Kurdish revolution: what odds for survival?

ISIS is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a large scale in areas under its control, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria finds in its new report—citing massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. "The commanders of ISIS have acted wilfully, perpetrating these war crimes and crimes against humanity with clear intent of attacking persons with awareness of their civilian or 'hors de combat' [non-combatant] status," the report said. "They are individually criminally responsible for these crimes." Based on more than 300 interviews with people who have fled areas under ISIS control, as well as photographs and video footage released by ISIS itself, the report calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. (DİHA, Nov. 14)

In vivid contrast, one of the three self-governing Kurdish cantons in northern Syria, or Rojava, has passed a decree granting women equal rights The decree, passed by the leaders of the "self-ruling democracy of Jazira province" ("officially" in Syria's Hasakeh governorate) states that women have "equality…in all walks of public and private life," including equal pay, legal status before the courts, and inheritance rights. Polygamy is forbidden; women must be 18 years old to marry, and cannot be married off without their consent. he decree bans so-called "honor killings" along with all forms of "violence and discrimination" against women. Arabs also hold office in al-Jazira, and the decrees apply to all ethnicities living in the canton.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the decree is an "affront to laws being passed by the Islamic State (IS), which are highly discriminatory against women." Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP: "While fighting the jihadists, the Kurds also want to send a message to the international community, to say that they want to espouse a culture of democracy and civil rights." (AFP, Reuters, Nov. 9) Most of these women's rights are also enshrined in the constitution of the three self-governing cantons, Afrin, Jazira and Kobani.

The absurdly cynical rhetoric from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogn equating ISIS and the Kurdish defenders of Rojava (especially besieged Kobani) as both "terrorist" is increasingly transparent. The White House, as we have noted, is parsing the problem by proclaiming that Rojava's ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) militia are separate from the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and therefore not considered a terrorist organization by the United States. But the PYD and PKK are (at least) close allies, and the hypocritical "terrorist" designation of the PKK by the US and European Union alike must be opposed entirely.

Ten MPs from the left-wing Die Linke party unfurled the PKK flag inside the German parliament building on Nov. 14, urging the lifting of a ban on the group. "Instead of lifting Nicole Gohlke’s immunity, we urge the federal government to remove the ban on the PKK," the deputies said in a statement. The Bundestag revoked lawmaker Gohlke's parliamentary privilege after she waved a PKK flag at an Oct. 18 demonstration in Munich.

"The ban against the PKK is now outdated," said Ulla Jelpke, one of the Die Linke MPs involved in the flag protest. "The PKK is now an effective force struggling against ISIS, especially in Kobane. Therefore, they should immediately be delisted from the European Union’s terrorist list." (Rudaw, Nov. 14)

The PKK and its Syrian allies—which have recently tilted to anarchism and zapatismo—now say they are seeking autonomy not separatism. Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan writes in his new manifesto, "Democratic Confederalism," outlining the group's new stance: "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." (New Compass, Oct. 10) But continued Turkish intransigence could push them back towards a separatist position.

Turkish attacks on the PKK and its sympathizers—which reached the point of air-strikes last month—continue. On Nov. 6, an attack by Turkish troops at the border north of Kobani left dead Kader Ortakaya, 28, an activist from the Collective Freedom Platform and a post-graduate scholar at Marmara University. Ortakaya was shot in the head as Turkish troops fired bullets and tear-gas on activists and artists who formed a human chain at the border today to protest the blocking of aid to Kobani. (ANF, Nov. 6)

Kurdish accusations that Turkey has actually been conniving with ISIS in a strategem against PKK and its allies have now made Newsweek:

A former member of ISIS has revealed the extent to which the cooperation of the Turkish military allows the terrorist group…to travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces.

A reluctant former communications technician working for Islamic State, now going by the pseudonym 'Sherko Omer', who managed to escape the group, told Newsweek that he travelled in a convoy of trucks as part of an ISIS unit from their stronghold in Raqqa, across Turkish border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.

"ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks," said Omer… "and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region." [Inconsistent use of quotation marks and incorrect rendering of YPG's full name in original—WW4R]

…YPG spokesman Polat Can went even further, saying that Turkish forces were actively aiding ISIS. "There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives ISIS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for ISIS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava [north-eastern Syria]."

Omer explained that during his time with ISIS, Turkey had been seen as an ally against the Kurds. "ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey. Also, ISIS had to be a Turkish ally because only through Turkey they were able to deploy ISIS fighters to northern parts of the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria."

"ISIS and Turkey cooperate together on the ground on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds," he added.

While Newsweek was not able to independently verify Omer’s testimony, anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to ISIS activity has been mounting over the past month.

Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported Oct. 5 that PYD leader Salih Muslim had a lengthy meeting with Turkish intelligence officials it which he was urged to bring his forces under the command of the Free Syrian Army. He apparently refused. The meeting came about through the efforts of Selahattin Demirtaş, chair of PKK-sympathetic Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), to broker a deal allowing Turkish government aid to the Kobani defenders.

Iraq-based Kurdish agency BasNews reported Oct. 14 that the PYD had "promised to part ways with the Syrian regime" as a conditions of support from the "international community." This supposedly came after Salih Muslim met Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani (in Dohuk, Iraq, Kurd Press reports). We note that BasNews is based in Barzani's capital, Erbil, and express some skepticism—not that the PYD has disavowed Assad, but that it ever had any alliance with him, even a tacit one.

The Kurdish agency Rudaw, which is more sympathetic to the PKK, reports that Salih Muslim responded angrily to the pressure, saying the Kurds are "no longer mercenaries" to be used by the regional powers. In a comment seemingly addressed to Erdogan, he said: "We have been in a fight against this regime since 2004. We were being tortured in intelligence basements while you were [dining with them] in Aleppo, Damascus and Ankara. Now you are saying we should do this and that to the regime."

In the Arab-versus-Kurdish divide-and-rule stratagem that the supposed antagonists Erdogan and Assad are both playing, such collaboration charges against the PYD are mounting. Online partisans of the FSA and Erdogan point to a May report on the PYD by the International Crisis Group that alleges an "unspoken alliance" between the Kurdish party and the Damascus regime. But the sources are all mostly old claims from the FSA. We are encouraged by the recent alliance between the PYD and FSA against ISIS—and it is precisely the existence of this alliance that is causing those threatened by it to now revive these claims against PYD.

We are also encouraged by the recent anarchist tilt of the PKK/PYD—even if a look at the PKK website makes it quite clear they have far from abandoned the Stalinist-style personality cult around Ocalan. Despite claims of collaboration with the Assad regime, Damascus of course does not recognize the autonomous governments established by the Rojava Kurds over the past year—inspiring examples of popular democracy and secular rule in a region under attack from the most ultra-reactionary manifestation of political Islam. 

Now that the US, of necessity, is backing the PYD against ISIS, what will become of the Rojava autonomous zone? Once ISIS is defeated (insh'allah!), will the PYD ultimately be crushed in deference to Washington's NATO ally Turkey? The PKK/PYD stand an almost inevitable chance of being betrayed—as both anarchists and Kurds, two groups that have historically been subject to serial betrayals. Another possibility is that the PYD will be wooed away from the PKK with the promise of arms and support, and coopted into imperial clients. An Oct. 17 Rudaw report that the US has held its first "direct talks" with the PYD points to this second possibility—although no details are provided on where the meeting took place, or who attended. A State Department rep only said the talks took place "outside the region."

Is it possible to imagine a third alternative? Is it possible that the heroism of Rojava and the cynicism of Erdogan will inspire a general revoluation across the long-divided Kurdish lands? Dare we dream of an independent socialist Kurdistan—and ISIS, Assad, Erdogan, the ayatollahs and US-backed Baghdad regime all defeated?

Meanwhile… Kobani has been under siege since Sept 15. Some 180,000 have been displaced from the town, mostly to Turkey. The Kobanê Crisis Coordination warns that the needs of the refugees are becoming dire as winter approaches. The committee is led by the HDP and two other Kurdish parties in Turkey, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and the Party of Democratic Regions (DBP), as well as the Association of Solidarity and Aid for Rojava. It is working with the Red Crescent to see that basic needs in the camps are met, but says international aid is urgently required. (ANF, Nov. 14)

  1. Is the PYD collaborating with imperialism?

    That's the title of a piece on The Rojava Report of course refuting the charge by Rıdvan Turan, general secretary of Turkey's Socialist Democratic Party (SDP). His name indicates he is an ethnic Turk, which is inspiring, but he notes that the charge of PYD collaboraiton (this time with the US, not Assad) is being made by many on the Turkish left who have been conditioned by "Kemalism" into viewing the Kurds as traitorous. Turan concludes:

    Collaboration is not accepting military aid while under the threat of massacre but of entering into imperialist dependency and colonial relations. To claim that the acceptance of weapons has this meaning is to discount the class struggle entirely. The character of such relations are defined not in the "moment" but over the course of a "process." The reverse means to claim that imperialist dependency and colonial relations are established independently and automatically from the momentary circumstances… To advance this argument is to see imperialism as "Almighty."

    Remember that it was Lenin’s transportation from Switzerland to Saint Petersburg with the necessary material support of German imperialism that produced one of the finest moments of the First World War. The hope of the Germans was to contribute to the confusion in Russia and work toward the overthrow of the Czar. As a result Germany would end the Russian war and send all of [its] forces on the Eastern front to the Western front. The plan was carried out and civil insurrection broke out in Russia.

    The Soviet revolution became the most important response to those who in that period claimed that Lenin was a German agent. It was not the support which Germany gave to Lenin that determined the character of the process but the revolution which emerged from the creative forces of the class struggle in Russia. The class struggle has long since provided an answer to the question "is Lenin a great revolutionary or a collaborator with German imperialism" to all of those who were incessantly ringing the warning bells of collaboration. Just as it is now. We see that some are running the risk of declaring Lenin an imperialist collaborator and even a German agent in order to declare that the PYD is collaborating with imperialism. One is surprised and cannot help but ask: where is the dignity of all this hostility to the Kurds?

    A good point, but we will point out that allowing passage in a sealed train is not the same thing as supplying arms and air cover on the battlefield…