Thursday, 26 July 2018

Rojava is Omelas, Not the Ones Who Walk Away

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 "They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery."

 In 1973 the anarchist science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin wrote a story called The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, about the dilemma of the liberal conscience; how do we accept our happiness and prosperity when it is based on the suffering of others? She describes as anarchists those who reject this bargain and walk away.

 Today it seems that those who embrace the "Rojava Revolution", the rule of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) over northern Syria, have accepted this bargain, based as it it is, not on the suffering of one child, but of the torture of millions under the PKK's ally, the Assad régime. I think this defines the PKK, and all its offshoots, as a force that is everywhere the enemy of democracy and freedom.


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 It wasn't until the summer of 2015 that I begin to reach this conclusion. In compiling my blog, News of the Revolution in Syria, it mostly seemed up to that point easier to ignore the Kurdish question, and its flipside the Turkish question, up until then. It was hard to find commentary in English that talked about the relationship of the PYD to the Syrian revolution at all. I can recall at the first (perhaps only) Syrian Solidarity Conference in the UK in London in early 2014, Robin Yassin-Kassab having a sharp exchange with a PYD supporter from the panel explaining that the PYD had acted as quite an authoritarian organisation in its own right. But still the overwhelming message getting to the British left were that the YPG were the good guys, fighting for feminism and gay liberation, with none of the complications of Islamism and supporting Western intervention which were the left's bugbears about the actual Syrian revolution.

 In the summer of 2015, the world had united around the defence of Kobane (rarely being reminded that it also had an Arabic name too, because everything Kurdish was liberatory, and everything Turkish or Arab oppressive), and indeed Free Syrian Army brigades went to fight alongside the YPG against ISIS. And within weeks, there were clashes between the YPG and the FSA, while the FSA was also fight the régime, while the YPG was not fighting the régime at all.

 There were people in Syrian Revolution discussion groups who would present the YPG as the victim in all this. There were good FSA, like Jaish al-Thuwar, who were fighting alongside the YPG. The other side weren't really FSA any more, but were corrupt Islamists. For some reason, some of the worst were not the officially Islamist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, but Turkish affiliated groups like the Sultan Murad brigade. Maybe there were some bad statements by the PYD about co-operating with Assad, but that was forced on them by the attacks from Islamists and Turkey. And the YPG wasn't just the PYD, there was a multi-party military council that ran the YPG.


 People would challenge these assertions. This military council never operated, as other news reports showed. It was Jaish al-Thuwar who were in fact the mercenaries. And the alleged violations covered for the elephant in the room. The YPG accepted régime presences in Hasakeh and Qamishli, and although they had occasional clashes, they worked hand in hand to expel any FSA presence. The PYD area in Aleppo increasingly co-operated with the régime againbst Free Aleppo, culminating in them storming Free areas and butchering rebels and civilians with the Iranian militia the following year. Along with expelling the people of Tel Rifaat in an attack from Afrin with massive Russian bombing, and going on to attack Mare' at the same time the régime was attacking from the south and ISIS from the east. Yesterday a PYD leader announced they are ready to take part in an operation to reassert régime control over Idlib, and they have been in discussions to return régime control to eastern Syria. By now it should be clear to anyone who cares to see that the alliance with the Assad régime is not an aberration, but a fundamental part of what the PYD is about.


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 By August 11th, 2015, Turkey had indicated it wished to set up a safe zone in Northern Syria which Assad would not be allowed to bomb, and all the revolutionary factions in Syria had at least gone along with it. The YPG, by contrast, announced that the Turkish Army had attacked both it and civilians. No follow up to these attacks ever occurred, which finally convinced me that the YPG was a continuous lie factory. This continued through to the Afrin conflict, where the YPG and its supporters claimed Turkey was deliberately attacking civilians, belied by a YPG commander interviewed by RT in Afrin, who said his soldiers dressed as civilians so that Turkey wouldn't attack them. It was claimed the TAF destroyed the Maydanki Dam to stop the water supply to Afrin City, yet pictures seem to support the Turkish claim that the retreating YPG sabotaged the dam, and it was repaired as soon as possible (and no mention was ever made by anti-Turkish commenters about the 6 years the YPG had diverted the water from the city of Azaz). It seemed to me that such a level of propaganda was necessary because there is no other way to cover for allying with such extreme evil as Assad.

 And the same thing was going on on the Turkish side of the border. The PKK abrogated a peace agreement with the Turkish government, and went back to war, while claiming it was the Turkish government that had attack it. Yet the Turkish state had every reason to want to keep peace in Turkey and any conflict on the Syrian side of the border. The PKK on the other hand, see Turkey's difficulty as Kurdistan's opportunity, thinking, especially with Russian and US help, that it could carve out a state for itself from Iraq to the Mediterranean, now that it had US and Russian help in addition to its alliance with Assad. And that Turkey would be forced to come to a deal the more it was destabilised. The more chaos the better. The more misery the better.

There were suicide bomb attacks, in Ankara and Istanbul, in early 2016, the second entirely against civilians. At first no claim of responsibility was made, but when the bombers' PKK or YPG identity was revealed, the TAK or Kurdish Freedom Hawks came forward to claim responsibility. As if this wasn't already an obvious deflection, the Istanbul bomber's funeral was attended by the entire local leadership of the HDP, the supposedly independent Kurdish leftist political party. At the point it seemed clear to me that those saying the PKK,PYD, YPG, YPJ, SDF, TAK and HDP were all part of one Ocalan cult, directed from the PKK hideouts in the Qandil Mountains of Iraq, were correct. This was strengthened for me when I searched for comments about the peace process with Turkey from the HDP leader, Selhattin Demirtas, and discovered he had said, "It's up to Ocalan." Not the Kurdish people, the HDP, or even the PKK, but just the leader. It's a cult based on support for its leader, as far from anarchism as you can get.




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  Some people present the PKK as the defender of the Kurdish people. Or even if they want to claim they are critical of the PKK's authoritarianism, that it is the Turkish threat of genocide against Kurds that was the real problem dividing Arabs and Kurds. The unreality of this analysis is felt most obviously by the Arabs whose land is occupied (we could also say the division into Arab and Kurdish areas is due to the PYD and régime racialising the struggle), and are then told they most be broken away from their tribal mentality, as one Italian YPG supporter proudly told me. There is the hidden crisis of those Kurds not willing to serve as child soldiers for the YPG, or those, including all other Kurdish political parties, who face frequent arrest and imprisonment in PYD areas, even when they support the PYD line of opposing the Turkish/FSA forces.

 When the YPG was expelled from Afrin, tens of thousands of civilians did flee. Maybe they believed the scare stories of what the Turks would do. Maybe they just worried that bombs would drop on them in a war zone. In any case, when the guns stopped (though not the YPG's IEDs which continue to maim civilians in Afrin), most of the displaced wanted to go back, only to be told by the PYD that they couldn't until they had re-liberated Afrin, as they see it. I can't see it as anything other than a cancer on the Kurdish people as well as other Turks and Syrians. It demands war on the hovels, and peace to the palaces of torture.

 There may have been a time when the PKK was a legitimate national liberation movement. There was historically a real amount of oppression, continuing into the late 20th Century, such as the denial of language rights. But to keep Turkey at peace, the AKP government has offered the best deal to Kurds of any Turkish administration. And as a result, between 25 and 50% of Kurds in Turkey vote for the AKP. It again seems improbable in the extreme that several million Kurds would vote for someone who wanted to massacre other Kurds.

 So I think the PKK is a cancer. Because it has made its 
raison d'être trying to dismantle the Turkish state in south-east Turkey, and has found an ally in genocide for the purpose. Because the Turkish government knows that the destabilisation it experiences won't stop as long as Assad in power, so that however much it wants others like the United States to act to bring it about, it want to have a peace to which Syrian refugees can return, and knows that won't happen under Assad. So the PKK allies with Assad, knowing that what strengthens him weakens them.


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 There are people who say of the PKK, "We can notably talk of positive policies regarding women’s rights and secularism." You cannot divorce these things from the context in which it occurs, an alliance with a régime that rapes women on a mass scale and tortures Muslims until they declare there is no God but Bashar. You cannot force secularism and communism on people. A half century of Communism in Eastern Europe, after which people want to join NATO to protect themselves from Russian invasion, should be a salutary lesson (instead the left blames the crisis in Ukraine on Russian expansion).

 We are told the PKK has evolved from Marxism or Maoism to anarchism, because Abdullah Ocalan read  Murray Bookchin in prison, and so all his followers decided to do so. A group becomes anarchist because the leader tells them to? That's not like any anarchists I've ever heard of.

  The pinkwashing of Israeli occupation by pointing to their record on gay rights as better than in Arab countries would be objected to by all leftists, but it seems to be accepted when it comes to the YPG. Democratic confederalism doesn't seem to amount to any more than the one-party elections that would occur in Communist Cuba or China (and the Cultural Revolution in China is another moment at which many outside leftists mistook Communist fervour for freedom). When there is no freedom at the top, and in this case an alliance with genocide to boot, local elections are a sham democracy.


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 That's my opinion of the PKK. It's an anti-democratic force wherever it goes (including Europe where it supporters responded to the Afrin conflict by burning mosques. Other people have a different point of view. That's fine by me. I'm not one of those who say you have to think in the exact same way as me about every conflict, or you are guilty of selective solidarity. I think if there was going to one conflict to be selective about right now, it would be the one against the Assad régime. Not because there is something intrinsically special about Syria, but because the Assad genocide is the most destabilising event in the world today, and the single greatest cause of lies to be introduced into political debate, particularly that of the left. So, if I am for anything first, like Michael Weiss, it is for Syria First. I would judge all politicians first by what they have to say about Syria.

 But for many people it is the opposite, if you support Erdogan, you are as bad as those who support Assad (even by some perverse logic, you support Assad too). I don't support Erdogan. For eleven years when I was a child we had a Prime Minister in the UK, a Conservative called Margaret Thatcher, who I've seen compared to President Erdogan. And we hated her. She shut down the Greater London Council, wouldn't let us here the voices of Sinn Féin MPs, seemed like she was destroying our public services. Yet she did have millions of supporters, and she peacefully gave up power, and her party was voted out. And she wasn't facing a genocide in a neighbouring country, and responding much better than any other political leader.

I know the Turks have shot Syrian refugees. I know they arrested eleven members of the Turkish Medical Board before releasing them the next day. I know they arrested many journalists, most famously Ahmet Sik, who is now an opposition MP. No they are not perfect, but they have offered refuge to millions of Syrians (and an infinitely more welcoming environment than Lebanon or Jordan, currently trying to throw them out as they Turkish opposition would wish). And have offered free medical treatment to hundreds of thousands of civilians and fighters without which Free Syria would not have survived. There is no justification here for any equivocation about the PKK.


 There are reasons to wish that outside influence was unnecessary for the Assad régime to be defeated. But as the régime threatens to attack Idlib, and the PYD offers to assist, many of those who live in the still liberated area hope Turkey will defend them. It seems wrong for outsiders to attack the FSA as mercenaries, and the SNC as racists, for supporting the liberation of Afrin from Assad's ally. If someone has a strategy for liberating Syria that involves no Turks and no Islamists, let's hear it. If they are saying the military defence of lives and communities against Assad was a mistake, and we should support an ally of that genocide instead, I think that is hopelessly muddle headed.

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