Since 2011 and the beginning of what was then known as the Syrian Revolution, coming on the tail-end of the Arab spring, the Kurds of North and East Syria began to organise and came together with other ethnic and religious communities living in the region to organise themselves according to their own needs based on a localised representative democracy, throwing off years of brutally oppressive rule by the Assad regime.
Under the Assad regime, Kurds were heavily discriminated against with many activists locked away in the darkest dungeons of Assad’s torture chambers. Since the establishment of the modern state of Syria, after the Sykes Picot agreement of 1916, the Syrian government did not even recognise the existence of the Kurds.
Their culture and language were heavily suppressed. In 1962, 120,000 Kurds in Syria were even stripped of their citizenship, leaving them stateless.
After the Arab Spring, the Kurds took their chance to rise up, taking control of their areas and began an extraordinary revolutionary experiment in radical democracy, placing women’s liberation, communalism and progressive ecological policies at the forefront of their revolution. Inclusive and democratic, what is now called the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known fondly as ‘Rojava’, is jointly run by representatives of all religious and ethnic identities in the region and women’s representation in the AANES is mostly equal to men’s.
It is an ideological, progressive revolution that has inspired thousands of people around the world to travel to North and East Syria to take part. Just as progressive socialists and anarchists joined the Spanish civil war to fight fascism, so too have internationalists taken part in the Rojava Revolution. Indeed hundreds have even given their lives for the cause.
This revolutionary model of radical grassroots democracy is based on the ideas of a ‘Democratic Nation’ or Democratic Confederalism’ as developed by the Kurdish imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and has inspired millions of people around the world. It built a new type of egalitarian society, a beacon of democracy and freedom in the Middle East, while at the same time fighting all kinds of threats such as ISIS, and more recently, the Turkish state.
In fact, Turkey has also been accused of being behind ISIS, using them to fight against the newly liberated Kurds of north and east Syria and then after the Kurdish led defeat of ISIS, Turkey have now taken on a more direct role, organising the Syrian opposition to fight against the Kurds and directly shelling and striking the areas controlled by the AANES with artillery shells and drone strikes, which have increasingly been targeting civilians and members of the SDF singled out for targeted extrajudicial executions.
Prominent members of the Turkish government including Turkey’s president Erdoğan and his defence minister have been making repeated threats of another full scale military invasion despite a 2019 ceasefire agreed with Americans and all of the regional actors, such as US, Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime opposing such a move.
Joining me today is Saleh Muslim, the recently re-elected Co-Chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and one of the most prominent Kurdish spokespersons during much of the Syrian civil war and Rojava Revolution.
Saleh spoke about the recent threats and attacks from Turkey, about the increased threat from ISIS, and the ongoing security operations against ISIS in the al Hol camp that holds around 56,000 people, mostly wives and children of ISIS fighters. He also shared his thoughts about the case of Shamima Begum which is in the news at the moment in the UK. Shamima Begum travelled with friends from the UK to Syria to join ISIS. He also talked about the recent statements from Erdoğan and Turkish officials about a suggested rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad. Finally I asked Saleh about his own thoughts on the possibility of a political solution to the Kurdish question in the Middle East.
Please listen to the whole podcast to hear the interview.