Re-Posted in full from The Disorder of Things
The Kurdish town of Kobanê has recently become the centre of a geopolitical conflagration that may well change the course of Middle Eastern politics. After months of silence over the threat faced by Kurds from ISIS, the world is now finally watching, even if the ‘international community’ remains conspicuously quiet. However, many Western responses, be it from scholars, journos or activists, have somewhat predictably retracted into recycled critiques of US and UK imperialism, often at the expense of missing what is truly exceptional and noteworthy in recent developments. So, in the style of contemporary leftist listicles, here are four things we can and should learn from events in and around Kobanê.
1. It’s Time to Question the West’s Fixation on ISIS
If Barack Obama, David Cameron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are to be believed, the ‘savagery’ of ‘fundamentalism’ is the primary focus of NATO involvement in Syria. Notably, many left critics have reproduced this very same fixationon ISIS when discussing Western interests. However, for an almighty imperialist organisation supposedly hell bent on stopping ‘Islamic extremism’, NATO have been curiously ineffective. In fact, the US has been indirectly responsible for arming ISIS and altogether incompetent and/or reluctant in arming the decidedly secular Kurdish resistance. US and UK air strikes have been fleeting, and at best symbolic, making little impact on the advance of ISIS. Moreover, Turkey has repeatedly turned a blind eye to ISIS’s use of its territories and borders for training activities and supply lines, respectively. More recently, as Kobanê teetered on the edge of conquest, Turkey insisted any military assistance was dependent on the Kurdish PYD abandoning self-determination and self-governing cantons, and agreeing to Turkish buffer zone in Kurdish controlled areas in Northern Syria (which amounts to little more than a colonial land grab). Now, considering the US and UK were keen to intervene long before ISIS was seen as a threat, and considering Turkey long-standing hostility to the PKK/PYD, we should be more demanding of any analysis of intervention that begins and ends with ISIS. In short, it is becoming increasingly clear that ISIS is little more than a pretext for NATO to pursue other geopolitical aims – namely removing Assad and destroying Kurdish autonomy.
2. Be Wary of Liberal Internationalism
Many anti-intervention critiques have argued that non-military options remain available through diplomatic channels and pressure on regional players such as Iran, the Gulf States and even Russia. This is to misread the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Firstly, the US does not control every allied state with complete impunity. Despite historical relations of dependency, despite metaphors of ‘puppets’, most Gulf States are remarkably powerful actors in their own right, with interests and activities that are beyond US control. Any suggestion to ask the Saudis to end financial support is likely to be as effective as asking ISIS to calm down a bit. Secondly, to call for American diplomatic engagement with Russia and Iran is to assume relations of international cooperation that simply do not exist. It is to wish away long running geopolitical rivalries among three nation-states vying for regional dominance. It is to place undue emphasis on the agency of Western states – “if only the West made the naughty Eastern countries do this or that, the conflict would be resolved”.
Finally, it is to marginalise and thus close off the possibility of any non-state and anti-capitalist alternatives based on the PYD/PKK project of Democratic Autonomy. Indeed, it is unclear why the imperatives and motives of imperialism that are so prevalent in military action would not be equally problematic when it comes to ‘peaceful alternatives’ directed either by Western states, or indeed reactionary and anti-democratic regional powers. As such we should critically question government claims that military intervention is ‘the only option’. But we should also be wary of empty pacifism based on (neo)liberal and state-centric conceptions of cooperation, insofar as conditions for the latter are absent (and by the way, in the capitalist state system, they’re always absent).
3. Listen to Kurdish Voices
The Western left often suffers from a debilitating and orientalist tendency to overstate the agency of the US and relegate communities and societies affected by intervention to passive actors, not worthy of considered analysis. Indeed, it is striking the number of anti-imperialist commentaries that rely less on the experiences and dynamics of Kurdish communities and more on rehashed critiques of the logic of Great Power predation. On the one hand, this can cause the left to duplicate caricatures of ‘ugly sectarianism’ and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ in ways that don’t seem too far off the arguments of Cameron and Obama (for some useful correctives see here and here).
On the other hand, it offers little consideration of the voices of Kurdish communities under attack since their intentions and actions simply don’t matter to opposing ‘imperialism at home’. The resultant politics can often be deleterious. We might wonder, for example, what the people of Kobanê would make of calls for ‘peaceful alternatives’ to war. This is especially important, since in Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria) Kurds are defending what is arguably the best hope for left politics in the region. Even the most cursory glance at the constitutional make-up and political achievements of Kurdish cantons would put most Western organisations to shame. Yet this week, while hunger strikesand solidarity demonstrations from Kurdish people were taking place in the UK and beyond, anti-war groupsorganised an entirely separate and potentially conflicting protest. The sooner the Western left abandons its penchant for reducing class to geopolitics, the sooner it can offer authentic solidarity to groups and communities that deserve and need it.
4. Keep an Eye on Turkey
As a result of the Turkish response to Kobanê, Kurdish people and their allies have taken to the streets in towns and cities across Turkey, clashing with police and the gendarmerie to a degree not seen since the resistance movement of 2013. The protests have been militant and focussed, barricading streets, targeting checkpoints, banks, police, military and government buildings and, according to some reports, liberating certain districts. As of late, Turkish politics had been at an impasse with the energy of Gezi seemingly dissipating between the pincer movement of state violence and Erdogan’s electoral victories. At the same time, the so-called Kurdish peace process has stalled, perhaps irrevocably, as the Turkish state’s reconciliation has proven to be little more than lip-service. It is difficult to predict whether the current confrontation between protesters and the state will escalate, but it is clear that Turkish machinations in Kurdistan will lead to a Kurdish response in Turkey.
Large sections of Turkish society remain deeply racist (last night a twitter hashtag inciting violence against Kurds was trending in Turkey) and so polarisation is likely. However, there are reasons to be hopeful that this time may be different. Gezi has prefigured a new – but still very imperfect – support for Kurdish liberation, most clearly evidenced in the unprecedented support for the pro-Kurdish HDP in Turkey’s recent presidential elections. Moreover, in Kobanê, Rojava and elsewhere the PKK/PYD model of Democratic Autonomy constitutes a powerful working alternative to the authoritarianism of the AKP. In this respect, the future of Kobanê is crucial to the democratic and revolutionary hopes of Turkish, Syrian, as well as Kurdish, people.
Photo – members of Istanbul anarchist group DAF after crossing into Syria to take part in the defence of Kobane against Isis / Daesh.
On Friday we repotted that “Istanbul anarchists along other leftists, feminists, and ‘Gezi park types’ have managed to cross over into Syria and the northern town of Kobane which is currently threatened by ISIS.” Below is a more detailed report translated from Alternative libertaire, a sister member of the Anarkismo.net network.
For several days at the Syrian-Turkish border, the city of Kobanê is besieged by forces of the Islamic State (Daesh). Kobanê is a strategic turning point. If the city falls, the whole of Syrian Kurdistan is threatened, and with it a political and social model, that of “democratic autonomy” and “democratic confederalism” built since July 2012.
More than 100,000 inhabitants and residents have become refugees on Turkish territory.
The city is defended by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), militias linked to the PKK, and in which alongside the majority of Kurdish fighters, are also Arabs, Turks, Muslims, Yazidis, Christians or atheists, united against the fanatics of Daesh.
Thousands of young people, socialists, trade unionists, revolutionaries, feminists, libertarians have poured in from all over Turkey to Kobanê. They go there to support the refugees and defend the city.
The Turkish army tries to disperse them, yet is accused of being much more permissive with the jihadists who are also trying to cross the border to join Daesh.
Despite the blockades of the Turkish army, hundreds of activists and militants have managed to cross the border. Among them, the comrades of the Revolutionary Anarchist Action Group, who made the trip to Istanbul to join the defense of Kobanê, and sent these photos.
Kobanê has become a flashpoint where two worlds confront each other: the progressive, secular and revolutionary forces on one side, and the religious fanatics on the other.
The references to “a political and social model, that of “democratic autonomy” and “democratic confederalism” built since July 2012″ are in relation to the claimed change in organisational methods of the PKK, under the influence of US anarchist Murray Bookchin’s writings on Libertarian Municipalism. We’ve not had any real chance to evaluate these claims but there was some discussion of them at our recent Dublin branch meeting, recording below
Istanbul anarchists along other leftists, feminists, and ‘Gezi park types’ have managed to cross over into Syria and the northern town of Kobane which is currently threatened by ISIS.
Vice reported yesterday that ISIS is within 5 miles of the city and are attacking with US military equipment including tanks that outmatches the weapons available to the YPG – Kurdish People’s Protection Units . Vice also reported that “Hundreds of Turkish Kurds are arriving too, sneaking or bribing their way across the border to fight alongside the YPG”
The photo shows a banner of the anarchist group DAF apparently just after the border has been crossed. The statement we were sent says “People are suffering from hunger and thirst, getting ill, getting injured; migrating and dying. They are still fighting in that struggle for existence. People are fighting not for the schemes and strategies around meeting tables, not for income, but for their freedom”
We hope to bring more details and further photos as they become available
“Thousands of young people, socialists, trade unionists, revolutionary, feminist, libertarian poured in from all over Turkey to Kobanê. They and they go there to support and defend the city réfugié.es.
The Turkish army tries to disperse them, as she is accused of being much more permissive with the jihadists who are trying, too, to cross the border to join Daech.
Despite the dams of the Turkish army, hundreds of activists and militants have managed to cross the border. Among them, the comrades of the Revolutionary Anarchist Action Group, who made the trip to Istanbul to join the defense of Kobanê, and sent these photos
More available on french
شبکه آنارشیستی aded
– this is a translation from our sister group in France, Alternative libertaire
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a formation of U.S. Navy F-18E …
BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-led airstrikes targeted Syrian oil installations held by the extremist Islamic State group overnight and early Thursday, killing at least 19 people as more families of militants left their key stronghold, fearing further raids, activists said.
The strikes aimed to knock out one of the militants’ main revenue streams — black market oil sales that the U.S. says earn up to $2 million a day for the group. That funding, along with a further estimated $1 million a day from other smuggling, theft and extortion, has been crucial in enabling the extremists to overrun much of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The United States and its Arab allies have been carrying out strikes in Syria for the past three days, trying to uproot the group, which has carved out a self-declared state straddling the border, imposed a harsh version of Islamic law and massacred opponents. The U.S. has been conducting air raids against the group in neighboring Iraq for more than a month
On the ground, Syria’s civil war raged on unabated, with government forces taking back an important industrial area near Damascus from the rebels, according to Syrian activists and state media. Activists also accused President Bashar Assad’s troops of using an unspecified deadly chemical substance.
The Islamic State group is believed to control 11 oil fields in Iraq and Syria. The new strikes involved six U.S. warplanes and 10 more from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, mainly hitting small-scale refineries used by the militants in eastern Syria, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
At least 14 militants were killed, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian conflict through a network of activists on the ground.
The Observatory and two independent activists said another five people who lived near one of the refineries were also killed, likely the wives and children of the militants.
Kirby said the Pentagon is looking into reports that civilians were killed but has no evidence yet.
Other strikes hit checkpoints, compounds, training grounds and vehicles of the Islamic State group in northern and eastern Syria. The raids also targeted two Syrian military bases that had been seized by the Islamic State group. In the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen, a building used by the militants as an Islamic court was also hit.
Apparently fearing more strikes, the militants reduced the number of fighters on their checkpoints, activists said. Many of the casualties the group has sustained in the American-led air raids have been at checkpoints. Activists also said that more families of Islamic State militants were clearing out of the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, on Thursday, heading eastward.
For some Syrians, the airstrikes were bitter justice.
“God has imposed on you just a part of what you have done, but you are even more criminal,” wrote Mahmoud Abdul-Razak on an anti-Islamic State group Facebook page, saying that the airstrikes were divine punishment.
But other Syrians see coalition strikes as serving Assad’s interests because they do not target government forces and because some have hit the Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate that has battled both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces
Some opposition activists saw the strikes on the Nusra Front as a sign of a wider operation targeting other Syrian militants among the anti-Assad rebellion seen as a potential threat by the United States.
“All of this is to serve Bashar, and yet people believe the Americans are protecting the Syrians,” said Saad Saad, writing on the same Facebook page.
A rebel fighter in the northern Aleppo province who only identified himself by his nom de guerre, Ramy, said the U.S. airstrikes appear coordinated with the flights of Syrian military planes, which would disappear from the skies shortly before the U.S.-led coalition aircraft show up.
“It’s like they coordinate with each other,” Ramy told The Associated Press over Skype. “The American planes come and they go.”
The Observatory reported fewer Syrian airstrikes in the past three days — likely because of the presence of the coalition aircraft. Still, bombing continued in a rebel-held area near Damascus, killing at least 8 people, including children, reported the Observatory and activist Hassan Taqulden.
Syrian Kurdish fighters also reported three airstrikes near a northern Kurdish area, which Islamic State militants have been attacking for nearly a week, prompting more than 150,000 people to flee to neighboring Turkey.
The Kurdish fighters said the U.S.-led coalition was likely behind the strikes in the area known as Ayn Arab, or Kobani to the Kurds. A spokesman for the fighters, Reydour Khalil, pleaded again that the coalition coordinate with them, claiming that the overnight strikes were not effective and struck abandoned bases.
“We are willing to cooperate with the U.S. and its alliance” by providing positions and information about the militants’ movements, Khalil said.
Elsewhere in Syria, Assad’s forces wrested back the rebel-held industrial area of Adra near Damascus after months of clashes.
On a government-organized tour of the area Thursday, the smell of dead bodies hung in the air amid the bombed-out buildings and torched cars. An unnamed commander accompanying the journalists said that the military dismantled 17 car bombs, and that soldiers were working to disarm more of them.
The government forces seized the Adra industrial zone after rebels accused them of using chemical explosives there on Wednesday. Footage of the wounded from the incident, in which six people were killed, showed men jerking uncontrollably and struggling to breathe before their bodies went limp.
The footage, posted on social networks, appeared genuine and consistent with The Associated Press reporting of the event depicted. But the footage did not suggest what chemical — if any — was used on the men.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Albert Aji in Adra al-Omaliya, Syria, contributed to this report.