if the PYD/Northern Democratic Federation is excluded. Rojava and the SDC/SDF have never been afforded political recognition by the US despite their military collaboration and the gigantic sacrifice of the Kurds and their allies. Thus there is a political impasse.

The conflicting strategies, the peace initiative quagmired and no obvious timescale to the complete eradication of Daesh makes for post ISIS planning impossible for most of the sides.

An Endgame of sorts might be approaching in Syria. The Russian/Assad bloc has found second wind. The American/SDF forces who are close to defeating ISIS have taken Raqqa. The two sides now face one another across the Euphrates river. There have already been clashes and warnings issued on either side. The emboldened Assad regime has recently announced its intention to spread its military campaign to include the encircled regime-held enclave in Al-Hassakah. This is a confounding factor. The truth of the stated threat will only be known if it really does materialise in October. It would represent the first regime action to threaten Rojava. It would bring Russia and the US into direct conflict and could force a negotiation.

A prediction is doubly difficult because of the rapidly changing situation and unexpected turns in events. There are players also who have yet to play their hand. There are recently developing events that have yet to unfold.

Finally, the question of the ‘vacuum’ needs to be examined.

The protagonists brought up the question of democracy, colonial legacy, ungovernability but out of ignorance or omission could not see the elephant in the room – the unspeakable truth of the success and promise of Democratic Federalism in Syria.

Following the First World War, the imperialistic division of territory between Britain and France, sanctified by the Sykes-Picott Agreement, the adjustments enshrined in the Cairo Conference and Treaty of Lausanne, created the modern Middle East. Artificially lumping peoples together into multi-ethnic states ruled by despotic central authorities, accepting genocidal policy and suppressing diversity, expunging the language and culture of minorities to established a bleak norm. These mores were accepted by the post-colonial regimes and formed the basis of racist homogenising policies, discriminatory behaviour and cycles of resistance and repression.

During the course of the Damascus Spring in 2011, Kurdish region of Northern Syria, led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) embarked upon a Third Way. The Assad regime, was opposed by a popular grass roots democratic movement throughout the country, and central government had lost credibility and was just clinging to power.

The conventional description of a political vacuum refers to the loss of centralised political and state power within a geographical area. Implied within this definition is the idea that it is a bad thing, and there are indeed many negative historical examples.

Within the context of Syria, however, the power vacuum allowed the flourishing of a sensational democratic movement throughout the country. Assad was out and in came widespread political debate in local councils, citizens initiatives, a flourishing independent press, radio stations, artistic expression, women’s movements and resistance to the repression of the Ba’ath Party. So this vacuum allowed a progressive democratic movement to explode. The response to the fledgling democracy was brutality. In response to the Assad-regime’s repression there followed the phases of militarisation of the conflict, the arming of the Salafists, the spread of ISIS, the entry of the world and regional ‘players’. And, tragically, the crushing of a huge progressive movement that had flourished within the vacuum.

The Kurdish Third Way envisaged a different solution. They did not side with either the current regime or an opposition which waived democratic and liberationist principles. The PYD envisioned a decentralised federal structure for Syria and put forward the guiding principle of Democratic Confederalism and Democratic Autonomy as a strategy.

Once again, exploiting the vacuum, left by the retreat of the Ba’athists, the people of Rojava built a polyethnic, direct grassroots democracy which championed women’s rights and respected people’s of all creeds. The popular militias of the People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units launched a formidable counter-offensive against the invasion of Daesh and have been the most effective and successful combatants against it.

Rojava declared its de facto autonomy in 2012. It is not officially recognized as a political entity by the government of Syria or any international state or organization. Nnot even the United States. Within the Syrian opposition, there are attitudes ranging from suspicion to out-and-out hostility up to and including military attacks on its territory.

Nesrine Malik clearly asserted that in the wake of the defeat of ISIS there is nothing to replace it in these ‘ungovernable’ areas. She klaxoned her ignorance and there were no correctives from anyone else in the studio.

Rojava had spectacular local successes. Rojava had clearly proved that Kurds, Arabs Syriac-Assyrian, Armenians, Circassians, Chechen and Turkmen can co-habit. It has made plain that religions can be respected without sectarianism. It is showing that ordinary people can administer their lives without resort to a dirigist state. And the revolutionary process has demonstrated the leading role that women have taken in forging this new polity.

From the original three Cantons of Jazira, Kobane and Afrin, there has been a gradual accretion of Confederal Democracy throughout northern and eastern Syria. The Manbij and Shabba regions have joined the Rojava experiment, as have the Yazidis.

As the Syrian Democratic Forces chased ISIS from its territories, the Caliphate was replaced by local self-governing communities facilitated by the efforts of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC).
The SDC has been in active discussion and dialogue for years with sympathetic political organisation, community and tribal leaders, women’s organisation, youth groups and the population of villages and town. The SDC political initiatives and the promulgation of the principles of autonomy and confederalism has been successful in bringing rationality and peace to the region formerly under the control of the Salifist Caliphate.

Weeks and months of work went into shaping the post-Isis administration in various towns and localities to ensure everyone was on board. As an example, discussions have been taking place over the future complexion of Raqqa for the past nine months now. Malik was oblivious to this monumental work.

Everywhere the SDF has routed ISIS, there has been the immediate seamless implementation of self-governing civil administrations. The ungovernable are governing themselves. The vacuum is non-existent and in the wake of ISIS has come a flask full to the brim of Democratic Confederalism. It was unfortunate that none of the experts had even a rudimentary grasp of this process.

Being invited onto a current affairs program to just wing it and showing no evidence of even having boned up on the subject is a poor do. The BBC obviously thought it was acceptable to ask these amateurs to the table instead of real experts with real knowledge. Why did we have to suffer a stumbling wafer thin comprehension of the legacy of historical events, current events and an adolescent understanding of the actualities on the ground? Why didn’t Shaun Ley do some background? Why was the role of the forces of Rojava and the SDF studiously ignored?

The bottom line is that you have to agree with the panel that there was a vacuum. But it was not in Syria. The vacuum was actually in the Dateline Studio. It’s unfortunate that we have to suffer ‘this sort of thing’.

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Kurdish blood for Arab lands?: Prospects for Raqqa

by Memed Aksoy

The ‘Operation Wrath of Euphrates’ to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State (IS) was announced by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 6 November 2016. The first phase to isolate and seize areas around Raqqa was followed by another three phases in which areas such as Tabqa, the Raqqa-Deir Ezzor highway and important villages to all four sides of the city were taken. The final phase of the operation to liberate the city itself began on 6 June 2017 and is now in its 73rd day. Although an official figure hasn’t been announced, some 200 Arab, Kurdish, Syriac and foreign fighters have already died in the final phase. The SDF is in control of about 60% of the city, with a reported 1,500 IS fighters out of 5,000 still holding out. Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from Raqqa by SDF fighters and more than 1,000 have joined SDF ranks to contribute to liberating the city.

 

The Raqqa campaign and approaches of various actors

When talk began of a People’s Defense Units (YPG)-led operation to liberate Raqqa from the Islamic State [IS] in 2016, some circles – almost entirely made up of short-sighted and what we might call ‘primitive’ nationalist Kurds, as well as pan-Arabists or anti-Kurdish individuals, groups and states, such as Turkey and Syria – said, “Why is the YPG going to Raqqa? It’s not Kurdish land.” Their reasons and rationale were different, but the sentiment and root of their approach was the same; nationalism and statism.

‘Primitive’ nationalist Kurds, not limited to one party or ideological grouping, argued over social media that they did not want ‘Kurdish blood’ to be ‘spilled for Arab lands,’ and that the YPG should concentrate on defending the predominantly Kurdish Rojava-Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). Meanwhile all anti-Kurdish individuals and state actors, primarily Turkey and Syria, chimed in that the YPG were going to ‘cleanse’ the area of Arabs and install Kurdish rule. Turkey also didn’t forget to employ its most oft-used argument that the YPG was nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and therefore a “terrorist group.”

What they forgot to mention was that the local and tribal leaders of Raqqa had made open calls and held meetings with the SDF and officials from its civil sister organisation, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), for them to liberate the city. They also forgot to add that although predominantly Arab, Raqqa also had a 20% Kurdish and 10% Armenian Christian population amongst its 220,000 inhabitants (2004 census). Also almost all of the Kurdish and Christian population were persecuted and forced to flee when in 2013 the Islamist jihadist Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in Syria) took control of the city. In early 2014, IS, which had built presence in Raqqa with the toppling of the regime, took complete control of the city. Later in the year, after it had stormed Mosul over the border in Iraq and carried out a genocide against the Kurdish Yazidis in Sinjar, IS militants brought thousands of women and children they had enslaved to their self-declared capital and operation base in Syria, many of whom are still thought to be there.

These would have been sufficient reasons for the YPG-led SDF, which was formed in 2015 under the leadership of the YPG, and is the only multi-ethnic, multi-religious fighting force in Syria – predominantly comprised of Arab and Kurdish but also Syriac, Turkmen and Armenian militias – to launch an operation on Raqqa. But what the analysis and accusations at the time also lacked or tried to cover-up, was the historically strategic importance of the city for the Islamist jihadists (we’ll come back to this) but also for the future security and success of Rojava-DFNS. Furthermore, it was also an ‘ideological duty’ of the YPG and SDF to liberate Raqqa due to their project of creating a decentralised and federal Syria not limited by ethnicity/religious categorisation or to predominantly Kurdish areas in the north. If the operation hadn’t been launched, then IS would have continued being an immediate threat to the relative peace and stability achieved in the Rojava-DFNS and also an obstacle in the way of a solution to the Syrian crisis.

In turn, this would have further emboldened Turkey in its ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’, which it launched in August 2016 to sabotage the gains made by Kurds in northern Syria. Ankara wanted Islamist Free Syrian Army militias it is supporting to lead the charge on Raqqa and unsuccessfully pressured the US-led coalition until the last moment to end support for the YPG-led SDF’s advance on the city. Turkey’s main gripe was that the SDF was formed mainly of Kurdish fighters and that Arab forces were non-existent or negligible. This allegation was rebutted by the SDF and Pentagon, who said some 60% of the force was comprised of Arab fighters. Ankara, as a last resort and a little contradictorily, tried to divide the SDF by saying it could carry out the Raqqa operation with the Arab fighters in SDF ranks. These anti-Kurdish moves by Turkey mostly played a positive role in the speedy recruitment of Arab youths to the SDF, who flocked to the force ahead of the operation as a response to Ankara’s meddling in Manbij and other predominately Arab areas.

The void – without a YPG-SDF operation – could also have resulted in the Syrian regime, which is currently at the gates of another IS stronghold Deir-Ezzor (to the southeast of Raqqa), launching an offensive on the city, thus again weakening the federal project for a resolution of the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, the regional and global repercussions of either a Turkish or regime advance on Raqqa would have been manifold and likely further complicated negatively an already chaotic war.

Raqqa’s rich cultural and economic history

Located on the northeast bank of the Euphrates River, and with important roads leading to Damascus, Palmyra and Iraq, Raqqa is an oil-rich city with a history that spans back to the Hellenistic period (244BC). The city played an important role as a trading post between the Byzantines and Sassanid Persia and was also the site for clashes between the two hegemonic powers well into the 6th century. Shortly after the rise of Islam, Raqqa was conquered by one of Mohammad’s companions, General Iyad Ibn Ghanm in 1639 or 1640, and given its current name. Upon surrendering the city, the Christians signed a treaty with Ibn Ghanm that allowed them to continue living and worshipping in the city, but forbade them from building any new churches. Many indigenous Christian groups and Jews also aided the incoming Muslims to evade heavy taxing by the Byzantines and Persians. The minority groups continued using their own laws and courts in the city even after the Muslim conquest.

Raqqa’s immediate surroundings also bore witness to some of the most important developments in Islamic history, hence why it is important for organisations like IS. The Battle of Siffin, which would sow the seeds for the sectarian Shia-Sunni divide within Islam, happened just 28km west of the city. In 769 the caliph Harun al-Rashid chose it as his imperial residence, making Raqqa the capital of the Abbasid Empire. In the following centuries Bedouins, Kurds, Turkmens and Chechens also made Raqqa their home; the city experienced declines and booms, most recently in the 1950s with the cotton trade, but has remained an important hub for trade and culture in the country.

The Raqqa Civilian Council and post-IS hopes

This brief overview of the city’s history is enough to highlight the strategic importance of Raqqa geographically, but also its rich cultural and economic past and present. It is also important in comprehending Raqqa’s sociology but also the positive example and prototype – with the right type of administration – the city can become for a democratic federal Syria. This was highlighted by Ilham Ehmed, the female co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), just after the Raqqa campaign was launched.

“Such an administration could provide a good example for democratic change in Raqqa, especially that the city has been for years a de facto capital for the IS terrorist group. This accomplishment would be a major change in the overall situation in Syria, and would help the country move towards stability, democratic change. Raqqa will be an example for the whole country,” Ehmed said.

The Raqqa Civilian Council is comprised of some 120 people, including a feminist Kurdish female co-chair and male Arab counterpart, and was formed by the SDC in April 2017. It is representative of Raqqa’s local population and has the participation of all the ethnic and religious groups present in the city, as well as members from local tribes. It has already been working tirelessly to assist civilians rescued from IS and been making plans to rebuild life in post-IS Raqqa. In a meeting with officials from the U.S.-led coalition in July, delegations discussed ‘demining, reconstruction, rehabilitation, relief and humanitarian work,’ with the coalition showing political recognition and support it has previously withheld from the Rojava-DFNS. The appointed council has also committed to holding an election as early as May 2018 so that Raqqa’s citizens can democratically elect their representatives. A decision on whether Raqqa will join the DFNS or remain an autonomous area will also be taken around the same time. It is expected that the decision will be in favour of joining the democratic federal project, officials say, but much of the hard work lies ahead.

In conclusion, the liberation of Raqqa will be just as important and strategic as that of Manbij, another culturally diverse and historically rich area the groups mentioned at the beginning of article tried to block from being liberated from IS in mid 2016. So far, the federal project and implementation of local democracy there has been reported as an important success. With its history, geography, resources and sociological reality, Raqqa can become another of the pillars of a federal, secular and democratic Syria. Provided that the diverse peoples of Syria can work together around the framework that was first formulated and drawn up by Rojava’s Kurdish revolutionaries and then shared with the other peoples of the country to become the DFNS, Raqqa can enjoy security and build the foundations for a communal, gender-equal and ecological society. Just as the liberation of Rojava from the Assad regime and reactionary groups is now leading to the liberation of Raqqa and ultimate defeat of IS in Syria, the freedom and democratisation of Raqqa will safeguard the Kurds and Rojava from future attacks and divide-and-rule policies, while also strengthening the possibility of a solution to the Syrian war. This will be the biggest blow to IS and the reactionary, nationalist mentalities of the other states and groups in the region, which constantly feed instability, war and destruction.

30/06/2017 – 09:22 0
NTERNATIONAL FREEDOM BATALLION

“Rojava Revolution also makes a global revolution possible”

 

BÖG fighter İmera Fereya Yeşilgöz: “We do not consider the Raqqa Operation as disconnected from the AKP’s fascism. Every blow we deliver here, and every single gang member we kill here, is at heart a blow to the ISIS gangs nested in Turkey and the world.”

The Operation to liberate Raqqa led by the People’s Defense Units (YPG), Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continues. Many different forces embedded within the SDF are taking part in the operation. One of these forces is the International Freedom Battalion, which harbours many revolutionary and socialist organisations. Among those is also the BÖG (United Freedom Forces).

BÖG fighter İmera Fereya Yeşilgöz answered ANF’s questions regarding their mission in Raqqa and The Raqqa Operation as a whole.

Yeşilgöz stated that the Rojava Revolution at the same time enables a world revolution, having led to a revival also among Turkey’s leftist groups. Regarding the Operation to liberate Raqqa Yeşilgöz said: “We do not consider the Raqqa Operation as disconnected from the AKP’s fascism. In fact, every blow we deliver here, and every single gang member we kill here, is at heart a blow to the ISIS gangs nested in Turkey and the entire world”, calling on all oppressed people and workers to join their ranks.

“WE HAVE FIGHTERS FROM CHINA TO DENMARK”

Since when is the International Freedom Battalion taking part in the struggle in Rojava?

The United Freedom Forces (BÖG) has been founded three years ago. In those years it took part in the struggle in many areas like Southern and Northern Kurdistan, as well as in Rojava. As for Rojava, it is part of the International Freedom Battalion.

The International Freedom Battalion itself has been founded two years ago, and since then is participating actively in the operations against ISIS in Rojava.

The International Freedom Battalion describes itself as part of the struggle in Rojava and the Middle East, on the other side it characterizes itself as being internationalist, what has led to some dispute. If it is a part of this struggle, then why calling itself ‘internationalist’?

If we do not deem parts of these lands the very sphere of our own struggle, or let’s say if a cross over from Efrîn will lead to a bomb attack in Antakya or the gangs here are provided with by logistic trucks coming from Turkey, then the struggle we have joined here is also tackling and combating the backward mentality of the country we originate from, and we can not content ourselves with limiting it merely to the concept of internationalism. This is what we can say about our stance at least.

Also among ourselves have we opened the concept of internationalism up for dicsussion. If we do deem parts of these lands the very sphere of our own struggle, or let’s say if a cross over from Efrîn will lead to a bomb attack in Antakya or the gangs here are provided with by logistic trucks coming from Turkey, then the struggle we have joined here is also tackling and combating the backward mentality of the country we originate from, and we can not content ourselves with limiting it merely to the concept of internationalism. This is what we can say about our stance at least.

This concept of internationalist freedom shelters in fact the notion of a global concept. That all revolutionist forces in this world and various organisations come together is truly a partnership of liberation forces, paving the way for the brotherhood of different peoples. The International Freedom Battalion has taken on such a mission. The mere fact that revolutionaries from other countries are joining the battle, evokes sympathy. Additionally, as we live in the Middle East, any progress developing here or revisionism taking hold will leave immediately an impact on Turkey or any other country of the Middle East. Yet this situation can also have influence on America, Spain and Europe. Because the International Freedom Battalion is regarded by the people and countries around the world as a legitimate movement, it faciliates the participation in the struggle a bit more.

The latest example is a Chinese comrade who recently joined us. They are coming from China, Denmark, England and lots of different places. And they all are members of the International Freedom Battalion. We have here also different structures and some independent, anarchist friends. We have friends who are not involved in broader groups. They are in fact very important in terms of being able to preserve their distinct originality and differences.

HOW HAS THE ROJAVA REVOLUTION AFFECTED TURKEY’S LEFT?

You are part of the Rojava Revolution since the very beginning. What mission have you shouldered in this revolution?

As much as the Rojava Revolution is a revolution of the oppressed people, we do not deem it disconnected from our socialist revolution. Because we even consider it a part of our own struggle, we are going into battle with such understanding. We do not regard ourselves to be merely a backup troop, but to be indeed a main military force. Yes, we are fighting within the YPG, however we do not see us only as a unit supporting the YPG but on the contrary directly as a force of the revolution engaged in a strategic consensus, and as such have we positioned ourselves.

Can one say that thanks to the Rojava Revolution Turkey’s revolutionist movement and the Turkey’s left has gained new momentum?

The Revolution of Rojava and the Middle East have taught us here at the same time that a global revolution is indeed possible. The quantitative layers of this revolution have become very much clear with the qualitative upswing of the Rojava Revolution. In this structuring within Turkey’s revolutionary movement that exists for so many years already, people were well aware of the fact that if they still do not find an answer for themselves during this process of actual revolution, fall once again apart and are not able to launch a re-formatting and do not take part in the revolution, it would have meant their demise once and for all. As the Rojava Revolution led to a re-organizing of all the peoples, also the Turkey’s left has found and organized itself anew.

Many organisations that stationed in Rojava with this new formation have treated the struggles of the oppressed peoples, women, youth, children as their very own struggle. We can basically put it this way: We are giving here a struggle for our own freedom. We are in fact a part of this great struggle. Being indifferent to the revolution on these grounds while sustaining a life nurtured by revolutionary concepts, will be nothing else than holding your distance to the revolutionary idea and consciousness itself. We are now in these lands of a factual living revolution, since we are in the clearest manner revolutionaries and soldiers of the revolution.”

THE OPERATION TO LIBERATE RAQQA

You are now taking part in the Operation to liberate Raqqa. Can you give us a short account of this operation’s importance?

After our founding, we partook in many different operations. Our objective is to export the experience we gather here first and foremost to Turkey and also to the rest of the world. Because we indeed managed to spread this revolution. We proceed very attentively and are fighting with the consciousness that we have the capability to add to this new formation taking place here, also unify it with other peoples, other oppressed peoples and other lands to the same degree as we can make it permanent here.

For this reason, we do not view the current Raqqa Operation as distinguished from the AKP fascism. With every blow we deliver to the gangs here, with every gang member we kill, the very substructure of the ISIS gangs in Turkey and the whole world suffer backlashes. The blow they suffer here is a blow delivered to the AKP in Turkey, -the biggest supporter of ISIS- and to the bombings carried out around the world.

To be precise, more than only backing them, the AKP has even founded them, as we are dealing with the exact same fascism. The massacres in Suruç and in Turkey have been perpetrated by ISIS. Also the massacre in Ankara was carried out again by ISIS. ISIS is actually threatening the whole world. And for that reason all the revolutionaries worldwide who head to Rojava are very proud to contribute to what is their own struggle and act according to this understanding. There is no such a thing like saying in the end that ‘Rojava is now completed’ or ‘Raqqa is over, we can now return to our own cause’ . Because there is in fact nothing like our own cause. There is a communist cause, we are communists and therefore it is the task of all communists and ours to struggle at any place where oppression and persecution exists. For that reason the war and struggle here is our war, and we continue our endeavors with this notion.

Since the start of the operation you have taken the lead in the fighting. You have also suffered losses. What kind of impact have you left on the Arabic community?

Since the start of the Operation to liberate Raqqa until now four of our comrades within the International Freedom Battalion have fallen martyrs. Doğan Kurefe, Mehmet Kurnaz, Ulaş Bayraktaroglu, Destan Temmuz and comrade Hasan Ali. The most recent losses were Destan Temmuz and Hasan Ali. We also have two gravely wounded comrades. For us the meaning of this operation is in plain view. We knew perfectly that the Raqqa Operation would be all but easy and that also we would pay with martyrs. Ulaş Bayraktaroglu was the founder and chief commander of the Revolutionary Communar Party (DKP) movement and also the other fallen comrades had leading positions in their fields, as did comrades Hasan Ali and Destan Temmuz, and this fact has strenghtened our struggle even more, while this struggle of ours has proven that leading forces are standing on the frontline at all times during the struggle. They became symbols in this aspect.

If we were in the cities, these losses might have demoralized us. But here an opposite situation is evolving. When receiving the news of their martyrdom, we can only keep them alive by materializing the energy and will of their struggle as much again. This is why the arms of the martyred comrades are still here, now taken up by other comrades. The martyrdom of our comrades can only be a source of strength for us.

We do not say these things out of emotion or agitation. In the face of all these martyrdoms, we want to stand at the frontlines of this war and partake in all operations, because there is also another significant point: our martyrs here have a profound impact on the Arab community. After the success of this operation or these lands get liberated, the names of our martyrs who fell here will be given to the next generation. We know that this people get to know us and our motivation. Some persons come and hand us over their keys, telling us to go and use their houses whenever we need. Some others show their discontent, saying ‘you are staying in our houses and we stay in tents’. One has to understand both these cases.

As we use the people’s homes here, it is important to make sure that they are staying somewhere else. This is not so easy. On the other hand we know that the women are kept like captives -so to speak- in those houses. Their homes are actually their prisons. We are actually fighting to turn these prisons of theirs into a true home. Once the campaign is over, we trust that the Arab community will also understand this struggle because while women can not even set a foot outside their homes and their laughter is banned to be heard by men -in line with the ISIS mentality- there are forces that are prepared to liberate them from such a life. We are sure that the people will one day understand these forces and with this in our minds we go into battle. Our comrades who fall martyrs are neither Kurds nor Arabs, they are all Turks. They sacrifice their lives for other peoples and we do know well that this fact will be recognized in the end.

Our struggle does not aim for seeking an identity, but we lead this struggle for the oppressed peoples. The freedom of the peoples living here is tantamount to the freedom of our own identity as well. Comrade Destan Temmuz has fought on behalf of the martyred comrades of Suruç, comrade Hasan Ali decided to join after the bombing in Ankara. And we know that also in Raqqa many others will join us as well.

We know that this fight will succeed and that there are other people who will share this belief and will and fight eagerly, too. For that reason we invite all oppressed peoples, workers, women and men alike to come and join our ranks.

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‘Turkey will not be able to occupy Afrin’, says YPG Commander Hemo

afrin
People’s Protection Units (YPG) Commander Sipan Hemo, speaking to Yeni Ozgur Politika, said that the existence of the Turkish state in Rojava-Syria is illegitimate and against the people there.

“In all ways the Turkish state is an occupying force. Nobody can close their eyes to this reality. The fact that its goal is the defeat of the Rojava Revolution does not change that fact.”

Hemo added that all the Rojava and Syrian people were expecting the US to explain the limits of the agreement and cooperation with the Turks.

YPG Commander Sipan Hemo answered questions about the attempted occupation of Afrin and Shehba, which the Turkish state has recently clearly expressed, and its quest for an agreement with Russia to achieve this.

The Turkish state and the gangs within it occupied the Jarablus-Bab-Azaz triangle, but after being blocked in Manbij and kept away from the Raqqa assault, it was not enough to intensify attacks on the lines of Shehba and Afrin. Can you tell us precisely what the Turkey is trying to do?

The Turkish state officially invaded the region from Jarablus to Exterin, from Exterin to Bab, and left the “Euphrates Shield” groups there. These groups were from the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) since the beginning of the Syrian war and they were ‘warriors’ against Syria first. Then they changed direction and began a war against the Rojava Revolution and Kurds. For this reason, they have concentrated on the Azaz and Shehba lines since then. Now they are sending in reinforcements here every day.

The Turkish state’s aims are complex and run deep; They are trying to launch an operation that starts from the Jarablus line to Shehba and Bab, from there an operation on Rojava to join all of it with Idlib. They want to establish an authority in this region that is officially run by the gangs but is actually the Turkish state. So, after strengthening sovereignty here, the Turkish state will continue its aim of liquidating the Rojava Revolution from Afrin line. At the same time, it will try to weigh in on Syria’s future and have a say in its restructuring. In other words, the desire, the target of the Turkish state and the plans accordingly depend on what it is doing now. It does not hide this. [Turkish officials] have clearly expressed the desire to join the region between Jarablus and Manbij to Idlib. Aleppo was also among these plans before, but after they agreed with Russia, Aleppo was left out. Now, there are plans to build a corridor towards Rojava from the Shehba line to Idlib.

We are expecting attacks on both Shehba and Afrin from Azaz and Idlib in order to weaken our powers in the coming period and to create a corridor and control from Jarablus to Idlib. They are sending in reinforcements and stacking munitions to achieve this. From time to time we are being attacked, and are responding instantly. All their attacks were repelled. There is no change in the field dominance until now.

Afrin has been under a kind of siege for a long time, nevertheless it has gone a long way in terms of both organising legitimate defence and society. How prepared is the whole social structure of Afrin; military and political institutions, relations and alliances for such an attack. What can you say about the composition and deployment of your military forces? 

Afrin, as you have mentioned, has long been under siege and experienced different levels of war. It’s been fighting like this almost since 2012. In this long term, our forces have both developed a serious defence and achieved valuable things. That such a power is careful, prepared and well placed for war is already an essential task. The people of Afrin are also very brave and not afraid of making sacrifices. Despite all the hardships, bother, siege and embargo, Afrin has displayed an honourable stance. There is also a determination to show a stance beyond even this. Our belief is that if the Turkish state attempts to invade Afrin today or intensifies its attacks the people of Afrin will stand beside the defence forces and support it. Turkey’s attempt will open the gates of a new era of success, contrary to the anticipation of our enemies. The Rojava Revolution will complete an important phase of the process. I want to emphasise this and nobody should forget it: Afrin will play a major role in both its own defence and the liberation of the Shehba. I will not go into details, but all our forces are ready at the highest level against any possibility.

The Baath regime and its allies have also shown discomfort regarding the offensive of the YPG-led SDF on Raqqa, which is being carried out with the support of the US-led International Coalition, and the slander turned into an attack. There are claims that this common discomfort with the Turks is also shared with Russia and Iran and that the Turkish army has been given tacit support for the occupation. How do you read this, what is the attitude of Russia-Iran-Baath?

This approach is correct and we see it the same way. The progression and successes of the SDF under the leadership of the YPG and support provided by the US-led International Coalition is naturally disturbing the other bloc. This is evident. Of course they are uncomfortable and this discomfort will continue. So it is possible for the Turkish state to lay the groundwork for new attacks and occupation attempts. Our alliances and accomplishments are disturbing the bloc formed around Russia. They are not happy with this.

This crisis will manifest itself more clearly in the forthcoming period.

Our problem or issue is not how these forces view each other or their approach to one another. Our project and actions for the democratisation of Rojava and Syria is open for all to see. We are working towards our own goals and in line with our own agenda. Therefore rather than focus on the agenda or projects of the US, Russia and other forces we focus on our own projects and actions. Because this is what is essential for us: our plans and goals. Our relationship with international powers is based on this. Our framework is Rojava’s freedom and Syria’s democratisation. Naturally, we have the right to expect respect and understanding from powerful states like the USA and Russia.

How much does the US, which is leading the International Coalition, know about Turkey’s maneouvers and what is it planning on doing in the event it is carried out?

The US, which is leading the International Coalition must answer this question openly and clearly. They are the ones who need to explain the boundaries of the relationship with the Turks, the preparations, the agreements and the cooperation, the frame, and the extent it is against us. Therefore, it is the expectation of all the peoples of Rojava and Syria that the respondent of this question answer it satisfactorily.

If we assume that all this is being done to prevent victory in Raqqa, how do you view this victory from Afrin and what will its effects be?

The success in Raqqa and ultimate victory there will not be local. It will begin a new and blessed process for all of Syria. It will play the role of forming the base for the democratisation of Syria. We have been thinking this since the liberation of Manbij. Our struggle against terrorism will continue everywhere. Our goal is not a secret, it is very clear: we are not doing what we are doing because we want to be just a part of Syria, on the contrary, it is to become the main / founding element of the democratisation of Syria.

Due to this stance, we don’t have much to say on scenarios based on covert, dirty cooperation between the international forces and the Turks. Our goals and methods, and the alliance based on these are highly transparent.

During Ramadan the Turkish President repeated that the Kurds would never be allowed recognition and a status. What other evils can be expected, where can your reaction against these evils evolve?

Our goal in this region is very clear and transparent. We do not accept any form of occupation of the Turkish state in this region. They may have acquired some facilities and formed international alliances. I underline that; We do not care for these alliances and do not recognise them. The liberation of the Azaz-Jarablus line will always be our goal and we will continue to struggle for this. From the beginning, the Turkish state took an illegitimate position against Rojava and Syria; their presence is against the peoples. The Turkish state is an occupying force. Nobody can close their eyes to this reality. The fact that its goal is the defeat of the Rojava Revolution does not change this fact.


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A trip to liberated Minbic in Northern Syria: from hell to paradise

About the author

Ercan Ayboga has worked in the town administration of Diyarbakir (Amed) and was co-coordinator of International Relations and heritage sites, including the urban Tigris River project. At the same time is active in the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, based in Turkish-Kurdistan. He is a co-author of Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in the Syrian Kurdistan (Pluto Press, 2016) which has been published also into German, Russian, Italian, Spanish and Greek.

The city of Minbic (Manbij) and its surroundings are among the most contested regions in the Syrian war. Ercan Ayboga interviewed representatives of the new Democratic Administration in Minbic.

A square in the liberated city of Minbic. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.It is getting more and more complicated here. Almost all parties at war are located in close proximity to this region in Northern Syria. Most notably the Turkish army, acting as an occupant, wants to take Minbic – an endeavour which, although announced by Turkish president Erdoğan, has so far failed due to the resistance of the local population, as well as the US and Russia.

The city of Minbic was liberated on August 12, 2016 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, arabic: QSD), thus ending the “Islamic State’s” (ISIS) rule of more than two and half years. Shortly before the liberation offensive started, the Minbic Military Council had been set up on May 31, 2016 by the QSD under the leadership of the Kurdish People’s and Women’s Defense Units (YPG/YPJ). It exercises military control over the Minbic region, located about 100 kilometres southwest of Kobanê, which became known worldwide for its resistance. In autumn 2016, the Military Council handed over the region’s administration to the provisional Minbic Civic Council. Consisting of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and Circassians, the Civic Council has renamed itself the Minbic Democratic Civilian Administration Council on March 12, 2017 and expanded in size in order to heighten its democratic legitimation.

The significance of Minbic derives not only from its geostrategic location in the Syrian context, but also from the political system which has been established there from August 2016, namely with the Minbic Democratic Civilian Administration Council which holds a very high democratic standard and is supposed to serve as a model for a new democratic Syria. This will be the focus of this interview which was conducted with the key representatives of the Democratic Administration’s legislative, among them the co-chairs Sozdar Xalit (Kurd) und Faruk Maschi (Arab), as well as Emel Bozgeyik (Turkmen), Muhamed Dolmusch (Turkmen), Muhamed Tarik (Circassian) und Abdo Mustafa (Kurd).

What kind of a city was Minbic before the war in Syria?

All: Until 2011, about eighty percent of Minbic’s population of roughly 100,000 were Arabs. However, more than ninety years ago the majority of the population had been Circassian. Shortly before the ongoing war, Kurds made up close to 15 percent, while Circassians and Turkmens together accounted for only about five percent of the overall population in Minbic. Several decades ago a small Armenian community had existed as well, which emigrated to Aleppo though.

Both commerce and agriculture have always been well developed in Minbic. Economically the city was in quite a good shape. The level of education is quite high as compared to the surrounding areas.

Maschi: The region’s 63 Arabic tribes convened regularly for many years and came to terms with the state, but in general did not actively support it. The two biggest tribes sent one deputy respectively to the Syrian parliament.

What was the period between the beginning of the Syrian uprising and war until shortly before ISIS’ rule like in Minbic?

All: The city of Minbic and its surroundings positioned themselves quickly against the Baath regime from spring 2011 onwards. But there were heated discussions on whether resistance should be peaceful or armed.

Members of the Democratic Self Government. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

Dolmusch: This discussion was held among Arabs as well as Turkmens. While the latter organised themselves peacefully initially, a lot of them quickly changed their mind when weapons, money and military training was pressed on by Turkey. Thus the Turkmen society was of two opinions.

Maschi: I, together with my tribe positioned myself against the regime, but rejected armed aggression. But many were in favour of them and the Arabs were of divided opinions. Hardly anyone was on the side of the regime.

All: From 2011, up to 76 oppositional military brigades formed quickly, all convening under the label of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Politically, the Kurds got organised mostly in the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), an alliance of several Kurdish parties including the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which quickly rose to be the major force of Kurds throughout Syria. On the military level, they assembled mostly under the Al-Akrad group, which belonged to the more progressive parts of the FSA and was on friendly terms with the YPG/YPJ.

FSA rule in Minbic from July 2012 at first led to more political freedom but it was a very chaotic period. Most FSA fighters on the one hand could not cope with basic administrative tasks and on the other they began to enrich themselves. Having plundered state institutions, they robbed civilians. After a few months the FSA turned more repressive and started to fight among each other. The population became dissatisfied. It was quite easy for the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian Al-Qaida which was growing in strength, to seize power in spring 2013.

Right at the beginning, Al-Nusra introduced sharia law and exerted greater political pressure. Many people who were accused of criminal acts got their hand chopped off. Theft, too, was part of Al-Nusra fighters methods. While the FSA curtailed TEV-DEM’s political work in the villages, Al-Nusra began to oppress TEV-DEM in the city as well. In short, Al-Nusra’s short rule was far from social justice and freedom and was heading speedily towards dictatorship and chaos. Thus, ISIS with it’s assertion of absolute Islam and a just system encountered no difficulties in grabbing the power in Minbic.

Hotel where ISIS tortured people. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

How can we imagine ISIS’ rule in Minbic, which lasted about three years, to be like in practise?

All: When the regime was ousted in 2012 the population of Minbic rose in number at first. But with ISIS, it shrank to less than half of the original number. Notably almost all Kurds and Circassians left the city because they were seen as potential enemies.

Dolmusch: When ISIS ruled in Minbic, they were not so much after Turkmens, but in particular after Kurds. Because they feared them a lot.

All: In the first months, ISIS conducted themselves quite cautiously in the city. They even offered sweets to children on the streets. But right at the beginning they underlined what is “halal” (permitted) and “haram” (prohibited). The population watched ISIS rule passively at first. But a few months later ISIS showed its true face and started to control political, social, cultural and economic life in a formerly unknown way. Any kind of objection to or infringement of the rules imposed by them were met in the most brutal way. The most extreme form of terror perpetrated by ISIS in Minbic was to lock up people – 545 persons in the course of about 3 years – in cages put up on public places for days, not allowing relatives to come to them, and behead them in public days later, with many people being made to attend by force. This was recorded on video in order to spread even more fear of ISIS.

Bozgeyik and Xalit: Women and also girls were subjected to special laws. They had to wear the strictest type of chador in public and were only allowed to go out on the street when accompanied by a male relative, having to walk 15 metres behind him. In order to receive a punishment it was enough for a part of the woman’s face to be seen outside. It sometimes happened that men lost sight of their wives or sisters and were not able to find them again. Many women simply stayed at home all the time because of this regulation.

Some women had to continue working in the vegetable fields around the city due to the difficult economic situation, a job greatly obstructed by the chador, especially during summer. Certain products such as tomatoes, tinned food or other things especially favoured by women, were banned. In order to enforce restrictions more efficiently, even a women’s militia was formed. Arrested women were tortured – shortly after liberation traces of blood were seen in the women’s jail – and in many cases stoned to death in three public places. We are particularly pleased that a tree has grown in exactly one of these places.

Women going to attend a demonstration. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

All: Under ISIS the economic situation in Minbic grew even more difficult and life exceptionally expensive. They sold bread and one litre of Diesel for 350 Syrian lira respectively (the price of which was only about 40-50 lira in YPG-/YPJ-/QSD-controlled area at that time) [equivalent to roughly 1,50 and 0,20 EUR]. Often, long queues formed at the distribution points, although petroleum and crop were available in sufficient quantity in ISIS territory. Sugar was very expensive, too, although it was produced in close-by Maskanah. Horrendous taxes were randomly exacted from shop owners and merchants. ISIS financed their war this way. The foodstuffs available were rationed, with ISIS fighters withholding the best parts for themselves, justifying this with their alleged status as “God’s warriors”. Most people survived on money which came from relatives living outside. The poorest, who asked for financial support, generally were told to join ISIS as fighters.

All schools in Minbic were closed by ISIS, our children could only attend Islamic schools. When ISIS had enlarged their capacity of own schools after some time they started to force all children into these schools. There they were subjected to ideological brainwashing and pressure to join ISIS from a young age.

There were so many more crazy bans as for example, eating in parks. Using a mobile phone was prohibited in general. If someone was caught for the first time, they had to pay a high fine. In case of repetition jail and torture loomed.

Not everything which ISIS did can be linked to Islam. They instrumentalised it for their regime of terror.

According to your account ISIS was not supported by the population. But were there not many people who actively supported them?

This was the case only for a small part of the population, most of those who remained adjusted themselves. We have to keep in mind that more than half of the population fled from Minbic when ISIS ruled. But sadly so we have to say: Some families positively sold their daughters to ISIS, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons. If you were close to ISIS and acted as an agent you were for example allowed to work in one of the many small Diesel refineries. Some became agents, we were scared not only on the street but also in our staircase. The majority of the population positioned themselves more and more explicitly against ISIS from 2015. All in all three demonstrations against ISIS’ methods took place in Minbic, once even shops were closed. But all attempts were suppressed in the most brutal ways. Minbic is one of the few cities controlled by ISIS where demonstrations against their methods took place at all.

Support for ISIS was bigger among the armed groups than the civilians. Unfortunately, an important part of the former FSA joined ISIS militarily from 2014.

Shortly before the liberation operation started on May 31, the Minbic Civic and Military Council were proclaimed. How did this come to be?

Xalit: The liberation of the Tishrin dam on the Euphrates through the QSD in December 2015 slowly raised hopes that ISIS could lose its sovereignty over the Minbic region. ISIS slowly lost its confidence and rightly so. Because in the beginning of 2016, people and groups who had fled Minbic convened with YPG/YPJ/QSD and representatives of the three Rojava cantons and the newly founded Syrian Democratic Council to prepare the liberation of Minbic. The former TEV-DEM activists from Minbic were the motor of this enterprise. Since we both had fled from Minbic before, we contributed a lot from the start. First, the Minbic Military Council was founded in the beginning of 2016, and then the Minbic Civic Council on April 5, 2016. The representation of all parts of society was so important to us that we reserved the seats for Circassians in the 43 members strong Civic Council. Because almost all of them had been forced to leave Minbic. The Civic Council used all the languages spoken in minbic right from the start, the banners were in four languages. The Military Council had women as members from the start, we made this a point. However, they were hardly present in the media at the time of the liberation operation.

Maschi: It was possible to proclaim both so swiftly because of the terror perpetrated by ISIS which was of utmost brutality and the hate against it on the one hand, and the active support of both structures by the QSD and the Syrian Democratic Council on the other. I myself have had a good relationship with the Kurds in Minbic and close-by Kobanê for a long time. I have always valued having actual deeper relations with them as an important goal, only then can we prevent other forces from playing us off against each other. I also convinced many people in my Al-Buberne-Clan, which is one of the biggest clans in the Minbic region, of that. The Minbic Civic Council and the Military Council which possesses an autonomous structure within the QSD, and the civil council have collaborated closely right from the start, the task sharing was quite good. This became apparent during the liberation operation which lasted about three months. The Military Council grew quickly during this operation and reached several thousand members when Minbic was liberated.

One of the partly destroyed neighborhoods in Minbic. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

What did you do as Civic Council, when the Minbic Military Council had started the liberation operation?

Xalit and Maschi: Before and during the liberation operation we made great efforts to get in touch with people in Minbic and refugees from Minbic in various places and win them over for the liberation. The acceptance of the Civic Council grew fast through this, which was of importance for the time after liberation – we were confident of the success of the operation. We had formed groups which, starting from June 2016, immediately visited the liberated villages and informed about our goals and intentions. The vast majority received us with joy and relief. Apart from that we, together with volunteers, tended to the many hundreds wounded in the course of the hard fights in Minbic. But most of all we led discussions on how the administration of the city and surrounding regions of Minbic should work. Every step during and shortly after the liberation was important to gain the support of the broad population. In fact we were all in all quite successful, and were given charge of leading Minbic for the transitional period without being questioned. From then on the population turned to us.

Can you give us examples and impressions of how the population received the liberation? What was especially important for you?

All: You can compare the liberation from ISIS by the Minbic Military Council and the Syrian Democratic Forces to the passage from hell to paradise! Accordingly, spirits were particularly euphoric during the first weeks. ISIS brutality had been so immense that many could rejoice only then when they could meet the Military Council and Democratic Forces fighters in person and not in combat position in front of their houses. Then came cries of joy. This great joy could be seen especially on women’s faces. Many danced on the streets in the first days. It was important for us that no attempt at lynching took place. Tens of thousands returned to their houses within a few weeks, among them many thousands from Turkey. A lot of people approached us offering their help, or rather wanted to carry out tasks in reconstruction. The population had seen that we bring freedom and equality and do not want to exclude anyone or take advantage of differences in favour of a small circle. The population senses exactly this. Minbic has never lived through so much freedom in its history. The joy is still huge, everyone can see this for themselves walking through the streets of Minbic. People’s faces are full of positive energy.

Which were the first steps you undertook in Minbic? How has life developed in more than half a year?

All: During the liberation process several dozens of buildings were destroyed completely, and hundreds of them partly. This is very little compared to many other Syrian cities which were fought over. One of the first steps was to clear the debris very quickly. Right from the start we made efforts to establish people’s councils with broad participation from the population in every city district and every place outside of the city. In some places we quickly managed to build a democratic structure with women’s participation. We are confident that we will manage to do the same everywhere within a short period of time.

A second wave of happiness went through the region when schools reopened one month after liberation. They had been closed for three years. We had successfully called on all former teachers for that. The only change we have made to education so far is the abolition of the subject on state and history which used to be taught on the basis of Baath ideology. Kurds and Turkmens started to teach their children in their mother tongue additionally a few weeks after the opening.

Tarik: As of now we are not able to offer our children Circassian language, which is also due to the fact that we do not speak our language very often. But with the new school term we will start. This is a huge challenge for us, because Circassian hasn’t been taught neither in Syria nor in Turkey. It is an incredibly wonderful feeling that everybody can go to school in their own language.

All: When the situation in Minbic became more stable in autumn and we as Minbic Civil Council had organised ourselves better, administration was officially transferred to us by the Military Council. From then on, all important decisions regarding Minbic region were made by our council of 43 members. One of the first decisions was to ask the Military Council to build the security structure, called Asayîş.

Economy was freed from the many restrictions imposed on it in the last years. This was important insofar as the merchants of Minbic were thus able to bring necessary goods from other regions. But this does not suffice by far and the traded goods are expensive in parts. But staple foods and other elementary goods and aids for the needy are coming from the cantons Kobanê and Cizîrê. Now bread – the large bread factory was restored immediately – and Diesel in Minbic cost the same as in Kobanê and Cizîrê, and water supply is working again. Electricity is delivered from Tishrin barrage almost all day long free of cost. Mobile company Syriatel was allowed to repair the telecommunication masts, and so people could talk to their relatives in other parts of the country again.

The reconstructed bread factory. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

Some accused of spying for ISIS were given an open and democratic trial. But only after a people’s court, transparent to the Civic Council and the public, had been established.

But the liberation of Minbic has also led to people from regions where ISIS and other antidemocratic forces or regimes are in control coming to us as refugees. They say: “We have heard that there is freedom here, life is better and no one is persecuted. That is why we are here”. Of course we take them up but it’s a huge technical and financial burden in our current condition to provide for additional tens of thousands of people. After Al-Bab was taken by the Turkish army and the regions south of Minbic by the Syrian army, further tens of thousands have come. Now at least there is a little international support.

Recently, the Minbic Civic Council has restructured and renamed itself the Minbic Democratic Civilian Administration Council. Why, and what is different now?

All: On March 12, 2017, Minbic Civic Council has not only renamed itself as the Minbic Democratic Civilian Administration Council, but also a number of restructuring measures in the entire administration have taken place after months of discussions. In the Civic Council, legislative and executive had been one structure, now they are separated. The number of representatives taking political decisions in the legislative of the Democratic Administration has been raised from 43 to 134. 71 of them are Arabs, 43 Kurds, 10 Turkmens, 8 Circassians, in addition to one Armenian and one Chechen. 15 persons form the executive of the Democratic Administration. All in all, 13 committees were founded – defense, women, society matters, economy, finances, health, culture, education, communal administration, martyrs, services, diplomacy, and youth&sport.

Xalit: The greatest challenge was to win enough women among the non-Kurds for this function in accordance with the gender quota of 40% as agreed. This was due to the fact that among them, so far very few women had been active in the public-political sphere and the question of women’s rights had hardly been posed in a serious manner. For several weeks we struggled for a sufficient number of women to be represented in the legislative. Only because 50% of the Kurds in the legislative of the Minbic Democratic Administration were women, was it possible to observe the quota.

All: In the face of the war, the displacements and massacres in Syria, and the exploitation of religion or ethnicity, it is important that all ethnic groups of Minbic are sufficiently represented; from the religious point of view all are Sunni. We also have made efforts to successfully let different professions be represented. Youth, students, intellectuals and artists are also among the 134 delegates.

How can we even understand the developments in Minbic in the Syrian political perspective? How, according to you, should this new system be assessed?

All: These new structures in Minbic were developed on the basis of the idea of the Democratic Nation. According to it, the nation state is rejected and instead all individuals and groups should be enabled to find their place in it. No identity should rule over the other. In practice this means for instance that all languages can be spoken and the free expression of the different cultures are equal to each other. Women’s liberation is a central element and pervades all political and social structures; thus we are gradually introducing the co-chair-system of one man and one woman and a gender quota everywhere. Furthermore, life is supposed to be organised ecologically and communally: Private economic gain must not stand over the interests of society and a broad solidarity among each other is important. This concept has been implemented successfully in the three cantons Afrîn, Kobanê and Cizîrê since 2012, but the difference is that here lives a majority of non-Kurds. And this is exactly what is special about Minbic.

Square where ISIS executed 545 people. Today children can play here. Picture by Ercan Ayboga.

Bozgeyik: All that which we are hearing from the Kurds in recent time sounds so very new and exciting to us. The greatest thing is that we are building something new together and in good cooperation. Even more decisive than theory is practice, because this is what the broad population is looking at. Hopefully we will manage to build a model for the whole of Syria in Minbic. In the face of the enormous suffering this is very important. We are aware of the historic and responsible task we are carrying out. That is why we work a lot, discuss and continuously educate ourselves in academies which we have established.

What does Abdullah Öcalan represent in this context, as the one who provided the ideas behind the concept of Democratic Nation? Which role does he play in Minbic?

Tarik: Abdullah Öcalan has voiced essential thoughts which place the coexistence of cultures at the centre. The peoples are coming closer at heart. Today Öcalan is not only a political leader of the Kurds, he has earned himself a very special role for Circassians and all others in our region. We can also see this in the fact that women are becoming active in society.

What do you think of the role of the Turkish government in the war in Syria? For weeks now the Turkish army has been attacking villages in western Minbic.

All: We maintain a good relationship with the population of Turkey. Many of us have lived in Turkey as refugees and a small number of people from Minbic are still there as refugees. Nonetheless, the Turkish government has wronged us for years by supporting ISIS. ISIS is the common enemy of all people and we should focus on them. The attacks of armed groups supported by the Turkish army against villages which were liberated from ISIS taking place now are unacceptable. We invite the Turkish government to come to Minbic and witness themselves what we are establishing here. All parts of society partake, we have established social peace and consensus.

There are repeated reports on the YPG/YPJ respectively QSD allegedly conducting ethnic cleansing of non-Kurds, especially Arabs, in Northern Syria. Has something like this taken place in Minbic?

Maschi: I can answer this very clearly: no. Everyone out there on the streets of Minbic will confirm this, too. If something like that had happened neither me nor the majority of Arabs would have established the new political structures together with the Kurds and the others. In general, the liberated villages were examined for mines for several days, then all inhabitants were allowed to return. This applies to Kurdish villages, too. Whoever alleges something like this does not know the reality or has something bad in mind. Rather, the opposite is the case, in spite of decades of oppression the Kurds have not answered with nationalism and have truly promoted kinship among Syria’s peoples. This is especially evident in Minbic. Last month a demonstration for Abdullah Öcalan took place, in which we and many thousands took part in. Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and Circassians were marching together.

 

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THOUGHTS ON RACISM AND REVOLUTION

Dr. Hawzhin Azeez

A sign of ideological nativity and privilege is the expectation that the oppressed should engage in massive social change and progress in unrealistically short periods of time. An act of racism from an individual YPG fighter, for instance, is enough to cause the collapse of the entire solidarity movement for the Kurds. The idealization, the romanticization, the orientalist perspective in which the Kurds are viewed is deeply problematic and counter-revolutionary. This ideological purity is devoid of awareness and understanding and first hand experience of the reality of the oppressed and what they have had to do to survive daily in a deeply racist society like the one in Syria. A more sophisticated political analysis is required to understand the Revolution here.

No one is immune from the impacts of racist, ethnic and religious based violence when that is all they have ever known. Racial prejudices exist here from Kurds, to Arabs, to Christians, to Armenians, to Muslims. No one is immune because the very conception of the ‘Syrian’ state has been one based on segregation, violence and domination. One that has attempted to impose one identity, one language, one concept of ideal citizenship. Many groups fell outside the boundaries of this ‘ideal’ resulting in massacres, torture and imprisonments and worse. This has caused an inward looking approach for minorities and groups as a means of self protection and preservation. Yet what is noteworthy in Rojava is that despite and BECAUSE of that long history of oppression the governing model and social system here is one deeply invested in eradicating racism. From the inclusiveness of Arabic, Kurdish and Assyrian as the official languages and actively implemented across the education system, to extra seats in the councils to minorities like Armenians to ensure they retain influence, to a free media across different languages,to hundreds of thousands of displaced people being housed and fed, to the active encouragement and support for the establishment of non Kurdish military and security forces such as Sotoro, the Khabour Guards, Nathoreh and the Bethahrian Women’s Protection Units among others in order for the minorities to be able to defend themselves- even against the YPG if one day the Kurds become authoritarian. All education seminars some over 6 months long address specifically and explicitly racism and the importance of ethno-religious co-existence.

There is also an important distinction in having prejudices and actively trying to eliminate them through not only ideological means and re-educating society, but also through establishing inclusive and pro-minority based laws and institutions. This anti-racist ideology is one of the corner stones of the Revolution here. It is this reason that ensures that Arab dominated cities like Manbij, Tel Abyad and Hasake remain stable and peaceful. Initially Tel Abyad, the first of the three above cities to be liberated, experienced constant bombings and attacks internally and with ISIS coming across the border from Turkey. But so much work was conducted across councils and communes to breach the ethnic gaps. Tribal leaders and people of great social standing were invited for talks and ongoing dialogue, people were included in decision making processes and were voted into councils and communes.

When Iraq, for instance, was ‘liberated’ by the Americans in 2003 the first thing people did was pick up weapons to seek blood revenge against their Sunni neighbors for decades of Baathist oppression and terror. This issue did not occur in Rojava. Sectarian fights due to long held unaddressed grievances results in dozens dying weekly in Iraq. Look at Baghdada and Basra and Ramadi in Iraq and compare it to Tel Abyad, Hasake and Manbij in north Syria. The distinction speaks volumes.

A revolution is a process, one that is lengthy and rife with progress and regressions. The kind of social and progressive changes being implemented here takes decades if not centuries- just look at the West and its going whitecentric and racist socio-political, economic and anti-refugee issues- and look what has been achieved here in 5 years.

Organic and enduring social change requires time. It cannot be implemented and unlearned in an unexpectedly short time. Don’t be shocked by individual acts of racism and see it as a result of long historical impacts, but withdraw support if you see no institutional and collective efforts being made to end that racism here. Unlearning racism cannot be forced. It must be people themselves, Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Muslims alike, who come to the conviction that racism is not a viable solution. Everyone has a responsibility to participate and end that racism if they wish to live peacefully here.

-Dr. Hawzhin Azeez

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Hundreds of us will die in Raqqa’: the women fighting Isis

Kimberley Taylor from Blackburn is part of the all-female Kurdish force battling to rout Islamic State. Driving them on is the chance to free women enslaved by the extremists: ‘It starts with fighting Daesh, then the mentality of the male’

by Mark Townsend

OBSERVER  Sunday 30 April 2017 08.30 BST

 

She had heard the stories about how Islamic State fighters could glide like ghosts into Kurdish militia bases during the dead of night, but nothing prepared her for the bedlam when it happened. It was 3.40am on 12 February when Isis attackers scrambled over the perimeter defences of the base north of Raqqa. Kimberley Taylor was convinced it would be overrun. Grabbing her Kalashnikov, she began firing at the shapes. Beyond the corner of the nearest building cowered an enemy fighter. Suddenly he rushed towards her. As their eyes met, he yanked the cord on his suicide belt.

Night-time along the shifting frontline of northern Syria is a fraught affair. Absolute silence, punctured by periods of pandemonium. Isis can strike from anywhere, shadows that melt in and out of the darkness. Taylor’s base was six miles behind the front, among the lush floodplains of the Euphrates. Everyone there knew that the Isis fighters’ latest tactic was tiptoeing into the huts of sleeping Kurdish fighters and blowing themselves up. Taylor, who survived the suicide attack, counted herself lucky.

“Well, kind of. I was completely covered in human remains, which was pretty horrific,” said the 28-year-old in her gentle Lancashire accent. Later, when the sun rose, Taylor admitted to being both disgusted and fascinated by a human exploding, particularly how hair was blown clean from the scalp.

Taylor, born in Blackburn 28 years ago, is a footsoldier for the YPJ – a Northern Kurdish or Kurmanji acronym for the Women’s Protection Units – an all-female force that is part of the offensive to liberate Raqqa. Fighting alongside a coalition of Arab and Assyrian Christian militias, the YPJ is steadily encircling the capital of Isis’s proto-state, supported by US airpower.

Standing among the ruins of a bombed command post 25 miles north of Raqqa, Taylor looks more like a guerrilla fighter from the Spanish civil war than a combatant at the sharp end of the international coalition to eradicate the world’s arguably most feared terrorist organisation. She has no army boots and instead marches to battle in a pair of size five secondhand Chinese-made trainers, bought for £6 in the Kurdish town of Qamishli. She has no body armour or helmet, so wraps an emerald and orange embroidered keffiyeh around her forehead to, she says, help express her femininity. She watches the war through a pair of Specsavers glasses.

Taylor, though, does have military fatigues and a flak jacket that carries four magazines (30 rounds each) and two grenades. She also carries a small bag that contains bandages, a sealable dressing for chest wounds and a tourniquet. Few have a tourniquet and Taylor knows she is fortunate – without one, a wounded soldier could bleed to death in the remote villages where they are fighting. Most crucial is her rifle – made in 1978 in Soviet-era Poland, and which looks like it has been involved in every war since.

Taylor said she was prepared for death. She does not carry any lucky charms, but has the motto “One life” inked in Thai script on her left forearm. Although she had it done in a beach shack on Koh Samui in Thailand 10 years ago, it serves as a reminder that life is fragile, that every day matters.

The pre-op briefings for the Raqqa offensive did not dilute the dangers that lay ahead. Casualties were predicted to be “significant”. Already Taylor had noticed how Isis fighters were retreating from the villages that dot the river valley around Raqqa, withdrawing back to the city for the group’s final showdown. “They’ve been preparing for this for so long. Hundreds and hundreds of us will die in Raqqa, I’m going to lose so many friends.” She paused and exhaled slowly: “What we’ll find inside the city will be unlike anything we’ve seen.”

At first the north-eastern corner of Syria when approached from Iraq seems a peaceful, plentiful land. Fields of wheat stretch to the horizon, towns bustle with hawkers, trading beneath huge portraits of the Turkish-Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the militant PKK, and whose philosophy of direct democracy and feminism has been adopted wholesale by the neighbouring Syrian Kurds.

Soon other faces appear on billboards –the faces of young martyrs, features blanched by the sun, a reminder that this nascent Kurdish region is fighting for its very existence. The Kurds have proved adroit at forging a homeland – albeit fragile – from the chaos of Syria’s war, a conflict in its seventh year that has left the country fractured, destabilised the entire region, left 470,000 dead and forced five million to flee.

Further west along the M4 highway, the grasslands surrender to the advancing desert. Signs of conflict appear. Soon you enter territory formerly ruled by Isis and only recently liberated. Destroyed, deserted villages line the road. Checkpoints become more frequent, the faces of the militia operating them increasingly taut. Enormous earth berms and ditches 10ft deep begin to border the desolate desert highway that cuts across this remote swath of northern Syria. These embankments are to halt Isis’s souped-up “bomber cars”.

Resembling something from Mad Max, these vehicles terrify everyone. Laden with explosives and encased within welded metal sheets, rockets bounce off them harmlessly, a Kalashnikov is as useful as a child’s catapult. They can reach 50mph and deliver the same fury as a 500lb bomb from a coalition jet.

Savage conflict has dramatically altered the north Syrian landscape

The checkpoint searches become more forensic, travel documents triple-checked. We learn that a fresh batch of bomber cars has been dispatched north from Raqqa.

We are headed to the frontline of Isis’s de facto capital. It is dug in there, primed for a climactic encounter as its self-proclaimed caliphate implodes after little more than three years. Latest assessments suggest that more than 100,000 civilians remain inside Raqqa, along with 5,000 Isis fighters. Advancing towards them from the north and east are about 3,000 largely Kurdish and Arab fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Another front of up to 2,500 are pushing from the south-west, picking their way through the town of Tabqa towards the city.

Intelligence assessments and spies inside Raqqa confirm prodigious defences. Speaking at an SDF command post 20 miles north of the city, Arab commander Jihan Shix Ahmad said: “Documents show Daesh [Isis] have planted many, many explosives; barrels containing bombs are all over the city.”

Booby-traps are expected in the unlikeliest places: piles of rubbish, parked motorbikes and rigged Pepsi cans. Tripwires are strung behind the doors of innocuous-looking apartments. That Raqqa has been so generously mined does not surprise Taylor. Creeping through the villages alongside the Euphrates, where the land is so lush it reminds her of Lancashire, she has stumbled across numerous bomb factories. Inside, gigantic vats of chemicals, mixing agents and bundles of wires are piled high, the smell so noxious it made her gag. “You can’t breathe; if you stay inside too long you get a massive headache.”

Susan Kobani is one of the most senior commanders of the Raqqa operation. Photograph: Mark Townsend for the Observer

Complicating the offensive are new reports that Isis has herded huge groups of civilians into pens outside the city gates. Susan Kobani, 38, one of the most senior officers overseeing the Raqqa operation, whose command hierarchy is dominated by women, said: “Daesh put civilians in two camps around the city. They are strategically placed so the SDF cannot attack from certain areas.” If the civilians attempt to escape, they are shot.

In Raqqa’s centre, Ahmad reveals that people have been shepherded on to the top three floors of the apartment blocks where Isis has located its headquarters to act as human shields against coalition airstrikes. Informants say that beneath Raqqa is alabyrinthine tunnel network from which fighters can move and instigate counterattacks from behind the frontline. Some tunnels, dug by civilians as punishments, are crammed with explosives.

Officially, no one is allowed to leave Raqqa. From the accounts of those who have reached the nearest refugee camp 25 miles away in the desert, it is quickly evident that the city is in lockdown.

Wearing the regulation black burqa of Isis, and obviously elated, Safiya Rashid told how she ignored a recent Isis directive threatening to behead anyone who attempted to cross the Euphrates. Others, too, had dismissed the warning. Two nights earlier Abdul Omar, 29, pulled himself along a rope someone had surreptitiously tied across the river. “The current was strong, but I was dying staying in the city,” he said.

Isis sentries patrol the riverbanks and shoot anyone in the water. Some people attempt to swim across and are never heard of again. Engineer assistant Abdul Kardalazi, 31, was another who got lucky. “My family hired a small boat from a smuggler, but it was very dark and all their shots missed.”

Ahmed Alogla, 60, from Aleppo, bribed an Isis guard with $200 to turn a blind eye to the dinghy holding his family. “I have nothing, no possessions, but I have my freedom,” he beamed.

Those not prepared to risk the river must take their chances traversing the treacherous land to the north. There, Isis has sown a colossal minefield, and only a handful of smugglers know the narrow corridor that leads to safety.

Ama Noor, 28, a builder from Raqqa, paid $300 for his family to be guided. They left Raqqa at 11pm and arrived at their destination after 10am, waiting until dawn to trek the final stage so they wouldn’t be shot by friendly forces. Mohammed Neheter, 31, arrived at the refugee camp at midday, his smock still filthy after scrambling along the banks of irrigation ditches to avoid Isis snipers. Sitting down with his family, Neheter couldn’t stop hugging his children. “Daesh said, ‘We will kill you if you leave’, but we had no food, no work, sometimes no water.”

The reality of the new economics of survival is that only the poorest are left stranded in Raqqa, unable to afford the smugglers’ demands.

Mohammed Neheter and his family hours after escaping Raqqa. Photograph: Mark Townsend for the ObserverSome risk their lives regardless. Three days previously, a boy was found stumbling north, close to the hamlet of Ghazili. According to Kardalazi, he had left Raqqa with two adults who tried to navigate the minefield at night without a guide. One was killed, while the other lost both legs. The boy tried to drag him but eventually the man persuaded him to go on alone. Since his arrival, the child had become mute and had taken to silently following a refugee family who shared their food. No one knows his name.

Others portray a city barely functioning, the only viable livelihoods being trading food or exchanging US dollars on the black market. One woman, Aanisah, suggested Isis was loosening its grip, becoming less pious ahead of the impending battle. “Before, they were very strict about wearing the niqab, but less now because the fighting is nearer.”

At night, power failures plunge the city into darkness, its streets deserted except for Isis fighters and those contemplating a bid for liberty.

Already it is evident that Raqqa holds terrible secrets. Ahmad revealed that they had obtained documents detailing that large numbers of women were imprisoned as slaves. “They show that hundreds of women are being held inside Raqqa.” So far the YPJ has liberated 137 of them.

For the female warriors like Taylor, the prospect of emancipating such victims is electrifying. Killing Isis was part of the day job, she said, but what really drove her forward was the thought of liberating abused women. Ahmad, almost shouting, added: “We are not fighting to kill, we are fighting for freedom.”

For the YPJ fighters, their ambitions for female emancipation are far greater than eliminating Isis. Ultimately they want to annihilate the patriarchal structure that they say oppresses women, and rebuild an equal society. “It’s an ideological fight against the patriarchal system, it starts with fighting the mentality of Daesh, then the mentality of the male, the patriarchal mindset,” said Kobani.

Taylor had no military experience before joining the YPJ. She had always loathed violence and shudders when recalling fights in British pubs. Born in Darwen, near Blackburn, a market town struggling for identity in the post-industrial economy, Taylor always wanted to make a difference. She wanted to become a professional humanitarian, possibly set up an NGO to help the disenfranchised. In the summer of 2015, she decided to travel to Iraq and witness first-hand the reality of refugee life. The plight of Yazidi women, raped and kept as sex slaves by Isis who had seized their homeland, changed her future. “Mothers were literally trying to give me their babies to take back to Europe. They were totally serious, begging me. I had to do something.”

She entered Syria in March last year, joining the Kurdish militia’s international brigade of about 100 volunteers, largely a motley bunch of leftists, socialists and anarchists from the US and Europe, of whom a dozen or so are British. Some were lured by the dogma of Öcalan, a former communist who now preaches a similar brand of feminist, anarcho-libertarianism to Noam Chomsky. Some just wanted to kill Isis.

Now Taylor finds herself squaring up against an opposing, larger cohort of foreign fighters, schooled in a strain of nihilistic jihadism. Asayish (security) police officials in northern Syria believe 1,500 foreign fighters have retreated inside Raqqa, dozens of whom are British, some of the 850 UK nationals who have travelled to fight in Syria.

As Taylor’s unit advances towards the city, they have met village residents who describe large groups of foreign fighters who cannot speak Arabic and who were heading for Raqqa. “They saw many fighters, they were everywhere. Some had Chinese-looking faces, some spoke English.”

Taylor admits it will be “weird” if she comes face to face with a Briton on the opposing side. Even weirder if she meets someone she grew up with. “I bet someone from my school is in there,” she said, nodding south along the Euphrates. “What happens if I capture someone from Lancashire? Quite a few people from there have come over. We have to understand why these people are fighting for Daesh.”Taylor is anxious about the civilians stranded inside Raqqa, and what Isis might do to them when it realises the game is up. She remains haunted by another night attack, this time when Isis stormed a YPJ command post last month, three miles from the front. Caught up in the chaotic crossfire was a 12-year-old girl, shot through the pelvis. Her mother carried the child over to Taylor, who began trying to patch her up. “But everything had come out of her body, all of her guts, her innards. The doctor and I were trying to fill the massive gap, stuff it with gauze and bandages, but it was impossible.”

She remembers that every time she looked up, the mother was staring back expectantly, nodding encouragement. But Taylor couldn’t help. The girl turned cold and pale and began throwing up. An ambulance arrived but it was four hours to the nearest hospital. As they left, Taylor recalls the mother still nodding, hoping everything would go back to the way it was.

It was 11am on the hottest day of the year so far and Taylor was in high spirits. Moments earlier she had received notice she was being posted to a new tarbur – platoon – that would spearhead the assault on Raqqa. Later that day she would be driven by minivan to the western front, 12 miles from the city centre. Her chance of becoming one of the first fighters into Raqqa had improved greatly. “Daesh had better be ready,” Taylor grinned, cigarette dangling from her mouth.Overhead came the rumble of coalition jets, pounding Isis positions further down the valley. Morning briefings suggested it had been a busy night: Isis had sent a fleet of bomber cars to positions just south. “They killed six friends,” Taylor said, looking over the SDF’s battle-scarred 93rd Brigade headquarters.

The base occupied the summit of a knoll above the desert crossroads town of Ain Issa and served as a neat microcosm of modern Syria. Once a Syrian regime garrison, jihadis from al-Qaida’s al-Nusra Front overran it in 2013, and a year later came Isis, who themselves were driven out by Kurdish forces 12 months later. Most of its structures had been obliterated by airstrikes. Amid the rubble lay the belongings of dead fighters, odd sandals, a pair of smashed sunglasses, a single Berghaus walking boot. A stretcher lay abandoned between piles of bricks.

Life on the frontline begins at 5am with a breakfast of tinned chicken, a curiously colourless substance with the texture of tripe. Occasionally tins of sardines show up, but there is always an inexplicably generous supply of Dairylea cheese triangles. Cigarettes are another constant. Everyone smokes. Arden, carrying a “Made in London” label, is the frontline brand of choice.

Showers are a luxury. Weeks without washing is normal. Dysentery is common, stomach gripes routine. Toilets are a hole in the desert, loo paper a thing of memory. Taylor remembers exploring a palatial Arab home south of the town of Tal Saman that had been commandeered by Isis fighters but now stood abandoned. Upstairs she found a sit-on toilet – her first in a year – and told her unit she would catch them up.

Much of the war against Isis is spent waiting for Land Cruisers to take them to the next battle. They spend the time singing and dancing. Taylor’s favourite Kurdish song is Freedom Fighter – Servanê Azadiyê – a paean to fallen friends. Her unit once made her sing an English song – she chose Bob Marley’s One Love but could only remember the chorus. Taylor loves life on the frontline, making a difference, being equal. She relishes the thought of killing men who have abused women, and loves that there is no sexism or objectification. “For the first time in my life I feel men respect me for who I am. Back home, men feel they have the right to beep their horn purely because I have a vagina.” She loves the fact that it is women who tell the United States where and when to carry out coalition airstrikes and that overnight commander Kobani had directed 16 airborne bombing raids, vapourising at least one prominent Isis position.

Her achievements made Taylor wish that western feminism was more potent. “There’s an obsession with minor issues like terminology, rather than realising the whole system is patriarchal. Sure, women have personal freedoms, but western society is not free.” She said she felt safer in northern Syria than in Britain.

Shortly before dusk, Jac Holmes, a bearded IT specialist from Bournemouth, appeared at the base. Taylor and Holmes embraced: they hadn’t seen each other for months. The 24-year-old had arrived from Tabqa, the scene of ferocious battles a dozen miles south-west of Raqqa. During his time in Syria, Holmes had been fired at more than 40 times, hospitalised once when a bullet burst through his right arm.

Holmes spoke softly. As a sniper, he said, it was important to stay calm. But even for him, a non-smoker upon his arrival in Syria, a stressful day can now entail consumption of 45 Ardens. “It can get pretty real out there,” he laughed. A union jack patch was fixed on the right shoulder of his militia uniform, his blood type (A-) scrawled on a spare magazine pouch. A toothbrush dangled out of his back pocket. Holmes had been away from England’s south coast for nearly eight months and figured the Raqqa op might keep him busy for many more. During that period he had become increasingly impressed with his adversaries. “They’re very good, extremely motivated, well trained and very experienced,” he said, fiddling with his lucky charm, a set of white prayer beads he found in a home near Qaltah, Raqqa province.As with Taylor, talk of Raqqa brought thoughts of mortality. He had lost more friends than he could count, Kurdish and foreign. “At one point I had a list but … ”One was 20-year-old Ryan Lock, from Chichester, who shot himself before Christmas when cornered by Isis at the onset of the Raqqa offensive. Holmes said he would do the same if surrounded, but “preferred to die fighting”. Taylor didn’t miss a beat: “Of course.”

A group of young YPJ fighters turned up. Among them was Mahabad Kobani, 18, who had requested to be forwarded to the Raqqa front and was waiting to hear back. That she had a chance was itself a minor miracle. One night before Christmas 2014 she was ambushed in an olive grove outside the town of Kobani by Isis fighters and shot seven times. She was pronounced dead, a martyr. “When they found I was alive everybody was totally shocked.” After a year recovering in hospital, she felt desperate to fight again.

“I am not worried about dying, I’ll jump in the way of bullets if my friends are in danger,” she said. Her best friend, Amara Rojhilat, 21, fought in Aleppo defending the Kurdish district of Ashrafiya from jihadis in 2013. Burdened with inferior weaponry, they forced back al-Nusra rebels in savage street-to-street fighting. “Eventually we made them accept peace,” she smiled, and reached for Kobani’s hand. Together they sang Servanê Azadiyê.

Even before the black flag of Isis is removed from Raqqa’s central square, thoughts are turning to what happens next. Politicians for Rojava, the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Syria, hope a deal with the White House can be struck as a reward for eliminating Isis from its headquarters. One persistent rumour suggests Donald Trump will visit Raqqa to congratulate SDF fighters once liberation is complete. But his military backing has yet to evolve into political collateral and the expanding Kurdish-led enclave, currently about the size of Wales, is generating tension on all borders.

Directly south lies more Isis territory. To the west is the Free Syrian Army, a rabble of Islamist factions, including the al-Nusra Front. North is Turkey, the nemesis of Syrian Kurds, whose president’s increasingly autocratic rule is likely to spell further military action against them. On Tuesday, Turkish airstrikes destroyed Kurdish command centres, killing about two dozen fighters in Syria and Iraq. Finally, to the east lies the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq (KRG), which accuses its Syrian neighbours of presiding over an oppressive regime that has forcefully displaced Arab settlers, razed villages and recruited child soldiers. A year ago the KRG shut the one bridge over the Tigris to Rojava. Entry to the region for the world’s media has been near impossible since. During the eight months preceding the border closure, 260 journalists gained entry. During the last 12 months only the Observer has secured official permission.

The anxiety that US commitment to the campaign against Isis may ultimately prove illusory extends to those on its frontline. Footage showing convoys of US armoured vehicles entering Rojava to help liberate Raqqa mystify Taylor. “But it’s all for them, they don’t give it to us. They are announcing support, but come on! Give us some proper weapons!” Speaking in the town of Tal Tamr, Kurdish commander Azad Garyae, 29, in charge of logistics for a brigade of 2,500 men that has lost 500 fighting the Syrian regime, al-Nusra and Isis, also pleaded for more equipment. “If we are to match Daesh, we need heavy weaponry, anti-tank missiles, otherwise many more will die.”More immediately, security concerns dominate daily life in Rojava. Tightening the noose on Raqqa has caused its own security conundrum. Isis suicide bombers are starting to move north masquerading as refugees, says the YPJ. Men clad in burqas have been intercepted, confirms Ahmad.

At a rapidly growing refugee camp outside the former Isis stronghold of Mabrouka, local police chief Haj Hassan Abed Khalil, 55, confirmed Isis was on the march. “We have intelligence from Raqqa that many people related to Daesh are moving towards here.”

Spies inside the city, he said, were forwarding tip-offs that trucks laden with explosives had left and were heading north. Details of the manufacturer and colour of one truck had been radioed ahead. Checkpoint soldiers were ordered to shoot the driver if it failed to stop 15 yards from them.

Large crowds of refugees were particularly suspicious, added Abed Khalil. Isis members, beards shaved and black garb discarded, forced groups to migrate, allowing them to blend in more effectively.

On 17 April the mood inside the refugee camp at Mabrouka was brittle: a group of men became agitated and we were advised to leave. An hour later a senior intelligence officer from the Asayish police in the nearby town of Sari Kani flagged down our car and said: “There are many, many Daesh inside Mabrouka and we are carrying out investigations to stop them leaving. But we must also help with the humanitarian issue. What can we do?” The previous day a suicide bomber had targeted refugees outside Aleppo, killing at least 100.

The fear of infiltration frazzled nerves. At the start of our journey, my driver had drawn attention to a loaded pistol in the passenger door panel in case of an Isis ambush. During the days that followed, Kurdish intelligence repeatedly warned that Isis was attempting to disseminate suicide bombers throughout the region. Checkpoint security became increasingly meticulous. Commander Rosel Amanus, 25, who has lost 40 friends in the war, explained why. “I was at a checkpoint near Shadadi and a man approached in a car. I was worried, so I shouted, ‘Go back. Now!’ The driver didn’t move. He didn’t look up. Then I knew.” Amanus began running, seconds later the car exploded. Taylor has seen a car bomb flatten buildings two-thirds of a mile away.She knows such destructiveness means she might not make it home. It was her 28th birthday on Friday, another day on the frontline eating tinned chicken and thinking of the things she misses: family, Tetley tea in a proper mug, Maltesers, the pub, cheddar cheese and Game of Thrones.

“If I return to Europe I’ll be bored sick straight away,” she said. “Here I am fighting for a revolution, for freedom, equality. I can die and know that I’ve lived.”

Forces in the battle for Raqqa

Syrian Democratic Forces A coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian Christian militia together spearheading the offensive to liberate Raqqa.

YPJ

The Kurdish militia that forms the lead component in the SDF. Thousands of its soldiers are currently involved in the Raqqa operation.

Islamic State

The extremist militants of Isis have held Raqqa since 2014 and have proclaimed it as the de facto capital of their besieged caliphate.

International coalition

Led by the United States, whose warplanes have repeatedly bombed the city. A cohort of 400 US marines is also deployed roughly 15 miles north of the city.

US special forces

Have been involved in Raqqa province for several months, carrying out separate operations to conventional forces.

Topics

 

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Structure of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

by Shawrash Khane

From ‘Kurdish Question’

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In a vast geographic area of north and northeast Syria wave the banners of the SDF, those forces composed of various sectarian and ethnic military groups.  All of these different structures pose a unique state within the Syrian conflict, because they are composed of different religious, national, and sectarian military groups of Kurdish Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, and Chechens included within the SDF umbrella, all of which united with the objective of combating the ISIS terrorist organization in Syria.

The harmony and capability of the SDF in the fight against ISIS on the ground have imposed the SDF as a firm number in the military and political equation in Syria, and despite the complexities of this equation with regard to political interests, the international coalition forces, which are led by the United States, have provided continuous air support to the SDF against this terrorist organization.  And the coalition’s support has not been limited to air strikes, but also included sending military reinforcements into Syrian territory in order to support these troops throughout their deployed areas, a step which angered – politically and militarily – the other armed Syrian opposition groups and certain regional countries.

Composition of the SDF

The SDF are composed of a group of military combat brigades and factions that include all segments of Syrian society where the SDF are deployed.  These factions include:

First:  People’s Protection Units (YPG):  These are large military units composed mostly of Kurdish fighters along with many other Syrian components (i.e. – Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, and Chechens).

Second:  Women’s Protection Units:  Female Kurdish fighters as well as female Arabs.

Third:  al-Sanadid (Courageous) Forces:  Arab military forces most of which belong to the Shammar tribe, which is led by Sheikh Hamidi Dahham al-Hadi al-Jurba, ruler (var: governor) of the al-Jazirah sector in the democratic administratively-autonomous regions of Syria.

Fourth:  Jaysh al-Thuwwar (Army of Revolutionaries):  The fighters in this military faction belong to the areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Hamah, A’zaz, and al-Bab.  Most of these forces are Arabs.

Fifth:  Al-Jazirah Brigades Assembly:  Composed of a group of military factions that belong to the Arab tribes, such as the Shammar, al-Sharabiyah, al-Jabur, and al-Bakkarah (var: al-Baggarah) tribes, along with a percentage of Chechen Syrian fighters descendant from the Syrian city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn.

Sixth:  Al-Furat Brigades Assembly:  Arab fighters that belong to the tribes of the Tal Abyad area and Raqqah countryside.  These tribes include the al-Badu, al-‘Assaf, al-‘Afadilah, and al-Waldah tribes.

Seventh:  Shams al-Shamal (Northern Sun) Battalions:  These battalions operated with the Free Army before separating from them.  They are composed mostly of Arab fighters and they currently represent the primary element of the Manbij Military Council.

Eighth:  Thuwwar Manbij (Manbij Revolutionaries):  Composed of Arab fighters formerly with the Free Army.  They currently operate under the leadership of the Manbij Military Council.

Jund al-Haramayn:  Arab fighters from the city of Manbij.

Tahrir al-Furat (Euphrates Liberation) Brigade:  Most of the fighters are Arabs from Manbij City and the surrounding countryside.

Shuhada’ al-Furat (Euphrates Martyrs) Battalion of Jarablus:  Most of the fighters are Arabs from the city of Jarablus.

Ahrar (Freedom Fighters of) Jarablus:  These groups are comprised of Kurds and Arabs from the city of Jarablus.

Ahrar al-Bab:  Arab fighters from al-Bab City.

Ahrar ‘Arimah:  Arab fighters who announced that they joined the al-Bab Military Council.

Shuhada’ Qabasin (Qabasin Martyrs) Battalions:  Most of their fighters are from the northern countryside of Aleppo.  They joined the al-Bab Military Council.

Jabhat Thuwwar al-Raqqah (Raqqah Revolutionaries Front):  Arab fighters who belong to the city of al-Raqqah.

Dayr al-Zur Military Council:  Most of their fighters are Arab tribesmen from Dayr al-Zur.

Al-Bab Military Council:  A mixture of Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen fighters from the city and countryside of al-Bab.

Jarablus Military Council:  Mixture of Arab and Kurdish fighters from the city and countryside of Jarablus.

SDF Counter-Terrorism Military Activity

Since their establishment on 10 October 2015 the SDF have participated in numerous military campaigns against the ISIS terrorist organization, according to the following timeframe:

Liberation of al-Hul and the southern countryside of al-Hasakah Province.

Liberation of the strategic Tishrin Dam.

“Wrath of al-Khabur” campaign during which the city of al-Shadadi was liberated.

“Avenging the children, Alan and Judi” campaign.

Liberation of the strategic city of Manbij.

“Euphrates Wrath” campaign to liberate the countryside of al-Raqqah (ongoing).

As of the date of this study the total area controlled by the SDF, which includes the Kurdish neighborhoods of Aleppo, is estimated to be 34.800 square kilometers, which equals 18.79 percent of the total territory of Syria.

As of the date of this study, the total area liberated from ISIS by the SDF since their inception is estimated to be 15.400 square kilometers.  These areas include large cities such as Manbij, Tal Abyad, al-Hul, dozens of sub-districts and towns, and hundreds of villages and farms.

Regarding the length of the battlefront, as of the date of this study the SDF are engaged against ISIS along 450 kilometers of front lines.

The SDF control vast areas of north and northeast Syria, and day by day they are turning into the largest military group in Syria – with regard to personnel and the capabilities that distinguish their fighters.  Most of the SDF’s military factions received military training provided by the People’s Protection Units, which are known for their military tactics and capabilities, and the bravery of their fighters.  These units have proven their ability to achieve victory, be that against a regular army such as the Syrian Army, or in guerilla warfare against the Nusrah Front and ISIS.

By tracking the deployment of the SDF throughout vast geographic areas of Syria, one will observe an increase in the number of personnel in their ranks, particularly with an influx of Arab tribesmen in the countryside of al-Raqqah, Manbij, Dayr al-Zur, and Jarablus.

This increase in the number of fighters is due to multiple factors from which the SDF have benefited, the most important of which are as follows:

One of those significant factors is the structure of the SDF and their reliance on the military councils in each region or city.  These military councils are formed by their own people and they fight under a special flag representing the city or region.  This is a strong motivation for the residents of these areas and cities to join the SDF.  The Manbij Military Council, which was formed on 2 April 2016, is an example of these military councils.

There are also public relations offices that report directly to the SDF’s command council in the cities and towns liberated by the SDF.  The public relations personnel mingle with local residents and listen to their opinions and complaints.  They also hold SDF personnel accountable for any violations committed against the local residents.  The public relations offices are usually staffed by tribal Sheikhs or prominent figures in the areas.

I add to that the operational and field comparison as revealed by the local residents in areas where SDF are deployed.  Most of the cities liberated by the SDF, such as al-Hul, Manbij, and al-Shadadi, were occupied by other armed groups, beginning with the Free Army and the Nusrah Front, and ending with ISIS.  These groups gave the local residents a taste of all types of oppression and bondage, which is quite the opposite under SDF control.

Part of the SDF’s strategy includes turning the cities over to local civilian councils after each city is liberated from ISIS.  The local councils, in turn, form autonomous administrations comprised of residents of their own cities.  The SDF turned the city of Manbij over to the Manbij civilian council currently running the city.  The Manbij civilian council announced a democratic civilian administration for Manbij and the surrounding countryside on 20 February 2017.  In addition to that, the support provided by the US-led international coalition to the SDF provides an additional incentive for local residents to join the SDF.

The SDF rely on ideological training for their fighters before they participate in military action.  Academies exist throughout the areas of al-Hasakah, Manbij, and the al-Raqqah countryside, and the ideological lessons focus on denouncing extremism and espousing the concept of “brotherhood of the peoples,” which is based on justice, tolerance, and equality.

The leadership role of women in the SDF

The Women’s Protection Units are a primary component of the SDF.  Most of the women are Kurdish, but there is also a mixture of Arab, Syriac, and Assyrian women.  The foundations upon which these female units were established are based on denouncing the mentality of extremism and emphasizing the right of women to live freely and honorably, and to defend themselves against the masculine mentality hostile to women’s freedom.  The Kurdish women have proven very capable in their awareness and strength in confronting the terrorist organizations, and they provided an example to be followed throughout the world.  With the establishment and expansion of the SDF in majority-Arab areas such as al-Shadadi and the countryside of al-Raqqah, it was natural that the women’s pioneering experiment would also expand within the Arab regions.  This was evidenced by the increase in the number of Arab women within the ranks of the SDF.  Female fighter and official spokeswoman for the “Euphrates Wrath” campaign to liberate al-Raqqah, Jihan Shaykh Ahmad, provided the following statement for our study:

“The composition of the SDF’s Women’s Protection Units is not limited to Kurdish women alone, but also includes other female components, particularly Arab women.  They join our units with extreme enthusiasm and at numbers that continue to grow as the SDF advance toward al-Raqqah.  Our SDF military campaigns are accompanied by large awareness campaigns among the local residents, especially among the Arab women who have been suppressed by obsolete customs and traditions that oppose women’s freedom, as well as the suffering endured by Arab women at the hands of extremist organizations.  We have special women’s awareness academies that explain women’s rights, equality between man and woman, and the right of women to organize and defend themselves.  One of the main reasons Arab women join the SDF is the oppression, assault, and rape suffered by Yazidi women, which encouraged a great amount of free will in the Arab woman.  The Arab tribes are very supportive of these ideas.”

The ethnic composition of the SDF is related in all aspects to the liberation operations carried out by these forces. This important point completely refutes the lies propagated by factions or regional countries hostile to the SDF, which claim that the SDF are majority-Kurdish forces aspiring to occupy Arab regions or change their demographics.  In this context Brigadier General Husam al-‘Awak, Chief of Public Relations in the SDF’s Command Council, provided the following statement for our study:  “The SDF were founded on 10 October 2015.  Their primary structure relied on a coalition of all components found within the Syrian al-Jazirah region – Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Turkmen, and Assyrians.  The Kurdish component comprised the largest percentage of the SDF due to the fact that the areas liberated from the ISIS terrorist organization are majority-Kurdish areas, particularly the areas of Kobani.  However, with the advance of the SDF, and with support from the US-led international coalition, the forces were able to liberate a large number of Arab areas, which led to a large number of Arabs joining the ranks of the SDF.  The political cover (the Syria Democratic Council) for these forces was formed and they presented their political, social, and humanitarian ideas within the vision of a future in which all of the components participate in an inclusive social contract of the theory of a democratic nation, brotherhood of the people, and coexistence to achieve freedom and democracy for the people of the region, without ethnic, sectarian, or tribal discrimination.  After the council was formed and the people learned about the vision for the future, prominent figures and Arab tribal Sheikhs of the areas went to the headquarters of the Syria Democratic Council and they asked to have their sons and daughters join the council just as they were doing with the SDF by participating in the fight to eliminate ISIS.  Training camps were opened and anyone with military experience worked as a trainer, and anyone with no military experience was trained by Kurdish and Arab trainers.  Arab tribes based in ISIS-controlled areas were contacted, and during this communication secret cells were formed to provide the SDF with information and to work covertly with them.  We in the SDF Command Council believe that the size of the Arab component, specifically the sons of the Arab tribes, will reach 50 percent of the SDF within the next two months.  And from here everyone must know that our forces have become a primary pillar and center of the Syrian National Army, and that high-profile support to these forces will provide the time and blood to eliminate terrorism and build an excellent relationship with all nations, based on achieving shared interests for the peoples of the region.”

In a statement made on 8 December 2016, Colonel John Dorian, the official spokesman for the US-led international coalition, confirmed that approximately 13,000 of the 45,000 SDF fighters make up the Arab component.

Based on the above information, it may be said that the cohesive organizational structure of the SDF, the competence of their fighters on the ground, the democratic concepts espoused within the organization, and their denouncement of hate and revenge when they turned liberated areas over to the civilian councils, have made the SDF a leading force when measured against all of the other armed groups fighting in Syria, most of which are dominated by Islamic or chauvinistic extremism.  All of this has made the SDF a target for many of the foreign and domestic parties opposed to, or supportive of the Syrian regime, particularly the political and military groups and countries linked to Turkey and Iran, which fear any democratic model based on historical community diversity and the right of the people to decide their own fate; a model with complex internal community issues that refuses to resolve them through suppression of its people.  The Kurdish cause is one of the biggest suppressed causes historically subjected to all types of ethnic and political cleansing in Iran and Turkey, especially since the Kurdish fighters are among the most established and effective groups within the SDF.

Turkey and the SDF

Turkey does not hide its hostility toward the SDF.  On the contrary, it openly declares its hostility as it engages in the Syrian crisis.  Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict Turkey has stymied the Kurdish military and political developments in Syria (Rojava, Kurdistan), because if the Kurds in Syria get their national rights, then the more than 25,000,000 Kurds in Turkey will be stirred up.  From early on in the Syrian revolution Turkey has taken preemptive steps by supporting Syrian Arab armed groups for the purpose of engaging in battles against the Kurdish forces.  This is clearly evidenced by Turkey’s support for the Ahrar al-Sham and Nusrah Front groups in the battles of Ra’s al-‘Ayn on the Syria-Turkey border.  That support was obvious when photos of those groups crossing the Syria-Turkey border were posted on social media.  It was no secret to anyone.  After failing to control the city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn (Sarikani), Turkish intelligence resorted to gathering young men from Dayr al-Zur, al-Raqqah, and al-Hasakah, into refugee camps in Turkey, and they worked on winning over the tribes and prominent Arab figures from the aforementioned areas, with the goal of forming parallel military forces hostile to the Kurds in Rojava.  These parallel forces would be a future alternative to international coalition forces in possible upcoming battles against ISIS in cities such as al-Raqqah and Dayr al-Zur.  This coincided with the decreased influence of ISIS and increased influence of the People’s Protection Units.

The announcement made by the SDF regarding its efforts in the countryside of al-Hasakah and al-Raqqah, to form armed brigades comprised of tribesmen from al-Hasakah and the countryside of al-Raqqah, delivered a decisive blow to Turkey’s plan to utilize the tribesmen in those areas, especially after the United States of America, Turkey’s NATO ally and leader of the international coalition, supported the project.

It goes without saying that the progress made on the SDF’s project, and support for this project from the international coalition, will reduce Turkey’s chances of realizing their aspirations in SDF-controlled areas, and will gradually weaken Turkey’s hopes for gaining field control – through the use of subordinate groups – over areas in the countryside of al-Hasakah, Dayr al-Zur, and al-Raqqah.  All of that pushed Turkey to make a decision to intervene directly in Jarablus to stop the advance of the Kurds toward ‘Afrin, especially after these forces liberated the city of Manbij.  This is in addition to Turkey’s ongoing undeclared war against those forces, as Turkey continues to fight the SDF and seeks to eliminate the SDF through a number of methods:

Turkey does not recognize the SDF, nor do they recognize the name “Syria Democratic Forces,” in their official correspondence or their media.  They link the SDF to the People’s Protection Units which, in turn (according to Turkey), are a product of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party which, according to NATO and the EU, is designated as a terrorist organization.  This subject may be the primary subject of Turkish diplomacy, linking the SDF to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party and demanding that the international coalition, particularly the United States of America, cut off the support and thwart the SDF project.

Turkey intentionally misconstrues the SDF project, labeling the SDF as separatist forces aiming to displace Arabs and change the demographics in areas where they are deployed.  Turkey also relies on the Syrian opposition, which is loyal to Turkey, to portray the SDF as forces loyal to the Assad regime within the Syrian society, which would cut the SDF out of any negotiations in which the armed factions participate to determine the future of Syria, or any ceasefire negotiations.

Turkey may resort to a policy of breaking up the brigades and armed factions under the umbrella of the SDF, by planting agents and exploiting financial motivations to persuade SDF members to defect.

Turkey also resorted to assassination operations targeting prominent SDF leadership.  The SDF accused Turkish agents of assassinating the commander of the Jarablus Military Council, ‘Abd-al-Sattar al-Jadir, on 22 August 2016.

In addition, there is the possibility of an assault on Manbij City by factions supported by Turkey (Euphrates Shield factions), to create sufficient space for any future safe areas.

Position of Iran and the Syrian Regime regarding the SDF

It is not hidden from anyone following the Syrian matter the extent of Iranian power and influence over the decisions made on the strategy in Syria, specifically with relation to the Kurds in Syria. Iran’s situation is the same as in Turkey. The Iranians are afraid of the Kurdish expectations and their impact on the internal situation in Iran.  Kurdish nationals represent one of the largest groups in Iran.  Their expectations and hopes will increase and it will impact Iran (eastern Kurdistan).

With the Kurds’ role in Syria growing and their community efforts to form political and military organizations by announcing autonomous administration in the areas of Rojava, Iran realized the danger of the situation and immediately made a decision to limit the Kurdish growth in Syria by starting to create tribal Arab militias, especially in al-Hasakah Province (al-Jazirah).

However, Shia Iran will have difficulties organizing the Arabs tribes, which are Sunni. These tribes have connections to tribes in Iraq that have complained of poor treatment at the hands of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

For Iran to establish these militias in Syria, specifically in areas under the influence of Kurdish forces, and to overcome the sectarian obstacles, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard began plucking the strings of Arab nationalism by forming these militias as an option to overcome the classic obstacles that they have (i.e, religious / Shia). In fact, in 2013 Iran began to form these militias by relying on the Syrian Security Service and Lebanese Hizballah officers. Iran took advantage of the presence of the Syrian regime in certain security quadrants of al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli, to be used as a foundation to form these militias.

Iran provided these groups and the military factions with resources, Hizballah members trained them, and Syrian Intelligence (National Defense and the commando militia) monitored them. The groups then faced strong opposition from Kurdish forces until the situation escalated to confrontation and street fighting in al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli. The “Kurdish units” crushed them until there was nothing was left but a semblance of a presence in the security quadrants.

After the liberation of Tal Hamis and Tal Barak by the People’s Protection Units, the issues began to flow in a direction contrary to that which Tehran and their tools wanted. The young Arab men from the tribes in those areas began to join the People’s Protection Units and the recruitment increased with the announcement of the establishment of the SDF. That pushed Iran to coordinate with the Syrian regime, with support from Hizballah officers, to engage in new efforts by gathering tribal leaders and Arab tribal figures, and using the phrase “liberation of the Arab Rif” (Arab countryside) to refer to areas of the al-Hasakah countryside. These calls did not receive widespread Arab tribal support, for a number of reasons, primarily due to the fact that the Kurdish units worked well with locals, and because most Arab Sheikhs in the area were opposed to this project.  This pushed the Syrian regime services to impose the draft on young men and employees of government institutions. Even this initiative was rejected by democratically autonomous security services, specifically the internal security service (Asayish), leading to some skirmishes with the Syrian regime in al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli.

Despite the complete failure of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in establishing these militias in the countryside of al-Hasakah, they are still doing everything they can to establish a Sunni tribal military force in agreement with the Syrian Regime, which is expected to seek to enforce its authority on the Kurdish areas once the internal fronts in Syria have calmed down.  For the past two years, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard worked on forming militias comprised of young men from Dayr al-Zur Province with direct assistance from the Syrian regime. The purpose of these militias is to liberate Dayr al-Zur and Tadmur (Palmyra) with cooperation from the Iraqi PMF, which announced on more than one occasion its willingness to enter Syrian territory. On 16 November 2016 the Secretary General of the Iraqi Badr Organization, Mr. Hadi al-‘Amiri, said on that the Iraqi PMF had received a request from the Syrian president to enter Syrian territory after liberating Mosul from ISIS.

On the other hand, the formation of the SDF, and its advance deep into Arab tribal areas in the countryside of al-Hasakah, al-Raqqah, and Dayr al-Zur, along with wide-scale acceptance of these forces from the tribal members, posed a direct threat to the Iranian project.  The area into which the SDF is advancing, and militarily and organizationally controlling, is land where, presumably, the Iraqi PMF and the militias formed by Iran in the countryside of al-Raqqah and Dayr al-Zur will meet.  We refer here to areas on the Iraq-Syria border.  This will mean that the Iranian scheme as we outlined above will fail.

The SDF recently announced the formation of the Dayr al-Zur Military Council, which falls under the umbrella of the SDF.  On 17 February 2017, this new military council liberated the first villages in Dayr al-Zur Province beginning at the administrative borders of al-Hasakah Province.  This military council gained thousands of young tribesmen from Dayr al-Zur in record time due to the good reputation of the SDF among the local residents.  This is due to the fact that the local military councils in each province are led by their own people and they fight under their own flag, with support from the US-led international coalition.  These are all incentives for the local (Sunni) community in Dayr al-Zur Province to join the ranks of the SDF and reject the Iran-backed Shia militias.  In this manner, the SDF will be located on the ground at the land bridge which Iran wants to build between Iraq and Syria through Dayr al-Zur, Tadmur (Palmyra), and the Homs regions bordering Lebanon, where Lebanese Hizballah is located.

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Muslim: ‘No written agreements, just kept promises’ between US, Russia and Kurds

PYD Co-leader Salih Muslim

In an interview with ANF news agency, Democratic Union Party (PYD) Co-leader Salih Muslim said that a victory in Raqqa was important for the safety of Rojava as the war would be pushed away from the borders of the autonomous region and the people of Raqqa will be free from the Islamic State (IS).

“Our democratic federal system will encompass an even greater area and the people of Raqqa are welcome to become a part of it, if they wish to do so,” the co-leader said, adding that about 75% of the forces participating in the Raqqa operation were composed of people from the area.

The Syrian-Kurdish politician did not believe that the Islamic State would end after the capture of Raqqa but that they would spread out in small groups into the countryside. He also said that other groups, such as some of those backed by Turkey, have the same mentality. “So it does not end with Mosul and Raqqa but the struggle will take on a new form,” Muslim said.

Muslim also said Turkey posed the greatest threat to the region and as Turkey’s government is becoming all the more lonely it is also becoming more aggressive.

“Turkey is an occupying force in Shahba”, the region under control by the Euphrates Shield Operation. Turkey came there under the pretext to fight Daesh [IS] but they are not there anymore, nor is the Syrian regime. This makes Turkey an invader. Syrians should rule Syria, not Turkey. Turkey’s role in Syria is not met with any support on the international arena so there is a good chance that Russia and the US will oppose their presence and eventually ask them to leave.”

Muslim added that Turkey and its allies were constantly shelling the Kurdish-majority north-eastern city of Afrin. “The Cilvegoz border gate close to Afrin is the place where they cross from. The Etme camp where al-Nusra is being trained is located nearby. Many different groups are in the area and sometimes they fight amongst each other. The Russians want to fight these groups and are in Afrin for this reason. We want to clear the area of these groups too, so we agree on this point.”

Salih Muslim said there were no written agreements with neither the US nor with Russia but that all parts had kept promises so far.

“Moscow has mediated between us and the regime. Our issue is not the remaining or removal of the regime, our issue is democracy. If we will have democracy and a federal system, there won’t be any regime anyway,” Muslim said. “We aim for a democratic federal Syria. We don’t want Syria to be divided and neither do they [the other powers we work with]. We want to remain a part of Syria and on this point we are in agreement with the international powers.”

The co-leader said that the mentality of the regime had not changed. “It is still the same as that of Turkey and Iran,” he said. “They don’t accept the Kurds so it’s impossible to live under a regime with such a mentality.”

In and around Manbij there are regime troops and Russian troops as well as the Manbij Military Council that is working with the US, Muslim explained. “No one is interfering with the other so it seems as if they understand each other.”

Regarding the US, he stressed the importance of NATO saying that the Kurds are aware that the US might terminate their relations with them due to interests with Turkey.

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Open letter from British YPG fighters on London attacks

An Open Letter from British Fighters Against the Islamic State

We are some of an increasing number of British nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq as volunteers with local forces against the Islamic State.

We wish first and foremost to express our sorrow and anger at the recent terrorist attack in Westminster, London, and to convey our sincerest and most heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We know only too well what is to lose friends, to treat those horrendously wounded, to pull the dead and dying from the rubble.

We also wish to express sympathy and solidarity with the many ordinary Muslims going to work and school today feeling that they are under special scrutiny, and fearful of what this might mean for them. We share their fear, and we urge anyone who might be tempted to take against ordinary Muslim people to think again. If you associate them with the Islamic State, you are giving such groups exactly what they want: a greater and more violent gap between the Muslim world and ours.

The familiar sounds of hate and bigotry are sounding again – on social media, and in the more guarded mainstream press – where the intent is nonetheless clear. Hate crimes will spike again. There are calls to demolish mosques. The fact that local Muslims raised thousands for victim support, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, is easily drowned out by the bandwagon. The EDL have called a snap demonstration, eager to make hay from the suffering of innocent people.

For all the sound and fury, we don’t remember seeing anyone from Britain First, EDL, UKIP, or their like, by our side in battle. Which is a good thing, because we wouldn’t have tolerated them.

Our ranks are made up of Kurds, Arabs, Yezidis, Brits, Yanks, Canadians, Aussies, Asians, Europeans – Muslims, Christians, Alevis, atheists – too many faiths and races to list. A multi-ethnic, multi-faith entity, standing united against hate and extremism. The majority are, in fact, Muslims, and not only are we proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them – the truth is, we can’t do this without them.

The only way to defeat the Islamic State, and groups like it, is with ordinary, moderate Muslims on side. The only way to defeat hate and extremism is to not give in to it.

Don’t stand with Britain First, the EDL, UKIP or those who talk and think like them. Stand with us.

Signed,

British fighters of the YPG

Joe Akerman

Aiden Aslin

Mark Ayres

Botan England

Michael Enright

Macer Gifford

John Harding

Jac Holmes

Steve Kerr

Jim Matthews

Tom Mawdsley

Ozkan Ozdil

Shaun Pinner

Joe Robinson

Josh Walker

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Here is an interesting an vivid account by a free-lance Russian journalist which highlights some of the problems in Rojava as well as presenting a vivid account of life there.

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This is a translation of a Russian article by Alexander Rybin, published on Rabkor.ru on 26th March, 2015

Days of Uprising

Day 1

The canton Jazira [Cizîrê‎ / Cezîre] of the autonomous enclave Rojava is located in the north-eastern corner of Syria. It borders Turkey to the north and Iraqi Kurdistan to the east. In the south-west there is the frontline with the area controlled by the Islamic califate [ISIS]. In February 2015, large-scale fighting began on the southern front. It is still going on now.

To enter Jazira from Iraqi Kurdistan, it is necessary to obtain a permit from the government of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG). This is a tiring, viscous procedure. As a journalist, the KRG embassy in Moscow helped me. All promises made by the Kurds in Moscow who are connected to Rojava and the official representation of Rojava in Sulaymaniya turned out to be mere words. I arrive on the border from where I phone the Muscovite representatives of Iraqi Kurdistan. I have to wait three hours, but I am still not let through.

The border crossing takes you across the great Mesopotamian river Tigris. The passengers squeeze themselves into a flimsy metal barge and are brought to the other shore. On the other side, there are two modest buildings under construction. Around them there are building materials, rubbish and dust. No stamps or visas are put into your passport on arrival in the canton Jazira. They give you a piece of paper with some fields filled in about who you are and when you arrived.
I take a minibus and go to Qamishlo [Qamishli / Al-Qamishli], the biggest city of the canton. There are dozens of oil pumps along the road. Hilly fields covered with fresh, green grass with oil pumps sticking out like crooked nails. When you look a second time you realise very few of them are moving. Only a small number are functioning.

There is roadblock along the road with the Asayish, militants that fulfil the role of police. They take a look at the passengers, but don’t even check documents, then they wave us through.

Qamishlo. I turn to the Union of Free Journalists (“Rakhandina Azad“). All newly arrived foreign journalists come here. The chair of the organisation, Masud Muhammad, proposes to be my host.
I have time to look at the city itself only briefly. My first impression is that it looks poor and unkempt. A lot of closed shops, potholed roads and piles of rubbish. The flags of the People’s Defense Units – the female YPJ and the male YPG forces – stand out like bright dots here and there: yellow triangles with red stars.

Masud’s house has an inner courtyard in the shape of a square. The atmosphere is like that in a press centre. There are local journalists as well as foreign ones. Laptops, iPhones and all sorts of other devices are switched on. They discuss how much it costs to hire a car to take you to the frontline and how close the YPJ and YPG allow you to get to the actual fighting. “I need to get to the actual line where the Islamic State and the Kurds meet. I want to film an attack, some actual fighting”, says one Spanish journalist. His backpack with the body armour and helmet lie on a wall. French journalists want to talk with foreign volunteers who fight on the side of the YPG. The local press photographers are young. They show us the bodies of the ISIS fighters that were killed today in the area around the town Tell Tamer [Tal Tamir / Girê Xurma]. Turkeys and chicken are clucking and cackling in the courtyard of the neighbour’s house. The sun rolls behind the horizon – an emerald ribbon spreads across the sky.

We talk until late at night. I explain to Masud that I am interested in the machinations of the political and civil organisations here, and that I would like to understand the structure of the governing system on its different levels. I would also like to see how ordinary people live their lives in cities and villages, and I wish to do this on my own steam. Masud says, “No, we cannot allow this, you would put yourself in danger. We will help you with everything.” He tells me the story of a young journalist from Sweden who was taken into custody by members of the Syrian secret service. The Syrian armed forces are present in some parts of Qamishlo. The local Kurd Agit, who is a Russian speaker, told me that it was the Swede’s own fault. He photographed Syrian soldiers and provoked his arrest.

The noise of a low-flying war plane thunders through the sky. A discussion starts about whose plane this is – a plane of the official Syrian army or of the coalition headed by the United States, which bombs the positions of the Islamic califate.

Day 2

Two cities fulfil the functions of capital of the area – Qamishlo and Amûdê [Amuda / Amouda]. The administrative institutions of the Jazira Canton lie in Amudê. I head there early in the morning – more precisely, I am sent there: they put me in a car together with someone from the Union of Free Journalists to accompany me.

On the way my companion explains that today I will be able to get an interview with at least the vice chair of the Executive Council of Jazira. It’s 28 kilometres from Qamishlo to Amudê. The population of Qamishlo is more than 200,000. In Amudê there are only 30,000 inhabitants.

We arrive. Now, the employees of the media-centre here assist me at the Executive Council of Rojava. They speak English tolerably well. It becomes clear that Amudê is functioning temporarily as the administrative centre of Rojava, while the specialised building in Qamishlo is still under construction. Here, the Executive and Judicial Councils are located in a building that looks like a gigantic Rubik’s cube. The banner on the facade and the armed guards at the entrance advertise the special status of this building. In the building under construction on the other side of the street, the offices of some of the committees of the Executive Council are located, as well as the media centre. I see naked walls and sacks with cement on the roof, other building materials and stray rubbish. There is nothing about the structure of the building that would indicate it houses government facilities. On the inside, the room which the employees of the media centre occupy is tiny, the little space they have is cluttered with tables that are drawn close to each other, an empty cupboard on one side and a single, small window. There is an atmosphere akin to an interrogation chamber.

I ask about the details of the political system in Rojava in general and in Jazira in particular. All my “assistants” are younger than 30. Today is the first work day in the media centre for all of them. They don’t understand the local governing system in detail themselves. They discuss things between each other as they try to answer all my questions. A woman called Berivan, who speaks English better than the rest, concludes, “You had better ask the vice chair of the Executive Council of the canton, he can tell you in detail.”

That very vice chair is Dr. Hussein Azam. There are two vice chairs, a man and a woman. There is only one president of the council, who is Kurdish. The vice presidents are Hussein Azam, who is Arab, and a woman who is an Assyrian Christian. In the Judicial Council there are two presidents, a man and a woman; a Kurd and an Assyrian. The functions of the Executive Council of Jazira are administrative. The functions of the Judicial Council should be clear from its name.

There are a lot of young people inside the building of the councils; the employees wear whatever they found in their closets in the morning. The representatives of the older generation are dressed like typical Russian functionaries, boring jackets and trousers of pale colours. The offices are also very similar to provincial Russian bureaucracy: simple chairs and tables, cupboards with binders of documents. Let me remark though, that there are no portraits of leaders, not of Abdullah Öcalan or anyone else, which is the main difference with Russian functionaries and their servility to higher ranks. The signs in the building are in three languages: Kurdish; Arabic and Syriac, the three main languages of the canton.

We talk with Hussein Azam. He is over 50 and an intellectual with a technical education. He explains that they are now in a transitional period in Rojava. The system that was in action during the past two years is only temporary. Next Friday, four days later, there will be elections for the local councils, both in the cities and in the countryside. In one month there will be the elections of the councils at canton level. In two months there will be elections for the parliament of the whole enclave (the parliament does not have a name yet; once formed, the deputies will decide on it themselves). The parliament will consist of 101 delegates, with 40 places for women, 40 for men, and another 21 for whoever gets the most votes, regardless of gender. There must be at least ten Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, respectively. “Every population group must be represented in the parliament,” says Hussein Azam. Kurds, Assyrians and Arabs are the main self-defined ethnic groups in Rojava. A curious detail is that there cannot be less than 40 female deputies. There can, however, be less than 40 men. Candidates can be members of political parties or not. Just as with the council elections, affinities with political parties or absence thereof count for nothing.

In the evening I go for a walk through the city with Saami, one of my helpers and translators. Amudê is a small city. The buildings are low and there are a lot of old houses. There is a lot less rubbish here than in Qamishlo. On the outskirts of the town there are traditional Kurdish adobe houses with flat roofs. Children run through the streets, old men are sitting businesslike on chairs in front of their houses. At the town entrance coming from Qamishlo, a monument to the “Free Woman” was put up only one day ago in the place where a statue of Hafiz al-Assad (the former president of Syria, father of the current president Bashar al-Assad) had been brought down. The woman has an imposing posture, similar to the American Statue of Liberty; her right hand raised to hold a torch.

A pavilion has been set up in the centre of the small town. Men and women sit on plastic chairs inside and just outside of it. They chatter languidly. It’s a meeting of the candidates for the local council. They gather here in the evenings, so that anyone interested can come and ask them whatever they like, be it about their programme or their personal ideas: electioneering, Rojava style. The council members will be elected for four years. There will be four polling stations in Amudê, which will be located in schools. It’s not clear yet in which ones. The inhabitants of the city will only know where they’ll need to go one or two days before voting.

The 22 people who receive most votes (half men, half women) will make up the city council.
The members of these councils will not participate in either the Executive or the Judicial Councils, but will cooperate with the population of Amudê ,and if the need arises will appeal to the Executive and Judicial Councils at canton level.

It’s night. There are no problems with electricity in Amudê, it’s lit like a Christmas tree. Generators roar around the clock. A litre of fuel (home-made, there are no refineries in the canton) costs 60 Syrian liras [SYP]. The exchange rate with dollars here is 240 liras a dollar. Only 20% of all oil pumps are working, but this is more than enough to meet the needs of the local population. However, the locals complain that the hand-refined fuel causes the generators to break down frequently.

Day 3

I now understand how the local councils work at on municipality level and in the villages. Following the example of the council in Amudê there will be a council of 22 people, but the council will not hold any executive power here. Its members will elect two chairs, a man and a woman. On the municipal level there will not be a governing administration (if using local terminology “executive administrations”), this role will be fulfilled at canton level by the executive and law-making councils. The current memberships of these councils were composed through agreements reached between the various ethnic and religious communities living in Jazira. In about two months (maybe earlier, maybe later, the exact dates have not been determined yet), elections for the General Council of Jazira Canton will be held. In essence, a similar system has already been created and already functions. It’s important to note that this is a “similar” system and not exactly what is aimed for, and its elements so far are seen as temporary. The elections shall fix and stabilise the multi-layered system of councils in Jazira. The same type of elections will also be organised in the Kobanê and Afrîn cantons.

In the near future, elections will be held. “When was the last time elections happened on the territory of Jazira?”, I ask Elizabeth Gaurie, who is Assyrian and the vice chair of the Executive Council of the canton. “More than four years ago. They were elections for the Syrian parliament,” she answers, “But last summer, when Rojava was still under the control of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, presidential elections were held in Qamishlo and in Hasakeh [Al-Hasakah / Hesîçe]. That time, 89% of voters allegedly voted for Bashar al-Assad. Of course it was a lie. Bashar al-Assad’s regime caused a lot of grief for the locals. I don’t know who in Qamishlo even participated in those elections.”

The Syrian government and its army are exclusively named as “the regime“ here. Either just “the regime” or “the regime of Bashar”, or “the Syrian regime”.

Still, people hope that the regime will recognise the wish for autonomy of the north of the country, although so far, all attempts at negotiations have failed. “We just want to live freely, according to the laws that we chose ourselves,” the Assyrian Elizabeth Gaurie continues. She smokes a lot. There is a TV on the wall in her office which shows the Christian militia Sutoro. Fighting is shown, there are war songs and marches.

A common myth exists that no one pays taxes in Rojava. Gaurie talks concretely about the Jazira Canton: “We have taxes. For example, a person who wants to buy a car needs a number plate for it. To get it, he pays a certain fee that is a tax. Then, there are taxes for businesses, etc.” In the Kobanê Canton there are most likely no taxes, but the situation there is very specific.

Gaurie speaks in a self-assured manner: “Yes, in Rojava there is a revolution. It is a lengthy revolution that is still ongoing, and it will go on until the ideas of the revolution become part and parcel of everyday thought. We have had to face too many adversities, all of our problems have not been solved. The goal of the revolution is to solve these problems; only if we find a solution will they cease to exist.”

Later I ask my helpers from the media centre for more details about the many levels of the council system. They are the same ones who went with me to meet Hussein Azam and Elizabeth Gaurie and who translated their answers for me. Again, they discuss between themselves before they reply. This gets me thinking: did the supporters of the Bolsheviks in 1917-1919 fully understand the system of power the Bolsheviks were proposing? Could it be that they were on the Bolsheviks’ side because they announced the fight against the type of power that had existed until then and because they came up with catchy, but relevant slogans? It could be that only the older generation of Bolsheviks, those who were steeped in ideology, truly understood how the Council of People’s Commissars was created and on what terms its composition changed. People need higher education to grasp all the necessary information about the new system of power and all the entailing possibilities. After all, even Masud Muhammad, the chair of the Union of Free Journalists, could not answer all my questions about how the network of councils is really structured.


Day 4

“Kumin“ is the Kurdish adaptation of the word “commune“. One Kumin unites a certain amount of families or households (from a few dozens to several hundreds, there are no limits). In their goals and tasks, these communes fully correspond to the Russian term “soviet” (“council”). Their members elect two chairpersons, a man and a woman, and also vote for who will represent them in the council at the next level, the “Mala Gel” (this translates to “people’s house” in Kurdish). Either the chairs or two other people can represent them in the Mala Gel, there is no fixed system. The most important thing is that the members of the Kumin reach an agreement about this.

Abdul-Majid represents his Kumin (240 households) in the Mala Gel, although he is not the chair. All Kumins are united in the Mala Gel. Amudê is a small town. Abdul-Majid is over 60 years old. We are sitting in his home on mattress-like cushions that have been laid out around the wall. In the middle of the room there is a dastarkhan, a table-cloth on which an abundance of food is spread out, the television is on and a film is on – the rules of ordinary Syrian hospitality are followed to the detail.

I ask Abdul-Majid about the socio-political processes in Amudê before and after the anti-government protests in 2011. I find out how the Kurds lived under Bashar al-Assad, how they organised the self-administration when Syrian government forces left the city. As a typical Middle Eastern guy, Abdul-Majid now and then slips into counter-questions–How is life in Russia? How is my family? What do people think of Putin? At the same time, he tries to make his unmarried daughter attractive to my assistant Saami. Later, Abdul-Majid’s family members come in. Our conversation goes on for five hours.

Until the creation of the Executive and Judicial Councils of Jazira, the local Mala Gel was the main organ of executive power in Amudê. It resolved conflicts between members of the commune, which means it fulfilled a judicial role. The local Asayish were subordinated to it. A year ago, the canton-level councils came into being. The functions of the Mala Gel of Amudê were reduced to its judicial function. If the Mala Gel decides that someone on its territory has committed a serious infringement of the law, it refers the case to the Asayish (who are subordinated to the canton councils), so that the culprit is locked up for a certain amount of time. If the case is complicated and a sentencing requires special competences, the person is sent to the court formed by the Executive and Judicial councils of the canton.

Before the beginning of the 2011 protests against Bashar al-Assad, structures like the Kumin and Mala Gel already existed among the Kurds. Because of the harassment at the hands of the state forces, the Kurds created their own informal organs of self-administration, which were judged as illegal by the central state. The Mukhabarat (secret police) could arrest anyone participating in them. After the government forces departed from the territory of Jazira, the Kumin and the Mala Gel took government functions upon themselves. A little over a year ago, representatives of the Kurdish, Assyrian and Arabic communities decided to give the political system its current form. In January 2014, the forming of the cantons Jazira, Kobanê and Afrin and the unifying territorial entity of Rojava was announced.

In the second half of the day I travel to Qamishlo. I could persuade my assistant Talyal to hitchhike only with difficulty. The driver that stops is Hassan, a Kurd who studied in Moldova. He speaks wonderful Russian. He was trained as a cardiologist and now works for the Red Crescent in the field hospital near the small town Tel Temir. Last week heavy fighting broke out between Islamists and the defence forces of Rojava. Doctor Hassan says that there are many Uzbeks among the fighters of the Islamists. “It’s crawling with them, they are like ants,” he says, “you can trample on them as much as you like, it doesn’t matter, more of them will come.”

Once we arrive in Qamishlo, we visit a Russian-Kurdish family, one of whose family members, their grandmother, lives in a suburb of Donetsk. Her neighbourhood suffered a lot from the shooting of the Ukrainian army. Humanitarian help only reached the grandmother one single time. They tell me again about the Swedish journalist who was arrested by Syrian security forces a week ago. Again, I hear the opinion that the Swede, to put it mildly, suffers a little bit from dementia. “Have you seen his picture?”, they ask me. I have seen it. Indeed, he resembled a patient from a psychiatric clinic. “Just don’t tell the Kurds, they have elevated him to an icon of the free press here,” the family say to me.

I persuade Talyal to walk to the academy “Mesopotamia”, one of the reasons why we came to Qamishlo. Along the way Talyal explains, “You understand this is a  Christian neighbourhood. Most local Christians support Bashar’s regime. So here we risk walking into a patrol of the Syrian army or the Mukhabarat”. Indeed, a Syrian flag hangs on the wall of one of the buildings. The next neighbourhood is Kurdish. There are flags of Iraqi Kurdistan on the balconies, a sign that the inhabitants of these buildings support the KDP, the Kurdish Democratic Party, headed by Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan. Beyond this neighbourhood is the next one, in which we see flags of Rojava. It reminds me of Beirut, which is divided into scores of sectors that all support different parties and religious groups, and where flags are used to mark out the lines of these sectors.

The streets are covered with a lot more rubbish than in Amudê. Most of the houses are half-finished, the streets are pot-holed. A thick plume of dust rises into the air. We come across a gathering. There is a concert because of the elections on Friday. Many women in traditional Kurdish clothes are present. They wave flags of Iraqi Kurdistan and, for some reason, Germany.

We are on the outskirts of the city. There are no more houses. Further on, there is a little mound of earth almost the height of a person. Behind the mound, lush green grass is sprouting. 300 metres from here I see air defense radars and other items of military technology. “This is the airport of Qamishlo. The Syrian army controls it”, explains Talyal. On the field between the war technology and the small mound, children are chasing a ball. The mound finishes in front of the entrance of the Mesopotamia Academy. It was made to keep the entrance safe from gun fire coming from the airport.

The Mespopotamia Academy was opened on the 1st of September 2014. A building of the agricultural university was used for it. The agricultural university continues working, it just has one building less.

Students of Mesopotamia call the processes going on in Rojava a “revolution“, and their academy is one of the elements of the revolution. Anyone who wants to can become a student. There are only 66 people here; more than half of them are young women. The education system is made up of three levels, each of which takes three months to complete. On the second level, students need to select what they want to study in depth: sociology or history. The third level is the last one. There are now 40 students on the first level, 26 on the second one. Anyone who wants to can teach as well, they just need to pass a specialised test. Many people are both students and teachers at the same time. Two people are running the academy together, a man and a woman. They are designated by the Education Committee of the Executive Council of Jazira. The basic textbooks are five publications by Abdullah Ocalan. They also study the works of Marx (in Kurdish his name sounds like “Karla Markas”), Lenin, Sartre, Bookchin and ancient Greek philosophers – the list is very long and mostly consists of authors who developed socialist and communist ideas.

Those who graduate from the academy can, for example, work in the committees of the canton councils. “People with a new type of thinking are needed for our revolution to succeed,” one of the student-teachers says. “We try to teach people this new kind of thinking”. I ask four students: “Have you studied at any other university before?” Two guys have studied at the university in Damascus, two young women in Aleppo. It must be said that the Syrian system of higher education is regarded as the best in the Arab world. Right now there are only Kurds among the students in the Mesopotamia Academy, but they hope that Arabs and Assyrians will also join. And foreigners. They propose that I become the first foreign student – or teacher, if I like. I don’t promise them anything. I say in Arabic, “inshallah” (“if God wants it”). In Syria, people use this expression when they don’t want to say “no”.

Day 5

Apart from helping foreign journalists, the media centre in Jazira is busy with translating documents published by the local councils into English (there are future plans for translating into Russian, French, etc.). I explain to my assistants Talyal and Saami that they should not use the terminology that characterises the capitalist state, such as “president”, “government”, “ministers”, etc., when translating. After all, they call the head of the Executive Council of Jazira “Prime Minister”, the heads of the Judicial Council in their version are “Co-presidents”. But neither Talyal nor Saami understand my point of view. For them, they are doing the best they can: adapting the information about Jazira and Rojava for English-speaking people living in modern, capitalist states.

“Otherwise, how will foreign readers understand what the Mala Gel is, or what the Majlis is? They will get confused,” is Talyal’s argument. Another worker at the media centre gets what I mean – Berfin. As she tells me herself, most of her friends are in the people’s self-defense forces, the YPG and YPJ. She also wanted to join them, but her friends persuaded her not to. With her higher education she would be of more use in the civilian structures. That’s how she ended up in the media centre. “We are damaging Rojava and our revolution if we don’t translate correctly. When reading our translations, foreigners will not see anything new in us if we adapt everything to their own realities,” she says, agreeing with me. A contradiction emerges between the revolutionary movement and the Middle Eastern tradition of hospitality, the wish to please the guest. Our argument does not lead to any kind of change. Talyal and Saami keep on translating with “adaptations for the capitalist foreigner”. “At least we have democracy–we can argue about this and then proceed as we think necessary,” Saami concludes.

I don’t have anything special to do today. Tomorrow, the elections will be held. A concert and a lecture are held outside at the tent where the candidates for the council gather in the evenings. They are calling for people to come and vote, and talk about where and how the voting process will function.

In the south-east, just outside of Amudê, there is a clay hill as tall as a two-floor building. It is called Tell Shamula. It stands out between a few traditional houses in front of a background of green fields. Berfin, who is a local, tells me that it has been suggested that the ruins of an ancient town lie underneath the hill. It’s even possible that it’s a civilisation as yet unknown to historians. In the profile of the hill, arched walkways and stonework can clearly be seen. Around seven years ago, a group of American scientists arrived. They carried out a superficial examination of Tell Shamula and came to the conclusion that this was probably an old military barracks or a caravanserai, but not a very old one. Among the ancient artefacts of Mesopotamia, Tell-Shamula does not hold any particular interest, that’s why the hill has remained untouched by the spades, shovels and brooms of archaeologists. Children have made a ditch for their games on top of it.

Day 6

The 13th of March is election day. There will be elections for the councils at municipal level. In the morning, Talyal and I go to the polling stations in Qamishlo. Members for two councils will be elected, one on each side of the city, the eastern part and the western part. In each of the councils there will be 32 members. In the western part of the city there are four polling stations; in the eastern part, six. Between these two parts there are neighbourhoods and streets that are controlled by the Syrian government forces. There are no polling stations in those parts.

Voting will take place from 8am to 8pm. Everyone above 18 years of age can vote.

It’s 10am. We are going to a school in the West where a polling station is located. At the entrance we are met by a queue of dozens of people. There is a hubbub, the atmosphere of a vibrant bazar and children are busy playing at the side. Members of the Asayish (every polling station is guarded) help us to get in, while others are not let through. Inside it’s as packed as outside. On the wall, directly opposite the entrance, hang the portraits of Hafez Assad, Bashar and his deceased older brother Basil. What catches the eye immediately is that there are mostly women here. The majority of them are dressed in traditional attire, which means they are from the poor, little educated layers of society. Men let them through to the front of the queue, which means that a crowd of women has accumulated at the side of the entrance of the office where the voting is happening.

A young woman closes off the door inside – she is a member of the electoral commission. She lets people in and out one by one. There are around fifty candidates, each of them with a photo and their full name, written in Arabic. There is no information whether this person is affiliated with a political party or not. You can put a mark next to 32 candidates or less. If you tick more than that, the ballot is invalidated. Observers are sitting on benches and chairs along the wall. To get a form you need to show your ID. Only locals have the right to vote. The corner of the office is walled off with blue material; behind it is the voting booth. The ballot box is sealed. Whoever voted has to dunk their finger in an ink that is hard to wash off. If anyone tries to vote in a different polling station, the electoral commission will see that this person already cast a ballot. People outside the office begin to argue and bicker. They tell the young woman at the door that the voting process must speed up. A middle-aged woman asks advice from another young woman from the electoral commission. She wants to know who she should “tick” on the form. The young woman shrugs, lifts her eyes to the sky and says, “Oh, Allah. You have to choose yourself, we do not have the right to tell you anything. Sorry.”

We go to the next polling station. Here, there are considerably less people – it is the building of one of the local committees. They had earlier told locals that voting would be carried out at schools, maybe that’s why there is no rush here. The guards of the Asayish sit in the shade on plastic chairs, relaxing. The queue regulates itself. There are mostly men in the queue who look like the well-off type.

Talyal does not want to go to the polling stations in the east of the city because that would mean going across parts of the city that are controlled by “the regime”. He proposes returning to Amudê and following the election process there. However, it turns out we anyway need to go to a regime-controlled neighbourhood─the bus station is surrounded by buildings where Syrian flags and portraits of Bashar al-Assad are hanging. Alongside those buildings are the posts of Syrian soldiers. The soldiers don’t pay any attention to us at all. Again, I remember the story of the Swedish journalist. To get the “regime” soldiers to arrest you, you have to really provoke them.

There is a bakery to the left of one of the road crossings which is controlled by the self-defence forces of Rojava; it has a yellow-red-green flag of Rojava and a big portrait of Abdullah Ocalan. On the right is a school controlled by “the regime”─a Syrian flag and a big portrait of Bashar al-Assad are on the facade. This exemplifies what’s so specific about Qamishlo.

The football stadium is the only one in the city. Before the war, this was the home of the local football team “al-Jihad”. Until two days ago, the stadium was under the control of the “regime”. The councils of Jazira wanted to organise a large-scale celebration─the anniversary of the death of several protesters in anti-government demonstrations in 2004. On this occasion, the stadium was peacefully─without noise, without a fight─taken over by the Asayish. There are now Rojava flags waving above the entrance. In close vicinity to the stadium is the city park. “We won’t go in there,” says Talyal. The park is regime-territory, it’s possible to meet patrols of Syrian police there.

We return to Amudê. There are more than ten schools here. We don’t know which ones have polling stations. We ask people on the streets. A man sitting in front of his shop answers that he does not recognise the elections, he could not care less where the polling stations are. Another man has not even heard that there are elections today. Both these men are around 40 years old. We ask a group of guys who seem to be around 25. They know and explain the way to us.

In the local polling stations, again, most voters are women. The electoral commission, again, is made up mostly of women. There are observers on chairs along the wall. I ask how the voting is going, if any breach of the rules has been noted. The observers aver that everything is “tamam” (“good” in Syrian Arabic), no infringements of the rules have been witnessed and everyone is happy with the ongoing process. 36 candidates are vying for 22 seats in the city council. Amongst them, the number of women and men are about equal.

The members of the electoral committee don’t know exactly when the results will be ready. “Maybe tomorrow,” they say. These are the first elections in the Jazira Canton, trapped as it is between the embargo of Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, and the war front with the Islamic State. Is it necessary to demand precise deadlines from the electoral committees? The majority of the people who support today’s election process were excluded from the political life of the country and the region before the beginning of the anti-government protests and the war in Syria. The fact that these elections came about is one of the great successes of the Jazira Canton and the Rojava region as a whole.

Day 7

Almost everyone I manage to talk with in Jazira expresses sceptical views about the airstrikes on the positions of the Islamic califate by the US-headed coalition. Often the term “political game” is used. Abdul-Majid, the chair of the Kumin in the Mala Gel of Amudê, says, for example: “Saddam Hussein had an army of 700,000 in Iraq. The Americans and their allies defeated it in two months. Yet, they haven’t managed to defeat the Islamic Califate in half a year.”

Doctor Hassan from the field hospital of the Red Crescent: “The Islamists drive in the middle of the day in long columns of dozens of cars with flags. As if the American aviation did not see them. They are taking the main roads of Syria and Iraq, not some kind of backstreets or small paths.”

Elizabeth Gaurie, the vice chair of the Executive Council of Rojava: “Yet, if it hadn’t been for the bombing campaign by the US and its allies in Kobanê, we maybe wouldn’t have been able to defend the city.”

Saami, Berfin and I travel to the small town Tel Temir, where there are currently clashes between the self-defence forces of Rojava and the fighters of the Islamic califate. It is the most active “hotspot” in Jazira at the moment.

In the summer of 2014, the Islamic califate occupied regions alongside Jazira. However, the Islamists did not start any attacks. Separate clashes happened to the west of the small town Ras-el-Ayn (Serê kaniyê in Kurdish), on the Syrian-Turkish border. The front line did not move at all because of this.

In the second half of January, the Islamists attacked a village in the south-west of Jazira, where Assyrians were living. In response to that, units of the Kurdish YPG and YPJ forces and the Christian militia “Sutoro” led an offensive on the town Tell Hamis, which is relatively big for the region and which was controlled by the Califate. They succeeded in liberating it as well as the surrounding villages. Then, at the end of February, the Islamists hit the canton from the other side, from the south-west of Tel Temir. Mostly Kurds and orthodox Assyrians lived in the small town and its surroundings. Fighting broke out that was considered pretty intense here, but which in terms of destructiveness was still pretty mild compared with what is happening in Novorossiya [in eastern Ukraine]. (When I showed Berfin pictures of the wreckage in Novorossiya and the military equipment used there, she was surprised that there is almost no information about this war in English media.)

Tel Temir is intact, if not counting potholes and broken windows here and there from shrapnel and bullets, but its streets are empty. It’s a ghost town. The closer you get to the front line, the more houses are destroyed. A hospital on the southern outskirts functions as the barracks of the YPG forces. The fighters are young guys and what are called “men who have seen life”. On the other side of a field, there is a village where Islamists have taken position. Black smoke rises from there. An hour before our arrival, the coalition planes bombed them. The fighters of the YPG say that the coalition is not bombing them enough, and the efficiency varies: “They either hit them, or they drop a bomb next to them and then fly away.” On the whole, the Islamists feel self-assured on this particular piece of the front. They have gathered 45 to 50 armoured vehicles here, despite the absolute control the coalition forces hold over the sky. The situation is difficult to understand─why do the USA and its allies not “notice” several tens of armoured vehicles directly on the front line? Why don’t they just wipe them out with one powerful blow?

The YPG and YPJ also have armoured vehicles: a tank, a Soviet-produced MT-LB and an American “Hummer”. They’re trophies. Before the Kurds captured them from the Islamists, the self-defence forces used mainly automatic weapons like Kalashnikovs, RPGs and modern-day “tachankas” (pick-up trucks with dushkas installed on the back).

The USA and their allies did not even stop to think about the fact that technological assistance was indispensable for the military defense for Rojava. At the same time, American technology is actively sent to army and police units of neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan; US army instructors and advisors travel there as well.

Rojava has virtually no foreign allies in this war.

Russia and Iran help the official Syrian government. The USA and its allies help anti-government groups with the exception of the Islamic Califate. However, the USA’s allies Qatar and Turkey aid the latter. The third force, Rojava, which neither actively fights Bashar al-Assad, nor supports him, has to be self-sufficient. While this fact is detrimental for the self-defence forces, in terms of political autonomy, it works in the favour of Rojava.

It makes you think: this means Rojava is not really with the USA, nor with the regime of Bashar al-Assad─which, despite the presence of some individual social advantages, is nevertheless a dictatorship─nor with the totalitarian religious regimes that support the terrorist formation of the Islamic Califate.

In Amudê, in the evening, I pack my bags. My visit to Jazira Canton is drawing to an end. Tomorrow, I will leave Rojava.


Original article in Russian by Alexander Rybin

ROBERT POUNDER’S NOTEBOOKS

 

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There are few published autobiographical writings of workers from the first half of the nineteenth century.  This in itself makes Robert Pounder’s notebooks of more than local interest, though those with a special interest in the West Riding textile industry should particularly appreciate their publication.  Robert Pounder (1811-1857) already has a fragment of literary immortality in that he is quoted by Frederick Engels in his ‘Condition of the Working Class in England’ of 1845. However this ‘anikdote’, is not representative of the writings in Pounder’s notebooks. Whereas it is a second hand account of a place (Manchester) of which he knew little, his notebooks are full of immediate and intimate details of his own life in Leeds.

Like many autodidacts, Pounder had a magpie mind and it is reflected in the jumbled  miscellany of material he recorded. His highly erratic orthography is also a reflection of someone self-taught but, for a man who was relatively literate, the idiosyncratic spelling of even familiar words like ‘America’ would suggest some degree of dyslexia. Deciphering this script must have been a difficult task and it would be pedantic to point out errors and misinterpretations that have crept in as a result.  Ann Alexander, the editor, should be congratulated for her dedication in bringing Pounder’s writings to the attention of historians. Her introduction, summarising the content of the notebooks and various aspects of Pounder’s life, along with the numerous footnotes, are indispensible, although not without omissions.

The notebooks record material from 1827 to 1847 and include some earlier biographical details. It is perhaps easier for the reader to start with the ‘small notebook’ first, although it is second in the volume, since it contains information about Pounder’s early life.  As well as references to contemporary events, the notebooks contain recipes for medicines, poems, inventories of belongings, snippets of financial accounts, acts of charity he received, genealogical details, records of wages and teazle prices. An anthology of Pounder’s own verse fills 75 pages of the 193 pages of transcribed notebook content.  As a working man poet Pounder is not in the league of Ebenezer Elliott or John Clare, but as a record of the intimate thought and ideas of someone in his station of life it is invaluable. His political and religious beliefs, his joy, his grief, his love of nature and hatred of oppression all find naive and ingenuous expression in his verse.

The tantalizingly laconic references to political events and social movements can be frustrating since although Pounder’s life touched on many aspects of working class radical activity of the time, he chose not to record them in detail, at least in the surviving notebooks.  That he was capable of such detailed journalism, notwithstanding his spelling problems, is clear from the two letters which Richard Oastler published in his ‘Fleet Papers’ and which are reproduced as an appendix to this volume, including the one reproduced by Engels.

Pounder was a teazle handle setter, and therefore part of the cloth finishing branch of the woollen industry. For a time he worked at Oatlands Mill at Woodhouse, which, in January 1812, suffered an arson attack attributed to the Luddites. However, his writings throw little light on what it was like to be in the cloth finishing trade in the years when hand finishing finally gave way to machinery, although he does note the impact it had on some of the small, decent master manufacturers, ruined by competition. In the 1830’s he was involved in the trade union movement, but his entry for May 10 1834, when Yorkshire trade unionists were locked in an epic battle for survival with the manufacturers says only,   [His spelling] ‘This day 24 mills stopt on perpes to breck up the traids uinon which thee was 3,000 men and upwords thrown out of imployment besides children and women which…’, ending mid sentence.  He was also a founding member of the Commercial Order in Leeds, a venture in cooperative production linked to the Owenite trade union about which we know little, but he records nothing other than this fact.  His reference to the 1842 general strike pays more attention to troop movements than the activity of the strikers.

A staunch supporter of the Ten Hours Bill and opponent of the New Poor Law, Pounder was also a personal friend of Richard Oastler, (who visited his home and who referred to him as ‘Robert’ in a letter to the Northern Star), Rev G S Bull and of the leading West Riding radical and Chartist Lawrence Pitkethley, but he adds little to our knowledge about them.  Similarly, although he shared a platform with the Chartist George Julian Harney, Pounder’s other involvement in the movement is unmentioned. He is also modest about his own role in the the allotment movement of which he was a leading promoter in Woodhouse.

However, although Pounder may be reticent about his political activity, his record of personal suffering in the 1840s as a sick and unemployed worker, compounded by loss of his wife, are vivid and moving. In his jottings and verse he says more about the ‘Hungry 40s’ than any economist’s analysis could. Despite the disjointed and eclectic nature of this record, it is a poignant account of an ordinary working man in the industrial revolution.

 

The Notebooks of Robert Pounder

Ann Alexander (Transcriber/Editor)

Thoresby Society

2015

ISBN   978 0 900741 75 3

Cost £18

254 pages

Illustrated and with maps.

This is a revised version of a review which appeared in The Local Historian Vol.46 No.3 July 2016

THE REVOLUTION IN ROJAVA – Documents and Debates.

 

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The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava

Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

RED PEPPER   December 13, 2016

In 2012 the PYD, a Kurdish political party connected to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) based in Turkey, took advantage of the spiralling chaos of the Syrian civil war to eject regime forces from large parts of Northern Syria (Rojava – West Kurdistan) and lead a social revolution. Despite being in open conflict with ISIS and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, and under embargo from Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, the PYD are leading the struggle for an ambitious series of social changes through TEV-DEM; an alliance of political and civil society organisations. These objectives are based on the ‘New Paradigm’ of the PKK and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan. Jailed for life in Turkey, Öcalan has led his party away from classical Marxism-Leninism to a set of politics with an emphasis on democratic confederalism (a decentralisation of political power with an emphasis on smaller scale assemblies), a women’s revolution, and the importance of ecology. These three elements are the official central planks of the social revolution in Rojava.

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Join your Local Commune !

Organised in three non-continous cantons, with ISIS and Turkish backed forces separating two of them, the revolution has seen massive leaps forward in terms of women’s liberation and the spreading of the confederal model into non-Kurdish majority areas and communities. In the face of decades of under-development, and the current embargo, tentative steps have also been made to develop a more social economy through the encouragement of workers co-operatives, the development of trade unions, and the socialisation of what little industry (primarily oil) that exists. However, it should be noted that at this stage in the revolution a change in economic system is not the primary focus – contrary to what some may believe we are still using money here and private property still exists!

A revolution is not a final destination, but another step in building a society beyond capitalism, a step which, once taken, changes the responsibilities and challenges facing revolutionaries. Having overcome the Regime and achieved control of a large part of the north of Syria, the cantons are facing two sets of problems. The first are security problems; the cantons need to be physically united and solutions to the currently hostile forces in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey must be found. Simultaneously the revolution needs to be developed and deepened. Like all revolutions, this one does not enjoy universal support. Whilst large land owners and business owners are never likely to support the revolution, the members of the non-Kurdish communities in the region are slowly becoming more supportive of what is happening.

While the revolution has its roots in the Kurdish liberation movement it aims to provide a political blueprint for all the communities in Northern Syria. Since the revolution, wider and more inclusive political structures are being built here and plans are being made for the long term. Whilst the confederal model, with its layers of people’s assemblies and democratic structures, is not yet as widespread as some in the West would think, the neighbourhood assemblies which make up its lowest level, are spreading. Being only a few years old the confederal system here is looking towards the 11 years of progress that have been achieved north of the border in Bakur (Turkish occupied North Kurdistan). A large amount of emphasis is being placed on education as a tool to develop the peoples understanding and support for the revolution. The revolution initially began from within the Kurdish community but building support across the other communities that exist in the region – Arabs, Syriacs, Chechens, Armenians, etc. – is a political priority. Working with these different communities, some unsure or even critical of the revolution, to build support for the revolution is hard work and takes time.

As part of my work I am helping TEV-DEM here in Qamishlo organising around this issue. A campaign has been launched under the slogan “join your local commune. Support the confederal system” focused at the lowest levels of the confederal system, the neighbourhood communes and the mala gel (people’s houses), the assemblies and commissions which operate here feed ideas and delegates up the political system, and serve as community centres offering education and civic services. These structures are not yet as widespread as they could be and many people only use them when they have personal problems they need solving. We are running seminars and public events about the importance of the confederal model, as well as visiting different community centres, and speaking with people on the street and in their homes.

To fundamentally change this society an emphasis is being placed on education in order to empower womenAs we criss-cross the city to flyer or attend meetings, navigating a checkerboard of differing checkpoints along the way, we encounter varying levels of support for the communes and the revolution in general, often along ethnic lines. The Christian Syriac community here, for example, is divided into two: one half supporting the revolution the other half the regime. The division in the Syriac neighbourhood is clear – two security forces and two sets of competing murals and flags. As I spend more time here the regime neighbourhoods are becoming easier to spot, they are (or were pre-revolution) mainly the more upper class neighbourhoods with nicer housing and shops that even now are always full of things to buy.

The lack of many basic necessities across the revolutionary areas of Rojava is a stumbling block for many people in supporting the revolution. Whilst oil and bread are fairly abundant owing to the regime’s historic ‘development’ policies for the region, there is a lack of other basic necessities due to the embargo. Without a material improvement in people’s lives many people will not view the revolution as a successful one. A major task for the international solidarity movement must be to pressure Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government to repeal their embargo.

The women’s movement

The women’s revolution which is well underway here also has deep roots and did not spring out of nowhere. The PKK made women’s liberation a central plank of their politics in the 1990s and the Yekîtiya Star (Star Union) in Rojava, the predecessor to Kongreya Star, had been organising women in the face of Regime repression since 2005. Beyond the massive participation of women in the YPJ and security forces, the women’s movement is achieving great things in civil society. As well as achieving legislative change, for example passing laws banning forced marriages and legalising abortion, at the grassroots level a whole series of women’s centres, educational programmes, organising groups, and newspapers and radio stations have been created. The revolution is being institutionalised through requirements for a parity of speakers and a minimum 40 per cent representation of women in all structures. Kongreya Star estimate that women’s participation rates in the commune system ranges from 50-70 per cent.

When seen in the context of the deeply conservative society upon which this revolution is being built, one in which a strictly gendered separation of social roles and violence against women was common, these developments are even more impressive. To fundamentally change this society an emphasis is being placed on education in order to empower women. Kongreya Star run weekly education sessions for their members for example, and re-education programmes exist for men who show consistent problematic behaviour.

Obviously the Rojava revolution has not emerged fully formed in spontaneous response to the horror of the Syrian conflict. It builds on the experiences and practices of other parts of the Kurdish liberation movement. Over 40 years its leading organisation, the PKK, has resisted huge amounts of state violence to develop from a small Marxist-Leninist guerilla force into become a huge hybrid movement whose extensive civic organisations are tangibly woven into the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The PYD and its allies were busy in the years before the revolution began, spreading their ideas, and building the assemblies and self-defence forces which would be needed later on. Now the Regime has been evicted the organisations here are still taking a long term view: building the institutions and infrastructure needed to further develop the revolution and placing faith in education and diplomacy to communicate this political vision across the different communities.

Whilst organisers in the West might be tempted to project their dreams of a perfect, spontaneous revolution onto Rojava this isn’t the case. The revolution here is being built slowly upon long term planning, structures, and education.

Peter Loo is a member of Plan C currently working in Qamishlo with TEV-DEM. His latest report for Plan C can be found here.

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SOLIDARITY WITH KOBANI DEMO – HUDDERSFIELD October 2014

 

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The Kurdish woman building a feminist democracy and fighting Isis at the same time

The leader of the most revolutionary women’s rights movement in the world talks to The Independent about how her ideals have found a home in the middle of the war on Isis

Asya Abdullah is not a polished politician. She speaks slowly and deliberately in Kurmanji in a tone which suggests she has had to practise her material many times.

But despite the reserved and careful exterior, Abdullah is one of the most radical and effective revolutionaries in the world today.

In the chaos of Syria’s civil war, the country’s Kurdish population has seized the chance to wrest their own destiny from the hands of others.

Long marginalised by the Baathist regime in Damascus, after repelling government forces in 2012 Syria’s Kurds have managed to carve out a relatively peaceful and stable new societal order based in Rojava in the north, flourishing despite the presence of enemies such as Isis on all sides.

Abdullah has been a driving force in the battle for Kurdish freedom – but as the female co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union Party, elected alongside male representative Salih Muslim in 2010, it is her particular role to safeguard women’s liberation.

“The hallmark of a free and democratic life is a free woman,” she said in her keynote speech at the Rojava New World Embassy in Oslo at the end of November.

“Isis would like to reduce women to slaves and body parts. We show them they’re wrong. We can do anything.”

Syria’s Kurds stand at a crossroads in the region’s history

The Rojava experiment is unlike any other. Coalitions between the local Assyrian, Arab and Kurdish populations have created a small society by and large run on the principles of a communal economy, harmony with the environment, and self governance.

It is also hard to conceive just how radically the Kurdish administration has overturned the existing state structures in Syria by putting women’s emancipation at the forefront of the the sociopolitical agenda.

Women in Rojava have equal status in property law, forced and underage marriage has been banned, quotas for women and ethnic groups ensure representation at all levels of politics – and of course, the armed women’s fighting units, known as the YPJ, have played a central role in the liberation of towns such as Kobani and Manbij.

What the Kurds broadly want, despite some infighting and extreme pushback from neighbouring Turkey, is ‘stateless democracy’ – the idea that in a federalised Syria, their autonomy can be maintained on a local level, with a focus on ‘bottom up’ power and little to no interference from the state.

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Artist Jonas Staal’s temporary Rojava embassy inside Oslo’s City Hall (Jonas Staal/New World Summit)

“This is the third way,” Abdullah told The Independent on the sidelines of the New World Embassy sessions. “We have been so busy working and sending representatives to spread the word around the world this is the first time many in the administration have been in the same room in years.”

The delegates were brought together by Dutch artist Jonas Staal as part of his ‘New World Summit’ project, a series designed to create “spaces of assembly that represent a new world and a new democratic ideal in the making.”

Blacklisted or otherwise marginalised independence movements, such as those in Rojava, Somaliland, Catalonia and the Azawad movement in Mali, have been invited to New World Summits to explore what ‘stateless democracy’ means in theory and practice.

Over the course of a weekend around 1,000 observers, democracy activists, politicians and journalists descended on Oslo’s City Hall, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, to see Staal’s temporary Rojava embassy – a circular construction designed to reflect the openness and dynamism of the new world the Kurds are seeking to create.

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 “We never played princesses as little girls,” a 30-year-old YPG fighter jokes (Diego Cupolo)

The prevailing consensus on the political left is that the current crises in global democracy – the EU’s inability to combat the refugee crisis, the rise of right wing populism across Europe and the US – show that our post World War II models are failing, Staal says. His work is designed to open up the idea other democratic political models are possible.

“Contemporary parliamentary democracy is in itself not much more than a century old. In that sense, I don’t trust the stability of anything. Our political, economic and environmental crises have brought us to a crossroads,” he said.

“So, we have to ask ourselves: what kind of politics do we truly desire? Defending what we have is no longer enough, we must push forward.”

The war on terror, Staal and his colleagues argue, has emerged as the greatest threat to democracy in the 21st century. “Rojava is democracy with a vengeance,” he said. “The region, historically, has had types of government and statehood thrust upon it with little say in how to govern themselves. Now it is the Kurds and their allies that tell us what a genuine democracy actually looks like.”

It seems unthinkable – “Until you remember that the modern European continent – from the French to the Russian revolution – also emerged out of a revolutionary situation,” he added.

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Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish PYD, addresses delegates at the New World Summit Rojava in Oslo

In providing an effective ground force against Isis, the Kurds have completely changed the course of Syria’s war, and their role in the country’s future, whether embattled President Bashar al-Assad stays or goes, is crucial.

Despite this, the Rojava administration has been shut out of all peace talks at the request of Sunni rebel groups. The experiment also faces renewed hostility from Turkey – recently  the YPG said a military base near Kobani had been targeted by Turkish artillery fire – and can no longer necessarily count on support from the US now that the incoming Trump administration has signalled it wants to work with Assad to defeat Isis.

Abdullah is stoic, however, about the Rojava experiment’s future.

“Our first responsibility is to protect our sisters, to protect all women. That’s why our revolution is working, why Arab women and Yazidi women join when they see us. You can’t have real change without putting women at the centre,” she said.

Kurdish women, of course, literally fight for their rights – they take on Assad’s army and allied militias, Turkish-backed forces, and Isis. The creation of the YPJ, or women’s fighting units, is a fascinating development in a region where women’s rights are often repressed.

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The Sinjar Women’s Units was formed with the help of Kurdish fighters in 2015 to protect the Yazidi community in the wake of attacks by Isis (YBS)

“People think this movement sprang up out of nowhere,” said Abdullah’s colleague Sinem Mohammed, who represents the party’s interests in Europe. “But we’ve been working towards this for the last twenty years. For some of us, all our lives.”

The formation of the YPJ has led to a flurry of sensationalist, sexist media coverage on ‘badass’ women who fight Isis: The death of one 22-year-old fighter in August was reported as the demise of the ‘Kurdish Angelina Jolie’ because of her looks.

Several of Asia Ramazan Antar’s fellow soldiers died in the same car bomb near Manbij but their deaths were not reported in English language media, many Kurdish sources were quick to notice.

“This narrative, it wasn’t our idea. I wish we had better control of it,” Abdullah muses. “They say it’s propaganda, that we should merge the women’s units with the men’s units. But they exist as separate for a reason. We have the YPJ because women need their own autonomy, to prove they can do things themselves.”

Such symbolism is important to the fledgling state.  The flags of dozens of fighting units – mostly made up of the colours yellow, green and red, with variations on stars, constellations and laurel leaves – made up the walls of the temporary embassy in Oslo, and will be incorporated into the real building when it is inaugurated in the spring.

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Fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are seen in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa (Getty)

There is evidence that the Kurds’ visionary and bold ideals are taking root elsewhere. In the past few months, hundreds of Yazidi and Arab women, freed from Isis by Kurdish women, have taken up arms to defend themselves in recent months with training from the YPJ.

“I am proud to join [the fight], especially after suffering a lot of suppression in my private life. Being a part of those forces would give me the opportunity to protect other women in my society and fight for their rights,” one new Arab recruit in Manbij said.

The future for Abdullah’s female fighting units is uncertain, though. At the New World Summit the official party line was one of buoyant optimism that when – not if – Assad regains control of the country, in recognition of their track record of success against Isis and autonomous de facto ‘state’, in a federal Syria, they will be left to their own devices.

There is some evidence that despite protesting their status as ‘second class citizens’ under successive Damascene governments, the Kurds are not immune to realpolitiking if needs be: YPG fighters in Aleppo worked alongside government troops and Shia militias to bring down the city in recent months.

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Interior of artist Jonas Staal’s temporary Rojava embassy, set up inside Oslo’s City Hall (Jonas Staal/New World Summit)

As is ever the case in Syria’s unpredictable and bloody civil war, it is unlikely things will play out in the Rojava administration’s favour as much as they would like. Turkey is an ever-expanding threat to their new-found sovereignty and relations between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and the Syrian government, as well as Russian leader Vladimir Putin, are thawing, despite the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey two weeks ago.

If Rojava is to survive, awareness of what they are trying to achieve is key, Abdullah notes. But even more pressingly, she says, more women around the world need to become aware of their own fight.

In a political climate where 53 per cent of American white women chose to vote for Donald Trump – a man with double digit sexual assault accusations to his name – over a real live female candidate, there is sad evidence she is right.

“It’s all step by step. But we have no other choice. You say, ‘Why build when the foundations are unstable?’, but that is fatalistic. We need to build quality of life and security wherever we can.

“My message is that individual women around the world need to start paying attention to their own rights. That is what I ask. To understand yourself and the connection our movement has to women’s struggles all over the world… That’s what we fight for.”

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YPJ Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah said: “As the women of YPJ, our goal is a mental and intellectual liberation as well as the end of ISIS occupation. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men.”

Monday, January 2, 2017 3:30 PM
QAMISHLO – ANF – BERÎTAN SARYA

YPJ (Women’s Defense Units) Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah described Raqqa operation that was launched at the end of 2016 and led by the YPJ as the operation to avenge all women, and said “Raqqa’s liberation is also the liberation of mentalities. Because as the women of the YPJ, we aim not only liberation from ISIS but also a liberation of mentality and thoughts. Democratic culture and fraternal life must be deepened because war is not only the liberation of land. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men. If not, the patriarchal system will prevail once again.

In this sense, Operation Wrath of Euphrates to liberate Raqqa is also the liberation of the society. This is how we view it as the YPJ. We will continue to participate in the operation with the same enthusiasm in 2017 and avenge all women with the liberation of Raqqa.”

YPJ Spokeswoman Nesrin Abdullah answered ANF’s questions on the YPJ’s practices in 2016 and goals for 2017.

“2016 WAS A DIFFERENT YEAR”

As the YPJ, how do you evaluate your practice of war in 2016? In which battles and operations did you participate?

Firstly, 2016 was a different year because some formations were established and the YPJ took part in these formations. Before 2016, YPG and YPJ had co-organized operations. But in 2016, YPJ participated in new formations and operations as the force of women.

In 2016, we participated in Wrath of Habur, Elîn, Cudi, Manbij and Raqqa operations. Raqqa operation continues, and we also participated in the offensives in Aleppo’s Ashrafiya, factory, Seken and Shiqeyf regions. YPJ joined the efforts in Efrîn. A YPJ battalion also took part in the Jaysh al Thuwar units in Shehba and trained the women here. YPJ carried out its mission in Cizire and Kobanê cantons and had a leading role in all planned operations. These initiatives were not defensive; they were liberation operations. We were attacking ISIS gangs and liberating the lands that they occupied. For this reason, 2016 was a different year.

‘THE STRUGGLE OF YPJ AFFECTED OTHER FORCES INSIDE THE SDF’

There is another development that took place in 2016. YPJ’s participation in new formations brought out a unique situation. The forces that had mobilized inside the SDF did not include any women. They still do not, and the YPJ is the only force of women inside the SDF. This situation had several important impacts.

Arab people were the predominant residents of the liberated areas. They were impressed when they saw that women participated in military affairs and played a leading role in clashes. This had important consequences. Many women participated in the training in liberated areas. 2 units completed academic training for women’s participation inside the SDF. Currently, preparations for the announcement of an Arab Women’s Academy and Free Arab Women’s Battalion are under way. All of these were a result of the liberation operations that YPJ participated in this year.

On the other hand, there were no women inside the forces that make up the SDF. They were only fighting to defend their land and to liberate their country from ISIS. They were affected when they saw that women participated in the war and fought bravely. In a way, their understanding of manhood was transformed. They lived in a society where men were seen as superior, and they saw women as inferior. They thought women could only do housework and raise children. But the YPJ’s struggle inspired respect in them. They saw that the YPJ did not retreat or abandon its positions. This inspired a great trust, and they state that they have been affected by the YPJ’s discipline of war and life, comradeship and morale.

So, 2016 was the year when the women of YPJ reflected their color. This took place both socially and militarily. Our movement showed that the war was not only a struggle to defend our land but also a struggle to transform people in order to create the ‘new human.’

WE CONTINUED TO INSPIRE THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD

What impact did the YPJ’S struggle in 2016 have internationally?

Women’s revolution was the most special and impressive aspect of Rojava Revolution. Women took active and leading roles in all areas, including defense. Led by Kurdish women, YPJ protected and developed the impact and respect it has created all around the world. It is the first women’s organization of war and struggle across the globe. There has been no force or classical army like us. Other powers indeed have women’s units, but there is no organization other than the YPJ where women have their own decision-making power, will, conference, congress and social mobilization. YPJ has demonstrated these with its formation, and developed its struggle and leading position throughout the years. This enabled us to have a great impact internationally.

We lead with our lives and philosophy of war. Rojava society transformed significantly with the philosophy that the YPG and we share. This transformation did not only take place inside Kurdish society but among other peoples as well. So our impact was not only inside Syria but also global because women’s participation in defense had not taken place at this level and created a global impact.

“THEY WANT TO MAKE USE OF OUR EXPERIENCES”

We had many visits from different countries. Intellectuals, authors and politicians gave as positive feedback. We saw that we had transformed their perception of women. As the YPJ, we were invited to South Africa. We went there, met with the government, and participated in conferences and seminars. Many committees came to Rojava and visited the YPJ. They had discussions with us in order to make us of our experiences. All of these are a result of the inspiration created by the YPJ as women’s defense force. Many women want to make use of our experiences and organize their own units. Many groups come to Rojava and want to make use of our experiences and training for this purpose.

What are the results of the diplomatic activities the YPJ has carried out in 2016?

Of course, we carried out many public and private diplomatic activities in 2016. The result of these efforts was to reflect the results of our practices outside of Rojava. Many documentaries, promotional clips, interviews and books were prepared on the YPJ. I believe that it is the YPJ that will express itself most effectively. However, our visits and interactions have also had an impact.

How much did the YPJ grow this year quantitatively? What was the level of participation in the YPJ in recently liberated areas?

Actually, the international spirit gained more strength this year. This took place among local peoples, especially among Arab women. Many women from recently liberated areas participated in the YPJ. From Shaddadi to Manbij, many women have joined us. For this reason, we established an academy for Arab people. 2 Arab women’s units were formed inside the SDF with the support of the YPJ. Soon, an Arab Women’s Battalion will be announced. Women from Kurdish and other societies have also joined our ranks this year.

“WE EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONALISATION IN TRAINING”

How are YPJ fighters, who impress the world and inspire women, being trained? How was its training system in 2016?

2016 was a different year both in terms of opportunities and recruitment. YPJ experienced professionalization in training this year. We opened tens of military, scholar and field academies and YPJ mobilized women in these places.

With field academies, we promoted professionalization in war tactics and techniques. In recent years, the YPJ gained a lot of experience in the battlefield. We are transforming this experience into an academic consciousness. Hundreds of YPJ fighters receive academic training for this purpose. This is perhaps why women play a leading role. Our training courses are bilingual; in Kurdish and Arabic.

Our training covers many fields ranging from history to philosophy, life, personality, and women’s history. This is because the YPJ is not a brute fighting force but a force of social, cultural and moral consciousness. Women who realize themselves wage this struggle. Another important consequence of the YPJ’s struggle is that women have developed self-confidence. Women would trust men more than other women for too long in our geography. They overestimated men, but now they see the power in other women and do not view men as superior.

Women trust themselves more with the help of our training, and take a more active role in developing war tactics and techniques. They mobilize their intelligence more effectively and achieve better results.

Are there other forces that you have trained this year as the YPJ?

This year, women in liberated areas mobilized and formed their own organizations. One of the most beautiful developments of this year was the formation of Manbij Women’s Military Council. Of course, YPJ offered its educational and logistical support and participated in the Manbij operation. When Manbij Women’s Military council was formed, YPJ handed over its activities to them and withdrew. We have a working relationship with them and are ready to offer our support whenever they need it.

Bab Women’s Military Council was established and we offered our support to them as well. Women from Shehba formed their battalion and demanded us to train them, and we offered our support. We have a working-relationship with them as well. Arab women are in the process of establishing an Arab Women’s Battalion and we offer them our support too.

“WE WILL AVENGE ALL WOMEN AS WE LIBERATE RAQQA”

What is the YPJ’s participation in the ongoing Operation Wrath of Euphrates?

The Operation Wrath of Euphrates differs from other military campaigns. YPJ announced that it has a leading role in this operation because Raqqa is the ideological and political center of ISIS, the heart of Syria and the capital of ISIS. Our goal in this operation is to avenge all women, primarily the women massacred and sold by ISIS and the women of Raqqa that live under ISIS occupation. We have rescued 601 Êzîdî women and thousands of women and children in Raqqa from ISIS so far. As you know, winter conditions are difficult, but we have not experienced any weaknesses morally. YPJ commanders and fighters participated in Raqqa operation and have been on the front lines. The spokesperson of this operation is a woman commander.

“RAQQA’S LIBERATION IS ALSO THE LIBERATION OF MENTALITIES”

As I mentioned, we are also waging an intellectual battle. The liberation of Raqqa is not like the liberation of any other city. It is also the liberation of mentalities. As the women of YPJ, our goal is a mental and intellectual liberation as well as the end of ISIS occupation. Democratic culture and fraternal life should be deepened because we do not view the war as only the liberation of land. We are also fighting for the liberation of women and men. If this does not happen, the patriarchal system will prevail.

In this sense, the liberation of Raqqa is also the liberation of society. This is how the YPJ views it. We will continue to participate in the operation with the same enthusiasm in 2017 and avenge all women with the liberation of Raqqa.

As YPJ, what are your goals for 2017?

2017 will be the final year both militarily and politically. Even if a solution is not reached, the conditions for a solution will be created. On the other hand, there is the possibility that contradictions and clashes deepen. However, the YPJ will always support a democratic peaceful solution. For such a solution to take place, we should enhance our strength. Our goal is to double or triple our forces. In the YPJ, this spirit has become the defense spirit of the democratic nation.

We also would like to professionalize our forces by training and strengthen our units for the creation of a gender egalitarian society that is strong not only militarily but also ecologically. We know that we have this strength and free and conscious women mean that the society is conscious. This is our strategic goal. Again, we will continue to participate in the Operation Wrath of Euphrates with the same enthusiasm and liberate all women with the liberation of Raqqa.

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Safe Haven in Syria – The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava

The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava (DSA) is a new reality in Syria that has been growing in size and significance since 2012. It is the self-governing area in the North-East of Syria. The DSA is governed and defended by Kurds, Arabs and Syriac Christians as well as any other ethnicity living in the DSA. The Syrian Democratic Forces (military force of the DSA) in alliance with the USA and International Coalition against ISIS have been the most effective force in the war against this terrorist entity in Syria.
The essence of this document is that if the DSA of Rojava will receive sufficient means to defeat ISIS and humanitarian aid, the DSA will become a safe haven for the refugees in Syria. We believe that this is also the solution that Europe is looking for. Together we can bring stability and freedom in Syria.
The Democratic Self Administration of Rojava & Syrian Democratic Forces

Right from the start of the civil war the situation in North Syria developed differently than in other parts of Syria. When the the civil war in Western Syria started the Kurdish PYD together with the Syriac Union Party (Syriac Christians) and their Syriac Military Council and various Arab tribes and organisations come to the conclusion to protect their
area. In this way this became early on a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity. Together we created the Democratic Self-Administration under a common de facto constitution ‘The Social Contract’. The Social Contract was presented in 2014 at the UN in Geneva. Since 2013 local councils and Regional Parliaments were created and police and defensive forces were set up.
Furthermore local social work, co-operatives and civic life was encouraged and new civic
organisations sprang up. One of the main tasks of the new administration was the care for the poor and the refugees. An issue that remains a challenge until today. Please note that since the start more Syriac Christian, Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen factions and organisations have joined. At 17 March 2016 this process has been confirmed by confirming a project of federalation of Rojava and north Syria.
This step was necessary in order to give over 4 million people living in the DSA a clear
institutional framework.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Since its beginning the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) has permanently been at war against ISIS. In growing cooperation with the USA and the International Coalition against ISIS, the DSA forces of Kurds, Arabs and Syriac Christian forces have step by step
driven back ISIS and broadened the support among Arabs and Syrian Turkmen. This cooperation reached a new phase when these various forces confirmed their existing co-operation by creating together the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at 10 October 2015 that operates under their joint command. Since then the SDF has been very successful in driving back ISIS in.

The Syrian Democratic Council has been founded as a political body representing the federal and democratic ethnic inclusive model for Syria. The SDC has political backing in Syria beyond the borders of The DSA. The goal was also for the SDC to be part of the (failed) UN Peace Talks however regardless clear efforts they never were invited due to Turkish pressure over participation of the PYD in the SDC.
The DSA of Rojava Norhern Syria is secular and has fully separated religious institutions of any kind from governing structures. The DSA implemented full freedom of religion, full and equal rights for women and co-operation between ethnicities. The social contract
is evidence of how each of these freedoms is implemented for real.
We firmly believe that The DSA of Rojava and its Syrian Democratic Forces are not only the
way to defeat ISIS but also the way to replace the mentality of ISIS. By supporting The DSA and its forces the EU and EU Member States can help to foster a culture of freedom in the Middle East. It will remove and prevent a threat towards Europe.
As Federation we have often expressed that we are prepared to become a Safe Haven for
refugees in Syria (DPI) on the condition that we receive the support for this goal. We need
support to defeat ISIS alltogether and to build the needed security. Furthermore we will need economic support and humanitarian aid to deal with the challenges. Finally we guarantee that the UNHCR and co-operating NGO’s will be most welcome to work according to their own approach and programs.
Towards a Safe Haven in Syria
In light of the current advances of the Syrian Democratic Forces can be achieved if the SDF receives sufficient support to defeat ISIS in all of North and East Syria. It is most likely that after these SDF victories over ISIS the Syrian regime will be able to defeat ISIS on the western side of the Euphrates. There is no armed conflict with the Syrian regime. In fact, the Syrian regime maintains presence inQamishli and Hassakeh. All observers agree that the civil war in western Syria can easily continue for years to come. This also
means that a large refugee stream will continue from that part of Syria. The SDF controlled area of The DSA will then be able to become the Safe Haven in Syria. After the defeat of ISIS it will become possible for Syrian IDP’s to reach SDF controlled areas.
It is clear that a number of needs have to be met in order to achieve this goal. These needs will be listed in more detail in the following pages.
We point to the fact that meeting these needs will be far more cost-efficient than any other solution to shelter refugees. Furthermore we believe that sheltering Syrian refugees in Syria is better for Syria and better for the refugees in the long run provided the needs are met. Finally we think that our socio-political environment of freedom will be the right environment for education programs. Education for all is in our opinion the best preventive program against terrorism.
Needs for a Safe Haven in Syria
1. Support to all components of the Syrian Democratic Forces
It is clear that the SDF would be much more efficient against ISIS if it would have sufficient
means to defeat ISIS far quicker than is the case right now. The SDF consist of approx. 50000 soldiers and has proven to be the most effective force against ISIS so far. ISIS in Syria has a maximum strength of 20.000. Furthermore the ratio of losses of SDF versus is most often 1:8. If their needs are met the SDF will be able to defeat ISIS in North and East Syria in a few months. Please note that ISIS has not been able to return and maintain presence in any SDF controlled area. Support to the SDF will also provide future security for the refugees.
2. Humanitarian aid and trade
It is obvious that without humanitarian aid it will be impossible to implement a Safe Haven in Syria. There are a number of core needs that can be further specified and developed in co-operation with the UNHCR and other NGO’s and providers of humanitarian aid. A umber of general needs can be listed here:

Complet refugee camps to be located in SDF protected areas. The SDF will provide
protection. Please note that our female military and police organisations will be here of
special significance as they will be focused at the security of women (as this is a huge
problem in refugee camps in the region).
Medical supplies in all its forms
Food transports for IDP’s
With regard to trade we hope the international partners and community will help the DSA
to secure that the border between the DSA and Iraqi Kurdistan will remain open from now
on.
Support in establishing mechanisms to encourage economic life. In this respect we are
specifically interested in engaging with cooperative business models.

Political cooperation for the future of Syria
We believe that our model is based on the same values as to which the peace and stability of the free world is built on. It is our aim to strengthen the political cooperation with the free world in order to work together for peace in Syria.
It is obvious that this document is only a general outline as preparation for many more detailed discussions and operational aspects. We as DSA representatives look forward to discuss cooperation with any EU Member State to ensure that ISIS will be defeated and a significant part of Syria will be stable and a Safe Haven for refugees from Syria.

Contact information:
Sinam Mohamed, European representative of the Democratic Self Administration of Rojava:
sinamrojava@gmail.com, 004917659136013

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The international community has to support Syrian Democratic Forces in the face of the Turkish occupation

The international community has to support Syrian Democratic Forces in the face of the Turkish occupation

Jamil Bayek

The fascist alliance between “the Justice and Development Party” and “the nationalist extremist movement” in Turkey, has been waging a big campaign against Roj-Ava democratic revolution and Syrian Democratic Forces. The hostility that the Justice and Development Party has against the Kurdish people and their identity, make him allied with the fascist terrorist forces in Syria and use them as a tool to fight the Kurds, and to destroy their neighborhoods. But now Turkey’s ruling party is going by itself to the battlefield, and the goal is to kill the Kurds and destroy their experience of democracy.

The blind hostility of the Kurdish people is the one who pays the Turkish state for an alliance with international terrorism, and supporting the murderous criminal groups in Syria. This hostility will not end, if the support for terrorism in Ankara, Syria and others don’t end. In the beginning, it should put an end to the state hostility on the Kurdish people, their existence and their identity.

Who see the alliances of Turkish state in Syria, he will see the maps of relation with the terrorist forces; he will see the alliances with “Al-Nusra Front and Daesh with other groups”. There is a hostility to  Syrian Democratic Forces  that supported by the whole world in order to defeat terrorism. The main reason for betting on these terrorist groups is the hostility of Turkey to Kurdish people. If the hostility to the Kurdish people did not exist, Turkey now will support the democratic destination and fight terrorism with the rest of the world. But the hostility to the Kurds, make the Turkish state with the terrorism in facing  the rest of the world.

Turkish state is always trying to be in the framework of the comprehensive war against the existence of the Kurdish people, using groups and armed organizations against Kurdish liberation movement. In case of failure of these terrorist groups in the implementation the tasks, the Turkish state itself fight, destroying cities, killing civilians, arresting mayors and the parliamentarians, and spread terror and murder in Kurdistan. This policy is practiced in northern Kurdistan against the Kurdish liberation movement. Now, they do the same practices and policy against Roj-Ava revolution. They fight  after the failure of their tools and mercenaries.

In the beginning, Turkish state bet on “Al-Nusra Front”, supporting it in the occupation of (Secre Kanea / Ras Al-Ain), which tried to make of that region a platform to occupy the whole Roj-Ava. After failure, it decided to rely on the organization “Daesh”. It  also worked on the creation of the remnants of the Kurds mercenary to weaken Roj- Ava experience from the inside through creating confusion and chaos. It is continuing in the armed struggle and war.

The fascist front, that controls Turkey, that sponsored “Daesh”, now it is under the pretext of the fight against this organization, it intervene militarily and occupies parts of Syria, but the main goal is to fight Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal is not “Daesh” but the goal is to destroy Roj-Ava experience and hit the Syrian Democratic Forces, in addition to prevent the creation of any democratic transition in Syria.

Therefore, Turkish military forces and its mercenaries intervened trying to reach Al-Baab city what, when they knew the plan of Syrian Democratic Forces about liberation this city. The logic is based upon the front fascism ruling in Turkey (Justice and Development Party and National Movement) is to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights in Syria, prevent the issue of democratic forces and the democratic transition. Except that is not matter what happens in this country of wars, confrontations, destruction and the spread of terrorist groups criminal. Turkish military intervention in Syria is only in order to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights. Ankara says that orally to the world. Some of the forces were presented this logic and accepted the Turkish occupation from this standpoint. Turkish state is also trying to market some of the other justifications such as preventing the flow of refugees on its territory, and tried to convince America by this argument besides the alleged fighting “Daesh. But the attack on Syrian Democratic Forces was a flagrant to the Turkish intentions. Now Turkey is trying to blackmail the forces acting on the Syrian scene that in the case to prevent the Kurds from getting their rights and the granting of followed parties a privileged place in the agreed new Syrian regime. So that Turkish troops can withdraw from the Syrian territory.

Syrian Democratic Forces and rebels Roj-Ava do not trust any of the parties to the conflict. They know that only the overall resistance powerful and influential are from Turkey will be forced to withdraw its troops from Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces and the resistance forces are who will force the Turkish fascist coalition to withdraw and retreat. Turkish state is trying to repeat the model of Cyprus in Roj-Ava, they will not withdraw until achieve its and its allies interests. In Syria, the Turkish occupation forces will not withdraw until the throttle Roj-Ava revolution, and create its interest in all institutions and decision of the Syrian state, so that the greatest influence is for them.

Roj-Ava has sacrificed thousands of martyrs in order to defeat “Daesh”. They are the first enemy of all mankind and civilization. The resistance in Kobani was  intense. where the Kurds have defeated “Daesh”, after paying thousands of both martyrs and wounded. Now the Turkish state which sponsored “Daesh” try to enter their own in order to kill the Kurds and destroy Roj-Ava revolution. The world now is demanded to support Roj-Ava and Syrian Democratic Forces, and not to remain silent on the Turkish occupation of the brutal experience as well.

The world in which solidarity with the Kobani resistance, celebrate every year on the first of October; the World Day of Kobani, to remind the epics of the resistance. The world now has not to be silent in the face of the Turkish occupation that wants to undermine the spirit of the resistance for the sake of victory to the terrorists and destroy the democratic demands of the Kurdish.

Dozens of European, Australian and American young people have sacrificed life within the resistance of Roj-Ava in defense of the values of civilization and co-existence in the face of terror, brutality, murder and barbarism. These values must be protected and do not let the Turkish state fascism that support the terrorism to throttle the Roj-Ava revolution.

Turkish state, through the fascist ruling alliance, not only attacks Syria Democratic Forces and experience of Roj-Ava only, but also it is like “Daesh” fights all the democracy in addition all advocates of co-existence. It advocates reactionary, dictatorship and repression. Thus, the world is morally obliged to support the democracy, the rights and coexistence through supporting Syrian Democratic Forces, The world has to refuse the oppression, occupation and advocating terrorism and criminality, through rejecting the fascist Turkish occupation of northern Syria.

* Newspaper (Yeni Özgür Politika)

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NEW FROM PLUTO PRESS

Witnesses to the Revolution in Rojava

Revolution in Rojava is the first book-length account of the unique and extraordinary political situation in Rojava, Syria. In this article, Janet Biehl talks to the authors and discusses how and why the new society in Rojava so inspired them.

For decades, three million Syrian Kurds have lived under brutal repression by the Assad regime, Revolution in Rojavatheir identity denied, access to education and jobs refused, imprisonment and torture a way of life for those who dared object. Yet resistance has grown. By developing organisations, after the Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds seized the moment to create a pioneering, democratic revolution. The liberation of northern Syria—Rojava—began at Kobanî on July 19th 2012, and the global history of social and political revolution would never be the same again.

In May 2014, three Kurdish solidarity activists from Germany and Turkey decided to visit Rojava. ‘I wanted to see it, to learn from its practice’, says Michael Knapp, ‘to understand the contradictions and research the system’s difficulties. Because we can learn a lot from it for revolutionary projects in Western countries.’ With their combined language skills, contacts, and extensive knowledge of the movement, they were able to do close fieldwork and interview many people.

Upon their return, they compiled their observations into a book, Revolution in Rojava, which has just been published in English.

One of the three authors, Anja Flach, was particularly interested in studying women’s role in the revolution. Twenty years earlier, Flach had spent several years the Qandil Mountains of Northern Iraq, where she participated in the Kurdish women’s guerrilla army, the PAJK. There, she focused on political education and struggle. She observed, ‘it’s part of everyday life, in between military training, to do political analysis, to read and discuss together’. Inspired, Flach came home and immediately began to write about her experiences.

Only with the defense of Kobanî in late 2014, however, did the world finally became aware of the existence of Kurdish women fighters and commanders, equipped only with light weapons, yet successfully running IS out of the city at great risk.

But what were they actually fighting for? Little was known, says Flach, about the wide-reaching system of gender-equality that they were defending. She discovered that the implementation of these principles had been successful throughout the revolutionary society. Across the stateless democratic self-administration and throughout political organisations, leadership is dual (male-female) for every speaker position, and every committee and meeting has a forty percent gender quota. Indeed, Flach recognised these principles from her years in the Qandil Mountains. Polygamy and underage marriage have been banned, and women’s cooperatives are being constructed throughout Cizire canton, to give women economic independence, usually for the first time in their lives.

Flach found that the women in Rojava are determined to remake gender relations throughout northern Syria. She saw ‘a women’s committee in every street, and in every neighborhood a women’s council, a women’s academy, women’s security forces, and armed units’. These indefatigable activists go from house to house, informing the women at home that they have access to women’s institutions. ‘The women’s movement would like to win over and organise every woman,’ Flach says, ‘regardless of whether she is a Kurd’. Syriac women too are forming autonomous councils and military units.

For Flach, visiting Rojava was like a dream come true. ‘It was what we had been fighting for all
rojavathose years—a free society that administers itself.’  Most astoundingly, ‘in Rojava I came across many of my onetime fellow fighters again. As young women they had left Rojava to join the PKK, and now they’ve returned to defend the revolution.’

Ercan Ayboğa, a Kurd living in Diyarbakir, works with the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement in North Kurdistan, Southeastern Turkey, and is a key organiser against the construction of a dam at Hasankeyf, a site of major historical, ecological, and cultural importance that is poised to be flooded by the dam’s reservoir. In Rojava, with his ecologist’s eye, he was shocked by the lack of trees and biological diversity in agriculture, for example, the crops in Cizire canton were a wheat monoculture. Trained as a hydraulic engineer, he was appalled by the water crisis: ‘All the rivers were dry—even in May—or else very polluted.’

In Rojava, Ayboğa studied the communes-and-councils structure, which was set in motion by the revolution’s chief organizations: the MGRK (People’s Council of West Kurdistan), the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM), and the PYD (Democratic Union Party). Shortly before the 2012 liberation, he says, they instituted a system of radical democracy that combines council and grassroots democracy. ‘On the ground are the communes, which are organised in the residential streets of cities and villages. Above them are the people’s councils in three other levels. The lower level is represented in the higher level through its coordination. At each level are nine commissions that cover the whole life like defense, women, civil society, diplomacy/politics, economy, education, and health. This system has empowered hundreds of thousands of people in a very effective way; people have started to govern themselves and to make decisions about their lives.’

As the Kurdish forces fighting IS liberate numerous villages, this system of democratic self-administration is spreading farther into northern Syria. ‘TEV-DEM activists go the villages and cities and describe themselves and what they’ve done in the past few years,’ says Ayboğa. ‘They propose that the people organise themselves in communes. We have dozens of new communes, very soon hundreds of them, with a mainly Arab population.’  He was greatly impressed by the will of the many political activists, including young people and women, hoping that their struggle be successful, overcome all challenges, and build up a new society.

The group’s third member, Michael Knapp, is a veteran of the German left since the 1990s. He describes himself not as a solidarity activist but as part of the movement for radical democracy. He took great interest in Rojava’s ‘social economy’, based on the understanding that a democratic polity requires for its existence democratic control over the economy. In contrast to neoliberalism, and to state socialism where the state administers the economy, Rojava’s social economy administers production through the democratic self-administration: the economic commissions are accountable to the communes and councils at all levels.

The revolution demands that new enterprises should be organised as structured cooperatives. ‘Cooperatives exist in all sectors of society, even the refining sector’, says Knapp. ‘Most of those the enterprises we visited were small, with some five to ten persons producing textiles, agricultural products, and groceries. But some were bigger, like a cooperative near Amûde that guarantees subsistence for more than 2,000 households’. Under the regime, Northern Syria was not industrialised, instead it is maintained as a source of raw materials and foodstuffs. However, the social economy is planning future alternative industrialisation built around ecological and communalist principles.

However, this process hasn’t yet been possible because of the war. Moreover, Rojava is under an economic embargo, imposed by hostile Turkey to the north, the Turkey-dependent KRG to the east, and the murderous IS and other Salafi-jihadist groups to the south.

Yet Rojava survives, says Flach, partly because the people have no alternative but to fight, and partly because of their organisations and their ideological background. Rojava needs international support, especially from doctors, midwives and engineers willing to go there. Financial support is also crucial, as is political support. But most importantly, says Flach, is for sympathisers to learn from the Rojava model and organise in their own countries. ‘War and industrialism, and the social and ecological disasters connected with it, are destroying the foundations of life,’ she says. ‘It is urgently necessary to organise and to construct an alternative to the capitalist patriarchy. The survival of humankind depends on it.’

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Janel Biehl is a writer, editor and translator. She was Murray Bookchin’s copyeditor for the last two decades of his professional life. Her most recent work is Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (2015, Oxford University Press).

Michael Knapp is a historian of radical democracy, Cofounder of the Campaign Tatort Kurdistan and member of NavDem Berlin. His research focuses on the Kurdish issue and the construction of alternatives to capitalist modernity. His research has taken him to the Middle East, where he has studied the Kurdish Liberation Struggle and the PKK.

Anja Flach is an ethnologist and member of the Rojbîn women’s council in Hamburg. She spent two years in the Kurdish women’s guerrilla army and has previously published books about her experiences.

Ercan Ayboğa is an environmental engineer and activist. Formerly living and co-founding the Tatort Kurdistan Campaign in Germany, now he lives in North Kurdistan and is politically involved in the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, particularly in water struggles

rojava-book
  • Illustrations: 32 photographs, 2 maps

A new kind of society is being built in Syria, but it’s not one you would expect. Surrounded by deadly bands of ISIS and hostile Turkish forces, the people living in Syria’s Rojava cantons are carving out one of the most radically progressive societies on the planet today. Western visitors have been astounded by the success of their project, a communally organised democracy which considers women’s equality indispensable and rejects reactionary nationalist ideology whilst being fiercely anti-capitalist.

The people of Rojava call their new system democratic confederalism. An implementation of the recent ideology of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, it boasts gender quotas of 40 percent, bottom-up democratic structures, deep-reaching ecological policies and a militancy which is keeping ISIS from the gates.

Revolution in Rojava is the first full-length study of this ongoing social and political transformation in Syrian Kurdistan. It is the first authentic insight into the complex dimensions of the revolution. Its authors use their own experiences of working and fighting in the region to construct a picture of hope for Middle-Eastern politics and society, and reveal an extraordinary story of a battle against the odds.

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24/08/2016 – 19:25 0

We Will Not Retreat to East of Euphrates: YPG Spokesman Redur Xelil

People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Redur Xelil has said the Kurdish force will not retreat from the west of the Euphrates to the east.

Speaking to journalist Mutlu Civiroglu, Xelil said his words had been misconstrued and that they wouldn’t withdraw at anyone’s request.

“We are in our own country and not withdrawing on the request of Turkey or someone else,” Xelil told Civiroglu.

Reuters had said that Xelil had told them they would withdraw if the SDF instructed them to.

Turkish officials have threatened YPG with military action if the Kurdish force, which took part in the liberation of Manbij on the west of the Euphrates under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), did not retreat back across the river.

A top US official and Vice President Joe Biden also said they had told YPG forces to retreat to the east of the Euphrates or they would cease support for the group.

Turkish troops and FSA militants began a cross-border incursion into Jarablus today and have taken control of the ghost city within 12 hours. Reports suggest there were no clashes between them and Islamic State militants, who have withdrawn to Al-Bab. Some commentators have called attention to the fact that IS had allegedly conducted artillery attacks on Turkish soil in the past two days but there was no IS presence in Jarablus when Turkish-FSA forces arrived.

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The Kurdish Trap and Division Among Kurds

July 2016
‘Kurdish Quention’

The Qamishli massacre perpetrated by the Islamic State today, in which at least 44 people have been killed and more than 150 injured, has once again brought to light the division among Kurds.

Some quarters have immediately claimed that if the KDP-S (Kurdistan Democratic Party – Syria), which is the Rojava/Syria branch of the KDP in KRG (N.Iraq), had been allowed to operate in Rojava, this attack wouldn’t have happened.

Others have reacted by insinuating or outright saying that Turkey and by extension the KDP could be behind this terrible attack to further push the PYD into a corner. I myself have been targeted by an overzealous tweeter for being critical of any possible use of the attack to make political or military gains. The arguments ensue and the blame game that is limited to 140 characters makes no headway for rapprochement between Kurds supporting different political parties, especially the KDP and PKK.

What I find devastating about all this is that Kurds are still willing to fight among themselves when even the blood of the people killed is yet to dry. I have to constantly remind myself that it is inevitable that Kurds who do not comprehend the ‘Kurdish trap’ do this.

It is not easy to identify and define the ‘Kurdish trap’, because it is a historical concept that has embedded in it, a complex web of relations between the different parts of Kurdistan and the regional and international system that has colonised it.

Essentially the ‘Kurdish trap’ was created with the division of the Middle East to snag the Kurds and prevent their freedom by playing them off against the states they live under and also against one another. So in extension as well as being an intra-Kurdish trap the ‘Kurdish trap’ is also a Turkish, Arab, Persian and even Armenian ‘trap’ too. However, because these nations have recognised states, they are unaware they are victims of the trap and as dominant-nations, do not feel the oppression of the trap as Kurds do.

What most don’t realise though, is that without the Kurds’ freedom, there will be perpetual war, which weakens both the state in question and also Kurdish society. Being at war constantly leaves the majority of citizens in the country poor but serves the ruling elites of these states, who are always in cahoots with their counterparts in the international arena and use the Kurds as scapegoats to justify their corruption and despotism against their own people. Nationalist rhetoric is always at hand to make Kurds targets for Turks, Arabs and Persians. The only complaints then are that Kurds are dividing or destabilising their countries, that Kurds are the tools of Imperialist powers or that Kurds are inferior and don’t deserve to be free.

Giving an example from Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey) will make the point above clearer. The Kurdish Freedom Movement (KFM), which includes the PKK, is struggling for autonomy within Turkey and what it calls a Confederal Kurdistan that joins the four parts but does not erect new borders. It is seen by Turkish nationalists as a terrorist, separatist organisation in the service of imperialist powers; the religious see the KFM as a godless, heathen movement which is a secular danger to their Sunni Kurdish ‘brothers’ and the tool of Christians (US) and Jews (Israel); some socialists and communists have declared it nationalist and therefore primitive and not revolutionary along class lines; some Alawites see it as a Sunni movement that is a danger to their already threatened existence; liberals see it as a radical group that is a threat to neoliberal capitalism; and some Kurdish nationalists see it as a non-Kurdistani movement that has sold out the dream of an independent Kurdish state. Meanwhile the Turkish state, employing many guises, uses all these groups against the KFM when it sees fit.

kurdistan div

Add to this the fact that Turkey is a NATO state and a geostrategic ally of even Russia and Israel, and that this leaves no room for the KFM to develop strategic relations with any other state entity -because the PKK is on the ominous terror list- and you have a tight spot that is called the ‘Kurdish trap’. The KFM tries to elide this trap by developing strategic ties and solidarity with progressive non-state actors and entities, including revolutionary and democratic groups around the world, but it does not suffice in a world system that is based on states.

The above example plays out similarly in the other parts of Kurdistan and in relation to other parties. Kurds’ demands for autonomy, federation or statehood are labeled as being either treacherous, not feasible or dangerous to the status quo. Even the KRG, which is supposedly a strategic ally of the US and Israel and enjoys good ties with Turkey, cannot get support for independence. Because independence in one part they fear, will bring about independence in another, upsetting the balance of power and allies in the region. This is why Turkey, which has tried to confine Kurdish aspirations to within the borders of the KRG, has such strong enmity towards Rojava. It is also why the KRG -specifically the KDP- which is demanding independence, is treading a fine line between being successful and burying the aspirations of Kurds in other parts, primarily Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey).

This is also where the contradictions and conflicts between the KFM and the KDP are rooted. While the KFM’s political alliance axis in relation to states is tactical (short-term), the KDP’s is strategic and it politicks on this axis. Furthermore and due in some part to this, they are diametrically opposed in ideological and organisational terms. Although the KDP’s alliances mean that they can secure certain international support for the KRG or for the Kurdish cause, it also means a weakness and limitation to act in other cases. Conversely, whereas the KFM is freer in its actions, it is less well connected and can be isolated by international powers. This of course is another element of the ‘Kurdish trap.’

And so let’s return to the beginning, to Rojava, where Kurds are trying not to fall into this trap, but also struggling because of all the historical and current forces stacked up against them. They are attempting to build a system that doesn’t fall into the multiple traps that make up the ‘Kurdish trap’: nationalism, religionism, statism, imperialism, capitalism and sexism. Despite this they are not receiving the support they deserve, not just from international organisations and public opinion but also from Kurds, their own brethren. Many people don’t realise it but Rojava’s success is not just a victory for Kurds and Kurdistan but all of the Middle East: its peoples, cultures, religions and civilisations.

It is imperative that Kurds comprehend the trap that has been set for them and their neighbours, and tread carefully in the Middle East. We don’t have to agree on every point, policy or action by political parties and organisations. We all have limitations and so do the parties and organisations we are engaged with or support. But we do have to respect each other, discuss with nuance and develop solidarity with the people fighting for justice and equality. The alternative is to continue fighting with each other and those we deem our enemies, but who are our neighbours and the people we will continue living side-by-side with whether we like it or not, (not including IS and proxy jihadists). In a sense we all have one foot in the ‘Kurdish trap’ and unless we are very careful it will continue snagging us and we will continue reproducing it until our country, resources and people are depleted.

Note: Other groups, such as the Assyrians and Turkmen are also victims of the ‘Kurdish trap’.

Note: the map used above is not important in determining the future of Kurdistan and doesn’t reflect the ‘borders’ of Kurdistan. If possible Kurdistan should have no borders. The map represents the division of Kurdistan.

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Freedom of A. Öcalan Will Guarantee
Success of the Peace Process in Turkey

The Committee for Freedom of Öcalan c/o KNK Rue Jean Stas 41, 1060 Bruxelles
The Committee for Freedom of Öcalan

 INTRODUCTION
In 1998, Turkey threatened Syria with war if Syria did not expel the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan from the country. As a result of this threat, Abdullah Öcalan left Syria and travelled to Europe in order to promote a political solution. However, due to continued pressure from Turkey, Öcalan could not find amnesty in Europe and eventually found himself in Kenya.
On 15 February 1999, Öcalan was captured in Kenya by Turkish special agents in a clandestine operation backed by an alliance of secret services, CIA and Mossad (which was officially accepted by the US State Department at the time). He was abducted and handed over to the Turkish state. The capture of Turkey’s “enemy number one” was claimed by the authorities in Ankara as their victory against the Kurds, who had been waging a mass uprising against the policies of denial and discrimination; a struggle Öcalan had led since the 1980s. The capture of the Kurdish leader was regarded by the Kurds as the outcome of an “international conspiracy”, the denial of the legitimacy of the Kurdish struggle, and involving the security services of several nations. His abduction sparked outrage and major protests from Kurds all over the world.
Öcalan’s capture was followed by a show trial during which Turkish prosecutors sought to portray the Kurdish leader as a “terrorist”. In reality, this was not a fight against terrorism, rather, it was a war in accordance with international law. It is an armed conflict for the purpose of international humanitarian law in accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols of 1977. The PKK became a signatory to the Geneva Conventions in 1995.
4
Since this date, this war was subject to the Geneva Conventions, but this was completely ignored by Turkey and its allies. Despite these limitations, Öcalan was deeply committed to a peace process, and with this in mind he began a new quest for a peaceful solution.
Within this framework, Öcalan used his defence to articulate the case for peace and reconciliation between Turks and Kurds based on the recognition of the Kurds’ cultural and national differences within a unitary state. The defence by Öcalan was very significant, as at the time Turkey was on the brink of a full scale civil war. This stand prevented Turkey from deteriorating into a Turkish-Kurdish civil war.
Öcalan’s lawyers took the case to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the unfair trial that took place in Turkey. The court ruled in 2003 that Öcalan’s trial was not fair, that his right to fair legal representation had been restricted and that he had faced inhumane conditions in Imrali prison. Unfortunately, the ECHR did not fulfil its role completely and did not attempt to adequately investigate the truths behind Öcalan’s illegal abduction through the international conspiracy and the breaking of the rules of war. This inadequate stand is still encouraging the Turkish state to continue with its policies of isolation, and preventing any pressure on Turkey to engage in a legitimate peace process. During the 16 year imprisonment of Mr Öcalan, the CPT prepared several reports – after strong mass actions (hunger strikes, rallies and signature campaigns) by the Kurdish people – in which they accepted that Turkey was infringing the human rights of Öcalan and keeping him in solitary confinement. This, however, never led to any practical sanctions. CURRENT SITUATION
Turkey’s Failed Coup and Erdogan’s Anti-Kurdish Agenda
On 15thJuly 2016 an unsuccessful attempt at a coup happened in Turkey. Even at this early stage, the post-coup process obviously will have important consequences. It is important to understand that this process was started on the 7th June 2015, when Erdogan lost the elections and conducted an anti-democratic intervention into the results. It is important to make a comprehensive analysis of the coup in order to understand the potential outcomes.
Before everything, it is important to specify that this coup was not undertaken by Gulenists. Due to the conflict between the AKP and the Gulenists, sympathisers of Gulen may have taken part in the coup attempt. But by saying “the Gulenists attempted the coup” they are trying to make a platform in which they can suppress Gulen’s supporters even more. By labelling the coup as Gulenist, they are hoping to rally support in order to take revenge on the coup plotters. In other words, they are trying to kill two birds with one stone.
It is evident that this attempt was backed by a large part of the army. If they had planned and executed it more professionally, it may have had a chance to succeed. In this regard, it cannot be said that it was undertaken by Gulenists or a minority; there isn’t enough of a Gulenist presence in the army to pull off a coup.
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Maybe many of the coup plotters who are waging the war against the Kurds in Kurdistan were not practically involved, but it has been understood that many of the Generals in the region supported the coup. They were careful because their participation would have hampered their war effort against the Kurds. However, many of the Generals in the war against the Kurds have been detained as supporters of the coup.
An insistence on war strengthened the hands of the coup-plotters
When the AKP couldn’t solve the Kurdish question, it veered towards a war of destruction against the Kurdish Freedom Movement in the past year. Especially towards the end of 2014 and the 7th June 2015 election, the coup mechanism was in place and resulted in the attempt at a fascist coalition. When Erdogan veered off towards war, the army became the main player. Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP were dependent on the army in their war against the Kurdish Freedom Movement.
When Erdogan decided to intensify the war and sent the army to destroy Kurdish towns, the coup mechanism was set in place. During the war, the army strengthened its own hand against Erdogan. This is because the army can only become a central player in Turkish politics while it is in a war against the Kurdish Freedom Movement. So after a period in which the army had lost its centrality in Turkish politics, through Erdogan’s notion that “we won the war in the cities, we destroyed the PKK”, the army once again gained the confidence to attempt a coup. This coup wanted to redesign Turkish politics. The statement by the coup-plotters clearly points towards this.
“We fought the war, we should do the politics”
The coup-plotters are a new nationalist wing, separate from the Ergenekonists [traditional nationalist statists]. This new trend has been shaped by an opposition to the policies of the AKP. We might even say that the changes made in the AKP’s foreign policy (renewing relations with Israel and Russia, and a change of policy towards Egypt, Iraq and Syria) may have stimulated this new formation. This coup-plotters, who can also be called ‘neo-nationalists’, have closely witnessed the cooperative relationship between the AKP and ISIS. Due to the fact that they are on the frontlines where this relationship is being implemented, they have learnt how the relationship between the AKP and ISIS is handled. If the coup had been successful, they would have prosecuted the AKP for supporting ISIS with backing from the West.
It seems as though the coup-plotters’ approach was: “Turkey’s main political problem is the Kurdish question, and we are the ones on the front line, so we should shape the politics of Turkey.” When civilian governments do not have any policies in solving the Kurdish question, the coup mechanism is always functioning. The fact that they named themselves “The Council of Peace in the Country” is a reflection of their thinking that “we will conduct the politics when it comes to the Kurdish question”. In short, their approach was “whoever is fighting the PKK should dominate politics and own Turkey”.
After the coup attempt: Sectarian nationalism will create a Turkish ISIS
After the coup was defeated, the AKP and its allies declared themselves as the “will of the people” and “democratic forces”. The AKP now hopes to strengthen its grasp on power and their anti-Kurdish, anti-democratic system. In this regard the representation of the AKP, its supporters and its allies as the defenders of democracy is a dangerous development; the AKP can more easily implement its anti-Kurdish, anti-democratic policies.
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Given that the AKP’s allies are the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and chauvinist nationalists, a rise in anti-Kurdish sentiment and anti-democratic approaches can be expected. These forces have become even more tightknit after the coup attempt; this will lead to a deepening of genocidal policies against the Kurds. Just as this coup attempt has emboldened the AKP, its allies and the nationalists, it has also radicalised the sectarian nationalist circles close to the AKP. This will lead to a new breed of Turkish ISIS-like formations, such as Osmanli Ocaklari, a paramilitary group organised by Erdogan himself. They are already organising in European countries; links between them and ISIS are already being discussed. These sectarian nationalist trends will further radicalise and become repressive forces against any opposition to the AKP. Many of the people who took to the streets during this period were from these organisations. It can be expected that these groups will step up their attacks against the Kurdish people. The freedom forces of the Kurdish people and the democratic forces of the country should prepare themselves against these attacks.
What the AKP will do — and the responsibilities of democratic forces
There are statements that say “this coup attempt should be turned into an opportunity and platform for democratization”. These calls are made with good intentions but need to be followed up. All attempts at a coup can be blocked by democratisation. However, the anti-coup rhetoric of some is not grounded in a democratic mentality; rather it is more to do with the ongoing power struggle. These people aren’t democrats or anti-coup! These people had already taken power through a coup against democracy. For this reason, democratisation cannot be expected of these people in order to hinder possible coup attempts. These people will use this coup attempt in order cover their real faces and intentions. They have already started doing this.
In this regard, to expect that the AKP will take steps to democratise the country in response to this coup attempt is nothing but self-deception. One needs to take a closer look at Erdogan and the alliances of his Gladio. Nothing other than anti-Kurdish sentiment and anti-democratic development can be expected from this coalition. And when the AKP eventually discards these allied groups, the sectarian nationalist groups will radicalise and become Turkey’s version of ISIS. Under the ideological and political umbrella of the AKP, a more radical version of the Muslim Brotherhood will be formed in the region. Tayyip Erdogan will see this coup attempt as an opportunity to make preparations and take steps towards this end. There already are sectarian nationalist factions within the police force. Erdogan saw the actions of these groups during this coup attempt. Turkey will become a police state. The police will become an alternative armed force to the army.
The forces of democracy must reanalyse the situation after this coup attempt. The fascism of the AKP will seek to suppress all democratic forces. They will try to get all factions of society to obey its rule. Any opposition will be labelled as ‘coup-supporters’ and will be brutally suppressed. If the forces of democracy do not act to change this situation, Erdogan will force everyone into submission. In this regard, the forces of democracy must understand the reality of the AKP and its allies and must form a new front for resistance.
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IMRALI PEACE DELEGATION IN ISTANBUL
This was not only worrying for the Kurdish people, but also for many internationally renowned individuals, academics, human rights activists and politicians. Those people that did not accept the continuous massacring of people formed an initiative named the Imrali Peace Delegation. This initiative was popularly supported by many people around the world. Supported by people like Noam Chomsky Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author, US; Mauro Palma President of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe, Italy; Tariq Ali Writer, journalist and filmmaker, UK; Dr Felix Padel Professor at JNU, Delhi and author, India; Prof David Graeber anthropologist, London School of Economics; author and social activist, UK; Baroness Helena Kennedy QC House of Lords, UK; Baroness Jenny Jones House of Lords, UK; Mark Thomas political satirist, author and journalist, UK; Jeremy Hardy, stand-up comedian, actor, writer and activist, UK; John Holloway Professor of Sociology and author, Mexico; Dr Norman Paech, Professor of international and national constitutional law, Hamburg University, retired and politician, Germany; Dr Dafydd Iwan, former President of Plaid Cymru Party, Wales; Dr Bill Bowring Professor of Law in the School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London and author, UK; Mike Mansfield QC President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK; James Kelman Writer and Booker Prize winner, Scotland; Bruce Kent Vice-President Pax Christi, UK; Dr Derek Wall Writer and International Coordinator of the Green Party, UK; Bert Schouwenburg, International Officer, GMB, UK; Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor UNISON, Scotland; Grahame Smith, General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress, Scotland; Nick Hildyard Policy adviser, UK ; Louise Christian Vice-President of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, UK; Tony Simpson Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, UK; Ara Sarafian Director, Gomidas Institute, UK; Alastair Lyon lawyer, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, UK; Matt Foot lawyer, Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, UK; Bronwen Jones barrister, Goldsmith Chambers, UK; Johannes de Jong, Manager of Christian Political Foundation for Europe (CPFE), The Netherlands ; Feroze Mithiborwala, well known international activist and the General Secretary of India Palestine Solidarity Forum who recently visited Syria, India, and led by Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, Judge Essa Moosa, a group (Dimitri Roussopoulos, Co-founder of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, Quebec, Canada; Janet Biehl, writer, translator, artist, US; Federico Venturini, School of Geography, University of Leeds; Member of Advisory Board of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, UK; Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Lecturer of Political Sociology, Cambridge University, UK; Dr Radha D’Souza, Reader in Law and social justice activist, UK; Andrej Hunko, German MP of The Left party for Aachen, Germany; Eirik Eiglad, writer, translator and New Compass Press, Norway; Edgar de Jesús Lucena González, Member of the National Assembly of Venezuela; Joe Ryan Chair of the Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, UK) consisting of people from Canada to Venezuela to India and various European countries applied to the Turkish Justice Ministry to visit Imrali Prison. The delegation conducted several meetings in Istanbul while waiting for a response from the Justice Ministry. However, the isolation of Ocalan meant that this application fell on deaf ears. Below is a summary of the report from this delegation:
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ISOLATION OF ABDULLAH ÖCALAN
The escalation of conflict has coincided with the total isolation of the leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who from his lonely prison cell on the island of Imrali has been a crucial role-player and a consistent voice calling for peace.
Yet the very fact that Öcalan is in prison was a problem even during the talks that occurred for two years starting in March 2013. His condition of imprisonment forces him to negotiate with his captors – an inherent disadvantage. Moreover, in prison he cannot consult with his constituency. Before substantive negotiations can start, the state must first release him, as Nelson Mandela was released before – not after or during – the South African negotiations. Until Öcalan is freed, only talks about talks, and not actual negotiations, can take place. Mandela emphasized that only free persons and not prisoners can negotiate, on behalf his people, for a political solution.
THE ONLY VIABLE SOLUTION
Neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Turkish military could ever decisively prevail in a war that would only exacerbate the severe humanitarian crises in the country, the peace process offers the only solution and Öcalan, as the chief spokesperson for the Kurdish movement, is essential to that process. No progress toward a solution can be achieved without Öcalan’s participation.
THE TEN-MEMBER INTERNATIONAL PEACE DELEGATION
On February 14 a ten-member international delegation assembled in Istanbul to try to help restart the Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which has been suspended since the spring of 2015. The leader of the delegation, Judge Essa Moosa of the High Court of South Africa, on behalf of the delegation, wrote a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on February 3 to request two meetings: one with the Ministry, to discuss ways and means to resume the peace process between the Turkish government and Ocalan; and one with Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali to discuss the same issue. We requested that the meetings take place on February 15, which coincided with the seventeenth anniversary of Öcalan’s capture and detention. Judge Moosa formerly acted for Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned on Robben Island and elsewhere and was involved in the negotiation process in South Africa.
REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE
Unfortunately the delegation was granted neither of the two meetings that was requested. On February 15 the ministry acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not bother to formally accept or reject the request. Beyond that mere acknowledgment, it gave no response at all by the time the delegation left Turkey. The delegation was not afforded an opportunity to engage the Minister of Justice and Öcalan on the question of the resumption of the peace process.
MEETINGS
The delegation meanwhile met with representatives from a variety of political and social organizations who briefed us on the country’s most disturbing situation. They also met with lawyers and lawyer’s organizations, who have been deeply involved in the defense of members of the Kurdish freedom movement against criminal charges, and who have themselves been the subject of much intimidation and persecution by the state.
FROM PEACE TO WAR
During the current period of Öcalan’s isolation, from April 2015, the Erdoğan government has shifted from a peace footing to a war footing. The shift from peace-making to war-making has coincided with the total isolation of Öcalan. As he enters the eighteenth year of his detention, he leads a solitary life. Two
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other prisoners who were formerly present on Imrali have now been transferred to other high-security prisons. Öcalan’s only human contact is with his guards. Not even his family can visit him. His lawyers, who have not been able to visit him since 2011, apply to visit at least once a week, but they have applied 600 times now and are repeatedly turned down, given absurd excuses that the boat is broken. No one at all has been permitted to visit since the last HDP delegates left on April 5, 2015. No communication from him has been received since then. He is suffering from poor health and his access to medical care is limited.
Meanwhile the situation in the country deteriorated rapidly after the elections and the peace process decisively came to an end. Cities have become war zones, pounded with heavy artillery and tank fire. Children are being killed. People’s parents and grandparents are shot dead in streets, but because of the curfew, their bodies cannot be retrieved for extended periods. Certain police forces are licensed to shoot anyone with full impunity, with no fear of consequences. These Special Forces are not commanded by local governors but are directly linked to the government.
In Cizre, people, many of them civilians who took refuge in three different basements were killed, even burned alive, and now the state is destroying the buildings to eliminate the evidence. Violence against women is on the rise. Women are killed, then stripped and humiliated. These constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It violates the Third Geneva Convention, to which Turkey is committed and it meets United Nations criteria for genocide.
IMRALI PEACE DELEGATION IN STRASBOURG
The International Peace Delegation continued its work due to the urgency of the situation and decided to visit the most supreme institutions in the Ocalan case. Along with 50 academics that responded to positively to their call, the International Peace Delegation was in Strasbourg between the 18th-22nd of April to meet with the European Council and the CPT. The delegation while joining the continuous vigil that has been ongoing for four years (25 June, 2012) in front of the European Council also conducted meetings with the European Commission’s Cabinet of the General Secretary, political groups of the Parliamentary Assembly, delegations from member countries and the CPT. The delegation made this statement after the meetings:
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THE RESOLUTION
In the light of circumstances, we, the members of the International Peace Delegation, unanimously resolve as follows:
 We call upon the Turkish Government and the Abdullah Öcalan to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency. In December 2012, the Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the Chair of the Elders, which was founded by Nelson Mandela, in a personal note to the then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “Peace is better than War” and appealed to the Prime Minister to resume the peace process with Abdullah Öcalan.
 In order for genuine Peace negotiations to take place to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey that Abdullah Öcalan, who is a crucial role-player, be released unconditionally from prison, to enable him to take his rightful place at the negotiating table for the lasting resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and for the democratization of Turkey.
 We call upon the Turkish Government to level the playing field by, amongst other, legitimizing PKK and other banned organizations, releasing of all political prisoners and permitting exiles to return to the Turkey to participate in the peace process.
 We have to lobby our respective governments and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on the Turkish government to resume the peace process as a matter of urgency and in those countries where PKK is listed as a terrorist organization and Abdullah Öcalan is listed as a terrorist that pressure is put on such government to remove them from such list as they are a liberation movement and a freedom fighter in terms of the International Human Rights Instruments.
 We call upon the international human rights organizations to investigate, as a matter of urgency, the human rights abuse perpetrated by the Turkish authorities against the civilian population in the areas of conflict and to assess and determine whether such abuses constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and/or contravention of the Geneva Convention.
 We call upon the Committee for the Protection against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT), as a matter of extreme urgency, to visit Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island Prison in order investigate the violation of his rights, in terms of the European Convention for the Protection Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as a political prisoner in that (i) his right to have access to his lawyers have been violated for the last 5 years; (ii) his right to have access to members of his family have been violated for the last 14 months; (iii) his right not to be completely isolated from social contact which has been violated for an unknown period; and (iv) his right to have access to medical doctors and/or treatment; and to report urgently on their findings to the Council of Europe, the Turkish government and to Abdullah Öcalan and his lawyers.
 We call upon the international academic fraternity to come out in support of the dissident academics in Turkey in the interest of academic freedom and give them moral, material, physical and academic assistance.
 We call upon members of our delegation to distribute this Report as widely as possible to head of state, foreign minister, ambassadors, officials, the media, both electronic and print, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in our respective countries.
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TRANSFORMATION PERIOD
Due to these policies, for many years Öcalan was held in solitary confinement in hazardous conditions on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul. His health condition has deteriorated because of the harsh environment of the prison. But despite all his personal difficulties, Öcalan has continued to play a central role in Turkey’s politics, and exerts influence among the Kurdish movement which cannot be ignored. From within his prison cell, through his writings and calls, Öcalan changed the paradigm of the PKK in which he called upon them to seek a democratic political solution to the Kurdish question within the borders of Turkey. He also called upon the PKK’s armed forces to withdraw to a position of self-defence.
Since then, Öcalan and the Kurdish national movement have maintained a consistent stand for a peaceful conclusion to the conflict based on the achievement of justice for the Kurdish people. Through continuous discussions their proposals have evolved into the current demand for “democratic autonomy” inside Turkey, a policy which envisages the granting of local decision-making powers in the regions through political, social and cultural rights, such as the use of the Kurdish language and mother tongue education, thus fulfilling longstanding key Kurdish demands.
As a result of the subsequent internalisation of these calls by the PKK, Öcalan advocated a negotiated settlement by putting forward detailed proposals calling on both sides to take steps to bring about a permanent end to the conflict. He has used his stature among the Kurds to urge repeated unilateral ceasefires on Kurdish guerrillas to give peace a chance which they have repeatedly adopted in the face of continued aggression by the Turkish military.
EFFORTS FOR PEACE AND RESPONSE
The first of these calls for peace was in 1999-2004 when the PKK replied to Öcalan’s call to cease fire, and retreated from Turkey in order to change its strategy. As a result, in 1999 the PKK withdrew all armed forces outside the borders of Turkey. This marked the beginning of a five-year cease-fire, the longest in the history of the conflict. In another surprising move in the same year Öcalan suggested that two “peace groups” consisting of PKK members should return to Turkey, as a sign of readiness for a peaceful solution. The two groups did indeed arrive in Turkey. But the members of the peace envoy were immediately arrested, and now serve long prison terms.
The Turkish state wasted this opportunity for peace talks, and did not respond positively by taking this gesture seriously. When the escalation of violence took over, in 2006-2007, Öcalan again intervened and called for another ceasefire from the PKK, which the PKK again duly obliged but was left unanswered by the Turkish state.
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Öcalan’s third call for peace negotiations and a ceasefire came in 2009 when the publicly known ‘Oslo meetings’ was initiated. From 2009 until mid-2011, secret negotiations, later known as the Oslo Process, were held between Öcalan, a government-appointed delegation of the Turkish state and senior PKK members. The subject was a political solution to the Kurdish question. Based on the Road Map to Negotiations, which Öcalan authored in 2009, the parties agreed on three protocols. They contained a phased plan for an end of the conflict and a political solution to the Kurdish issue. Additionally, in 2010, Öcalan called for another peace envoy to enter Turkey. Subsequently, a group of unarmed guerrillas, and a group of refugees from the Mexmûr refugee camp crossed the border from South Kurdistan (Iraq) into Turkey as a symbolic representation of peace and negotiations. Unlike the earlier peace envoy this group was not arrested immediately, creating a false sense of hope and security. The delegation was welcomed ecstatically by Kurds who hoped that “the war had finally ended”.
The Turkish government, however, chose not to implement the plan or engage in discussions, and many members of the peace groups were soon arrested and imprisoned. Due to the escalation of violence after July 2011, Öcalan once again responded to calls by social movements to call for another ceasefire and started a new negotiation process, the so-called ‘Imrali Process’, in early 2013. Finally, this latest most significant attempt was once again halted by President Erdogan when he realised that the process was becoming successful in March, 2015, leading him to state that “there is no negotiating table, no Kurdish question and peace process”. With this statement all hope for a continued peace process were eradicated.
IMPACT ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Abdullah Öcalan is best known as the living symbol for the struggle of the Kurdish people for recognition and self-determination. The continued systematic denial of these rights has paved the way for numerous massacres and genocidal attacks on Kurdish populations in different countries. Resistances against these attacks have resulted in armed conflicts which have contributed to the overall instability in the Middle East. During more than four decades, Öcalan has made a tremendous effort to transform the conflict from an armed struggle into a political one. Through his continuous efforts, now for the first time in decades, a political solution seems to be within reach.
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In a political atmosphere in the Middle East that increasingly dictates national or religious uniformity and oppression of women’s rights, over the last 20 years Öcalan has developed a political philosophy that stands for the implementation of an alternative vision of society. His ideology for peace advocates equal rights for people of all nationalities and beliefs and –especially – the practical recognition of woman’s rights and freedoms in all areas of society. This paradigm has proven to be influential and a source of hope for many groups. Policies that follow his approach have helped to keep the Rojava Kurdish region of Syria peaceful and stable, while most of Syria sank into chaos, which inspired several long-lasting ceasefires and a promising dialogue between two former staunch enemies: the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In Rojava, the inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups like Assyrian, Syriac and Chaldean Christians into the canton administrations came about due to Öcalan’s advocacy and repeated calls for this model. In his writings and statements, Öcalan argues for an inclusive approach and has managed to influence political leaders, Kurdish and non-Kurdish, in the relevant region.
This made the rescue of the Yezidi-Kurds` possible, contributed immensely to the relatively peaceful development of the region amidst the turmoil of the Syrian civil war and serves as a model for the future of Syria and the Middle East in General. This paradigm of Mr. Öcalan has been adopted by the Kurdish movement in Syria who have been in a tense war against ISIL since 2013.
The Kurdish movement in Syria has applied this paradigm in the liberated areas and have proven to be the most effective force against ISIL barbarism. The success of the Kurdish movement in Syria, not only in the fight against ISIL terrorism, but also for an inclusive model of coexistence between long mistrustful ethnic and religious groups is reliant on the ideas and paradigm of Mr. Öcalan. The efforts of Abdullah Öcalan for peace and democracy has not only been welcomed by the Kurds in Turkey but especially the other ethnic-religious groups in Syria fighting ISIL. The model of inclusive coexistence has served and can serve, as a powerful tool for peace, stability and prosperity for the peoples of the region. ISOLATION Abdullah Öcalan last had access to his legal team on 27 July 2011. Since then, Öcalan has been cut off from the outside world. Neither family members nor lawyers are allowed to visit. Telephone calls or written communication are also not possible. Even in Turkish law – which is not at all flexible on political prisoners – there is no legal basis for this total and inhumane isolation. Weekly unconvincing excuses, such as a defective vessel or bad weather, are cited to prevent the due visits occurring. However, Prime Minister Erdogan, as well as Minister of Justice S. Ergin, have both stated publicly that it is the government who blocks every visit. Without a doubt, the prevention of Öcalan from having access to his legal
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team or the peace delegation is a deliberate policy by the AKP government to silence the most powerful Kurdish voice for a peace process, democracy and human rights in Turkey and the region. This deliberate isolation also demonstrates the complete arbitrariness of the AKP government whose representatives publicly defend breaches of the law where Kurdish matters are concerned. Another scandalous and illegal development was the detention of Öcalan’s complete defence team of 36 lawyers who have been in jail for more than half a year now. The real scandal however is the silence of foreign countries. The European Convention on Human Rights is valid in 47 states. For over 40 million Kurds, it seems, it is not. At least not for Abdullah Öcalan. The Council of Europe delegates the responsibility for the appalling prison conditions on Imrali Island to the powerless anti-torture committee (CPT) and otherwise deliberately still ignores the matter. Even the much-appraised European Court for Human Rights has so far not been able to determine the facts and conditions of isolation. Turkey, it seems is not constrained by international human rights laws or conventions. The Kurds and their friends have repeatedly resorted to public and mass protests to show their support for Öcalan, and their rejection of the Turkish government’s anti-democratic and anti-human rights policies towards the Kurds. There have also been many campaigns launched for Öcalan’s freedom. In a signature campaign conducted in 2005-2006, around 3.5 million people from all parts of Kurdistan signed a statement affirming that they regard Öcalan as their political leader. On September 6, 2012, a second signature campaign began, demanding “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan and other political prisoners in Turkey.” The signatories state that “Öcalan’s freedom will mark a breakthrough for the democratization of Turkey and peace in Kurdistan.” The campaign began in Brussels, and subsequently 10, 321 million signatures were gathered. The number of signatures was remarkable considering that the campaign was conducted under immense restrictions— Turkey, Syria, and Iran declared it illegal. Hundreds of people were convicted and sentenced to several years in prison.
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ISOLATION: FACTS AND FIGURES
 In the 16 years of Öcalan’s imprisonment his family and legal team have always been hindered from visiting him. Mr Öcalan was allowed to meet with his lawyers once a week for one hour, although even this right was never consistently implemented. However, since the 27th of July, 2011, Öcalan has been prevented from meeting with his lawyers.
 Mr Öcalan was previously allowed to meet with his family once a week for one hour. In June 2005 this was reduced to one hour once in two weeks. However, this has come to a complete stop since October of 2014.
 These are the figures for applications made by Abdullah Öcalan’s family and lawyers since the 27th of July, 2011:
 From the 27th of July, 2011, to the end of that year, of the 43 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (17 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 23 rejected due to broken down ferry and 2 rejected due to official holidays).
 Throughout the year of 2012 of the 104 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (14 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 73 rejected due to broken down ferry, 16 due to repair of ferry and 1 rejected due to official holidays).
 Throughout the year of 2013 of the 102 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (12 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 86 rejected due to broken down ferry and 4 rejected due to official holidays).
 Throughout the year of 2014 of the 104 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (9 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 86 rejected due to broken down ferry, 6 due to repair of ferry and 3 rejected due to official holidays).
 Throughout the year of 2015 of the 56 applications by Mr Öcalan’s lawyers to meet him none were permitted (5 rejected due to bad weather conditions, 27 rejected due to broken down ferry and 24 due to repair of ferry).
Needless to say, all of the reasons given above are clear violations of Öcalan’s human rights as a political prisoner and in direct breach of international legal norms and values. Nothing has been done since by the Turkish government and the international community and major organizations to address this violation, which not only limits the human rights of Öcalan but also silences the needs of millions of Kurds who rely on Öcalan as the voice for their human rights, calls for peace and democracy. To silence Öcalan is to silence the Kurds and their basic and fundamental human rights.
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THE REALITY IN TURKEY AND THE ONLY WAY FOR PEACE
Turkish context Öcalan’s total isolation is politically thoughtless. It was Öcalan who was able to urge the Kurdish guerilla to adhere to several cease-fires. No one else is capable of exerting such an influence on the Kurdish forces. His constructive proposals for a political solution, laid out in his Road Map, formed the basis of the 3-year negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. A solution to the conflict was within grasp; However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan stopped the negotiations abruptly and stepped up the attacks against Kurdish civil society.
This sudden change in policy by the AKP government solved none of the existing and ongoing problems, but instead created new ones. The clashes between Kurdish guerillas and the Turkish army have rekindled, the situation seems ever more complex and a solution for peace even more out of reach. But even Erdogan will have to realize that the Kurdish issue can only be solved through dialogue and through concrete steps to accept the human rights of ethnic and religious groups in Turkey. With the rise of popular political parties such as HDP, which recently gained a historical win in the Turkish parliament, the democratic call of the people of Turkey for peace, for democratization, for political reforms, gender equality and human rights is increasing. It is essential that the Turkish government resumes negotiations to prevent further bloodshed.
Öcalan’s actions throughout the last years have proven that the Kurdish leader is able to play a balancing role regarding Turkish and Kurdish interests. This balance is the precondition for a lasting and legitimate peace. The ball is now in the Turkish government’s court to put things on track.
Abdullah Öcalan’s release, as a vital contribution to the solution of the conflict, is therefore inevitable. To continue to silence and isolate Öcalan is to continue to ignore the Kurdish question in Turkey, and to fail to take concrete steps towards political reforms and democratization. To fail to address this issue humanly and according to international legal norms and values is to highlight that Turkey has no intention to uphold universal human rights.
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“Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan” signature campaign
I support the demand “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan and the political prisoners in Turkey”.
Öcalan’s freedom will mark a breakthrough for the democratisation of Turkey and peace in Kurdistan.
Name & surname (block letters)
Profession / organisation
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Signature
Email (optional)
Please return to: International Initiative, P.O. Box 100511, D-50445 Cologne | http://www.freeocalan.org
____________________________________________________________

EXTRACTS FROM      The Democratic Solution to the Syrian Conflict.

Considering the huge number of complex problems that it faces, Syria requires a radical solution that addresses not only the symptoms but also the causes, lest reaction reemerge.

Foundations Of The Democratic Solution

The Democratic Self-Administration is the tangible expression of the democratic solution in the context of solving all ethnic issues, including the Kurdish issue. The traditional approach was to try to get a share in the Syrian state, or form semi-independent ethnic states, or create a federal state or confederation. However, the first demand of a democratic Syria is that it recognize the rights of all ethnic and religious groups to manage themselves according to their own free will, and to put no obstacles on the path of becoming a national democratic society. It must affirm the democratic the right of peoples to self-determination. Democracy and the state can play their roles under the same political roof, and the democratic constitution sets the boundaries between their spheres of influence.”

Social Foundations

Building a democratic Syria requires ridding it of the concept of central state authority, which has led it to the brink of destruction, and democratizing the social structure.”

Furthermore, in Syria’s democratic solution, the individual becomes a citizen within the framework of constitutional citizenship, while also being a free individual in his democratic society. So too the constituent peoples retain their democratic social identity in the framework of constitutional citizenship.

In the Democratic Nation, those rights will be guaranteed in a constitution, including a right to semi-democratic independence. Thus, all of Syria’s genuine social constituents can have the character of free individual in a democratic community along with the constitutional citizenship of the mother state, interactively and synchronously. In other words, citizenship will be bilateral and dual.

Political Foundations

No social entity can exist without having its own administration. In Syria we must provide for the cultural diversity of the constituent peoples at all levels and in all directions, reserving the Syrian state as a “special” reality. We must emphasize a sort of independence and freedom for all the peoples, identities, and affiliations while retaining the democratic central entity. This is possible only through a combination of centralization and decentralization, because Syria is the country of constituent peoples, all of whom must be allowed to enjoy their rights fully.”

The role of the center should be to the benefit the parties, and the powers of the central authorities should be reduced in favor of local self-administrations.”

In other words, centralization will overlap with decentralization, allowing the constituent peoples to appear, develop their identities, and express themselves. Surely, the new administrative divisions must be commensurate with the distribution of constituent peoples and identities. In each one, each part will be represented in the self-administration. Decentralization will guarantee both centralization and common life, because the common citizenship will be a mental and practical expression of the free administration of all members of any group.”

Economic Foundations

The economic system of the Democratic Nation and the Democratic Self- Administration stops this barbaric practice and works to restore community control over the economy, and at the lowest levels to reconcile the state and self-administrations. So the semi-independent economy basically works under the ecological industry and the commune economy as a reflection of democracy. The semi-independent economy accepts markets and trade but does not allow the economy to achieve profit for the accumulation of capital.”

Legal Foundations

In the democratic solution, the Democratic Nation is based on social morality more than on law. It meets the need to develop lawful organizations and organizes the community according to ethical standards for the positive application of rights and constitutions.”

Foundations of Self-Defense

In the democratic solution, the democratic constitution will organize the work of the defense establishment. Inside the country, the society should build community and civil society institutions in all areas, despite possible exposure to attacks on anything from language to economy, security, etc. An organizational structure on all these levels is needed to enable the society to defend its essential elements. In the Democratic Nation, all civil society organizations, as a means of protection and development, will organize defense institutions, including the military and security forces, in accordance with the established format for the democratic homeland, which we aim to build from self-willed institutions.”

The system will defend the nation as a whole, represented by the state and the relevant public institutions. Here, it is necessary to regulate the relationship between state institutions, insofar as they are national, and the local institutions of decentralized Syria. Syria should be divided administratively, and each province or administrative region can and should form its own forces. But it does so without compromising the unity of the homeland and its centrality; at one level, centralization and decentralization will merge harmoniously.”

Cultural Foundations

By constitutional guarantee, Syria will be common homeland of all religions, creeds, languages, beliefs, who will all coexist. In short, ours is a democratic cultural revolution of multilateralism against unilateralism, of expression rather than denial. The revolution will adopt all the authentic languages as official languages. It will enable citizens to learn and teach one another’s languages, opening linguistic and cultural academies and cultural centers.”

Diplomatic Foundations

The units of the Democratic Self-Administration can maintain diplomatic relations with other units provided they respect the laws and the constitution of the center.

The Syria of the Future

Decentralizing Syria does not mean canceling the center entirely; rather, the functions of the center will shift from controlling to coordinating and unifying the parts that make up the whole, while retaining the essential functions of the overall strategy. In the Syrian Republic, the state must stand equidistant to cultures, religions, and languages. Separating religion and state will be one mission to secure the atmosphere of democracy, so that no religious constituents of the community control or marginalize any of the others. The new administrative divisions must accord with scientific criteria that take into account the fact of Syria’s cultural diversity, after getting rid of the mentality that dominated the country during the previous decades.”

No democracy can exist in Syria unless self-administrations have been established to solve its problems democratically.”

All the constituent peoples in the Syrian community— Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen, as well as Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis—cross boundaries: that is, the lands where they live do not begin or end at the state borders. This diversity will foster correct and healthy relations with neighboring countries, and it will also form a fertile ground for the construction of democratic confederal relationships that will spread in the Middle East, one that inherently rejects ethnic and religious nationalism as well as the nation-state.”

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(This report is not specifically about Rojava, but concerns a directly related struggle)

The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement recently issued a declaration of social-ecological aims. 

Final Declaration of the First Conference of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, April 23-24, 2016, in Wan (Van), North Kurdistan

On April 23 and 24, 2016, the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) held its first conference in the city of Wan (Van). One hundred delegates participated, coming from the provinces Amed (Diyarbakir), Dîlok (Gaziantep), Riha (Sanliurfa), Merdîn, Muş, Wan, Elih (Batman), Siirt, Dersîm, and Bedlîs (Bitlis) in Turkey.

Activists from the following movements and groups also participated: Gaya magazine, Anti Nuclear Platform, Green Resistance, Green Newspaper, Green and Left Party, Black Sea in Rebellion, Defense of North Forests, Water Rights Campaign, and Dersîm-Ovacik Municipality; and from the German group International Coordination of Revolutionary Parties and Organizations (ICOR) and the East Kurdistan group Green Chiya.

In addition, representatives of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Free Women of Kurdistan (KJA), Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were present. Taken together, a total of 170 people joined the first large gathering of the MEM assembled since its founding.

The conference was organized during a period of intensive political struggle on the part of people in Kurdistan for freedom and self-governance, a struggle that may significantly change the future of the region but that also demands many victims.

Based on the trinity of city, class, and state and using the method of domination–capital accumulation, capitalist modernity creates a suffocating and unproductive society even as it presents nature with every kind of destruction. On behalf of the existing hegemonic system, the nation-state und its governments disperse the solidaristic character of society and instead impose unemployment, poverty, unhealthy nourishment via industrial agriculture and GMOs, and the cultural-social devastation on the people. Huge destructive projects like the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the Ilisu Dam, the Munzur dams, Green Way, and Cerattepe Mining and Kanal Istanbul have been developed with the aim of clearing forests for construction, commercializing the waters, commodifying the land, controlling nature and people, and promoting the consumption of fossil fuels, all of which alienates people from original nature and from social life.

Currently, the ruling regime in Turkey is carrying out a campaign of brutality in Kurdistan that is incomparable in the recent history of the Middle East. In a new, perfidious dimension, it has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people from Sur, Nusaybin, Hezex, Kerboran, Farqin, Şırnak, Gever, Silopi, and Cizre, cities that are systematically being destroyed. Yet the international public remains silent on the destruction of nature and cities and on all the massacres of people.

The nation-state’s monist and denialist mentality and capitalist modernity’s unlimited profit-, competition-, and domination-seeking character have brought the world to its current grave state. Social disasters become ecological disasters, and vice versa. Society and humanity must put a stop to this development, for if it continues, we will reach the point where a turnaround is no longer possible. Therefore the mobilization of an ecological resistance is crucially important.

Despite the mentality and practices of destruction, a turnaround is possible. To achive it, we must mobilize the ecological struggle against wars and against the numerous dams, coal plants, and mines that are poised to eliminate our life-areas and our cultural and social values. We have to spread the ecological struggle using the maxim “Communalize our land, waters, and energy and set up a free, democratic life.” We must defend the democratic nation against the nation-state; the communal economy against capitalism, with its quick-profit-seeking logic and monopolism and large industries; organic agriculture, ecological villages and cities, ecological industry, and alternative energy and technology against the agricultural and energy policies imposed by capitalist modernity.

Since the ecological struggle is the touchstone for the liberation of all humanity, every action may bring us closer to a free individual and a free society. Our struggle to reach our natural and societal truth, the fundamental justification of our existence, is an important contribution to the liberation of people and nature on our planet. With great excitement, which we feel deeply, we assume our role in this struggle.

Our paradigm, which heralds a bright age in the twenty-first century and coming millennia, is a radical democratic, communal, ecological, women-liberated society. The ecological struggle goes beyond any single struggle to encompass the vital essence of the free life paradigm. Without ecology, society cannot exist, and without humanity and nature, ecology cannot exist. Ecology, as the essence and self of the millennia-old universal dialectic of formation, interweaves all interconnected natural processes as like the rings of a chain.

The struggle against capitalist modernity is the struggle to develop a democratic, social, and liberatory mindset, and the struggle against state-sovereignty is the struggle to become a social subject. This can develop only through a social movement, through a struggle for freedom that takes a stand against the system that jeopardizes nature, society, and the individual in the interests of capitalist profit and state hegemony.

In the Middle East, the history of ecology has not yet been written. To achieve the liberation of women, it has been necessary to learn the history of woman; just so, to achieve an ecological society, it is necessary to know the history of ecology. By opening up ecology academies, we can bring ecological consciousness as an essential component to programs of study in all social spheres and all academic curricula. Bringing ecological consciousness and sensibility to the organized social sphere and to educational institutions is as vital as organizing our own assemblies.

In relation to the construction of a democratic and ecological society, our conference passed several important resolutions that we hope will constitute an intellectual, organizational, and operational contribution for the global ecological movements. Some of the resolutions are:

– To establish a strategic intellectual, organizational, and operational coordination with national and international ecology movements in order to enhance common discussions and actions against ecological destruction and exploitation.

– To struggle against the mental, physical, and ideological destruction of energy, water, forests, soil, cities, agriculture seeds, and technology; and based on the approved policies of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, to mobilize a struggle for the construction of a new life.

– To fight the system that demolishes urban settlements and burns forests in Kurdistan; to publicize the ecological devastation experienced in Kurdistan and to map the devastations occurring within the war.

– To plan actions, in coordination with other ecology movements, against the destruction of cities in Kurdistan; to ensure our active participation in solidarity platforms that have been established in these cities.

– To continue struggles to preserve cultural and natural sites in Kurdistan that face extinction—such as Hasankeyf, Diyarbakır-Sur, the Munzur Valley, and “Gele Goderne”—due to the energy and security policies.

– To develop an ecological model suitable for Kurdistan.

– To build a greater and more regular presence in print and digital media and to establish ecology academies.

– To carry out legal struggles parallel to ongoing actions and campaigns.

-To expand the own organizational structures throughout Kurdistan and Middle East.

Lightly edited by Janet Biehl. If your group would like to connect with the MEM, please write to mehdiplo@riseup.net.

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DECLARATION OF THE ROJAVA-NORTH SYRIA DEMOCRATIC FEDERAL SYSTEM

17 March 2016

The meeting of the Constituent Assembly for the establishment of the Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federal System has ended with the final declaration being read.

The two-day meeting held in the Rimelan town of Girkê Legê (Al-Muabbada) ended today, 17 March.

Attended by 31 parties and 200 delegates representing Rojava’s Kobane, Afrin and Cizire cantons and the Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, Syriac, Armenian, Turkmen and Chechen peoples of Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), Shaddadi, Aleppo and Shehba regions, the meeting was followed by a press statement attended by all components.

The final declaration was read in Arabic by the Rojava-North Syria Democratic Federal System Constituent Assembly co-president Mensur El-Selum.

The declaration is as follows:

To the Syrian, regional, and global public.

In response to the appeal made by the General Coordination of Democratic Self-Administration Areas (Cizire, Kobane and Afrin), all components of the political forces, parties, and social actors in the cantons of Rojava and the areas liberated from terrorist forces held a meeting resulting in a comprehensive political vision for a Syrian resolution and an agreement on the management system for Rojava/Northern Syria. This can serve as a model for the rest of Syria, providing a solution for the Syrian crisis. We, the representatives of these areas, met on 16th and 17th March 2016.

We commemorate with respect the martyrs of our people, who wrote with their blood the heroic resistance that has brought our people to the milestone they are at today.

This aforementioned meeting resulted in the following decisions.

1. The democratic federal system encapsulates all social components and guarantees that a future Syria will be for all Syrians.

2. All work will be towards establishing a democratic federal system for Rojava/Northern Syria.

3. Co-presidents and a 31-person Organising Council were elected.

4. The Organising Council was assigned to prepare a social contract and a comprehensive political and legal vision for this system within a period not exceeding six months.

5. All assembly committees and documents will adhere to UN resolutions on human rights and societal democratic systems. Furthermore, all attendees of the meeting see themselves as part of the new system being constructed and are aware of the deep ties it has with the people of Syria; they predicate their participation on the fraternity of peoples and peace.

6. Women’s freedom is the essence of the federal democratic system. Women have the right to equal participation and in decision-related responsibilities in relation to female issues. Women will be represented as equals in all spheres of life, including all social and political spheres.

7. The peoples and communities living in the federal system in Rojava/Northern Syria can develop their political, economic, social, cultural, and democratic relations with whom they see fit, or share their beliefs and culture with the people and communities on a regional and international level, provided that this relationship does not interfere with the objectives and interests of the federal democratic system.

8. The peoples of regions liberated by the democratic forces from terrorist organisations will have the right to become a part of the federal democratic system of Rojava-Northern Syria, if they so choose.

9. The goal of the Rojava/Northern Syria democratic federal system on the regional level is to achieve democratic union between all the peoples of the Middle East in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres and transcend national state borders to create a secure, peaceful and fraternal life for all.

10. The creation of a federal and democratic system shall take place within a sovereign Syria.

To all people in Syria, Kurdistan and Rojava and all groups and social classes.

We are going through a historical phase and critical circumstances. Today, Syria is experiencing the worst tragedy in its history. Millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, not to mention the immense damage that the infrastructure of Syria has suffered.

In spite of this, a democratic experience has been created and defended in Rojava with the blood of martyrs. Great gains have been achieved in this period. This is a real opportunity to build a federal democratic system. We are sure and confident that this will be a model for a solution to the Syrian crisis.

In the framework of the decisions we have taken, we are calling foremostly on women who represent a new and free life, as well as young people, communities, workers and all other social sectors to join in the construction of a democratic federal system. We are also calling on all progressive humanity and democratic forces to support our efforts.

Long live our people’s determination, their coexistence, and their unity.

Constituent Assembly for the establishment of a Federal Democratic Rojava/Northern Syria.

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Here is a letter I wote to the Huddersfield Examiner, which was printed on 2 December 2015, the day of the House of Commons debate on military action in Syria.

Dear Editor,

The downing of a Russian plane by Turkey clearly shows the potential for a sudden and unpredictable escalation of the current conflict in Syria. In these circumstances Jeremy Corbyn is quite right not to give the UK government a blank cheque to bomb the country. Without a coherent policy clarifying who is the target of the bombing, on whose behalf it is to be carried out and what post-war political solution for Syria is envisaged, this can only lead to another disastrous debacle like we have seen in Iraq and Libya.

Mr Cameron has claimed that there are 75,000 moderate opposition fighters without identifying who they are, who they are opposed to, or what kind of Syria they want to create. Meanwhile the Kurdish led Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) , the only forces who have a clear political vision, based on a democratic, non-sectarian, multi-ethnic Syria , are treated with disdain by the UK government. The YPG’s links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are used as an excuse to sideline the only effective forces in Syria because the PKK is categorised as a ‘terrorist organisation’. This classification is not because the PKK actually is a terrorist organisation, or poses any threat to civilians, but simply to appease the Turkish government which continues to deny rights to its Kurdish population. The consequences of this absurd policy were shown only last week when a young woman was gaoled in London because she wished to fight with Kurdish forces AGAINST the Daish (Islamic State).

Since the YPG and its allies constitute the only viable force in Syria able to counter the Daish, a coherent policy of intervention in the form of aerial bombing would have to focus on supporting these forces. This cannot be done by the strategic bombing of cities like Raqqa, where the Daish are embedded in the civilian population and which would result in high civilian casualties that would only feed the Daish propaganda machine.

Britain should not become involved in the Syrian conflict unless its role is restricted to providing tactical support on the battlefield for the Syrian Democratic Forces led by the YPG. Bombing front-line troop positions, command and control centres, or supply lines in liaison with the YPG could prove successful, as it did with US air support for the Kurds in the siege of Kobani. However, the question remains whether the UK could make a meaningful contribution. It also raises the spectre of ‘mission creep’ whereby tactical bombing would lead to a widening of targets which would kill civilians.

Since the French, Americans , Russians and some Arab states are already involved in Syria, Britain’s minor contribution to the war effort has little military significance. Rather Cameron , in a Blair moment, wants to appear that he is doing something, anything, so he can appear to be a world leader. He also believes that by taking part in the war the UK will have a say in the post war carve-up of Syria, because that is what it will become. There is also a large dose of hypocrisy in the UK and NATO supporting Turkey and Saudi Arabia in their efforts to overthrow Assad , when both countries have been implicated in support for the Daish.

The best thing the UK government can do is focus on giving vital equipment and expertise to the Kurds of Rojava (Northern Syria) so they can both more effectively fight the Daish and rebuild their devastated country. That is the only way the UK can support the real democratic forces in Syria without becoming embroiled in a quagmire beneficial neither to the people of Syria, or the UK.

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LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
Vol 38 No 5 3 Mar 2016

End Times for the Caliphate?
Patrick Cockburn

You are invited to read this free essay from the London Review of Books. Subscribe now to access every article from every fortnightly issue of the London Review of Books, including the entire LRB archive of over 13,500 essays and reviews.

The war in Syria and Iraq has produced two new de facto states in the last five years and enabled a third quasi-state greatly to expand its territory and power. The two new states, though unrecognised internationally, are stronger militarily and politically than most members of the UN. One is the Islamic State, which established its caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq in the summer of 2014 after capturing Mosul and defeating the Iraqi army. The second is Rojava, as the Syrian Kurds call the area they gained control of when the Syrian army largely withdrew in 2012, and which now, thanks to a series of victories over IS, stretches across northern Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates. In Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), already highly autonomous, took advantage of IS’s destruction of Baghdad’s authority in northern Iraq to expand its territory by 40 per cent, taking over areas long disputed between itself and Baghdad, including the Kirkuk oilfields and some mixed Kurdish-Arab districts.

The question is whether these radical changes in the political geography of the Middle East will persist – or to what extent they will persist – when the present conflict is over. The Islamic State is likely to be destroyed eventually, such is the pressure from its disunited but numerous enemies, though its adherents will remain a force in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Islamic world. The Kurds are in a stronger position, benefiting as they do from US support, but that support exists only because they provide some 120,000 ground troops which, in co-operation with the US-led coalition air forces, have proved an effective and politically acceptable counter to IS. The Kurds fear that this support will evaporate if and when IS is defeated and they will be left to the mercy of resurgent central governments in Iraq and Syria as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. ‘We don’t want to be used as cannon fodder to take Raqqa,’ a Syrian Kurdish leader in Rojava told me last year. I heard the same thing this month five hundred miles to the east, in KRG territory near Halabja on the Iranian border, from Muhammad Haji Mahmud, a veteran Peshmerga commander and general secretary of the Socialist Party, who led one thousand fighters to defend Kirkuk from IS in 2014. His son Atta was killed in the battle. He said he worried that ‘once Mosul is liberated and IS defeated, the Kurds won’t have the same value internationally.’ Without this support, the KRG would be unable to hold onto its disputed territories.

The rise of the Kurdish states isn’t welcomed by any country in the region, though some – including the governments in Baghdad and Damascus – have found the development to be temporarily in their interest and are in any case too weak to resist it. But Turkey has been appalled to find that the Syrian uprising of 2011, which it hoped would usher in an era of Turkish influence spreading across the Middle East, has instead produced a Kurdish state that controls half of the Syrian side of Turkey’s 550-mile southern border. Worse, the ruling party in Rojava is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which in all but name is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which Ankara has been fighting a guerrilla war since 1984. The PYD denies the link, but in every PYD office there is a picture on the wall of the PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999. In the year since IS was finally defeated in the siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, Rojava has expanded territorially in every direction as its leaders repeatedly ignore Turkish threats of military action against them. Last June, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) captured Tal Abyad, an important crossing point on the Turkish border north of Raqqa, allowing the PYD to link up two of its three main enclaves, around the cities of Kobani and Qamishli; it is now trying to reach the third enclave, further west, at Afrin. These swift advances are possible only because the Kurdish forces are operating under a US-led air umbrella that vastly multiplies their firepower. I was just east of Tal Abyad shortly before the final YPG attack and coalition aircraft roared continuously overhead. In both Syria and Iraq, the Kurds identify targets, call in air strikes and then act as a mopping-up force. Where IS stands and fights it suffers heavy casualties. In the siege of Kobani, which lasted for four and half months, 2200 IS fighters were killed, most of them by US air strikes.

Ankara has warned several times that if the Kurds move west towards Afrin the Turkish army will intervene. In particular, it stipulated that the YPG must not cross the Euphrates: this was a ‘red line’ for Turkey. But when in December the YPG sent its Arab proxy militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), across the Euphrates at the Tishrin Dam, the Turks did nothing – partly because the advance was supported at different points by both American and Russian air strikes on IS targets. Turkish objections have become increasingly frantic since the start of the year because the YPG and the Syrian army, though their active collaboration is unproven, have launched what amounts to a pincer movement on the most important supply lines of the IS and non-IS opposition, which run down a narrow corridor between the Turkish border and Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city. On 2 February the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes, cut the main road link towards Aleppo and a week later the SDF captured Menagh airbase from the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front, which Turkey has been accused of covertly supporting in the past. On 14 February, Turkish artillery started firing shells at the forces that had captured the base and demanded that they evacuate it. The complex combination of militias, armies and ethnic groups struggling to control this small but vital area north of Aleppo makes the fighting there confusing even by Syrian standards. But if the opposition is cut off from Turkey for long it will be seriously and perhaps fatally weakened. The Sunni states – notably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – will have failed in their long campaign to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Turkey will be faced with the prospect of a hostile PKK-run statelet along its southern flank, making it much harder for it to quell the low-level but long-running PKK-led insurgency among its own 17 million Kurdish minority.
Erdoğan is said to have wanted Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria since May last year, but until now he has been restrained by his army commanders. They argued that Turkey would be entering a highly complicated war in which it would be opposed by the US, Russia, Iran, the Syrian army, the PYD and IS while its only allies would be Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf monarchies. Entry into the Syrian war would certainly be a tremendous risk for Turkey, which, despite all its thunderous denunciations of the PYD and YPG as ‘terrorists’, has largely confined itself to small acts of sometimes vindictive retaliation. Ersin Umut Güler, a Turkish Kurd actor and director in Istanbul, was refused permission to bring home for burial the body of his brother Aziz, who had been killed fighting IS in Syria. Before he stepped on a landmine, Aziz had been with the YPG, but he was a Turkish citizen and belonged to a radical socialist Turkish party – not the PKK. ‘It’s like something out of Antigone,’ Ersin said. His father had travelled to Syria and was refusing to return without the body, but the authorities weren’t relenting.
The Turkish response to the rise of Rojava is belligerent in tone but ambivalent in practice. On one day a minister threatens a full-scale ground invasion and on the next another official rules it out or makes it conditional on US participation, which is unlikely. Turkey blamed a car bomb in Ankara that killed 28 people on 17 February on the YPG, which must increase the chances of intervention, but in the recent past Turkish actions have been disjointed and counterproductive. When on 24 November a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian bomber in what appears to have been a carefully planned attack, the predictable result was that Russia sent sophisticated fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft missile systems to establish air supremacy over northern Syria. This means that if Turkey were to launch a ground invasion, it would have to do so without air cover and its troops would be exposed to bombing by Russian and Syrian planes. Many Kurdish political leaders argue that a Turkish military invasion is unlikely: Fuad Hussein, the KRG’s president’s chief of staff, told me in Erbil last month that ‘if Turkey was going to intervene then it would have done so before shooting down the Russian jet’ – though this assumes, of course, that Turkey knows how to act in its own best interests. He argued that the conflict would be decided by two factors: who is winning on the battlefield and the co-operation between the US and Russia. ‘If the crisis is to be solved,’ he said, ‘it will be solved by agreement between the superpowers’ – and in the Middle East at least Russia has regained superpower status. A new loose alliance between the US and Russia, though interrupted by bouts of Cold War-style rivalry, produced an agreement in Munich on 12 February for aid to be delivered to besieged Syrian towns and cities and a ‘cessation of hostilities’ to be followed by a more formal ceasefire. A de-escalation of the crisis will be difficult to orchestrate, but the fact that the US and Russia are co-chairing a taskforce overseeing it shows the extent to which they are displacing local and regional powers as the decision-makers in Syria.
For the Kurds in Rojava and KRG territory this is a testing moment: if the war ends their newly won power could quickly slip away. They are, after all, only small states – the KRG has a population of about six million and Rojava 2.2 million – surrounded by much larger ones. And their economies are barely floating wrecks. Rojava is well organised but blockaded on all sides and unable to sell much of its oil. Seventy per cent of the buildings in Kobani were pulverised by US bombing. People have fled from cities like Hasaka that are close to the frontline. The KRG’s economic problems are grave and probably insoluble unless there is an unexpected rise in the price of oil. Three years ago, it advertised itself as ‘the new Dubai’, a trading hub and oil state with revenues sufficient to make it independent of Baghdad. When the oil boom peaked in 2013, the newly built luxury hotels in Erbil were packed with foreign trade delegations and businessmen. Today the hotels and malls are empty and Iraqi Kurdistan is full of half-built hotels and apartment buildings.

The end of the KRG boom has been a devastating shock for the population, many of whom are trying to migrate to Western Europe. There are frequent memorial prayers in mosques for those who have drowned in the Aegean crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands. The state’s oil revenues now stand at about $400 million a month; expenditure is $1.1 billion, so few of the 740,000 government employees are being paid. In desperation, the government has seized money from the banks. ‘My mother went to her bank where she thought she had $20,000,’ Nazdar Ibrahim, an economist at Salahaddin University in Erbil, told me. ‘They said: “We don’t have your money because the government has taken it.” Nobody is putting money in the banks and it is destroying the banking system.’

The KRG promoted itself as a ‘different Iraq’, and so, in some respects, it is: it’s much safer to live in than Baghdad or Basra. Though Mosul isn’t far away, there have been few bomb attacks or kidnappings in Iraqi Kurdistan compared to elsewhere in the country. But the KRG is an oil state that depends wholly on oil revenues. The region produces almost nothing else: even the vegetables in the markets are imported from Turkey and Iran and prices are high. Nazdar Ibrahim said that clothes she could buy in Turkey for $10 cost three times as much at home; Iraqi Kurdistan, she suggested, was as expensive to live in as Norway or Switzerland. The KRG’s president, Massoud Barzani, has declared he will hold a referendum on Kurdish independence, but this is not an attractive option at a time of general economic ruin. Asos Hardi, the editor of a newspaper in Sulaymaniyah, says protests are spreading and in any case ‘even at the height of the boom there was popular anger at the clientism and corruption.’ The Iraqi Kurdish state – far from becoming more independent – is being forced to look to outside powers, including Baghdad, to save it from further economic collapse.

Similar things are happening elsewhere in the region: people who have been smuggled out of Mosul say that the caliphate is buckling under military and economic pressure. Its enemies have captured Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit in Iraq and the YPG and the Syrian army are driving it back in Syria and are closing in on Raqqa. The ground forces attacking IS – the YPG, the Syrian army, Iraqi armed forces and Peshmerga – are all short of manpower (in the struggle for Ramadi the Iraqi military assault force numbered only 500 men), but they can call in devastating air strikes on any IS position. Since it was defeated at Kobani, IS has avoided set-piece battles and has not fought to the last man to defend any of its cities, though it has considered doing so in Raqqa and Mosul. The Pentagon, the Iraqi government and the Kurds exaggerate the extent of their victories over IS, but it is taking heavy losses and is isolated from the outside world with the loss of its last link to Turkey. The administrative and economic infrastructure of the caliphate is beginning to break under the strain of bombing and blockade. This is the impression given by people who left Mosul in early February and took refuge in Rojava.

Their journey wasn’t easy, since IS prohibits people from leaving the caliphate – it doesn’t want a mass exodus. Those who have got out report that IS is becoming more violent in enforcing fatwas and religious regulations. Ahmad, a 35-year-old trader from the al-Zuhour district of Mosul, where he owns a small shop, reported that ‘if somebody is caught who has shaved off his beard, he is given thirty lashes, while last year they would just arrest him for a few hours.’ The treatment of women in particular has got worse: ‘IS insists on women wearing veils, socks, gloves and loose or baggy clothes and, if she does not, the man with her will be lashed.’ Ahmad also said that living conditions have deteriorated sharply and the actions of IS officials become more arbitrary: ‘They take food without paying and confiscated much of my stock under the pretence of supporting the Islamic State militiamen. Everything is expensive and the stores are half-empty. The markets were crowded a year ago, but not for the last ten months because so many people have fled and those that have stayed are unemployed.’ There has been no mains electricity for seven months and everybody depends on private generators which run on locally refined fuel. This is available everywhere, but is expensive and of such poor quality that it works only for generators and not for cars – and the generators often break down. There is a shortage of drinking water. ‘Every ten days, we have water for two hours,’ Ahmad said. ‘The water we get from the tap is not clean, but we have to drink it.’ There is no mobile phone network and the internet is available only in internet cafés that are closely monitored by the authorities for sedition. There are signs of growing criminality and corruption, though this may mainly be evidence that IS is in desperate need of money. When Ahmad decided to flee he contacted one of many smugglers operating in the area between Mosul and the Syrian frontier. He said the cost for each individual smuggled into Rojava is between $400 and $500. ‘Many of the smugglers are IS men,’ he said, but he didn’t know whether the organisation’s leaders knew what was happening. They certainly know that there are increasing complaints about living conditions because they have cited a hadith, a saying of the Prophet, against such complaints. Those who violate the hadith are arrested and sent for re-education. Ahmad’s conclusion: ‘Dictators become very violent when they sense that their end is close.’

How accurate is Ahmad’s prediction that the caliphate is entering its final days? It is certainly weakening, but this is largely because the war has been internationalised since 2014 by US and Russian military intervention. Local and regional powers count for less than they did. The Iraqi and Syrian armies, the YPG and the Peshmerga can win victories over IS thanks to close and massive air support. They can defeat it in battle and can probably take the cities it still rules, but none of them will be able fully to achieve their war aims without the continued backing of a great power. Once the caliphate is gone, however, the central governments in Baghdad and Damascus may grow stronger again. The Kurds wonder if they will then be at risk of losing all the gains they have made in the war against Islamic State.

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8th December 2015

ANF/ANHA/Kurdish Question

The Democratic Syria Conference seeking a resolution to the crisis in Syria has started in the city of Dêrîk in Rojava (N.Syria) under the slogan “Towards the building of a free and democratic Syria”.

The conference is being attended by 103 delegates representing Syrian political, military and societal opposition organisations including representatives from Democratic Autonomy Administration (TEV-DEM), Rojava Political Consultation Party Group, Syrian Democratic Community, Honor and Rights Agreement Community, Wheat Wave Movement (Teyar El-Qemih), Syrian National Democratic Consensus Committee.

The participants also include Cairo Congress Dialogue Committee, Arab National Council, Yekîtiya Star organisation, Initiative of Syrian Women, Syriac Women’s Union, Progressive Democratic Party of Syrian Kurds, Democratic Modernity Party, Kurdistan Freedom Party, Democratic Assyrian Party, Tal Abyad Turkmen Community as well as many independent individuals, prominent figures from Kurdish and Arab tribes, writers and journalists.

The Democratic Syria Conference is the first of its kind seeking a resolution to the crisis in Syria and has convened in what commentators are saying is an alternative to the Riyadh Conference in Saudi Arabia. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People’s and Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) were not invited to the meeting in Riyadh, which is being attended by jihadist groups like Ahrar Al-Sham and Jaysh Al-Islam.

PYD co-chair Saleh Moslem has commented on the Riyadh Conference saying, “The meeting is being organised in accordance with the demand of some regional and international forces. It doesn’t pay regard to the current political and military reality in Syria and the region as the most active and dynamic actors and representatives of the actual Syrian opposition haven’t been invited. In the circumstances, such meetings will have no seriousness.”

Stressing that the Riyadh meeting will also remain inconclusive just like the previous Geneva and similar meetings, Moslem said “Such a meeting will not serve the peoples of Syria because of the very clear reason that it offers no concrete project or political path for a solution to the Syrian crisis. Nor does the meeting determine anything regarding the rights of the Kurdish people who are giving the most effective fight against gang groups at a very heavy cost.”

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 A report on Rojava by Adrian Cruden of the Green Party can be found at:

http://thepointhowever.org/index.php/international/313-demolishing-the-ziggurat-revolution-in-rojava

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A new wave of international volunteers is flocking to Kurdish territory in Rojava, Syria to play their part in building a new society. Here, one young British activist tells of his reasons for travelling to join the revolution, and what he saw when he got there

1. Call And Response

Tonight we wait to cross. I attempt to copy the guides as they expertly cup their hands to hide the glow of their cigarettes and burn my palm as I draw in. Looking at my watch I see we’ve been here for four hours now. Can we relax or should we stay ready? Even if I spoke Kurdish I’m not close enough to our guides to ask, and cannot risk moving. In the valley an armoured car rumbles slowly past, scanning for us with its searchlight.

Next to me Ernst has already begun to snore. We are each other’s responsibility when the time comes to make the 100m dash to the razor wire, under it, and away. He is the oldest in our brigade, celebrating his 76th birthday in our work camp in the ruined city of Kobane, away from his wife and grown up daughters. Are they political too? I asked him one night on guard duty.

“No. No. But they appreciate their daddy, their old revolutionary.”

I share his faith, and somewhere with us in the darkness too is Kris, just 18; are we a new breed or just echoes of the past? Was our time here supporting the revolution in Rojava, a tiny strip of land in Syrian Kurdistan,a pilgrimage for red devotees – or is it part of a modern wave of internationalism? I pull my hood up and sleep.

The sheer barbarity of ISIS seems to go hand in hand with their rapid, unchecked expansion, like an elemental evil. When they were beaten on mount Sinjar by the Kurds, the world united in admiration; the images of the Women’s Defence Force (YPJ) felt like history’s answer to the misogyny of ISIS. On the London left support was unanimous, though what exactly we were supporting seemed unclear. In the 2013 Rojava Revolution the region declared not independence from Syria, but autonomy; there was a contradiction between the Rojava’s formally elected government, led by the largest Kurdish party, the PYD, and reports that, following the teachings of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, networks of popular assemblies ran the region, as anarchists such as David Graeber have argued. Some even called it a stateless democracy.

For more see:

http://littleatoms.com/revolution-mountains-syria-kurdistan

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FINANCIAL TIMES
October 23, 2015 6:20 pm

Power to the people: a Syrian experiment in democracy

Carne Ross
The Kurds in Rojava are testing a democratic model shaped by the political philosophy of an American eco-anarchist

Perhaps the last place you would expect to find a thriving experiment in direct democracy is Syria. But something radical is happening, little noticed, in the eastern reaches of that fractured country, in the isolated region known to the Kurds as Rojava.
Just as remarkable, perhaps, is that the philosophy that inspired self-government here was originated by a little-known American political thinker and one-time “eco-activist” whose ideas found their way to Syria through a Kurdish leader imprisoned upon an island in the Sea of Marmara. It’s a story that bizarrely connects a war-torn Middle East with New York’s Lower East Side.
I visited Rojava last month while filming a documentary about the failings of the western model of democracy. The region covers a substantial “corner” of north-east Syria and has a population of approximately 3m, yet it is not easy to get to. The only passage is by small boat or a creaky pontoon bridge across the Tigris from Iraq.
Turkey has closed its borders with Rojava, preventing all movement from the north, including humanitarian supplies to Kurdish-controlled areas. To the south, in Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government does not make access easy; permits for journalists are not straightforward and, we were told, repeat visits are discouraged.

The isolation is not only physical. Turkey regards the Syrian Kurd YPG militia that is fighting the jihadi organisation Isis in Rojava as synonymous with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a longstanding enemy inside Turkey. The YPG’s advance against Isis along Syria’s northern border has been halted by the declaration by Turkey of a so-called “safe zone” to the west of the Euphrates between the front line and the Kurdish-controlled canton of Afrin in the north-west. For the Kurds, the motive seems transparently clear: to prevent the formation of a contiguous area of Kurdish control along Turkey’s southern border.
The KRG, which collaborates with Turkey against the PKK, has also been reluctant to support the YPG, even though they share a common enemy in the shape of Isis. Turkey has likewise pressured the US to eschew the Syrian Kurds, although in the past few days Washington has come out in more open support, including delivering arms supplies to the YPG. Meanwhile, the Kurds maintain an uneasy truce with the Syrian regime, which keeps two small bases in Rojava but otherwise has no military presence here — a tacit deal whereby the Kurds control the territory in return for not fighting the regime.
Those journalists that do get here naturally gravitate to the front lines like the devastated city of Kobani; similarly, images of the photogenic young women who make up the female Kurdish militia, the YPJ, are more eye-catching than the village hall meetings that comprise the reality of an innovative grassroots democracy. But it is in those dusty assemblies across Rojava that a democratic revolution is taking place.
The onset of the Syrian revolution in 2012 saw the collapse of the Assad regime’s authority across much of Syria. When this vacuum opened in Rojava, the Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD) sought to fill it by building a new form of democracy from the bottom up.
In this radical new dispensation, authority is vested primarily in the communal level — the village. At one assembly I attended, villagers gathered in a spartan town hall to debate their affairs. An old man began by retailing all the decisions of the previous meeting. The audience grew restive with boredom until a very young co-chair gently stopped him. Then, others took turns to voice their concerns. These were the stuff of day-to-day village life: anxiety about deliveries of medical supplies; celebration following the announcement of the opening of a small new factory for laundry powder. But the rocketing prices of bread and other basics were lamented at length. The prosaic found its voice, too: someone complained about children riding their bikes too fast around the village.


Not all decisions can be made at the most local level. Those that need broader discussion go to district or cantonal assemblies (Rojava is comprised of three cantons). Here, as in the villages, care is taken to give non-Arab minorities and women prominence. Every assembly I encountered was co-chaired by a woman. In one town, a very young Kurdish woman enthused to me that never before had people like her — “the youth” — been included in actual government. At meetings across the region I was struck by the sense of a population trying to get used to methods of self-government that were entirely unfamiliar after generations of dictatorship.
I was repeatedly told that special efforts were made to include the Arab, Assyrian and Turkmen minorities. Some Arabs confirmed this to me directly, with something resembling bewilderment. In Jazira canton, the two co-chairs of the district’s “institutions of self-government”, as this collective system is awkwardly named, consisted of an aged Arab sheikh and another young Kurdish woman. Accustomed to the traditional hierarchies of the Middle East at such gatherings, I unthinkingly addressed the senior-looking man. Without speaking, he turned to the young woman to speak for the group. She then spoke Arabic for the benefit of non-Kurdish participants.
The Arab sheikh’s guards wore black uniforms and long beards, a resemblance to Isis that suggested sympathies that may have only been conditionally suspended. Indeed, I learnt later that the sheikh had been on the Isis side until the extremists massacred members of his tribe. Inevitably, in a country where ethnic groups and allegiances are thoroughly scrambled together, the front lines are not always well defined.
A report released by Amnesty International recently claimed that the YPG has forcibly removed some Arab families from towns captured from Isis. The YPG’s response was that these examples are very few among the mass displacement of tens of thousands, and inevitable in areas of extended combat with Isis, which routinely conceals its fighters among the civilian population.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the democratic experiment in Rojava is the justice system that has been established alongside self-government. In Jazira, one chair of the justice committee (again a young woman) explained that since courts and punishment represented the coercive dominance of the state, such institutions had been replaced by a kind of community justice, where “social peace”, and not punishment, was the objective.
Intrigued, though a little baffled by these slogans, I asked to see what this meant in practice. The next day, I attended a mass lunch where one family hosted another. A member of the first family had killed a man from the second: lunch marked the families’ reconciliation, the culmination of a collective process of compensation, apology and forgiveness, where the perpetrator, briefly imprisoned, publicly acknowledged his crime. In turn, this act of contrition, supported by his family by means including the ceremonial meal, was accepted by the victim’s relations.
I asked the brother of the murdered man why he didn’t want the killer to face further punishment. His eyes moist with grief, he replied, no: “social peace” was more important than punishment. This was a better way, he argued: what good would be served by a long punishment of the perpetrator? I was staggered and moved. I thought of the barbarity of Rikers Island prison, which I would fly over on my way home to the US. No one in that country would claim that a system premised on punishment over reconciliation has achieved “social peace”.
Throughout the visit I met officials and ordinary citizens who enthused about the virtues of participatory, non-hierarchical self-government. I was amazed to find such a widespread consciousness of political ideas barely discussed in the rest of the world. In one town, I found myself debating the finer distinctions of anarchist philosophers — Kropotkin, Bakunin — with a youth organiser who was fluent in the discourse of people power. Where on earth had these ideas sprung from? The answer is New York City.

The reason for the strange emergence of communal self-government in Rojava became clear during my visit. Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the banned PKK party, is seen by Kurds in Syria, as well as those in Turkey, as the leader of Kurdish liberation. This despite — or in defiance of — the fact that, for the past 16 years, he has been held in a Turkish prison on an island in the Sea of Marmara.
Öcalan, 67, was once a devotee of Marxism-Leninism but came to believe that, like capitalism, communism perforce relied upon coercion (in capitalism’s case, coercion is necessary inter alia to enforce the exploitative contract between capital and labour). By chance, one book passed to him in jail was the masterwork of a New York political thinker named Murray Bookchin. Like Öcalan, Bookchin rejected communism when he became disillusioned with Stalinism’s authoritarian bent. A passionate believer in equality and freedom, he spent years teaching and arguing about anarchist philosophy in the bars and radical political groups of the city’s Lower East Side. Bookchin believed that true democracy could only prosper when decision-making belonged to the local community and was not monopolised by distant and unaccountable elites. In books such as The Ecology of Freedom (1982), he looked back to democracy’s origins in ancient Greece, where all citizens — although not, he noted, women or slaves — took turns to make political decisions.

Outside of the radical and bohemian circles of 1970s New York, Bookchin’s ideas have remained obscure, despite their pertinence today. Bookchin married what we now call environmentalism with anarchism. He believed that anarchism’s fundamental precept, the rejection of power of one over another, should apply to mankind’s relationship with the natural world. Entrapped in concrete cities, people were alienated from themselves and nature. The disasters of pollution and pillaged resources would persist as long as the false hierarchy of mankind over nature endured.
Bookchin ultimately eschewed the term “anarchist”, which he saw tainted by those who vaunted mere selfish individualism, “lifestyle anarchism”. Some kind of organised administration was, he believed, necessary to make collective decisions, as long as it included everyone: government can only be for the people when it is truly by the people. Bookchin called it “communalism”.
On his prison island, Öcalan saw that Bookchin’s concept of government without the state was ideal for the Kurds — a people who had been denied their own state. In pamphlets and books, he interpreted Bookchin’s communalism for the Kurdish context and termed it “democratic confederalism”. If you wanted a society freed of coercion, you must abolish the ultimate practitioner of coercion, including violence: the state itself. In 2004, Öcalan wrote to Bookchin and invited him to Kurdistan, but Bookchin was by then too unwell to undertake such a journey. He died two years later.
Öcalan’s new ideas were distributed across the PKK and, through them, to the Syrian Kurdish PYD. His influence in propagating a system of democracy without hierarchy presents one of the ironies of the situation in Rojava: a system that emphatically rejects all authority was inspired by a singular leader who has in the past used harsh methods to enforce organisational discipline.

In meeting after meeting I attended in Rojava, one issue generated particular emotion: emigration. My visit coincided with the tragic drowning of Aylan Kurdi, the little boy whose picture is now the symbol of the refugee crisis. That child came from Kobani, a city levelled by fighting. In the assemblies I attended, by far the loudest sentiment was frustration that people were leaving because of the desperate economic circumstances.
There were many complaints that the Turkish “embargo”, as it is universally termed in Rojava, has made life impossibly difficult. Reconstruction of devastated towns recaptured from Isis, like Kobani, was all but impossible. There was no choice but to leave. Local democracy can only fix so much when the international constraints are intractable.
To these people, the west’s acquiescence in the treatment of Rojava by Turkey and the KRG, both western allies, is bewildering. For them, these radical ideas on self-government offer a democratic model for all of Syria. One man argued to me that the centralised state, which he named the “ziggurat”, had been a catastrophe for Syria and Iraq in recent generations, an argument hard to dispute. It was self-evident, he contended, that a decentralised and inclusive structure of democracy had a better chance of producing stability — woven from the bottom up rather than imposed from the top down.

If and when there is ever a political deal to end Syria’s hideous war, this option must surely be on the table. Recent examples of Middle Eastern “state-building”, after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, are not encouraging. Outside states continue to prefer to construct other states that resemble themselves: the model of top-down government with its illusory offer of control is deeply ingrained. Decentralisation, particularly in the fullest sense advocated by Bookchin, threatens those used to authority — and particularly those who wield it.
One irony of Rojava’s democratic experiment is it was only made possible by the rupture of war and the effective collapse of state authority. What is happening in the west is less dramatic, but is a crisis nonetheless. The model of supposedly “representative” but hierarchical democracy as manifested in western capitals is seen as less and less representative by the people it is supposed to answer to. The fissure between the power of the wealthy and connected and everyone else is painfully evident. The desire to take power back is growing.
Rojava may seem exotic and its democratic experiment radical, but that word means a return to the root, and that is exactly what is happening in this remote corner of Syria: rule by the people; democracy returning to its roots.
Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and author. He visited Syria for the documentary film, ‘The Accidental Anarchist’, produced by Hopscotch Films and Mentorn Media with support from the Sundance Institute for release in 2016
Photographs: Carne Ross; Janet Biehl

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A personal account from the Lions of Rojava web page. Unfortunately it doesn’t say who wrote it, but contains criticism from an Anarchist perspective:

A personal account of Rojava

In light of what has happened and what is going to be it seems to me that the time has come for an assessment of the state of affairs in Rojava. Doubtless it will be highly subjective and based on individual experience, still I hope it to be of some help for people within the revolution and outside of it to further their understanding of the current situation. My analysis is mostly derived from my impressions of Cizîre canton as I have never visited Afrîn and Kobanê.

Three years into the revolution Rojava has stepped into a world of unapprehended possibilities. Change is happening rapidly in all spheres of society. The unprecedented freedom created a highly diverse and in many ways paradox socio-political landscape. Rojava is at the moment in a strange limbo between a revolutionary community movement and a federal state longing to be taken under the wings of the European Union. Currently revolutionary and more bourgeois instituitons exist parallely, while both the revolutionary and the liberalist development remain options, the essential question still being if the revolution can expand to larger groups outside of Rojava.

History

Under the Assad regime, Kurdish people were denied basic rights and citizenship. They were largely prevented from legally owning property and disenfranchised economically. These policies put pressure on Kurds to migrate away from Rojava, while the regime colonised the area with Arabs. Kurdish language teaching was illegal, children were not allowed to speak it in schools and Kurdish media wasn’t allowed.

Kurds were not allowed health services, to have their own industries and to get support from the state. Due to this and many other issues, some of the Kurds wanted to leave Syria, however, it was not deemed legal as they did not have a right to travel to other countries.

The area was deliberately kept poor with no small independent business allowed to flourish. The only industry was large government owned enterprise, usually oriented around oil. The other dominant sector being wheat which supports the rest of Syria. The land in Rojava is very valuable but the economy lacks diversity.

In 2004, during the start of a football match between Kurds from Qamishlo and Arabs from Deir al-Zor (now an ISIS stronghold) in Rojava, Arab supremicists were waving pictures of Saddam Hussein shouting “The second Halabja [mass genocide in Iraq by Saddam] will be in Syria”. Fighting broke out and it spread to the entire city but was later heavily suppressed by the Syrian army. After this failed attempt, there begun the period of underground organising and preparation. Self-defense forces were setup that later in 2012 were announced as the YPG (People’s Defense Units).

In 2012, the Rojavan forces began to take over cities, setting up headquarters creating autonomous self-governing administrations in line with their philosophy.

Society

A large part of the Kurdish population of Rojava, especially in Afrîn canton, supports the revolution and its structures. On the other hand there are many people who are indifferent or opposed to it. Many of the christian families still express strong loyalty towards Assad, more than a few of their children are currently fighting in the regime’s army.

There is also a consistent level mistrust between next to all of the peoples inhabiting the area that has very deep roots and was manifested by countless oppressions and massacres in the last millenia. Muslims against Christians, Arabs against Kurds, Kurmancis against Ezidis, Turks against Armenians – while this is certainly not a problem of the Middle East alone but rather of civilization in general, the proximity in which these peoples coexist and interact is one of the features that have created such a unique situation in Rojava. It is true that since the revolution relations between different ethnical and religious groups have drastically improved.

Firstly this is mainly due to firstly the lack of ‘divide-and-rule’ repression arbitrarily enacted by the Baath regime. There was large-scale forced resettlements to split Kurdish territory in Syria into smaller parts, massacres of Kurds by Arabs that were organized and paid for by the regime, and also a de-facto ban on growing trees as well as systematic destruction of forests in the Cizire region. This was to prevent opponents of the regime from moving to these once paradisical outskirts of Syria, just to name a few examples.

Secondly the council system that gives all social groups a high degree of autonomy, public recognition and a platform to interact as equals with each other. Nonetheless: while open hatred has considerably dropped behind the frontlines, traditionalized animosity, tribal allegiances and strong propaganda have driven lots of people into the arms of Bashar and Daesh respectively, both of whom (especially Daesh) use the new political freedom to more and more openly rally for their causes.

There remains the considerable amount of people who are indifferent to any sort of change that doesn’t have direct impact on their material living conditions. Many look longingly to Turkey, or to Başûr (Iraqi Kurdistan) where the KRG has created a capitalist, pseudo-liberal oasis with shining lights, flashy SUVs and a flood of America’s finest cultural output that distract many people (especially those who only see it from far) from the social disparity, rampaging corruption and disappearances of government critics. The benefits of the revolution beyond the prospect of a raised standard of living are still beyond many people.

Also it is understood by many non-Kurds to be “their revolution” instead of “the revolution of all of us” – a claim that is vehemently denied by revolutionary Kurds. Still many Arabs, Assyrians and other minorities remain unconvinced as the imagery, art and music, as well as the characters driving the revolution, are almost exclusively Kurdish. While ties between the Kurdish and Assyrian political movement going back more than twenty years have led to a strong cooperation today, the alliances between YPG and some Arab tribes are more strategical than ideological and there is still lack of any effort able to fully incorporate society into the communal councils of the Democratic Autonomy system. This goes especially for Cizîre, the canton with the most diverse society.

Justice

One of the most interesting developments is definitely the new justice system. I am no expert on law or concepts of restorative justice but hope that my impressions will incline people to find out more about the approaches applied at the moment.

One of the main ideas is to diminish the need and with that the power of a centralized judiciary system by solving disputes on the communal level. All the concerned parties engage in dialogue mediated by especially trained people from the community, with the aim of finding a solution that is not focused on punishment but on reparation and rehabilitation along guidelines that are less strict and more flexible than penal code. If this fails the case will be forwarded to the regional level, and only in the last instance or in cases of the most severe crimes a more classical court with a jury will deal with the issue. The model seems somewhat similar to Rwanda’s Gacaca courts which were temporarily established after the civil war to deal with the huge numbers of genocidaires. In Rojava however it is less a matter of necessity than of the wish to create a free and fair jurisdiction, following the credo less laws, more justice.

Amongst the new practices is the so-called platform, which has tradition in the movement. In a platform, the accused and the damaged parties (e.g. a thief and the people she/he stole from or a murderer and the family of the victim) as well as representatives of different parts of civil society are given a forum to openly speak out. All the participants of a platform can then voice critique and self-critique on why the crime took place and how to avoid it in the future. The accused and the assembly then make suggestions for measurements to be taken or punishments, always oriented along the principles of restorative justice. Final decisions are voted on by the assembly and a board of mediators.

Prisons exist, however only for those who have committed severe crimes (many inmates are captured Daesh fighters for example). They are also nothing like the dungeons of the Baath state. Life is communal and centered around education, work and shared activities. Reflection and rehabilitation are essential parts of that. All inmates are encouraged to learn new skills, like languages or crafts, and are being credited for doing so, which can lead to an early release or other bonuses.

Education

Education is very interesting. Teachers recognise students as equals and are seen more as facilitators. There are meetings where the students can criticise and suggest improvements to their teacher’s lessons. There’s an emphasis within schools on teaching culture, language, history and politics (all connected).

There is now work happening to create a network of free open spaces where students work on personal projects assisted by teachers, with subjects including ecology, culture, technology and students pushed to become independent self-organising enterprising individuals. They want to move away from a system that is about training students, to one which imbues values, and equips them with the tools they need. Encouraging and valuing self-expression is an important goal.

The people working within this new framework of justice are being trained in new academies. The academies (mostly for higher learning) are a cornerstone of the new education system. Students and teachers live together communally and the curriculum is very participatory, the daily program to a large part being shaped by the students. In the justice academies the first months are almost entirely filled with sociology, psychology and discussions on the philosophical and moral implications of the concept of ‘justice’, before continuing to the more legal questions and technicalities of implementing the new model.

The schools are still under control of the Baath state (with exception of those teaching outside its curriculum, like Kurdish language schools etc.) who pays the teachers and facilities. Training of new teachers is however underway and new curricula are largely ready to be applied.

Education is recognized as a key field in order to sustain a deep social revolution and altogether great efforts are being made to launch a completely new approach to the issue.

Health

The medical sector is still maintained and paid for by the regime. The Democratic Autonomy institutions are making preparations to gradually take over responsibility during the next years. Local clinics and health centers are also being opened to provide free basic health care and a universal access to medical knowledge through training.

Economy

Politically Rojava is social anarchist, and economically it is market anarchist. Though these are not rigid definitions.

Regions are given local autonomy- think multiple dozens within each canton. They have their own local council, maintain their own internal checkpoints and controls, and make decisions on who they buy and sell from.

Right now a lot of economic philosophy is centered around developing an economy based around unions of local businesses under a cooperative umbrella to serve their needs. Inside people buy and sell from one another and use the umbrella to interact with other groups. This then provides a mechanism whereby by local governments are able to offer their resources (such as industrial equipment) and investment to the umbrella organisation. People inside the organisations make decisions amongst themselves.

I’ve spoken with various people and there is no tax. People tell me there is no interference or tax on their work. Every locality has its own economic centre. Common resources have some kind of democratic mechanism regulating some parts of how they’re distributed (rather than flowing to central government). Although I’m still unsure how exactly they’re distributed, and a large portion of money is going to maintaining the YPG. The primary source of income for the government is oil and the border crossing.

Also there’s the TEV DEM which is a big political support network that assists civil society. Land is allocated or put to use through local councils (part of TEV DEM). They are also encouraging cooperatives and providing resources to small independent groups. Industrial machinery and vehicles are centralised in big depos that are then lent out to groups on a need to use basis.

For instance as a farmer, you can choose to remain independent, or you can join the government’s agricultural cooperative and get access to investment (which you must pay dividends back), access to machines/industrial equipment, and education/access to knowledge. Using the resources, they are able to create a voluntary support network which members want to participate in thereby improving its utility. There are several cooperatives (sometimes competing) and they’re run as social enterprises.

I have not seen or heard of any forced collectivisations ala 1936 Spain or 1920 Ukraine. The constitution protects private property and has been accused by left anarchists of being bourgeois. The converse is that people very much identify themselves as socialists with equality being a core value (freedom, humanity, equality). The main goals are self-sufficiency and a localised economy.

Right now (outside oil), the dominant sector is agriculture with a distant retail sector. Every city is thriving with shops and markets, life is very much alive here. Under Assad, Kurds could only produce wheat (for Syria) but the soil is very rich. Right now there is an overabundance of wheat and the government wants to encourage the economy to diversify. This reduces the dependence on imports since all of Rojava’s neighbours are hostile to its existence.

Also they have invested in light industry since there is a need to maintain their industrial vehicles which are experiencing problems. Since they’re all different types too, it’s difficult to swap parts in and out. Although raw resources aren’t in huge supply, they have access. Creating a native industrial DIY economy is an imperative, and OSE projects ideas/knowledge are definitely needed.

Rojava’s main economical sectors are agriculture and oil production, while a growing service sector shouldn’t be underestimated. Afrîn has a somewhat diversified agriculture but in Kobanê and Cizîre it produces almost exclusively wheat. There is also livestock breeding, mainly family-owned flock of sheep, and some larger cattle and poultry facilities which are now mostly cooperative-run but operate at the very least – to spare an ethical comment on animal mass production – un-ecological.

The large amounts of oil in Cizîre canton (I’m sorry I can’t procure any numbers as I’m writing this) are a very important economical and political factor. At the moment most of the countless oil rigs stand still as the embargo makes it virtually impossible to export any larger quantities of crude and a handful of pumps provide the fuel supply for the entire canton. Electricity in all of Cizîre is produced with diesel generators. The price for a litre of diesel is below one US dollar. The soil pollution through leaking rigs and aging pipelines is already a problem and might become a much bigger one in the future. The economical commissions are very interested in going over to renewable energies and at the moment looking for ways to get solar technology and know-how into the country.

Many industries are now organized in cooperatives, from farming over tailoring to retail sellers and there are new cooperatives opening every week with start-up grants from the administration. The diversification of agriculture is an endeavour that is only just beginning now.

Everyday commodities and food are available all over Cizîre canton, imported goods a little but not much more expensive than before the embargo. There is no severe scarcities but a very limited water supply in some parts of Qamişlo where water is only available two or three hours a day. In those quarters this situation has been continuing for more that two years.

Ecology

Ecological development and environmental protection are on paper core values of the Rojava revoluion. In practice there is still a long way to go. Environmental awareness as a socio-political concept as it has developed, branched out and in some parts become radical in Europe over the last one and a half centuries is still relatively new to the Middle East. The ecological development of Rojava’s economy is one of the many fields in which the administration asks for help from outside. It is crucial to get input now from communities all over the world who have experience with sustainable and revolutionary forms of production for many decades. This knowledge is urgently needed now to prevent Rojava from falling back into centralized unsustainable production schemes that dominated under Baath rule.

The municipalities are struggling to raise awareness of the waste problem. While a consistent waste-management system does not exist yet some village and neighbourhood communes are doing a great job in cleaning up their streets, reminding of Rwanda’s Umuganda days (every first Saturday a month Rwandans meet up in their neighbourhoods for community work). While in Rwanda this is decreed by the central government and partcipation is mandatory, the Rojava communes do it on their own agenda. The ecological commissions are enthusiastic about recycling and other innovative approaches to environmental problems, right now the means are missing however to put them into practice.

Next to all of Cizîre canton is cultivated land. There are three major streams of water: The Tigris, the Cexcex and the Xabûr. Apart from the endless wheat fields there are six lakes close to the northern border around which diverse ecosystems exist in small pockets of forests and wetlands. The ecological department is working to give them a kind of National Park status and protecting their wildlife with the help of local villagers. They aim to extensively research the local ecosystems and create education centers in these areas where students and other people can actively study them and learn about ecology. The Cizîre environmental department is currently looking for foreign partners to implement these projects.

Defense and security

A couple of weeks back I had a discussion with a communist comrade – the age-old stand-off about whether the state can be used as a revolutionary tool. To my strong case against that he replied “Well, that’s what I always argue with the Apoists about. They say the state is always evil, yet they have created one.”

Is Rojava really a state? Many arguments have been made for and against that case. When it comes to Rojava’s army though I can only agree with the critics. The Hêzên Xweparastina, always in the shadow of the heroic YPG, leave no doubt. They are a fully-fledged infantry army in which all Rojavan men aging between 18 and 30 have to serve a minimum six months. Great billboards in Qamişlo show imposing battallions of beige-clad soldiers pledging with their right arms and hands outstretched forward into the air. The ritual is adopted from the Baath army. You don’t have to guess twice where they got the idea from.

Yes – a conscription army requires a level of institutionalized coercion and centralization that are unmistakable attributes of a state. As far as Rojava is still away from any other state in the world, in this question the case is clear.

So is it over? Rojava has died just like revolutionary Spain and the Paris commune? Back in our discussion, my communist comrade and I don’t think that. And that is because of a new force that has been around for a few months now: The HPC – Hêzên Parastina Cewherî. I personally can’t translate the difference between Hêzên Xweparastina and Hêzên Parastina Cewherî into English (both essentially mean self-defence forces) but they could hardly be more apart from each other. The HPC are armed civilians who received basic weapons training and provide security in their communities from evening to morning. They are mostly stationed at crossroads where they occassionally check cars (one of the main concerns is Daesh bringing weapons into the city) or take the keys of drunk drivers away. They are both men and women, young and old, Arab and Kurdish. They organize through the commune, every night somebody else is on duty. They are not concerned with petty policing but with the safety of their community. They are a brainchild of the revolution.

It is the highest proof of integrity if an authority gives weapons to its subjects. It is like God giving Adam and Eve the Forbidden Fruit and urging them to try it. It recognizes not only that the people need to actively self-organize rather than passively rely on the authority, it regognizes that the day will come when the people need to defend themselves not against an external enemy but against the authority itself. Let’s make a hypothetical experiment: Let’s assume some people start feeling that the Hêzên Xweparastina have nothing to do with people’s protection anymore but just defend the status quo of a ruling elite. They now have the means at hand to protect their sons and brothers against anyone who tries enforcing the conscription. And if other communities follow suit the army ranks will be empty very soon. It seems Rojava has let a cancer grow but at the same time developed a cure.

The war

The YPG consists of three basic elements: The professional fighters, the militias and the mentioned conscription army. The professionals commit themselves to a life as revolutionaries. While all YPG fighters pledge to defend the freedom of women and the democratic and ecologic society, it is the professionals who make this a lifelong goal. The Hêzên Xweparastina are meant to provide border security once the war is over but at the moment are also fighting at the front. About forty percent of YPG are professionals, the rest are army and militias. The militia fighters continue to be a big problem. Their numbers are desperately needed and were even more so a year or two back, but many of them still lack the most basic training. Now that the situation at the front has changed somewhat for the better, many militiamen and -women are being sent to the rear to be trained for the first time. The moral and ideological values that play such a huge role in YPG’s professional arm have often never reached the militias who are the cause of recurring reports of fighters taking revenge on Daesh captives or even attacking civilians, looting villages in recently occupied territory. These actions are considered severe crimes in YPG, morally as well as legally, and there are commissions as well as large funds in place only for the compensation of civilians who have lost homes and property. Still, the follow-up of these incidents sometimes simply gets lost in the mess of war and bureaucracy. Also victims often don’t know who to talk to and the commanders of the involved YPG units are interested in covering the incidents up.

The professional YPG is for the most part a brave and effective fighting force, very good at employing guerrilla tactics in urban warfare. There remains a level of confusion and ineptitude due to the unfamiliar nature of the war. The military experience YPG draws from the armed resistances in the other parts of Kurdistan, all very mountainous territories – Rojava on the other hand is flat and requires the continuous defence of towns and areas without any advantageous geography. In the last two months many fighters have been withdrawn from Kobanê after half a year of heavy urban combat to pass on their experience to new recruits. While players like Daesh or the Baath regime extensively use modern technology for propaganda and intelligence the YPG still lags far behind. Given the overall circumstances they are still doing a good job at adapting though, but much more changes in structure, training, PR and intelligence are needed.

The cantons of Cizîre and Kobanê have been united very recently in the battles of Gire Sipî and Siluk. Almost all of Kurdish territory and sizable portions of land primarily inhabited by other groups are now under YPG control. With the pending offensive on Jarablus and the Azaz area the three cantons of Rojava as well as the autonomous Sengal region will become continous territory. The Turkish state has however publicly declared in the last days that they will not allow a ‘Kurdish corridor’ to exist between Afrîn and Kobanê. While they would need NATO approval to invade Syrian territory it doesn’t seem impossible that they will get it. After all the west has tolerated Turkey’s more or less open support of Daesh and while coalition airstrikes have been a great help to the YPG, they have never been trusted allies like the Pêşmerga, never received the desperately needed heavy weapons or other logistics.

The situation in Turkey will be decisive for Rojava’s future. In the recent elections the HDP, a party close to the Kurdish freedom movement entered Turkish parliament for the first time, while Erdoğan’s AKP lost its absolute majority and is now forced to form a coalition. The organizations of the Kurdish freedom movement, most notably the PKK and KCK, continue to be listed as terrorist by Turkey and most of its allies. Massive military operations against civilians and areas in which guerrillas are assumed to be have shaken Bakûr in the last days. While repression against Kurds by state forces, fascist and islamist groups (between whom exists only a nominal difference) has been running even higher that usual Erdogan has refuted all attempts by Kurdish representatives to find a diplomatic solution. There are many signs that a full-scale revolutionary uprising is on its way in Bakûr, which would mean war against the Turkish state.

Rojava will not be neutral in such a situation. Even if it wants to the Turkish government has declared that the YPG is the PKK’s Syrian section and that compared to Daesh they are the greater threat. Even though It seems naïve to believe that NATO would continue their air support if Turkey starts a full-scale war against the PKK again. Much rather will Rojava become the next target for their airstrikes. YPG is in a very comfortable position right now with their victories in Gire Sipî and the Kizwan Mountains. But if the northern border becomes a battlesight this will change very soon. Daesh is far from finished. While YPG was marching on Xera and Mabrûka (not to forget with NATO air support) the jihadists took Palmyra and Ramadi, the defenders of which outnumbered them ten to one. The Kobanê massacre showed that they can strike decisively whenever they want again. They have a habit of knowing when their enemy is weak and they have learned from the siege of Kobanê. With the war that’s broken out in Bakûr, the revolutionary Kurdish forces have to fight at many fronts they will know where to strike. And they need to be prepared for that.

Youth

Many times in YPG have I seen the half-sad smile following the answer to the question where I come from. The people then say “Crazy. You have come from Europe to fight here and the youths from here run away to Europe.” Mad world. Is it really so despiccable though to not want to die in a war in the middle of nowhere while everybody else seems to enjoy themselves in hip, well-temperated metropoles with fast internet, cool drugs and parties every night? The revolution, on the other hand, has offered them nothing but a poorly edited portrait on public billboards once their remains have been buried.

The Kurdish Freedom Movement is historically a proletarian, and even more importantly, a rural one. Many in it categorically neglect urban lifestyle as capitalist. That’s why its political discourse has largely been missing practical approaches to the life in urban societies. Also, while Öcalan has been very popular in Rojava since he started living here in the Eighties, the political awakening and transformation that has shaken Bakûr (Turkish Kurdistan) since then has never really happened here. The style of the revolution’s message appeals to the diversity of traditional Kurdish culture and ways of life. Rojava’s youngsters are equally bored by it like youths in most parts of the world. Kurdish culture was never persecuted in Syria the way it was in Turkey, its conservation therefore lacks the radical appeal. They longingly look to the west and have little motivation to die protecting their dusty provincial hometowns.

These are gross generalizations of course. Many Rojavan youths fight in YPG or are active in the autonomous youth councils, many of them believe in the revolution. But not nearly enough. There is dire need to communicate a newer, more modern message, in a way that really speaks to young people. They need to understand why the revolution matters to them. They need to understand that Rojava is not a place to leave, but a place where people go to, a new hotspot at the forefront of history.

Women

Rojava is a women’s revolution. There can be no doubt that concerning women’s liberation the revolution has made deeper and more substantial changes than on any other front so far. With a radical break with the chauvinist patriarchal Baath state, women of all backgrounds now actively participate in the shaping of society. While most of the world has heard about the YPJ, whose female fighters make up more than a third of Rojava’s defence forces, much fewer people know about their role in civil society where all assemblies and parliaments are required to be made up of at least 40 percent women and every executive position, be it occupied by a man or a woman, always has a male and a female deputy. Patriarchal mindsets run deep nevertheless and are maybe the most important issue that the Women’s Association and other civil society groups are seeking to tackle. The Rojava Free Women’s Foundation (Waqfa Jina Azad Rojava) is working on several ambitious projects for women’s empowerment in everyday life, to those who want to find out more I recommend its English website.

Rojava is so successful as a feminist cause because it builds on over thirty years of Kurdish women’s struggle against patriarchy and oppression. Liberation of women was a core issue for the Kurdish freedom movement from the very beginning, Öcalan himself declared early on that there could be no free society as long as women were oppressed and therefore no free Kurdistan if women didn’t rise up and retake their freedom. When the first female volunteers turned up in the mountains to join the guerrilla however the male fighters tried to send them home or else do household work such as cooking and cleaning while the men went to war. It took decades of relentless struggle by the most courageous and committed revolutionaries such as Berîtan, Zîlan and many others before the right that they theoretically enjoyed in the movement became reality.

We must recall this when we are overly quick to dismiss the the revolution’s aims of a stateless and ecological society as empty promises. They are relatively new ideals. To make them into practices will take just as hard a struggle within the revolution and just as outstanding individuals as it took for freedom of women to develop from a slogan into revolutionary pratice. We must always remember that principles like grassroots democracy or social ecology are not implemented because they exist on a piece of paper. The fight for them is only just beginning.

DEMOCRATIC CONFEDERALISM

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The seminal document for understanding the theoretical underpinings of the social and political revolution in Rojava is Abdullah Ocalan’s booklet  ‘Democratic Confederalism.’  Further analysis, but more explicitly about the situation in can be found in his ‘Road Map to Negotiations.  Prison Writings Vol III’. 2012.

Ocalan-Democratic-Confederalism

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EXCLUSIVE: The Kurds’ Quest for a New Democracy
Written by KurdishQuestion.com
21 August 2015
by Duran Kalkan*
Following the declaration of autonomous cantons in Rojava (West) Kurdistan, Kurds are now trying to form and declare democratic self-governance in the cities and towns of North Kurdistan. The centralised ‘single power’ being enforced by the Ahmet Davutoglu government in Ankara is being countered in places like Silopi, Cizre, Varto, Silvan, Gever (Yuksekova), Lice, Nusaybin and across many Kurdish towns and cities with the people declaring their own free democratic will and defending it with active defence and resistance.
It is evident that this stance will continue spreading across North Kurdistan. The nation-state experience in South Kurdistan, which is having problems in regenerating itself and resolving its internal issues, is leading Kurds towards a quest for a new democracy. Moreover the AKP, which has portrayed itself as the last hope for the Turkish Republic, but whose line is no different from the old nationalist-statist mentality, and which continues its policy of enmity against Kurds, is another reason for this quest.
The Kurds experienced the theoretical quest and discussions for this situation in recent history. Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan’s ever intensifying theoretical search since the mid-nineties is well known. This led to the paradigm change in 2003, which opened the path for a new comprehension of revolution, program and strategy and uncovered an important intellectual solution, that can now be seen in practice with ones own eyes.
The democratic modernity theory developed by Abdullah Öcalan, which has at its foundations the democratic confederalism organisational model and the democratic autonomy solution is now the only alternative to resolve national and societal issues that have reached deadlock. This model for a solution, which relies on the state plus democratic society formula, puts forward practical solutions to all national, religious, identity issues as well as fundamental issues such as women’s liberation.
The Kurds unearthed this model for a solution within their struggle to resolve a complicated issue like the Kurdish question. In the beginning a very intense struggle was waged, especially by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), to resolve this question with a nation-state solution. But the realisation on one hand that the global capitalist system was not open to this solution and the problems encountered by the South Kurdistan nation-state model led the PKK and many other Kurdish organisations and groups to search for new approaches.
The concrete result reached by Kurds in their decades long quest is that the societal problems created by nation-state or state-nation models and there power-based, statist system do not provide a definite and lasting solution to these problems. This is because the state-nation models that are bound to a centralised administration and have borders cannot find solutions for any issue regarding freedoms. In this regard fundamental issues of freedoms such as national and religious as well as women’s issues are not resolved but instead deepened and reach deadlock.
The model developed by Kurds against this deadlock and cul-de-sac is the understanding and practice of the democratic nation. This replaces the state-nation’s monist and centralised model with a system based on plurality and local administration. Therefore the democratic nation line proposes a transparent and applicable model against the monist and centralist nation-statist model, which is the root cause of the deadlock.
At this point, the democratic modernity theory expresses the totality of the plural and local autonomous models. Isn’t true democracy essentially the desire for a multiple and plural administration? Again isn’t democracy the administration of the people by the people and their representatives whom they choose at every level? This is the solution model that the Kurds favour after a long arduous quest and discussions. Based on this, there can be no doubt that the Kurds have reached a true democratic mentality and politics.
For the past three years the Kurds have tried to implement this mentality and politics in Rojava Kurdistan. It is also what has made the Kurds an invincible and vanguard force against the former nation-state system and the fascistic ISIS attacks. If one looks carefully, it can be seen that the only area that has brought about solutions to the deep deadlock in Syria is Rojava Kurdistan.
Now the Kurds want to put into action this same positive and creative force for a solution in North Kurdistan. The process for developing democratic self-administrations at the local level and unearthing the will of the people against the Turkish state’s monist and centralist administration, which the AKP are trying to continue, has begun. Similarly the processes for the replacement of generals, security chiefs, province and district governors with locally elected officials at every level have also begun.
The steps taken for democratic autonomy by Kurds in North Kurdistan are without doubt like Rojava of historical importance. It is evident that these steps will get results in resolving the Kurdish question as well as evolving Turkey’s severe centralist and monist structure into a democratic one. In this regard the resolution of the Kurdish issue and the development of Kurdish democracy is also the democratisation of Turkey.
Due to this, the greatest resistance to the democracy developed by Kurds, is coming from fascist parties such as the MHP. It is clear that these parties as well as being against Kurdish existence are also against Turkey having a democratic government. The chauvinist-nationalist mindset and politics foresees national monism and a rigid centralist administration. On this basis the Kurds’ quest for a new democracy is under severe attack by Turkish fascists.
The attacks in question are the product of a severe and offensive psychological warfare. In this matter the President Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli have almost the same discourse and mentality. It is clear that they are implementing a policy that aims to deny and annihilate Kurdish existence.
Under the rule of these powers all the facilities of the Turkish state are being used in the war against the Kurds. The desire is to suffocate and crush the democratic self-administration declared in Kurdish towns with savage military attacks and break the democratic will of the people, rising from the grassroots. It is of utmost importance to resist and make sure that the ingenious ideas and heroic struggle of the Kurdish people to develop true democracy is not crushed under the Turkish state’s attacks.
In this regard the Kurdish people have a developed consciousness and organised will. Especially Kurdish youth and women have shown that they are ready to lead a democratic people’s resistance. Moreover the insistence on a free life and courage in struggle in the war against ISIS has been displayed for the world to see. The Kurds will display the same stance against the AKP’s fascism too. Esteemed novelist Yaşar Kemal once said, “Either true democracy, or nothing,” in relation to Turkey. For the Kurds there will be no life apart from constructing true democracy.
However this Kurdish will needs to be supported from Silopi to Gever, and in all the towns and cities of North Kurdistan, just like it was in Kobanê. This time the Kurds are expecting support from the democratic world and democratic humanity for the North. What the Kurds want is an administration that is elected from the grassroots. And this is a prerequisite for democracy. Therefore the stance displayed in the face of the democratic autonomy revolution in North Kurdistan is a litmus test for true democrats.
To show the right colour will mean a victory for everyone, for all of democratic humanity. Once more Kurds are not just resisting for themselves but for all of humanity and democratic values. Then it is the responsibility of everyone who stands for true democracy to support and defend this democratic resistance. This will take us to another victory for democracy!

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Democratic Autonomy in Rojava
By
TATORT Kurdistan
10.10.2014

In the past 33 years, the Kurdish freedom struggle, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, have not only reacted to social changes but shaped them and proposed further steps in the direction of a liberated society.
Significantly, the PKK conceives the Kurdish question as an issue not of nation or ethnicity but of the liberation of society, of both sexes, and of all people. Öcalan’s book Sociology of Freedom is a kind of a road map for the liberation of Rojava and the entire Middle East, highlighting in detail steps toward freedom.
During our journeys through Rojava, we met many people who had close relationships to Öcalan and to others who have decisively participated in the PKK’s history. This ongoing contact has engendered a transformation in the region’s otherwise feudalistic social terrain. The women especially emphasized this connection—they have known about Kurdish women’s liberation ideology for more than twenty years and have been trying to implement it. Thanks to all the close interconnections within the Kurdish freedom movement, many people [from Rojava] joined the PKK and fought for it in North Kurdistan. So it is a mistake to see the PKK as strictly a North Kurdish phenomenon; this movement also belonged and belongs to tens of thousands of activists from Rojava.
Öcalan’s 1999 arrest, followed by the Assad regime’s intensified repression, gave rise to a period of reorganization in Rojava. After the regime’s 2004 massacre of Kurds in the city of Qamişlo and the subsequent uprising, this reorganization began to gain momentum, to the point of creating armed self-defense units. The leftist Party of Democratic Unity (PYD) had already been founded and quickly became a strong regional political force. Meanwhile new paradigms emerged from the Kurdish freedom movement and especially from Öcalan, inspired by the work of the libertarian theorist Murray Bookchin, whose model of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy became a touchstone for the reorientation. Öcalan developed a critique of the history of actually existing socialist states and of national liberation movements, including the PKK itself. As an alternative to conceptions of revolution that strive for an armed uprising and seizure of power, he outlined a plan for a “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society.” He introduced the concept of an “ethical and political society” that would be self-managed and would situate itself outside the lifeless, homogenous consumer society of capitalism.
Even before the rebellions in Syria began, the Kurds of Rojava had already created the first councils and committees and thereby began to institute a radical democratic organization of most of the region’s population. Starting on June 19, 2012, the cities of Kobanê, Afrîn, Dêrik, and many other places were one by one freed from regime control; the strength of the reorganization then revealed itself. Military bases were reconfigured, and the vastly outnumbered regime troops were offered the option of withdrawal. Only in Dêrik did the situation lead to a struggle, with a few casualties. But even here, as people in Dêrik told us, the new self-organization prevented violent attacks and acts of destruction and revenge.

Self-Defense and the “Third Way”
As we considered this phase and the politics of the Kurdish movement in Rojava, we also observed the implementation of another paradigm of Democratic Confederalism: self-defense and the primacy of nonviolent solutions. The Kurdish movement and especially the PYD were organized before the Syrian revolution began resisting the Assad regime. At that time they saw it as a matter of democratic transformation; a militarization of the conflict was to be avoided. But with the outbreak of war, Islamization, and the heteronomy of the Syrian revolt, the Kurdish movement in Rojava decided to go a third way: it would side neither with the regime nor with the opposition. It would defend itself, but it would not wage war. The movement has remained this politics up to the present [July 2014]. Thus in Qamişlo, in the quarters that were inhabited by regime supporters, regime military units were still tolerated. The same was true for the airport. The goal was and is always to reach a political, democratic solution for all of Syria.

The Commune as the Center of Society
“The creation of an operational level where all kinds of social and political groups, religious communities, or intellectual tendencies can express themselves directly in all local decision-making processes can also be called participative democracy.”
— Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism (London, 2011), p. 26.
Democratic Confederalism has as its goal the autonomy of society: in other words, instead of the state governing society, a politicized society manages itself. As against capitalist modernity, it proposes democratic modernity. In Rojava, to make this system possible, the center of the social system became the commune. The commune, the self-management of the streets, would emerge as the hub of the society.
Decision making in the communes requires that quotas be met—that is, in order to make a decision, here and in all councils in Rojava, at least 40 percent of those who participate in the discussions must be women. In the communes, current issues of administration, energy, and food supply, as well as social problems like patriarchal violence, family conflicts, and much else, are discussed and if possible resolved. The communes have commissions that address all social questions, everything from the organization of defense to justice to infrastructure to youth to the economy and the construction of individual cooperatives—such as bakeries, clothing production, and agricultural projects. The ecology commissions concern themselves with urban sanitation as well as specifically ecological problems. At the forefront is the imperative to strengthen the social position of women: committees for women’s economy help women develop economic independence.
The commune, as the mala gel (people’s house), lends support in all questions; it is simultaneously an institution of support and a kind of court. Central to its processes is the ideal of agreement and compensation; for general offenses, the causes of an infraction are investigated and overcome, and the victim is protected. For patriarchal violence and all attacks that affect women, the mala jinan (women’s house) is in charge; it is attached to the women’s council, a parallel structure to the commune’s mixed-gender council.
As we ourselves could see, meanwhile, people of the most diverse identities take part in the communes, especially Arabs and Assyrians. The mala jinan likewise works to solve social problems and responsible for implementing the goals of women’s liberation. As much as possible, the councils prefer to vote by consensus. The communes send their representatives to their respective district councils and city councils, and the structure continues into the general council of Rojava.

Democratic Autonomy and the Nation-State
“Peaceful coexistence between the nation-state and democratic confederalism is possible, as long as the nation-state doesn’t interfere with central matters of self-administration. All such interventions would call for the self-defense of the civil society.”
–Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism, p. 32.
Democratic Confederalism is a form of self-management and thus stands in contrast to the model of the state. It is an attempt at permanent social revolution, as is reflected in every facet of the social structure. Overcoming the nation-state is seen as a long-term goal. The state will be overcome when Democratic Confederalism in practice assumes all structures into its self-organization and self-management. In that society neither statist nor territorial boundaries will play a role.
Indeed, by virtue of the self-management of society, Democratic Confderalism renders the state and the nation-state redundant. In this social model the commune, the council, and the society are integrated, with the commune is the political center. In outward form the region of Rojava has chosen to follow the Swiss cantonal model, structuring itself in terms of the cantons’ far-reaching regional autonomy. Ideally the canton arises from the cooperation of the autonomous political councils. While the nation-state is based on social homogenization through the construction of identity and its reflexively coercive implementation, Democratic Confederalism is based on social diversity. Over the course of world history, the nation-state has been compromised by bloodshed.
In this region, typically only the Arabizing politics of Syria and the Turkicizing politics of Turkey were discussed. But Syria is home to Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Yezidi Kurds, Armenians, Aramaeans, Chechens, Turkmens, and many other cultural, religious or ethnic groups. All these social groups should achieve representation through the council system with its corresponding quotas.
The commune, as the structure of self-management that directly binds to the neighborhood, must therefore be the center of political self-management. In order to raise the level of social organization, it provides educational forums for members of the commune, on topics like democratic self-determination and rights, women’s liberation, the history of Syria, the history of Kurdistan, the Kurdish language, and many other social issues.
On our journey in the region, we saw that the success in implementation varies from region to region. In many areas Arab councils and especially the Assyrians work very closely together with the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM). Central positions are allocated to three or four co-chairpersons, who correspond to the social groups of the region.

The Highest Council, or Parliamentary Democracy?
While in many areas the Kurdish population already has decades of experience with the Kurdish movement’s concepts of women’s liberation and social freedom, here too there are of course also divergences. Some wish to organize in classical parties rather than in councils.
This problem has been solved in Rojava through a dual structure. On one hand a parliament is chosen, to which free elections under international supervision are to take place as soon as possible. This parliament forms a parallel structure to the councils; it forms a transitional government, in which all political and social groups are represented, while the council system forms a kind of parallel parliament. The structuring and rules of this collaboration are at the moment under discussion.

Closing the Gap
Mamosta Abdulselam, of TEV-DEM in Heseke, has explained the system of communes in Heseke. “There was a gap between the councils and the people—that’s why we developed the commune system,” says Mamosta Abdul. “There are 16 district councils here. On each council there are 15 to 30 people. About 50 houses form a commune. The communes are numerous—in each district there are about 10-30 communes with 15-30 persons each. The Mifte district in Heseke has 29 communes, while the neighboring district has 11 communes. Each district forms about 20 communes per 1,000 people. The 16 district councils are formed form the communes. One hundred and one people sit on Heseke’s city council. In addition the PYD has five representatives, as do five other parties. Families of the Fallen have five, Yekitiya Star has five, the Revolutionary Youth have five, and the Liberals have five. The district councils normally meet every two months. Twenty-one people are elected as the coordination. The leadership meetings take place once a month and as needed in special cases. Always at least 40 percent of the representatives are women and at least 40 percent are men. Decisions are made according to consensus principle. Care is taken that one person doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The co-chairs are elected. Members of the commune nominate them and then elect them.”

Women’s Work
At the beginning of our stay in Rojava, Sirin Ibraham Ömer, a 45-year-old woman from the district of Hileli in Qamişlo, reported to us on women’s work in her commune.
“We are 60 active women in our commune. Once a week we do educational work—we read books together and then discuss them. Twice a month we visit other women and explain the tasks of the revolution. Many are much influenced by the logic of the state—they don’t see themselves as people who can manage their own affairs. They have many children, and there are many arguments at home. The children are outside on the street and play instead of going to school. We’re concerned about that. If a family has no income, we have a committee for that, to provide the basic foodstuffs.
The peace committee talks with the families. If there is violence in a family, the woman can get help from the Asayiş. In Hileli meanwhile it’s socially disapproved for a man to hit his wife—that’s all but come to a stop. In other districts it’s still present in places. Here it was usual for the television to be on 24 hours in an apartment, with Turkish broadcasts in Arabic language—that was a big problem. But when the energy suddenly went off, so did the TVs, and people’s minds were cleared to do something else.
Many women are married off very young, even as children, so that there will be no extramarital pregnancies. Now they see that education is good for them, that they can have a better life.
Once a week we go out and collect a little money—it’s a symbolic way to help. We distribute the weekly newspaper (Rohahi) —it’s very cheap, so everyone can read it. It appears in Arabic and Kurdish. When we all get together now, our topics are not gossip and chitchat as before, but political developments and the women’s organization. We know it all here in the district.
In many districts there are also so-called women’s houses. They aren’t women’s safe houses like in Germany, but houses where women can get together and educate one another and talk about heir problems. They frequently offer classes in computers, language, and sewing.
The most important work of the women’s houses is however to provide assistance against social sexism. “The women come to us, when they have a problem. Not only the Kurdish women but also the Arab women,” says a representative of the women’s houses, Serê Kaniyê.
We witnessed such an inquiry. Two older Arab women arrived and asked the women at the women’s house for help. “Through the commune system we know every family,” says Serê Kaniyê, “we know every family’s economic situation, and we know who hits his wife and his children. We go directly there and speak with those affected, until it gets to a solution.” She agrees on a date with the two women, to find a solution for their problem.

Conflict Resolution
The commune is a place not only of self-organization but also of social conflict resolution. It concerns itself with social problems in the districts, support of poorer members of the commune, and the just distribution of fuel, bread, and foodstuffs. Meetings of the commune handle not only conflicts, the usual neighborhood fights, but also violence against children, and resolution is attempted. In Dêrik we attended a meeting of representatives of a commune: they were discussing the case of a family that had tied up a child. This behavior was now monitored and controlled. If the misbehavior continues, the children will be taken to a protected place.
Editorial Comment
This article was written by Michael Knapp, member of the Rojava delegation of Campaign TATORT Kurdistan. Translated by Janet Biehl. The original article appeared in the July-August 2014 issue of the German-language periodical Kurdistan Report: http://www.kurdistan-report.de/index.php/archiv/2014/174/154-ziel-ist-eine-demokratische-loesung-fuer-den-gesamten-mittleren-osten

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kobani

The following interview was conducted in partnership between the Rojava Report and Dr. Dylan Murphy. Dylan Murphy is a historian and a trade union activist in the National Union of Teachers.
Özgür Amed is journalist, columnist, teacher, and activist from Diyarbakir, where he gives courses on cinema and works with local civil society organizations as a project coordinator. He writes regular editorials for the newspapers Özgür Gündem and Özgür Politika, contributes to various journals, assists foreign journalists working in Kurdistan, and provides analysis of the region to foreign media outlets. He also conducts research on the Kurdish movement and is the author of a book of humor entitled ‘Works of Kurdology’ (Kürdocul İşler). He can be reached at ozguramed@live.com.
1. Can you briefly explain the origin of the Rojava Cantons and the revolution more generally? When did they emerge and what is new about them?
The differences that this system presents is more clearly understood when one understands the reasons behind the revolution’s emergence and why it was necessary. Today the Rojava Revolution’s most important road map is the ‘Rojava Constitution.’ This constitution [also known as the ‘Social Contract’ – translator’s note] was formed and accepted by the Legislative Assembly of the Rojava Administration of Democratic Autonomy on January 6th, 2014 in the city of Amûdê in Rojava.
This is the document’s preamble:
“We the peoples of the democratic autonomous regions – Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians (Assyrian Chaldeans, Arameans), Turkmen, Armenians, and Chechens – by our free will have announced this contract to establish justice, freedom and democracy in accordance with the principle of ecological balance and equality without discrimination on the basis of religion, language, faith sect or gender; to realize the values of a democratic society and a life together based in a political and moral framework which promotes mutual understanding and coexistence within diversity; and to ensure the rights of women and children, protection, self-defense and the respect of the freedom of religion and belief.
The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions does not accept any understanding based on the concept of the nation-state, nor the concept of a military or religious state, nor does it accept centralized administration or centralized power. The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous regions is open to social consensus, democracy and pluralism whereby all ethnic, social, cultural and national formations can express themselves through their own organizations.The Administration of the Democratic Autonomous Regions is committed to national and international peace and respectful of the borders of Syria and of human rights.”
Given this one must ask: Is there a better system than this system? If we are going to speak about human rights, democracy and freedom is there an alternative to what is expressed in the preamble to this constitution? Is there a better claim to governance in the Middle East? No…and yet the difficulty comes in struggling for something one believes in no matter what the cost. And it is here that the difference in this system lies.
So, how did we come to this situation and from where did the revolution emerge?
Syria, which lost its war with France in 1920 and remained under French colonial rule for 26 years, regained its independence in 1946. From this date until the 1970’s the country experienced a period of chaos marked by repeated coups and the failure of the United Arab Republic (1958-61) which only ended with the Baath coup and the beginning of the new regime.
One of the first tasks undertaken by this regime was to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Kurds. The children born to these Kurds lacked all rights and protections and were socially isolated. From the moment the Assad family came to power in 1971 until today Kurdish identity has remained under the threat of a cultural and political genocide. Many dictatorial governments, once considered indestructible, fell apart with the emergence of the ‘Arab Spring,’ which did so much to speed up the flow of history in the Middle East and has been the cause of such tumult. The lack of a pioneering and democratic structure that might have channeled the political and justified social anger of the people who came out into the streets against the authoritarian and autocratic governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries led to widespread chaos. International and regional powers, which tried to channel the accumulated historical rage of the people who came out into the streets for democracy and freedom for their own benefits moved to intervene in the Arab Spring. This is particularly true in the Syrian civil war, where the hopes of the people for freedom and democracy were destroyed by reactionary powers. However the people of Rojava, who within Syria had been long since cast off into a bottomless well and who for years had experienced the worst of denialist and assimilationist policies, were able to turn the ‘Arab Spring’ into the revolution of the Democratic Nation owing to a pioneering and democratic force that was the accumulation of decades of prior resistance.
Rojava, which is the smallest part of [divided] Kurdistan, introduced the Rojava Revolution to the world from Kobanê on July 19th, 2012. The fate of the 3 million Kurds, who had for many years long lived under occupation by the Syrian regime, entered a new era in the form of a rebellion against the nation-state, in which it had undergone so many important developments and reformations, and against the nation-state status quo which had spread to every corner of the globe.
The cantons themselves were formed a short while later following the acceptance of the constitution. The Cizîre Canton was officially proclaimed on January 21 (2014), the Kobanê Canton on January 27th and the Efrîn Canton on January 29th. The Democratic Autonomous Canton Administrations (Cizîrê, Kobanê and Efrîn) remain a part of Syrian territory. In every canton there exists a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies. These are formed from various local units. These cantons do not involve themselves with any of the tasks of a state, they defend the rights of local communities and take as the principle the resolution of problems through peaceful means. Once more each of these cantons has the right to its own flag, emblem and anthem.

2. Who are the forces defending Kobanê? How have they been able to defend the city from ISIS which is much better armed?
Today Kobanê’s official defense force is the People,s Defense Units (YPG) which was formed in 2004 and officially declared in 2011 and the Women’s Defense Force (YPJ) which was formed independently and in association [with the YPG]. These are the two military forces which are responsible for the self-defense of the whole of Rojava.
The heaviest attack on Kobanê to date began on September 10th, 2014 and was declared an official battle on September 15th and continues to this day. Over the course of this battle various other forces joined in the defense of Kobanê and we still observe them fighting there. One of the most important of these is a group known as El Ekrad (Cebhet’ül Ekrad in Arabic) or the ‘Kurdish Front.’ They began as a part of the Free Syrian Army during the Syrian Civil War and later separated. Over the last couple of months Peshmerga fighters [the official armed forces of the KRG – translator’s note] are also there. 150 Peshmerga fighters went to Kobanê following a decision of the [South] Kurdistan parliament. Not only these forces, but also groups such as the Ehrar Syria, the Siwar El Raqa (Şoreşgerê Reqa), Şems-î Şîmal are fighting in Kobanê. This to say that not only Kurds are fighting in Kobanê. There is a war of the peoples. There are also revolutionary groups from Turkey there. The MLKP is one of these…there are fighters from all over the world. There are also people from America, Holland and Africa which have come as individuals to join the fight. These are the forces taking part in the battle.
A war can be lost when one puts down their weapons. It can be lost when one loses their hope or faith. According to the fighters themselves one of the most important sources of motivation is the great injustice that is being perpetrated there. It is the knowledge that if it not confronted today it will grow much larger tomorrow.

3. Much has been made of ISIS’s barbaric attitudes toward women. At the same time women face violence and oppression all over the world. What role have women had in the Rojava revolution?

There is a reality which has already been expressed by Asya Abdullah, the co-President of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD). [The PYD is the largest political party in Rojava and the Syrian member of the transnational KCK, an umbrella body coordinating the Kurdish movement throughout the Middle East and in Europe – translator’s note]. She said that “when the revolution began Kurdish women took part with all their might.” This is to say Kurdish women were already engaged in struggle before the revolution began in Rojava and had organized in all spheres of life. This is to say that when the revolution began Kurdish women were ready. They took part in the revolution having already prepared for it. We can say that Kurdish women led the Rojava revolution. Women have a part in every decision taken in Rojava. The color of the Rojava revolution is the color of women.
Women in Rojava have led this revolution and are leading in the conflict that continues to this day. An example is one of the symbols of the Kobanê resistance: Arîn Mîrkan. It is women and children who suffer the most in war. Right now ISIS is selling women from Sinjar in their slave markets and this is happening in the 21st century! Their attacks target women systematically. War thereby affects them twice over. Therefore when one considers all of these factors the role that women have in the revolution and the reason they can be found on the front lines becomes clearer.
The women who are fighting define this revolution and this resistance as the possibility to ‘breath.’ These women are not only fighting for the rights and organization of women in the Middle East but all over the world. They always underline this when they express themselves. A woman fighter in Kobanê is protecting the rights of a woman in Diyarbakir and the rights of a working woman in New Jersey and contributes to their struggle.
If today the entire world is speaking about the the fighting Kurdish woman there is a depth, an historical program and a great struggle behind this. Most have been speaking about the ‘Women’s battalions.’ The first all-women’s battalion in Rojava was the ‘Martyr Ruken Battalion’ formed on March 5th, 2013 in Efrîn and after that the organization quickly spread around Rojava. The formation of these battalions, which first took place in secret, is now occurring everywhere quite openly.

4. Participation in US elections is at historic lows and this phenomenon is prevalent across much of the world. What model of democracy is being implemented in Rojava and how has it worked to empower ordinary people?

The model which has emerged in Rojavais the system of ‘Democratic Autonomy.’ If the democratic nation is its spirit, democratic autonomy is its body. Democratic autonomy is the state by which the construction of the democratic nation comes to take on flesh and bone and is realised concretely.
A short summary of this system’s essentials goes like this: The source of power is the people and it is the people who possess the power. Administration is conducted for by organizations and assemblies chosen by elections. No government can remain outside or above the Social Contract established by the Administration of Democratic Autonomy and be considered legitimate. The source of the assemblies and governing bodies founded on a democratic foundation is the people. No body which acts by itself or in the interest of a single group is acceptable.
In sociology and philosophy ‘autonomy’ has the opposite meaning of the Latin-rooted concept of ‘authority’, and in political science it has opposite meaning of ‘heteronomy.’ The concept comes from the combination of the Greek ‘autos’ (self) and ‘nomos’ (law, norm , rule) and from this root it has taken on a meaning of ‘making one’s own law’ or ‘being subject to one’s own law. ’ What exists in Rojava is foremost a form of ‘political autonomy.’ Political autonomy here means fundamentally the transfer of executive and legislative powers in a constitutional and participatory manner from the central state to regional bodies chosen democratically in a manner which sufficiently protects cultural and ethnic minorities living in their traditional homelands. We are talking about a model which when the Syrian Civil War was beginning found its own way (its 3rd way theory) without taking sides and demanded to govern itself using its own means and resources; a model which favors the will of a society as a political whole and a system which it develops itself; and a model which for the sake of this system is now preoccupied with combating the greatest savagery in the world today. And the peoples who believe in this [model] are now fighting together on the same front. Armenians, Assyrians, Arabs, Turks and many other peoples have declared their desire to live freely under this model and have become the drivers of this revolution.

5. The capitalist world is still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis and wealth-inequality is increasing in many places around the globe. What economic alternatives are being proposed in Rojava?
The economic pillar has been an essential part of the Rojava revolution! It defends an autonomous economic model and is working to put it into practice. Capitalism has surrounded everyone and everything, and in a century in which it is difficult to breath and where we are seemingly bereft of alternatives an exit is now being discovered through an alternative economic model and a communal economy. Dr. Ahmet Yusuf, the Economic Minister of the Efrîn Canton, made some important remarks recently at conference held on the ‘Democratic Autonomous Economy.’ He said “We take as a principle the protection and defense of natural resources. What we mean by defense is not defense in a military sense, but the self-defense against the exploitation and oppression which society now faces. There are many obstacles to restructuring the communal economy in Rojava. Systems which take capitalist systems as their reference have attempted to to obstruct our progress in the economic as well as the social spheres. We ourselves take the communal economy for our principal. We are working to create a system which combines anti-liberalism, ecological sustainability, and moral common property with communal and cultural production.”
One of the foundational arguments coming out against this in Rojava is the reality that all modes of production and relations of production are based on a foundation of hierarchy and class. This
is to say that the claim that labor is being liberated hides how the system of hegemony and colonialism comes to govern in an implicit but even more active manner.
This revolution is developing cooperatives based on a social economy as its economic alternative. For example any companies which will come to Rojava will take a place in the service of these cooperatives. The communes will be a primary force within the people’s assemblies. The cooperatives which are founded are being given enough space within the economic sphere to sustain themselves. The strength exists in the three cantons to found an economy along a socialized principle in the agriculture, livestock, industry and service sectors.
The ‘Economic Development Organization’ which has been founded in Rojava is an organization which deserves to be watched carefully. It is directing the projects that are building an independent economy. It is carrying on its activities around 6 main headings – commerce, service, construction, agriculture, industry and fuel….this system has so far managed to rely entirely on its own strength!

6. Discrimination based on ethnicity or race is common throughout much of the world, and violence against minorities is increasing in many places. How does the model in Rojava project minorities?

In order to understand and to give meaning to the policy around minorities in Rojava we can explain better by focusing on three small examples under three principal headings.
The first is the issue of ‘faith.’ Right now we see a fundamentalist radicalism spreading out through the Middle East. Hegemonic and centralizing powers want to homogenize the Middle East, which has been a garden of peoples. The only place where this is being resisted at present is the Rojava region and its cantons. For example Rojava is one if not the only place [in Syria] where churches have not been destroyed, faiths can be practiced freely and guarantees have been secured from the government.
The second is the ‘government’ factor. In the co-presidency of every canton there is a minority. They have guarantees in the Rojava Constitution by which to express and defend themselves and their rights, and to speak their native languages and to work to protect and develop them.
The third is the ‘war’ factor. Arabs, Armenians, Syriacs and many members of other minorities are fighting on the front in the current conflict. They have taken up weapons and are fighting to defend this model. This is something important. To mobilize and take sides in a war for freedom without being forced to but as a matter of trust and faith.
When we collect all these different elements together we are left with some hard data on the question of ‘How must we live together?’ This is the reason that today there is talk of the ‘Revolution of the Peoples’ in the battle of Kobanê and all over Rojava. Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, Chaldeans and other peoples living in Rojava are taking ownership of the Rojava Revolution. The system which is being proclaimed is a system of the peoples. The lawyer and President of the Christian Minorities Administration Cemil Abdulehed provides an authoritative summary of the situation when he says “we also are seeing that we are part of a system in which everyone’s own language, culture, faith and color can have its place. We are working to put this system into place.” In the Rojava Constitution you cannot find any reference to or stress laid upon any ethnic or religious allegiance.
7. Following ISIS advances in Syria and Iraq many neo-conservatives and Republicans have called for a return of US soldiers to the Middle East. Are US soldiers needed on the ground in Syria or Iraq?
I believe that before coming to the question of whether or not American soldiers are needed in Iraq or Syria one needs to ask ‘What is the task of American soldiers in Syria and Iraq?’ There is well known policy of ‘divide et impera’ That is divide and rule! Up until now this is more or less what has been going on. If we look at the problem focusing not on the results but on the process we see that one of the biggest reasons for what is happening today is the United States and its Middle East policy. ISIS is a also a result of this policy. The intervention of the United States in Kobanê came in conjunction with the beginning of ISIS’s complete takeover of the oil-producing regions in Southern Kurdistan [in Northern Iraq]. In fact Rear Admiral John Kirby has admitted this in his official capacity as Pentagon Spokesperson.
The United States claims to bring freedom. In my life I have never seen such bloody freedom! The presence of those soldiers here has been nothing other than getting people to accept the bad to avoid the worst. Because these countries already possess the mindset and the past needed to solve their own internal problems. But everything has been driven so far off course and made so chaotic that the United States, which pushes itself as the only political-economic power capable of producing a solution, can become the apostle of freedom. This is a form of hegemony.
8. Critics of US foreign policy have claimed that US foreign had a role in the development of ISIS, and that initially that their only concern was the removal of Assad. Would you agree with this view? What is responsible for the rise of ISIS?
In particular I would like to touch upon the rise of ISIS. One of the greatest factors in its rise was its production as a ‘phenomenon.’ Every news story produced in the media about it was at the same time a kind of support for it. ISIS describes itself as anti-modern. But you can come and see how it is modern enough to use scenes from the Oscar-winner ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Their videos of death and killing have been shot in HD and have effects that take hours of work. Everything is like a video game fantasy. The words of an English youth nicknamed ‘Ebu Sümeyye El-Britani’ have been widely circulated. He is supposed to have said that “fighting on the frontline in Syria is much better than playing the computer game Call of Duty.’ This is the socio-psychological side of this ‘phenomenon.’
As historical background the Afghanistan War experiment is important. Since the occupation of Afghanistan following September 11th and the Iraq War, moreover, the United States continues to protect the underground riches and the important deals which it has made with other states around them. ISIS has used the current chaos to attract thousands of fighters. In breaking its social ties with Al-Nusra and Al-Qaida and expanding its field of effective operations it also increased its ability to grow and find supporters. In this context it reference to itself through Islam and its ideological work to create a Jihadist image for itself made its propaganda work easier. Because in this way it has been able to draw thousands of people from Europe simply through the growing Islamaphobia there…
Another reason for the rise of ISIS was its gradual recognition as the kind of organization capable of killing and carrying out all kinds of massacres. And this factor was not thought about or debated enough and therefore no precautions were taken. This organization has entered into our lives to a much greater extent that any classic fundamentalist organization in the Middle East. And it did this by relying on a certain kind of ideology. For example in rationalizing decapitations it was employing a reference strong enough to attract thousands of people to its ranks. This was not sufficiently analyzed…and when this began to attract attention it was too late…
However the biggest force behind the growth of ISIS was the economy. The network of relationships which it derived from the past, that is from the culture that grew up around Al-Qaida, includes an enormous amount of support from the Arab Gulf. It is also important to point out how following its occupation of Mosul and its capture of an area rich in natural resources it became an oil producer. US Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that Turkey is among the countries buying oil from ISIS.
Now coming to the issue of Assad, the United States, and ISIS…I don’t believe that the United States ignored anything. They were entirely aware of ISIS and its rise. If it works towards its own interests they could work together with them tomorrow or the next day, and no one should be surprised by this. ISIS and similar groups function to keep the United States in the region. Today it is ISIS, tomorrow it will be something else. In this sense ISIS is just a mask. When it’s gone they will leave another organization with another form in its place.
9. Some people on the left have made comparisons between the situation in Kobanê and the Spanish Civil War when thousands of anti-fascists from all over the world went to fight against fascism. Do think that this a valid comparison?
All resistances in history resemble each. The resistance in Kobanê has been most identified [among commentators in the Kurdish movement – translator’s note] with the battle of Stalingrad. But if you ask me it most closely resembles the war of Algerian independence. Or take his holiness Hussein’s fight with Yazid the 1st, or the struggles of Sheikh Bedreddin or John Ball, or Warsaw’s fearless resistance against the German’s – each one was an experiment for Kobanê.
In every place where there is such resistance only the time and location changes. The essence is the same! What goes on the in the course of the battle is the same. The attitudes of the enemy, its motivation to destroy is the same.. Fascism’s universality derives from this.
I will say that there are similarities between the international anti-fascist solidarity that emerged during the Spanish Civil War and around Kobanê. When we look at Spain in 1936, Russia in 1940, Italy in 1941, France in 1942, Cuba in 1954 and many other historical resistances we will see close resembles between the people fighting on the frontlines.
10. What can ordinary people across the world do to support the ongoing revolution in the Rojava Cantons?
The most important is thing people can do is to show support for the recognition of the cantons and their autonomous structures. Right now the events in Rojava and its justified struggle which has become such a central political issue must be understood clearly. Lives have been lost in every step taken toward the democratic values which are emerging there.
The second thing is to show revolutionary solidarity. It has become clear that we are obligated to do so. ISIS is attempting to slip in on every side. In my opinion there is a similar threat to every place which rejects the nation-state model. We all see differences in the methods employed.
The third thing is to establish diplomatic relations. Rojava should not be isolated politically. Because it is not only developments in the Middle East that are affecting events there. Rojava is the target of many other countries, and in particular Turkey. The other day the President [of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan] said that “the formation of the cantons is a threat to our country.” In all reality it is impossible to understand how they constitute such a threat. With every diplomatic step taken this kind of discourse will die down a little. Because the Rojava revolution is a people’s revolution and it is a struggle for the construction of democracy. It is a fight for freedom and not some cover for anything else. It is within this framework that support must be given.
Yours Respectfully,
Özgür Amed

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The Constitution of the Rojava Cantons
The Social Contract of Rojava Cantons in Syria
Preamble
We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Syrics, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter.
In pursuit of freedom, justice, dignity and democracy and led by principles of equality and environmental sustainability, the Charter proclaims a new social contract, based upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society. It protects fundamental human rights and liberties and reaffirms the peoples’ right to self-determination.
Under the Charter, we, the people of the Autonomous Regions, unite in the spirit of reconciliation, pluralism and democratic participation so that all may express themselves freely in public life. In building a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs, the Charter recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity and aspires to maintain domestic and international peace.
In establishing this Charter, we declare a political system and civil administration founded upon a social contract that reconciles the rich mosaic of Syria through a transitional phase from dictatorship, civil war and destruction, to a new democratic society where civic life and social justice are preserved.
I General principles
Article 1
The Charter of the Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira, and Kobane, [hereinafter “the Charter”], is a renewed social contract between the peoples of the Autonomous Regions. The Preamble is an integral part of the Charter.
Article 2
a- Authority resides with and emanates from the people of the Autonomous Regions. It is exercised by governing councils and public institutions elected by popular vote.
b- The people constitute the sole source of legitimacy all governing councils and public institutions, which are founded on democratic principles essential to a free society.
Article 3
a – Syria is a free, sovereign and democratic state, governed by a parliamentary system based on principles of decentralization and pluralism.
b – The Autonomous Regions is composed of the three cantons of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, forming an integral part of the Syrian territory. The administrative centers of each Canton are: Afrin city, Canton of Afrin; Qamishli city, Canton of Jazira; Kobane city, Canton of Kobane.
c – The Canton of Jazira is ethnically and religiously diverse, with Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Chechen, Armenian, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi communities peacefully co-existing in brotherhood. The elected Legislative Assembly represents all three Cantons of the Autonomous Regions.
The Structure of governance in the Autonomous Regions
Article 4
1- Legislative Assembly
2 – Executive Councils
3 – High Commission of Elections
4 – Supreme Constitutional Courts
5 – Municipal/Provincial Councils
Article 5
The administrative centers of each Canton are:
Qamishli city, Canton of Jazira;
Afrin city, Canton of Afrin;
Kobane City, Canton of Kobane.
Article 6
All persons and communities are equal in the eyes of the law and in rights and responsibilities.
Article 7
All cities, towns and villages in Syria which accede to this Charter may form Cantons falling within Autonomous Regions.
Article 8
All Cantons in the Autonomous Regions are founded upon the principle of local self-government. Cantons may freely elect their representatives and representative bodies, and may pursue their rights insofar as it does not contravene the articles of the Charter.
Article 9
The official languages of the Canton of Jazira are Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.
Article 10
The Autonomous Regions shall not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, and it shall safeguard its relations with neighboring states, resolving any conflicts peacefully.
Article 11
The Autonomous Regions have the right to be represented by their own flag, emblems and anthem. Such symbols shall be defined in a law.
Article 12
The Autonomous Regions form an integral part of Syria. It is a model for a future decentralized system of federal governance in Syria.

II Basic Principles
Article 13
There shall be a separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary.
Article 14
The Autonomous Regions shall seek to implement a framework of transitional justice measures. It shall take steps to redress the legacy of chauvinistic and discriminatory State policies, including the payment of reparations to victims, both individuals and communities, in the Autonomous Regions.
Article 15
The People’s Protection Units (YPG) is the sole military force of the three Cantons, with the mandate to protect and defend the security of the Autonomous Regions and its peoples, against both internal and external threats. The People’s Protection Units act in accordance with the recognized inherent right to self-defense. Power of command in respect of the People’s Protection Units is vested in the Body of Defense through its Central Command. Its relation to the armed forces of the central Government shall be defined by the Legislative Assembly in a special law.
The Asayish forces are charged with civil policing functions in the Autonomous Regions.
Article 16
If a court or any other public body considers that a provision conflicts with a provision of a fundamental law or with a provision of any other superior statute, or that the procedure prescribed was set aside in any important respect when the provision was introduced, the provision shall be nullified.
Article 17
The Charter guarantees the rights of the youth to participate actively in public and political life.
Article 18
Unlawful acts and omissions and the appropriate penalties are defined by criminal and civil law.
Article 19
The system of taxation and other fiscal regulations are defined by law.
Article 20
The Charter holds as inviolable the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in international human rights treaties, conventions and declarations.
III Rights and Liberties
Article 21
The Charter incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as other internationally recognized human rights conventions.
Article 22
All international rights and responsibilities pertaining civil, political, cultural, social and economical rights are guaranteed.
Article 23
a – Everyone has the right to express their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender rights
b – Everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment, based on ecology balance.
Article 24
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Freedom of expression and freedom of information may be restricted having regard to the security of the Autonomous Regions, public safety and order, the integrity of the individual, the sanctity of private life, or the prevention and prosecution of crime.
Article 25
a- Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.
b- All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
c- Prisoners have the right to humane conditions of detention, which protect their inherent dignity. Prisons shall serve the underlying objective of the reformation, education and social rehabilitation of prisoners.
Article 26
Every human being has the inherent right to life. No one within the jurisdiction of the Autonomous Regions shall be executed.
Article 27
Women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life.
Article 28
Men and women are equal in the eyes of the law. The Charter guarantees the effective realization of equality of women and mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.
Article 29
The Charter guarantees the rights of the child. In particular children shall not suffer economic exploitation, child labor, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and shall not be married before attaining the age of majority.
Article 30
All persons have the right
1. to personal security in a peaceful and stable society.
2. to free and compulsory primary and secondary education.
3. to work, social security, health, adequate housing.
4. to protect the motherhood and maternal and pediatric care.
5. to adequate health and social care for the disabled, the elderly and those with special needs.
Article 31
Everyone has the right to freedom of worship, to practice one’s own religion either individually or in association with others. No one shall be subjected to persecution on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
Article 32
a)- Everyone has the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to establish and freely join any political party, association, trade union and/or civil assembly.
b) – In exercising the right to freedom of association, political, economic and cultural expression of all communities is protected. This serves to protect the rich and diverse heritage of the peoples of the Autonomous Regions.
c) – The Yazidi religion is a recognized religion and its adherents’ rights to freedom of association and expression is explicitly protected. The protection of Yazidi religious, social and cultural life may be guaranteed through the passage of laws by the Legislative Assembly.
Article 33
Everyone has the freedom to obtain, receive and circulate information and to communicate ideas, opinions and emotions, whether orally, in writing, in pictorial representations, or in any other way.
Article 34
Everyone has the right of peaceful assembly, including the right to peaceful protect, demonstration and strike.
Article 35
Everyone has the right to freely experience and contribute to academic, scientific, artistic and cultural expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.
Article 36
Everyone has the right to vote and to run for public office, as circumscribed by law.
Article 37
Everyone has the right to seek political asylum. Persons may only be deported following a decision of a competent, impartial and properly constituted judicial body, where all due process rights have been afforded.
Article 38
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal opportunities in public and professional life.
Article 39
Natural resources, located both above and below ground, are the public wealth of society. Extractive processes, management, licensing and other contractual agreements related to such resources shall be regulated by law.
Article 40
All buildings and land in the Autonomous Regions are owned by the Transitional Administration are public property. The use and distribution shall be determined by law.
Article 41
Everyone has the right to the use and enjoyment of his private property. No one shall be deprived of his property except upon payment of just compensation, for reasons of public utility or social interest, and in the cases and according to the forms established by law.
Article 42
The economic system in the provinces shall be directed at providing general welfare and in particular granting funding to science and technology. It shall be aimed at guaranteeing the daily needs of people and to ensure a dignified life. Monopoly is prohibited by law. Labor rights and sustainable development are guaranteed.
Article 43
Everyone has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence within the Autonomous Regions.
Article 44
The enumeration of the rights and freedoms set forth in Section III is non-exhaustive.
The Democratic Self-rule Administration Project
IV Legislative Assembly
Article 45
The Legislative Assembly in the Autonomous Region is elected by the people by direct, secret ballot, and the duration of the course is four (4) years.
Article 46
The first meeting of the Legislative Assembly shall be held no later than the 16th day following the announcement of the final results of elections in all Autonomous Regions. Such results will be certified and announced by the Higher Commission of Elections.
The President of the Transitional Executive Council will convene the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly. If compelling reasons dictate that its first meeting cannot be so held, the President of the Transitional Executive Council will determine another date to be held within fifteen days.
Quorum is met by fifty + one (50+1%) percent attendants of the total. The oldest member of the Legislative Assembly will chair its first meeting at which the Co-Presidents and Executive Council will be elected.
The sessions of the Legislative Assembly are public unless necessity demands otherwise. The movement of the Legislative Assembly into closed session is governed by its rules of procedure.
Article 47
There shall be one member of the Supreme Legislature Council per fifteen thousand (15,000) registered voters residing within the Autonomous Region. The Legislative Assembly must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex according to the electoral laws. The representation of the Syriac community, as well as youth representation in the election lists, is governed by electoral laws.
Article 48
1- No member of the Legislative Assembly may run for more than two consecutive terms.
2 – The term of the Legislative Assembly may be extended in exceptional cases at the request of one quarter (¼) of its members or at the request of the Office of the President of the Council, with the consent of two-thirds (⅔) of the members of the Council. Such extension shall be for no longer than six (6) months.
Article 49
Every person who has reached the age of eighteen (18) years is eligible to vote. Candidates for the Legislative Assembly must have attained the age of twenty-two (22) years. Conditions for candidacy and election are stipulated by electoral law.
Article 50
Members of the Legislative Assembly enjoy immunity in respect of acts and omissions carried out in the function of official duties. Any prosecutions require the authorization of the Legislative Assembly, with the exception of flagrante crime. At the earliest opportunity, the Office of the President of the Council shall be informed of all pending prosecutions.
Article 51
No member, during his term of office, is permitted any public, private, or other profession. Such employment is suspended once he makes the constitutional oath. He has the right to return to his job, with all its rights and benefits, once his membership ends.
Article 52
Local Councils in each province of the Autonomous Regional shall be formed through direct elections.
Article 53
The functions of the Legislative Assembly are to:
– Establish rules and procedures governing the work of the Legislative Assembly.
– Enact legislation and proposed regulations for the Local Councils and other institutions, including permanent and ad hoc committees, under its purview.
– Exercise control over administrative and executive bodies, including use of powers of review.
– Ratification of international treaties and agreements.
– Delegate its powers to the Executive Council or to one of its members and thereafter to withdraw such powers.
– Declare a State of war and peace.
– Ratify the appointment of members of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
– Adopt the general budget.
– Establish general policy and development plans.
– Approve and grant amnesty.
– Adopt decrees promulgated by the Executive Council; and
– Adopt laws for the common governance of the Provincial Councils of the Autonomous Regions.
Part V Executive Council
Article 54
Canton Premier
A- The Canton Premier, together with the Executive Council of the Autonomous Regions, hold executive authority as set forth in this Charter.
B- The candidate to the post of Canton Premier must.
1- Be over thirty-five years of age;
2- Be a Syrian citizen and a resident of the canton; and
3- Have no convictions or cautions.
C- The procedure governing the candidacy and election of Canton Premier:
1- Within 30 days of the first session of the Legislative Assembly, its President must call for the election of the Canton Premiers.
2- Requests to nominate candidates for the position of Canton Premier must be made, in writing, to the Supreme Court which shall examine and accept or reject not later than ten (10) days after the close of nominations.
3- The Legislative Assembly shall elect the Canton Premier by a simple majority.
4- If no candidate receives the required simple majority, a second electoral round is initiated, with the candidate receiving the highest number of votes, being elected.
5- The term of Canton Premier is four (4) years from the date of the taking of the Oath of Office;
6- The Canton Premier makes the Oath of Office before the Legislative Assembly before commencing official duties.
7- The Canton Premier appointed one or more Deputies, approved by the Legislative Assembly. The Deputies take an Oath of Office before the Canton Premier, after which specified functions may be delegated to them.
8- Should the Canton Premier be unable to fulfill his official functions, one of his Deputies shall replace him. Where the Canton Premier and the Deputies are unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, the tasks of the Canton Premier will be carried out by the President of the Legislative Assembly; and
9- The Governor must address any letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly.
D- The powers and functions of the Canton Premier:
1- The Canton Premier shall ensure respect for the Charter and the protection of the national unity and sovereignty, and at all times performing his functions to the best of ability and conscience.
2- The Canton Premier shall appoint the President of the Executive Council.
3- The Canton Premier shall implement laws passed by the Legislative Assembly, and issue decisions, orders and decrees in accordance with those laws.
4- The Canton Premier must invite the newly elected Legislative Assembly to convene within fifteen (15) days from the announcement of the election results;
5- The Canton Premier may grant medals.
6- The Canton Premier may issue amnesties as recommended by the President of the Executive Council.
E- The Canton Premier is responsible to the people through his representatives in the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly has the right to bring him before the Supreme Constitutional Court for charges of treason and other forms of sedition.
The Executive Council:
The Executive Council is the highest executive and administrative body in the Autonomous Regions. It is responsible for the implementation of laws, resolutions and decrees as issued by the Legislative Assembly and judicial institutions. It shall coordinate the institutions of the Autonomous Regions.
Article 55
The Executive Council is composed of a Chairman, representatives and committees.
Article 56
The party or bloc winning a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly shall form the Executive Council within one month from the date of assignment, with the approval of the simple majority (51%) of the members of the Legislative Assembly.
Article 57
The Head of the Executive Council shall not serve more than two consecutive terms, each term being four (4) years in length. Article 58 The Head of the Executive Council may choose advisers amongst the newly elected members of the Legislative Council.
Article 59
Each adviser shall be responsible for one of the bodies within the Executive Council.
Article 60
The work of the Executive Council, including the Departments, and their relation to other institutions/committees is regulated by law.
Article 61
After the formation and approval of the Executive Council, it shall issue its prospective Program for Government. Following its passage through the Legislative Assembly, the Executive Council is obliged to implement the Program of Government during that legislative term.
Article 62
Senior civil servants and Department representatives shall be nominated by the Executive Council and approved by the Legislative Council.
Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils]:
1- The Cantons of the Autonomous Regions are composed of Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] and are managed by the relevant Executive Council which retains the power to amend its functions and regulations;
2- The powers and duties of the Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] are founded upon an adherence to a policy of decentralization. The Canton’s supervision of the Provincial Administrative Councils’ [Municipal Councils’] authority, including its budget and finance, public services and mayoral elections are regulated by law.
3- Provincial Administrative Councils [Municipal Councils] are directly elected by the public, using secret ballot.
Part VI The Judicial Council:
Article 63
The independence of the Judiciary is founding principle of the rule of law, which ensures a just and effective disposition of cases by the competent and impartial courts.
Article 64
Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty by a competent and impartial court.
Article 65
All institutions of the Judicial Council must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex.
Article 66
The right to defense is sacred and inviolable at all stages of an investigation and trial.
Article 67
The removal of a Judge from office requires a decision from the Judicial Council.
Article 68
Judgments and judicial decisions are issued on behalf of the people.
Article 69
Failure to implement judicial decisions and orders is a violation of law.
Article 70
No civilian shall stand trial before any military court or special or ad hoc tribunals.
Article 71
Searches of houses and other private property must be done in accordance with a properly executed warrant, issued by a judicial authority.
Article 72
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Article 73
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
Article 74
Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention or otherwise suffered damage or harm as a result of the acts and omissions of public authorities has an enforceable right to compensation.
Article 75
The Judicial Council is established by law.
VII The Higher Commission of Elections
Article 76
The Higher Commission of Elections is an independent body competent to oversee and run the electoral process. It is composed of 18 members, representing all cantons, who are appointed by the Legislative Assembly.
1. Decisions in the Commission require a qualified majority of eleven (11) votes.
2. Member of the Higher Commission of Elections may not stand for office in the Legislative Assembly.
3. The Higher Commission of Elections determines the date on which elections are held, the announcement of the results, and receive the nominations of eligible candidates for the Legislative Assembly.
4. As stated in paragraph 51, the Higher Commission of Elections verifies the eligibility of candidates seeking election to the Legislative Assembly. The Higher Commission of Elections is the sole body competent to receive allegations of electoral fraud, voter intimidation or illegal interference with the process of an election.
5. The Higher Commission of Elections is monitored by the Supreme Court and may be monitored by observers from the United Nations and civil society organizations.
6. The Higher Commission of Elections, together with the Judicial Council, shall convene a meeting of all candidates seeking election to the Legislative Assembly to announce the names of eligible candidates.
VIII The Supreme Constitutional Court
Article 77
a)- The Supreme Constitutional Court is composed of seven (7) members, all of whom are nominated by the Legislative Assembly. Its members are drawn from Judges, legal experts and lawyers, all of whom must have no less than fifteen (15) years of professional experience.
b)- No member of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall not be eligible to serve on the Executive Council or in the Legislative Assembly or to hold any other office or position of emolument, as defined by law.
c)- A member’s term of office runs for four (4) years. No member may serve more than two terms.
The functions of the Supreme Constitutional Court
Article 78
1. To interpret the articles and underlying principles of the Charter.
2. To determine the constitutionality of laws enacted by the Legislative Assembly and decisions taken by Executive Council.
3. To judicially review legislative acts and executive decisions, where such acts and decisions may be in the conflict with the letter and spirit of the Charter and the Constitution.
4. Canton Premiers, members of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council may be brought before the Supreme Constitutional Court, when alleged to have acted in breach of the Charter.
5. Its decisions are reached through simple majority vote.
Article 79
A member of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall not be removed from office except for stated misbehavior or incapacity. The provisions and procedures governing the work of the Supreme Constitutional Court shall be set out in a special law.
Article 80
Procedure for determination of the constitutionality of laws as follow:
1- The decision for the non-constitutional of any law will be as follow:
a)- Where, prior to a law’s enactment, more than twenty per cent (20%) of the Legislative Assembly objects to its constitutionality, the Supreme Constitutional Court is seized of the matter and shall render its decision within fifteen (15) days; if the law is to be urgently enacted, a decision shall be rendered within seven (7) days.
b)-Where, following the rendering of the Judgment of the Supreme Constitutional Court, more than twenty per cent (20%) of the Legislative Assembly still objects to its constitutionality, an appeal may be lodged.
c)- If, on appeal, the Supreme Constitutional Court rules the law to be enacted as unconstitutional, the law shall be considered null and void.
2. If an argument is raised in a court concerning the constitutionality of a law as follow:
a)- If parties to a case raise a challenge to the constitutionality of a law and the court so holds, the matter is stayed while it is referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court
b)- The Supreme Constitutional Court must deliver its judgment within thirty (30) days.
IX General Rules
Article 81
The Charter applies within the Autonomous Regions. It may only be amended by a qualified majority of two-thirds (⅔) of the Legislative Assembly.
Article 82
The Charter shall be laid before the Transitional Legislative Assembly for review and ratification.
Article 83
Syrian citizens holding dual nationality are barred from assuming leading positions in the Office of the Canton Premier, the Provincial Council, and the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Article 84
The Charter sets out the legislative framework through which laws, decrees, and states of emergency shall be formally implemented.
Article 85
Elections to form the Legislative Assembly shall be held within four (4) months of the ratification of the Charter by the Transitional Legislative Assembly. The Transitional Legislative Assembly retains the right to extend the time period if exceptional circumstances arise.
Article 86
The Oath of Office to be taken by members of the Legislative Assembly
“I solemnly swear, in the name of Almighty God, to abide by the Charter and laws of the Autonomous Regions, to defend the liberty and interests of the people, to ensure the security of the Autonomous Regions, to protect the rights of legitimate self-defense and to strive for social justice, in accordance with the principles of democratic rules enshrined herein.”
Article 87
All governing bodies, institutions and committees shall be made up of at least forty percent (40%) of either sex.
Article 88
Syrian criminal and civil legislation is applicable in the Autonomous Regions except where it contradicts provisions of this Charter.
Article 89
In the case of conflict between laws passed by the Legislative Assembly and legislation of the central government, the Supreme Constitutional Court will rule upon the applicable law, based on the best interest of the Autonomous Regions.
Article 90
The Charter guarantees the protection of the environment and regards the sustainable development of natural ecosystems as a moral and a sacred national duty.
Article 91
The education system of the Autonomous Regions shall be based upon the values of reconciliation, dignity, and pluralism. It is a marked departure from prior education policies founded upon racist and chauvinistic principles.
Education within the Autonomous Regions rejects prior education policies based on racist and chauvinistic principles. Founded upon the values of reconciliation, dignity, and pluralism,
a)- The new educational curriculum of the cantons shall recognize the rich history, culture and heritage of the peoples of the Autonomous Regions.
b)-The education system, public service channels and academic institutions shall promote human rights and democracy.
Article 92
a)- The Charter enshrines the principle of separation of religion and State.
b)- Freedom of religion shall be protected. All religions and faiths in the Autonomous Regions shall be respected. The right to exercise religious beliefs shall be guaranteed, insofar as it does not adversely affect the public good.
Article 93
a)- The promotion of cultural, social and economic advancement by administrative institutions ensures enhanced stability and public welfare within the Autonomous Regions.
b)- There is no legitimacy for authority which contradicts this charter. Article 94 Martial law may be invoked and revoked by a qualified majority of two-thirds (⅔) of the Executive Council, in a special session chaired by the Canton Premier. The decision must then be presented to and unanimously adopted by the Legislative Assembly, with its provisions contained in a special law.
The Executive Council Bodies
Article 95
1. Body of Foreign Relations
2. Body of Defense
3. Body of Internal Affairs
4. Body of Justice
5. Body of Cantonal and Municipal Councils and affiliated to it Committee of Planning and Census
6. Body of Finance, and affiliated to it a)-Committee on Banking Regulations. b)- Committee of Customs and Excise.
7. Body of Social Affairs
8. Body of Education
9. Body of Agriculture
10. Body of Energy.
11. Body of Health
12. Body of Trade and Economic Cooperation
13. Body of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs
14. Body of Culture
15. Body of Transport
16. Body of Youth and Sports
17. Body of Environment, Tourism and Historical Objects
18. Body of Religious Affairs
19. Body of Family and Gender Equality
20. Body of Human Rights.
21. Body of Communications
22. Body of Food
Security Article 96
The Charter shall be published in the media and press.

Map of cantons

CONSTITUTION OF THE YPG

People’s Defense Units, a.k.a People’s Protection Units.

Chapter I:
Article I – Organizational Name: The YPG organizes itself as the basic defense force in Rojava, West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan). The designation of its military organization is known as the People’s Defense Units – YPG: People’s Defense Units, a.k.a People’s Protection Units.
Article II – YPG Symbol: A red star is placed on a yellow ground, in the lower section ‘YPG’ is written with green capital letters, a green line is drawn on both sides of the flag and around the star.

Article III – YPG Objectives: The objectives of the YPG are centered on the Paradigm of the Ecological and Democratic Civilization, and Gender Freedom; in order to build a Democratic Syria and a Free Kurdistan.
The YPG aims to protect the political and ethical society, it takes self-regulation as its basis – without discriminating between religion, language, nationality, gender, or political parties, in a harmony with democratic and national interests. The YPG shoulders self-defense as a duty in face of all kinds of attacks, foreign or domestic; YPG works for the freedom of all the peoples of Rojava (West Kurdistan).
The YPG is struggling to achieve the freedom of all Syrian components, and organizes itself in West Kurdistan to stand in face of any external or internal intervention; YPG looks to the Self-Defense Project as a basic task. For that, the YPG, as a national military force, is not affiliated with any political power; in the context of defending the national interests, the YPG is subject to the decisions of the Supreme Kurdish Body.
Chapter II
Article Four – Regulatory Mechanism in the YPG:
The YPG organizes itself to the form: General Command and Sub-Leaderships. To establish the YPG three centers shape themselves in triple Cantons of:
A. Jazeera
B. Kobani
C. Afrin
The higher corporation for the YPG is the extended Military Council which meets annually. This Council could also meet in emergency situations. At its annual meeting, the works of last year are evaluated, and the work plans for the following year are set to be practiced.
• Military Council: Consists of 55 members who meet every six months, the Council is responsible for all activities of the YPG.
• General Command: Responsible for the daily acts of the YPG, General Command actualizes the decisions made by the Military Council, and creates action plans.
• Local Military Council: The Local Military Council is associated with local decisions and works on the same basis, the number of members of the Local Military Council is according to the size of the center, and they meet every 3 months.
The YPG consists of three basic divisions:
• Professional Forces
• Resistance Units
• Local Forces
– These divisions work according to the Central Democratic System through reports, orders and instructions. Suggestions proposed by sub leaderships are accepted and assessed by the General Command.
– The appointment and promotion of each Combatant is according to the opinion and orders of Local Command who organize the forces in agreement with the regional needs.
– YPG accepts adult nominees for its membership, national unity supporters could also be accepted to join the organization’s ranks.
– To join the People’s Defense Units one must enter and pass through training courses, and finally they must be officially sworn in. For every member of the YPG code names (Nom de guerre) and uniforms will be provided, and their equipment should be registered.
– Every member of the People’s Defense Units (YPG) are appointed in agreement with Command Center. Under the knowledge of Command Center, defense forces are organized in harmony with local requirements.
YPG Members’ Features and Values:
1. With a revolutionary and patriotic knowledge, ecologic and democratic standards, an YPG member takes a free and equal life as basis to build a moral and political civilization.
2. He/she founds people’s defense as the first priority and joins the idea on this value.
3. He/she understands people’s culture very well, foresees people’s sensitivities such as religion, nationality, and moves respecting their ideals.
4. He/she aims to serve the people, and works to benefit and train them as a prior value.
5. He/she approaches towards the people in the context of moral values. To teach the people on their protection/defense and mobilization, he/she works vigorously.
6. Does not see the YPG as a place for their personal benefits, as he/she aims to serve the people, does not see any distinction of family, tribe or region.
7. They are seen among the people as the most respected and loved personalities for their joy and intimacy.
8. As he/she moves with a democratic, ecologic and gender awareness, refuses gender discrimination in society.
9. He/she is open to criticism and accepts his/her comrades’ or people’s reviews.
10. He/she never takes side in people’s familial, tribal, religious or political issues. He/she is the force to justly resolve the situation, and protects unity as he/she is knowledgeable about a democratic nation.
Women’s Establishment
1. Women in the People’s Defense Units independently build their organization.
2. In each region women associate 40 percent of the Defense Units.
3. Women’s forces in the YPG conduct themselves as the main body to support and defend women in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).
4. Women’s forces in the YPG are pioneers for the path to reach the objectives of the YPG; to provide the people with the protection they deserve.
5. Women’s forces in the YPG are appointed and promoted by Women’s Command.
Academy Leaderships
1. YPG Command: Is defined by YPG’s Rules of Procedure, it builds Academies Leadership by military branches to train YPG volunteers.
2. Adjective to the YPG Command, Academy Leadership organizes its force by subordinate branches. Academies titles are addressed like: “Şehîd Xebat (Martyr Khabat) Military Academy”.
3. A range of political and military programs are designed during training courses in the YPG academies to increase perception – in order to build a free and democratic life.
4. Based on a modern strategy and the line of legitimate defense, YPG academies conduct technical, tactical and military training courses.
5. Şehîd Xebat Military Academies provide basic military training for the volunteers who have registered in the YPG as well as directing professional courses to escalate YPG fighters’ proficiency. These academies could also assemble special courses considering the requests appealed by Combatant Commanders.
6. Şehîd Xebat Military Academies, like the Military Academies Command, organize themselves from top to the bottom in agreement with their requirements; and open their subdivisions.
7. The Military Academies Command provides training materials and brochures, and carries out other programs such as seminars.
8. Specialized courses (heavy weaponry, mine planting operations, sniper courses, etc.) are directed under the roof of these training academies.
Border Units (Borders Command)
1. Founded on boundary bases, the Border Units organize their forces in accordance with a block system.
2. The block system is composed of three distinct bases where the units are placed.
3. The Border Units, at different shifts, control the traffic on the frontier.
4. Except for the base commanders, cellphones are not being used among the Border Units forces, communication are only made through wireless method.
5. On the frontier, except for the specified points, trafficking is forbidden.
6. If an illegal border crossing is completed, obligatory interrogation must be performed, and the illegally crossed objects will be confiscated. The individuals who are in custody must be immediately referred to the relevant authorities.
7. In border bases rudimentary actions are being carried out.
8. Border Units prepare reports of their daily activities.
Logistic Infrastructure
1. The Logistic Command is put up within the YPG Command – by the intention of answering vital requirements.
2. Its responsibility is to answer necessities of military Commanders and Units.
3. The Logistic Infrastructure is formed of a central area, and general diffusion is completed in harmony.
4. The Logistic Infrastructure expends considering the budget definite for its body. Expenditure out of this budget should be approved by a higher organization.
5. Equipment received by this structure are orderly distributed, additional costs are prevented.
6. Democratic values are based so as collectivity, awareness and organization.
7. Organizational necessities of a 6-month period are foreseen and provided at once.
Record and Archive Structure (Saziya Arşiva Sicîlan)
1. Subordinate to the YPG Command, the Record and Archive Structure systematically archives Defense Units’ identifications.
2. Archival works are completed in each headquarters and the final information are orderly sent to the Central Archive Structure positioned in the Central HQs.
3. The Record and Archive Structure saves the information on each member’s identity in a distinct program.
4. It is under the roof of this structure that media activities are being executed.
5. All archival activities are confidentially completed, and could only be accessed by the members of this structure.
Gear and Ammunition Foundation
1. This foundation establishes both in the Central Command and Sub-Command headquarters.
2. This institution is responsible for the storage, registration and protection of gear and ammunition.
3. The foundation distributes gear and ammunition in requested areas, and is responsible for the protection of reserves.
4. Always considers cases of emergency in war, and stores weapons and ammunition on this basis, it does not use ammunition randomly.
5. Specified centers determine the purchase of ammunition; the Ammunition Foundation is in direct contact with these centers.
6. Predefined Commanders are responsible for the ammunition that has been distributed among the troops.
Finance (Maliye)
1. This institution organize themselves under the roof of the General Command, and is responsible for fiscal policy.
2. It is responsible for auditing all exports and imports.
3. It is responsible for finding points of material resources.
4. Formally receives reports from each region and hands them over to the General Command.
5. It is financially responsible for the Logistic Infrastructure.
6. It is responsible for common needs as well as bigger sales.
Correspondents(Kurye / Qasid)
1. Units of Correspondents arise under the roof of the General Command according to requirements. Contacts between the GC and sub-leaders are made through the Units of Correspondents.
2. Each sub-command HQs creates a Correspondent Unit to communicate with the other headquarters.
Chapter III
System in the YPG
Military organization in the YPG is based on three pillars namely:
• Group / Team (Tîm): Consists of three to five Combatants.
• Platoon (Taxim): Consists of two teams.
• Block (Boluk): Consists of three teams.
• Battalion (Tabur): Consists of three blocks.
• Provincial Command (Ayalat): Conduct themselves as Leadership of Brigades.
YPG Units
Professional Units:
• Professional Units arise within the Paradigm of Democratic, Ecologic Society and Gender Freedom – in order to remove obstacles to the freedom of the Kurdish people. These units are composed of Specialist Units in the YPG, those volunteers in the YPG who join the actions 24 hours a day, have passed political and military training, and are fully aware of the concept of legitimate defense.
• In case of peace and when conditions are allowing relevant authorities could approve a break (a week in a month) for the Professional Units.
Peculiarities of the Members of the Professional Units:
1. Patriots and defenders of the people.
2. Democrats and advocates of freedom.
3. Fully aware, brave and active.
4. Creator, devoted, practical and owner of initiative.
5. Skillful in technical and tactical methods.
6. Work for the implementation of rules and instructions.
7. Own self-system discipline, and promote themselves through self-training.
8. As he/she moves with the idea of Democratic, Ecologic Life and Gender Freedom awareness, refuses gender discrimination in the society.
9. Receptive to criticism and self-criticism for a productive change.
Secret Resistance Units (Yekîneyên Berxwedanê Yên Veşartî)
1. The Resistance Units arise from the Provincial and Regional Command (Ayalat). Fully alert about the situation, each cadre creates one or two unit(s) along with him/herself in order to stand against the enemy attacks.
2. Members of the Resistance Units are carefully chosen, they are the most trusted Combatants.
3. Each cadre passes its unit(s) through special training courses.
4. These units are to be secret and unknown, even the members do not know about each other.
5. Members of these units are highly disciplined and active.
6. Under any circumstances they protect their ability to fight.
Local Units (Yekîneyên Herêmî)
Local Units core implements the concept of legitimate defense for the democratization of society in order to provide and protect people’s freedoms and equality; these units are based on organization and leadership. Members of the Local Units are people’s fighting forces, they join the military actions within the masses of people without interrupting their social life.
• Without dropping out of civic life and community, they initiate a national, military force. These units have no material revenue but they do have a particular ideology.
• Highly determined in protecting the interests of people.
• Local Units are skilled through technical and tactical training methods.
• Local Units are skilled in the concept of self-defense and act upon the basis of political objectives.
• Members of the Local Units do not belong to any organization or movement of society.
• They are not related to any task of other targets, linked to their goals as People’s Defense Units.
• They work in order to be able to keep their social life. They are responsible for their families but do not confuse any form of social and military life, so they avoid to constitute a ground for personal interests.
• In order to apply the national duties they vigorously join the Units’ tasks. Members of these units cannot leave their work by design.

Internal Works (Şixulîna/Xebitîna Hundirîn)
1- The form of Instructions and Commands

Democratic Centralism is the basis for the Internal Works, this centralism is intended through instructions and orders. The form is implemented through meetings, discussions, and the presence of all the members to find appropriate suggestions.
2- The Form of Reports

About the work carried out, from the bottom to the top, it organizes to make the Command Centers informed. Members of these units, after executing these instructions, directly report the actions to the leadership that gave the instructions. Each Unit and each sub-command provides complement verbally and in writing to the higher leadership in a pre-defined period; they are to hold their meetings and give the reports (Tekmil). Sub institutions that have not submitted their reports considered impermeable to their work.
3- Meeting

A) All our troops will organize their meetings as required.
B) In the camps taken supplementation a day, every three days these reports will be debated and evaluated.
C) Secret and Local Teams (Tim) intend their reports (Tekmil) once a week and organize their meetings every 15 days, and present a report on the results to the Supreme Command.
D) Platoons (Taxim) meet every 15 days, Blocks (Boluk) hold their meetings monthly, and orderly submit a report to the Supreme Command.
E) All institutions and centers meet monthly, and similarly submit their report to the Supreme Command.
4- System / Discipline: The need for a disciplined system arises in every military action. Discipline is the first and foremost military principle associated with free will and democracy-building foundations. A disciplined system consolidates business, events and unity, and brings victory. To carry out a struggle is only possible when the elements abide the rules definedby a disciplined system.

Rules that must be adhered to and acted upon:
• Working upon secret and hidden rules.
• Commitment to intellectual tasks.
• Not to hesitate in front of the enemies of the nation.
• Not to give the field to override the principles of the struggle.
• Protection of the physical principles (arms and ammunition) that have been received – to use them as needed.
• Concern for the collective form of work, paying attention to personal health.
• Initiative, and resistance against all the terms and difficult conditions.
• Put action plans in advance, and organize time.
5- Criticize and Self-Criticism

Criticize and self-criticism is important in order to dispense members from personal mistakes, and commit to the principles of freedom and democracy. Responsible for criticism and self-criticism, each member of the YPG reviews and criticizes his/her comrades and his/her own actions in official meetings. Criticism and self-criticism is not used as a weapon to reduce the comrades, but it is used as a tool for progress and development.
6- Errors and Penalties
Since the YPG is a military organization and sees the Professional, Local and Resistance Units under its roof, mistakes in its ranks are divided into two types of crimes:
A. War Crimes
B. Errors that violate system discipline
War crimes are investigated in military courts, and errors within system discipline will be reviewed through organizational platforms.
War crimes that will be investigated in military courts:
• Espionage for the benefit of the enemy
• Betrayal of the principles of the struggle
• Acts of distortion against the march of civilization, democracy and the struggle for freedom
• Evacuating efforts and fighters during a military campaign against enemy forces
• Views and functions that let to commit blunders
• Use of cruelty and violence outside the concept of legitimate protection
• Causing comrades’ death
• Subverting the principle of people and the struggle
• Distorting the system discipline against the formation of the Unit
• Actions against Units’/people’s ethics
Those proved of the cited war crimes will be disqualified from the military actions, and will be osculated according to the military court’s decision.

Errors violating system discipline
• Approaching and acting in a personal way towards principles
• Signs of personal behavior at work, making it a tool for severity
• Standing as an obstacle against the Unit’s work
• Leaving the organization without the application of formal rules to resign
• Acting out of regular decisions or delaying the implementation of orders
• Not to support his/her Comrades and leave them without control
• Insisting to complete those operations that will not result as intended
• Revealing secret topics
• Reporting operations’ outcome to irrelevant third parties
• Not to protect the equipment that have been distributed to members
• Giving false information to senior leadership
• Delay to inform the senior leadership of information
• Not to complete tasks in a timely manner
• To accept the membership or the expulsion of members could be completed over a proposal by the lower structure and the approval of senior leadership
Persons committing system discipline errors after investigation (platform), according to the gravity of the offense, will either be “freeze from membership, isolated, disqualified from duty or freeze from mission”, etc.
YPG Membership Sworn Statement:
According to the Paradigm of Democratic, Ecologic Civilization, and Gender Freedom; I will defend the moral and political society without discriminating between religion, language, nationality, gender, or political parties, and that I will act upon the legitimate defense against all attacks, foreign or domestic. Considering the rules of procedure adopted by the YPG, I will join the efforts with a bold, disciplined and confident faith. In face of any kind of difficulties, I will base victory with an abundant willpower, and in this concept:
Before Kurdistan’s fallen martyrs, proud Kurdish people and all my comrades during this struggle; I swear, I swear, I swear.

___________________________________________________

People’s Defense Units (YPG) – 2015 Media Center

Interview with Redur Xelil, The Spokesman of People’s Protection Units (YPG)
By Zanyar Omrani
23 May, 2015

In a room which did not smell of war, I talked to Redur Xelil about the four-year resistance of his forces in Syria; A small guerilla that in less than four years, managed to form a 35000-people army and has made the officials of some countries officially acclaim their efforts.
Redur told me about the current status of the YPG forces, while showing me the digital map of the region on his tablet. The yellow circles showed the latest status of YPG forces, while red circles were the symbol of ISIS and pink circles showed the Baath regime forces. And the blue ones were the Turkish. Then it was the time for talking about many topics, including the internal issues and coalition forces.
The YPG Establishment
– Mr. Redur Xelil, please tell us about the initiation and foundation of YPG.
On the first days of the revolution in Syria, everything seemed peaceful in Rojava. Most of the protests were done in the form of civil movements, but after some months, everything changed. In Rojava, which was the most secure part of the Syria, the different tribes and groups, formed several military groups. They fought with one another on some unworthy tribal, religious and ethnic issues. It was a dangerous time.
That was the time when the need for a united army in Rojava was fully felt, an army which could protect the people. The first circles were established in Dayrik city under the commandment of Xebat Dêrîk which was primarily called YXG (The People’s Youth Units).
Gradually and based on a rational plan, the military branches were expanded in all the cities of Rojava.
– What was the reaction of the Syrian regime?
They were shocked by the series of events happening in the Syrian cities and they were getting weaker and weaker. Considering the public wrath caused by the many years of oppressing and rejecting the Kurdish people, they knew that they must withdraw. There were some conflicts in some points between our forces and the regime forces, but finally we gained the control of the Kurdish regions with the least cost.
Opening another front in which the deprived and suffering Kurds were present, was not in the interests of the regime.
We took the opportunity and began to organize and train the forces in different cities and villages.
The Kurdish political activists were also very active and collaborated with us to form a consolidate army in order to defend the people of the autonomous cantons (Jazira, Kobani and Afrin); an army which proved its power in Kobani and other parts.
– For many people, the differences between YPG and YPJ is not really clear, the real question is why there is two separate military groups in Rojava?
YPJ is an independent women organization which acts parallel to the YPG which has been created by our friends.
Actually, they are the essential part of YPG who fight against ISIS, hand in hand with these forces.
– Is the headquarter structure of YPG of co-leadership type?
No, we are a military force and here the issues are slightly different. The co-leadership type is for civil and political organizations, but in YPG there is a coordination room composed of several men and women.
– Is there a clear number of the YPG and YPJ?
YPG currently has more than 35000 members. I can claim that more than 35 percent of them are the members of the YPJ which increases day by day.
– What about the killed ones?
Since the beginning of the YPG, we have had 2000 martyrs, 750 of which has been martyred in the Kobani liberation war.
– Are the Asayish organization and the “Self-Defense” forces parts of the YPG?
No, they are two separate organizations that mostly act in urban issues and the internal security cases.
– What about the Self-Defense Committee in communes?
They are also related to the communes and Asayish, not to us.
The Current Status of the War Fronts and the Military arrangements of YPG Forces
– Mr. Redur Xelil, could you give us a general schema of the current situation of the YPG and YPJ in the three cantons?
In Afrin canton, currently there is no conflict and everything seems peaceful.
Kobani canton has long been the battle field with ISIS. At the moment, we have ruled them out of the controlled area (out of the area before the attack of these Islamists to the canton).
At the present time, the war is under the way in ISIS controlled area in the self-proclaimed governorate of Ar-Raqqah.
In the Kobani canton and the suburban areas of Tel Tamer and Serikani cities, there is an intense war going on against us.
– Which groups are your neighbors in each cantons?
In Afrin canton, we have Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front), Ahrar ash-Sham and the Free Syrian Army, and also the Baath regime. In Kobani and Jazira , the only neighbor is ISIS.
– But I also have seen the regime forces in Qamishli and Hasakah too…
Yes, they are also present at the Kobani canton.
– How far are the YPG and YPJ in their last controlling point in Kobani from these forces in Kobani? How many kilometers?
Less than 70 kilometers.
– And you want to connect the cantons to one another, is that right?
This is a complicated and unknown issue. We are prone to such an incident but there are also some historical realities involved.
Most of the residents of these regions, are the Arabs who have been sent to these Kurdish areas in 60s to 80s, in order to change the population demography of the Kurdish areas.
– Do these people fight in the form of YPG besides you or under another terms? Because as you know there is another force called “Sutoro” composed of Syriac youth, in the Assyrian area, which acts under the of the YPG. Is there also a group for Arabs?

The things are different for Arabs. For example in Kobani, there are several Arabic militias which fight beside YPG. Also, in addition to the Free Army andJabhat al-Akrad, the Jabhat Thowar Suriyya (Syria Revolutionaries Front)and Kata’eb Shams ash-Shamal (The Northern Sun Battalion)are active in the battles that are both Arab
– You live in an area which is not homogeneous from the demographic aspect, how do the Arabs interact with you?
For us, The Kurdish Rojava is a definite geographical area that nothing can conceal the truth about it, even the fifty-year old Arabization policy of the former regime; however, these kinds of policies have had many negative influences.
Nevertheless, at the moment what we have in hand is the presence of many ethnics in the area including Kurdish, Assyrian, Syriac, Arab and Circassian. Ethnic or racial war bears no fruit for us or for the Arabs. We should regard this plurality and difference as an opportunity not as a threat. This solidarity makes it possible to go for mutual trust in the near future.
We want to approach the issue with wisdom and rationality and we try to enliven the inactive space between the Rojava ethnics, which takes time.
We do not have any problems with our Arab brothers, as some Arab youth are now fighting against ISIS besides our warriors and they are martyred in such battles.
– How do the Arabs in the area think about you?
Unfortunately, the Arabs in the area lack a solid structure so one cannot get into dialogues with them. Most of them are influenced by the commands of the tribe chiefs and act accordingly. They usually accompany the main power of the area in different times.
– Even when that power is ISIS?
Unfortunately, yes! At first, most of them were along with the Jabhat al-Nusra; and before that they were with the regime, and now they are cooperating with ISIS.
We have applied a completely different policy, which is the effort for eliminating the ethnic sensitivities. We can live with one another peacefully as brothers and have managed to gain their confidence using legal strategies.
After the arrival of YPG forces at the Tal Hamis and Tal Brak cities that were mostly Arabic Residents, the peace has returned to the city and we do not see the dangers from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusraand the regime for Arabs anymore. Currently, the local forces have the gained the control of their city. And many people have been martyred for liberating these areas.
Many local people would tell us at the time of the former regime: “We will kick you out of the Arabic lands. We will slaughter you, you do not belong here!” They were just obeying the regime policies and there were no efforts to reviewing their opinions. However, at last, the ones who liberated the Arabs from the inhumane culture yoke of ISIS, were the very Kurds whom the Arabs wanted to slaughter. They lived several years under the strict and inhumane rules of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. Today, many things have changed; the ethnic sensitivities have reduced in the Arab cantons and they are eagerly joining the YPG day by day. We are optimistic about living in a brotherly atmosphere equal to Arab, Assyrian and Chechenian brothers.
– Is their cooperation and participation limited to military forces only?
No, they are more active in political level; from the local offices to the common leadership of cantons and other legal domains.
Now that ISIS is getting weaker and weaker and the regime has shown its true nature potential, it is to the interest of Arabs to live in a friendly atmosphere with the other ethnics of the region including Kurds, Assyrian, Armenians and Chechenians.
– What about the Assyrians? I talked to some of them and they told me of “the fancy days they had under the privilege of the regime.”
It is completely true. The regime cared for them in a special manner. On those days that we did not have ID cards, the Assyrians had private schools and they held key positions in the cities. But we should not forget that the regime stopped its support. Now it is the YPG that is protecting the Assyrians from the fundamentalist ISIS attacks in Tal Tamir and other areas.
They are fully aware that if there was no YPG, they could not resist against ISIS even for a single day.
– If one day, for any reason, they do not want the YPG forces be present in Assyrian or Arabic areas, what will be your possible reaction?
There is an important issue here that is in those areas, addition to Assyrians and Arabs we have also Kurdish people unlike Hasakah City which is composed of just Assyrians and Arabs. In our opinion, there is a truth called Kurdistan Rojava and we protect the Kurdish and non-Kurdish people based on this truth.
– Where are the territories of this region? Do you have any maps that define you will continue fighting against ISIS until the liberation of some so-called area, and at that particular point the Kurdistan Rojava ends?
There is not any clear and definite geographical map. Drawing and preparing such map is the task of the canton political forces.
– How far you will proceed as the YPG?
We as YPG have definite strategy; we will continue up to that point that ISIS danger has been overcome.
– What is the distance between your forces with Tell Abyad city in the east of Kobani canton?
We are now 20 kilometers from the city.
– Why is this city important?
This strategic city is important from different aspects both for us and for ISIS.
That is why ISIS is present at the city with full equipment and forces.
Firstly, Tel Abyad (Kurdish: Girê Sipî) is the city next to Turkey, and the second reason is that it is the main passageway and essential aid route for providing the logistics of ISIS and the fresh forces.
If ISIS loses the control of the city, in addition to losing the main passageway for transferring the forces and logistics, it will also be surrounded by our forces.
I should also note that in Tel Abyad city and in the distance between Kobani and Jazira, there are also some Kurds. For examples, there were many Kurds in Tel Abyad who had to leave their houses and fields after the arrival of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.
Currently, there are no Kurds remaining in the city, and their houses and fields have been confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra and then ISIS.
Those groups have continued the very policy of Arabization even with more speed.
Criticisms to YPG
– Mr. Redur Xelil there are some criticisms expressed about YPG. For example, it is said that YPG recruits kids under 18. Also this Compulsory Military Service Act which has been recently approved has brought about some censures.

You are right, unfortunately in the hasty atmosphere after the beginning of the Syrian revolution, some of such mistakes happened among our forces. This critique is correct. But with the legal frameworks approved later, now there is the least possibility of violating our commitments to the Geneva Convention. We are bound to those conventions and they have sent their inspection teams to Rojava many times. If there is any problem, we will take it into consideration. According to our laws, accepting forces under 18 is forbidden but considering our crucial situation and the dangers threatening us, the ones between 16 and 18 are accepted for military training only, and they will be sent to war front after reaching the age of 18.
We have prepared the general law of force admittance in which the membership conditions, training methods, course and all the other necessary items are explained.
We should not forget that it is just 4 years since we have begun to organize our forces. Forming and organizing the defense forces was a necessity and a reaction to the dangerous situation of the region.
We should protect ourselves, as we are the target of ruthless attacks. They are killing our children.
– Kurdish opposition parties in Rojava say that they have also some forces called Peshmerga, about 5000 people, but you do not let them participate in the war.

This is not true; this is just a tricky political game which has been started in Iraqi Kurdistan. We have held many conferences with the Kurdish opposition forces.
We have accepted many of their requests related to YPG since the first days, from the flag colors to other things.
We are just as frank to say this aloud that we will not let any other military force, be active in Rojava, since we have the experiences of Palestine and Civil War in Kurdistan before our eyes.
The military policies are our red lines. If they are really eager to protect their homeland, they can come and join us in the war under the YPG.
They say that we should change the name of YPG, but we do not know why we should change its name!?
Also, there is no such force called Rojava Peshmerga whatsoever; it is just possible that the Rojava youth living in Iraqi Kurdistan, act according to Peshmerga ministry laws. Just like an employee that earns a monthly living. Just like that.
This issue is mostly a leverage that the Iraqi Kurdistan parties have held against us just to increase the political pressures.
Iraqi Kurdistan Government
– During the sudden attack of ISIS to Shingal (Sinjar), your forces arrived quickly at the Shingal Mountains and by opening the rescue corridors, managed to prevent the expansion of the disaster, and the Peshmerga forces arrived at the city, in the midst of severe conflicts in Kobani. Currently, how do you evaluate your military relations level with Kurdistan Peshmerga Ministry, taking this into consideration that the level of problems between the Syrian Unity Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Democratic Party is higher than normal, and they as your brother Kurds, do not recognize the Rojava autonomous system?
In any case, these issues are parts of our internal problems and we are optimistic to see these problems resolved. In case of the presence of YPG in Shingal, we had declared from the beginning that the reason of our participation in the conflicts was just this feeling that we had a national and humanitarian task on our shoulders; we saw ourselves responsible for saving the Shingal people and protecting the people was the only purpose we sought in Shingal.
– You mean you would quit Shingal?
We have been participated along with the PKK and Peshmerga forces so far, right now that we are talking together, there is a complicated war going on between the Kurds and ISIS.
– For how long you will stay there?
We will stay in Shingal until the danger of ISIS is eradicated. Then, there is nothing left for us to stay.
– What about the Peshmerga forces in Kobani?
The participation of Peshmerga forces in Kobani, aside from the all military topics such as their numbers or the weapons they brought to the city, bears a precious historical result:
This issue led to the commendable unity of the Kurds and it proved that a common front of Kurds is fighting against ISIS.
The spiritual value of such historical act is abundant. Then, it doesn’t matter they were 50 Peshmergas or 1000 ones
– There are some controversies in the attitudes and party values between you and the Peshmerga. Do not these contradictions cast shadows on the future of your strategic cooperation with the Peshmerga?
Unfortunately, they are sometimes influential, but generally we need to be together more. Today, it is just our brother Kurds in Kurdistan and our forces in Rojava that are fighting against ISIS from Khanaqin to Afrin.
The ISIS attacks involves all the Kurds in the area, we expect to form a Kurdish common army or at least a common front against ISIS.
The Baath Regime and the Syrian Opposition
– The regime forces are still present at Hasakah and Qamishli cities, how do you interact with them in general?
Yes, they are in the center of Hasakah and Qamishli markets, in limited numbers. They are really passive and do not participate in the war against us. The real army which is fighting with us is ISIS.
The regime is just in Jazira canton. In Afrin and Kobani cantons, there is not any trace of them. Nowadays, there is a global collaboration against ISIS, and our priority is to fight against ISIS.
The priority of the global powers has changed. Their problem is now ISIS, not the regime.
– Has it changed for you, as well?
There is no doubt that ISIS is now more dangerous than any other forces, even more than the regime.
The regime is absolutely ineffective and powerless in Kobani, and it tries to ignite disputes and fights between the canton ethnics, but fortunately the Kurds, Assyrians and Arabs are fully aware of their tricks.
All the ethnics have approved the peaceful situation of canton, which shows the unique power of the YPG, and it is not easy for Assad regime to provoke ethnic sensitiveness anymore.
We have declared from the first days that our problem with the regime is a political issue and it must be resolved through diplomacy.
– You mean you see the potential and the capacity of selecting a political solution in the regime? Especially while remembering the previous acts and behaviors of the regime against the Kurds.
Unfortunately the regime is very biased and regards the issues with a chauvinistic attitude which barely leaves any open route toward finding a political solution. Of course, the Syrian opposition has similar fascistic ideas toward Kurds. None of them speaks of the Kurdish issue so that the grounds for vast political and military collaborations be open. However, we are interacting with the Syrian Oppositions in order to find a way out of the current crisis.
– What about the regime?
They also issue statements sometimes.
– Some while ago, Bashar Assad in an interview, accused Erdogan of supporting ISIS in Kobani and said that the Kurds were the ones who liberated the city. Are some cases like this, signs of relationship between you and them or the signs of their intention to get closer to you?
There have been some attempts, but the regime itself lacks integrity in its decisions. The regional interferences impedes from the formation of a political space in which the Syrian internal problems can be discussed and resolved.
Iran plays an important role in defining the regime policies. There is also Hezbollah. Unfortunately, the regime does not govern Syria alone.
The Islamic Republic, Kurds and the non-Kurds in Iran
– You spoke of Hezbollah and Iran. Let’s consider this issue in Kobani canton borders. Are there any Iranian forces in the areas controlled by the regime in Hasakah and Qamishli? Do you have any evidence of their presence?
No, there is not any considerable issue, the regime itself is really got into an impasse in these two cities and has no other choice but to act under severe security conditions.
We don’t know if there are any Iranian or Hezbollah forces among the regime in these two cities. However, we have received many reports of their presence at the area.
The Iranian government often interferes in the area through the Syrian forces. Also, the Guardians of the Revolution (Haras Al-Thowrah) forces who are close to Iran, are present in the region. However, there is no confirmed and reliable information about their number, effectiveness and also the content of their plans.
– Have you captured anyone from the Iranian or Hezbollah forces?
No, we have not had such cases.
– What is the general attitude of the Iranian government about the YPG? Do you have any communications in military aids level or political relations?
No, unfortunately there have not been such things.
In political levels, just once Mr. Salih Muslim was invited to Tehran.
– What about military relations with YPG?
We had no relationships.
– Some Persian media sources in the midst of Kobani Liberation claimed that the Kurdish forces had received Iranian weapons.
It was just rumor, and I have not heard such thing.
Look, it is an undeniable fact that Iran is a powerful country in the region. Our problem currently in Syria and Rojava, is the Baath regime not the political system in Iran.
We are eager to have the same relations that the Iranian government has with the Iraqi Kurdistan; that is, a formal and clear relationship.
Our doors are open to the powers in the region. Iran is one of the countries. We do not see improper or obscene to have some communications and relationships in different levels, provided that they recognize the democratic autonomy of our cantons.
In other words, they should believe that there is a Kurdish issue and they should accept the various political and legal aspects of such issue.
Nevertheless, the present reality is that Iran regards the Kurdish issue as a secondary and a trivial matter and we certainly do not acknowledge such attitude.
– What about the Iranian Kurdish parties or the people of the Iranian Kurdistan (Rojhelat) or the other non-Kurd Iranians?
The Iranian people, especially the Rojhelat Kurds have supported the Rojava both spiritually and both in case of soldiering. Their number has been really considerable.
– Do you have any number of the Iranian members?
Not regretfully, but I can tell from my own witnesses that I have seen more than hundreds from the Rojhelat Kurds. The Iranian Kurds have been very active in Kobani. We had many martyrs there that belongs to Rojhelat. Also, the number of the non-Kurd guerillas is high. Martyr “Rozhvan” who was a Persian Iranian, was one of them.
ISIS is a terrorist and anti-human organization, so the doors of Rojava are open to any people who want to fight against this terrorist group, and it does not matter if they are Kurd or not.
The role of the Turkish Government
– You have claimed that ISIS forces use the Turkish land for logistical and soldier feeding, and you have repeatedly accused Turkey of opening its doors to ISIS and you say that Turkey uses every opportunity for striking the YPG. Could you please elaborate on this?
We do not have any doubt on this issue that ISIS particularly counts on its borders with Turkey.
– Do you have any proof?
There is no such explainable document or proof in hand, as this is done with intense security care and in their borders. But the frequent traffic of ISIS members to and from Turkey, especially those that come from Europe to join this group, has made us more certain.
They come to Syria from Turkey, everybody knows this. The passports that we have taken from them, confirms our claims.
– Have you talked to Turkish officials? Have you communicated your concerns?
They always formally deny all the issues, but actually their support of ISIS forces continues in the battle fields.
We have many reports and information that they deliver light and heavy weapons to ISIS every day.
We have a common border from Dayrik to Afrin, which is more than 850 kilometers. Since the beginning of the revolution in Syria, we have not made any of these borders insecure, but they disturbed the security of the borders many times. We have proved in the last four years that we do not intend to make the borders unsafe.
Our concern is to resolve the Kurds’ problem in the limits of the Syrian borders, but they have killed many Kurdish citizens. The government of Mr. Erdogan has formally declared that they would not allow the event in the north of Iraq, happen again in northern Syria. They have Kurdish phobia.
They fear that the revolution in Rojava have some influences on the expectation level of the Kurdish people in Turkish Kurdistan (Bakurê Kurdistanê).
– It seems that in that case, their concern is logical, is not that right?
It must be influential, as anything happening in any part of Kurdistan, affects the other part. That is a fact.
The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is the issue of all Kurds and other nations in the region. And everybody must know that this issue should be solved politically.
– One of the accusations that the Turkish State expresses about you, is that YPG is a branch of the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party), and you are following the policies of the PKK in Syria. How do you evaluate such claim as YPG?
The Turkish State just wants to evade the issue. They have not been able to solve the Kurds’ problem and have not shown any clear intention for facing this reality, so they just make excuse.
We have repeatedly said that there are not any organizational and training relations between us and the PKK.
The PKK and Turkish State should resolve their problems in a reconciliatory process from diplomatic methods.
We have some demands in the limits of the Syrian lands and we will fight for realization of such demands to the last breath. We have no fear to say that aloud.
We are eager to have friendly relations with the Turkish State; they are our neighbors. The future of the Middle East belongs to the nations of this area, not to ISIS. It’s better for Turkey to make rational decisions and have friendly relations with the nations of the region.
– In 2007, Turkey wanted to attack the Iraqi Kurdistan, and even went on to the lands of the Kurdistan up to 50 meters. If in any case, Turkey intends to intrude the Rojava lands in Syria, what will be your reaction?
– We, as the symbol of the will of the people, will not allow the Turkish forces to invade the Rojava even up to one meter in any case.
Coalition Forces
– Mr. Redur Xelil, in your opinion, for how long does this war continue?
There are many factors involved here. It mostly depends on the trans-regional decisions, especially on the decision of the coalition forces. That is, it depends on the extent to which the coalition forces are eager to help us in the war against ISIS. Currently, we are somehow coordinated with the coalition forces, but it is not satisfactory.
The Middle East is fused with the presence of difference global powers. The Middle East have always been a vast ground for the opportunities of these forces, from U.S.A to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. They have all profits in the Middle East and if they manage to resolve their problems, the crises in Syria and Iraq will end.
If the profits that have kept this terrorist group alive are not revisited, certainly the issues will continue.
– I understand from your words that you regard those very powers as the causes of the problems in Iraq and Syria, from the formation of ISIS and also the continuation of the current crisis.
Indeed, one cannot excuse them. You know that in less than one year, before their own eyes, ISIS began its conquest, equipped its forces, and founded the Islamic State
– Since when are you talking to coalition forces?
Since the arrival of ISIS at Kobani, these interactions began.
– Are their air raids really effective?
Definitely! We cannot ignore their influence. But by and large, the coalition forces and all the other forces are aware of this fact that the main role is played by YPG in the battle fields.
If there is no field force which can control the geographical area, then we cannot eliminate ISIS with the air raiders.
Unfortunately, the internal problems of the coalition forces, has reduced their contribution in Serikani and other places. At the moment, they have focused on Iraq.
This point is one of our concerns, and we hope that they add to their numbers in Tal Tamar and Serikani. They have formed this coalition to eliminate ISIS, while the only force who have managed to control their severe attacks in Syria was YPG.
– In your opinion, are the coalition forces more inclined to keep the force balance in Syrian and Iraq or to eliminate ISIS?
I cannot really say, but the evidences show that there is not the enough motivation for fighting ISIS among the coalition forces.
– What about Turkey? Is it a part of the coalition?
No, Turkey has not joined yet. They have talked about the necessity of forming a coalition but nothing has been done indeed. They say we are against ISIS but they have neither accepted the coalition nor joined it.
– After the liberation of Kobani and considering the global dimension of the resistance in the city, have there not been any weaponry supports to YPG?
So far, even one bullet has not been given to us in the war against ISIS.Their support has been just in words not in sending military aids. They have talked about the YPG and our resistance several times, but we have seen nothing in practice.
ISIS is dangerous for all of us, from the U.S.A to this Middle East. At the moment, the only forces that are combating against ISIS on the real hard ground and have managed to control them are the Kurd forces. Therefore, if there is any intention to eliminate this terrorist group among the regional and global powers, supporting the YPG would be beneficiary for all.
– You say that you are completely in blockade from every corner, so how do you get all these light and heavy weapons of yours?
There is a bitter truth in the Middle East, which is the existence of the black market of selling weapon. Therefore, no military force will have problems in finding the needed weapons; you just need to pay the price. The weapon trade isall going on in the region. I think that some countries make profits out of this market.
– If outside the Rojava borders, you mark an intention in the coalition and Syrian opposition forces to eliminate ISIS, Would you cooperate with them? For example, in Ar-Raqqah, Aleppo or other places.
Yes, for sure. As we believe that the security establishment in Syria and in the Middle East is to our profit and we have been and will be the main force in fighting ISIS.
– Have you felt this intention in them?
Unfortunately not.

The Foreign Volunteer Soldiers of the YPG
– As more than 25 thousand people from different countries have joined ISIS forces, I have also seen some foreign soldiers, fighting along the YPG in several fronts of the Jazira Canton. How do you communicate and coordinate with them? How many of them are there in the fronts?

One cannot compare the foreign soldiers who have joined ISIS and also the foreigners who are fighting for the YPG , both intellectually and in case of numbers.
About 300 foreign forces have joined us, but ISIS main forces are foreigners. At first, we had some problems in organizing them. The vast language diversities, tactical differences, and their unfamiliarity with our movement and the real conditions of the battle field, were the barriers of the easy communications with them. Most of them are the veterans from different countries who have been trained in the integrated armies of the world but we have also our own imitations. In general, they are capable fighters.
We as the YPG have no problems in case of the number of the people, but our problem is the lack of heavy, advanced and super advanced weapons

– What weapons do you need most?
Heavy weapons like autocannon, DShK, fuse, etc. our military needs are a lot.
– When the regime abandoned the Rojava, did not you get their former stations military facilities?
No, very little and trivial if any
– What about the things you gained from the fights with ISIS?
Those things were also few and generally most of the equipment and facilities we get from them, are old and dysfunctional , for example we have gained some tanks that have no use.
We cannot rely on the things we get from the enemies as those things do not fulfill our needs in the war against those evil forces.
– Before the interview, you told me about the ISIS captives. Are there any commanders among them?
When they are caught, they do not say that they are commanders or not. We have established special investigation committees to probe into these issues. The obvious fact is that most of them are Syrians. Some of them repent of their actions, and some other still regard us as infidels.
Zanyar Omrani is a filmmaker and Kurdish human rights activist.

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The Second Annual Luddite Memorial Lecture – a brief review.

ludd lecture

The second Luddite Memorial Lecture – a joint Huddersfield Local History Society/University of Huddersfield venture, was held at the University on 16 April 2015. It starred Prof Malcolm Chase of Leeds who spoke on ‘York Castle and its political prisoners – the Luddites in a wider context.’ Malcolm Chase is best known for his ‘Chartism – a new history’ and for his in depth study of 1820 and the threat posed by discontent to the government of the day, including uprisings in Huddersfield and Barnsley, which is soon to appear in paperback. Here I will forgo a grouse about the cost of academic books, since the hardback edition costs a small fortune.
This is the fifth time I have heard Malcolm speak and as usual his talk was both very informative and entertaining. Above all, for me, it was also politically relevant, in that it demonstrated the continuous development of the state apparatus in quelling dissent from mediaeval times to the 20th C.
The speaker’s point of departure was not the Luddite executions but the ‘Pilgrimage to York’ organised by the Ten Hour movement led by Richard Oastler, when in Easter 1833 thousands of working men women and children marched from the manufacturing districts to York Castle in support of their demands to limit the hours of child labour. This was just 20 years after the execution of the 17 Luddites (or Luddites and burglars using the cloak of Luddism) and Malcolm asserted that among the protestors from the Huddersfield area there must have been many for whom York still held that association, through common knowledge, as relatives of Luddites, or even some who had participated in Luddite activities. For those of us who still vividly remember the Miner’s Strike of 1984/85, although 30 years ago now, it seems more than likely that such a dramatic, and indeed traumatic event in people’s lives as the Luddite executions would have been embedded in popular consciousness and would have been recollected by some. As I have mentioned elsewhere however, a culture of ‘omerta’ does seem to have prevailed and there is little evidence of the Luddites being publically discussed at this time. (1)
Having set the scene at York Castle and established its significance in the Luddite story Malcolm recounted not only a brief history of its political inmates but also described the physical evolution of the Castle as a gaol, illustrated by some fascinating slides including an early aerial view. The site, familiar to us today as Clifford’s Tower, the adjacent massive car park and the elegant square bounded on three sides by the Castle Museum and the Law Courts was, in the 19th C, surrounded by a massive curtain wall and accessible only via a formidable towered gate house. Also in the early 19th C a state of the art panopticon prison was built on what is now the car park.
Malcolm described how Clifford’s Tower probably owed its survival to its utility as a gaol when the rest of the Norman castle had been demolished. Since at least the early 13th C it had housed enemies of the Crown including Irish, Scots and French. In the 17th C both opponents of the Monarchy and the Commonwealth, including many Quakers had found themselves in the Castle, though which part of the physical structure was used for their incarceration I either missed or Malcolm failed to specify.
Here Malcolm pulled out of the hat one of those interesting historical coincidences that makes the subject so delightful even if it explains absolutely nothing. Most of the Luddites were hung on 16 January 1813. On the same day in 1664 there was another mass hanging – 16 men implicated in the Farnley Wood plot, a republican attempt to overthrow the restored monarchy of Charles II. Unfortunately, this is not our Farnley Wood near Huddersfield (although there was some local involvement in the rising) but Farnley near Leeds, otherwise the coincidence would have been even more poignant. However the plot did focus on the woollen manufacturing areas, as did the Luddite rising. It would have been interesting to know the occupations of those executed in 1664. Indeed, two men executed on Attercliffe Moor for their part in the plot were recorded as a clothier and a cloth dresser.   (2) But this date was no more than a coincidence and reporting on the Luddite executions in 1813 one newspaper recapitulating other mass executions at York remained oblivious of the Farnley Wood rebels.
The Jacobite rebellion also produced its martyrs at a time when the mediaeval practice of mutilating the hanged men still remained in force. Over 250 were held in York and 22 were executed, the heads of two being stuck on Micklegate Bar where they remained for ten years. Malcolm did describe some other executions as well as the loathsome conditions in the gaol in the 18th C which, being a sensitive soul, I decline to repeat.
As well as Jacobites at least one prominent ‘Jacobin’ as the authorities dubbed him was incarcerated twice in York on the 1790s. James Montgomery (who had previously been an apprentice baker in Wakefield) was indicted in 1795 for writing a subversive poem about the fall of the Bastille and for criticising the shooting down of protestors the following year. Malcolm contrasted the harsh treatment of the Luddites in 1813 with that of the Yorkshire rebels of 1820, when participants in the Grange Moor rising had their death sentences commuted to transportation. This he attributed to a reluctance to exacerbated a dangerously tense political situation which he claimed posed the biggest threat to government since the Jacobite rebellion or subsequently – including the 20th C. In Scotland however three insurgents were executed, creating martyrs that are still remembered today.

James Mongomery, political prisoner and poet.

James Mongomery, political prisoner and poet.

Here I have to point out Malcolm’s most serious omission, – a failure to mention the Huddersfield uprising of 1817 where, again, this time mainly due to revelations that a government provocateur had been at work, those arrested were released after trial – apart from Tom Riley who committed suicide in his cell. Since Riley was one who ‘had form’ as a Luddite suspect in 1812/13 his story is a good example of the likely continuity from Luddism to later Radical activity as well as being a personal tragedy that throws light on the conditions of prisoners.
York also held its quota of radicals from the 1830s and 40s, like Joshua Hobson, Huddersfield’s campaigner for the liberty of the press and many Chartists including Feargus O’Connor. However Chartists often served their terms in Northallerton gaol, noted for its harsh regime which resulted in the martyrdom of Samuel Holberry of Sheffield.
York does not seem to have been used for political prisoners in the later 19th C although during the first world war it did hold interred enemy aliens – so many if fact that some had to be accommodated in tents in the grounds.
Malcolm closed with the reflections that York’s political prisoners are not remembered in the city, dominated as it is by a twee heritage industry geared to tourism, which sees Dick Turpin, a petty gangster, as more sellable than radical heroes. He closed with an account of the 2013 Luddite commemoration at York which marked the site of the executions outside the walls of the Castle, now by a busy ring road, with no permanent memorial to the Luddites or to any of the thousands of political prisoners who had passed through that grim place.
The talk was not only a fascinating overview of the workings of the British state through the ages in one locality (which brought out York’s role as de facto ‘capital of the North’), but also a tribute to all those who have fought, lost their liberty and often their lives in the fight for freedom as they saw it at the time. Yorkshire should have a fitting tribute to its radical martyrs and there would be no better site for it than York Castle.  Malcolm’s talk could help kick start that discussion if we as historians and activists carry on the task of bringing our radical history to a wider audience through such popular events as the Annual Luddite Memorial Lectures.

Outside York Castle commemorating the execution of the Yorkshire Luddites .January 2013

Outside York Castle commemorating the execution of the Yorkshire Luddites .January 2013

The text of an earlier version of this talk, delivered at the York Luddite Commemoration in 2013 can be found at:
https://yorkalternativehistory.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/political-prisoners-in-york-castle.pdf

For a review of last years Luddite Memorial Lecture see:                                                                        https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/charlotte-bronte-shirley-and-the-luddites/

(1)  see https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/the-luddite-legacy/

(2) A. J. Hopper, ‘The Farnley Wood plot and the memory of the civil wars in Yorkshire’, Historical Journal, 45 (2002), 281-303,

COMRADE LESLEY KIPLING 1944-2013 GONE – BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

librarians

The second aniversary of Comrade Lesley Kipling’s death was marked by a commemorative event at the Red and Green Club, Milnsbridge on Saturday 26 September 2015.  Local musicians, a poet and speakers performed in tribute to Lesley.  Paul Holmes, Kirklees UNISON Branch Secretary described her contribution to the union as Chief Steward in Cultural Services and International Officer.  He also distributed a booklet she produced in 2001 to oppose Library closures, which is even more relevant today when these services face an even bigger threat due to the government’s austerity program. Cyril Pearce, a long time friend and president of the Huddersfield Local History Society reflected on her contribution to local history and how it was influenced by – and influenced – her politics.  Her son John put on a display of photos illustrating her life from childhood, a couple of which are reproduced here below.  Thanks also to Cde Mark Metcalf for organising and publicising the event and to the Volunteers of the Red and Green Club for providing food and the bar which meant that people could enjoy the evening in a way Lesley would certainly have approved.

Tribute to Lesley in the Hudderfield Examiner.

Tribute to Lesley in the Hudderfield Examiner.

A young and glamorous Lesley Kipling

A young and glamorous Lesley Kipling

Lesley with one of her Heroes, Arthur Scargill - before his support for the Stalinism which ripped the Socialist Labour Party apart became apparent.

Lesley with one of her Heroes, Arthur Scargill – before his support for the Stalinism which ripped the Socialist Labour Party apart became apparent.

MEMORIAL POSTED IN 2014

It is a year now since Comrade Lesley passed away on 26 September 2013. Her contribution to local politics and history have not been forgotten. A memorial lecture was held at the University in her honour and tributes continue to be made to her wherever historians and socialists meet.
Lesley held a belief in an after-life. If she has been watching us over the past year it will have been with some frustration and anger at the world of mortals. She would have been disappointed in the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum, although it did not offer her dream of a workers republic as envisaged by John Maclean and James Connolly. The subservience to the Westminster parties would have earned some of her caustic comments about politicians and those stupid enough to be taken in by them.
The situation in the Middle East will have caused her distress – the bombing of Gaza on the one hand and the rise of the Islamic State on the other. At least one of the PKK ‘students’ she hosted was Syrian and Lesley’s heart would now be with those with their backs to the wall in Kobane.
Here are a couple of photos as mementos of happier times.
Beloved Comrade you are still at our side.

Lesley at home , (Crimble Clough Museum, Library and Gallery)- her door was always open.

Lesley at home , (Crimble Clough Museum, Library and Gallery)- her door was always open.

Learning Kurdish dancing. )If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution!)

Learning Kurdish dancing.  (If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution!)

The PKK flag flies (well, hangs) over Crimble Clough liberated zone.

The PKK flag flies (well, hangs) over Crimble Clough liberated zone.

See also:

https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/obituary-comrade-lesley-kipling/

and

https://undergroundhistories.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/charlotte-bronte-shirley-and-the-luddites/

Street Fighting Man (ual)

Defensive Instructions for the People

On 11 April 1831 the Poor Man’s Guardian published a supplement reproducing extracts from Colonel Frances Macerone’s manual on street fighting, Defensive Instructions for the People.  This edition, as well as the book, was widely circulated, including in Huddersfield, in the 1830s and into the Chartist period.

Macironi-248x300

It is here reproduced out of historical interest.  Readers themselves can judge how relevant the advice is to today’s street fighters.

A biography of Macerone/Maceroni can be found on the following link to the website of Bruce Ware Allen, which also leads to the full book, available on Google Books.

http://ahistoryblog.com/2012/10/24/colonel-francis-maceroni-1788-1846-on-the-road-again/

DIP11

DIP12

DIP 13

DIP14

DIP15

DIP 16

DIP 17

DIP 18