Rojava revolution

A seminar to discuss the challenges, achievements and lessons of the Kurdish-led feminist revolution in northern Syria, in Victoria University on November 4, attracted more than 80 people. It was the second seminar to be organised this year by solidarity activists and the Victorian Kurdish community in Melbourne.

It was in the autumn of 2014, only months after Islamic State (ISIS) achieved huge territorial gains inside Syria and Iraq, committing genocidal and femicidal massacres, that a revolutionary silver lining arose from the little-known town of Kobane in Syria’s north.

Having overrun Mosul, Tel Afar and Sinjar in Iraq, as well as a vast expanse of territory inside Syria, ISIS prepared to launch an attack on the north of Syria, known by Kurds as Rojava.

What ISIS did not anticipate in Kobane was that it would encounter an enemy of a different kind – an organised, political community that was ready to defend itself courageously by all means necessary, and with a worldview that turns ISIS’s death ideology on its head.

Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital in Syria, is on the verge of falling. The rapid advance of the left-wing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) since they entered the city on June 6 contrasts with the slower advance of forces of the Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdistan governments in Mosul, the ISIS capital in Iraq, which the pro-government forces entered in February.

However, the June 18 downing of a Syrian fighter jet by a US war plane, after the former attacked SDF positions near Raqqa, is just one indication that eliminating ISIS will not end the violent multi-sided war in Syria that spawned it.

“The Rojava Revolution in Northern Syria: An experiment in radical democracy, feminism and ecology” is the title of a conference to be held here over June 30 and July 1.

A joint project of the Australians for Kurdistan solidarity group and the Kurdish Democratic Community Centre (formerly the Kurdish Association of Victoria), the event aims to spread knowledge about the Rojava Revolution and build support for it.

Among other things, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal has recently published a wide-ranging interview with Kurdish activist Dilar Dirik on the role of women in the Kurdish struggle, the Rojava revolution unfolding in northern Syria and the rise of the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party in Turkey; and a number of new translations in the “1917: The View from the Streets – Leaflets of the Russian Revolution” series being co-ordinated by US historian Barbara Allen and Canadian socialist and Links collaborator John Riddell.

“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.”

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.

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