[Midden-Oosten] The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Do Okt 23 14:12:52 CEST 2014

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The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity
Oct 22
Posted by tahriricn
By Leila Al Shami

The heroic resistance of the people of Kobane in fighting the onslaught of
the Daesh (ISIS) fascists since mid-September, has led to a surge of
international solidarity. A multitude of articles and statements have been
written and protests have been held in cities across the world. Kurds have
flooded across the Turkish border to help their compatriots in the fight
despite being brutally pushed back by Turkish forces, and others including
Turkish comrades from DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) have gone to
the border to support in keeping it open to help the flood of refugees
escaping to Turkey. There have been calls to arm Kurdish forces and calls
to support DAF and send aid for refugees.  Yet this solidarity with
Syria’s Kurds has not been extended to non-Kurdish groups in the country
that have been fighting, and dying, to rid themselves of fascism and
violent repression and for freedom and self-determination. It’s often said
incorrectly, that sectarianism lies at the heart of the Syrian conflict.
It’s necessary to understand to what extent sectarianism plays a role in
our response too.

The protest movement that erupted against Bashar Al Assad in 2011 united
people across Syria’s diverse ethnic and religious spectrum in a common
struggle for freedom.  Kobane was no exception. The Kurds who are the
majority in the town had long suffered under the Arabization policies of
the Baathist regime, and were amongst the first to rise up when the Syrian
revolution began. In this protest from mid-2012 Kurds and Arabs in Kobane
jointly call for the downfall of the regime and chant in support of the
Free Syrian Army, raising the Kurdish flag at a time when this was a
dangerous act of defiance. But from its earliest days the Syrian protest
movement in Kobane and elsewhere failed to gain international support. Had
it done so the country would not have been destroyed to such a degree that
ISIS could have taken control of large areas.

Over the past three years, relations between Syria’s Arabs and Kurds have
been fragile and changeable, subject to both the Assad regime’s
manipulation of ethnic divisions, and to the misguided political
machinations of opposition politicians from both groups who have put their
own interests and agendas above the people’s vision of freedom. Yet, in
spite of this activists on the ground have continued to stress the
importance of Kurdish-Arab popular unity and to resist ethnic and
sectarian divisions. Few international solidarity statements have mirrored
these calls.

The absence of Sunni Arabs from narratives of the struggle against Daesh
is notable. Few articles have mentioned that fighters from Free Syrian
Army (FSA) battalions are also risking their lives to join their Kurdish
compatriots in defending Kobane from religious extremists or that recent
weeks have seen greater coordination between Kurdish and Arab military
formations.  On 10 September 2014, local FSA brigades joined forces with
the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to create a joint operation to
fight Daesh called Burkan Al Firat (Euphrates Volcano). The battalions
involved include Liwa Thuwar Al Raqqa (Raqqa Revolutionary Brigade), Shams
Al Shamal, Al-Tawhid (East), Saraya Jarablus and other smaller groups.
This strategic alliance not only strengthens Kurdish-Arab unity at this
critical time but also brings valuable experience to the Kobane resistance
as the FSA has been fighting Daesh since the beginning of this year. In a
19 October statement the PYD affirmed that “This resistance shown by our
units YPG and the factions of the free Syrian army is a guarantee for
defeating ISIS terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and building a
free and democratic Syria was the basis for the agreements signed with
factions of the free Syrian Army. As we can see that the success of the
revolution are subject to the development of this relationship between all
factions and the forces of good in this country.” [sic]

Like their Kurdish compatriots, Free Syrian Army battalions have been
resisting Daesh in Kobane with greatly inferior weapons.  Whilst Daesh
possesses the heavy US weaponary it seized in Iraq, Syrian fighters (both
Kurds and Arabs) have only light arms and limited ammunition. Both the YPG
and the FSA have been calling on the international community to supply
them with heavy weaponary. Supporting the call for weapons to the
resistance is imperative to allow the people of the region to defend
themselves from annihilation. It also reduces the perceived need for
direct military intervention from external powers which operate according
to their own agendas, ones diametrically opposed to the interests of the
popular struggle. In supporting such calls we should distinguish between
1) support for a broad coalition of local forces against fascism and for a
popular struggle which seeks to destroy as much of the old regime as
possible, as well as supporting the right of self-defense of all people
against mass slaughter (including their right to take arms from wherever
they are offered as necessity demands), and 2) support for any political
project or group claiming power in the post-revolutionary phase which will
necessarily reverse the achievements of the revolution. The later must be

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

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