Over baklava and sweet tea, openDemocracy hears about Turkey’s post-coup crackdown and the dreams of an independent Kurdistan.
The Kurdish Community Centre in Harringay. (Image courtesy of the KCC)Harringay Green Lanes is home to London’s largest Kurdish community. The Victorian Grand Parade advertises this identity, with shops named after Gaziantep and Diyarbakir, the two largest cities in Turkish Kurdistan. The pavements were recently widened to accommodate the crowds that flock for food at one of the many enticing restaurants, or buy the legendary pastry gözleme, rolled by women sitting at a kiln in the front windows of the cafes, one of which is named after Taksim Square.
The Kurdish part of Green Lanes is a hive of political activity. Last June, after the moderate Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) gained over 50 seats in Turkey’s election, weakening the power of President Erdoğan with a hung parliament, the area was filled with celebratory chanting and car honking. (A re-run of the election in November resulted in gains for Erdoğan’s AKP and losses for the HDP). The party spoke strongly in favour of the Gezi Park protests of 2013, when Kurds in the area congregated around Finsbury Park and marched down Harringay with banners. Less mainstream organizations are also represented: in 2012, graffiti appeared on phone boxes and under the railway bridge in support of the youth wing of the MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party), a small underground Hoxhaist group, some of whose members have travelled to Rojava in Syrian Kurdistan to fight against the Islamic State.
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Once the external anchor of Turkey’s democracy, the EU‘s normative influence has sunk as low as its reputation among its many erstwhile supporters, who now feel betrayed and abandoned.
Shortly after the attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk airport on Tuesday night, a Greek colleague posted on his Facebook wall a message of solidarity with his Turkish friends. “Hang in there”, he wrote. “You are not alone.” One of his compatriots disagreed: “I think they are alone”.
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Is optimism in the future of revolutionary change misplaced in a region torn apart by war and a society where patriarchy has been so entrenched? Part 6 of Witnessing the Rojava revolution.
This is the obvious question to ask – but an extremely difficult one to answer, especially when the situation is as fluid as it is in Rojava. All the women I interviewed while I was there talked about how deeply embedded patriarchy was in their social fabric, how the revolution had made a start in all the ways that I have described in this six-part series on Witnessing the Revolution in Rojava, and yet gave no concrete examples of the ways in which it continued to plague their lives. From the homes I stayed in, it appeared that domestic work was still primarily the responsibility of the women. Oddly this seems to be the last frontier of patriarchy, the double burden that women carried even in the heady days of the revolution in places like the Soviet Union when they were taking on all the jobs conventionally done by men. I say ‘oddly’ because domestic chores seem like a small loss of privilege in comparison to the loss of status and income from jobs traditionally reserved for men. Having said that, the younger men appeared to be more self-servicing; Khaleel, who drove the official car of Kongra Star, the women’s umbrella organisation, said he shared the domestic duties of cooking, cleaning and shopping.
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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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Kurdish rebels’ “game-changing” downing of a Turkish attack helicopter with a Russian-made missile could further intensify still simmering hostilities between Ankara and Moscow.
Coming nearly six months after Turkish jets’ downing of a Russian bomber operating from a Syrian airbase, the May 13 incident made front-page news in Turkey. “It was a message to [the] government and public,” commented Metehan Demir, an independent defense analyst and former Turkish military pilot.
The missile featured in a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) video of the attack “is a Russian-made SA18 or SA24,” he noted, using the North Atlantic Treaty Organization codenames for the shoulder-held, anti-aircraft missiles 9K38 Igla (“Needle”) and 9K338 Igla, manufactured since Soviet times in the Russian town of Kolomna.
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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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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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Following the Iraqi Army’s shelling of positions of Daesh terrorists in al-Kartan area north of the city of Ramadi in Anbar province, Mohammed al-Maslawi, a leader of the terrorist group, was killed, according to the Arabic-language Al-Ahed news website.
In another operation, the Iraqi volunteer forces, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, managed to thwart an attack by Daesh terrorists in Baiji-al-Siniyah Road in Salahuddin Province, killing and injuring dozens of militants.
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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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It was quite predictable that temporary truce between the government troops and armed opposition would not stop the war with radical Islamist organizations like Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra and others. A fierce fighting for the strategically important Aleppo and for the control over the Syrian-Turkish border continues, while military is planning operations on liberation of Raqqa and other cities controlled by jihadists.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which successfully countered jihadists in Kurdish enclaves in the north and liberated a score of adjacent Arab territories, are also participating in the struggle against Islamists. Despite Turkey’s continued artillery bombardments and military provocations, the Kurds managed to regain control over a 700 km of 800 km stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border hindering the transport connection between Turkey and the Islamic Caliphate.
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