The heroic defence of Kobane against Isis brought the attention of many of us to the experiment in Democratic Autonomy said to be running in the region and in a North Kurdistan (Turkey). It’s a controversal topic not least because its ideological roots are in the change in strategy Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, started to push from his Turkish prison cell. The PKK had a deserved reputation as a militarist authoritarian Maxist – Leninist outfit even willing to assassinate political rivals on the left. Could it really be that this organisation has ‘changed its spots’ to the soft quasi social democration anarchism developed by the US writer Murray Bookchin.
Comrades I’ve talked to about this from the Turkish state have had widely differenct perspective. Some think its simply a cynical exercise to garner western support. Others insist the changes in ideology have subsubstance but more important that the revolution in Rojave at least is real. And some, perhaps the wiser, take a middle ground and say that trusting the PKK leadership would be foolish but it would be more foolish again to ignore the space that has opened up on the ground.
The Kurdish Anarchist Zaher Baher who has visited Rojava and strongly believes that the revolution is real nevertheless warns “It is very unfortunate that I found many ideologists among the PYD and Tev-Dem members, especially when it came to discussions about Abdullah Öcalan’s ideas. These people are very stuck with Öcalan’s principles, making them refer to his speeches and books in our discussions. They have total faith in him and, to a certain extent, he is sacred. If this is the faith that people have and put in their leader and are scared of him, it is very frightening and the consequences will not be good. For me, nothing should be sacred and everything can be criticized and rejected if they need to be. ”
In any case my intention here is not to provide anaysis but rather to start to catalogue useful material on the Rojava revolution and what is happening in the rest of Kurdistan. I want to do this by providing paragraph length mini review / summary of each piece where possible. My view as it is forming is that like the Zapatistas 20 years ago this is not a case of sitting back to wait to see what happens and ‘who is right’ but rather of critically engaging with what does appear to be a very real and significant social experiement despite the issues already outlined.
The pieces can be audio, video, books, online articles or even particularly useful online discussion. If there is something I have missed in this list please add it as a comment below or tweet me at @andrewflood Even better if you can write the mini review for inclusion here as a comment to this piece.
Anarchist Eyewitness to self-management in Kurdish Syria / West Kurdistan
Written a few months before the ISIS assault attracted attention this report from a Kurdish anarchist is a great introduction to the region, what is happening and a critical if very sympatheic examination of the reasons why.
The embedded audio above is a recording of Zaher Baher of the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum speaking at the 2014 London Anarchist Bookfair about the two weeks he spent in Syrian Kurdistan in May 2014, looking at the experiences of self-management in the region, experiments that have become more widely discussed as the result of the defense of Kobane against ISIS. Zaher is also a member of Haringey Solidarity Group
SYRIA: On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue
An interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo who while very critical of the PKK/PYD still sees the experiement as worthwhile. It’s also very useful at providing some context of the relationship with Syria, the Assad regime and the other rebel movements.
Kobane: the struggle of Kurdish women against Islamic State – NECLA ACIK 22 – October 2014
Introduction to a 40 page PDF report from a recent delegation to the region that provides a useful summary if one from a position obviously sympatheic to the PKK influence. I’ve not yet read the report.
Vice documentary from September of 2013 when the YPG/J had launched a counteroffensive against ISIS. Includes footage of a 4km section of border where the Turkish army removed barbed wire to facilitate ISIS recruits crossing the border. Some interesting footage & interviews with militia’s on the front line who are described as consisting of local farmers.
Adam Curtis – Anarchy in Kurdistan
Curtis blogs the meeting of Ocalan & Bookchin and the influeces around them. Quite a useful quick history of the PKK.
The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan – By Rafael Taylor On August 17, 2014
Useful explanation of the adoption of Bookchin’s ideas by the PKK under Öcalans direction and a brief sketch of their implementation in Northern Kurdistan (but that may be drawn from the ‘Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan’ interviews rather than confirming them?)
Interview with the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum (KAF) about the situation in Iraq/Kurdistan
This includes some discussion of anarchist influences in the PKK and how seriously they should be taken
The battle of Kobane
The defence of Kobane – anarchist reportage from WSM
When the Turkish anarchist group DAF announced some of its members were heading to Kobane I started to pay much more attention to what what happening. This included writing quick reports for the WSM Facebook page during the first weeks of the siege that presented a political analysis of the events that were emerging from the resistance. The link will bring you to a Facebook album that collects those reports as each was intially posted as the caption of an image, now collected into this album.
Tell Us Lies About Kobanê -unpicking the demand for Turkish & western intervention 9th October
The notion that the fall of Kobanê could be prevented by the intervention of the Turkish army is a smokescreen that covers the truth that they are already intervening – on the side of ISIS. The Turkish state’s selective blockade of the border, which allows arms and volunteers to cross for ISIS, but strangles them for the YPG defenders of Kobanê is the decisive intervention that is giving ISIS the upper hand.
Very interesting 20 minute documentary from mainstream Australian TV on the YPJ (Women’s Defence Force) recorded more or less right before the ISIS offensive with their new captured US tanks got underway.
ISIS Jihadism and Imperialism in the post Arab Spring period- an anarchist analysis ( Audio & Video )
Following on from the rapid spread of Isis in Iraq & Syria Paul Bowman presented an update intended to inform on the contemporary politics of Jihadism and its entanglement with regional and global imperialist power plays.
Origins of the hostility and the split between Al Qa’ida and ISIS
Geo-strategically the Al Qa’ida leadership (Azzam, bin Laden, Zawahiri) are products of the Cold War, specifically the Afghan Mujahidin war against the USSR. Rather like their American neo-con previous employers, Al Qa’ida view the end of the Cold War as a victory over the USSR by their own side. The Al Qa’ida perspective is that, having “defeated” one superpower, the global jihad now needs to turn its offensive against the remaining superpower. Al Qa’ida worry that the Zarqawists of ISIS may be restricting the struggle to a parochial Mesopotamian sectarian struggle that could fail to engage Muslim jihadists around the world, outside the MENA region, say in West Africa or Indonesia and the Philippines where the US is a more credible #1 enemy than Iran.
North Kurdistan (Turkey)
2011 piece by Janet Biehly interviewing Kurdish activist Ercan Ayboga about who the Kurds are, the background of the PKK and the Democratic Autonomy process.
Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan By TATORT Kurdistan, trans Janet Biehl
Book length examiniation of ‘Democratic Autonomy’ in a couple of parts of ‘Turkish’ Kurdistan based around interview by members of a solidarity group who briefly vistited the area in 2011. Clearly from a PKK sympatheic perspective but alsol a useful source in terms of understanding the idealised structures and methods of ‘Democratic Autonomy’ and the real world problems of implementation.
Kurdish and Turkish women’s rights
English language material including many interviews from sources close to PYD, PKK etc