Shahba and Afrin have been strategic towns which have become key ‘hotspots’ in the Syrian conflict. They became the target of attacks in recent years. In 2018, Turkey and its affiliated armed groups were involved in the attacks. Many peoples in Afrin faced displacement and became refugees who settled in the camps of Shahba.
Whilst the attacks on Til Rıfat, Şerewa, Şeh, Eyndeqnê, Beloniyê and other areas are still continuing in North and East Syria, women of the region continue to engage in their struggle for liberation against all the regressive forces that threaten women’s achievements throughout the region.
”The table to discuss a democratic Syria has still not been established. Despite the 10-year crisis, the Syrian regime still wants to restructure everything back to the former system as it existed in 2011. We will not ignore all these struggles and accept the previous Syrian system again,” said Zeynep Qember, an executive member of the Democratic Syrian Council’s (MSD’s) Shahba-Afrin Women’s Bureau in conversation with Jin News, regarding the strategic location of Shahba and the ongoing attacks that have been occuring in the region.
Qember pointed out that Shahba and Afrin are being targeted because they are ‘culturally mixed’ towns where communities upholding different beliefs and with differing ethnicities have been living in co-existence for many years. She pointed to attacks by the local jihadist mercenaries that took place in 2012 and 2013 and drew attention to the role of the Turkish state.
“Shahba has been a target since the beginning of the crisis. There were attacks by gangs and groups organised under the tag ‘the Free Syrian Army’ in the Shahba area. These attacks were organised with the support of the Turkish state. The Turkish state and its affiliated gangs and groups now openly continue their attacks,” she said.
Qember added: ”When Shahba was besieged, Afrin canton opened its doors to the people of Shahba. When the attacks against Afrin began in 2018, this time the people of Shahba opened their doors to the people of Afrin. Destroying historical artifacts and changing the demography in Afrin, they try to destroy the traces of different cultures that have existed in Afrin. Now, they continue to attack us every day with artillery attacks and fighter jets to force the local people to ‘migrate’. Not only Turkey but also Russia and the Syrian regime conduct a psychological war on the local peoples as well. Despite these attacks, the people insist on not leaving their land. We face the attacks of the Turkish state every day even as the Syrian regime is imposing an embargo on us. Due to the embargo, we are having difficulties meeting the vital needs of the people and we are not able to provide medical supplies for our hospitals.”
It is not clear upon what basis the Syrian regime has agreed with Russia with regard to how to proceed, Qember noted. “They still have not planned a solution to discuss things at the table regarding a democratic Syrian state. Despite the Syrian crisis lasting for 10 years, the Syrian regime still wants to restructure the system as it was in 2011,” she said. “We, as Kurdish people and other oppressed peoples in Syria, cannot accept this framework.”
“We do not accept the debates and dirty policies of the states who only act for their own benefits. Their policies do not only mean genocide for the Kurds, but a major threat to all other communities.”
Qember underlined the importance of the women’s struggle for an egalitarian and democratic system to be built in Syria. “It is time to establish our unity urgently as the Kurdish people and to show our determination to assist with the solution of the crises in the Middle East. In this way, we can protect both our history and our lands on the basis of women’s liberation and within the framework of a ‘free women-free society’ perspective,” she stated.
A ‘free society’ can only be formed with ‘free women’, Qember concluded: “The revolution in the lands of North and East Syria is also a women’s revolution. The 21st century is the century of women’s freedom. Our leading commanders are Avesta Xabur, Arin Mirkan, Hevrin Xelef, Zehra Berkel, Amara Renas and Hind and Saada. These women pioneered our struggle and they will continue to lead our struggle. On this basis, we, as the Kurdish women, will continue our struggle for freedom against the regressive forces who try to resurrect the old Syrian system.”