Briefly History of Syria and Rojava
After the First World War, the modern system of nation-states emerged in the Middle East. The Kurds lost the semi-autonomous status that they had enjoyed during the Ottoman times. This process was engineered by the great European powers led by the UK and France. After the Second World War, the USA emerged as the most active Western power in the region. The nation-states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria were created and recognized by the League of Nations.
The lands comprising Kurdistan include parts of eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and northern Syria, which are inhabited mainly by Kurds. The 45 million Kurds lived on their ancestral lands of Kurdistan for many thousands of years. Under the control of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the division of Kurdistan into four parts continues. Since 2003 Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed federal status within Iraq, but still over 40% of the land of South Kurdistan remains under the control of the Baghdad government; in particular the area around the oil rich city of Kirkuk.
No national and democratic rights are given to the Kurdish people as a whole. Kurdistan still generally suffers from war and faces attempts at annihilation and extermination. The Kurdish nation has been occupied and divided. This unjust action led to a historical tragedy for the Kurdish people. Over decades the states of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq have cooperated and used forced cultural assimilation, forced emigration, massacres and genocide, in the last 90 years, to assimilate and eliminate the Kurdish nation, but they have failed to accomplish their colonial aims.
Syria and Rojava (Western Kurdistan)
The population of Syria is 23 million and consists of Sunni Arabs, 4 million Kurds, 3.5 million Alawi, 2.3 million Christian, 1.2 million Druze, 2.5 million Baath party members, seculars and other minorities living on a large area of 77,000 sq. miles.
The current political map of Syria was drawn in accordance with international agreements between the two main imperial powers (Britain and France), including the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), the Cairo Conference (1920) and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Accordingly, both Syria and Lebanon and the western part of Kurdistan were placed under the French mandate immediately after the First World War. France’s aim was to establish a client, Arab nation state.
As for Syria, it is a multicultural, diverse and pluralist country and, therefore, the nation state cannot be strictly imposed on this country. The nation-state project in Syria contrasts with the reality of the diversity and plurality that have existed in the country since the pre-Roman era. After independence (17 April 1946), successive governments ruling Syria have represented and served the interests of the ruling class and the colonisers, i.e. the French – the latter’s objective was to build an anti-democratic nation state. Most successive governments – the Government of Shukri al-Qwatli, the Government of United Arab Republic and lastly the Ba’athist Government followed a nationalistic policy through manipulating nationalist sentiments. They moved to impose slavery on all elements of Syrian society. This nationalist policy has, over the years, resulted in the creation of profound political, social, cultural and economic crises in Syria.
In 1949, Syria entered a new era of its history – the era of military coups – that culminated in the Ba’athist coup d’état on 8 March 1963, which was followed by the coup led by the late President Hafez Assad on 16 November 1970, known as the Corrective Movement. The roots of those military coups exist in the structure of the Arab nationalist ideology, especially amongst the Arab bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeois that tried to imitate the French bourgeoisie, who are the true owners of nationalism, nationalist constitutions and the anti-democratic nation state.
The chauvinist nationalist mentality deepened further with the rise of the Ba’ath government, but this does not mean that chauvinism did not exist prior to that. On the contrary, the roots of the chauvinist mentality have been present since the mandate era. The most prominent example of this mentality is found in the Government of the United Arab Republic in the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser. In that era, the government pursued racist chauvinist policies – similar to those of the Ba’ath government – against the Kurdish people. After the collapse of the union with Egypt in 1961, the new government continued the same policy against the Kurds, which reached its peak in the Project of Mohammed Talb Hilal (Head of the Political Security Division in Jazira, 1961-62). This project, similar to the Zionist policy against the Palestinian people and the racist apartheid policy against African people in South Africa, was applied against the Kurds.
The regime entered a period of deep crisis at all levels and this crisis escalated due to the deepening of the centralised nation-state institutions that call for pan-Arabism and other deceitful, glittering ideologies, which drove the masses away from politics and the deep-rooted social ethics in the region – as a result, the concept of the ‘law-abiding citizen’ was no longer applicable. Consequently, emigration, social prejudices and hostilities amongst the Kurds and the Arabs all emerged in the country. Socially, this nation state fuelled aggressive sentiments against the Kurdish people, through its negative anti-Kurdish campaign. Economically, the regime seized control of all the natural resources of the country for the benefit of a handful of oligarchs. This led to extreme poverty.
Furthermore, the regime deepened the moral decay in our society, especially among women and youths. Also, it has controlled the media and all social and cultural institutions to serve its chauvinistic policies. Thus, Syria has been transformed into an economic, social, cultural and intellectual desert, especially after the so-called ‘Socialist Revolution’ of the Ba’ath Party military coup.
As for the Kurdish people in Western Kurdistan (Syria), the terms of Mohammed Talb Hilal’s project has become sacred. Since 1963, successive regimes were fully committed to the implementation of this racist project, which aims at the Arabisation of Kurdish regions, the displacement of the Kurdish community and the melting of Kurdish society in the pot of Arab nationalism. We can summarise the ‘special war’ that has been fought by the nation state in Syria against the Kurdish people since 1962 as having the following effects:
1.Stripping large segments of the Kurdish people of their Syrian citizenship and classifying them as foreigners in their own homeland in accordance with the ill-fated 1962 Census.
2.The conversion of all fertile lands in the Kurdish region into public property under the name of a ‘land reform policy’, and housing the Arab tribes in those areas after forcing the Kurds to migrate by depriving them of property ownership, especially agricultural property. In so doing, the Ba’ath Party tried to create enmity between the Arabs and the Kurds to destroy the historical foundations of the Arab-Kurdish brotherhood.
3.Changing the names of all Kurdish cities and villages and replacing them with names that are not historically related to the region, e.g. Trbi Sipi was initially changed to the White Graves and then later to Qahtanih. The main objective of this policy is to Arabise and change the demographic features of the region.
4.The settlement of Arab tribes, whose lands were affected by flooding, in Kurdish areas – this policy of the Ba’athist regime resembles the Zionist settlement policy in Palestine.
5.The creation of many obstacles that limit the Kurdish presence in the Legislative Council, local administrations, the army and other important government and public offices.
6.Classifying both the Kurdish language and culture as a threat to state security. The regime has adopted systematic security measurements to prevent the Kurdish people from speaking their mother tongue in public and in schools, in order to impose the Arabic language and culture on the Kurds.
7.Extracting natural resources in Kurdish areas in order to benefit the state and the oligarchs, depriving the Kurdish people of their revenue, as is happening in the oil and natural gas fields of Rmelan, Weidieh and Krachuk.
8.Treating the Kurdish issue as a security threat and signing regional agreements against the Kurds, such as the secret Syrian-Turkish-Iranian agreement against the Kurdish Freedom Movement and the Syrian-Turkish agreement of Adana in 1998. In addition, imprisoning, detaining and prosecuting hundreds of Kurds on trumped-up charges, such as an “attempt to cut off part of the Syrian territory and annex it to a foreign state” and other fabricated charges.
9.Applying exceptional laws against the Kurds in addition to other extraordinary laws which existed under the previous government, such as Law 49 on Property Rights and other laws.
10.Preventing the Kurdish people from celebrating their own festivals, such as Newroz. In addition, the murder and oppression policy against the Kurds under the Ba’athist regime is evident in the 12 March 2004 Massacre, the Raqa Massacre, and the killing of the martyrs Ahmed Hussein (Abu Judy), Mr Usman and Sheikh Mashooq al-Khznway, who died under torture.
11.Preventing the Kurds from supporting and communicating with their brethren in other parts of Kurdistan.
Repression of Kurds in Syria
The Kurdish People are the second largest ethnicity in Syria consisting of four million of the total population. The Kurds have been living on their ancient historical homeland and have actively contributed to the liberation and building up the modern republic of Syria. Successive Syrian governments after independence in 1946 have denied the legitimate national rights of the Kurdish people and their contributions to achieving independence.
They Kurds mostly were settled the northern part of Syria, a region that borders with Iraqi Kurdistan to the east and Turkey to the north and west. There are also some major districts in Aleppo and Damascus that are populated by the Kurds. These include the Ashrafiya and Shaykh Maqsoud districts in Aleppo as well as the Hay Akrad and Rukn al-Din districts in Damascus. The Kurds in Syria speak the Kurmanci dialect of Kurdish, which is the most widely-spoken dialect in Kurdistan. As a result of its Arabization policies during the 1960s and 1970s, the Ba’th regime created the so-called Arab-belt from the Jazeera region in the northeast of Syria to the northern Kurdish city of Kobani in an attempt to break the contiguity of the Kurdish region.
Since the Baath Party seized power after the coup of March 1963 and declared itself the only party in the country, it has been systematically applying all political, military and psychological means to eradicate the Kurdish existence and forcibly assimilate the Kurdish national identity and annihilate their culture.
The Kurds in Syria have been subjected to racist and discriminatory policies such as the exceptional census 1962 which initially resulted in more than 150,000 (now increased to more than half a million) Kurds being stripped of their Syrian nationality identity, thereby depriving them of their basic human rights.
The Arab Belt which resulted in the seizure of Kurdish agricultural lands (350km long and 15 km wide), and thousands of Kurdish land owners and farmers being forcibly driven from their own properties which were given to Arab settlers and farmers coming from Arab regions. The Baath regime launched a campaign to eradicate all Kurdish national identity including Kurdish cultural and social activities.
Kurdish political leaders, human rights activists, academics and intellectuals were arbitrarily imprisoned and brutally executed or exiled. These discriminatory policies have deprived the Kurds of their basic human rights and the constitutional recognition of their cultural and national existence. These atrocities have been an ongoing part of those policies of the Syrian totalitarian regime for nearly half a century.
Everybody accept that Syrian revolution has started in 2011, but the Kurdish people believe that the revolution has already started on 12th of March 2004 in Qamishlo uprising. During this uprising Kurdish people in Western Kurdistan organised against the Baath repressive regime. The resistance of Kurdish people never stopped since that date.
The war in Syria is not the Kurds’ war; despite having suffered brutal repression at the hands of Assad over many years, the Syrian Kurds have refrained from joining in the attempt to overthrow the regime by violent means. The Kurds led by the PYD (Democratic Union Party) have argued for a peaceful transformation of Syria and it is because of their determination to take an independent position on the uprising that they have started to face an onslaught from Syrian rebel forces led by al-Nusra. In response, the PYD, has stated that Syrian Kurds do not support either the government in Damascus or the rebel groups, but only seek to protect themselves from massacres and ethnic cleansing. Islamist militias have been waging a brutal ethnic cleansing on Kurdish villagers and have been responsible for atrocities and massacres against unarmed Kurdish civilians.
The Kurdish Movement for Freedom in Syria
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) with its wise strategy and the support of the Kurdish people of Western Kurdistan, become a major power player in the Syrian conflict. The PYD was established in 2003. As an illegal organization, hundreds of its members were arrested and many of its leaders executed by the Syrian Baath regime. The party led in 2004, the Kurdish uprising and about 2000 of its members were arrested. By 2011, PYD has become the largest Kurdish party and is supported by the majority of Kurds in Syria.
For the year 2012/2013, Western Kurdistan have been subjected to brutal attacks by forces belong to Jabhat Al Nusra, The Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, ISIS and many other Islamic brigades of FSA. They have used brutal methods, mass killings, torture, and psychological warfare. These terrorist acts are aimed against the people of Western Kurdistan, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians. Turkey played a key role in supporting the mentioned Islamic groups, because of their anti-Kurdish view.
The Kurdish Third Way as an alternative
If certain circles are in favour of a Syria in which no single force is dominant, then the position of the Kurds is pivotal. The Kurds have established themselves as a third force in Syria. They did not side with either the current regime or an opposition completely lacking in democratic and liberationist characteristics. Both sides were deemed insufficient. Consequently, they are proving in practice that a third way is possible. In fact, they are extending their claim that without an alternative to these ‘sides’, the crisis in Syria cannot be overcome.
The Syrian President Bashar Assad has to come to a solution and the Baath regime will cease to exist, but a Syria in which political Islam will be sovereign will not be acceptable. In Syria there will not be a single hegemony. It seems as if a democratic Syria in which all forces will coexist is inevitable. Political Islamists will not be side-lined as they were by the Baath regime, but they will also not be the primary power holders. A democratic reconciliation that will enable the coexistence of all ethnic, religious and social sections of the community will materialise. In this system the Kurds, Arabs, Armenian, Assyrians and all other ethnic and religious communities will be able to express themselves and organise their societal affairs. Sunni Islam will also be able to express itself freely without the need for the establishment of its own hegemony.
However, the Kurds will be party to the third way solution in Syria. The Kurds will have their status and freedom accepted. In a democratised Syria their current gains will be protected; because for a Syria that wants to adopt the third way, this is imperative. If certain circles are in favour of a Syria in which no single force is dominant, then the position of the Kurds is pivotal. The moderate seeming opposition in Syria are in essence nationalists, hence its conservatism in regards to Kurdish rights. However, even they are in no position to reject the rights and freedoms of the Kurdish people. This is because the rejection of the rights of the Kurdish people is only possible in an authoritarian hegemony; the circumstances in the region, however, no longer allow for any such hegemony.
These new circumstances will bring problems for Turkey and those organisations that it previously had ties with. Turkey, who has relations with Al-Qaeda (al Nusra) and supported this front in Syria, is now faced with an important decision; just as it has previously cut off strong ties it once had with Iran and the current Syrian regime, it must now do the same with organisations like Al-Qaeda. In short, Turkey’s previous approach of trying to please everyone has come to an abrupt end. Turkey is once again reorienting itself in-line with the Western camp that it has always been a part of.
In the 21st century, the only way this external area of manoeuvrability can expand is through internal democratisation. The Kurdish Third Way is looking for an internal solution with all components of Syria and is not in favour of external intervention. Autonomy for West Kurdistan will strengthen the improvement of democracy to Syria. It will have a big impact on the issue of democratization of Middle East.
Founding of the Interim Administration in Rojava
As a result of the alarming situation summarized above, the components of Western Kurdistan began holding meetings to find a solution to the continuing lack of security in the region. The gathering and meetings, which occurred over a period of 6 months, resulted in a conference that was held on 12 November, with the attendance of 86 delegates, representing 35 different parties and civic and social organizations. The gathering was composed of delegates from Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Syriac communities. Thus, the Constitutive General Council of The Joint Interim Administration was declared.
By the second meeting of the delegates on 15 November 2013, a body was formed, consisting of 60 members, representing the three regions of Jazira, Afrin and Kobane, to follow up and full fill this project. The function of this body is to form committees to prepare the following:
1.Committee for drafting the joint interim administration’s constitution
2.Committee on the comprehensive social convention
3.Committee for electoral system
The formation of the Interim Administration in Western Kurdistan region does not carry any separatist intentions. Its aim is to send a message of peace to the entire region, and it stems from the cooperation of the community, which will underline security and peace. The Interim Administration as a democratic and pluralistic model will be the nucleus of solution and the best method of administration for all of Syria.
The participating groups at the meeting agreed on the establishment of an interim transitional administration formed of three Cantons as ”Kobane, Efrin and Cizire” in Rojava.
Declaration of the Cantons
On 21st January 2014 the Canton of Cizre was declared. The Cizîre Canton is ruled by a presidential system and 22 ministries. Ekrem Heso, a Kurd, has been elected president of the canton, with Syriac Elizabet Gewriyê and Arab Husen Ezem as vice presidents. Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac have been designated as official languages of the canton.
On 27 January 2014, the Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) Canton declared its own autonomous administration. This canton will be administered by a legislative assembly president Enwer Mislim, two deputies and 22 ministers.
On 29 January 2014 the Efrin Canton autonomous administration with Mrs. Hevi Ibrahim as President of the Legislative Assembly was declared.
The three regions must conduct elections within 4 months (of the 6 January 2014 agreement on the Charter) to replace appointed representatives with elected ones, and thus abide to the objective and hope for democracy.
The autonomy geographically divides northern Syria’s predominantly Kurdish region (Western Kurdistan) into three main constituencies: Cizire Canton, Kobane Canton and Afrin Canton.
22 ministries, including foreign affairs, defense and justice, head each of the local canton governments.
The borders of this new predominantly Kurdish autonomous region in Syria now sweeps horizontally from the northeastern town of Derek in Cizire Canton bordering Iraq, to the westernmost Afrin Canton in Aleppo Governorate bordering Turkey.
Male and female co-leaders run the council of ministers of each government with three deputies representing the local diversity.
An Assyrian woman, Elisabeth Korean, was elected co-leader of Cizire Canton and Kurdish woman Hevi Ibrahim was appointed Prime Minister of Afrin Canton.
The ministers, led by women, gave an oath of office in Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian, but first in their mother tongue and each used their own holy books.
The locally organised pro-Kurdish People’s Defense (Protection) Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense (Protection) Units (YPJ) act as the cantons’ official defense forces.
Kurds, Arab Muslims, Assyrians and other Christian minorities have joined the ranks of those militias renowned for having simultaneously clashed with Syria’s regular army as well as Islamist rebel groups. But for the past year they have mainly engaged in fierce clashes with Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
Democratic Autonomy in Rojava does not mean separatism, the people in this region of Syria have made this move to set an example for the rest of the country, persisting that they can be united and that decentralization can bring about democracy, diversity and peaceful co-existence for all people in Syria.
KNK members from Rojava
36 politicians and independent personalities are member of the KNK.
1.Desteya Bilind a Kurd – Rojava/Kurdish Supreme Council
2.Partiya Yekitiya Demokratik (PYD / The Democratic Union Party
3.Partiya Komunista Kurd – Suriya/ Kurdish Communist Party of Syria
4.Partiya Çepa Demokrat ya Kurd li Sûriyê –Rojava/ Kurdish Democratic Leftist Party in Syria
5.Partî Demokratî Kurdî Suriye – Rojava (PDKS)/Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria
6.Yekitiya Star/Union of Kurdish Women