by Domenic DeMasi / staff writer
Would you believe it if somebody told that the most egalitarian and democratic society in the world is in northern Syria?
The civil war in Syria has perhaps been the most widely reported story in world news this decade. In 2011, what started as peaceful demonstrations against the repressive and authoritarian Baathist government of Bashar Al-Assad soon turned into a bloody armed conflict of rebels fighting to overthrow Assad’s government. Reporting on the conflict reached new heights once the jihadist terror group Islamic State (ISIS) became a key player in the war and the violence produced a severe humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of refugees fleeing the country.
At this point, you are probably thinking that such a claim is preposterous, even laughable. That is the expected response if someone is only absorbing mainstream reporting on the war. The most underreported aspect of the war is the developments taking place in the northern part of the country known as Rojava, or more commonly Syrian Kurdistan. As Syria descended into the chaos that has now plagued the country for the past five years, the country’s Kurdish population seized the opportunity to establish its long sought after, and well deserved, autonomous Kurdish region.
The Syrian Kurds have organized themselves into a militia called the People’s Protection Units (YPG), including an all-female wing called the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). While many observers in the West have praised their tactics in battle and their military skill, being the most effective ground forces fighting ISIS, they persistently overlook the way they are reshaping the Middle East.
Ideologically, the YPG is closely aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant far-left organization based in Turkey that has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for an independent Kurdistan since 1984. Inspired by the writings of their imprisoned leader and founder, Abdullah Ocalan, the YPG have established in Rojava his model of “democratic confederalism,” instituting “ground-up neighborhood assemblies in the four ‘cantons’ that comprise Rojava, encouraging citizens of every ethnicity—including Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen—to participate in the decision-making processes of all aspects of communal life: land distribution, industry, agriculture, business, health care, education, and self-defense,” wrote Debbie Bookchin in “The Nation.”
Emphasizing direct democracy, socialism, ecology, and feminism, the system that the YPG has established in northern Syria is unheard of, especially in the Middle East, and has set an example that the world should follow. It can be argued that the YPG has underscored the importance of gender equality more than almost any other liberation movement in history. As Bookchin writes, “In addition to having full legal rights and privileged decision-making powers over all women’s issues via separate women’s councils, and serving as co-presidents in every significant administrative position, women are, by law, empowered to make up at least 40 percent of every governing body in Rojava.”
In addition, “The emphasis on women’s liberation is reflected in the high visibility of female fighters in Rojava revolutionary armed groups”, as mentioned in Truthout. Furthermore, as many observers in the mainstream media write off the Syrian Civil War as a sectarian war of Sunni Muslims versus Shia Muslims, the YPG’s project in Rojava encompasses participation among all ethnic and religious groups, demonstrating the contrary. As Truthout reported, “The emphasis in Rojava is on building structures that are multi-ethnic, as opposed to simply Kurdish” and “Like gender, ethnic participation on the communal and other councils is enabled by quotas. There are also parallel bodies for ethnic minorities”.
Some of the YPG’s successes can be owed to the assistance provided by the US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS. It must be understood however, that this assistance is only being provided when convenient for the West’s interests. The U.S. and Europe maintain a strong, although currently strained, relationship with Turkey, and have shown that they are willing to abandon the Kurds for the sake of maintaining their alliance with Turkey. Turkey, which labels the PKK and the YPG as terrorist organizations, has frequently bombed PKK and YPG positions in Iraq and Syria, while laying siege to the southeastern Kurdish region of its own country.
The U.S. and Europe have been mostly silent about Turkey’s actions, effectively allowing them to continue the massacre of their own Kurdish population while giving ISIS the chance to recover lost territory in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed much contempt towards the West, for backing what he considers “terrorists.”
Fearing the possible loss of Turkey as an ally, which has the potential of turning the tide of the war in Syria, the US and Europe have time and again given Turkey’s demands priority over those of the Kurds. As a consequence, at the behest of Turkey, the YPG has been routinely refused a seat at the negotiating table during peace talks regarding Syria. As reported by In These Times, “America has repeatedly blocked the PYD’s (the dominant Kurdish party in Rojava) participation in these talks out of deference to its NATO ally Turkey.” This lack of diplomatic support throws a wrench into the Syrian Kurds’ objective for an internationally recognized autonomy, threatening the long-term survival of their revolutionary program.
After enduring a century of repression and genocide, the Kurds have brought forth a system that could potentially bring true democracy and equality to the Middle East, a model that puts Western democracies to shame. The time for an independent and unified Kurdistan is now!