[News] Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 10 10:58:29 EDT 2014

  Why is the world ignoring the revolutionary Kurds in Syria?

*Amid the Syrian warzone a democratic experiment is being stamped into 
the ground by Isis. That the wider world is unaware is a scandal


  * David Graeber <http://www.theguardian.com/profile/david-graeber>
  * Wednesday 8 October, 2014

In 1937, my father volunteered to fight in the International Brigades in 
defence of the Spanish Republic. A would-be fascist coup had been 
temporarily halted by a worker's uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and 
socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, 
leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries 
under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.

Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that 
the entire world might follow. Instead, world powers declared a policy 
of "non-intervention" and maintained a rigorous blockade on the 
republic, even after Hitler and Mussolini, ostensible signatories, began 
pouring in troops and weapons to reinforce the fascist side 
The result was years of civil war that ended with the suppression of the 
revolution and some of a bloody century's bloodiest massacres.

I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing happen 
again. Obviously, no historical event ever really happens twice. There 
are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and 
what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of 
northern Syria, today. But some of the similarities are so striking, and 
so distressing, that I feel it's incumbent on me, as someone who grew up 
in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish 
revolution, to say: we cannot let it end the same way again.

The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few 
bright spots -- albeit a very bright one -- to emerge from the tragedy 
of the Syrian revolution. Having driven out agents of the Assad regime 
in 2011, and despite the hostility of almost all of its neighbours, 
Rojava has not only maintained its independence, but is a remarkable 
democratic experiment. Popular assemblies have been created as the 
ultimate decision-making bodies, councils selected with careful ethnic 
balance (in each municipality, for instance, the top three officers have 
to include one Kurd, one Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, 
and at least one of the three has to be a woman), there are women's and 
youth councils, and, in a remarkable echo of the armed Mujeres Libres 
(Free Women) of Spain, a feminist army, the "YJA Star" militia (the 
"Union of Free Women", the star here referring to the ancient 
Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), that has carried out a large proportion of 
the combat operations against the forces of Islamic State.

How can something like this happen and still be almost entirely ignored 
by the international community, even, largely, by the International 
left? Mainly, it seems, because the Rojavan revolutionary party, the 
PYD, works in alliance with Turkey's Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK), a 
Marxist guerilla movement that has since the 1970s been engaged in a 
long war against the Turkish state. Nato, the US and EU officially 
classify them as a "terrorist" organisation. Meanwhile, leftists largely 
write them off as Stalinists.

But, in fact, the PKK itself is no longer anything remotely like the 
old, top-down Leninist party it once was. Its own internal evolution, 
and the intellectual conversion of its own founder, Abdullah Ocalan 
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdullah_%C3%96calan>, held in a Turkish 
island prison since 1999, have led it to entirely change its aims and 

The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish 
state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and 
anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of "libertarian 
municipalism", calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing 
communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then 
come together across national borders -- that it is hoped would over 
time become increasingly meaningless. In this way, they proposed, the 
Kurdish struggle could become a model for a wordwide movement towards 
genuine democracy, co-operative economy, and the gradual dissolution of 
the bureaucratic nation-state.

Since 2005 the PKK, inspired by the strategy of the Zapatista rebels in 
declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Turkish state and began 
concentrating their efforts in developing democratic structures in the 
territories they already controlled. Some have questioned how serious 
all this really is. Clearly, authoritarian elements remain. But what has 
happened in Rojava, where the Syrian revolution gave Kurdish radicals 
the chance to carry out such experiments in a large, contiguous 
territory, suggests this is anything but window dressing. Councils, 
assemblies and popular militias have been formed, regime property has 
been turned over to worker-managed co-operatives -- and all despite 
continual attacks by the extreme rightwing forces of Isis. The results 
meet any definition of a social revolution. In the Middle East, at 
least, these efforts have been noticed: particularly after PKK and 
Rojava forces intervened to successfully fight their way through Isis 
territory in Iraq to rescue thousands of Yezidi refugees trapped on 
Mount Sinjar after the local peshmerga fled the field. These actions 
were widely celebrated in the region, but remarkably received almost no 
notice in the European or North American press.

Now, Isis has returned, with scores of US-made tanks and heavy artillery 
taken from Iraqi forces, to take revenge against many of those same 
revolutionary militias in Kobane, declaring their intention to massacre 
and enslave -- yes, literally enslave -- the entire civilian population. 
Meanwhile, the Turkish army stands at the border preventing 
reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the defenders, and US planes 
buzz overhead making occasional, symbolic, pinprick strikes -- 
apparently, just to be able to say that it did not do nothing as a group 
it claims to be at war with crushes defenders of one of the world's 
great democratic experiments.

If there is a parallel today to Franco's superficially devout, murderous 
Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel to the 
Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women 
defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world -- and this time most 
scandalously of all, the international left -- really going to be 
complicit in letting history repeat itself?

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