“Today is an important one for us, because we would like to think that if the Kurds say that the only friend they have is the mountains, from today forward they have another friend, which is the Catalan people.”
With these words, Eulàlia Reguant, MP for the left independentist People’s Unity List (CUP), ended her October 19 presentation to the Catalan parliament of a resolution that extended official recognition to the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES), commonly known as Rojava.
The Catalan parliament is the first in the world to formally recognise the AANES.
The AANES is a federation that groups together seven regions, three of them of Kurdish majority centred on Rojava, but also including regions of Arab majority, such as Raqqa, which the Kurdish militias liberated from Islamic State in 2015.
The territory covered by AANES, which also includes Armenian, Assyrian, Turkman and Circassian minorities, has a decentralised form of government which the Kurdish liberation movement wants to see extended as a confederal model for Syria as a whole.
The resolution for recognition was carried 80 to 49. No MP abstained in a vote that saw parliament’s pro-independence majority — the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Together for Catalonia (Junts) and the CUP — joined by Together We Can (ECP), progressive force whose best-known figure is Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.
All Catalonia’s Spanish-unionist parties voted against. The main opposition force, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia (PSC), local franchise of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), was joined by the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and Citizens and the far-right Vox in denouncing a proposition they saw as usurping the Spanish government’s prerogative of diplomatic recognition.
The PSC asked for the resolution to be voted on paragraph by paragraph, separating the issue of recognition from that of cooperation and so allowing it differentiation from the unionist right. Its last three points were carried by a 110-vote majority, with the PSC’s 33 MPs voting in favour (see translation at end of article).
As members of a nation that has had its language and culture repressed and right to self-determination denied, many Catalans have long felt an affinity with the Kurdish struggle.
Solidarity brigades have visited Kurdistan’s various regions since the end of the Franco dictatorship. In June, a Catalan delegation of MPs, councillors and social movement activists visited Rojava and Iraqi Kurdistan, to learn about Rojava’s experience of grassroots democracy and assess opportunities for cooperation in post-war reconstruction.
The resolution adopted by the Catalan parliament was the result of this visit. Its preamble stressed the progressive character of the Rojava revolution’s “democratic confederalism” and the opportunity the strong network of grassroots solidarity between Catalonia and Kurdistan offers “to explore and advance towards forms of reconstruction distant from those of unbridled capitalism”.
It also invoked Catalonia’s example of council-to-council support for Bosnia in the 1990s Yugoslav civil war and the parliament’s 2019-2022 Master Plan for Development and Cooperation, which requires “special attention to the Sahrawi, Palestinian and Kurdish peoples”.
Discussion of the resolution began with Reguant explaining the origin, consolidation and gains of the Rojava revolution, culminating in its 2015 defeat of Islamic State, but today under threat from Turkey.
She said: “Today is an important step for the Kurdish movement, because it is the first parliament to recognise the administration of North-East Syria and thus to implicitly recognise the political contribution of democratic confederalism; a proposition based on democracy, on feminism, on another way of understanding economy, and on the recognition of the diversity, religious and ethnic, that characterises the region.”
Susanna Segovia (ECP) described the Rojava revolution as “essentially feminist, a revolution that fights against the patriarchy, that puts women at the centre”.
She emphasised that it was time to “get beyond declarations” and develop through the Catalan Agency for Cooperation and Development “the specific lines of intervention for implementing this recognition.”
Junts’ speaker Francesc de Dalmases stressed the basis of the Rojava experience in the principle of self-determination and took aim at the Spanish coalition government of the PSOE and Unidas Podemos (UP) for supplying arms to Turkey.
“Today, right now, the Turkish army, the army of Erdogan is raping, executing, pursuing and killing the men and women of Kurdistan, killing their trees, killing their water resources […]
“But do you know what’s happening? Turkey is a key ally of the government of [Spanish prime minister] Pedro Sánchez…”
Dalmases ended with this jab at ECP, supporter of the PSOE-UP government: “We want to say ‘yes’ to Rojava, ‘yes’ to a peaceful way for solving the conflicts in the Middle East. Therefore, we can’t be accomplices of the Spanish government, nor of its budget nor of its taxes, nor of the way it manages its foreign policy.”
ERC speaker Ruben Wagensberg, refugee rights activist who initiated the“Our House, Your House” march in Barcelona in 2017, was the last speaker in favour. He underlined the Turkish state’s efforts to strangle the threat of Rojava’s good example as well as the Spanish military presence on the Turkey-Syria border.
This harsh reality made recognition of AANES essential — the parliament was not just being asked to help another poverty-stricken part of the world.
Wagensberg said: “We ask for this recognition against the totalitarianisms, against the fascisms, against the radicalisms — there, in the form of religious radicalism known to everyone in the actions of Islamic State.”
The case against recognition was put by David Pérez (PDC). It was legalistic (“The recognition of this AANES could compromise the exclusive competence envisaged in our legislation for matters of international relations”) and sarcastic (“recognition by other countries has been very, very limited”).
For the Vox speaker Alberto Tarradas, recognition of AANES was a distraction: “In truth, you people aren’t concerned about the Kurdish case; you’re only interested in looking for oppressed peoples with whom to compare yourselves and so try to legitimise your project for break-up [of Spain].”
Citizens’ speaker Ignacio Martín described any parallel between Catalonia and Kurdistan as “absolutely pornographic”. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was the Kurdish equivalent of dissolved Basque military-terrorist organisation Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) and Abdullah Öcalan, its imprisoned leader and the inspirer of the Rojava revolution, a “man wanted all over the world for very serious crimes”.
PP speaker Lorena Roldán sneered that the proposal to establish a coordinating table for a solidarity network with Rojava was “more of the caviar left from the high part of Barcelona than of people suffering war, famine and sickness”.
The Catalan parliament’s resolution on AANES will most probably join its many progressive antecedents in the graveyard of the Spanish Constitutional Court.
In 2008, the court struck down a protocol on cooperation in health between the Basque government and the government of Iraqi Kurdistan. The grounds were that the Basques were invading an area of competence of the Spanish state and de facto attributing to Iraqi Kurdistan the status of independent country.
However, that prospect does not diminish the importance of this vote, which was received with stormy applause by the solidarity activists in parliament’s public gallery. Rojava’s just and inspiring cause had received a powerful boost.
As Catalan-Kurdish journalist Amina Hussein told Vilaweb: “The recognition has given the people hope that pressure can be brought on the Spanish congress and even on Europe to pressure Turkey and denounce the crimes its army commits.”
[Dick Nichols is Green Left's European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]
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Resolution on recognising the AANES
The Parliament of Catalonia:
1. Recognises the existence of the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria, with its foundation of democratic confederalism, as a political subject and urges Catalan institutions to establish formal relations with this administration.
2. Emphasises the potential of democratic confederalism, which is based on the principles of municipalism, feminism and social environmentalism, to be a peaceful, inclusive, democratic and coexistence-based solution for the Middle East.
3. Calls on the institutions, civil society and citizens of Catalonia to promote a network of solidarity to participate in the reconstruction of the region and in solidarity with its citizens, both with regard to the material rebuilding of the country and to the permanent or temporary reception of refugees: mirroring in this way the solidarity network between Catalonia and Bosnia at the beginning of the 1990s, based on fraternal relations between the two peoples, cooperation, citizen participation and an active role for local government.
4. Urges the Government of Catalonia to initiate a coordination table of administrations, social organisations and civil society to promote this solidarity network.