Fionn Skiotis is one of the founders of a new group, North and East Syria Solidarity Inc (NESS) which is seeking to inform the Australian public about and collect material support for the revolution in Rojava / the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
What is the reason that NESS was formed and what are its objectives?
There have been two Kurdish solidarity groups in Australia for some time, doing great work. Recently a number of us decided a new group was needed with a clear focus on North and East Syria, known as Rojava in Kurdish. So North and East Syria Solidarity (NESS) was formed, with the support of the Kurdish community in Australia and good relations with the existing groups. We’re still getting established, but we now have an online presence and are starting to add new members.
Our aim is to provide vital material aid for Rojava, to raise awareness about its revolution – its history, principles, victories and challenges – with the Australian public, and to advocate for NE Syria here, for example for recognition of AANES as an autonomous political entity. We’ll also work to develop links between various groups in Australia and their equivalents in Rojava – including schools or colleges, cultural groups and sporting clubs, or cities and towns linked with locations in NE Syria as “twin cities”.
NE Syria is a long way from Australia and its problems may seem distant to the lives of many Australians. But the people of Rojava have developed a truly unique society with many positive lessons for the whole world. And these same people have fought heroically and at great cost to defeat the scourge of Islamic State, really on behalf of all humanity – so they deserve our aid and support.
Some progressive MPs and Senators have expressed an interest in visiting NE Syria. Would NESS support such a venture?
NESS would be very supportive of a visit to Rojava by Australian politicians and others. Such visits are made on a regular basis by delegations from many European countries, including official delegations and less formal visits of a solidarity nature. So the idea that it’s impossible to get into North and East Syria is simply not true, even if there can be problems with the border crossing from time to time.
Such visits are important for two reasons: first, they send a clear message to the people of Rojava that they are not alone in facing their many challenges, which include the constant threat of yet another invasion by Turkey and daily attacks by its forces in the occupied areas. Simply to visit NE Syria is itself a very meaningful act of solidarity. And then a visit would also serve to educate and inform Australians about what is going on in Rojava – a radical initiative in which direct democracy, women’s rights, pluralism and a focus on the environment are the main pillars.
I’m convinced that if Australian politicians and others could actually visit Rojava they would come away with “new eyes” on the region and a real concern that our well-developed country should do more to support these valiant people.
What sort of material aid do you hope to raise and are there problems to overcome in order to get such aid to NES?
It’s clear a wide range of material aid is needed and could be of real help in Rojava. Our initial focus was on sending medical equipment and supplies. We found out what equipment was available from donors in Australia and wrote to the health authorities in NES to ask which items might be useful. They responded: “We need everything!”. Unfortunately just as we were getting ready to ship some supplies the global logistics crisis hit – it’s now virtually impossible to purchase a container or to load one on a ship bound for the Middle East.
Hopefully this problem will ease in time and we can return to sourcing and sending material aid to Rojava. In the meantime, we can raise and send funds (for example via Heyva Sor, the Kurdish Red Cross equivalent) and work on other initiatives, such as raising awareness about NE Syria and advocating for recognition and support here in Australia.
If people want to step up and do something of real practical benefit for Rojava, they should get in touch with NESS. Donations large and small are always welcome, and if people can also contribute their time then a wide range of projects and actions are ready to start.
Can people join NESS from anywhere around Australia and will you be accepting volunteers to help out?
Anyone interested in acting in solidarity with Rojava and its people is welcome to join NESS. Membership is free and simply a matter of completing and returning a form. NESS was originally established in Melbourne but we’re now adding new members in other states.
If joining an organisation seems too demanding, you can simply chip in a donation – large or small, it doesn’t matter. You can also sign up via our website to receive periodic updates; these will let people know about campaign alerts, fundraising appeals and urgent news from Rojava.
It would be great to see Australian governments do the moral thing by recognising AANES, providing diplomatic support and sending humanitarian aid on a systematic and ongoing basis. But this is unlikely to happen without people pushing hard for it. Even if it never happens, there are many things that small groups of people can achieve which will be of real and lasting help to Rojava. Solidarity is the people’s equivalent of the high-level diplomacy that nation-states see as their sole prerogative!