While the militants of the Islamic State (IS) are fighting infidels and atheists according to them, Kurds believe that Kobani — Ain al-Arab in Arabic and Ain al-Islam according to the supporters of the alleged Caliphate — is one of the most important battles in their history, filled with dreams and disappointments. This battle recalls the battle of Shahrizor and represents a symbol of the Kurdish strong presence across the borders of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. After Iraq's Kurdistan experience, the Syrian Kurdish areas are witnessing an attempt to implement a self-administration that achieves equality between men and women, protects the rights of Arabs and Assyrians, and aspires, despite criticisms particularly by Kurds, to be a model for a civil and pluralistic Syria.
Of Syria's population, 10% lives in Afrin, Jazira and Kobani. This is the Greater Kurdistan, or Rojavaye in Kurdish, in the West. Northern Kurdistan represents the Kurdish regions of Turkey. Eastern Kurdistan regions are in Iran and South Kurdistan regions are in Iraq.
In three Syrian enclaves on the Turkish border, ministries were established such as the ministries of economy, agriculture and natural resources, defense and foreign affairs, under the slogan of a “democratic self-administration” declared by the Movement for a Democratic Society, TEV-DEM in Kurdish — a political formation supported by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The three departments are represented in a general regional council, and the affairs of each enclave or canton are managed by a man and a woman.
The Syrian army withdrew in 2012 from the Kurdish regions, and the scene was clear for the PYD which felt the need to impose self-administration in the regions it is managing. These regions are not geographically linked and their surface is more than the two-folds of that of Lebanon. The self-administration attempt was not unanimous, since its establishment coincided with the affiliation by Kurdish parties to the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.
Initiative to establish a federal regime
On the sidelines of the Third Annual Forum for the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) in Sile, Turkey, An-Nahar met last week with Sinem Muhammed, the representative of the self-administration of the three enclaves in Europe. She said that the self-administration was established in January 2014 to counter terrorism, and even the emergence of IS. Following consecutive developments, women's units fought valiantly with the People's Protection Units, and non-partisan female members carried weapons. Women are more susceptible to the oppression of terrorists who dread killing female fighters since according to their belief, this may prevent them from going to Paradise and enjoying the Houris. Recently, Decree No. 22 was issued in Jazira and ordered gender equality in terms of salary, job positions, inheritance and legal worth of testimony. This decree also prohibited marriage of girls without their consent, polygamy and marriage of Diya.
Muhammed explained that the achievements were not limited to women, since the self-administration reached out to Arabs and Assyrians. “Positions are for all according to the idea of competence-based equality and not on a sectarian distribution as is the case for the Lebanese model,” she said. The ruler of Jazira, for example is an Arab national from the Shumar tribes and is assisted by a Kurdish woman.
In Kobani, all potentials are allocated for defense, considering [Kobani] a front to defend the self-administration from IS. The latter is seeking to get a grip of all the border crossings with Turkey through Kobani and to control a wide and connected border area. Muhammed described "IS as a suspicious tool hostile to minorities and whose objective is to re-draw the maps of the region. We have been fighting it for two years, and the international community considered it a purely Kurdish affair and only acknowledged its dangerousness when the borders fell in its hands."
She added, "This is a decisive battle for the Kurds, Syria, and women's rights and democratic regimes. Any solution to the Syrian crisis must pass through the resistance in Kobani and the Kurdish issue. Such a solution is achieved by the establishment of a pluralistic democratic regime and a federal regime consecrating equal rights for the Kurds."
Muhammed revealed the initiative to democratize Syria, recognize the equality of citizens — including Alawites, Druze and Christians — and renounce sectarian rhetoric. "Diversity is a wealth, not a pretext for division," she said, adding that the emergence of a voluntary and free union is achieved through a pluralistic decentralized regime and constitutional guarantees for minorities.
The initiative is in the hands of the [international] coalition and any person who does not have blood on his hands, while focusing on the internal opposition and renouncing any relation to the regime.
Muhammad said, "If the initiative is rejected, we will not abandon the idea of cantons. Experience proved to be successful, especially in Jazira, which is the nucleus of the future Syria. If others offer a better democratic solution, then so be it, but everyone is aware that we are not calling for a Kurdish state, but for equal rights."
An-Nahar met also with Alif Saeed, who works at the Ministry of Defense in Afrin. She said that women there go to Kobani, even if it is far, to get military training, since Jabhat al-Nusra is close and the PYD sent reinforcements.
She added, “People are suffering from hard living conditions. There is a sense of security, but they face difficult circumstances. There is a shortage of medicines and difficulties in the sale of production. The self-administration seeks self-sufficiency. We do not need a Syrian central authority; the Kurdish regions are not going back to their situation before the revolution.”
On the other hand, activist Shereen Hamddoush from Afrin gave An-Nahar a critical review of the self-administration experience.
She believes that the establishment of this self-administration guarantees security, but overlooks health and educational affairs, which affects daily life ... She added, “The term ministry is an exaggeration and it aims at creating a media buzz, since the PYD does not represent all Kurds. Life under the self-administration is similar to life under the authority of the Syrian regime before the revolution.”
Hamddoush explained that the benefits are fictional, and there is favoritism for Arabs and Assyrians to the detriment of the opposing Kurds, as a way to use a pretext for a state of pluralism. She stressed that the success of this experiment is difficult, should injustice and marginalization against opponents remain. She criticized the exile by the PYD of Kurdish activists outside the enclave and the imposition of royalties on the owners of shops and olive presses, wondering why the funds are not used to improve living conditions in light of the high cost of water and electricity as a result of the blockade and the influx of displaced people.
Regarding the Jazira enclave, a report in The Economist indicated a surplus of wheat and flour, which may be sold on the black market. The Kurdish-controlled oil refinery in Jazira is only working at about 5% of its capacity and the Kurds have started to create a viable economy. However, this does not deny the violations reported by Human Rights Watch, most notably the arbitrarily arrests of PYD opponents.
Perhaps the Dohuk agreement concluded by the PYD on Oct. 23 with the Kurdish National Council is a recognition of PYD’s mistakes, since it specified that the council must be involved in the self-administration and provided for the establishment of a military body, including both parties and other political parties, after the PYD was blamed for hindering the access of the council’s fighters to the rescue of Kobani. But what must be taken into consideration are actions and not intentions.
Across the borders
Just like IS broke the borders, the plight plaguing Kobani and the self-administration experience provided a rare occasion to reconsider the Kurdish issue and overcome traditional rivalries. This is evidenced by the fact that Turkey accepted that peshmerga cross over to Syria. Before that, the PKK has contributed in deterring IS from Iraqi Kurdistan and the People’s Protection Units entered to protect Yazidis. Moreover, reports talked about Iranian Kurds joining the peshmerga.
However, Massoud Barzani, son of Kurdish nationalist leader Mullah Mustafa (Mustafa Barzani), proposed the establishment of the Kurdistan Protection Units, which are composed of Syrian and Iraqi fighters, without abandoning the strong political and economic ties with Turkey. What a complicated network of interests!
For weeks, Ankara refused to agree to let the peshmerga cross over; protests led to the death of 40 people; the Turkish military bombed PKK targets in Hakkari for the first time since the start of the historic peace process with it. Analysts believe that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan misinterpreted the crisis of Kobani.
A poll recently showed that Turks fear the PKK as much IS, but this does not mean the possibility of distancing themselves from the outside world. Whether or not Kobani falls, it will not be possible to tame the Kurdish unrest in Turkey, especially since the peace negotiations have not yielded tangible gains.
The Kurds in Iran may not be separated from the events in Syria. Photographer Joan Azadi told An-Nahar: “The regime in my country fears our sectarian affiliation and our nationalism. But the success of the Syrian self-administration will push things in our favor, albeit slowly and with difficulty.”
Saeed expected the practical emergence of the Greater Kurdistan through democratic self-administrations wherever there is a Kurdish presence, even if no single state is formed. "All this depends on the fate of Kobani, since the Kurdish issue is in the hands of Syria's Kurds, and not in the hands of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region."
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