WHY IS THE WORLD IGNORING THE REVOLUTIONARY KURDS IN DYRIA ? Amid the Syrian warzone a democratic experiment is being stamped into the ground by Isis

In 1937, my father volunteered to fight in the International Brigades
in defence of the Spanish Republic. A would-be fascist coup had been
temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and
socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued,
leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries
under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.
Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society
that the entire world might follow. Instead, world powers declared a
policy of “non-intervention” and maintained a rigorous blockade on the
republic, even after Hitler and Mussolini, ostensible signatories, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_involvement_in_the_Spanish_Civi.
The result was years of civil war that ended with the suppression of
the revolution and some of a bloody century’s bloodiest massacres.
I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing
happen again. Obviously, no historical event ever really happens twice.
There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936
and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of
northern Syria, today. But some of the similarities are so striking, and
so distressing, that I feel it’s incumbent on me, as someone who grew
up in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish
revolution, to say: we cannot let it end the same way again.
The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few
bright spots – albeit a very bright one – to emerge from the tragedy of
the Syrian revolution. Having driven out agents of the Assad regime in
2011, and despite the hostility of almost all of its neighbours, Rojava
has not only maintained its independence, but is a remarkable democratic
experiment. Popular assemblies have been created as the ultimate
decision-making bodies, councils selected with careful ethnic balance
(in each municipality, for instance, the top three officers have to
include one Kurd, one Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, and
at least one of the three has to be a woman), there are women’s and
youth councils, and, in a remarkable echo of the armed Mujeres Libres
(Free Women) of Spain, a feminist army, the “YJA Star” militia (the
“Union of Free Women”, the star here referring to the ancient
Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), that has carried out a large proportion of
the combat operations against the forces of Islamic State.
How can something like this happen and still be almost entirely
ignored by the international community, even, largely, by the
International left? Mainly, it seems, because the Rojavan revolutionary
party, the PYD, works in alliance with Turkey’s Kurdish Worker’s Party
(PKK), a Marxist guerilla movement that has since the 1970s been engaged
in a long war against the Turkish state. Nato, the US and EU officially
classify them as a “terrorist” organisation. Meanwhile, leftists
largely write them off as Stalinists.
But, in fact, the PKK itself is no longer anything remotely like the
old, top-down Leninist party it once was. Its own internal evolution,
and the intellectual conversion of its own founder, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdullah_%C3%96calan, held in a Turkish island prison since 1999, have led it to entirely change its aims and tactics.
The PKK has declared that it no longer even seeks to create a Kurdish
state. Instead, inspired in part by the vision of social ecologist and
anarchist Murray Bookchin, it has adopted the vision of “libertarian
municipalism”, calling for Kurds to create free, self-governing
communities, based on principles of direct democracy, that would then
come together across national borders – that it is hoped would over time
become increasingly meaningless. In this way, they proposed, the
Kurdish struggle could become a model for a wordwide movement towards
genuine democracy, co-operative economy, and the gradual dissolution of
the bureaucratic nation-state.
Since 2005 the PKK, inspired by the strategy of the www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/01/02/mexicos-zapatis,
declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Turkish state and began
concentrating their efforts in developing democratic structures in the
territories they already controlled. Some have questioned how serious
all this really is. Clearly, authoritarian elements remain. But what has
happened in Rojava, where the Syrian revolution gave Kurdish radicals
the chance to carry out such experiments in a large, contiguous
territory, suggests this is anything but window dressing. Councils,
assemblies and popular militias have been formed, regime property has
been turned over to worker-managed co-operatives – and all despite
continual attacks by the extreme rightwing forces of Isis. The results
meet any definition of a social revolution. In the Middle East, at
least, these efforts have been noticed: particularly after PKK and
Rojava forces intervened to successfully fight their way through Isis
territory in Iraq to rescue thousands of Yezidi refugees trapped on
Mount Sinjar after the local peshmerga fled the field. These actions
were widely celebrated in the region, but remarkably received almost no
notice in the European or North American press.
Now, Isis has returned, with scores of US-made tanks and heavy
artillery taken from Iraqi forces, to take revenge against many of those
same revolutionary militias in Kobane, declaring their intention to
massacre and enslave – yes, literally enslave – the entire civilian
population. Meanwhile, the Turkish army stands at the border preventing
reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the defenders, and US planes
buzz overhead making occasional, symbolic, pinprick strikes –
apparently, just to be able to say that it did not do nothing as a group
it claims to be at war with crushes defenders of one of the world’s
great democratic experiments.
If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout,
murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis? If there is a parallel
to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women
defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most
scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be
complicit in letting history repeat itself?