On the Kurdish proto-state, a state like all the others, originally published in 2016
A long overdue translation from the French – here
This was a text produced for a debate “To put an end to anti-imperialist ideology and its residues”, on Sunday, June 26th, 2016 at 19h at the anarchist library La Discordia (now Les Fleurs Arctiques) in Paris.
From the beginning, the founding myth of the Syrian state was that of a state protecting religious and ethnic minorities. A predominantly Sunni country, Syria includes several confessional “communities”: Alawite, Shiite, Christian, Assyrian, Armenian, etc. The Assad family, as a representative of an Alawite minority, was supposed to protect all the others and played the card, at the slightest sign of opposition, of the threat of sectarian war in the case of its absence.
The Kurdish minority was an exception because it was the only one not to be welcomed into the family of the excluded. After the 1962 census, conducted to “combat irregular immigration”, 20% of Kurds living in Syria at the time were deprived of citizenship. About 100,000 people. In 2011, when the insurrection erupted in Syria, the number of undocumented Kurds was about 300,000 according to some sources, up to 500,000 according to others. Nobody knows the exact figures, but they were large enough to condemn part of the population to working in the black economy and particularly miserable conditions. This played a part in another specific aspect of the Kurdish minority in Syria: although the Kurdish bureaucrats and military never stop talking about Kurdistan, many Kurdish proletarians have not lived in the territories they want to control for a long time. It is enough to see the slums on the slopes of Mount Qassiun in Damascus or the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, neighborhoods far from the fantasy territory of Kurdistan, and yet very much considered as “Kurdish neighborhoods”.
This mixture of “ethnic groups” was not favorable to any separatism. Even in the “Kurdish” territories in northern Syria, Arabs and non-Kurdish minorities are numerous, and not only because of the Arabization policy led by Hafez al-Assad, as explained by the leader of the PYD , Salih Muslim, to justify the future massacres of Arabs in the “Kurdish” region (we will come back to this point). Which explains the following.
In March-April 2011, the uprising broke out in Syria. At first in Deraa, then in other cities, “Arabs”, “Kurds” and others. During the first months, Kurdish participation was massive. Despite the particularly violent repression, the demonstrations, much less “peaceful” than the Western media represented, united not only Kurds and Arabs, but, in a few rare cases, also individuals coming from “communities” traditionally connected to the protectors of the hierarchical power of the regime: Alawites, Druze, Palestinians and Christians. There was no united demand, except “Down with the regime!”, which began to appear here and there. The social reasons for revolt were abundant: the brutality of the cops, poverty, military service, the stagnation of a community complicit with the regime at all levels of daily life, but also the formal proletarianization for some Kurds and Palestinians, the latter mostly inhabiting the ghettos, former refugee camps, like Yarmouk in Damascus.
In April 2011, Bashar al-Assad took the plunge in trying to buy out Kurdish proletarians: he signed the “Decree 49” granting citizenship to those who are registered as foreigners in the region of Hasaka, which for the most part meant Kurds. According to an Arab speaker, “it did not work”. According to another person, a Kurd, “we don’t care.”
Meanwhile, while their Kurdish “compatriots” were fighting against the regime’s soldiers and shabiha i alongside the Arabs and others, Kurdish political parties, including the PYD, were silent. Almost every one of them had an armed militia, and in the case of the PYD, well-trained, but even as the movement began to show the first signs of militarization, they did not engage in the fight. For this reason, during the period from April 2011 to January 2012, the answer to the question “Are Kurds participating in the uprising?” could be both “yes” or “no” depending on who’s speaking.
This discrepancy, which should be obvious even to the keenest parliamentarists, is manifested by direct and unresolved conflicts, before and after the constitution of Rojava in November 2013.
On June 27, 2013, for example, there was an anti-PYD demonstration in Amuda, a predominantly Kurdish city with a sizeable Arab population. A military convoy was stoned by protesters, to which YPG forces responded with live ammunition, killing three people. The night after, about 50 supporters of the opposition Yekiti party ii were detained and beaten up at a YPG base.
November 2015, residents of the Erbil refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, protested against military conscription among the YPG among others. The protest was called by members of the Kurdish National Council, a coalition of parties opposed to the PYD, close to Barzani. We do not want to make concessions to the jailers Barzani and his political affiliates (see the 1991 social insurgency in Iraq), but we can see that the way the PYD deals with its opponents is identical to that of a state.
This is no surprise: it maintains essentially coercive institutions such as prison, the police, the (popular) courts, the army (the YPJ and the YPG), even an equivalent of the ignominious shabiha intended to terrorize protesters in the street – everything is intact and even solidified by the constitution which is loosely termed the Social Contract. The jokes that promise the dissolution of the police later do not announce anything revolutionary, because under such conditions, any other protective force, even informal, would inevitably serve the same function of protecting power and capital. There is nothing missing in the state of Rojava.
For many Kurds, however, the local takeover of power – or rather the vacuum left by Assad’s power – at the beginning of 2012, was a historic opportunity for “self-determination”. The popular and rather vague feeling of belonging to a Kurdish nation – a thousand times reinvented according to historical conditions – is materialized by those who believe themselves its representatives, in this case the PYD. As one Syrian comrade said, it was almost impossible for a Syrian Kurd not to support this event at that time.
For the rest of the insurgents, it was a moment of transformation. First there was the pure opportunism of the Kurdish military-politicians: when the YPG and YPJ troops captured the areas abandoned by the Syrian army, a small part of this army remained around strategic points (such as the oil refineries close to Qamichli). The PYD categorically refused to drive out Assad’s troops. The local government was now under direct control of the PYD, but civil servants continued to receive state wages. Most rebels, insurgents and Syrian revolutionaries saw this as treason. Then the question became “the Kurdish question”. From the point of view of politicians and the military, it is not possible to say that the PYD is “with” or “against” the Assad regime, but it has become clear that the question for those who support Rojava is no longer social, but national.
From November 2013 onwards, the head of the PYD, Salih Muslim, declared that the Arabs who live in the “Kurdish” regions because of the Arabization policy of Hafez al-Assad, will one day have to leave. On 17 March 2016, the leaders of the three cantons declared that Rojava is a federal region within Syria. But alas! They do not even federate regions, they federate “ethnic groups”! The federation will not bring together territorial entities, it will bring together Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and others that the powers-that-be will accept as communities under its yoke.
So much for the famous overcoming of nationalism by the PKK (and the PYD). So much for federalism. As for the democratic part of the latter, today we can already refer to the French military base which is being built, nowhere else but in Kobane.
To sum up: the most banal deceptions of the PYD are swallowed by an immense number of beautiful souls as revolutionaries; the largely social contribution to the Syrian insurgency of Kurdish proletarians is stifled to the advantage of nationalist military politicians; Syrian revolutionaries, whatever their “ethnicity”, are left to die in the hands of Ba’athist, Islamist and jihadist jailers.
If we speak today about Rojava and its neo-nationalist project, it is not only to criticize the politicians that Salih Muslim and his band are. It is to show that before and even at the same time that the PYD conducts its confederal state project, there is a social conflict that is not defined in national terms. Although there were Syrian and Kurdish flags that were wielded long before Kurdish power moved to the north of Syria – and this may well have been the limit of the Syrian insurrection if it had not lead to a civil war – individuals of diverse origins participated in the same revolutionary committees, in the same “peaceful” battles (read “non-militarized”), such as the occupation through riots of the Aleppo school in July 2011 , and many other street battles that, with different intensities, continue until today.
Although Ocalan and his henchmen abandoned the project of an independent nation-state for rather pragmatic reasons, nationalism remains nonetheless present. Many Syrian rebels, some of whom are Kurds, are quite critical of the PYD, for whom it was clear that the Rojavists voluntarily abandoned the country’s insurrection, if they’d even really participated in it, in favor of national liberation. This is also reflected in Muslim’s statements, which often stink of announcements of a civil war between Kurds and Arabs.
Nevertheless, the populist deceptions of the PYD, including the most grotesque, such as the use of the bodies of beautiful armed women for advertising, are swallowed by various Western anti-imperialists as anti-patriarchal and revolutionary. It is remarkable that the most frightful aspects, such as internal politics forbidding romantic and sexual relations within the militia, as well as the factual complicity between the YPG/YPJ and Assad, and the well-established and formal collaboration with the American special forces, have been written off as non-essential, cosmetic, as pragmatic details involving nothing more.
The problem we see is the problem of anti-imperialism: as soon as a force is constituted as a nation, therefore a state, even if it is only provisional or federal, as is the case with Rojava, it gets in touch with other states. What could previously be called “the Kurdish question”, which was a social issue (see Part One), is now a question of alliances, diplomacy, deals between those who want to crush us. In other words, we are moving from the social to the geopolitical – and here, the French, Russian or American military bases are never too far away.
What is called anti-imperialist ideology is a conceptual tool to justify what we’ve just said: the nation, the state, international alliances and, sooner or later, the repression of inevitable revolts that have nothing to do with any sense of belonging to some identity or other. Nothing new under the sun when it comes to Rojava: the existence of prisons and courts, police, government, militarism, even the worst of sexism and patriarchy, all this is passed by through the nauseating notion of progress: let’s be patient with those who build cages – they will eventually destroy them.
Behind this ideology lies even something more disturbing: an overwhelming paternalism. While we have clearly rejected any idea of a French nationiii as a pitiful and fundamentally statist joke, the poor in far-off lands, the Kurds in this case, have not yet “arrived there”, have not yet criticized nationalism. In progressive logic, they are actually considered “backward”. We hear exactly the same thing about religious people, especially Islamists. But there are many who are “there”, and who are sometimes tortured, raped and murdered for this very reason. Anti-imperialist ideology is what stifles these unspeakably courageous revolts with an excessive degree of paternalism. The question I would like to ask is this: could the abject notion of an “oppressed nation” indeed exist in anti-imperialist vocabulary, if “oppressed”, in this case, did not also mean “stupid”?
In unique situations like the Syrian insurrection, anything can overbalance. This is one of the enormous qualities of any revolt of such magnitude. The subjects which one would never discuss under usual conditions, resurface from nothing. The questions to which even the most naive revolutionaries respond with cynicism arise as if everything were to be constructed anew. Remarkable is the openness of mind that can create the subversion of material conditions.
And yet, it is also the favorite time for anti-imperialists to push everything backwards. When identities are cracking up, they tell us about nations (or about religions, as exemplified by Iran). When soldiers desert, they tell us about the state.
What is called anti-imperialist ideology is a stupidly simplistic, binary and campist representation of the world. It’s a blanket term to avoid contradiction – the reason it only works from afar. The example of Syria seems to me very telling: while the Rojavists are accepted as the new Enlightenment of the Middle East, the rest of the Syrian revolutionaries are left to die in almost total incomprehensibility. “It’s civil war” or “it’s a sectarian conflict” are just ways to cover up dead bodies, including rebels and revolutionaries. The bitter truth is that the situation in Rojava cannot be distinguished in its intelligibility from the rest of Syria. The difference is that the Rojava is more easily adapted to ready-to-think anti-imperialism, thanks to the federalist politicians of the PYD who learned their aesthetic lessons from Rage Against the Machine and their seductive manipulations from the anti-imperialists of yesteryear. The bitter truth is that the social situation in Rojava is as complex as in the rest of the world. Which also means that we will have to do our research, analyze the situation, make contacts and talk to people if we want to fight against this world by their side. At least that, rather than brandishing the portraits of a new anti-authoritarian authority.
J.L., June 2016
i Informal pro-regime militias
ii Yekiti is one of the Kurdish opposition parties in northern Syria, close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani in northern Iraq.
iii Or an American or British or whatever nation.
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“…the demonstrations, much less “peaceful” than the Western media represented…”
I will admit complete ignorance of any violent demonstrations against the Syrian state in March 2011. If there was any demonstration of proletarian violence at this time in Syria it would be useful and pertinent for the author of this article to share this information with readers.
In the absence of such evidence, I must remain convinced that the demonstrations of March were social democratic and “peaceful” in nature and that the participants were like lambs to the slaughter, sacrificed in preparation for the imperialist carnage that has proceeded.
This is a reply from the author of this text, translated by me:
“The riots in Aleppo were described in a rather transient way here: https://hourriya.noblogs.org/post/2016/03/28/ciao-mondo/
But my sources are friends who were there when everything started in Syria. Those who do not recognize themselves in the democratic (in the sense of Western-style democracy) movement put the beginning of the movement in Syria in March 2011, when teenagers in Darra wrote anti-Assad tags on the walls of their school, and were later tortured by the cops. For many, it was this event that triggered everything, not the appeals by the democratic opposition, of whom a good part of the rebels were wary from the start.
This is illustrated by the fact that the actions in Damascus at the very beginning were only sit-ins in front of the great mosque of Damascus – which did not not bring a lot of people together. While the spontaneous demonstrations in Darra as a result of the tags were massive and popular. If this action is not an authentic “proletarian” action, well – I do not know one that could be.
I cannot elaborate on the degree of violence of these demonstrations. However, the eye-witness accounts that were shared with me – that it was raining not only molotovs, but also sweets filled with gas and other improvised explosives (not to mention stones) are believable from the mere fact that the army was on the job from the very first tentative steps at revolt. The story of the Free Syrian Army is also important: at first there were some improvised (and not formalized) militias which protected the “peaceful” (non-armed) demos with weapons looted from the barracks – before becoming armed forces in the true sense of the word. Once again, I want to see what actions could be more authentically “proletarian”, as the commentator said.
Leila al-Shami wrote a little bit about it, I believe ( https://leilashami.wordpress.com/author/leilashami/ ). I do not have the link at hand. These included the use of the term “civil” opposition “in English translations from Syria at the beginning of the uprising. “Civil” did not mean “peaceful” nor “democratic”. “Civil” referred to the fact that the participants were not members of any armed group when the first formations appeared within the opposition movement.
And what’s more, though I can’t be bothered to look it up, there were a lot of reports of the comicos [police stations] being burnt during the first demonstrations. A similar situation was better known in Egypt, when a few dozen comicos were burned the night of the first big demonstration in Tahrir, in Cairo alone!
In addition to that, I do not quite see how the precise degree of the violence should be important. I challenge anyone who wants to explain to the Syrian rebels that the first protests in Derra and Damascus were not violent to get away with it with all their teeth intact! This above all. What’s more, since when do we measure the subversive scope of actions by their degree of violence? Very obviously I do not mean that the insurgency in Syria was exclusively anti-authoritarian and without contradiction (by the way, has there been a social insurrection which was?). It was social and popular, period. It has not even been recuperated in any true sense – rather it’s been overwhelmed in an extremely tragic way by the war. This ideological way he proclaims, from his armchair, that everything was decided in advance just disgusts me, pure and simple.
I didn’t make it precise, but the comparison with Egypt is that the first demos in Tahrir were also reported by the media as “peaceful”, above all by those who from the start were pretty much sympathetic to the uprising. This despite the fact that there were something like a hundred public buildings set alight in the city! “
Thank you for so lucidly clarifying the events of March 2011: between the proletarian/revolutionary aspects — but not, as you say, “anti-authoritarian” — and the social democratic aspects of the Democratic Opposition. You have certainly now dispelled my previous ignorance on this matter. Perhaps in future you will include these crucial details in the article above for the benefit of us in our Western armchairs.
The author said ” I do not mean that the insurgency in Syria was exclusively anti-authoritarian” – he did not say it was not anti-authoritarian.
The author has certainly demonstrated that the March protests were against the authority of the Syrian state and it’s foremost bourgeois, Assad — hence, not popular in the sense of including all sections of the populus.
I think that a firebomb or a molotov used offensively against the forces of Order has an inherent authority about it, and cannot be said to be anti-authoritarian.
You’re being uninterestingly pedantic – playing with words. It’s obvious that “anti-authoritarian” in the context of this text means opposition to external authority, not the “authority” of proletarian desires/critiques. And when he says “popular” it’s also obvious that he means “working class” in the sense I often use when mentioning “a popular estate” or “a popular area of town”. Dotting “I”s and crossing “T”s – even when these “i”s and “t”s have already been dotted and crossed – is something that those who have nothing to say but repeat stale ideologies pretend to themselves that they’re saying something original.
When phrases such as “anti-authoritarian” appear on these pages I am compelled to highlight these remnants of anarchist ideology for what they are. The same goes when proletarian action is described as “popular”. These are not matters of semantics.
Given the context in which they were used, both “anti-authoritarian” and “popular” are clearly not examples of a confusion about whether or not in Syria the social movement was asserting its “authority” against external authority. Or was expressing “popular” feeling in a way to mean something other than a vague working class antagonism – certainly not “popular” in the sense of “popular culture” or whatever. Typical ultra-Left communist way of asserting some stale “theoretical difference” as if this way of using terminology was important. You merely counter “anarchist ideology” as if the term “anti-authoritarian” is in itself innately wrong, and you have to wag your finger so as to teach readers the intellectually “correct” expression just like some Leninist or other. I could equally dismiss the use of the term “proletarian” to be just another jargon word of Leninists if I wanted to be as pointless as your comment. And often those (not necessarily you) who “critique” the use of the term “anti-authoritarian” do so because they believe in playing authority roles amongst themselves or towards other proletarians and don’t feel the need to undermine these roles of domination and submission, of rivalry and complicity.
Countering ideology is not a matter of affirming some counter-ideology competing with anarchist or some other ideology. Countering ideology means looking at the contradictions in any situation/person and their history and looking at when ideological expressions are a significant barrier to the development of a subversive communication and when they are just some petty tweaking of language. Countering ideology does not mean playing the teacher role that you “feel compelled” to do to give yourself, and I suspect only yourself, the illusion that you’re somehow contributing to anything other than an empty semantic question.
I believe the term “anti-authoritarian” IS inherently wrong because it confuses our goal, which is to impose the authority of our class over the authority of the capitalist class.
Equally, with the term “popular”, if it is applied to proletarian insurrectionary action, as described by the author in the comment above, it is misleading. Our class action is not popular.
If we’re going to get into a fruitless definition-tweaking discussion then I’d point out that “our goal” is to rid the world of authority relations, of relations of domination and submission, the world of the commodity, of hierarchy and reduction to equivalence, which, whilst repressing the authority of the bourgeoisie and/or bureaucratic class, must also repress authority relations within the social movement itself. So definitely anti-authority/anti-hierarchy. But then you only say what you say to repeat petty differences between “correct” expressions orginating from marxism and “correct” expressions orginating from anarchism. Really – only you take the use of these expressions outside of the context in which they’re used, to pretend to yourself that you are saying something significant, when you’re repeating something stale that was said long ago and is merely a petty difference intended to hide more important ones.
But this is a clearer response to virtually all your comments:
I don’t wish to rid the world of authority relations therefore we do not share the same goals, me and you. I accept the authority of an offensive animal and submit accordingly.
The bourgeoisie has no authority — only brutality — but again we differ in our understanding of the terms we are using.
‘I believe the term “anti-authoritarian” IS inherently wrong because it confuses our goal, which is to impose the authority of our class over the authority (hidden brutality) of the capitalist class.’
So to sum up: “our goal is to impose the authority of our class over the authority (hidden brutality) of the capitalist class which has no authority” says James, the authority on a goal he says is ours’ at the same time as saying “we do not share the same goals”. The authority of no authority and “our” goal which is not ours’ but is James’ definition of “our” goal.
Is Edward Lear James’ alter-ego?
Sam — having read through these comments and the thread which ended in you banning your interloper, I wonder why you even bothered to spend so much time and effort responding to him in the first place. His first comment had the merit of soliciting a detailed and very interesting response from the author. All further comments about semantics were so vapid as to deserve nothing but silence, as the author wisely chose. Anyway, there are numerous good accounts about the revolutionary uprising outside Syrian Kurdistan, Leila is one such, another is this one about the anti-nationalism of the Syrians provoked a Palestinian to question her own nationalism
You’re right – I was far too tolerant of his vapid comments.
I’ll check out your link later and maybe make some comments
Great advances in the Rojava experiment:
While I share all your criticisms against PYD and the still now invisible Rojava experiment, I don’t see the problem here. AFAIK, Turkish-backed people are jihadis with almost the same rotten ideology as Daesh. They are not refugees seeking shelter, they came with their guns and rule the zone where they retreated after having been defeated by Assad and his friends in Ghouta. How could they be welcome as fellow Syrians while they carry through the Erdogan’s general policy against Kurds?
You may well be more knowledgeable about the situation than I am – I hadn’t realised that these people were jihadists (are you sure that they all are there at the behest of Erdogan?). I somehow assumed, quite probably wrongly, that this was part of the PYD’s policy of making Rojava purely Kurdish – ie when Salih Muslim declared that the Arabs who live in the “Kurdish” regions, because of the Arabization policy of Hafez al-Assad, will one day have to leave. However, even if you are right, as you probably are, this might well also become a pretext for the PYD’s Kurdishization policy, no?
In Ghouta the main rebel group was Jaysh al-Islam. Officially they were salafist but not anymore, which is per se a funny idea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaysh_al-Islam
They negotiated with the regime to leave Ghouta and were allowed to bring the light weapons. I can hardly imagine Turkey allowing buses full of armed people to enter its zone without being sure it can control them.
Afrin is already mostly Kurdish, so there is almost nothing to do in this regard. But maybe we can understand this PYD statement differently, if we consider that 1) Assad wants all the North back and is ready to fight Turkey, 2) the guerrilla in Afrin is already led from the surrounding Regime-controlled area, 3) there are ongoing negotiations between the Regime and PYD to reintegrate the territories of the later in Syria (US support, which is vital but has not protected PYD from Turkey might totally vanish if Poutine and Trump finally get along about Iran in Syria), 4) the people from Ghouta are the ones who refused Assad’s amnesty proposal. If the PYD finally decides to save the Party instead of the virtually dead Rojava, it makes sense that the Regime’s foes have nothing to do in the new Syria which the future holy union will soon set “free”.
Of course my information are second hand and it’s mainly speculation. There are so much agendas there, it’s always very tricky to understand who do what with who for what.
Thanks for that – can’t add anything more as i know far less than you do about the situation.
Also notice that PYD chose Turkey in Afrin. They could have let the Regime control back the region, which would have forced Erdogan to stop the invasion (at worst Russia would have closed back the Syrian airspace). So, now they cry because of Sharia and ethnic cleansing, but that’s the direct consequence of their policy: the Regime back* in the heart of Syrian Kurdistan would have condemn their Rojava wet dream, hence they preferred temporizing with this brilliant guerilla strategy which exposes civilians to disgusting counter-insurgency methods (but hey, every family is proud to give some martyr to the Revolution, isn’t it?). When the above main article speaks about building cages to then better break them, I can’t agree more.
* YPG members would have been integrated into the Syrian army to defend the zone. The Regime has for sure proven to be a fierce merciless dictatorship, but it would have had no interest in spending its forces in a such large-scale repression while it was still under fire in Damascus.
I have to call bullshit on this comment. If you are being invaded by A, anyone who says that you could always ask to be invaded by B, your enemy’s enemy (who is equally your own enemy), if you really wanted to stop the invasion of A, so ipso facto you are choosing to be invaded by A — is talking with more than one corpse in their mouths. It’s like arguing that the loyalists in the Spanish civil war “chose” fascism because they could have asked Stalin to annex Spain if they really wanted to beat Franco. Or like Orwell when he used similarly twisted doublethink during WW2 to say that those who openly declared “no war but the class war” were “objectively supporting fascism” because at that stage all action that did not actively support the allies passively supported their enemies. History is rarely determined by such simplistic false choices, which are better suited to politicians than to those who claim to be seeking for an exit to this suicidal disaster of a world and its various false oppositions.
True, if you forget the PYD first called Assad to defend the Syrian borders and accepted the help of the NDF:
Assad and Erdogan are not equally the enemy of the PYD, precisely because PYD says Rojava is Syria when it arranges them. Here they obviously didn’t care of population, just like the worse politicians. All my point is here: according to the links they keep with the Regime (they almost never fought), they could have protected people.
You are assuming that it would have been worth inviting their enemy to save them, when the facts of the case suggest otherwise. Why do you think Assad would ever seriously risk getting into a military conflict with Turkey? First of all, it is convenient for him to let an allied state with no ambitions of annexing territory to invade a province that has been over-run by kurdish rebels. This eliminates the need for him to mount a military campaign in kurdistan himself should he ever be in a position to consolodate power in that direction once again. Secondly, Assad would never make a move without his backers Russia, who would never contemplate an open conflict with a NATO signatory, let alone one with the second largest army.
In any case, I find it more interesting to consider a parallel between the role of the PYD and other armed bands in the civil war, namely, that its defenders frequently trot out the same rhetoric to silence criticism that the various rebel militias used to usurp power from unarmed revolutionaries in the rest of Syria — namely, that the militias were risking their lives in defence of the revolution, whereas civilians were not, therefore any criticism coming from those not on the front lives was disrespectful and invalid.
A good discussion of this, as well as a great overall discussion of the Syrian revolution from the perspective of two anarchists from Aleppo, can be found here:
Another good overview of the revolution outside Kurdistan can be found in the film Echos of Rupture:
There was no need to fight, Erdogan was ready to stop the Olive Branch operation providing Damas took back the control of the region over the “terrorists”. The PYD rejected this, proposing the Syrian army would instead just patrol along the border. I don’t know why you think the Syrian army is unable to do what the Turkish one did. The main point is YPG have no air defense, that’s why they were defeated despite their knowledge of the land and their fortifications. What concern Assad and Putin is certainly not the Turkish army (which was not exactly convincing against the YPG) and its proxies, but the USAF. On one hand, Russia directly confronting the USA is really what *nobody* wants to see but could spark at any moment if someone lose its cold blood. On the other hand, Erdogan needs a place to settle his jihadi breed out of Turkey and then could attempt an endless occupation of North Syria. Let’s first see how the Idleb issue will be resolved or not.
Now, I think you hit the head of the nail. There are good reasons to think the Syrian Kurds would be happier in a Kurdish state, and that the PYD’s project is after all far more attractive than the actual callous dictatorships of the region. In this regard, the opportunistic attitude of the PYD/PKK (first they don’t want a state anymore, in favor of a “libertarian municipalism”, then they are ready to make a Kurdish state with non-Kurds or “rekurdished” people while, in case the US umbrella eventually flies away, talking to Damas in order to at least get a federal Syria where they could have autonomy) can be seen as the end justifying the means. But this has however a little if not nothing to do with the Revolution.
Thanks for your links, I was a bit sick of martyr cult and women joining the army to escape wedding and get some bits of education before dying for the Part/try (how can this be called “emancipation”?)
About the latest news from this part of the world, Trump’s withdrawal from Syria – https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/erdogan-announces-syria-pull-181220112757906.html – a contact writes:
If you thought the negotiations between the US and Erdogan to trade US support for the SDF for purchases of US Patriot missiles was sleazy, check out the section of this article disclosing the US “double tap” airstrike against a hospital that housed ISIL medical personnel, officials and Kurdish prisoners. It would seem that to preclude the possiblity of (local) negotiations between the ISIL and the Kurds…
The Empire is as filthy as the bloody ISIL.
Did Erdogan blackmail Trump? – https://thehill.com/policy/defense/422717-wesley-clark-on-trumps-syria-withdrawal-did-erdogan-blackmail-the-president
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters send reinforcements to the front line along the northern Syrian areas controlled by Kurdish fighters – https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/turkey-backed-rebels-move-forces-kurdish-held-areas-181224154431699.html
X from California writes: “Here is the YPG (and presumably its western volunteers and their supporters, who seem to be remarkably quiet locally right now, when not so long ago they actually had a presence on the streets), now visibly caught in the jaws of the Realpolitik the whole confederalist project was intended internally to avoid. “Communalism in one country” does not seem to be without its sometimes dire compromises with the existing world.
The casualness with which the Ogre of the White House stabbed them in the back even seems, as you have probably noticed, to have disgrunted some of the top officials in the Administration itself sufficiently as to have made them quit their posts. “
The inevitable consequence of the Trump betrayal, double-tap effort to withstall the development notwithstanding.
See also this: https://www.anarkismo.net/article/31237
A contact sent me this appalling rubbish: https://komun-academy.com/2018/12/25/solidarity-with-the-kurdish-struggle-without-ocalan/ adding this pertinent comment: “A remarkable product of selective thinking, intended for one purpose, but resounding effective in promoting its contrary – doubt – especially when the article denounces cults of leadership, and only gives (right-wing) fascist examples. Lenin? Stalin? – the actual inventors of the ‘cult of personality,’ as I believe Khrushev called it in his speech to the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU, are invisible in this “defense” and the way that feminist identity politics are used to justify the apotheosis of Öcalan is an outstanding exercise in “pretzel logic.””
From an email:
Make Martyrdom Great Again
“And even if we did not choose to join the structures of YPG and YPJ, we know how important it is to be ready to give everything for the revolution, even our life, and to face the traumatic experiences of war. To honor and remember also our comrades that fell şehid (i.e., were martyred), we named our academy after Hêlîn Qaraçox (Anna Campbell), who was killed by NATO warplanes from Turkey in the Afrin resistance.”
– from an interview with international volunteers in Rojava from 2018:
Interesting Al Jazeera article on Rojava:
“…there is an emphasis on the equal political representation of all ethno-religious components – Arabs, Kurds and Christians being the most sizeable ones – an approach which some have applauded as “careful ethnic balance”, although it rather resembles the sectarian quotas adopted in Lebanon and Iraq. …As Syrian intellectual Jad Karim Jibai pointed out: “Nobody knows how an ‘entity’, that is ‘peoples and communities’ (ie, clans and ethno-sectarian communities), could transcend national borders.”
In other words, the insistence on these communitarian boundaries betrays the libertarian transnational aspirations.
This contradiction is also evident from the authority bestowed upon tribal leaders. For instance Shaykh Humaydi Daham al-Jarba, the head of a tribal Arab militia and an outspoken supporter of the Assad regime, was appointed as the governor of the Jazirah canton in Rojava in 2014….
His son is now the commander of the al-Sanadid Forces, one of the main Arab militias fighting alongside the PKK-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), that is to say Rojava’s army. The prominence of tribal leaders preserves their role as inhibitors of social change.
While the PKK has officially renounced its demands for an independent Kurdistan, it would be myopic to ignore the ongoing military expansion of the territories controlled by the Kurds, whose outcome means the de facto fragmentation of Syria along new borders.
Considering the rejection of the idea of nation-states in the Rojava declaration, this appears to be a move in the opposite direction, regardless of the threat posed by enemies in war times.
Moreover, private property is officially enshrined in the Charter, a provision that safeguards the privileges of landowners, while encouraging them to invest in agricultural projects sponsored by the Rojava authorities.
…If this Syrian region is to stand as an alternative to capitalist federalist Iraqi Kurdistan, a significant effort is also needed to familiarise its inhabitants with its structures.
When I was living in Rojava with a Syrian Kurdish family in 2013, most of the people I met were busy dealing with the rising cost of living and had no idea of the difference between federalism and libertarian municipalism.
…Another threat posed to democracy and decentralisation in Rojava is the PKK’s Stalinist legacy. The party claims to have shifted towards anarchism a long time ago, but some traces of its authoritarian upbringing are still visible in its “Syrian lab”: Ocalan’s portraits are ubiquitous, often accompanied by the slogan “There’s no life without a leader” (be serok jiyan nabe).
The PKK supporters are not generally inclined to accept criticism of Ocalan, who has been often portrayed by his former “comrades” as a despot.
When I asked a PKK chief in charge of supervising education in Amuda, northern Syria, why they had decided to hang a party leader’s portrait in schools, he told me that to him Ocalan was more a philosopher than a political leader.
Unfortunately, in Rojava, Ocalan looks like the only philosopher allowed to be portrayed everywhere.
I witnessed the PKK’s worst crackdown on Syrian dissidents so far on June 28, 2013, in Amuda, after the party’s armed forces had killed six protesters the night before.
It was only the main episode in a long string of violations committed against dissidents and journalists.
Still, as a foreign journalist in Rojava, I faced almost no restrictions and was never at risk of being kidnapped, especially compared with some opposition-held regions in Syria.
Nevertheless, the way the PKK deals with dissent is worrisome for any movement claiming to have established a democratic confederation.
…the presence of women is encouraged in both political and military institutions as nowhere else in the country.
However, the militarisation of women and society at large is an alarming trend enforced through conscription and sanctioned by the social prestige enjoyed by the fighters’ families. In fact, only the “martyrs”‘ pictures are “venerated” with the same devoutness of Ocalan’s icons.
Consequently, women become worthy of respect as long as they turn into men of arms and sacrifice themselves on the battlefield.
Some would defend this militarised system of values with the current need to defend Rojava, but to assume that even minors should be forcibly enlisted to ensure the survival of a social utopia is a disturbing argument to say the least.
2 critiques of Rojovanarchists, one from 2017:
Second from 2019:
Raqqa residents flee amid fear of Syrian government return:
“Rumours of a possible deal between the SDF and Damascus started circulating shortly after Turkey launched a military operation to push back the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a component of the SDF considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, from areas close to its border. Several days later, Russia brokered a deal with Damascus, the SDF and Ankara to de-escalate tensions, which saw the deployment of Russian and Syrian government forces to the area. In February this year, it was reported that the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s political arm, started a dialogue with Damascus with Russian mediation, although the content of the talks is still not publicly known.”
David Graeber is dead: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/03/david-graeber-anthropologist-and-author-of-bullshit-jobs-dies-aged-59.
It seems that whenever someone who defines themselves as “anarchist” or some other revolutionary label dies everyone who fits into that label either remains silent or feels obliged to heap praise on them or at least emphasise only their positive contribution to ideas, revolt and class struggle. The negative critiques are seen as bad taste, inhuman and almost fits into the dominant ideology of “you should never speak ill of the dead” (unless the dead person is Hitler, Stalin, Thatcher or some other particularly obnoxious enemy).
Graeber is very obviously not a bit like someone who even remotely fits into this final category. BUT let’s not forget that he was perhaps the most prominent “anarchist”, and possibly the first one of any renown, who praised loudly the Ocalan-inspired “experiment” in Rojava, made a moronic comparison with Spain in the 30s and encouraged people to go there on the basis of this claim. He is indirectly responsible for the deaths of naive young anarchists (or would-be anarchists) who went off to fight for the Stalinist PKK and their various alternative initials just because Ocalan was prescient enough, in an epoch when his old-style Stalinism hadn’t the slightest credibility, to proclaim Bookchin’s stupid ideology of municipalism as the idea on which Rojava was based. Remember – he contributed towards encouraging sending these mainly young idealists to their DEATHS, and those who minimise this crap or who don’t even mention it should , if not feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves, at least reflect on how such a show of being sad, sentimental and human towards someone like this represses consciousness of such inhuman ideological stupidity.
Graeber was essentially a social democrat who took on the “anarchist” label, possibly because it made him seem more rebellious and daring than he in fact was. Apparently it was him who invented the “we are the 99%” slogan of US Occupy, a bad joke that would include many a small capitalist, cops and all the other props for miserable social relations. The link from The Guardian shows how he tolerated loads of mainstream lefties who like to think of themselves as rebellious and daring: “…the Guardian columnist Owen Jones called him “an intellectual giant, full of humanity, someone whose work inspired and encouraged and educated so many”. The Labour MP John McDonnell wrote: “I counted David as a much valued friend and ally. His iconoclastic research and writing opened us all up to fresh thinking and such innovative approaches to political activism. We will all miss him hugely.”– https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/sep/03/david-graeber-anthropologist-and-author-of-bullshit-jobs-dies-aged-59
New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/books/david-graeber-dead.html?referringSource=articleShare):
“Dr. Graeber became involved in British politics last year, supporting the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the general election as “a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world.”
T. on Rojava and martyrdom
The support for the movement in Rojava by various anarchists tends to ignore the fetishisation of martyrdom there, as exemplified by this from an article in issue #5 (Fascism) of ROAR magazine, 2017 https://roarmag.org/magazine/dilar-dirik-kurdish-anti-fascism/?fbclid=IwAR17rxX9rehpgyRyCJr4F7PPtmbtZwIObNUiGTBwDs2D5vHhXJHgD9nUOBE
“It was Arîn Mîrkan, a young, revolutionary, free Kurdish woman, who would become the symbol of Kobane’s victory — the city that broke the myth of the undefeatable fascism of ISIS. A fighter of the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), Arîn Mîrkan detonated herself in October 2014 near the strategically critical Mishtenur Hill to rescue her comrades and to capture the position from ISIS. This eventually shifted the battle in favor of the People’s Defense Forces (YPG/YPJ) and other co-operating armed groups, pushing ISIS onto the defensive. After months of tireless fighting, which moved the US-led coalition to provide aerial military support, Kobane was free… ISIS’ main enemies are precisely those who face it with a radically different way of conceiving of life. Defeating authoritarian extremism is only possible through radical democracy and women’s liberation. Within this context, the SDF constitutes one of the most important anti-fascist struggles of our time. It must be supported.
Arîn Mîrkan’s heroic death was a hymn to life, to freedom, to women’s emancipation. Her selfless action out of solidarity with her people and the freedom of women in particular was a heavy blow not only to ISIS, but to the very mentality that underpins global capitalism’s profit-fetishizing individualism. In a world that sexualizes and objectifies the woman, Arîn Mîrkan used her body as a final frontline against fascism.”
The reification of this death, especially when saying that when a woman fighter bombs herself to pieces in order to free prisoners she is “using her body” as a frontline against fascism and sexism, is pretty sickening. This is not to say that sometimes people rightly feel, in terrifying circumstances, that they have to do something like this, but the martyr-ideologisation of such horrors is repulsive. How is this different from the glorification of death practiced by more obvious enemies, such as the Islamic State? In both cases the martyr-fetish on behalf of the surviving comrades and the martyr status they give to those who died (which even amounts to a sanctification of the gruesome way in which they found their death) seems to pardon them for any responsibility for that loss of life.
Some quotes from the interview (my comments in square brackets):
The diplomatic bodies of the self-administration are working to reach
agreements with different forces inside and outside Syria, pushing for
political solutions, because this revolution is looking for peace, but
knows that we have to be ready for war.
The self-administration was enacting preventive measures at the
beginning, forbidding travel between cities and encouraging the use of
masks. There was also a curfew for shops and other public places, except
food stores and pharmacies, which were only allowed to open some hours
in the morning.
[Yet another example of anarchists supporting state-enforced curfews (or
“self-administration” as they call it, but most probably some sort of
police/army is enforcing these curfews) and restrictions on the free
movement of people. T]
Politically, it is also a big challenge. When we were fighting ISIS,
everyone understood that it was a fight for all humanity, to stop a form
of theocratic fascism that used brutal torture and executions as
propaganda. But now that the Turkish state is continuing what ISIS
couldn’t achieve, the challenges are much bigger. Not only are the
military force and technology of the Turkish state much more advanced
than those of the Islamic State, their political and media warfare is
stronger, forcing the SDF and the self-administration to put a lot of
effort into diplomatic relations with other powers to defend the
liberated territory. Maintaining diplomatic relations also means
crafting a narrative that other forces can support, because if the
self-administration talks openly about a revolutionary horizon of
democratic confederalism—that is, overcoming nation-states and bringing
down capitalism and patriarchy—it will be easy for Erdoğan to get a
green light from the superpowers to wipe out this liberated territory.
Do we understand that as all the people, institutions, and media outlets
around the world that take an active international political stance and
speak on the matter? Or is it the group of state leaders with their
ministries and geopolitical interests? If latter, then we can’t expect
anything different from the entities that sell weapons to Turkey today,
condemn the war tomorrow, and the next day both reaffirm the importance
of and support for the NATO alliance, while carrying out waves of
repression against the Kurdish liberation movement in their own
countries at the same time. A fundamental mistrust of the political
establishment and states is something that anarchists share with lots of
people in NE Syria. “There are no friends but the mountains” (Ji bilî
çiya hevalên me tune ne), as the Kurdish saying goes. [-As long as it’s
not mistrust of the political establishment of the PKK and its
government of ‘self-administration’. T]
And if we understand the “international community” to mean all the
people, institutions, and media outlets around the world, we can agree
that it is important for people to speak up about what is happening and
spread the word. But honestly, if we are to hope for the international
community to stop the invasion, it would have to not only protest
against the invasion but rather fight against it and disrupt the Turkish
war economy. Also, we can see that we ourselves as anarchists do not
have a strong enough revolutionary movement to set an example that could
The question to us is then: how much can we rely on the vague term of
“the international community,” when we need to defend and change our
societies right now? And what is it that we can build and rely on, so we
will not be alone when the bombs fall on our heads? Not only in terms of
physically being alongside our comrades in these moments, but rather on
the scale of sincerely feeling with our hearts that what we defend and
fight for is connected to other people and places around the world?
—What are the power dynamics now between Assad’s government and the
Şahîn: The SAA [Syrian Arab Army, the military force of the Syrian
State] is present on some of the front lines with Turkey, though this is
more a matter of diplomacy from their side. There is a common enemy but
very different aims. Consequently, they have much less will to fight
Turkey and a different relationship to allies.
The conflict with the Assad regime is more political and economic. Heval
don’t waste energy and resources contesting SAA and it would not be the
best choice. Negotiations failed because the two opposing positions were
too different and too intractable to find a common path. Assad is trying
to undermine the revolution by offering better prices to farmers,
cutting the electricity, and similar tactics. He has no support among
the Kurdish population in NE Syria, but among the Arabic and Assyrian
populations it is more complex. He tries to play the game of divide and
conquer. Heval know that. It is already one of the objectives of the
revolution—democratic confederalism—not to base the new society on a
singular national or ethnic identity, but to find ways that diverse
communities can live together, perhaps with semi-autonomous areas on the
same land. This is one of the key points of the stateless solution based
on Öcalan’s proposal.
In the military side, the creation of the FSA (Free Syrian Army) in
opposition to the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) marked the beginning of the
civil war. The Assad regime endeavored to crush the revolutionary forces
and enable other currents to gain control of the popular uprisings,
opening the door to Salafist and other Islamist groups to take over.
They released Islamic fundamentalists from the jails in order to make
space for the activists organizing the uprisings. The military
escalation damaged the democratic, socialist, and secular movements,
while the Salafist groups were more used to operating in clandestinity
as an insurgent force. When Daesh began to penetrate into Syria in 2013,
several Islamist factions defected from the FSA and joined ISIS. When
al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate in Mosul in 2014 and their forces
moved into Syria from Iraq, they started to advance at the back lines of
the FSA. With the regime on one side and ISIS on the other, the
territories under the control of the opposition were crushed under the
flags of the caliphate.
In Rojava, the situation was different. The Kurdish movement’s
experience of long-term resistance, especially in the past thirty years
of war against the Turkish state, equipped them to navigate the
convulsive waves of events. At the beginning, the Kurdish movement
managed to push out the representatives of Assad’s regime with minimal
use of force, simply by outnumbering the regime soldiers and forcing
them to leave. Kurds took the opportunity to start a revolution during
those convulsive times, but they kept their distance from the Arab
opposition due to mistrust and caution. We should not forget about the
oppression that Kurds have experienced as an ethnic minority, with their
language not recognized, their nationality questioned, their likelihood
of ending up in jail or living in poverty much higher than for those of
the majority ethnicity.
A second scenario might have involved a more organic coordination
between the revolutionary opposition and the Kurdish movement, in which
a wider revolution would bring down the Regime before they could
consolidate support from Russia. I think this was the scenario that
Bashar al-Assad feared the most, and that’s why he put so much effort
into crushing the opposition, bombing the protest mobilizations, and
releasing Islamists from prison to ensure that the opposition would be
controlled by Salafist groups. Another factor that made this scenario
difficult to achieve was the lack of a preexisting organized
revolutionary Arab movement in Syria that could develop organic
connections with the Kurdish revolutionary movement before the
revolution. Once the first bullet is shot, the emergencies of war make
it very difficult to build new bridges. The aforementioned “Euphrates
Volcano” was a good step in that direction. Perhaps it could have
happened earlier, but the opposition was a mosaic of different groups
and factions, which made it difficult to establish coordination with a
formal organization like the Kurdish Liberation Movement. Now, we can
criticize the Kurdish movement for not pushing more for this scenario,
but we have to understand that the first major encounter between the YPG
and the FSA was in the battle of Aleppo, during which Al-Nusra
repeatedly bombed the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqssod. These
clashes made coordination with the opposition more difficult. But in a
scenario with better coordination, Bashar al-Assad would have fallen.
[T: Regarding these last paragraphs: a young Syrian Kurd (originally from
Afrin, now living in Germany as a refugee) who we hosted recently told
me that at the beginning of the Arab Spring in Syria the demos in his
region were much less militant and more diplomatic, the PKK-related
political factions making sure the protests remain in general terms,
about living conditions or political corruption etc., but without
mentioning the Assad regime directly; that voices diverting from the
PKK/PYD line were silenced and that if you shouted slogans targeting
Assad directly then people/stewards would come to you and tell you that
you can’t say that due to whatever reasons (as far as I know the reasons
being that Assad was protecting Ocalan for years and had all sorts of
mutual-interest agreements with him and the PKK). Which brings me to
think very deeply about this next quote and its last sentence:]
Finally, it is worth mentioning something about the creation of the SDF.
The SDF was a military umbrella created, in part, to allow the
International Coalition led by the US to support Kurdish forces without
clashing with Turkey. Turkey was threatening the United States that they
would leave NATO if the US supported YPJ/G, so the US came up with the
umbrella of the SDF rather than supporting the YPJ/G directly. For the
Kurdish Liberation Movement, this step was necessary to ensure the
survival of Rojava, to fight ISIS without letting Turkey crush the
revolution. At the same time, it created dependency on the global
imperialist hegemony, with all the contradictions and problems that
entails. If a strong international revolutionary movement had existed at
that time, things could have gone very differently.
…Our Şehîd — our comrades who fell—are a big inspiration for us and
when we speak about this topic…
[A bit misleading. In fact, Şehîd is the concept for martyr (Shaheed in
Arabic) – not comrade. The word means literally “witness” in Arabic, its
designation as martyr is given to both combatant and “civilian”
casualties. For example, the Palestinians designate anyone who is killed
by the Israeli occupation as “Shaheed” – whether they were fighters or
children killed in an airstrike. T.]
Garzan: TA is composed of anarchists from different parts of the world
and with different backgrounds, but the main goal has always been to
support this revolution and learn from it, and to become more capable of
organizing revolutionary movements in our own places. This support and
learning belongs to short-term goals and it is something happening day
to day, and we can say we are offering our grain of sand to contribute
to this revolution. The more long-term aims will need to be evaluated as
time goes by. Right now, we are a more consolidated structure in Rojava.
It is known here and outside that anarchists are part of this revolution
together with other revolutionary movements and organizations. But the
ideas that inspired this revolution go far beyond Rojava, bringing
together all these different revolutionary movements to make a common
front against capitalist modernity.
[“…but the main goal has always been to support this revolution and
learn from it, and to become more capable of organizing revolutionary
movements in our own places.” – Isn’t critique an unavoidable part of
support for a potentially revolutionary movement? What good a support is
when it’s uncritical and obedient (as seems to be the case so far from
the various interviews with international volunteers)? WHAT PART OF
YOURSELF DO YOU BRING IN SUPPORT in that case, other than just your
work-force as medical aid or soldier (even when you’re an anarchist
medical aid/soldier)? And how is your individual self being evolved and
revolutionized when you do not bring your entire self into it? What is
the difference here between revolutionary solidarity and plain and
simple militancy? T]
Ceren: To be honest, I don’t see that our efforts have either helped or
hurt the fostering of horizontality and autonomy throughout society
here. But I can see how the society here has deepened OUR understanding
of these things. These are not new ideas here by any means. The
principles of autonomy and self-determination are built into Democratic
Confederalism, which is developed in practice every day by the people
who have become involved in the self-administration of their communities
at many different levels, and we learn a lot from the methods the
movement is using to engage people in this process and from the problems
and mistakes that arise as well. We have found that the practices we
have learned from the movement here, such as tekmil [a form of
collective criticism], have been helpful in breaking down informal
hierarchies to some extent and mitigating some of the potentially
coercive elements of hierarchy in times when it is necessary, so that
this hierarchy does not extend further than is needed.
[This is rather interesting, but unfortunately throughout most of these
interviews it’s all spoken in general terms with no concrete examples of
it given. T.]
Here it’s good to mention the method of tekmil: critique and
self-critique based on a horizontal approach coming from the philosophy
of “hevaltî.” A revolutionary approach to camaraderie, a way of striving
not only to develop oneself but always to support comrades in their
development, to believe that everyone has the capacity to change. You
give value to every critique that you receive from any heval (comrade)
and you are responsible for criticizing every comrade according to the
same principles and the same values. You don’t give more or less
critique to someone based on whether you like or dislike them.
Irrespective of responsibilities or your position, in the tekmil,
everyone is the same—we share the same values and aims and use criticism
and self-criticism to go forward.
[When anarchists begin to speak Maoist, I begin to suspect… and to be
intrigued about the content of these particular collective and
self-critiques. What happens for example if a comrade tries to critique
the party line? Or Ocalan’s philosophy/theory/instructions? I don’t
just say it in a sarcastic way, I really am curious. See further in the
Şahîn: The main factor is always friendship and trust among comrades,
ensuring a healthy environment where critique and self criticism can be
presented if hierarchical dynamics develop. In one word, hevaltî. To be
able to support our heval, we need empathy, to listen to each other’s
perspectives and understand others’ feelings, to be willing to learn and
find solutions instead of obstacles. To be able to find these solutions,
we also need curiosity about what we are doing; we must move away from
seeing political organizing as a suffering we have to endure until we
have freedom. We should strive to create the life we want to live now.
We need to be committed not only in a sense of self discipline, but
committed to our comrades and to what we are fighting for, to take on
responsibility and maintain organizational integrity. To think and act
in a collective way also means to be conscious about the dynamics in the
group or organization and not shy away from contradictions that will
inevitably open up, and in these moments, to give value to our comrades
and their work, and maintain morale especially in the times that it is
hardest to do so. How we relate to others can change our possibilities
Quote from the Crimethinc article above: “… the opposition was a mosaic of different groups and factions, which made it difficult to establish coordination with a formal organization like the Kurdish Liberation Movement. Now, we can criticize the Kurdish movement for not pushing more for this scenario, but we have to understand that the first major encounter between the YPG and the FSA was in the battle of Aleppo, during which Al-Nusra repeatedly bombed the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqssod.”
This is disingenuous to say the least. The false conflation of a social movement with a formal organization is deployed as an excuse for the deliberate separation between Rojava and the wider Syrian revolutionary movement, as if there were ever any real revolution that could not be described as a “mosaic of different groups and factions”. The second explanation for this separation is even more absurd than the first. They portray the battle of Aleppo, a complex 4 year struggle that has been described as Syria´s Stalingrad, in terms of a single isolated incident, the shelling of a Kurdish neighborhood right at the end. The fact that every other neighbourhood was repeatedly bombed for the previous four years is not mentioned, presumably because bombing non-Kurdish neighbourhoods doesn´t matter. The fact that this bombing was assisted by Kurdish forces, and that Sheikh Maqussod was attacked not as an arbitrary terrorist strike against civilians but because the YPG used it as a military base in its opportunistic alliance with the Russian-Assad death machine aimed at a territorial expansion that would conquer the rebel held area between Afrin with Kobane, is conveniently ignored. “The first major encounter between the YPG and the FSA” was in support of the same dictator who had for decades repressed Kurds and was raining cluster bombs and chemical weapons down onto schools and hospitals…
Once the Russian Reich began its all-out Blitzkrieg against the Syrian revolutionary forces in Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime – a massacre that has involved massive displacement, with tens or hundreds of thousands fleeing north towards Turkey, and the large-scale, deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools and other basic civilian infrastructure – a most unwelcome development occurred, that has led to much heated debate among supporters of the Syrian revolution.
Namely, the Kurdish-based People’s Protection Units (YPG), based in the Kurdish canton of Efrin on the western side of Aleppo province, launched an all-out attack on the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other rebels in Aleppo – ie, the very forces being bombed by the Russian imperialist onslaught – attacking and conquering rebel-held, Arab-majority towns throughout the region with the direct aid of Russian bombing.
Whatever the ups and downs in the relationship between the Syrian revolution as a whole and the ‘Rojava revolution’ before this point (and I believe both Syrian opposition and Kurdish leaderships can be faulted on many points), the only possible conclusion at this point is that the PYD/YPG has joined the counterrevolution on a massive scale, at its most murderous moment, the biggest knife that could possibly be put through any chances of Arab-Kurdish unity against the regime.
As many of the more progressive aspects of the Rojava revolution became apparent during 2014, I was as supportive and impressed as countless others were (though always holding back from the over-romanticisation of the process); I was also strongly supportive of what appeared to be a growing convergence between the YPG and the FSA during the defence of Kurdish Kobani against genocidal ISIS siege in late 2014.
Subjectively, therefore, I had no reason to want to reach such conclusions. However, for the Syrian revolution, the Russian imperialist Armageddon in Aleppo is every bit as decisive as Kobani’s resistance to the ISIS siege was for Rojava; yet, in contrast to the solidarity that the FSA extended to Kobani, the PYD has become a direct participant in the counterrevolutionary siege of Free Aleppo.
Of course, the YPG is a very small player in this act of mass homicide, whose major practitioners are Russia, Assad and Iran. Devoting an article to the role of the YPG does not suggest it bears the same level of responsibility. But these reactionary states do what reactionary states do; by contrast, when a supposedly revolutionary organisation claiming to be running a quasi-state on a radical-democratic basis joins the actions of imperialist invaders and the local fascist state, that deserves analysis.
The latest article on that site offers a useful take on developments since the Turkish invasion.
A different interview from the same group had a more concrete discussion on the dynamics at play. I quote just a few paragraphs, but the whole thing is worth reading, though it is pretty long.
“Ideology of Rojava Revolution, i.e. Democratic Confederalism, promotes direct self-government and society-oriented economy. However we can see that still is unclear which institutions actually govern Rojava. In parallel with councils there exist some para-State structures such as ministries. The structure of mandate and elections in councils is also unclear. Certain continuous PKK party-control over society exists as well. In a sphere of economy we also see still widespread pretty capitalist relations, party-control over key economy sectors (oil extraction) and unclarity about if the situation is tending to change. What is your analysis and expectations about further social development in Rojava under these circumstances?
Tekoşîna Anarşîst: Here are two views we have on that matter.
First, one can easily come across some cadres of the Party and have discussions with them about these same topics, and some of them would honestly tell you that the situation here is rather a failure, and their ideology of Democratic confederalism and the reality in practice are very different. However, recognizing that they reached only small piece of what revolution was striving for, they would rather take it as the strongest motivation to question themselves and fully commit to make that reality different.
And we as anarchists also recognize that very often our ideas, the life that we all live and the world around us are so far from each other. So how do we approach this? Either we admit that this is the reality, that this is where we stand, and that we have a long way to go, or we hide these questions and challenges behind blind narrow-minded, sometimes even hurray attitude. Both are present here and our analysis is coming from a point of critical comradeship.
There are various limitations and specifics in functioning within the revolutionary structures here in Rojava, whether that be civil or military. There is a reality of more or less strict controlling dynamics especially with the international volunteers and limitations existing to their initiative. Sometimes the dynamics between the “responsibles” (cadres) and people under their responsibility can be quite toxically hierarchical.
Some structures organize with internationals in being responsible for a specific structure and also with several people included. Movement here invites internationals in hope of fulfilling certain goals, specific purposes. Those not necessarily align with what internationals want or can contribute with themselves. In other words, there is often a difference between what internationals want to do and what the party will tell them to do. However, not all doors are closed for all the initiatives, even though a real influencing and working with the society is still very complicated question.
A common thing in the anarchist movement is a problem of something that we call “disposable relationships”. It means that people easily get involved into conflicts within the groups and organizations, and are not holding on to their comrades and relationships with them, treating it like if nobody has to care if people stop to cooperate and there are many people around they can work with instead. It literally means making enemies and separation needlessly. It typically goes in the circles again and again, and people “change” their comrades, collectives and projects like gloves. Some individuals are even taking personal and inter-organizational conflicts as a matter of war. Personal ego and patriarchal, competitive mentality often goes above common interests and even common threats that we are facing. These conflicts between us are hugely destructive and damaged a lot of anarchist and related subversive structures that were built in past 15 years in Russia, for instance.
Then, it necessarily comes to a point of reflection on a militant personality and commitment to revolutionary organizing. The lack of commitment is a big problem in anarchist movement. We all ask ourselves, how to approach daily life and relations with people in connection to our political believes? Is that something that we do at all? And inside of our organizations, how do we balance between the responsibility, individual wishes and desires, so we ensure continuation of some kind of our common line which, on the other hand, is what keeps us all alive and going? How can we develop understanding that revolutionary organizing isn’t a hobby or free time activity, and take it seriously without loosing our desires and joy in life?
And finally, we see a lack of serious political analysis, which is necessary instead of constant reacting on the events that are happening around us. Which is also needed, but how to keep up with events happening, meanwhile not letting it to drag us away from building our own strength and figuring out a long-term strategy and understanding our tactics? And especially now, when FSB is in full scale war against anarchists and overseeing all dissent in Russia and beyond, how do we as anarchists understand self-defense beyond the physical/military one? How to not create an elitist cult or macho bullshit? There is a need of developing a focus with a serious analysis, with a deep understanding of not only actual burning social and economical issues, but also look back to history and see which things worked and which not, and look for deep connections in the present day. That is to say, there is a need of holistic approach to the anarchist analysis, and we don’t necessarily mean academic research by that.”
Document of the Democratic Federal System of Rojava (Northern Syria)
From 2016. You don’t have to read the entire thing, but the segment
below is very revealing in my eyes. Notice the contradictions in
rejecting the Nation-state while advocating “democratic states”, of
rejecting Western imperialism with all its Sykes-Picoc agreements and
its atrocities and slavery while advocating the “Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations and other human rights
conventions”; and the absurdity in speaking of a federal system that is
supposed to unite ethnicities rather than regions, as one part makes
clear (as opposed to other parts that do speak about regions…), and
The Democratic Nation’s solution and Democratic Federalism in Syria
It is clear that the developments in the Middle East and Syria and the
destruction have been caused by the oppressive nation-states. Societies
therefore cannot be ruled by the old style of governance of oppressive
states. The era of the nation-state has passed. It is in fact the era of
a democratic society. It is a period of democratic nations and the
establishment of federations, similar to the EU, which has realised this
fact. The EU rarely gives a true value to this model through developing
democratic norms and conventions in order to solve problems via dialogue
and consensus. Unity, brotherhood and communal life are deeply-rooted in
the history and culture of the Middle East more than Europe. Despite the
fragmentation and marginalisation of Middle Eastern societies that have
taken place under the nation-state model by the ruling elite, the
peoples have chosen to live together peacefully. Nations and societies
did not know policies of hatred, hostility and border drawing. Internal
and external hegemonic powers are those who complicate those issues and
In this case, the realistic solution in Syria is the democratic nation
model and democratic federalism is the ideal choice for the development
of solutions. Bypassing the fanatic nation-state structure, might create
a possibility to solve social issues by democratic means.
Accordingly, finding permanent solutions for issues cannot be possible
with the existence of the nation-state. We must switch to the democratic
nation. Moreover, all international consultations about the future of
Syria revolved around the central state system. The perception of a
decentralised Syria is the option that all influential international
powers are currently considering. We, as a popular democratic
opposition, have from the very beginning proposed democratic federalism
as a solution for Syria, which has proved to be a correct and accurate
solution. On this basis, the Syrian state and the social order must
commit to rebuild and renew the political, legal, defence, social,
intellectual and economic structures in Syria based on democracy. In
addition, a democratic social contract that guarantees the fundamental
rights and independence of all peoples and social groups. This social
contract must also guarantee rights and characteristics of communities
which will shape the administrative form in Syria (The Syrian Democratic
In Syria, neither a single tyrannical regime nor the fragmentation of
peoples are suitable. Those methods can only bring about endless wars
and massacres. Democratic federalism is the only way that guarantees
peoples’ rights in a united democratic system based on a clear global
vision and the theoretical and intellectual power of the philosophy of
the social democratic system. It is the democratic society system that
is based on voluntary union between peoples and groups, which live in a
free, equal and just society. In this system, societies are equal and an
ethnic group or a religious group cannot dominate others. Societies will
retain its unique identity and freedom within this system. Therefore,
democratic federalism is the way to ensure the democratic independence,
found between areas and groups.
What is required is a degree of self-sufficiency for each region and a
place in the democratic federalism. Society must recognise that the
embodiment of the ecological, democratic and balanced society
necessitates joining a large union while maintaining its identity in a
democratic federal system. This system is not for Syria only but to
solve the deep-rooted and complex historical and social problems in the
Middle East. In this case, a democratic federalism in Syria is made up
of Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs, Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, Chechens,
Muslims, Christians, Druze, Alawaites and Yazidis and other
When organising the federal regions in Syria according to the new
administrative, political and social system, the current regional issues
and the social situation must be considered within the Syrian unity. In
addition, the number and quality of federal regions must be taken into
account through an agreement between local communities and their
representatives rather than an individualistic decision imposed on them.
All communities have the right to use their mother tongue in all areas
of public life, including education and teaching, and also the right to
practice their religious rites freely. Institutions or organisations
that run the affairs of society do not have the right to speak on behalf
a religious group. The administration must be based on the respect of
all religions and sects, and must be democratic and maintains
In the Syrian democratic federalism, we must pledge to commit ourselves
to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United
Nations and other human rights conventions.
Abdullah Ocalan adds a new chapter to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”…
“…the untouchable Ocalan nevertheless wrote, in April 2020, two articles in which his delirious antisemitism and conspiracy clearly appear : “In The Commemoration of the Holocaust “and “The Jewish Ideology, Capitalism and the Modernity “…”