By Zaher Baher from Haringey Solidarity Group and Kurdistan Anarchists Forum.
Women and the Role of Women
There is no doubt that women and their roles have been greatly accepted and they have filled both high and low positions in the Tev-Dam, PYD and DSA. They have a system called Joint Leaders and Joint Organizers. This means that the head of any office; administration or military section must include women. In addition to this, the women have their own armed forces. There is total equality between women and men. Women are a major force and are heavily involved in every section of the House of the People, committees, groups and communes. Women in West Kurdistan do not form just half of society, but are the most effective and important half of that society to the extent that if women stop working or withdraw from the above groups, Kurdish society may well collapse. There are many professional women in politics and the military who were with the PKK in the mountains for a long time. They are very tough, very determined, very active, very responsible and extremely brave.
The importance of the equal participation of women in rebuilding society and in all issues/questions has been taken seriously by Abdulla Ocallan and the rest of the PKK / PYD leaders to the extent that women in West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) are considered sacred. It is part of Ocallan’s idea, dream and belief that if you want to see the best of human nature then society must return to the state of the Maternal Society but, obviously, in an advanced stage.
Although this is the position of women and although they have freedom, love, sex and relationships among the women involved in the struggle are extremely rare. The women and men we spoke to believed that the above (love, sex, relationships) are not appropriate at this stage as they are involved in revolution and have to give everything to the revolution in order to succeed. When I asked, if two people in military service or sensitive positions are in love with each other, what would happen, I was told that, obviously, nobody can prevent this but they must be moved to more suitable positions or sections.
This may be difficult for Europeans to understand. How can people live without love, sex and relationships? But, for me, it’s perfectly understandable. I believe it is their choice and, if people are free to choose, then it must be respected. However, there is one interesting observation which I made and which was outside military service, the Tev-Dam and other parties. I have not seen a single woman working in a shop, petrol station, market, café or restaurant. But, women and women’s issues in Syrian Kurdistan are miles ahead of those in Iraqi Kurdistan where they have had 22 years of their own Self Rule and so much more opportunity. Saying that, I still cannot say there is a special or independent movement of the women in Syrian Kurdistan.
The Communes were the most active cells in the House of the People, and have been set up everywhere. They have their own regular weekly meeting to discuss the problems they face. Each Commune has their own representative in the House of the People and in the neighborhood, village or town where they are based.
Below is the definition of the Commune from the Tev-Dam manifesto and translated from Arabic:
“Communes are the smallest cells and the most activist in society. They are formed practically in society and there is freedom of women and ecology and the adoption of direct democracy.”
“The Communes form on the principle of direct participation of people in the villages, on the street and the neighborhoods and the towns. These are the places that people willingly organize themselves with their opinion, create their free will and initiate their activities in whole residential areas and open the door for discussion about all the issues and their solution”
”Communes work on developing and promoting the committees. They talk and search for solutions of social matters, political, education, securities and self- defending & self-protection from its own power, not from the state. Communes create their own power through building organization in the form of agricultural communes in the villages and also communes, cooperatives and associations in the neighborhoods.”
“Forming the Communes on the street, villages and towns with participation of all the residents. Communes have a meeting every week. In the meeting Communes make all its decisions openly by people who are in the Commune and are older than 16 years-old.”
We went to a meeting of one the communes based in the neighborhood of Cornish in the town of Qamchlo. There were 16 to 17 people in the meeting. The majority of them were young women. We engaged in a deep conversation about their activities and their tasks. They told us that in their neighborhood they have 10 Communes and the membership of each Commune is 16 people. They told us “We act in the same way as community workers including meeting people, attending the weekly meetings, checking any problems in the places we are based, protecting people in the community and sorting out their problems, collecting the rubbish in the area, protecting the environment and attending the biggest meeting to report back about what happened in the last week”.
In response to one of my questions, they confirmed that nobody, including any of the political parties, intervenes in their decision making and that they make all the decisions collectively. They mentioned a few things that they had recently made a decision about. They said “One of them concerned a big piece of land in a residential area we wanted to use for a little park. We went to the Mayor of the town to tell him about our decision and asked for financial help. The Mayor told us that would be fine but they only had $100 to offer us. We took the money and collected another $100 from the local people to build a nice little park”. They showed us the park and told us “many of us collectively worked on it to finish it without needing more money”. In another example they told us, “The Mayor wanted to initiate a project in the neighborhood. We told him we cannot accept it until we get opinions from everybody. We had a meeting where we discussed it. The meeting unanimously rejected it. There were people that could not make the meeting so we went to see them in their houses to get their opinion. Everybody in the commune said no to the project”
They asked us about local groups and communes in London. I told them that we have many groups but we are unfortunately not like them- united, progressive and committed. I told them that they are miles ahead of us. From their faces I could see their surprise, disappointment and frustration to my answer. I could understand their feelings because they think how, in a very backward world like theirs; can they be ahead of us, while we live in the country that had the industrial revolution centuries ago!!!!!
The Kurdish and Christians opposition parties:
I said before that there are more than 20 Kurdish political parties. A few have joined the DSA but sixteen didn’t. Some have withdrawn from politics while others have joined together to set up a bigger party. There are now twelve parties set up under an umbrella name, The Patriotic Assembly of Kurdistan in Syria. This organization, more or less, shares the same goals and strategies. The majority of the parties under this umbrella support Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, (KRG), who is also the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan.
There is a bloody history between the KDP and PKK that dates back to the 1990s. There was heavy fighting between the two groups in Iraqi Kurdistan which left thousands dead on both sides and this is a wound which has yet to heal. I must mention that Turkey’s government had a hand in the fighting as they were close to the KDP and helped attack PKK force on the Iraq/Turkey border for their own reasons.
There is another dispute between Barzani and his family with the former head of the PKK, Abdulla Ocallan, which is about the Kurdish leader’s position as the Kurdish national leader. While the Kurdish people in West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) have managed to collectively organize their society, protecting it from war and setting up their own DSA, they are still not on very good terms with the KDP.
The PKK and Democratic Union Party (PYD) have been very supportive of the changes happening in Syrian Kurdistan. But, this is certainly not beneficial to either Turkey or the KRG. Meanwhile Turkey and the KRG remain extremely close.
The above is an explanation as to why the KDP in Iraqi Kurdistan are unhappy about what happened in West Kurdistan and are opposed to both the DSA and Tev-Dam. The KDP looks at what happened there a big business and, either this business should not run at all or, if it does run, then the KDP must have the biggest share of this business. The KDP still helps some Kurdish people in West Kurdistan financially and with weapons training in an attempt to set up militias for some of the political parties in order to destabilize the area and its plans. The Patriotic Assembly of Kurdistan in Syria, set up by the twelve political parties mentioned before, is very close to the KDP.
Our meeting with the opposition parties lasted for over two hours and the majority of them were present. We started by asking them how they got on with the PYD, DSA and Tev-Dam. Do they have freedom? Have any of their members or supporters been followed or arrested by the PDU and WDU? Do they have freedom to organize people, demonstrate and organize other activities? Many more questions were asked. The answer to every single question was positive. No arrests were made, no restrictions on freedom or organizing demonstrations. But all of them shared the point that they do not want to take part in the DSA.
They have three disputes with the PYD and DSA. They believe that the PYD and Tev-Dam have betrayed the Kurdish people. Their reasons for this included the fact that half of Hassaka is under the control of the government and that the government’s forces are still in the town of Qamchlo although they admitted these forces are ineffective and only control a small amount of land. Their view is that this is a big problem and the PYD and Tev-Dam compromised with the Syrian regime badly.
We told them that they should think that the PYD and Tev-Dam’s policy is the policy of “No peace, No war” to balance the situation. It has been successful and benefited everybody in the region including all the opposition parties and because of the other reasons already mentioned above. We also said they should know better than us that kicking out Assad’s army from both towns is easy for the PYD with the sacrifice of a few of their fighters but what will happen after that?!! We told them we know that Assad does not want to give up Hassaka and, therefore, the war will start again with killing, persecution, bombardments and the destruction of towns and villages. Also, this opens a door for Isis/IS and al-Nusra to launch an attack on all of them. There would be the possibility of Assad’s army, the Syrian Free Army and the rest of the terrorist organizations all fighting each other in the region with the consequence of losing everything achieved so far. They had no response to this.
The opposition does not want to join the DSA and the next election of this body will take place in a few months time if the situation remains the same. Their reasons for this are, firstly, that they accuse the PYD of co-operating with the regime, while they did not have any evidence to prove this accusation. Secondly, the next election won’t be a free election as the PYD is not a democratic party, but a bureaucratic party. But we know that the PYD has almost the same numbers and positions as any other party in the DSA so statement is incorrect. We told them that if they believe in the election process they should participate if they want to see an administration with more democracy and less bureaucracy. They said that the PYD had withdrawn from the Kurdish National Conference of the KRG, which took place last year in the town of Irbil, to discuss the Kurdish issue. But when we checked this later on with people in the PYD and Tev-Dam, they told us they have evidence of a written document which shows that they committed to the pact but that the opposition did not commit.
The opposition wants to establish their own army, but they are not allowed to by the PYD. When we took this issue back to the PYD and Tev-Dam we were told the opposition could have their own fighters but they must be under the control of the units of the Defence of the People and Defence of Women.. They told us the situation is very sensitive and very tense. It may cause fighting between one another and that this is our great fear and we cannot afford to let it happen. The PYD simply said they do not want the same failure repeated in West Kurdistan. By failure experiment, they were referring to the experiment of Iraqi Kurdistan in the second half of the 20th century which lasted to the end of the century where there were so many fights between different Kurdish organizations at the time. In the end, the PYD and Tev-Dam asked us to go back to the opposition parties with the authority to offer them, on behalf of the PYD and Tev-Dam, anything except letting them have military forces under their own control.
A few days after that we had another meeting for almost three hours in Qamchlo town with the head of the three Kurdish parties: The Kurdistan Democratic Party in Syria ( Al Party),the Kurdistan Party for Democracy and Equality in Syria and The Kurdish Patriotic Democracy Party in Syria. In the meeting, they more or less repeated the reasons for their colleagues, in the previous meeting, not joining the DSA and Tev-Dam to build and develop Kurdish society. We had a long discussion with them, trying to convince them that, if they wanted the Kurdish issue to be resolved, a powerful force in the country and to avoid war and distraction, then they should be independent from the KRG and KDP and work in the interest of nobody but the people of West Kurdistan. Most of the time they were silent and had no response to our suggestions.
A few days later we also met representatives from a couple of Christian political parties and the Christian Youth Organization in Qamchlo. None of these parties have joined the DSA or Tev-Dam for their own reasons but admitted that they get on well with the DSA and Tev-Dam and are fine with their policies. They also appreciated that their safety, and protection from the Syrian army and terrorist groups was due to the forces of the Defence of the People and Defence of Women who have sacrificed their lives to achieve all of the above for everybody in the region. However, the people from the Christian Youth Organisation in Qamchlo were not happy with the DSA and Tev-Dam. Their complaint was about not having enough electrical power and not much for the youth to do or be involved in within the town. Because of this they said they will seek an alternative to the DSA and Tev-Dam, so that, if the situation remains the same, then they will have no choice but to emigrate to Europe. The head of one of the political parties who was present in the meeting responded to them by saying ”what are you talking about Son? we are in the middle of a war, can you see what happened in the rest of the main towns in Syria?, Can you see how many women, men, elderly and children are killed daily?!!! There is an important issue which is very important in life. Power in this particular situation is not very important; we can use other means instead. What is important right now is: sitting at home with no fear of being killed, leaving our children on the streets, playing with no fear of being kidnapped or killed. We can run our business as usual, nobody restricts us, nobody assaults or insults us…. there is peace, there is freedom, and there is social justice……” The members of the other political parties agreed and acknowledged all these facts.
Before we left the region we decided to speak to shopkeepers, businessmen, stall holders and people on the market to hear their views which were very important to us. Everyone seemed to have a very positive view and opinion of the DSA and Tev-Dam. They were happy about the existence of peace, security and freedom and running their own business without any interference from any parties or sides.
The Shameful Trench:
Last year the KRG and Iraqi government agreed, allegedly for security reasons, to dig a 35-kilometre long trench, over two meters deep and about two meters wide, on the Iraqi/Syrian border of Kurdistan. The Trench separates Al Jazera in West Kurdistan from Iraqi Kurdistan in the south. The Tigris river covers five kilometers of this border so there was no need for a trench there. The next twelve kilometers were constructed by the KRG, with the final eighteen kilometers built by the Iraqi government.
Both the KRG and Iraqi government say that the Trench was a necessary measure because of fears over peace and security within Iraqi lands including the Kurdistan region. But there are big questions people always ask about these fears. What fear? From whom? From Isis/Is? It is impossible for groups like Isis/Is to get into Iraq or KRG through that part of Syria as it has been protected by PDU and WDU forces and also Al Jazera has been cleared of Isis/Is completely. However, the majority of Kurdish people know that there are a couple of reasons for digging the trench. Firstly, it is to stop Syrians fleeing the war from reaching Iraqi Kurdistan. Also, the head of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, as explained above, is worried about the PKK and PYD and therefore he and the KRG want to stop them or anybody else from the DSA entering this part of Kurdistan. Secondly, the trench will increase the effectiveness of the sanctions used against West Kurdistan in an attempt to strangle and pressurize them to the point of surrender so as to give into KRG conditions. However, given the choice between surrender and starvation for the Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan, I feel they may choose starvation. This is the reason why the majority of Kurds, wherever they live, call the Trench the “shameful trench”…
There is no doubt that the sanctions have crippled Kurdish life in Al Jazera as the people need everything including medicine, money, doctors, nurses, teachers, technicians and expertise in industrial areas, especially in the oilfield and refining industry to make them work. In Al Jazera, they have thousands of tons of wheat which they are happy to sell for $200 to $250 a ton to Iraqi’s government but it pays $600 to $700 for each ton of wheat elsewhere.
There are people in West Kurdistan who do not understand why the KRG, as a Kurdish self rule government, and its President, Massoud Barzani, (who calls himself a great Kurdish leader) want to starve their own people in another part of Kurdistan.
In Qamchlo, the Tev-Dam called a large, peaceful demonstration on Saturday, 9th of May, 2014. A few thousand people took part against those who dug the shameful trench. There were many powerful speeches from different people and organizations, including the House of the People and many other groups and committees. None of their speeches created more tension between them. People mainly concentrated on brotherhood, good relationships and co-operation between both sides of the border, reconciliation between all the disputed parties and peace and freedom in their speeches. In the end it became a street party with people dancing happily and singing, particularly anthems.