Kurdish resource page

[UPDATED 9 September, new links added]

This page is a list of links to commentaries, mainly from left and anarchist perspectives, on the situation in Kurdish lands. I have tried to follow some of the complex arguments circulating, many of which I have not made up my mind about, and I have also noticed considerable confusion. Along with the understandable ignorance, we are of course dealing with disinformation and willful ignorance (e.g. last week I noticed a lot of social media chatter about "PKK-Peshmerga" being terrorists equivalent to ISIS...) So, while arranging my own thoughts, I thought I would publish this list of resources to help you arrange yours.

In case it is helpful, here are the key players. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party, led by Abdullah Öcalan) has on and off been in a state of insurgency in the Southeast of Anatolia or Turkish (Northern) Kurdistan. The KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) is an autonomous sub-state making up most of Northern Iraq or Iraqi Kurdistan, with its capital in Erbil, ruled by a coalition of president Barzani's centre-right KDP and Jalal Talabani's more left-wing PUK. The armed forces of the KRG are known as the Peshmerga. The PYD (Democratic Union Party) is an affiliate of the PKK which (in coalition with the KNC, Kurdish National Council, an alliance of other Kurdish groups sponsored by Barzani's KRG) governs Northern Syria or Syrian (Western) Kurdistan, known as Rojava. Rojava has been effectively autonomous since 2012, in revolution against Assad's Ba'athist regime in Damascus. Its armed forces are the YPG/YPJ (People's Protection Units - male and female respectively). There is also Iranian Kurdistan, but that's not really relevant to our story. All of these proper nouns are rendered differently in different translations of Kurdish and other languages; I have used the most common. It is worth noting that the Kurds are far from homogeneous, speaking a number of related Indo-Iranian languages and dialects (mostly but not all written in Roman script), and practising a range of religions (most are Sunni Muslims but there are also Shia Muslims, Yazidis, the Yarsan, Alevis,Christians and Jews).

The best single resource on the region, and especially on Rojava, that I have seen is that of the Irish-based anarchist Andrew Flood here. His introduction is worth reading first. In that he summarises what is at stake and the issues that have become contentious in the wake of the Da'esh assault on the Kurdish town of Kobane.

For me, as an internationalist, my bottom line is solidarity with the Kurdish people, who have been oppressed in all the nation-states amongst whom their land is cleft, and who bear the brunt of the genocidal advance of Da'esh (Islamic State or ISIS). This means solidarity with their heroic fighting forces, the YPG/YPJ, who are analogous to the French Résistance or the Republican militias of the Spanish civil war. My strong instinct is that our governments in the West should be helping them out too. The political and also social revolution in Rojava, unfolding alongside and partly within the Syrian revolution, is also incredibly inspiring, and many of the links below describe why, including (apparently) forms of direct democracy and a revolution in gender relations.

The role of the PYD in that revolution stands further analysis though. On the one hand, the heritage of the PKK is the most authoritarian tradition of the nationalist left (a purist form of Marxism-Leninism influenced by Mao) and marked by an unpleasant Stalinist-style cult of personality around Öcalan. On the other hand, Öcalan and his party appear to have gone through a significant political evolution in the last decade, adopting a form of libertarian socialism heavily influenced by the late Murray Bookchin, theorist of libertarian municipalism. This libertarian turn has encouraged parts of the global anarchist movement to embrace the cause of Rojava, while a more sternly purist anti-nationalist left communism continues to be suspicious. That is one of the key faultlines; the other is the question of Western intervention.

In the links below, I rely heavily on Andrew Flood's link list, and where it says AF I am directly quoting him, but with some minor typographical edits and some added hyperlinking. There are also several resources here, collected in January 2015 for Libcom. Texts by Kurdish anarchists are here. Other resources can be found at Tahrir-ICN. It is also worth noting that although anarchist-like Kurdish movements have received a great deal of attention in the anarchist scene, Syrian anarchists seem to have been less noticed, although they played a central role in the 2011 revolution; read about them here.

The Rojava revolution

A mountain river has many bends: an introduction to the Rojava revolution

This zine is an excerpt from the book A Small Key Can Open A Large Door, published in March 2015 by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness. The full book collects this introduction together with numerous interviews, public statements, firsthand accounts, and other articles that help give context to the struggle in Rojava. The book is available from Combustion Books (www.combustionbooks.org), its distributor AK Press (www.akpress.org), and major book retailers.

Stefan Bertram-Lee: Dear Mr. Anarchist, You Aren’t Listening (April 2015)

A reply to "Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism" about libertarian communist dialogue and criticism in regards to the Rojava revolution and anti-imperialism.
"The Rojava revolution does not need the permission of Western Anarchists to be able to succeed, it does not need us one way or the other... The only people this argument is important for is ourselves. In the west we have failed, while in Chiapas and Rojava a social revolution has occurred. We need to examine our tactics and our methods, and compare them to the PYD and EZLN, and see where we have gone wrong and where they have gone right. We cannot win by fighting as if the territory we are fighting on is the United States prior to WWI, or Spain prior to WWII, the same old tired Anarcho-Syndicalism will not win in the 21st Century. Subcomdanate Marcos says that when he first went to Chiapas all he could do was talk, and not listen, and so he failed. The peasants did not listen to those who could only talk. It is only when he learnt to listen that he was able to move forward, and this lesson is one that must be learnt by all Western Anarchists. We are not winning, and we need to listen to those who are."
The Rojava resistance: rebirth of the anticapitalist struggle - Salvador Zana (April 2015)

An article by Salvador Zana, a volunteer with YPG in Rojava.

Zaher Baher: Anarchist Eyewitness to self-management in Kurdish Syria / West Kurdistan (July 2014)
"Written a few months before the ISIS assault attracted attention this report from a Kurdish anarchist is a great introduction to the region, what is happening and a critical if very sympathetic examination of the reasons why." -AF

The embedded audio above is a recording of Zaher Baher of the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum speaking at the 2014 London Anarchist Bookfair about the two weeks he spent in Syrian Kurdistan in May 2014, looking at the experiences of self-management in the region, experiments that have become more widely discussed as the result of the defense of Kobane against ISIS. Zaher is also a member of Haringey Solidarity Group." - AF

Joseph Daher: On the Syrian Revolution and the Kurdish Issue (April 2014)
"An interview with Syrian-Kurdish activist and journalist Shiar Nayo who while very critical of the PKK/PYD still sees the experiement as worthwhile. It's also very useful at providing some context of the relationship with Syria, the Assad regime and the other rebel movements." - AF [Arabic original]

Rojava Our World: Syria's secret revolution (video, November 2014)
"BBC documentary that makes for a very useful introduction - Out of the chaos of Syria’s civil war, mainly Kurdish leftists have forged an egalitarian, multi-ethnic mini-state run on communal lines. But with ISIS Jihadists attacking them at every opportunity — especially around the beleaguered city of Kobane, how long can this idealistic social experiment last?" - AF

Zafer Onat: Rojava: Fantasies & Realities
"Brief piece that does a good job of quickly outlining both the limited goals of the Rojava revolution and the limitations of the reality of rebellion in the specific economic and social conditions. That it is written as a vehicle to argue for a anarchist international is a little jarring, not least because there is more than one of them already."  - AF

Nedcla Acik: Kobane: the struggle of Kurdish women against Islamic State (22 October 2014)
"Introduction to a 40 page PDF report from a recent delegation to the region that provides a useful summary if one from a position obviously sympathetic to the PKK influence." - AF

Rojava: Syria's Unknown war
"Vice documentary from September of 2013 when the YPG/J had launched a counteroffensive against ISIS. Includes footage of a 4km section of border where the Turkish army removed barbed wire to facilitate ISIS recruits crossing the border. Some interesting footage & interviews with militias on the front line who are described as consisting of local farmers."-AF

The constitution of the Rojava Cantons
"As can be seen this important document is radical republican with a built in social democratic leaning but not anarchist or anti-capitalist." - AF

Adam Curtis: Anarchy in Kurdistan
"Curtis blogs the meeting of Ocalan & Bookchin and the influeces around them. Quite a useful quick history of the PKK." - AF

Rafael Taylor: The new PKK: unleashing a social revolution in Kurdistan (August 17 2014)
"Useful explanation of the adoption of Bookchin's ideas by the PKK under Öcalan's direction and a brief sketch of their implementation in Northern Kurdistan (but that may be drawn from the 'Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan' interviews rather than confirming them?)"-AF

Dilar Dirik on "Stateless Democracy" at the New World Summit
"I like her stressing of the importance of the social transformation of society by the women's movement over time--something that I think gets diminished a bit when so much emphasis by the left gets placed on to what degree communal property has been instituted in Rojava and to what extent the PKK is suppressing, tolerating or dealing with the KDP. (video 2, video 3) (via Flint)" - AF

Interview with the Kurdistan Anarchists Forum (KAF) about the situation in Iraq/Kurdistan
"This includes some discussion of anarchist influences in the PKK and how seriously they should be taken."

An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective
This text is a response to the article Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective by K. B., recently published on the Ideas and Action website of the North America-based Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). In the article, there is an attack on the Rojava revolution in the Middle East, an event in which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has played a key role.

Sardar Saadi: Rojava revolution: building autonomy in the Middle East (July 25, 2014)
"Kurdish rebels are establishing self-rule in war-torn Syria, resembling the Zapatista experience and providing a democratic alternative for the region."

ADDED: Roland Dodds: Review of A Small Key Can Open a Large Door (June 2015)
Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness, an anarchist-publishing house, has compiled essays and interviews on the anarchist revolution that is taking place among millions of people in Rojava, entitled A Small Key Can Open a Large Door. Roland reviews it at In Hope And Darkness

ADDED: Oso Sabio: RojavaAn Alternative to Imperialism, Nationalism,and Islamism in the Middle East (pdf, 2015)
A long and detailed anti-capitalist analysis of the situation, arguing the PKK is the best alternative to war and dictatorship.

ADDED: Shawn Hattingh (ZACF): In the Rubble of US Imperialism: the PKK, YPG and the Islamic State (August 2015)
South African anarchist argues that the PKK/YPG is the best answer to "US imperialism", which is the main cause of the problem. [Personally, I disagree with the first half, which seems to displace blame away from Assad and other regional oppressive forces.]


Ocalan on Democratic Confederalism
PDF pamphlet were Ocalan lays down his concepts, drawing on Bookchin.

A nation state is not the solution but rather the problem - Abdullah Öcalan

Article by imprisoned Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, arguing against nationalism but instead for "democratic confederalism". However we want to point out the gulf which exists between his words and the still essentially nationalist practice of the PKK in reality, discussed here, not to mention the abuse of female members in the Party, including by Ocalan himself, so we reproduce this article for reference only.

Bookchinite commentary

Janet Biehl'Poor in means but rich in spirit'

David Graeber'No. This is a Genuine Revolution'

Critiques of the PKK/PYD

Libcom has several critical pieces, collected here. Here are some.

Dear Cheerleaders, we need to have a chat about imperialism (April 2015) 

"On the process of change in Northern Syria often called the Rojava revolution, the PYD as proponent of the process, and its alliance with Western imperialist powers."

Juraj KatalenacPKK, Democratic Confederalism, and Nonsense

A critical text about PKK and the “Democratic Confederalism” from militants who mainly express themselves in Croatian and gave to their structure the name Svjetska Revolucija (“World Revolution”). 

‘I have seen the future and it works.’ – Critical questions for supporters of the Rojava revolution

"Almost a 100 years ago, the US journalist, Lincoln Steffens visited the Soviet Union and proclaimed: ‘I have seen the future and it works.’[1] Ever since then, leftists have continued to delude themselves, not only about the Soviet Union, but about China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere. After a century of such delusions it is crucial that we don’t hesitate to ask critical questions of every revolution – even if that revolution is being threatened by a brutal counter-revolution."

Alex De JongStalinist caterpillar into libertarian butterfly? The evolving ideology of the PKK

1. Roots of the PKK
2. People’s War
3. Creating the ’new man’
4. Serok Apo
5. A revolution of women
6. Democratic Civilization
7. Whatever happened to socialism?
8. Potent vagueness

On David Graeber: 'Victory in Kobane. What next in the Rojava revolution?’

Anarchist Federation statement on Rojava (December 2014)
The Anarchist Federation looks at the "revolution" in Syrian Kurdistan, and the role of the PKK and compares the reality with the rhetoric.

ADDED: Zaher Baher: Why are anarchists divided over Rojava? (July 2015)
Response to the politics circulating in the left libertarian scene over Rojava.

Banner from July 2015 demonstration in front of the Turkish consulate in Chicago.
ADDED: Black Rose Collective: Our perspectives and tasks on the revolution in Rojava (August 2015)
A sympathetic critique. [Also at Libcom.]

ADDED: The grim reality of the Rojava Revolution - from an anarchist eyewitness (August 2015)
A bitter denunciation of the PKK and its anarchist advocates, including Graeber, based on one foreign anarchist's letter home. Depressing, pessimistic, anarcho-purist polemic.

The battle of Kobane

The defence of Kobane - anarchist reportage from WSM
"When the Turkish anarchist group DAF announced some of its members were heading to Kobane I started to pay much more attention to what what happening. This included writing quick reports for the WSM Facebook page during the first weeks of the siege that presented a political analysis of the events that were emerging from the resistance. The link will bring you to a Facebook album that collects those reports as each was intially posted as the caption of an image, now collected into this album."-AF

WSM: Tell Us Lies About Kobanê -unpicking the demand for Turkish & western intervention (9 October 2014)
"The notion that the fall of Kobanê could be prevented by the intervention of the Turkish army is a smokescreen that covers the truth that they are already intervening - on the side of ISIS. The Turkish state's selective blockade of the border, which allows arms and volunteers to cross for ISIS, but strangles them for the YPG defenders of Kobanê is the decisive intervention that is giving ISIS the upper hand."-AF

Anarchists join fight against IS to defend Kurdish autonomous areas (October 2014)

Taken from a report by the French Anarchist weekly paper Alternative Revolutionaire, this short article gives a taste of developments on the ground in the fight against Islamic State.

Kobane’s Second Phase: Resistance (March 2015)
Text from the Kurdish anarchists of KAF. (Also here.)

Leila Al Shami: The struggle for Kobane: an example of selective solidarity (October 2014)

"The heroic resistance of the people of Kobane in fighting the onslaught of the Daesh (ISIS) fascists since mid-September, has led to a surge of international solidarity. A multitude of articles and statements have been written and protests have been held in cities across the world. Kurds have flooded across the Turkish border to help their compatriots in the fight despite being brutally pushed back by Turkish forces, and others including Turkish comrades from DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) have gone to the border to support in keeping it open to help the flood of refugees escaping to Turkey. There have been calls to arm Kurdish forces and calls to support DAF and send aid for refugees. Yet this solidarity with Syria’s Kurds has not been extended to non-Kurdish groups in the country that have been fighting, and dying, to rid themselves of fascism and violent repression and for freedom and self-determination. It’s often said incorrectly, that sectarianism lies at the heart of the Syrian conflict. It’s necessary to understand to what extent sectarianism plays a role in our response too."
Ali Bektaş: Rojava: a struggle against borders and for autonomy (July 24, 2014)

As ISIS lays siege on the autonomous Kurdish enclave of Kobanê, thousands of Kurds try to break down the Turkish-Syrian border to join their comrades.
Includes interesting analysis of the contrast between decentralisation in Rojava and in Bakur (Turkish-ruled Northern Kurdistan).


ISIS Jihadism and Imperialism in the post Arab Spring period- an anarchist analysis (Audio & Video)
Following on from the rapid spread of Isis in Iraq & Syria Paul Bowman presented an update intended to inform on the contemporary politics of Jihadism and its entanglement with regional and global imperialist power plays.

WSM: Origins of the hostility and the split between Al Qa’ida and ISIS (17 September 2014)
An anarchist perspective: "Geo-strategically the Al Qa’ida leadership (Azzam, bin Laden, Zawahiri) are products of the Cold War, specifically the Afghan Mujahidin war against the USSR. Rather like their American neo-con previous employers, Al Qa’ida view the end of the Cold War as a victory over the USSR by their own side. The Al Qa’ida perspective is that, having “defeated” one superpower, the global jihad now needs to turn its offensive against the remaining superpower. Al Qa’ida worry that the Zarqawists of ISIS may be restricting the struggle to a parochial Mesopotamian sectarian struggle that could fail to engage Muslim jihadists around the world, outside the MENA region, say in West Africa or Indonesia and the Philippines where the US is a more credible #1 enemy than Iran.

North Kurdistan (Turkey)

Kurdish Communalism
2011 piece by Janet Biehly interviewing Kurdish activist Ercan Ayboga about who the Kurds are, the background of the PKK and the Democratic Autonomy process.

Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan By TATORT Kurdistan, trans Janet Biehl
Book length examiniation of 'Democratic Autonomy' in a couple of parts of 'Turkish' Kurdistan based around interview by members of a solidarity group who briefly vistited the area in 2011. Clearly from a PKK sympatheic perspective but alsol a useful source in terms of understanding the idealised structures and methods of 'Democratic Autonomy' and the real world problems of implementation.


Waterloo Sunset said…
On the PKK, I think we should be cautious, even cynical. But not dismissive.

Falling too heavily into the fallacy of origin (the PKK were Stalinists so they will de facto always be so) is a mistake I think.

One big question for me is whether the support for libertarian ideas in the grassroots is deep enough to exist independently of the leadership. On that, we can only wait and see.

Of course, in the here and now, the priority is to a)oppose the proscribed status of the PKK and b) recognise that the PKK in Iraq is not politically distinct from the PKK in Turkey. They are only treated as so because of geopolitical considerations, which should not affect our reaction to them.

I was against (and campaigned) against their criminialisation in the first place. But the fact that they are still being moved against and cases like Shilan Ozcelik make it a crucial issue. (I suspect you'd agree that it is farcial that we have arrests of Kurds from Britain going to fight against ISIS).

last week I noticed a lot of social media chatter about "PKK-Peshmerga" being terrorists equivalent to ISIS...

I'm not going to ask you to name names, but I'm interested to know if that's coming specifically from any particular tradition?

That's another fault line I think. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the PKK and their future development, at the moment, opposing their criminalisation is a litmus test for me. Those who claim to be pro Kurd and yet have nothing to say on this are not to be trusted. It's clear that their motive is in fact supporting Western foreign policy and they don't care about the Kurds at all.

On Western intervention. I'm not in favour of it as I think it's clear the Western governments are not to be trusted. But neither am I prepared to actively campaign against it, nor to condemn Kurds for making that call. In particular, the latter is more important than my personal misgivings.
Roland Dodds said…
I bought A Small Key Can Open a Large Door earlier this week, and just finished it. A very nice introduction to the principles of the Rojavan revolution. I'll be writing a review later this week.
Roland Dodds said…
The review: https://inhopeanddarkness.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/a-small-key-can-open-a-large-door-by-strangers-in-a-tangled-wilderness/
bob said…
Waterloo, Roland, I never thanked you for your helpful comments.

Re WS:
last week I noticed a lot of social media chatter about "PKK-Peshmerga" being terrorists equivalent to ISIS...

I'm not going to ask you to name names, but I'm interested to know if that's coming specifically from any particular tradition?

It was Mo Ansar, who used the meme to relativise Islamist terror. This discourse has been heavily cranked up by Turkey since then of course. Who knows if Mo got the meme from Turkish sources or thought it all up by himself.

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