Syria

United States warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched a large cruise missile strike against government-held airfields in Syria on April 7. They fired about 60 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat air base near Homs in central Syria as the US government called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be removed from power.

The attacks were a response to a chemical weapons attack three days earlier in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province that killed more than 70 civilians, including at least 27 children. 

About 230 people were reported killed in what was thought to be a US-led coalition air strike on an ISIS-held neighbourhood in Mosul, The Independent said on March 22.  

“We were taken from Mosul to Syria. There were thousands of young girls and ISIS members in the ISIS centre we were taken to. Young girls were being raped here. Young girls were forcibly brought and savagely raped, then were made to marry [ISIS members]. Those who didn’t agree were tortured and beaten up.

“We were forced to pray and read the Quran. They wanted us to wear black clothing and cover up our hands with gloves. They would sell the women who didn’t agree to this.”

The scene is one as old as the long history of the Middle East. A child mixes straw and dung to light a fire, some of the straw on his knee. His face is obscured by a beanie so that this child ­– not an infant but still young – could be any child.

Behind the child is a wall. Such structures are common throughout the Middle East, but it seems symbolic. The dribbles of concrete from its construction make the wall, in rural Homs, seem to weep, for this child and for Syria.

After Turkish forces took the previously ISIS-held town of al-Bab on February 23, clashes have intensified in northern Syria between Turkish forces and local proxies occupying an enclave in northern Syria, on one hand, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the other.

The SDF is an alliance of progressive armed groups — the largest of which are Kurdish-based Peoples Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) — that is subordinate to the grassroots democratic structures of the Democratic Federation of North Syria.

Amid the horrors of Syria’s multi-sided civil war, a ray of hope has broken out in the north.

Led by left-wing Kurdish forces in Rojava following a 2012 insurrection that liberated the area from the regime’s control, the Rojava Revolution aims to build a new system on the principles of women’s liberation, a multi-ethnic participatory democracy, ecology and solidarity.

Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy & Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan
By Michael Knapp, Anja Flack & Ercan Ayboga (translated by Janet Biehl)
Pluto, 2016
285 pp., $38.95

Rojava, which is Kurdish for the “west”, is to be found in Northern Syria. In the middle of a conflict zone, marked by the war against the Assad regime, a Turkish invasion and ongoing conflict with the brutal jihadists of ISIS and al-Nusra, the Kurds and their allies are creating a new kind of democratic system.

New international talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict may be unlikely to succeed, but they do mark shifts in the alignment of competing forces.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted on December 31 to support a ceasefire in Syria that started the previous day. The latest round of international peace talks are scheduled for January 23 in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Aleppo and the humanitarian crises has dominated international media in the past weeks. News articles with exceedingly dire headlines have increasingly dominated and many heart wrenching images have emerged of Regime brutality. 

The Kurdish people are an oppressed nationality without a state, whose homeland is currently divided between five countries in the Middle East. Despite this, the left-wing Kurdish movement in Syria’s north is not fighting for a separate nation state. Rather, it is seeking to unite all ethnic groups and religions to fight for an autonomous, participatory democracy as part of a profound social movement that puts women’s liberation at its heart.

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