This will be an ongoing page/note where I put sources and some notes for a critical – but fair, not disingenuous or condescending – discussion and appraisal of the Rojava/AANES (Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria) movement/system/revolution. Like most (probably all) the authors I mention here, I definitely have some genuine sympathy for and optimism about the positive aspects, projects and achievements of this movement, not least because this includes Kurdish self-determination. But there are some valid criticisms, which I’ve tried to collect here. And they must be taken SERIOUSLY, because I can already see the typical “you’re just an Islamist/Erdogan propagandist” attacks coming, just for bringing up some important considerations or relevant points.
General Notes on AANES
- Contra its idealized image in some anticapitalist circles, Rojava doesn’t want to abolish private property, and its “alternative” economic system is based on cooperatives (which have been weirdly and wrongly taken up as revolutionary in recent decades, which is ahistorical since they’ve been a part of this mode of production for a long time) and a more “moral” regulation of the economy. In other words, it’s a left-wing form of capitalism, rather than any kind of anticapitalist revolution in a meaningful sense.
- It’s very explicitly stated that they don’t want to abolish private property. For example, here’s what Asaad Yousef, the Minister of Economy for the Efrîn canton, said:
- “Private capital is not forbidden but it is made to suite our ideas and system. We are developing a system around cooperatives and communes. However this does not prove that we are against private capital. They will complete each other. We believe that when the cooperative system is developed moral private capital can be added in certain parts of the economy. The society of Rojava will be made better in this way and taken away from the liberal system. In the liberal system the big fish swallows the small fish and there is no morality. In our canton a Commerce and Industry Organization was founded and has 7 thousand members. Here there is only thing that is forbidden and that is finance capital.”
- In fact as the priorization of cooperatives shows, their approach is based on the so-called “social economy” model. This is what Dara Kurdaxi, an economist and member of “committee for economic revival and development” in Afrîn, said (notice the contradiction of claiming to want an end to capitalism while deliberately maintaining private property):
- “We need new models for organisations and institutions. Those which are called collective, communal economic models, sometimes referred to as social economies. This is the method we are using as a foundation, so that the economy in Rojava can pick up and develop. The method in Rojava is not so much against private property, but rather has the goal of putting private property in the service of all the peoples who live in Rojava, for them to use. Naturally we’re only at the beginning. But nonetheless, even if only in small ways, we’re seeing some positive developments. We must be clear that we don’t need an economic revival and development which has no clear goal for the community […] It shouldn’t be a capitalist system, one without respect for the environment; nor should it be a system which continues class contradictions and in the end only serves capital. It should be a participatory model, based on natural resources and a strong infrastructure.”
- For example, small-scale capital and petty-bourgeois commerce are part of this economy (reminder that communism is about abolishing any such structure – any form of capitalist “economy”):
- “Before leaving the region, we spoke with shop keepers, businessmen and people in the market. Everyone had a rather positive opinion on the DSA [Democratic Self Administration] and TEV-DEM [‘Movement for a Democratic Society’ — a coalition of organizations of which the PYD is the centre of gravity]. They were happy about the existence of peace, security and freedom and running their own business without any interference from any parties or groups.” [source: Zaher Baher, 2014]
- In contrast to the marxist and anarchist revolutionary communism (which isn’t stalinism and AES, obviously, but it’s noteworthy that Bolsheviks themselves tried to limit the spontaneous expropriations in 1917-1918, showing their true nature), expropriation of private property or land is forbidden. This is recognized by Davide Lhamid, who is actually sympathetic to the movement:
- “Such an economic model is not “anti-private property”, and even if private properties are put to communal use within the cooperative system (Ymlaz 2014), private landowners have the right to charge commercial rates, and assemblies and commissions responsible for economic issues cannot expropriate holdings, because that would mean a hierarchic prevarication.”
- Lastly, while rejecting the essentialist workerist identity that was prevalent in the old socialist movement (but it’s been decades this has been challenged, back to the 1970s in many countries) is fair enough, Öcalan and AANES are closer to a form of anticapitalist populism than socialism, by completely rejecting class-based mobilization and revolution. Here again it’s part of the classic pattern of “national liberation” which erases class relations and domination in the name of “the people” or “the nation.” It’s a substantial contrast with the Zapatistas’ own challenge to the workerist playbook without completely rejecting class struggle and proletarian politics.
- Policing and Militarism
- There is a police force (Asayish, which also exists in some regions in Iraq and Iran) and prisons, i.e. a penal-carceral system. This shouldn’t be a surprise because the whole system is based on a largely liberal constitution, reproducing the limitations and contradictions that are already present in various countries in Europe and the Americas (and elsewhere).
- There’s also a centralized army (the YPG-dominated SDF), and as the endless military propaganda shows, a culture of chauvinistic (and “progressive”) militarism.
- That includes forced conscription: “Rojava introduced conscription in July 2014. Since then there have been reports of conscription of minors and arrests of draft-dodgers. In May 2018 the introduction of conscription in Manbij resulted in protests and a “general strike”. YPG fighters, alongside US soldiers, attempted to force business to carry out business as usual. In May-June 2021 protests and a “general strike” once again broke out in Manbij in response to conscription, economic hardship and discrimination against Arabs. Eight civilians were shot by the authorities. The SDF blamed the violence on the Assad regime, but had to temporarily suspend conscription in the city to calm down the situation. In December 2021 there was a small protest against the recruitment of minors by the PKK during which several journalists who covered the event were arrested.” [source]
- And there are multiple reports of other forms of violence and abuse, including forced displacements (so-called “ethnic cleansing”, a genocidal notion), arbitrary arrests, suppressing political opposition and protests, imprisoning, torturing and executing opponents, and recruitment of minors.
- Wiki: SDF War crimes
- Wiki: YPG War crimes/humr abuses
- EUAA 2021 report
- Syria: Arbitrary detentions and blatantly unfair trials mar PYD fight against terrorism
- One specific example is the massacres in Amouda, where in June 2013 (on the 27th and 28th) six protesters where gunned down by the PYD (which thus acted as a counter-revolutionary force against the Syrian uprising…). The YPG only apologized in 2020.
- Ideology & Political Organisation
- There is a clear cult of personality around Abdullah Öcalan.
- Damian Gerber & Shannon Brincat (2018) When Öcalan met Bookchin: The Kurdish Freedom Movement and the Political Theory of Democratic Confederalism.
- See Alex De Jong pieces on the evolution of the PKK’s ideology (I’m sure some criticisms of De Jong’s perspective are legitimate, but these are still good resources):
- Paradoxically, despite the claim of not being a “national liberation” movement (and claiming to be against the state, which is a bit illusory as we’ve seen above), the PYG/AANES movement is ultimately a non-socialist Kurdish self-determination movement, despite some of their genuine attempts at – or maybe rhetoric/propaganda of – mulit-ethnic anti-nationalism through “democratic confederalism” (which does contain in theory some interesting ideas for pluri-ethnic regions and movements, but it’s been contradicted by the actual movement in AANES…)
- The whole project and system – and its institutions – are characterized by Kurdish chauvinism and domination, despite claims of (and undoubtedly some efforts for) multi-ethnic harmony.
- “What many cheerleaders never really touch on is that Ocalan’s opposition to the nation state is not based on wanting to eradicate class division, and create a collectively organized society of free-producers. Instead Ocalan opposes the state because he sees it as a barrier to spiritual, national, and democratic rights. He essentially wants to get rid of the state to make way for a liberal republic based on directly democratic confederations, through I might add, social democratic tactics as mentioned before. I think there is something to be said for the fact that Ocalan views the nation state as a barrier to any form of genuine collective involvement in society and basic democratic rights. However, Ocalan’s approach is clearly not one of class struggle or anything to do with socialism/communism. If anything it is a retreading of the worst parts of Murray Boockchin’s politics. Bookchin turned to this populist vision of direct democracy and later democratic confederation when as a young Trotskyist the working class rebellion that Trotsky and Trotksyists had theorized would precede the second world war didn’t happen and he become disillusioned with Trotskyism rejecting class struggle as a tactic and the working class as the revolutionary subject. The fact is that class struggle politics need to be part of any serious opposition to the state as an institution because the state is integrated into class society to the point where it directly acts on behalf of the ruling class.” [source]
- There’s been a positive focus on women’s liberation in this movement, although this has sometimes been idealized and propagandized for western leftist eyes. Here are a few noteworthy resources on this, it’s worth looking into while being skeptical of ignorant media stories – and AANES’ own propaganda – that fetishized images of “women soldiers fighting against ISIS”. But I’m again disturbed how much of this (of Jineology) is explicitly framed as a new philosophy or science imagined by the Öcalan (in a Maoist-like, “glorious leader” kind of way), as opposed to a specific current of Kurdish feminism, i.e. a radical continuation of previous struggles and movements to end patriarchal oppression in Kurdish communities. As always take everything with a pinch of salt, especially when there’s little reference to what everday people on the ground could be going through or seeing/thinking (and usually just citing whatever Öcalan or AANES’s propaganda said)
- Bahar Şimşek & Joost Jongerden (2018) Gender Revolution in Rojava: The Voices beyond Tabloid Geopolitics. Geopolitics
- Arianne Shahvisi (2018) Beyond Orientalism: Exploring the Distinctive Feminism of Democratic Confederalism in Rojava. Geopolitics.
- Brecht Neven & Marlene Schafers (2017) Jineology: from women’s struggles to social liberation
- Ilyas Mizan (2020) Jineology 101 – The Fascinating Intersection of Kurdish Nationalism and Feminism.
- Nadje Al-Ali & Isabel Käser (2020) Beyond Feminism? Jineolojî and the Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement. Politics & Gender
- There is also a potentially harmful feminist essentialism coming from Öcalan’s and the movement’s naturalist conception of women. It’s especially relevant in terms of the risk of homophobic and transphobic gender essentialism with women the bearers of transhistorical “life” and “energy”. More concretely though, it’s important to listen to these words by Ziya Gorani, a Syrian Kurdish queer transwoman who lived under the Rojava administration:
- “I am angry about the image PYD is trying to sell to the outside world. They say they’re ‘anarchists’ adopting feminism and now they are being celebrated for their inclusion of LGBTQ individuals. But at the same time, they do nothing to provide protection to marginalised groups. Just because there are no laws against LGBTQ in Rojava, this doesn’t mean there are rights. There have been cases of discrimination against LGTBQ people, and the PYD watched and did nothing about it, because they don’t care – it is not one of their priorities. As a LGBTQ person in Rojava you are faced with two options: Either you choose to come out and [be] killed, or live your life afraid of being outed. I was attacked for these views and accused of supporting rival groups. As a queer woman, I know for a fact that I cannot go back to Rojava without being attacked, and I know there is no protection for me there. So I am most certainly not defending anyone in this war. As a Kurdish Syrian queer woman, I have the right to criticise the PYD without being accused of defending other sides. The world has to stop seeing Rojava as a utopia. We do not know who are the members of this subgroup [TQILA], we do not know if they’re Kurds themselves, or Syrian. They’re a bunch of international fighters with YPG, trying to sell an image that LGTBQ people can wander the streets of Rojava without being discriminated against – that’s a lie. That’s not how things are in Rojava.” [source]
- Not sure I agree with everything, but here’s a good article from which the above quote was copied: Razan Gazzawi (2017) Decolonising Syria’s so-called ‘queer liberation’.
- Also: Anna Lekas Miller (2017) Is the Queer Brigade fighting ISIS in Syria a force for liberation or alienation?
- Collaboration with and/or dependence on the powers that be
- There has been a longstanding (but periodically interrupted) cooperation between the PKK and the Assad regimes, including a personal relationship between Öcalan and the dictator’s family, despite the continued violence of the Assads against the Kurdish population and movements in Syria (such as the crushing of the 2004 uprising). As Joseph Daher explains, until the late 1990s there was a kind of agreement:
- “The condition sine qua non of this support from the Syrian regime was the abstention of the Kurdish movements of Iraq and Turkey from any attempt at mobilizing Syrian Kurds against the Syrian regime. Damascus was able to instrumentalize these Kurdish political groups to serve its own interests by using them as a tool in foreign policies to achieve some regional ambitions and at the national level by diverting the Kurdish issue away from Syria, towards Iraq and Turkey.” [Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Syria, origins and developments, 2018 PhD thesis, p. 292]
- The PYD, i.e. the Syrian branch of the PKK, and AANES more generally, are a bit more ambiguous as explained here by Mehmet Cengiz, but the fact is that AANES was made possible by collaborating with Assad and benefiting from him not attacking Northeastern Syria:
- “In July 2012, Assad’s forces withdrew and transferred control of most security and adiministrative bodies to the PYD in the Kurdish-majority areas of Afrin, Jazeera (around Qamishli) and Kobani, allowing the PYD to set up its own government in Rojava, or Western Kurdistan. This was almost certainly a deal brokered by Putin between two protégés, Assad and the PKK, with the PYD undertaking not to fight against Assad while Assad handed over not only power in Rojava but also weapons to the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).” [Rohini Hensman, Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism, quoting Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami’s Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War (p. 73; 88) for these claims]
- Joseph Daher provides a good overview of the PYD-Assad relationship (after the revolution, that is):
- “Rather than being an Assad proxy, the PYD was playing a mutually beneficial role for itself and the Assad regime, seeking to take advantage of the lack of security and to expand the land it controlled to try to achieve its political objectives and enforce some form of Kurdish autonomy in Kurdish majority populated regions. From then on, the party avoided confrontation with the regime, while steadily expanding its territorial control at the expense of the FSA and salafist-jihadi armed groups, which were allied for a large majority with PKK arch enemy Turkey and opposed Kurdish national rights. On the other side, the regime benefited as well from this deal, as it could concentrate its military forces on other regions witnessing protests and armed resistance, while PYD was generally hostile to the various opposition armed groups preventing them to enter their areas. The presence of PYD along the northern frontier of the country also deprived in some areas Syrian Arab opposition forces of their bases and supply lines in Turkey. In addition to this, as mentioned previously, PKK’s expanding influence was also a tool for Damascus to pressure Turkey, which hostility against the regime and active policy on the side of Syrian opposition armed groups was increasing” [Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Syria, origins and developments, 2018 PhD thesis, p. 303-304]
- One of the most nefarious and propaganda-fueld aspects of AANES – both internally and for an international (incl. western) audience, is the uncritical and transparent adoption of the “war on terror” political framing and approach, which is of course infamously a cover for legitimizing various forms of violence and injustice.
- Concerning the cooperation with the US, I recommend Cengiz‘s article again, but here’s the crux of it (the context is 2015 onwards):
- “In the framework of the strategy of “IS first” and the complete failure to assist FSA forces to combat the IS, Washington, on the initiative of the Pentagon, increasingly supported the PYD and the YPG led coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) established in October 2015 officially as a response to fight the “terrorism represented by the IS, its sister [organizations] and the criminal Ba’th regime” according to its statement (Jaysh al-Thûwar 2015). This new group was dominated by YPG, while other groups (Syriac and FSA groups like the army of revolutionaries Jaysh al-Thûwar (Mustapha 2015) within it played an auxiliary role. The SDF was actually established to provide a legal and political cover for American military support for the PKK affiliated group PYD in Syria (Lund 2015d). The YPG led SDF became Pentagon’s premier partner force against the IS in Syria from this period.” [Joseph Daher, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Syria, origins and developments, 2018 PhD thesis, p. 333]
- But the relationship with the US, Russia etc is far too complex to delve into here, and I’m not really interested to talk about all these details… Check out this study for more: Tomáš Kaválek & Miroslav Mareš (2018) PKK’s Friends and Foes in the Middle East Since 1999. Central European Journal of International and Security Studies, 12:2, 100–129.
- There has been a longstanding (but periodically interrupted) cooperation between the PKK and the Assad regimes, including a personal relationship between Öcalan and the dictator’s family, despite the continued violence of the Assads against the Kurdish population and movements in Syria (such as the crushing of the 2004 uprising). As Joseph Daher explains, until the late 1990s there was a kind of agreement:
- The Tragic Split Between the Syrian Revolution and Kurdish liberation movement
- One of the most damning things in my opnion is how the Rojava part of the Kurdish movement in Syria (because some other groups behaved differently) completely abandoned the Syrian revolution against Assad, which was the main reason their experiment of self-determination became possible in the first place.
- The deal with Assad is obviously the central thing, but also for example the part played by the YPG in the regime’s takeover and utter destruction of Aleppo, during which the solidarity the PYD received from other Kurdish groups and the FSA (Free Syrian Army) in the battle of Kobani against ISIS wasn’t reciprocated (and neither was it ever afterwards, outside of that battle)
- In fact, many Syrian Kurds were participating in the revolution against Assad, but in order to consolidate its hold on Northeastern Syria, the PYG deliberately chose to never attack the regime, and effectively repressed the continuation of the revolution in the zone it had gained controlled over. They literally viewed it as adopting a “third way” of supporting neither Assad nor the rebels, which in reality – like in the infamous case of Swiss so-called “neutrality” during WWII – is a hypocritical justification for siding with the dominating and oppressive force, in this case Assad.
- On the other hand, there’s no denying that there was a serious problem of excluding Kurdish liberation, groups and concerns within the non-Kurdish movement that rose up against Assad. This comes from the persistence of Syrian-Arab nationalism/chauvinism in that movement.
- One of the most damning things in my opnion is how the Rojava part of the Kurdish movement in Syria (because some other groups behaved differently) completely abandoned the Syrian revolution against Assad, which was the main reason their experiment of self-determination became possible in the first place.
List of Critical Resources/Readings
Information should of course be checked and double-checked and approached critically/smartly, but most of these sources are very reliable both because of their extended/precise knowledge of the situation and politics in Syria, and because they are principled in a political/socialist sense (though a few aren’t socialists). So I’ve tried vetting them, but it’s inevitable that some of claims or sources may be wrong or unreliable within these articles.
- Bill Weinberg (2015, February 21) Syria’s Kurdish Revolution/The Anarchist Element and the Challenge of Solidarity. Fifth Estate.
- Bill Weinberg (2017, October 9) Syria’s Kurdish Contradiction. CounterVortex.
- Joseph Daher (2018, February 9) The Kurdish Crisis in Iraq and Syria. New Socialist.
- Joseph Daher (2014, October 12) Kobani, the Kurdish issue and the Syrian revolution, a common destiny. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Joseph Daher (2014, November 19) Kobanê, Turkey, and the Syrian Struggle. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Jospeh Daher (2015, January 9) The PKK and the issue of the self determination of the Kurdish people. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Joseph Daher (2016, June 25) On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue – an interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist Alan Hassaf. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Joseph Daher (2016, March 22) On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue – an interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist Dr. Aziz Abd El-Krim. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Joseph Daher (2014, April 7) On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue – an interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
- Leila Al Shami (2016) Challenging the Nation State in Syria. Fifth Estate # 396.
- Leila Al-Shami (2014, October 20) The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity. Leila’s blog.
- Leila Al-Shami, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Ella Wind (2016) Syria in Flames. Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab with Ella Wind. The Brooklyn Rail.
- Jonathan Piron (2019, December 13) Bookchin et le Rojava : de quoi parle-t-on?
- Javier Sethness (2018, March 28) Internationalists for Afrin and Ghouta. Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ).
- Pierre Rousset (2014, December 19) The battles of Kobane, Aleppo and the relearning of solidarity. International Viewpoint.
- Michael Karadjis (2016, December 13) Save Aleppo! Oh, hang on, Aleppo is not Kobani …
- Michael Karadjis (2016, September 4) Turkey, Rebels, Kurds & Assad in northern Syria: Contradictions in moves towards regional counterrevolutionary alliance
- Michael Karadjis (2018, January 22) Northern Syria: Massive ethnic cleansing, humanitarian catastrophe, foreign intervention and betrayal
- Nader Atassi (2014, March 3) Rojava and Kurdish Political Parties in Syria. Jadaliyya.
- (2014, October 13) Its good we’ve woken up, but what about all the other Kobanes?Eternal Spring [Blog].
- Why Is David Graeber Ignoring Revolutionary Syrians in Syria?
- (2016, May 16) Anarchist Practice in the Syrian and Rojavan Revolutions.
- Gilles Dauvé and T.L. (~2015?) Kurdistan? [French/English]; and Rojava: reality and rhetoric. [Not a fan of Dauvé, but these are good resources…]
- Zaher Baher (2016) Our attitude towards Rojava must be critical solidarity.
- Enrique Galvan-Alvarez (2020) Rojava: a state subverted or reinvented? Postcolonial Studies.
- (2016) Anarchist Critique of The PKK.
- Yasin Sunca (2021) The Revolution in Rojava and the International. In Holtgreve et al. (eds.) Envisioning the World: Mapping and Making the Global, 105-123.
- Michiel Leezenberg (2016) The ambiguities of democratic autonomy: the Kurdish movement in Turkey and Rojava. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 16:4, 671-690.
- Andrea Glioti (2016, August 5) Rojava: A libertarian myth under scrutiny.
- Caroline Hayek & Soulayma Mardam Bey (2019, October 16) Entre les Kurdes et les rebelles, un rendez-vous manqué. L’Orient-Le Jour.
- Daryous Darwish (2016, July 8) Local Governance Under the Democratic Autonomous Administration of Rojava. Inside Wars: Local Dynamics of Conflicts in Syria and Libya.
- VP & GEH (2018, May 18) Le point d’explosion de l’idéologie au Kurdistan. Solitudes intangibles.
Below I have selected some of the most relevant passages from these articles…
The Kurds of northern Syria call the region Rojava (sunset or west in their tongue), and since 2012 have had their own autonomous zone. Two years later, the celebrated battle of Kobani opened as this town within the autonomous zone was besieged by the self-declared “Islamic State” (ISIS). Kurdish women fighters with a consciously feminist ideology driving back the ultra-reactionary ISIS became a global meme.
The US, after initially writing off Kobani, started aiding the Kurdish fighters as they began to turn the tide, against all expectations. Warplanes were sent in their support, and the pact between the Pentagon and the revolutionary Kurds was forged. US military advisors were embedded in their militia. Kurdish-led forces are now fighting to take the ISIS de facto capital Raqqa in a Pentagon-directed campaign backed by US air-strikes.
A sizeable element of the radical left in the West has rallied around Rojava, often oblivious to the reality that the revolutionary Kurds are actively collaborating with the hated US war machine. Supporters of the general Syrian revolution, in contrast, often bait the Rojava Kurds as collaborators with the Bashar Assad regime because of their failure to block with the Free Syrian Army—oblivious to realities that would lead a traditionally excluded people to view with suspicion a movement that still has Arab nationalist suppositions.
(…) The challenge for those wrestling with Syria’s Kurdish question is to seek a middle path between the cynicism of Savelsberg and the idealism of the Rojava experiment’s ideological proponents. It is more evident each day that the defeat of ISIS in northern Syria could only open an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war, which could also be exploited as a proxy war by regional rivals Turkey and Russia. This would not serve the interests of anyone but the jihadis, despots and imperialists. It will take some honest grappling by the partisans on both sides in order to avoid it.Bill Weinberg (2017, October 9) Syria’s Kurdish Contradiction. CounterVortex.
Yassin-Kassab: There’s some romanticization or fetishization of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), where they are often posed as the one true progressive force in Syria, because of these images of Kurdish women fighters and the councils that were established. I think it’s a good thing that people have shown support of Rojava, because the Kurdish issue in Syria was something that was put on the back-burner for a long time, and of course Kurds faced a great deal of Arab chauvinism. There has been a huge victory on the national level for Kurds, who can now educate their children in their own language. It’s good that people have shown solidarity with the Kurdish councils there, but it’s a shame that people have written off the very similar self-elected councils in Arab areas.
There’s a selectivity about which experiments in self-organization people have chosen to highlight and praise. The Arab councils have been subjected to all sorts of terrible war on the part of the régime and ISIS, whereas Rojava was allowed to exist more or less autonomously before ISIS attacked it. It was a shame that people fell into these distinctions that the Kurds were feminists and progressive and the Arabs were backward and religious. There’s of course something to this—the Kurdish organizations do have more representation of women, for example—but it’s a gross simplification, just like sectarianism or racism of any kind. In the course of writing the book, the Kurds we talked to discussed the growing authoritarianism and dominance of the PYD and of course, in recent weeks, the PYD has been invading Arab majority areas. Federalism could be a very good idea in Syria; but when the PYD talks about federalism right now, while they are invading other people’s lands, they are giving it a bad name.Leila Al-Shami, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Ella Wind (2016) Syria in Flames. Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab with Ella Wind. The Brooklyn Rail.
Much of the international solidarity for the Kurdish struggle stems from support for Rojava’s inspiring social revolution. Kurdish majority areas of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane were able to establish the Autonomous Region following the withdrawal of Assad’s forces in July 2012. A Social Contract was developed which stresses the desire to “build a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs”. It affirms the principle of local self-government for all cantons of the region where governing councils and public institutions would be established through direct elections in a decentralized confederation. The charter enshrines unity and coexistence amongst the regions diverse ethnic and religious groups, a respect for human rights and an end to gender discrimination, and affirms people’s right to self determination. In a radical reorganization of society towards democratic confederalism the people of Rojava have established councils and communes throughout Western Kurdistan to self-manage their communities in areas such as health, education and trade and address the issues facing society. This provides a powerful example of alternative forms of social organization as a counterpoint to centralized, authoritarian control. Whilst such developments in radical democracy are a beacon of light in what’s fast becoming a region of darkness, anti-authoritarians should not romanticize the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Talking about the establishment of the Autonomous Region, Syrian-Kurdish anarchist Shiar Neyo states:
“From the PYD’s point of view, this was a golden opportunity to impose its authority and expand its sphere of influence in the Kurdish areas in Syria. This political pragmatism and thirst for power are two important factors in understanding the party’s dealings with the regime, the revolution, the FSA, and even the Kurds themselves. They also help explain many phenomena that seem to bewilder some commentators and analysts, such as the suppression by PYD forces of independent activists and those critical of the party’s policies, in much the same vein as the Baathist regime did. By way of example, one can cite in this regard the Amuda massacre in July 2013, in which the People’s Protection Units (YPG) opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, or the closure of the new independent radio station Arta in February 2014, under the pretext that it was not ‘licensed’. The PYD’s forces have also assaulted members of other Kurdish political parties and arrested some of them under a variety of excuses; they have been controlling food and financial resources in the Kurdish areas and distributing them in an unjust manner on the basis of partisan favouritism, and so on and so forth. Such practices remind people, rightly, of the oppressive practices of the Assad regime.”
An obvious tension therefore exists between the authoritarianism of the old guard of the PYD which maintains a top down vision, and the thousands of Kurds who believe in, and are trying to realize, radical democracy from below and should be supported in that aim. But the Kurdish region of Syria is not the only place where a social revolution is putting into place radically new ways of organizing, although it has benefited from greater space and stability, relatively speaking when compared with other areas of the country. Experiments in local, autonomous, self organization have been a defining feature of the Syrian revolution, and hundreds of local committees and local councils have been established to administer basic services and coordinate revolutionary activities. Yet these people are not seen to be deserving of international solidarity because they have no leader who has converted to libertarian municipalism. The fact simply is that they have no leader at all and these forms of horizontal organization arose spontaneously from below as a response to the destruction of the State.
Furthermore, as the world’s attention focuses on Kobane, struggles elsewhere have failed to gain the media spotlight. In August, the people of Deir Al Zour, mainly from Al-Sheitat tribe, led a brave resistance against Daesh. In the following days, facing the fascists alone, the resistance was almost defeated and some 700 people from the al-Sheitat tribe were executed by Daesh causing little global outrage. But the people of Deir Al Zour didn’t abandon their struggle against the ISIS extremists. In recent weeks the White Shroud (Kufn Al Abyaad) has killed some 100 Daesh fighters through guerrilla style attacks. This secretive popular resistance group is made up of around 300 locals, the majority of whom have never fought before but have taken up what arms they can raise to protect their families and communities from fascist onslaught.
As the world focuses on Daesh’s advances in northern Syria, communities elsewhere are continuing to resist the genocidal maniac Bashar Al Assad and his sectarian militias which have increased their assault on liberated areas since US airstrikes freed up the regime’s resources elsewhere. There’s been little solidarity shown with the people of Al Waer district of Homs, the last rebel stronghold in a city which was once the soul of the revolution. Al Waer is home to some 400,000 people, half of them displaced civilians who have fled conflict elsewhere in the country. The area has been under regime siege for months and in the past couple of weeks the Assad regime has intensified its shelling causing a massive humanitarian crisis. Syrian activists’ calls for solidarity with Al Waer have fallen on deaf ears.
The question that remains is whether international solidarity for Kobane arises from the Kurdish ethnicity of its defenders (i.e. they’re not Sunni Arabs), from support for the political position of a party (the PYD/PKK), or from the principle that all people have the right to defend themselves from terror, whether in the form of religious or nationalist fascism and to determine for themselves how to organize their lives and communities. If it arises from the latter principle, then the same solidarity extended to the Kurds must be extended to all revolutionary Syrians.Leila Al Shami (2014, October 20) The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity. Leila’s blog.
In the Kurdish regions of the north, the social revolution has been much more inclusive of women. Three non-contiguous Kurdish cantons (Jazira, Kobane and Afrin) declared democratic autonomy in January 2014, each establishing a parliament (chosen by appointment), various ministries and courts.
Together the three cantons comprise Rojava, which is largely led by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD has been heavily influenced by the ideas of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who in turn was influenced by American anarchist Murray Bookchin and espouses the idea of democratic confederalism.
Based on the principles of direct democracy, gender equality and ecology, this idea directly challenges the notion of the nation state, instead calling for regional autonomy and promoting self-organization and self-governance.
Throughout Rojava the communes are the forum through which people come together to find solutions for their needs and the challenges they face. Each commune has various committees attached to it to deal with issues such as education, justice, food supply, ecological issues and self-defense. Decisions are made on the basis of consensus.
The communes are linked to district councils made up of commune representatives and political parties and (like the communes) have a 40 percent quota for women. These are then linked to the canton administration through various mechanisms which coordinate between the councils and the regional government of Rojava.
Unlike other areas of Syria, Rojava has largely been spared the scorched earth policies of Assad and his allies, allowing these liberated areas greater opportunity to develop and flourish.
Yet they also face a number of challenges. Despite its libertarian rhetoric, the PYD, which dominates the Self Administration, is an authoritarian party which has silenced, arrested, imprisoned, and assassinated other Kurdish opposition groups and members.
The People’s Defense Units (YPG), dominated by the PYD, and the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (dominated by the YPG) have recently been carrying out offensives into Arab majority areas under cover of Russian air-strikes. This looks like an attempt to link up the cantons in a state building project which goes against the idea of democratic confederalism and risks Kurdish-Arab inter-ethnic conflict.
The Kurds themselves face repeated assaults by the authoritarian Turkish state which aims to crush Kurdish aspirations to self-determination both in its own borders and within Syria. They also face assaults by extremist Islamist groups, primarily Daesh, the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra, and Ahrar Al Sham.
Throughout Syria, oppressive and hierarchical structures and institutions have been broken down and people are freely organizing and self-managing their communities. Nowhere has there been a greater challenge to the concept of the nation state since the Spanish Revolution and Civil War in the late 1930s.
But as shown above, these experiments in community autonomy are under increasing threat from many quarters. Due to the strength of the counter-revolution, what may occur with the collapse of the Syrian state, is the imposition of yet more mini-states, fortified by guns, razor-wire fences and sectarian rhetoric, creating further divisions and a state of perpetual war.
Solidarity with Syrians in their struggle is vital. Yet at times, many groups that identify as being part of ‘the left’ have not only failed to stand in solidarity with revolutionary Syrians, but have given savage support for counter-revolution. This often stems from ignorance about Syria’s context, generalizing Orientalism and rising Islamophobia.
Many have failed to see or understand the huge diversity of actors who are engaged in struggle at the current time, actors who sometimes share similar aims (such as the overthrow of the regime), but have very different end goals.
There’s an inability to distinguish between armed groups and the civil resistance; between armed groups which have a democratic basis or are simply engaged in self-defense of their communities and those which have an authoritarian agenda; between those who seek to dissolve traditional power structures and those who only seek power for themselves.
The revolution faces many challenges, and no one should be fooled into thinking that a free society will be the result. States and the counter revolution are much stronger than we are. Yet in face of such challenges, anarchists should stand with the exploited and oppressed, with those who are creating new ways of organizing in the most difficult of circumstances and those who are currently facing annihilation.
Practical solidarity will be more fruitful than misinformed theoretical hectoring.Leila Al Shami (2016) Challenging the Nation State in Syria. Fifth Estate # 396.
Please help the people of Aleppo, just like we helped the people of Kobani. Oh, hang on, Aleppo? Kobani? Oh, that’s right. In Kobani they were Kurds. Civilised, secular, “progressive”, feminists, even green warriors apparently. They were like “us.” “We” (western imperialists and western … “anti-imperialists”) understand them. Therefore, they deserved to be saved from ISIS beasts, said the imperialist leaders, and their “anti-imperialist” echo in unison. Aleppo? Facing a fascistic enemy that has massacred twenty times as many people as ISIS fascists could ever manage, is not full of Good Kurds. It is full of Arabs. And we all know what western imperialist leaders, the far-right, neo-Nazis, Trumpists, racists, and “left-wing anti-imperialists” think of Arabs, especially when they live in Syria. They are all backward, blood-thirsty, barbaric, “jihadis” and “head-choppers,” *all* of the above categories tell us, yes, the left-fascists just as emphatically as any of the others. So those men, women and children, schools, hospitals, markets, every sign of life, are not deserving like Good Kurds are. Indeed, the left-fascists are now all over social media, in unison with their far-right co-thinkers, expressing their great joy with the victory of the most violent, most mass-murderous counterrevolutionary massacre of our era, expressing how happy they are that a fascist regime with an airforce, backed by an imperialist state invading with its airforce, have together bombed a whole country to pieces for 5 years, but moreover have bombed 300,000 people cramped into east Aleppo for months with every conceivable weapon of mass destruction except nuclear, ripping children to pieces on a daily basis, destroying hospital after hospital till none left.
See, when US imperialism intervened in Syria with its airforce in September 2014, bombing ISIS away from Kobani, many “anti-imperialists” decided that just this time they were not opposed to imperialist intervention, because Kurds and especially the PKK are “Good”, and ISIS are Really Bad. And so even though US imperialism has gone well beyond the emergency of defending Kobani from being overrun by ISIS, and has continued to bomb Syria for over 2 years, bombing not only ISIS, but also Nusra, other (non-jihadist) Islamists, and even on occasion non-Islamist FSA fighters, that’s OK; even though every time the US airforce has fought ISIS on behalf of the Kurdish YPG, in full coordination, in full-scale cooperation, including with US special forces, and even US air-bases, that’s OK; even though, beyond the Kobani emergency, all the rest of the US/YPG war on ISIS-controlled territory has been offensive, not defensive, operations, and the US airforce has killed 850 “collateral damage” civilians in these operations, that’s OK say the “anti-imperialists,” because the one armed force the US has never attacked are the armed forces of the Assad fascist dictatorship. Yet, when Aleppo (and countless other towns before this) have been confronted with murderous sieges by an enemy far more murderous than ISIS, and the US has not ever even hinted at helping the people against Assad, the same “anti-imperialist left” that hails the YPG, and did not organise a single “anti-war” demonstration for two years as the US bombed Everyone But Assad, has the impossible gall to slander the heroic Syrian revolutionaries as … “US proxies.” And when Hilary Clinton meekly implied that she might be in favour of some kind of “no-fly zone” to prevent Assad’s airforce from bombing children to bits – not to bomb Assad on behalf of the rebels with the US airforce, to drive back Assad and help the rebels advance, as the US does for the YPG against ISIS, but rather to prevent an airforce from bombing – the “anti-imperialist left” decided that this meant Clinton would bring “World War III”, and so the KKK-loving Trump team were preferable because Trump openly declared his love for Putin and Assad.
Hypocrisy is nothing new historically from any quarter, of course. However, it is rather difficult for me to conceive a level of hypocrisy coming from “our” side – the left, those supposedly dedicated to human liberation – that comes close to this.
Now, before continuing, I can already hear many supporters of Rojava feel they are under attack here. So to clarify, this post is not directed at the Kurds in Syria (despite my political criticisms of the PYD leadership), and still less anyone in the western left who gives solidarity to all equally, those expressing solidarity to both Kurdish and Arab resistance to both Assad and ISIS. The post rather is about the gross Orientalism of parts of the pro-Rojava movement. Further, I am not at all suggesting support for the defence of Kobani was wrong. And for all the anti-imperialist-intervention principles that many of us grew up on, when the US intervention did finally take up the defence of Kobani (about a month into its bombing campaign, which I did oppose from the start – for the first month, the US bombed anywhere but Kobani, especially in Aleppo and Idlib where there was no ISIS), it never occurred to me to go out in the streets and demand “US out now” at that point! Yes Kobani was in danger of being overrun by ISIS maniacs who had just acquired a windfall of US advanced weaponry courtesy the US-Iranian regime in Iraq which handed them Mosul, and the YPG was squeezed into a corner. Like with the defence of East Timor in 1999, I very reluctantly understood that at this point, the US was doing something necessary. For its own reasons. Even though I regard the rest of the US intervention in Syria highly negatively. I am also deliberately making a distinction between the US/YPG defensive, emergency operation then and the more general offensive operations since because I frankly do not support permanent US intervention in Syria to help one side militarily, with all the “collateral damage” and more general political damage it causes (including to the Kurds), yet even then I certainly prefer the YPG/SDF to ISIS rule, whatever criticisms I have of the former. No, the post is about selective solidarity. About those saying ‘Yes to the defence of Kobani against ISIS, including even 2-year ongoing US air support to the YPG’, but ‘no to even a single US gun to help the people of Aleppo (and elsewhere) resist Assad’s bloody dictatorship, Russian imperialism and the global Shiite-jihadi invasion forces’. That hypocrisy has just turned genocidal.
While it may be true that Syria is “complicated”, and not everyone has the time or interest to study the most profound revolutionary upheaval of the 21st century (except a bit of it in “Rojava”, the bit allied to US imperialism to the hilt and also the bit never hit by Assad or Russia), nevertheless, mass murder is not “complicated.” Of course, many on the left are not in the category of the left-fascists, who are a breed of their own which are indistinguishable from their right-wing co-thinkers. Many are personally appalled, but seek to relativise the slaughter (isn’t Qatar also arming some rebels? Oh yeh, that’s why the rebels are SO able to protect themselves and the civilians from the 5-year aerial massacre), or satisfy themselves with the fact that they can do little about it since it is not their own government doing it. Apparently, that makes active solidarity a bad thing, in their view. Whatever. I don’t have a big beef with those genuinely appalled who are simply confused. What we need to stress however is this. Far too much of the western left have labelled themselves the “revolutionary” left, by which they mean that, unlike some other leftists, who they see as mere reformers, they are “the revolutionaries.” Well, revolution, as Grenada’s Maurice Bishop once said, is not like making a cup of instant coffee. In the real world, revolutions are extremely complicated and messy. People like those in Syria, living for decades under a totalitarian tyranny that brutally suppressed all opposition thought, do not emerge from this with fully developed “revolutionary” programs and “correct” ideas that those of us living our entire lives in the relative comfort of western cities may think are necessary. Yes, there is much we need to evaluate in terms of lessons of lost revolutions (if the crushing of Aleppo does end the revolutionary process, by no means a given). But that is entirely different to not knowing which side you are on. The fact is, much of the self-declared “revolutionary” left turned out to be only marginally better than the centrist/Stalinist/”mainstream”/pacifist/”anti”-war left, who were the most resolutely counterrevolutionary. That is, confronted by an actual people’s revolutionary uprising, warts and all, they decided either to support bloody counterrevolution or to declare a plague on both your houses or to use the same racist discourse about “jihadis” and “liver-eaters” etc or one way or another simply had no idea what to do or what to say.
So, while many of these people and groups indeed do an enormous amount of highly dedicated great work around concrete *reforms* in their own countries (eg, they campaign to defend refugees – even Syrian refugees from Assad’s holocaust, ironically enough – among many other valuable campaigns), a very good thing, how about we drop the BS about being the “revolutionary” left? No great harm in being honest. In Australia, two far-left socialist organisations, Socialist Alternative and Solidarity, have distinguished themselves with their unstinting support for the Syrian people’s revolution, to the bloody end, and the same is true of countless other left and socialist organisations around the world, mostly also parts of the far-left alongside many individuals from among the more honest sections of the reformist left. Although I am a member of neither, I am proud to be associated with these comrades.Michael Karadjis (2016, December 13) Save Aleppo! Oh, hang on, Aleppo is not Kobani …
Regarding Turkey’s attack on Kurdish Afrin, controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the Peoples Protection Units (YPG): two years ago I wrote this article condemning the YPG’s brutal conquest of the Arab-majority Tal Rifaat-Menagh region of northern Aleppo province from the democratic rebels (Free Syrian Army [FSA] and allies), in direct collaboration with the mass murdering Russian imperialist airforce, which had just recently begun its Nazi-style Blitzkrieg against Free Syria and thousands upon thousands of Syrian civilians.
In that article, I noted in passing how bad what the YPG was doing was by posing it in reverse:
“If Turkey were invading and bombing Kurdish Efrin and Syrian rebels were acting as ground troops and expelling the YPG from Kurdish areas, it should be vigorously condemned, yet this is not happening; the exact opposite of that is happening.”
This scenario has now come to pass, unfortunately, and should be condemned unreservedly; if the rebels were merely taking advantage to seize back their regions, the Arab-majority regions around Tal Rifaat that the YPG/Russia conquered then, and allow tens of thousands of people “cleansed” by the YPG to return, that would be entirely valid. But advancing instead to Kurdish-majority Afrin, where the bulk of the population see the PYD/YPG/SDF as their leadership (and it is up to them to change that if they choose), is doing *exactly* what the YPG did back then.
Clearly, the political weaknesses among both Arab and Kurdish rebels have killed solidarity and the necessary unity they will need to destroy the Assad genocide-regime, which is backed by all the world’s imperialist and regional powers. But while defending Afrin today, and condemning the Turkish invasion and the part played in it by some Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, all I can say about the sweet romanticisation of the YPG is, WOW what hypocrisy.
For years, the PYD/YPG-controlled part of Syria known as ‘Rojava’ (west Kurdistan) has been spared the fate of the rest of Syria for two main reasons: firstly, due to a pragmatic deal with Assad in 2012, they have been untouched by Assad’s years of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, incendiary weapons, white phosphorus, ballistic missiles, starvation sieges and torture archipelago that all other regions outside regime control have been flattened with; secondly, since 2014, they have become the key allies of the US in its air war against ISIS, and as such have the permanent protection of the US air force. Just last week, the US announced a 30,000 strong “border force” consisting largely of the YPG and its slightly broader front, he Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to be stationed with US troops who would remain indefinitely in northeast Syria.
Meanwhile, while enjoying this relatively enviable situation – not ideal, of course, but we are talking here about Syria, after all – the PYD and its propaganda organs constantly emit crude Orientalist, Islamophobic style propaganda, which depicts only those microscopic ex-rebel forces who have joined their ranks in the SDF as “democratic”, and everyone else in Syria in the anti-Assad camp as deranged “jihadist head-choppers,” a discourse so disgustingly dehumanising, so mind-bogglingly reactionary, that at times it leaves the average Assadist, Zionist or Neocon for dead.
Meanwhile, all those in the West who have suddenly noticed the potential for massacre in Syria now that Turkey has attacked Afrin, and believe that the last time any massacre was threatened in Syria was in Kobani in late 2014, check yourselves: is this because you view only Kurds as worthy victims, as honorary whites (in the same way as US imperialism has only intervened to defend the … “anti-imperialist” YPG in east Syria from ISIS, for many years now, but never to defend the rest of the Syrian people form Assad)? Or otherwise, what? Do you believe Syria has been a fairly peaceful place between Kobani and Afrin?
Are you aware that in East Ghouta, besieged, bombed and starved for years by Assad, the regime has slaughtered hundreds since the beginning of this year alone, both with bombs and with starvation? Or does that not matter because you think the entire population of 400,000 people there are all “head-choppers”? Are you aware that in the same period, the Assad regime, the Russian imperialist airforce, and Iranian-backed sectarian death squads have killed similar numbers in the northwest – yeh, right there next to Afrin – and driven over 200,000 people from their homes in a massive wave northwards? Or again, are these people also just all head-choppers?
If anything, one of the worst things about the Turkish invasion of Afrin and the rebel participation in it is the widespread suspicion that this was part of an Afrin for Idlib deal, whereby Turkey, dealing through its new allies … Russia and Iran, who just happen to be Assad’s allies, goaded the rebels to stop their recent counteroffensive against Assad in Idlib and instead direct them to help take Afrin – allowing Assad to reconquer all the regime had just lost. Just why a section of the rebels has agreed to go along with this is another matter. For some, it may be revenge for what the YPG did two years ago; for others, it is simply a reflection of long-time bad politics regarding the Kurdish issue, and refusal to recognise Kurdish rights; for some it may be the illusion that Turkey’s support for the rebels over these years means Turkey is a true friend, rather than a self-interested party like any other, so they need to “repay the debt”; for others it may be in reaction to years of listening to the PYD’s vile propaganda depicting them in dehumanising terms; for some it may be just the general impression, part justified, and part unjustified, that the PYD’s long-term ceasefire with Assad means they are collaborators; for still others, recent YPG provocations, such as its shelling of a mental hospital in rebel-controlled Azaz on January 19, injuring five women, might have been the last straw.
Whatever the reason, these Syrian rebels have entered a war that is not theirs, that pits Arab against Kurd on behalf of a foreign power, that allows Assad to mop up, that further consolidates the divisions that earlier events, such the YPG’s actions two years ago, have helped to create.Michael Karadjis (2018, January 22) Northern Syria: Massive ethnic cleansing, humanitarian catastrophe, foreign intervention and betrayal
In spite of their scale and commitment, the anarchic practices carried out by the Syrian revolution (not in Rojava) have been largely ignored by anarchists in the west, while Rojava has been widely, and often uncritically, celebrated.
(…) One reason for the lack of international support for the Syrian revolution might be that it has largely been made invisible. The stories of Razan and Omar underline an important reason for this invisibility – many of the anarchists and most passionate activists were killed (usually by the regime) early on or were forced to flee the country. Rojava, on the other hand, had a different experience of the regime’s violence, which contributed to increased visibility.
(…) When several people in the audience questioned the recent attacks by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)2 against territory controlled by other rebel groups north of Aleppo, Paul largely repeated the propaganda of the SDF, the Assad regime, and the Russian military (all of whom collaborated in these attacks): everyone there is al-Qaeda or Islamic State (ISIS), there is no one worth listening to. Paul insisted that these attacks were necessary to link the Efrin Canton to Kobane Canton (two provinces of Rojava) and assumed that only Assad supporters would have a problem with this.
(…) Robin and Leila, while voicing a lot of support for Rojava and describing its democratic confederalism as a model for the rest of the Syrian territory, consider the goal of militarily linking the cantons to be disastrous. They said that the Democratic Union Party (PYD)’s recent declaration of ‘federalism’ for Rojava seems like laying the groundwork for a state, which would of course need contiguous territory, and that it runs counter to democratic confederalism. A model of councils would spread by encouraging and supporting the formation of councils other regions, not by conquering those regions. This is especially true north of Aleppo around Azaz, where local revolutionary councils have been active for years. Leila and Robin described the PYD’s recent declaration of ‘federalism’ in northern Syria to be essentially a coup against the grassroots revolutionaries in Rojava, who were never consulted.
They worry that the PYD has given up on democratic confederalism, because the recent Russian bombing so dramatically changed the balance of power against revolutionaries. Paul, however, claimed that the PYD, the single political party active on the level of the cantons (local affairs are run by the councils), is disappearing. Perhaps this would be the famous “withering away” of the state and party following a successful revolution? But the claim still seems bizarre – to my friend and I, as well as to those we talked with at the Burning Country event, the PYD seems to have never been stronger and more present. It’s true that it continues to support local councils and continues to pass responsibilities to popular committees, but with its sole control of militias, ability to negotiate with other states, and, as we’ll see, control over police, it still plays a dominant role in shaping the future of the Rojava project.
(…) The tension between the PYD and the grassroots reveals however a broader difference between Rojava and the Syrian revolution. My friend says he nearly laughed out loud when Paul claimed that Rojava didn’t take over the airport or post office in Qamishli because those are statist institutions and revolutionaries there didn’t want to take on the trappings of states. My friend explains that it was never a question of the YPG capturing those regime positions or not, because none of the territory in the north-east was captured from the regime – it was a negotiated withdrawal by Assad’s forces to allow the regime to fight more effectively in other parts of the country. Yes, there have been occasional clashes between Rojavan armed groups, especially the YPG and Assayish, and the regime (the post office in question was in fact recently captured following some skirmishes), but the huge majority of their territory was not taken by force.
Revolution could perhaps be defined as attempts to attack the state, to act on the national level, either to destroy the state or capture it. If we accept this definition, there are many inspiring movements in the world that frame their struggles as something other than revolutionary. Indigenous sovereignty movements in North and South America generally are not seeking to overthrow colonial governments, but are rather seeking autonomy and justice on their traditional territories and to develop a new balance of power with those states. Notably, this includes the Zapatistas. Rojava would fit into this tendency of territorially-oriented struggle that is not trying to produce a new state (and so isn’t a traditional national liberation movement) or to capture the old (as the groups referred to as Houthis have in Yemen, for a recent example of a revolt based in a specific community aimed at the level of the state).
My friend continues though and points out that Assad’s withdrawal means that Rojava didn’t destroy the state in its territory. There are regime checkpoints, border crossings, offices, military bases and even intelligence agencies still based in Rojava with some level of consent from the PYD. Yes, there are workers in many parts rebel-occupied Syria who are still receiving their salaries from the regime, even if their offices have been destroyed and they haven’t worked in years5. The destruction of the state in revolutionary areas of Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Damascus (Ghouta), Idlib, and Dara’a has been nearly total – even when fascistic armed groups are in control, they depend on the popular assemblies and councils (of generally “democratic” politics6) who have stepped in to meet people’s needs that had been provided by the state. Although the fight against the Syrian state has been horrific, it forced the revolution to go very far – in Rojava though, the Syrian state has continued to operate in a larval state, ready to regrow at any time, and the PYD stepped in to provide other state-like services, using a similar infrastructure7.
This recalls the experience of the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. When the protestors began seriously dismantling the state, burning nearly every police station and ruling party office in the country, the military intervened to protect the protests, push out the government, and organize a transition. The military acted to preserve the state and, after a brief interlude with the Muslim Brotherhood (who literally assumed the levers of state power after participating in the revolution), is more or less openly in control of all its institutions that continue to act much as they did under the previous dictatorship.
Following the withdrawal of Assad’s forces, the PYD even assumed the role of restricting protest, targeting other Kurdish political formations (the probable assassination of Mashall Tammo is a prominent example) and attacking demonstrations in support of the Syrian revolution: this pattern started in 2012 and the YPG fired on demonstrators flying the revolutionary flag as recently as April 2016. Echoing the official PYD line, Paul claimed that these were responses to armed provocateurs from the FSA, affiliated with Salafist groups. This is again eerily similar to Assad’s narrative for firing on similar demonstrations in areas he controls – they are all terrorists, armed gangs trying to destabilize our brave socialist nation…
(Again, Paul’s tour and his Rojava dispatches are very useful and important, especially when he stays close to his own experience and described the practices and discussions he saw and participated in. However, repeating this kind of propaganda contributes to driving a wedge between revolutionaries and to strengthening authoritarian elements in the conflict – please hear this as comradely criticism in line with our shared desire to develop better practices of anarchist solidarity.)
We recall the words of an audience member at Leila and Robin’s talk who said that the story of the Syrian revolution is always told from the middle – the dominant narrative starts from around 2013, the civil war and the rise of Salafist groups like ISIS and al-Nusra, and completely ignores the two years of revolutionary struggle by Syrians against the regime before that. This partially explains why many western radicals have been far more likely to support Rojava than the Syrian revolution. Rojava was able to spend those two years building a clear, coherent political project without any serious threats. Rojava’s crucial military struggle was against ISIS in 2014, with significant international support. This after ISIS had already crushed all the non-Rojava rebel groups in eastern Syria, capturing areas with strong revolutionary presences like Deir el-Zor and Raqqa and leading to the rapid collapse of the FSA throughout the country.
Rojava was also building from an established ideology, similar to the PKK’s, and had access to militias, the YPG and YPJ, that had existed (mostly in Turkey) for 10 years before. During those same two years, revolutionaries elsewhere in Syria were literally fighting for survival, besieged, outgunned, and largely abandoned by the world. Areas under rebel control were never able to meaningfully unify (rather, the tendency has been towards divisions over time) or to articulate a clear ideology or political project. Most of the international left either listened to the ideology of Assad or to the ideology of Rojava but were unable to see or understand the practices of the Syrian revolution.
It’s unfortunate that ideology has been so much more important than practice in determining who has received international support in Syria. This focus on ideology has meant that chillingly few anarchists or anti-authoritarians have objected as PYD and SDF spokespeople claim that there are no Syrian revolutionaries, that the protests they attack in Rojava are just provocations by Islamists or that there is nothing but al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Azaz corridor. By repeating this kind of divisive propaganda, supporters contribute to rifts between revolutionaries, reduce international support overall, and do nothing to actually help people on the ground. All it does is serve the short-term interests of the militias and political parties in Rojava, and it is increasingly unsure whether these groups will still be friendly to revolutionaries in years to come. It’s no different than repeating the kinds of lazy anti-kurdish insults thrown around at demonstrations in Idlib or Aleppo – they’re all PKK terrorists, they are anti-Arab, and so on.
Why should anarchists make their support contingent on seeing explicitly anarchist ideology? Even looking briefly at the history of the Syrian revolution, it’s clear there is no shortage of anarchic practice present everywhere in the country. Another friend who attended the event said that her desire as an anarchist is to make the identity of anarchist irrelevant – that we talk about anarchy now to name a thing that doesn’t exist, but that in situations where those ideas take on a life of their own and far exceed our milieus, there’s no purpose in clinging to that label. Throughout Syria, as the state retracted or was driven back, people autonomously organized themselves for defense, distribution and production of food, providing electricity and water, dealing with conflict, and creating ideas for how to live after the war, with the tendency being towards decentralization and autonomy. This in a state that was for over fifty years controlled by a dictatorship that prevented all forms of political association or speech. The absence of well-formed ideology makes these practices invisible to us.
As well, ideology can prevent us from seeing what is actually happening, as with the inconsistent positions of the PYD, SDF, and YPG around statehood and federalism and their break of solidarity with the Syrian revolution. This problem is far larger than Syria, with anarchists waiting for something explicitly anarchist to emerge before supporting it. I’m sure we can all think of other movements anarchists have hesitated or refused to engage in, in spite of their anarchic characteristics, because they didn’t seem anarchist enough…
During his talk at the Burning Country event, Robin described the dense ideology people bring to the Syrian conflict as “a lack of desire to know or to challenge misconceptions. It’s the belief that we already know, that there is no need to ask Syrians.” He insisted that the real conflict in Syria is not imperialist/anti-imperialist, Sunni/Shia, or Arab/Kurd, but rather decentralization versus authoritarianism8. This struggle between centralized and popular control is playing out in every city and town in the country: in Rojava, in regime-held areas, and in areas controlled by rebel militias.
He also made a distinction between culture and politics that parallels the distinction between the people and statist formations: “When the grassroots do politics, it’s culture”, meaning a set of practices and ways of living that make centralized authority unnecessary. Revolutionary “politics” can thus be distinguished from revolutionary “culture”. The central cultural practice of the Syrian revolution, he explained, is to question everything: the regime, the elite opposition in exile, the free army, islamist militias, the PYD, gender roles, tribal structures, democracy, everything. Unfortunately, this practice of critical questioning has not been taken up by anarchists and anti-authoritarians around the world when they set out to engage with the conflicts in Syria.
At the event, Leila and Robin echoed the argument made in Burning Country for critical solidarity, with Rojava and with all groups involved. They urged us to not confuse the actions of armed groups or political bodies with the struggles of grassroots revolutionaries, be they in Rojava, Damascus, Homs, or wherever. They said that a crucial role for international supporters right now is to participate in conversations across sectarian lines9, to resist the polarization playing out on the ground that is pushing Syria towards terrible solutions like partition. Robin said, “the solution to this is not more states, it’s weaker states with more local autonomy”. Critical solidarity is why Leila and Robin can strongly support democratic confederalism, offer solidarity to grassroots revolutionary in Rojava and throughout the Syrian territory, while still opposing the Azaz offensive by the SDF.(2016, May 16) Anarchist Practice in the Syrian and Rojavan Revolutions.
As in his other writings, Daher supports Kurdish self-determination, considering his criticisms of the Syrian Coalition’s chauvinistic rejection of Kurdish national demands and support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s war-drives, as of some FSA fighters’ and officers’ supremacist attitudes toward Kurds and Alawis (117, 140, 161). Nonetheless, he is no uncritical supporter of the PYD, making him no friend to those invested in mythologizing Rojava. Daher delineates a “sort of alliance” between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Hafez al-Assad as dating back to the early 1980’s, when Abdullah “Apo” Öcalan was given sanctuary by the regime. This relationship, which provided the PKK with bases from which they would launch raids into Turkey, lasted until the Adana Agreement of 1998, leading to Öcalan’s expulsion and subsequent arrest and imprisonment (150-1).
Despite this temporal break in relations, Daher explains how the PYD—the PKK’s local Syrian affiliate—benefited from Bashar’s benevolence and support from the US and Russia following the commencement of the Revolution. Still, secondary to the efforts expended by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in defeating IS’s territorial presence, the SDF and PYD have been abandoned by both major imperialist powers, neither of whom are willing to risk their relationship with Turkey (183). It is evident, then, that the SDF and the communities it protects—many of them being ethno-religious minorities—have been used and discarded by their erstwhile bosses Trump and Putin, now to face the hostile Turkish State and its tFSA proxies, which ironically enough reproduce Ba’athist prejudice in their aggression against Kurds and other minorities (169).
Daher chronicles the continuities between the 2004 KurdishIntifada, on the one hand, which began in Qamishli and spread to Afrin, Aleppo, and Damascus, and the enthusiastic reception of the 2011 uprising, on the other, among Kurdish protesters in Amuda and Qamishli, who founded LCC’s in parallel to the rest of the country (151-2). In contrast, among the Kurdish political parties, only the Kurdish Future Movement and the Yekiti Party supported the anti-Assad Revolution on principle from the start (153-4). For this, the former’s leader, Meshaal Taimmo, would be assassinated presumably by pro-Assad militants in October 2011—in an eerie parallel to the December 2019 murder of the Syrian Future Party’s General Secretary Hevrin Khalaf by Ahrar al-Sharqiya in the wake of Turkish incursion east of the Euphrates River.
In July 2012, the Assad regime withdrew most of its forces from northeastern Syria to suppress the Revolution, handing over control to the PYD, which will then monopolize power in the region, block the movement of rebels and their supplies, and increase Erdoğan’s anxieties. Hence, both the Assad regime and the PYD gain, but the people and the revolutionary cause lose, as the uprising is divided “along ethnic and sectarian lines” (157-8, 161). Furthermore, as retaliation, Turkey will allow foreign fighters, to pour across the border into Syria between 2011-2014, strengthening Salafi-jihadi formations, including IS (163-4, 186, 224).
Undoubtedly, the PYD, its self-defense forces the YPG and YPJ (participants in the SDF), and the Kurdish and other minority civilian population have faced significant adversity and loss since the beginning of the Revolution, beset as they have been by such rebels as JAI, al-Nusra, and tFSA alike in 2016 refusing to recognize the announced autonomy of Rojava (179), in addition to IS and Turkey. Certainly, the threats posed by these numerous actors have served to push Kurds toward the PYD (153). Still, Daher illustrates the wholesome persistence of nonsectarian solidarity in the collaboration of FSA and Liwa al-Thuwar (The League of Revolutionaries) with the PYD-affiliated YPG in forming the Northern Sun Battalion to defend Kobani in 2014 (168).
To be clear, this does not mean that YPG abuses of Yekiti Party supporters, the SDF’s forcible conscription, or the PYD’s suppression of local protests should be forgotten, much less the collaboration between YPG and the Assad regime in conquering East Aleppo in 2016, the Tel Rifaat community’s displacement by Russian airstrikes called in by the YPG (156-181), or the SDF’s sales of oil and gas to the regime. However much more relatively progressive the Rojava project is in terms of the inclusion of women and minorities, when compared to regime and rebel areas, the PYD arguably perpetuates aspects of the PKK’s historical Stalinism through its democratic-centralist appointment of unelected council leaders in Manbij (Marcus 2009). What is more, while Rojava’s much-celebrated communes have significant power over everyday issues, security forces frequently bypass communal accountability, and the PKK’s headquarters in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains reportedly has the “final say in decisive questions” (174-5).3
The current plight of the SDF is arguably the fruit of the “deal” the PYD appears to have tacitly made with the Assad regime in July 2012, which PKK commander Bahoz Erdal recently and ironically hailed:Javier Sethness & Dan Fischer (2016, March 16) Review of Daher’s Syria After the Uprisings. New Politics.
“The regime should thank the YPG and the people of Rojava.” Were this arrangement not to have been made, or were the Kurdish Future Movement or Yekiti Party somehow to have outcompeted the PYD in the region known as Rojava/DFNS, and if the Arab opposition forces in turn had agreed to support Kurdish self-determination, the fate of the Revolution may have been very different.
Kobani is also the center of one of the three cantons (with Afrin and Cizre) that established themselves in”democratic autonomous regions” from a confederation of “Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Armenian and Chechen” as stated in the Preamble of the Rojava’s (name of western or Syrian Kurdistan) Charter. Experiences of self-administrations in these regions are very interesting, particularly regarding the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities. Some contradictions nevertheless exist, especially regarding the authoritarianism of the PYD forces that have not hesitated to repress activists or to close institutions towards them.
We should not forget that the PYD, like its mother organization the PKK, lacks democratic credentials in is internal functioning and in regards to other organisations considered as rivals or just as we have seen critical of it. We must remember for example the protest movements in late June 2013 in some cities of Rojava, such as Amouda and Derabissyat, against the repression and arrests by the PYD forces of Kurdish revolutionary activists (1).
The PYD is however far from being the only organization in this case in Syria, and within the Syrian opposition.
That does not stop us from providing a full support to the Kurdish national liberation movement in its struggle for self-determination in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran against authoritarian regimes that oppress them and / or prevent them from achieving their self-determination. It is also why we should demand for the removal of the PKK of all lists of terrorist organizations in Europe and elsewhere.
We can indeed criticize the leadership of the PKK or the PYD for some of their policies, but as argued before, a fundamental principle of revolutionaries is that we first need to support all forms of liberation and emancipation struggle unconditionally, before we are entitled to criticize the way they are led.Joseph Daher (2014, October 12) Kobani, the Kurdish issue and the Syrian revolution, a common destiny. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
Let me begin by saying, as a question of principle, that we as the revolutionary left current in Syria support the self-determination of the Kurdish people, not only in Syria but also in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran as well, where they have been oppressed for decades. Further, in Syria we should not forget that the Assad regime developed a policy of colonization of northern and northeastern Syria, where the Kurds are very much present. We strongly condemn this. At the same time, we say also that we would like the Kurdish popular forces to become an ally with us, with the democratic and progressive forces of Syria, to build, and to struggle for democratic, socialist, and secular Syria. We are happy to note that the statement of the YPG Armed Forces goes in this direction.
The latest events in Kobanê show once more that even though a U.S.-led coalition has recently strengthened its bombardments on IS forces, the intervention is still insufficient in many ways in protecting the Kurdish forces. The sending of arms is propaganda and solely to avoid a complete massacre of the Kurds. I think from the standpoint of the imperialist and sub-imperialist states, the issue of Rojava — which is the Kurdish autonomous region — is a problem and a challenge. These states only favor an autonomous region for Kurdish political forces that are submissive to imperialism, like Barzani in Iraq. Turkey does not want to see a challenge to the status quo that began with the 2013 peace process between the PKK and Turkey. If the PKK had bases in Syria, or ties with a sister organization — which is the YPG — it could challenge the status quo with Turkey. This is an important framework to think about when we speak about the U.S.-led intervention. Only now is the intervention taking a more direct form with some assistance given directly to the Kurdish forces by the United States. But it is very, very light. We will see what will happen. Of course, when Washington really wants to support an ally, like Israel — which is a surrogate of imperialism in the region — it really does work effectively.
We should put Kobanê into a framework of the U.S.-led coalition, and also remind ourselves that the Rojava administration is a direct consequence of the Syrian revolutionary process. There is no way Kurdish autonomy could have existed without that process. Kurdish autonomy would never be given by the Assad regime, which is chauvinist and Arab nationalist. The Assad regime has been oppressing Kurdish national rights for forty years. It was the Syrian popular uprising that pushed the regime to withdraw from regions where the Kurds are a majority. And some very good things are happening in these areas, although we should not fetishize them; there are also problems. As a principle we support the self-determination of the people of an oppressed nation, but we can also criticize the political leadership. Just as we support the self-determination of the Palestinian people, but we should criticize very much the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. This does not stop us from supporting the self-determination of both peoples.
What is happening in the Kurdish autonomous region is far from perfect. There is repression of Kurdish activists and forced conscription — people who refuse are imprisoned. Institutions that criticized the PKK were closed. The PYD — the Democratic Union Party, a Syrian Kurdish political party established in 2003 — like its mother organization the PKK, is not democratic in its internal functioning. We must remember for example the protest movements in late June 2013 in some cities of Rojava, such as Amouda and Derabissyat, against the repression by the PYD of Kurdish revolutionary activists.
But at the same time you have some very positive aspects when it comes to the protection of religious minorities, strengthening women’s rights, and secularism. In comparison with the popular councils that were established from below in the liberated areas of Syria by the revolutionaries, which are real example of self-administration, in the case of Rojava it is more a dynamic from above, led and controlled by the PYD. So again, these are the different aspects that you can say about this intervention in Kobanê and how I see it.
But I also understand that the fall of Kobanê will not only be a big loss for Kurds, but for the Syrian revolution as a whole. Any kind of progress towards greater Kurdish self-determination is linked to the deepening of the Syrian revolutionary process. If that revolutionary process is defeated, you can be sure that the Assad regime and Turkey will do everything in their power to undermine any kind of Kurdish autonomy.Joseph Daher (2014, November 19) Kobanê, Turkey, and the Syrian Struggle. Syria Freedom Forever [Blog].
On Sunday, I was at the Kurdish demo in London. I had some conversations with some of the ‘solidarity’ speakers and activists, including a speaker from the RMT union and one from the Socialist Party. Neither had mentioned Assad once in their speeches, and so I confronted them about that absence, not least because the biggest contributor to ISIS’s rise was, contrary to the prevailing sentiment in Parliament Square (an understandable one considering the historical context, and the stopping of Turkish Kurds crossing the border to fight in Kobane), not Turkey but the Assad regime. It was the Assad regime that never targeted ISIS for an entire year, despite having the warplanes to do so. It was the Assad regime that brought oil from its oilfields, knowing that it would strengthen it. It was the Assad regime that released score of prisoners from Saydana prison to make his prophecy (that his opposition were all terrorirsts, which he said from day one of peaceful protests) a reality.
Both were sympathetic with what I said, but nonetheless the former said that ‘his branch has a policy of non-intervention on Syria (but not regarding the Kurdish parts) and that a resolution was already passed on that (so ‘its already done’).
The latter meanwhile, was asking me ‘I mean what “progressive” (in other words, ‘Leftist’) elements would you say are in the rebellion that we should support?’
I replied ‘Do they have to be socialist to be supported? Do they have to be socialist to be fighting for freedom?’
A bit sheepishly, he replied ‘no, of course not’
Yet that’s the line of thinking he had, and most people on the left in general seem to have, including those by the way who are nominally anti-Assad (i.e. not idiots like Galloway and Stop the War, those whom have been labelled ‘pseudoleft’ by some).
With everything happening in Kobane, what I notice generally – not only from my encounters yesterday but my newsfeeds in general – are two things: the Left (including the nominally anti-Assad left) has only woken up to Syria and the resistance once it had a socialist faction involved fighting for their freedom, simple, typically accusatory, and true. They suddenly rediscovered their abilities to wax lyrical about freedom fighters (these ones), for in this case they were something to be related with: secular, a star in their flag and imbibing a type of ‘revolution’ which they can easily relate with. Suddenly, women fighters existed for the first time, as if those women who had fought in the ranks of the FSA before them never existed. It suddenly became their struggle, when it had liberal-nationalist or Islamist undertones it wasn’t.
When other non-socialist rebels had been fighting ISIS for an entire year and had countless ‘Kobanes’, they were never mentioned. And indeed today, despite the fact that the PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union), the dominant (but not sole) Kurdish political body in Rojava, had largely for an extended period of time sought a truce of convenience with Assad since 2012 (with some clashes every now and then) alienating many Kurds within its areas as well (who felt this compromised relations with their Arab brethren). And while of course many Kurds also have their own grievances against the FSA and other rebels, not least from strong battles between them, it is the FSA that has come to the YPG’s (the military arm of the PYD) aid in Kobane in its moment of need.(2014, October 13) Its good we’ve woken up, but what about all the other Kobanes? Eternal Spring [Blog].
Even as Rojava captures the imaginations of anarchists, with many groups and individuals around the world engaged in active support of the Kurdish-lead libertarian experiment, there remains a profound ambivalence among anarchists towards the struggles in the rest of the country formerly known as Syria. On the one hand, some radicals seek to identify and support grassroots initiatives, popular armed formations, or resistance movements in exile that have a liberatory character; on the other, some see the Syrian Revolution as nothing more than yet another imperialist coup being lead by armed religious fascists with nothing worth supporting. Between those two poles, the huge majority of anarchists (and others who care about international revolutions) consider the conflict too complex and murky to come to any conclusions.
(…) It’s quite striking that many who support the Rojavan revolution so fervently are unwilling to extend their interest to the rest of Syria, where the huge majority of the country’s 20+ million inhabitants live(d). Some have explained this by the absence of a cohesive political project under the dictatorship – unlike in the Kurdish regions, where the PKK was able to organize during its transition to libertarian municipalism, the repression was such that there were no organized parties and only a few clandestine networks of dissenters.
As activists in the film “Echos of Rupture” (Ecos del Desgarro in the original spanish) explained, once the revolution broke out, this absence of existing organizations meant the uprising had a very decentralized and egalitarian character. This also contributed to its resilience – many of the most experienced organizers were already known to the regime and were quickly rounded up or forced to flee the country. This was always part of the Assad regime’s strategy, targetting for shelling or bombing those areas liberated by their own residents and pulling back from conflict with groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra . Its narrative has always been that the conflict is between armed salafist groups and a socialist government and it set out to viciously abolish anything that didn’t fit that story. This meant there were few groups who could issue position statements or put forward cohesive ideologies.
It unfortunately seems that statements of ideology are very important in determining whether anarchists will support a struggle. This is not such a different approach to solidarity than is used by authoritarian leftists who continue to support the Assad regime in spite of its unbelievable brutality because of the rhetoric and ideology it produces. But as the Syria Solidarity Collective emphasizes, we need to base our support on the level of practices and relationships, not the level of ideology.
On the level of practice, we continue to find many groups throughout Syria as well as in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, who pursue an anarchistic revolution, acting against the control of the Syrian government as well as against the various authoritarian armed groups who are increasingly carving up the territory. What it means to look on the level of practice is not straight forward, but at the very least, we can begin by dropping our expectation of ideological purity, looking closely at grassroots segments of the conflict rather than at the level of states and armies, opposing all escalation of the armed conflict (which has tended to favour authoritarian formations) including through foreign intervention, and sharing and debating texts and perspectives that share these goals.
However, the amount of discussion among anarchists about supporting revolutionary currents outside of Rojava in Syria has been slight for the past several years. On A-News, Infoshop, and Libcom collectively, there have been about three articles posted about the Syrian Revolution in the past two years, while there have been almost a hundred dealing with Rojava (score one Syrian Rev article each for Anarkismo and Contrainfo). This is surprising, considering there continues to be anarchist and anti-authoritarian analysis of revolutionary currents throughout Syria produced in English, it just isn’t making it onto the most popular news sites among English-speaking anarchists.A Certain Discomfort: Of Anarchist Solidarity and Syria.
The authors explain that although there are many different groups and identities in Syria, to speak of categories in a country with the richness and diversity of Syria is always to oversimplify. “Generalisations are sometimes necessary, but it is most accurate to think of Syria as a collective of 23 million individuals.” (3) It is very much the stories of those individuals that make up this book – the voices represented here cut across lines of age, sect, gender, region, and class to show that although there are certain commonalities within groups, the revolution was built on the strength of differences and exceptions. This analysis goes far beyond what the authors call ‘orientalising narratives’ of hopelessness that seek to understand the conflict as entirely sectarian, the region as utterly backwards, and the violence as an internal and inevitable problem.
In each of their meticulously researched and sourced chapters (a chapter of 20 pages will have upwards of 60 endnotes), Al-Shami and Yassin-Kassab present a particular aspect of the Syrian revolution. For instance, chapter 4, “The Grassroots”, focuses on the development of Local Co-ordinating Committees and neighbourhood councils and how they have adapted to changing conditions throughout the conflict. Chapter 6 deals with the rise of jihadist groups, particularly ISIS. This kind of clear separation between chapters shows that there were always many different voices and distinct tendencies contributing to the revolution and that the triumph of the counter-revolution was by no means inevitable.
Perhaps most provocative is the final chapter critiquing the practices of solidarity that have (not) existed towards the struggle. Kurdish groups affiliated with the PYD have been the main recipients of solidarity from Western radicals, however limited that has been. Throughout the book though, the authors offer a much more nuanced view of the Kurdish groups affiliated with the PYD than we usually hear. They see the revolution in the Kurdish regions as being very different from those in the rest of the country, mostly because of how centralized it was within existing political structures that took on the responsability of policing revolutionary currents.
The authors still call for solidarity with the struggles of Kurdish groups, of course, but they emphasize that we need a critical solidarity. They offer the words of Kurdish activist Shiar Nayo: “Critical solidarity means you support a struggle as a matter of principle (with real material support) but maintain an active, critical stance toward a particular version or force that claims to represent people’s aspirations and capitalises on them for political ends.” Without this kind of solidarity, Nayo fears the PYD will further centralize power and increase its internal repression. At the time of writing, as Kurdish groups opportunistically attack rebel formations North of Aleppo, we would do well to keep this in mind.
In their chapter “Militarisation and Liberation”, the authors examine one of the most complex and troubling dynamics of the revolution – the decision to take up arms and the role of armed struggle. Although nearly all segments of the revolution initially tried to avoid armed conflict, the revolution militarised quickly. The regime’s violence against the demonstrations lead to both the revolutionaries arming themselves and to mass defections from the armed forces.
Many revolutionaries knew that militarizing the conflict would play into the regime’s hands and tried to avoid it. But we shouldn’t hear in this the kind of sickening moralism common among Western pacifists. The Assad regime drove a relentless escalation of force – it was the government’s choice to escalate every step of the way, knowing it could go much further down this road than could the revolution. The strategy of less-violent resistance was thus a way of refusing the terms of engagement dictated by the state.
To deal with the escalation and to protect liberated areas, the local committees increasingly collaborated with the emerging Free Syrian Army – revolutionaries tried to ensure the armed segment remained deeply connected to the social revolution. However, this all changed following the sarine gas attacks in Ghouta. The authors identify this as the turning point where the revolution decisively gave way to counter-revolution. With these gas attacks (which so many leftists around the world, parroting Assadist, Russian, and Iranian state TV, collaborated to conceal), it became clear that Assad was immune to pressure and that no outside force was going to put limits on his violence. This is the moment where armed groups and the war economy overtook the revolution — ISIS would rise from this bitter experience and revolutionaries would soon be caught in a war on two fronts.
Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War is a challenge to all the anarchists and other radicals who have sat on the fence, feeling that the conflict in Syria is too complex. It is a denunciation of the segments of the left who, with their binary worldview dating back to the Cold War, somehow believe Assad is an anti-imperialist, who claim there is no revolution, and who collaborate to cast doubt on the violence of the regimeFacing the Counter-Revolution: A review of Burning Country, by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami.
Realpolitik of the PYD
Since the beginning of the uprising, the PYD has relied on a strategy of realpolitik by putting the interests of the Kurds and Kurdish autonomy before anything. That is why, despite years of hostility with the regime, the PYD did not throw their lot behind the opposition at the beginning of the uprising. When the Syrian army left most of Rojava, the PYD worked on consolidating their own power in the area rather than challenging the army in other areas of Syria with the opposition; they also tolerated the regime presence in Qamishli and al-Hasake, opting that it was a better option than open confrontation.Nader Atassi (2014, March 3) Rojava and Kurdish Political Parties in Syria. Jadaliyya.
De nombreux problèmes sont soulevés par ce texte, à travers raccourcis, simplismes, erreurs, méconnaissances de la réalité. On retrouve ici une nouvelle projection europeo-centrée sur le Rojava, loin du vécu sur place. Petit thread
Cette projection n’est pas neuve. Elle est présente depuis 2014 avec la bataille de Kobané et sa dimension désormais « mythique » au sein de nombreux courants alternatifs et de la découverte du Rojava et de son projet politique.
On est malheureusement dans une relecture erronée d’une partie de la gauche anti-impérialiste. Le discours à l’égard du Rojava procède d’un effacement de la séquence révolutionnaire en Syrie soit par méconnaissance du sujet soit par opportunisme politique.
Un modèle révolutionnaire a été oublié:celui du soulèvement syrien, révolution populaire non-préparée, politisant une part d’une population qui n’avait pas accès aux questions d’organisation sociale/politique et qui sera dépassée par les groupes armés et la défaite face à Assad
La projection se fait donc sur la «Révolution» du Rojava, lutte pourtant orchestrée par un parti, le PKK et son pendant syrien. La force du PKK est d’être parvenu à stimuler les imaginaires politiques libertaires et post-modernes loin cependant du concret d’une révolution
La démocratie revendiquée n’existe pas vraiment sur le terrain, où il y a de fréquentes arrestations de jeunes pour la conscription forcée, où les ONG n’osent pas parler ou même critiquer les forces du YPG/PYD, où le pluralisme politique est empêché, etc.
Ce texte montre une nouvelle fois toute la projection faite sur le Rojava à partir non pas des réalités locales mais du vécu ici. Le Rojava est finalement perçu comme l’incarnation de la Lumière dans une «région» où régneraient «les obscurantismes».
C’est oublier que le Rojava est un modèle politique qui n’a pas été choisi démocratiquement par les populations et que les forces du PYD/YPG dominent certes par adhésion par endroits mais aussi par résignation voire contraintes ailleurs.
C’est oublier que l’idéologie du PKK reste ancrée dans la théorie de l'”Homme nouveau”. La gestion des militants et des populations par le PKK est fondée sur le principe léniniste de l’avant-garde éclairée. Le pouvoir est vertical, autour du chef.
C’est oublier que le PKK évolue dans une société très conservatrice dont il reproduit aussi les codes: la sacralisation du corps des femmes notamment, dont certaines parties doivent toujours échapper à la vue des hommes. Le féminisme là-bas s’écarte de notre idée ici.
C’est oublier que les références sur l’auto-gestion et l’écologie sont souvent des façades. Si les barrages turcs sont problématiques, le PYD est aussi responsable de la destruction de l’environnement et de la pollution de l’eau. [Source]
C’est oublier que les structures du PYD/YPG entretiennent des liens avec celles du régime d’Assad voire même avec d’anciens djihadistes. Les forces du PYD/YPG ne sont pas nos alliées, elles ont leur propre agenda politique
C’est tomber dans l’erreur de l’essentialisation de la cause kurde et du lien entre celle-ci et le PKK-YPD/YPG. D’autres éléments existent dans la région, avec leurs propres histoires et leurs propres caractéristiques.
Le but ici n’est pas de diaboliser ce qui est idéalisé de manière fantasmée mais de contextualiser. Cette démarche est essentielle si on veut non seulement comprendre mais aussi soutenir les populations concernées, comme le souhaite ce texte.
Au final, le soutien de la gauche aux «Kurdes» est moins lié au soutien à l’autonomie du Kurdistan qu’au fait que «les Kurdes» seraient nos alliés», contre l’ennemi désigné dans cette guerre contre le terrorisme, un paradigme qui fait disparaître toute autre considération.
Comme lu ailleurs, l’internationalisme n’est donc plus, pour une partie de la gauche, le soutien aux révolutions par-delà les frontières, mais la justification de ses projections,de son désintérêt pour les habitants bombardés et de sa peur des «inconnus». C’est une erreur
Enfin, on est loin du projet qu’on peut retrouver dans les écrits de Bookchin.https://twitter.com/jonathanpiron1/status/1488612021771898887?s=20&t=agB6IvtD4FvcvyjDXeEo4Q
Le système politique du Rojava
À la faveur du leader kurde Abdullah Öcalan, le Rojava se revendique du municipalisme libertaire tel que proposé par Bookchin. Un premier regard sur les structures institutionnelles du Rojava semble confirmer la transposition de ces propositions via l’existence d’une démocratie de conseils. La base du système du Rojava part des Kommun, structure locale rassemblant entre 30 et 400 ménages. Ces premiers espaces sont non seulement chargés d’assurer un minimum de services mais ils sont, en plus, les premiers lieux du politique. Chaque entité dispose de sa propre assemblée réunissant les populations locales qui peuvent y prendre leurs propres décisions.
C’est à partir de cette base que le reste du système se construit, les niveaux supérieurs n’en étant que des délégations. Le conseil local envoie ainsi des représentants à l’échelon supérieur, à savoir le conseil de quartier, qui lui-même envoie des représentants au conseil de district. Le dernier niveau est le Conseil Populaire du Kurdistan Ouest (MGRK), composé des représentants de tous les conseils de districts et des organisations du TEV-DEM, à savoir le Mouvement de la société démocratique, plate-forme rassemblant les divers groupes militants reconnus.
Une large place est laissée aux femmes aux différents niveaux, ces derniers comprenant diverses commissions co-présidées par un homme et une femme et traitant des questions telles que la gestion des services, l’économie, l’éducation, l’auto-défense, la réconciliation et de la justice, etc.
À cette structure se lie une Administration Démocratique Autonome ou Auto-Administation Démocratique, sorte de gouvernement présent dans chacun des trois cantons constitutifs du Rojava (à savoir les cantons d’Afrine, de Kobané et de la Djézireh) et dont les membres sont désignés par le conseil législatif, organe lui-même élu au suffrage universel.
L’ensemble de l’entité soutient les principes d’une politique laïque, démocratique et socialiste, assurant l’égalité des sexes et l’écologisme. Ces piliers se retrouvent dans les différents textes fondant le Rojava, dont le « Contrat social », promu en 2014, fait œuvre de loi fondamentale.
Cependant, la seule approche des institutions et de leurs modes de fonctionnement ne restitue pas la réalité de l’exercice du pouvoir dans le Rojava ou dans les territoires contrôlés par les forces kurdes et leurs alliés (les FDS ou Forces Démocratiques Syriennes). La compréhension du système en place ne peut non plus faire l’impasse sur les origines du mouvement politique kurde à l’initiative du projet, à savoir le PKK, ainsi que sur l’histoire même de la communauté kurde en Syrie.
Les Kurdes de Syrie : entre invisibilité, répression et révolution
Pour bien appréhender la réalité du Rojava, l’histoire des Kurdes en Syrie ne peut être occultée. Représentant avec trois millions d’habitants, 15 % de la population du pays, la communauté kurde a longuement été confrontée à de nombreuses contraintes empêchant sa visibilité. Les Kurdes de Syrie ont historiquement fait l’objet de discriminations et mesures politiques les considérant comme des citoyens de deuxième voire troisième zone. Tant les droits civils et politiques que la défense de la culture kurde n’ont guère été protégé, au contraire. Dès 1962, les droits civiques sont restreints ou retirés à près de 200.000 Kurdes soit 30 % de la communauté, désormais reconnus soit comme « ajanib » (étrangers) soit comme « maktoumeen » (sans droits). Le ressentiment trouve donc les moyens de s’exprimer, d’autant plus que le régime syrien n’hésite pas à soutenir certains groupes armés kurdes implantés à l’étranger, comme le PKK, dans sa logique de déstabilisation de ses voisins turcs et irakiens.
Si une phase intense de contestations survient en 2004-2005, ce sont les protestations de 2011 qui font entrer les Kurdes syriens dans l’arène politique. La jeunesse kurde qui défile rejoint ainsi le reste des manifestants syriens, autour de slogans tels que « Nous ne voulons pas seulement la nationalité mais aussi la liberté » et de la volonté de voir le régime s’effondrer. La volonté est d’afficher l’unité de la population face au système autoritaire en place.
Assez rapidement, dans les diverses villes à majorités kurdes, des comités locaux se mettent en place et rejoignent les autres espaces contestataires. Dans les localités du pays où ils ne sont pas majoritaires, les Kurdes intègrent les structures révolutionnaires portées par les autres communautés. Ces manifestations et protestations sont essentiellement le fait de mouvements spontanés et portés par les jeunes. De leur côté, les partis kurdes traditionnels sont marqués par les divisions. Seul le Mouvement du Futur de Mashal Temo s’aligne avec le mouvement des jeunes révolutionnaires. Petit à petit, au vu de l’ampleur des manifestations, les structures politiques décident de s’entendre et de mettre sur pied un Conseil national kurde (CNK). Ce dernier va notamment essayer de coordonner les liens avec les révolutionnaires syriens arabes, qui s’organisent autour de l’Armée Syrienne Libre (ASL) et du Conseil National Syrien (CNS). Cependant, les relations vont se marquer par une certaine méfiance, les Kurdes affirmant que les structures révolutionnaires arabes ne reconnaissent pas leur spécificité. Minoritaire, dépourvu d’éléments armés suffisamment nombreux que pour peser sur les décisions, le CNK va se retrouver petit à petit marginalisé. C’est un autre acteur qui va réussir à s’imposer, se présentant comme une « troisième voie » et disposant d’une structuration politique et armée plus importante : le PYD.
Le PYD : d’un mouvement armé au contrôle du nord de la Syrie
Fondé en 2003, le Parti de l’union démocratique (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat ou PYD) est une émanation du PKK, Parti des Travailleurs du Kurdistan. Fondé en 1978, organisé autour d’un leader charismatique, Abdullah Öcalan, le PKK se revendique du marxisme-léninisme et s’engage, à partir de 1984, dans la lutte armée contre l’État turc pour l’indépendance du Kurdistan.
Pourchassé, le PKK installe ses bases arrières d’abord au Liban avant d’être accueilli en Syrie. Bien que sa politique s’inscrive dans la limitation des droits de la communauté kurde syrienne, Hafez el-Assad ouvre les portes de son pays au PKK, lui permettant d’y établir diverses bases d’entraînement. En retour, le PKK joue de sa présence dans les espaces kurdes à la fois pour diviser les mouvements d’opposition ainsi que, dans certains cas, réprimer les contestations contre le régime syrien. Une entente opportuniste se réalise donc entre le pouvoir baathiste et le PKK, chacun y trouvant leur compte.
Cette association se termine brutalement, en 1998, lorsque Damas décide d’expulser Öcalan et de fermer les camps du PKK, craignant une intervention turque. Le PKK se replie au Kurdistan irakien et tente de se recréer, fondant notamment le PYD et interrogeant son fonds doctrinal. Déstabilisé par sa retraite ainsi que par l’effondrement du bloc soviétique, le PKK subit également de plein fouet l’arrestation puis l’emprisonnement de son leader, Öcalan, par les autorités turques. Ce dernier, qui détient toujours la haute main sur le mouvement, décide d’opérer de sa prison une mise à jour idéologique afin de permettre au groupe de s’adapter. Découvrant Bookchin, Öcalan réoriente le discours du PKK autour des principes du communalisme libertaire.
L’intention d’Öcalan est de présenter le PKK sous un jour nouveau, sortant d’une idéologie marxiste-léniniste pour évoluer vers un discours libertaire inspiré par les thèses de Bookchin et du municipalisme. La question des femmes, la place laissé à l’autonomie, la considération environnementale sont mis en avant par le leader kurde. Toutefois, ce qui est présenté comme une révolution idéologique ressemble plus à une adaptation qu’à une mutation. Si des mises à jour sont effectivement réalisées, certaines des revendications, pourtant présentées comme nouvelles, sont portées par le PKK depuis les années 90. La question de la place des femmes dans la société et dans le mouvement est ainsi débattue au sein de la structure depuis la fin des années 80. En outre, si l’optique de démocratie directe devient le nouveau mantra, les choix idéologiques et politiques restent le fait du seul Öcalan. Enfin, l’organisation du PKK ne renie guère ses anciens principes comme celui de l’avant-garde, de l’Homme nouveau (Yeni İnsan) ou de la vision déterministe de l’histoire. Dès lors, la place réelle laissée aux actions libertaires et à l’auto-organisation des institutions se pose.
Lorsque la révolution syrienne éclate, le PYD dispose donc déjà d’une histoire et d’une organisation stable, avec des moyens armés importants. L’opportunité de s’imposer comme acteur majeur se présentera en 2012. Déjà, la brutalisation du conflit menée par le régime Assad amène nombre d’acteurs révolutionnaires à entrer dans un processus de militarisation. Les conseils locaux, de leur côté, sont durement touchés par la répression. Déstabilisés face à cette brutalisation voulue par le régime, les différents groupes et mouvements politiques rebelles peinent à se coordonner et s’unir. Les espaces kurdes ne sont pas épargnés. Le CNK se retrouve confronté à des divisions que le régime va exploiter en jouant la carte du PKK. Dans un premier temps, le pouvoir syrien va relâcher les prisonniers du PYD, afin de diviser les révolutionnaires kurdes. Ensuite, à la faveur de la montée en puissance du PYD, le régime opère un choix tactique en permettant à ce dernier de s’imposer via un retrait partiel de ses troupes, en juillet 2012. Dans un accord de non-agression entre Damas et le PYD, c’est celui-ci qui contrôlera les cités abandonnés par le régime, s’imposant grâce à son organisation structurée et à ses milices armées, les Unités de défense du peuple (YPG). Entrant dans une logique d’opposition aux autres groupes kurdes, le PYD/YPG n’hésite guère à recourir à diverses violences, supprimant les oppositions politiques, interdisant les manifestations et arrêtant les opposants. Les différentes expériences autonomes s’écartant du projet du PYD sont interdites. D’autre part, seule force dotée de suffisamment de moyens armés, le PYD/YPG parvient à s’imposer auprès d’une partie de la population qui craint la menace islamiste.
Fort de ses combats à la fois interne et externe, le PYD/YPG assure progressivement son hégémonie sur le nord de la Syrie. Le projet politique et idéologique se met en place, avec la création de trois cantons autonomes en novembre 2013 (Djézireh, Kobané et Afrine) et l’adoption, en 2014, du « Contrat social » organisant les espaces sur lesquels s’exerce son autorité. Il faut cependant attendre la bataille de Kobané, à la fin de 2014, pour voir l’opinion occidentale entrer en résonance avec le groupe armé kurde. L’avancée de l’État Islamique, la résistance incarnée par les forces des YPG, la symbolique de deux idéologies que tout oppose et la possibilité d’identification des opinions occidentales à la cause défendue par le PYD influent sur la perception de ces enjeux. Le Rojava entre dans le narratif du conflit syrien. À la faveur de victoire contre l’EI, du partenariat avec les États-Unis et de la mise sur pied des FDS, les forces du YPG parviennent à chasser l’EI de son territoire et à se revendiquer du statut de vainqueur contre Daesh.
Ce retour historique permet donc de bien comprendre le terreau politique sur lequel le Rojava s’est construit. L’Administration autonome est bien née d’une organisation partisane et armée qui s’est parvenue imposée à la faveur de situations dont elle a su tirer parti. L’aspect « révolutionnaire » est donc quelque peu malmené, les instances insurrectionnelles originales ayant été balayées.
Comment maintenant, au sein de ces territoires « libérés », le pouvoir s’organise-t-il ? Si les structures du Rojava semble, de prime abord, reposer sur les principes de Bookchin, de nombreux doutes demeurent sur la réelle autonomie des institutions en place. Une approche par plusieurs thématiques permet d’interroger ces questionnements.
Qu’en est-il déjà de l’autonomie des différents conseils locaux, piliers de la structure institutionnelle du Rojava ? Si les statuts du TEV-DEM insistent sur l’égalité entre les individus et les rapports horizontaux de décision, dans les faits un certain flou règne quant à la capacité d’action et de prise de décisions. Le système semble ainsi verrouillé dès le départ par la structure partisane préexistante.
Loin d’apparaître de manière spontanée à l’été 2012, les institutions autogérées sont d’abord le fait d’un encadrement réalisé par des commissaires politiques qui imposent le système tel qu’il est vu par le PYD. Les autres partis kurdes, qui composaient notamment le CNK, sont progressivement éliminés et empêchés d’intégrer la nouvelle architecture institutionnelle. Les forces de sécurité du PYD (Assâyesh) sont, en outre, chargées de faire disparaître les comités révolutionnaires locaux qui ne rejoignent pas la ligne imposée par la nouvelle structure de pouvoir. La seule référence idéologique est celle issue du PKK, régentant notamment les services culturels, sociaux et d’informations. Les médias sont ainsi sous le contrôle de l’« Organisme d’information libre », soumettant le fonctionnement des organes de presse à une autorisation et à un contrôle strict. Les écarts quant à la ligne de conduite imposée peuvent être fortement sanctionnés. Fin août 2019, les autorités du Rojava ont ainsi banni les journalistes de Kurdistan 24, pour avoir critiqué, dans un reportage, Bese Hozat, Coprésidente du Conseil exécutif de l’Union des Communautés du Kurdistan (KCK).
De son côté, le TEV-DEM, pourtant présenté comme représentatif des organisations kurdes, relève plus de la coquille vide, contrôlée à distance par le PYD. L’administration de la région reste également dans une situation hybride, nombre de fonctionnaires restant payés par le régime syrien. Enfin, les élections pour le conseil législatif n’ont toujours pas eu lieu, l’argument sécuritaire étant mis en avant pour justifier cette situation.
À ces éléments, la libération de cités à majorité arabe sunnite par les forces kurdes a ajouté un nouveau problème : celui de l’organisation et de la sécurisation de territoires dominé par l’EI et situé au-delà de l’hinterland kurde. De nombreux défis voire interrogations se posent donc sur l’administration d’une zone en-dehors de l’espace de revendication kurde. Les structures y jouent dès lors sur d’autres types de relations, de nature partisanes et clientélistes, ouvrant la voie à de nouveaux problèmes. Une conséquence en est notamment le non ralliement des classes moyennes et des secteurs éduqués, désaffection que l’on retrouve, d’ailleurs, dans les cantons du Rojava.
Le pilier sécuritaire, de son côté, reste entièrement dans les mains de l’institution politique du PYD. Aux forces centrales des YPG s’ajoutent les forces de sécurité des Assâyesh ainsi que les institutions judiciaires dont l’indépendance n’est pas garantie. Si les cantons dominés par les forces du YPG/PYD et les FDS ont été une zone sûre permettant l’arrivée de nombre de réfugiés, la popularité du PYD est loin d’être assurée dans toutes les régions. C’est que les forces kurdes n’hésitent pas à recourir à la coercition pour assurer leur pouvoir. Les arrestations de militants sont ainsi monnaie courante depuis le début du Rojava jusqu’à récemment. À Raqqa, en septembre 2019, des opposants à l’EI ont ainsi été détenus de manière arbitraire pendant plusieurs jours. En août 2019, l’association Syrian Network for Human Rights révélait l’ampleur des arrestations et disparitions forcées dans les territoires contrôlés par les forces kurdes et leurs alliés, pointant le chiffre de 3000 personnes détenues sans réels motifs depuis les débuts de l’Administration autonome.
Réticent à partager le pouvoir, le PYD impose son idéologie. L’espace public est saturé par la pensée du PKK et par l’image de son leader, Öcalan. Ce qui amène de nouvelles interrogations sur la place de la diversité et de la conflictualité politique chère à Bookchin. L’enseignement de l’histoire dans le système scolaire du Rojava offre un angle pour connaître la grammaire politique portée par l’administration locale. La connexion des manuels du Rojava avec les principes d’enseignement du PKK est ainsi établie, table des matières et contenus étant semblables. Comme dans les espaces publics, la figure d’Öcalan y est centrale, que ce soit par la place physique réservée (cadres particuliers, photos stylisées, proliférations de citations) que par le fond abordé. Apo (surnom d’Öcalan) est révéré comme le guide (rêber) ayant à la fois la vision concernant le commandement de la révolution kurde et la vision concernant la libération de la femme et de l’homme au sens large. Pour le reste, l’approche de l’histoire révèle un historicisme basé sur une filiation entre les Mèdes et les Kurdes, filiation réinterprétant les grands événements au regard des principes défendus par l’idéologie du PKK. L’omniprésence de l’image d’Öcalan confère à un culte du chef, ce dernier dépassant la seule représentation du peuple pour finir par l’incarner. Même si le leader ne dirige plus le mouvement, étant à l’isolement depuis le début des années 2010, sa figure reste une référence et un moyen d’imposer les décisions. Le politique est ainsi saturé par la corporéité du leader, celui-ci étant mis en scène, reliant corps politique et corps abstrait.
Si des critiques existent quand à l’autonomie dans le cadre des institutions politiques, qu’en est-il des projets économiques ? Avant toute chose, sur quoi repose l’économie du nord-est syrien ? La région est historiquement une zone agricole importante, disposant de plusieurs ressources. En 2009, ces espaces fournissaient 52 % du blé syrien et 79 % du coton du pays. Entre 50 et 60 % des la production des hydrocarbures provenait également de la région. Plus loin, autour d’Afrine et de Kobané, les ressources proviennent essentiellement des fruits et de la culture des olives.
Depuis 2009, le conflit civil et son intensification ont désorganisé et détruit une grande partie des infrastructures. La présence de l’État Islamique a contribué à cette déstructuration de même que les opérations de reconquête menées contre Daesh. Les espaces sous le contrôle du PYD partent donc déjà d’une situation précaire du point de vue économique.
Au-delà de cette situation, le projet économique du PKK et du PYD s’articule autour d’une économie présentée comme anticapitaliste et organisée suivant les principes de collectivisation et de redistribution, via notamment l’autonomie des travailleurs.
Dans les faits, les institutions économiques sont placées sous l’autorité de l’administration autonome, en situation de monopole. Différentes expériences coopérativistes sont toutefois menées, principalement dans le secteur agricole. L’intention affichée est de parvenir à réaliser l’auto-suffisance du Rojava. Des coopératives agricoles d’une quinzaine de membres sont ainsi mises en place, assurant notamment l’échange des surplus de production vers les autres coopératives ou vers les centres urbains. Le maraîchage et l’arboriculture sont également promus afin de faciliter l’objectif d’autosuffisance. Cependant, le départ de la classe moyenne, qui ne se retrouve pas dans ces projets, pose de nombreuses difficultés à l’administration locale. Si l’entrepreneuriat est encouragé, il l’est essentiellement dans le cadre des structures coopérativistes, dont un tiers des revenus sont prélevés par des institutions du Rojava ou par des comités économie de structures comme Yekîtiya Star. Si des entreprises régionales émergent, les principales initiatives restent toutefois micro-locales, avec une faible productivité. Les revenus sont aussi peu attractifs pour la classe éduquée tandis que de nombreux jeunes choisissent de se réfugier en Irak afin d’échapper à la conscription. Au final, l’économie du Rojava tient essentiellement grâce à la taxation et au fait que Damas continue de rémunérer ses fonctionnaires présents sur place. Cette critique à l’égard de la structure partisane est présente à d’autres niveaux. Si la redistribution fait partie des principes défendus par le système en place, les différentes institutions comme les « maisons du peuple » (mala gal), qui en assurent le suivi, contribueraient à une forme de contrôle social décriée par une partie de la population. En outre, les principaux outils de production resteraient dans les mains de la structure politique du PYD. L’affectation des ressources et leurs gestions demeurent dans un certain flou, notamment en ce qui concerne les ressources stratégiques comme les hydrocarbures. Les exportations aussi bien vers le régime syrien que vers l’Irak semblent être une certitude, tandis que les fonds sont principalement affectés au budget des forces armées.
L’écologie, autre pan souvent mis en avant, se retrouve donc dans une situation difficile, enchassée dans l’économie. Il est important de constater que différents projets d’agro-foresteries sont lancés de même que des chantiers d’entretiens d’espaces naturels comme la réserve naturelle du réservoir de Derik. Les différentes initiatives restent, toutefois, cantonnées à des projets locaux ou contraintes par le conflit. Si des actions de sensibilisation sont menées, la logique environnementale passe après la nécessité de mobilité et d’accès à l’emploi demandée par les locaux. En outre, rien n’indique que certains secteurs particulièrement polluants, comme celui lié aux hydrocarbures, seraient revus dans un souci de limitation de la production. Si l’intention de limiter les dégâts dus notamment au raffinage improvisé sont débattus par des comités locaux, le passage vers une société écologique non extractiviste reste largement utopique. Les exportations de pétrole restent d’ailleurs dans une zone d’ombre. Tantôt envoyée vers la Turquie via des pipelines improvisés, une partie de la production issue des champs contrôlés par les FDS serait expédiée vers le régime syrien, les revenus permettant à l’administration autonome de tenir son budget, en majorité affecté à ses moyens militaires. Développement économique et écologique restent donc en concurrence.
Seule la dimension féministe semble ouvrir de nouvelles perspectives dans une société encore patriarcale et conservatrice. Les combattantes du PYD bénéficient d’ailleurs de plus de droits que leurs consœurs du PKK, interagissant davantage avec leur société. Néanmoins, certains principes idéologiques restent présents, prolongeant l’approche de l’Homme nouveau dans les questions de genre. Les académies de la confédération des organisations féministes du Rojava promeuvent ainsi la jinéologie où les femmes découvrent l’émancipation et l’autodéfense. De nombreux conseils de femmes ont aussi vu le jour, assurant la coreprésentation dans les différentes structures de décision. Toutefois, des différences existent entre les entités, la promotion de ces principes étant plus aisé à Afrin qu’à Kobané, localité plus conservatrice. Si de réelles avancées sont réalisées, celles-ci restent encore dans un cadre imposé, pouvant braquer certaines communautés et posant la question de la capacité d’émancipation des femmes en-dehors du cadre idéologique du PYD.
Conclusion : le Rojava, miroir du politique
Dans Une société à refaire, Bookchin écrit : « un précepte libertaire fondamental : tout être humain est compétent pour gérer les affaires de la société, et plus particulièrement de la communauté dont il est membre. Aucune politique n’a de légitimité démocratique si elle n’a été proposée, discutée et décidée directement par le peuple, et non par de quelconques représentants ou substituts ». Ce propos permet de mettre en évidence certaines carences, parfois problématiques, dans le projet du Rojava.
Si le rôle joué par le PYD dans la lutte contre l’EI est important et doit être reconnu, un certain recul critique doit être réalisé quant à l’approche de son projet politique dans le nord de la Syrie. La révolution en Syrie, le retrait des forces du régime du nord du pays et un opportunisme relationnel entre le PKK et Damas auront vu les forces kurdes du PYD/YPG prendre le contrôle d’un large territoire. Loin d’avoir été le fruit d’une installation suite à une révolution populaire, les institutions du Rojava restent celles d’un système imposé à la faveur d’une structure militaire pré-existante. Son extension, qui se réalise à la faveur de son combat mené contre l’État Islamique, ouvre de nouveaux enjeux au fur et à mesure de ses victoires en-dehors des provinces considérées comme Kurdes. Inévitablement, la question de la légitimité des structures, de l’adhésion des populations face aux institutions imposées et à l’idéologie qui imprègne le Rojava se pose. Ce « fait accompli » est variable entre les zones kurdes, où l’imposition du système est plus forte et les zones arabes, où une politique clientéliste vise à faciliter l’ordre institutionnel. Cette situation fait donc naître des approches contradictoires, notamment entre les espaces occupés au nom de la « légitimité » de la cause kurde.
Cette contradiction s’en ressent dans la fascination que le Rojava, ses combattants et ses projets exercent auprès de l’opinion occidentale. Avec une communication brisant à la fois les stéréotypes et renforçant l’orientalisme, les forces du PYD sont parvenues à gommer les dérives semi-autoritaires voire autoritaires qui caractérisent leur mouvement. L’attrait de mouvements politiques occidentaux en faveur du Rojava peut s’expliquer autour de plusieurs postures, mobilisables en tout ou en partie : l’adhésion idéologique (« le projet révolutionnaire du Rojava rejoint nos objectifs ») ; l’excuse ou le bénéfice du doute (« le conflit civil oblige des politiques exceptionnelles comme la répression ») ; l’incompréhension de l’enjeu syrien (« entre Assad et les islamistes, l’expérience du Rojava est la seule qui prolonge la révolte générale de 2011 »). Oublié voire inconnu l’un des slogans les plus populaire du Rojava, qui affirme que « Sans chef il n’y a pas de vie possible » (Bê serok jiyan nebê). Sans compter le tour de force du PKK d’avoir réussi à accaparer la question kurde, apparaissant comme son représentant légitime.
«Le processus même d’institution d’un monde social commun serait l’enjeu de luttes entre des acteurs qui construisent leurs identités dans et par ces luttes.» Dans le cadre du Rojava, comme vu ci-dessus, la conflictualité entre les divers acteurs est encadrée sinon interdite. L’autonomie et l’émancipation des populations kurdes est un objectif à défendre, l’histoire ayant largement montré les discriminations qui ont frappé les diverse communautés. Il reste cependant à rester attentif sur le politique qui en ressort et les mécanismes qui assurent de nouvelles formes de domination. Ce sont notamment ces principes qui étaient promus par Murray Bookchin, autour de ses valeurs libertaires et anti-autoritaires.Jonathan Piron (2019, December 13) Bookchin et le Rojava : de quoi parle-t-on?