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- These days, lots of news reaches us about the Middle East. The upheaval in the area continues to rise, and day by day we receive new information about the advance of the Islamic State, the counteroffensives of the Iraqi army, or the bombings by the United States and their clique. A vortex of data, stories, and news in which it is easy to get lost - even more so when the mainstream media don’t know how to position themselves - and in a few months the good guys have become fanatics, and the bad guys can now be allies. On our part, the purpose of this article is to come closer to one of the indirect protagonists of this madness, the Kurds, who in the past few months have become practically the only ones capable of coping with the rapid advance of the ISIS fanatics. For quite some time, we’ve wanted to dedicate some lines to the resistance of these people, with their near-eternal fight in defense of their forms of life and culture, but above all, we’ve wanted to become familiar with the ideological and practical proposals of some of the organizations of this region. If we did not do it before, it was because of the important problems which research of this topic involves, with little information easily accessible and the difficulty contrasting everything that we read… But it is certain that in these past months, the information about this topic that we have received in Spanish has increased, mainly through these two websites: http://alasbarricadas.org/noticias/ and https://solidaridadkurdistan.wordpress.com/
- A bit of history
- The first thing would be to put ourselves in a position to delve even surface-deep into the history of the Kurdish people, so that we can better understand their present situation and their future expectations. Their origins are found in the center of the diverse Indo-European people who settled around their current geological location - a large, mostly mountainous region in southwest Asia, nestled between the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey and the Zagros and Alborz Mountains of northeast Iran - around 2500 BC. During the Middle Ages, they remained largely autonomous, until the friction between the two great empires of the region - the nascent Ottoman Empire and the already ancient Persian Empire - made the region strategically important, finally dividing it between the borders of both. By the 19th century, the Kurdish population’s attempts at insurrection for their liberation from the Ottomans multiplied, but none were successful. During this time, the Kurdish society lived primarily as a tribal organization, dedicated to farming and agriculture, with a significant nomadic population.
- The next turning point in the history of these people was at the start of the 20th century, during World War One. That great contest which bled half the world also meant a substantial change in political geography, especially in the Middle East (along with central Europe). The defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the invasion of large parts of their territory by the English, French, Italians, Americans and Greeks gave the Western powers the opportunity to form a new status quo in the region that would allow them to exploit it economically. To all this we must add the support that the Western powers received during the war from many people who lived under the Ottoman yoke, whether they were Palestinian Arabs, Armenians, or Kurds, who, once victorious, claimed their independence. In this context, the redivision of the region with the Treaty of Sèvres was signed in 1920, which proposed a Kurdish state with approximately one third of the area occupied by the Kurdish people. However, due to the reaction of Turkish nationalism by the hand of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his victories against the Western forces, a new treaty was proposed in 1923 - that of Lausanne. In it, the Kurds were left without a state, anchored between the borders drawn by the West in the area. Above all, the important thing for the Western powers was to not lose their piece of control of the economy and financial means of the area, or at least to maintain a sufficient portion of it.
- Starting from this moment and throughout the second half of the 20th century, there was an increase of struggles by the Kurds for their emancipation. In the Turkish region, after the fiasco of the Western promises and before the prohibition of the Kurdish language (or rather, one of its dialects which was spoken in the east of Kurdistan), an uprising was initiated which was crushed by the government of Kemal. From that moment began a series of policies aimed at the subjugation of the Kurds which continue to this day, through military, educational, and geographic control of the population (due to this, many Kurdish villages were destroyed by a part of the population migrating to the cities, as well as the introduction of Turkish settlers in the region.) In turn, the Republic of Mahabad - an independent Kurdish state within Iran - was created within one year. For the region under the Iraqi government, the 1970s represented a rebound in the armed struggle of the Kurds against Iraqi troops, which led them during a short time to create several zones autonomous from the Iraqi government. Additionally, there was the terrible year of 1988, when Saddam Hussein’s army attacked several groups of Iraqi Kurds with chemical weapons during the course of the Iran-Iraq war. However, not everything has been fights for independence. There have also been several different armed conflicts between the Kurds themselves, resulting from tribal or political infighting.
- The start of the new century has brought important changes to the geopolitical situation, which in turn have affected this region of the world. In this effect, the second Iraq War in 2003 represented a step forward in favor of independence for the Iraqi Kurdish parties. Their support of the American government brought them a special autonomous status which has grown in recent times due to the semi-decomposition of the Iraqi government in the face of the Islamic State’s advance. Similarly, the different Arab Springs which went through northern Africa and the Middle East degenerated into a civil war in Syria, before which, the Kurdish regions - which did not align themselves with any of the two large sides (the government of Al-Assad and the amalgam of rebels) - have been getting de facto autonomy wherein they govern and defend themselves.
- So, currently, we find ourselves with a population of some 40 million people, who are distributed between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, as well as significant settlements in Armenia and Western Europe (the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Sweden.) A people who, in different degrees, have been - and still are - socially, culturally, and politically denied by the governments of these four states. The bloodiest case may be in Turkey, where until recently, even the word “Kurdistan” was prohibited. As for the reason behind this situation, one of the main factors is economic (how strange, the truth…). The area that the Kurds populate is very rich in raw materials, especially in regards to energy, containing the entirety of the petroleum reserves of Turkey and Syria, 40% of Iraq’s, and 10% of Iran’s. It also contains one of the biggest pockets of natural gas in Iran. The region is one of the largest areas of grain production in the Middle East, and it also has a significant pasture area for livestock. Yet in 1925, two years after the aforementioned Treaty of Lausanne, the Iraq Petroleum Company was created with French, English, and American participation. Like many other cases, the riches of the region ended up becoming the cause of their misery.
- Democratic Confederalism
- Once we’ve established a better understanding of the region, we find it interesting to present one of the most important currents within this struggle of the Kurdish people, whose epicenter (and the most known group in our geography) is the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Said organization was born in the Turkish region of Kurdistan in 1978 as a front for the national and social liberation of the Kurdish people from a Marxist-Leninist position, with the intention of generating a Kurdish Socialist State within the orbit of the old USSR. After years of war against Turkey (which is currently in the middle of a delicate peace process), a distancing from Real Socialism began, an ideological evolution that started to become obvious in the end of the 20th century and continues to this day, resulting in a stagnation of the previous process of fighting and an assessment critical of its path (something that in itself seems healthy within any organization), and that, at not always equal paces, has involved both the bases and the cadres of the party (with a special mention to Öcalan, the charismatic leader of the PKK, incarcerated in a Turkish prison since 1999). This change came hand in hand with the creation by the PKK of a broad front called the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union), to which more than 400 political and social organizations are associated, and is generating a new political project based on what they call democratic confederalism.
- This new tendency, without disowning Marxism, takes primarily from the libertarian municipalism and social ecology theorized by the North American author Murray Bookchin. In this regard, its ideological core is centered around socialism, ecology, and feminism. It proposes a “democracy without a State” based upon communal economy, decision-making and work from below and in the centrality of the municipalities as the axes of social life (which would form a large confederation); although including in all this the contradictory participation in the current State apparatus through elections, something that is already prescribed by North American anarchists.
- In practice, the weight of this theory falls upon the assemblies and local councils, relying on self-management at the political and economic level (the level of “education, health, culture, agriculture, industry, social services and security, women’s issues, and the youth”). The armed fight has gone on in the background (if it is possible to speak as such in a context of underground warfare with the different states of the region) in front of a process of extension of street-level policies:
- «Popular participation exists in the councils, including non-Kurdish people. The neighborhood assemblies are strong in several provinces; “in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkish Kurdistan, there are assemblies nearly everywhere.” Elsewhere, “in the provinces of Hakkâri and Şırnak… there are two parallel authorities [the KCK and the State], of which the democratic confederal structure is more powerful in practice.” The KCK in Turkey “is organized at the levels of the village (köy), urban neighborhood (mahalle), district (ilçe), city (kent), and the region (Bölge), which is called “the north of Kurdistan”. The “highest” level of the federation in northern Kurdistan, the DTK (Democratic Society Congress), is a mixture of delegates with revocable mandates elected by their peers, who constitute 60%, and the representatives of “more than 500 organizations of civil society, trade unions and political parties”, that make up the remaining 40%, of which approximately 6% is “reserved for the representatives of religious minorities, academics or others with a certain knowledge or particular point of view”.»
- Likewise, the more ethnic and nationalist aspect, although still surviving to some degree, is giving way to a federative ideal that moves away from borders, in which the nation-state is no longer the paradigm to follow, but rather a society that presents itself with decentralized power in local assemblies. After all, keeping in mind the words of the Kurdish journalist and anthropologist Mehmet Dogan:
- “The capitalist nation-state is a state that legitimizes its domination in three senses: firstly, allowing one class to exploit the popular classes; secondly, through masculinity; and finally, domination over nature… Democratic confederalism doesn’t just provide the self-determination of the Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Arabs, and Persians, but rather seeks to construct a manner of community organization from the bottom-up where everyone can live in harmony with nature, where men and women are truly equals.”
- With all this, we do not try to raise an idealistic vision of the KCK’s fight, but rather to put further attempts on the table to overcome the current society of misery, with its pros and its cons (as certain aspects we decry, whether it be the current authoritarian drifts of the party form or the excessive worship of the leader Öcalan who we sometimes catch a glimpse of), but that gives us something to think about.
- The women’s struggle
- As has already been said, another of the pillars around which democratic confederalism pivots is the issue of gender; and it certainly seems to be a point of great importance. The discrimination against women in Kurdish society, the result of both capitalist modernity and its commodification, as well as the patriarchal tribal tradition or the diverse interpretations of Islam, is something clear and recognized as a central problem of society, without its resolution social and national liberation will not be possible. All this, even from a society traditionally less coercive in this regard than other parts of the Middle East.
- In this regard, several specific women’s organizations stand out within the KCK, such as the Turkish YJA, the Iranian YR, and the Syrian Kongreya Star, which cover diverse areas of work, whether ideological, social, or self-defence. While it is true that the existence of some of those date back to the 1980s, they have been expanding with time and gaining greater prominence in day-to-day politics, of the everyday, beyond the mere guerilla matter. Its work is, first of all, the awareness of the population of the intent to overcome a dominant masculinity and a submissive femininity.
- Amongst some of the initiatives put into practice in this regard, it is worth highlighting the work that has been developed via massive and active women’s participation in the different assemblies and committees, the commitment to co-presidency (of a man and a woman) of city councils and associations attached to the KCK, and the creation of self-managed communes by and for women who have been victims of mistreatment. Added to this is the already old debate - but more visible in these moments of conflict with the lunatics of the Islamic State - of freedom to use (or to not use) the veil, and the strictly female armed militias.
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