The question before Masoud Barzani is what to do in order to turn state-building rhetoric into a future Kurdish state.
KRG’s President Barzani has recently intensified his efforts for independence. There might be many reasons for this. First and foremost, the state of Iraq is often regarded uncontroversially as a ‘failed state’, artificially designed by British and French colonisers in the aftermath of WW1, offering the Kurds nothing but a calamitous century-long history including genocidal attempts to eradicate Kurdish nationalism. Added to this, the domestic demand for the right of self-determination is well known to the Kurdish leadership. 98.8 percent of Kurdish voters said yes to independence in the Kurdistan independence referendum of January 2005.
The small region of Kurdistan, little more than an autonomous region of Iraq protected by a no fly zone before the overthrow of Saddam, has now become an international entity. The KRG has its own foreign relations apparatus with 34 foreign consulates operating in Erbil. It has also a vast economic reach mainly because of colossal oil and gas preserves in Kurdistan as well as its trade with neighbouring countries. This has convinced the outside world that the notion of a Kurdish state is no longer out of the question.
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The “unimaginable horrors” that the Islamic State (ISIS) is committing against the minority Yezidis, documented in a report released on June 16 by the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Syrian Arab Republic, shows the urgent need for concrete steps to ensure justice for these crimes.
In August 2014, ISIS fighters overran Yezidi towns and villages around Sinjar, in northwestern Iraq, executing many men and capturing women and girls. Their intent soon became clear in slave markets ISIS set up in Mosul and elsewhere, where they sold the women and girls to their fighters into sexual or domestic slavery.
The COI report found that the crimes against the minority Yezidis amount to genocide.
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The demands pushed forward in both parts of Kurdistan are almost identical, both demonstrating an attempt at formally installing a confederal municipal system into the region.
Back in the 1990s Murray Bookchin, exponent of libertarian municipalism, articulated the need to develop a “new politics”, which is “unflinchingly public, electoral on a municipal basis, confederal in its vision and revolutionary in its character”.
The creation of a free “commune of communes” – something anarchists, especially Bakunin and Kropotkin, have fought for over the past two centuries – has always been envisioned as an ultimate manifestation of anarcho-communism, hence of a “new politics” based on libertarian municipalism.
Today, more than two decades later and in a completely different geography, the Kurds in Rojava/Northern Syria and Bakûr/Southeastern Turkey have become the new avant-gardes of the “commune of communes”.
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Nusra Front terrorists have attacked government forces and local militia in the Kurdish neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsood in Aleppo, a representative of the Russian center for Syrian reconciliation at the Hmeymim airbase said early on Thursday.
According to the representative, at least five people were killed and more than 50 injured during the attack.
He added that al-Nusra Front militants have also carried out attacks in the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Latakia and Hama in the past twenty four hours.
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Two experts of Kurdish issues believe the recent visit of a U.S. top official to Syrian Kurdish regions in the north of the country does not mean that Washington recognizes federalism in the Kurdish regions in a near future.
The director of the Middle East Petroleum Institute, Dov Friedman, and David Romano, chair of Middle East politics at Missouri State University told ARA News that the recent visits of The US CENTCOM commander, General Joseph Votel, and the envoy of the U.S. president Brett Mcgurk to northern Syria do not mean a big change in Washington’s policy towards Kurds in Syria.
According to Friedman; Votel’s visit to the region will not result in more political recognition of the local administration set up by Kurds in Syria.
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There is a real sense of a people responding to the facts on the ground with the few resources they have to hand. Rojava’s frontline of the war against ISIS is constantly shifting – at the moment in a positive direction, outwards, encroaching into ISIS held territory such as Shaddadi in Hasakah province and Tal Abyad on the Turkish border – which means becoming responsible for new populations and the work of drawing them in to the radical representative democratic structure described in this series earlier. In order to accommodate these newly liberated areas where the Kurds are not a majority and where the population of Syriacs, Assyrians, Arabs and Turkmen may not fully sign up to the revolutionary ideals of Rojava, this region declared itself the Federal Democratic System of Rojava and Northern Syria in March shortly after I returned. Similarly, the women’s umbrella organisation which was known as Yekitiya Star (Kurdish for Star Union of Women) when I was planning my trip to Rojava, changed its name to Kongra Star (Star Congress) by the time I got there because they had decided at their last conference to open out its membership to women of all ethnicities, not just Kurdish women. Signs outside government offices are often computer generated notices on A4 sheets of paper, suggesting both lack of resources and the rapidly changing situation.
Homemade barricades, often oil drums filled with concrete or pipes welded together in spiky star shapes, are placed outside official buildings to prevent suicide bombings. Apartment blocks have been requisitioned for the administration’s offices. The media centre, for example, is housed in a block of flats in a residential area at a crossroads where three roads have been blocked off to cars by oil drums about a hundred yards from the office building. On the fourth road, there is a wide low iron gate which slides across to let official cars through.
The official TV station of the administration called QAM, which seems to be on everywhere, is simply a series of moving stills and texts. Although another channel, Ronahi, does broadcast film, it tends to favour endless static discussions with women in military fatigues.
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Rahila Gupta meets the women fighters who are helping to stop the advance of ISIS while also leading a radical democratic charge against capitalist ideology. Welcome to the Rojava phenomenon.
It is no exaggeration to say that a strip of land along Syria’s northern border with Turkey is home to the most radical experiment in democracy and gender equality, not just in the Middle East, but in the whole world. Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, ‘the land where the sun sets’, first entered popular consciousness in that lopsided way that news from elsewhere hits Western TV screens, when Kurdish women fighters liberated Yazidi women and children from ISIS on Mount Sinjar in August/September 2015. When the might of the US, the Free Syrian Army and the other regional armies in Iraq were unable to stop the advance of ISIS, young women in military fatigues and floral scarves defeated men who can barely tolerate fully covered-up women. Such film footage was undeniably eye-catching. Yet rather than leading to further information and analysis of the Rojava phenomenon, it was appropriated for the purposes of capitalist consumerism. H&M tried to sell a range of clothing based on the women’s uniforms, provoking outrage in the Kurdish community for trivializing their struggle.
So who are the YPJ (Women’s Defence Units), and what kind of society are they defending? Inspired by the evolving ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in Turkey, and triggered by the ‘Arab Spring’, the Kurds of Rojava began their struggle for autonomy in 2011, and their autonomous self-administration was formally set up in November 2013. Öcalan, unlike any other male freedom fighter to date, has placed women at the centre of his vision of a liberated, democratic society with a system of co-presidentship, a man and a woman sharing power at every level. The political vacuum created by the chaos in Syria allowed this experiment to flourish compared to similar attempts in southeastern Turkey, which have been met with the brute force of the Turkish government.
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he predominately Kurdish ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) have made further advances in Raqqa province, and are now very close to entering Raqqa city.
On Wednesday, SDF Spokesman Tajir Kobani announced that commanders of the SDF-affiliated groups in Northern Syria have, in a secret meeting, coordinated the process of a joint final operation for liberating Raqqa from Daesh terrorists.
“The Kurdish fighters are now only 30 kilometers from Raqqa city,” the Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying on Sunday.
“Our troops with their heavy weapons have gathered near Kobani in Northern Syria,” the spokesman said, adding, “We will begin our operation from three directions simultaneously.”
“As soon as the Russian envoy in the UN announced the preparation of the Syrian Army and its popular allies to launch large-scale operations to liberate Raqqa and end ISIL’s siege of Deir Ezzur, the ISIL terrorists started covering their military vehicles and equipment to avoid being identified in the event of an airstrike,” the sources said.
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Daesh militants used chemical weapons in an attack on Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq on Saturday, injuring at least 14 people, local news agency Rudaw reported, citing military sources.
According to local Peshmerga Commander Gwer-Makhmour Sirwan Barzani, Daesh militants conducted their attack on Saturday. They used heavy equipment to diffuse the poisonous gas, he added.
“The state of those injured Peshmerga troops is stable,” Barzani said as cited by Rudaw. “After a counter-attack by Kurdish forces, the situation at the battlefield has stabilized.”
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While I am in Rojava in northern Syria, the very first women’s art and culture festival takes place over four days. In a rundown theatre, a large number of women of all ages and ethnicities read/perform poetry which is impossible to translate simultaneously except in broad brush strokes. So I learn that the poems are mostly political – pondering on the war, the Kurdish question, women’s subordination and the tragedy of fellow Syrians abandoning the country and becoming refugees. Unfortunately, the poems are delivered either in plangent tones or at ear-piercing volume, defeating all my attempts to be a sympathetic listener. The paintings, by contrast, speak in a universal language.I wonder if the political nature of the poems is an attempt to bolster the revolution comparable to the partisan nature of Soviet art from the 1930s onwards. The organiser, Berivan Khalid, Head of Culture in Cizire Canton, tells me that while ‘they hope to represent their revolution to the world through art’, no selection process took place. She assures me that there was some love poetry but the overwhelmingly political focus reflects the concerns of the artist in revolutionary times. All women over the age of sixteen were invited to participate in the festival and all were showcased. The festival had put out a call for entries across all the cities of Cizire canton. If quality was not a determining criterion for entry to the festival, the egalitarian nature of the entry process did not extend to the awards ceremony where three of the best in each category would receive prizes.
The significance of the event though is not lost on me. Under Assad, any public expression of Kurdish identity or celebration of Kurdish arts and literature was criminalised. Khalid says they have experienced a 180° turnaround in their freedom. Speaking Kurdish in the workplace and other public places as well as teaching and learning the language was illegal. In her book, The Kurds of Syria, Harriet Allsopp says that organisers of Kurdish weddings had to sign agreements with the state that there will be no singing in Kurdish! Traces of the Arabisation policy of Assad are everywhere to be seen: from my media pass written in Arabic to help me through checkpoints to interpreters who are more comfortable in Arabic than Kurdish although they identify as Kurdish. Now, Kurdish language courses are flourishing; I also come across a number of adults who are more fluent in Arabic but are learning to read and write Kurdish to counter that.
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Despite efforts to present a unified front, tensions between Turkey’s President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu could soon reach a boiling point, and result in the latter’s resignation.
Fourteen years ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Legally, Erdogan can not serve as party head while serving as president, and he personally chose Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to replace him as the party’s chief.
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The militants of the Islamic State (IS) launched a major offensive on locations of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces on several fronts in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, military sources said on Tuesday.
Kurdish military sources pointed out that the jihadists carried out several car bomb attacks on the Peshmerga positions in the areas of Telskuf, Ba’shiqah, Khazar and Kweir, adding the Peshmerga forces were able to deter the IS attacks.
IS tries to breach defenses of the Kurdish forces in the vicinity of Mosul, northern Iraq, especially after the US-led coalition forces inflicted the group with heavy losses in its ranks.
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Last Friday, April 21st, four Turkish academics, Meral Camci, Kivanc Ersoy, Muzeffer Kaya and Esra Mungan, after five weeks remanded in prison, were brought to the Heavy Penal Court in Istanbul to face charges of making “propaganda for terrorism” and of association with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), labelled as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US. The indictment accused them under Article 7(2) of Turkey’s anti-terror law and if convicted they could face sentences of up to 7 ½ years in detention.
Although at the end of the day, the prisoners were released, and the Judge adjourned the case to September 27th, confusion reigns among the academics and the lawyers.
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For many, Turkey advances towards a dark future at a fast pace. Having a rather noncommittal relationship with democracy, the Republic has muddled through with significant ups and downs. It still takes a lot of optimism to talk about political power becoming fully accountable to the public.
Politics, already a one-man-show, is becoming increasingly intolerant towards any form of criticism. It pushes dissidents off the stage. Turning the Parliament into a technical apparatus President Erdoğan is moving to lift the parliamentary immunity of deputies. Relying on a judicial apparatus that he formed when he was the prime minister, Erdoğan will target the deputies of the pro-Kurdish, left-leaning People’s Democracy Party (HDP). Following this pattern, he will further target HDP deputies and position them as public enemies in the fight against terrorism. The recent performance of the HDP gives little hope about their remaining fully inside the legitimate political sphere by distancing themselves completely from PKK terrorism. Since the last general election on November 1, Erdoğan seems to be succeeding with his political strategy of pushing the HDP further to the margins and the HDP seems to be taking the bait doubly pressed upon them by Erdoğan and the PKK.
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Located over territories spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, Kurds are facing multiple challenges on the road to Kurdish statehood. A major problem is the absence of a united Kurdish national movement. The two major power blocks in Kurdish politics, Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP and Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party PKK ( designated a terrorist group by the US, EU and Turkey), have been vying for political dominance over Kurdish nationalism for many years, and are as divided as ever. The Syrian conflict has brought significant changes to the power dynamics between the two, expanding the power of the PKK at the expense of the KDP. This development itself is very critical for Kurdish politics and the direction it is taking.
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