The fate of the Kurds and Palestinians in Syria and elsewhere are inextricably linked to the dynamics of the popular movements of the region and resistance from below. What is desperately needed is solidarity between all revolutionaries who are against the Assad regime and against all the regional and international imperialist powers.
Ela Liberta: A large part of the left chose not to support the Syrian revolution, and even stands by the Assad dictatorship. The main argument is that the Syrian regime was for years an ally of the Palestinian movement and its overthrow would be a very serious defeat for the Palestinians. Is there any truth in these allegations? What were the relations between the Syrian Baath regime and the Palestinian liberation movement? What has been the treatment of Palestinian refugees in the Syrian camps all these years? How did the Palestinians of Syria see the Syrian revolution? Were Palestinians involved in protest demonstrations?
Joseph Daher: The idea that the Assad regime is a supporter of Palestinian liberation is one of its biggest lies. The final break in 1970 between Salah Jadid, the de facto leader of Syria at the time, and Hafez al-Assad, who was minister of defense and head of the air force, occurred following the refusal of Hafez al-Assad to support the government decision to allow the Palestinian Liberation Army (under command of the Syrian Arab Army [SAA]) to intervene in Jordan during the war in 1970 between the Palestinian resistance and King Hussein’s army. This led to the bloody Black September with thousands of Palestinians killed. The Baath party, led by Jadid, started a process to expel Assad from his positions of power, in order to dominate the army more firmly. The decision was never implemented. The army took control over the party headquarters, on the orders of Hafez al-Assad and Mustafa Tlass. This new bloody coup led to complete control of the party and of the regime by Assad.
Assad’s regime forces entered Lebanon in 1976 to crush Palestinian and Lebanese leftist forces, with the support and approval of the United States and Israel. Then throughout the eighties there was the war of the camps between mostly Amal and Palestinian groups, with Syria supporting Amal against the Palestinian groups and crushing them.
It is less well-known that following 1982 and the crushing of Palestinian groups in Lebanon by the Syrian regime, Yarmouk camp, which is a neighborhood of Palestinians in Damascus, witnessed uprisings and protest movements on a massive level within Damascus. There was massive repression by the Syrian secret services against them, with more than one thousand political prisoners throughout the eighties in Assad’s prisons.
From 1974 until 2011, not a single bullet was shot from Syria to liberate the occupied Golan. Assad was always ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel if Israel gave back at least a section of the occupied Golan, but Israel never wanted that. It wasn’t the other way around, and it’s very important to understand this. To this day, they see Assad as the lesser evil, as the best guarantee for their own borders. This is why they are happy with a weakened dictatorship in Syria as opposed to regime change. Israel fears various uprisings in the region, because authoritarian regimes have interests in directly or indirectly collaborating with Israel to crush their own people along with the Palestinians.
The best example was a statement made in 2011 by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, when he declared that the biggest threat to Israel is a successful Egyptian revolution—an Egyptian democracy—and not Iran. This revolution could extend to the region, and people liberating themselves would turn towards the Palestinian cause, which has been a central cause for decades in the region. So no, the Assad regime is definitely very far from being an ally of the Palestinian people or of any of the peoples struggling for freedom and dignity.
Since 2011, there has been massive repression against Palestinian refugees in Syria. Syria’s Yarmouk camp suffered a horrible siege with hundreds of people dying of hunger. In the first week of the uprising, Bouthaina Shaaban, an advisor of the Syrian regime, accused the Palestinians of fomenting sectarian strife within Syria, especially in Latakia. Several Palestinian refugee camps have been bombed. There are more than twenty thousand Palestinians wanted by the Assad regime.
Currently, Syrian military operations and airstrikes are continuing in various areas, including massively targeting massively Yarmouk camp—which is occupied by the Islamic State, but in which up to a thousand civilians still remain. Since 19 April, five thousand of the estimated six thousand civilians still left in Yarmouk when the offensive against IS began have fled to the nearby village of Yalda, according to the United Nations. While they are no longer under fire, they are also in dire need. As UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said, many of the new arrivals to Yalda are “begging for medicine and are sleeping in the streets.”
We have to make clear, however, that like other ethnic and religious groups in Syria there was no single political position among Palestinians in Syria. Some were opposed to the regime, hailing from a variety of places along the political spectrum (leftists, liberals, and Islamic fundamentalists), including Palestinian-Syrian youth activists, who participated in the uprising since the very beginning—as demonstrators, organizers of aid and relief work for wounded and internally-displaced Syrians, or as citizen journalists, photographers, and media activists. Some individuals also joined armed opposition groups, even jihadist groups such as IS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, although not in massive numbers. However, other sectors of Palestinian Syrians supported the regime, and Palestinian pro-regime militias existed as well, such as Liwa al-Quds or Quwat al-Sa’iqa (the military wing of the Arab Socialist Baath Party’s Palestinian branch) among others. Fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s general command were actually working hand in hand with the mukhabarat, running security patrols for the regime in the Yarmouk camp, and repressing activists. The majority of Palestinians in Syria who have taken up arms in the war have actually supported the Syrian regime.
I believe that the liberation of the popular classes of the region and of Palestine are linked. The liberation of Palestine and its popular classes is linked to the liberation and emancipation of the popular classes in the region against their ruling classes and the various imperialists (particularly the USA and Russia) and regional powers (such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar). By a similar logic, we have to fight against all attempts by regimes and Islamic reactionary forces to divide the popular classes according to their gender, religious sects, and nationalities in an attempt to rule them and therefore prevent their liberation—and the Palestinian popular classes’ liberation as well.
The multiplication of attacks by Israel in Syria is linked to Iranian presence and influence. Unwilling to see any radical change at its borders, Israel favored a similar option in Syria to that preferred by the US. The main priorities of the Israeli state were firstly to prevent the civil war in Syria from spreading across its borders and secondly to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of extremist Islamic groups, or the transfer of significant arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. In September 2017, former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel declared Israel had hit arms convoys of the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies nearly a hundred times since the beginning of 2012.
Assad’s regime, unwilling to provoke Israel, never responded to these interventions, except in February 2018 when anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria. Israel then launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it stated were twelve Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defense systems. Following this confrontation, both Israel and Syria signaled they were not seeking wider conflict, while Russia and the US were concerned about more violent escalation.
Israeli authorities have also publicly stated their opposition to seeing any Iranian or Hezbollah troops close to its borders and called on Russia to prevent this from happening. In this context, Israel multiplied attacks, especially from 2017, against Hezbollah and pro-Iranian targets in Syria.
The main issue today for Israel is therefore the presence of Iran and Hezbollah close to its borders in Syria.
The 2004 Kurdish Intifada gave Syrian Kurdish people increased confidence to mobilize for their rights and strengthened the nationalist consciousness of the youth and its will for change.
EL: The relations of the Assad regime with the Kurds are rather more complicated. The Syrian Baath regime retained a different attitude towards Kurdish movements and Kurdish political organizations in the countries of the region (Turkey, Iran, Iraq). In Syria for decades, Syrian Kurds suffered a rather hard oppression. Would you like to explain these contradictory policies?
JD: The first Syrian Kurdish parties were established in the 1950s as the result of an increasingly aggressive and chauvinistic Arab nationalism and growing frustration with Kurdish members of the Syrian Communist Party. While Kurds had a significant presence in the party and were close to it, many came to the conclusion that the party headed by Khalid Bakdash would not defend Kurdish rights and actually opposed the recognition of Kurdish national rights in Syria.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Kurds in Syria were one of the main scapegoats of rising Arab nationalism in Syria. They were presented as hired agents working at the service of powerful foreign enemies, especially American and Zionist imperialism. The first measures of the “Arab Belt” plan started in 1962. This policy of the Arab Belt was a plan for a cordon sanitaire between Syrian and neighboring Kurds around the northern and northeastern rim of the Jazira, along the borders with Turkey and Iraq. An “exceptional census” of the Jazira population in 1962 resulted in around 120,000 Kurdish being denied nationality and declared foreigners, leaving them (and subsequently their children), deprived of basic civil rights and condemned to poverty and discrimination.
The Assad regime continued these policies of discrimination, and maintained the institutional racist system against Kurdish populations in Syria. Between 1972 and 1977, in a continuation of the Arab Belt plan, a policy of colonization was implemented in specific regions populated predominantly by Kurds. Around 25,000 “Arab” peasants whose lands were flooded by the construction of the Tabqa dam were sent into the High Jazira and established “modern villages” close to Kurdish villages.
Meanwhile, the regime developed a policy to co-opt certain segments of Kurdish society—especially with the mounting opposition in the country at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s—and to serve foreign policy objectives. Some Kurds participated in the regime’s system through the incorporation of certain Kurdish elites by the religious brotherhoods and official sheikhs such as Ahmad Kuftaro (Mufti of the republic between 1964 and 2004) and Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti. Several Kurds held positions of local authority, while others reached high-ranking ones. However, this was on the condition of not demonstrating any particular Kurdish ethnic consciousness. Some Kurds were also included, at the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s, into elite divisions of the army or linked to specific military groups serving the regime. Another method of co-optation was the complicity of local security services with certain families of active Kurdish smugglers in the Jazira on the Syrian-Turkish and Syrian-Iraqi frontiers.
This policy of co-optation included some Kurdish political parties as well. The Assad regime actually established a form of alliance with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)i and Öcalan became an official guest of the regime at the beginning of the 1980s in the background of Syrian and Turkish tensions. The PKK was authorized to recruit members and fighters from Syria, reaching between five thousand and ten thousand persons in the 1990s, and to launch military operations from Syria against the Turkish army. The PKK had offices in Damascus and in several northern cities. PKK militants took de facto control over small portions of Syrian territory, particularly in Afrin. Other Kurdish political parties also collaborated with the Syrian regime such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)ii led by Jalal Talabani, who had been in Syria since 1972, and later (in 1979) the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)iii affiliated with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.
The condition sine qua non of this support from the Syrian regime was the abstention of the Kurdish movements of Iraq and Turkey from any attempt at mobilizing Syrian Kurds against the Syrian regime. Damascus was able to instrumentalize these Kurdish political groups to serve its own interests by using them as a tool within its foreign policy to achieve some regional ambitions, and at the national level by diverting the Kurdish issue away from Syria, towards Iraq and Turkey.
Relations between the Kurdish political parties and the Syrian regime became increasingly bad at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. The improvement of Turkish and Syrian relations prompted Syrian security forces to launch several waves of repression against remaining PKK elements in Syria. Following the exile of Öcalan in 1998 and the imprisonment of many PKK members, party activists tried to establish new parties with the double objective of avoiding state repression and providing support for its thousands of members and sympathizers. The PYD (Democratic Union Party) was established in 2003 as a successor to the PKK in Syria.
Relations were similarly weakening with KDP and PUK from 2000, as Damascus was trying to normalize relations with Baghdad, which meant an end to its interference in Iraqi Kurdish affairs.
In 2004, the Kurdish uprising, which started in the town of Qamishli and spread to the predominantly Kurdish regions of the country (Jazira, Afrin) and also parts of Aleppo and Damascus, was severely repressed by security forces. The regime appealed for the collaboration of some Arab tribes of the northeast that had historical connections to the regime. Around two thousand protesters were arrested and thirty-six were killed, while others were forced to leave the country. The Kurdish Intifada, as well as developments in Iraqi Kurdistan with increasing autonomy and Kurdish symbols being raised, gave Syrian Kurdish people increased confidence to mobilize for their rights and strengthened the nationalist consciousness of the youth and its will for change.
Kurds continued to assert themselves by organizing events celebrating their Kurdish identity and protesting the anti-Kurdish policies of the government. Kurdish students of various political groups were also very active throughout these years on university campuses, particularly Damascus and Aleppo. Syria pursued harsh repressive policies against Kurdish political and cultural activism and celebration.
EL: How did the Palestinians see the Syrian revolution in the West Bank and Gaza? What was the attitude of their political organizations (the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the Palestinian left)?
JD: There are a variety of opinions among Palestinians in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. At the beginning of the Syrian uprising, there was a general atmosphere of support, following Egypt and Tunisia. As the uprising turned more and more into an armed war after 2013, positions were less clear, although there are general sympathies towards the Syrian uprising still today.
The outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011 allowed the Kurdish national question to be formulated in a way that is new in the history of the country in many ways. The uprising also gave the PYD an opportunity to become the dominant Kurdish political actor in Syria.
The PLO leadership, led by Fatah, which was previously mostly opposed to the Assad regime, has increasingly come closer to the regime since the beginning of the uprising. In January 2016, representatives of the Fatah movement from Syria and the occupied West Bank hailed the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and the Egyptian army during a celebration of its 51st anniversary in Damascus. They collaborate on various issues regarding Palestinians in Syria.
Officially, the PFLP is neutral—but most of its leadership is very close to the Assad regime because it depends on its relations and even, to some extent (some people say) provision of money. They also have a very close collaboration with Hezbollah. A prominent figure of the movement, Leila Khaled, has on several occasions claimed her support to the Assad regime. However, among the youth and the base of the party, feelings are more mixed, and some even support the uprising.
For more than a decade before the uprising, Hamas’s political bureau was based in Syria. Hamas was interested in maintaining its relationship with the Syrian regime, which supported and welcomed the group when most other Arab regimes closed their doors.
While some senior Hamas officials and cadres loudly voiced their support for the Syrian revolution at the beginning (including Ismael Haniyeh in a speech delivered at Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque on 24 February 2012), Hamas officially maintained a neutral position for a long time. The movement has supported the rights of the Syrian people while neither condemning nor directly opposing the Syrian regime. The group has even attempted to mediate the crisis on several occasions, and has encouraged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to undertake immediate reforms. Mahmoud Zahar, acting Hamas foreign minister at the time, declared that Hamas’s position on the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt was neutral, and that it has adopted the same policy toward Syria.
The ongoing conflict and increased tensions with the Syrian regime eventually prompted the Hamas leadership in Damascus to leave the country, in February 2012.
Hamas relations with the Syrian regime worsened throughout 2012, especially following a speech in Turkey on 30 September 2012, in which Khaled Mashal voiced his support for the Syrian revolution. In November 2012, Syrian national television accused Mashal of high treason. In addition to this, the Hamas military brigades “Izz ad-Din al-Qassam” participated in military confrontations against the Syrian regime alongside armed opposition forces, and shared some of its expertise with the Free Syrian Army brigades, notably in the construction of tunnels in the battle of Qusayr in May 2013.
Hamas’s support for the Syrian revolution, however, became less vocal and less clear after the summer of 2013. For example, in October 2013, Mashal urged “groups fighting in Syria to direct their rifles towards Palestine,” announcing his “support of a peaceful solution in Syria that guarantees the freedom and dignity of people,” while adding that “peoples have the right to rise up for their rights, but this must be done through peaceful means,” in reference to Syria’s armed groups. Moreover, following the entry of Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) and the Islamic State into the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus in April 2015, the Hamas affiliate in the camp, Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis (which had been actively fighting the regime since the start of the Syrian revolution) were compelled to collaborate with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s general command led by Ahmed Jibril, very well known to be an active supporter of the Syrian regime, while an injured leader of Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis, Ahmad Zaghmout, was treated in a regime hospital.
For more than a year, Hamas has been under pressure from several Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which see it as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood [MB], an organization considered terrorist by these regimes. This led to a strengthening of Hamas’s relations with Iran and Turkey. Hamas officials have praised officials and policies of these countries, especially the latest Turkish military-led operation and occupation in Afrin.
EL: What stance did the Syrian Kurds and their political organizations hold when the Syrian revolution broke out?
JD: Protests in predominantly Kurdish areas started as soon as the end of March and beginning of April 2011. The first demonstrations were organized in Amuda and then reached the city of Qamishli on April 1st calling for freedom, for brotherhood among Arabs and Kurds, and solidarity with Daraa. In the Friday demonstrations, protesters often chanted for freedom and dignity in various languages, those of Arab, Kurdish, and Assyrian communities present in the Jazira. Other Kurdish-inhabited cities were also active in the protests, with Kurdish flags raised alongside Syrian ones.
The protest movement in these areas emerged around preexisting youth groups or newly-established local community councils [LCCs], seeing themselves as part of the national movement against the regime.
Despite their activism in the uprising, the Kurdish LCCs had to face the skepticism and opposition of traditional Kurdish political parties from the beginning, almost all of whom were unwilling to participate in anti-regime protests or were very cautious about preferring reforms. Only the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, led by Mashaal Tammo, and the Yekîtî Party publicly supported the uprising from the beginning, while many youth members of the Yekîtî Party were among the organizers of the protests.
In late April of 2011, the Kurdish Political Congress,iv which was established in 2009, grew in number and established the National Movement of Kurdish Political Parties with the inclusion of three new parties, including the PYD. By May 2011, the National Movement of Kurdish Political Parties announced its program, which included ending one-party rule in Syria, the establishment of the rule of law, equality for all citizens, and a secular state. A new conference was organized in October 2011 gathering the majority of Kurdish political parties, independents, Kurdish youth organizations, Kurdish women’s organizations, human rights activists, and professionals in the objective of uniting the Kurdish opposition in Syria. Several Kurdish political actors had concerns about the political program and agenda of several actors within the Syrian National Council [SNC], particularly the MB and its close relations with the AKP Turkish government.
This led to the establishment of the Kurdish National Council [KNC], which followed the creation of the SNC. The KNC was formed in Erbil, Iraq, under the sponsorship of Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq and an important ally of Turkey at the time. Barzani had large influence among several Syrian Kurdish opposition groups. The stated mission of the KNC was to find a “democratic solution to the Kurdish issue” while emphasizing that it was part of the revolution.
Problems still existed within the KNC, particularly regarding its decisionmaking process, in which representation of independent activists and youth organizations was rather small in comparison to that of political parties.
Two parties attending the founding conference did not join the KNC: the Kurdish Future Movement and the PYD. The Future Movement cited four points of objection to the KNC: the failure of the KNC to commit to the overthrow of the regime; the failure to adopt stronger support for the youth; demands for the Kurds that should be more specific and not determined and influenced by external interests; and that independent activists should have a stronger representation in the council. The PYD attended the founding conference of the KNC after its inception in October before boycotting the group and joining the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (known as the NCBDC). The PYD was very suspicious of Turkey’s role and influence in the establishment of the SNC, but were suspicious of the KNC as well, as its sponsor was Kurdish leader Barzani who was a close ally of Ankara. The Turkish military and Barzani’s peshmergas (combatants) had both targeted PKK positions in Iraq at different periods and repressed its militants. Tensions between the KDP and PKK remained still very much present at this period.
The PYD meanwhile pursued its own path of building its own institutions. Soon after the creation of the KNC, the PYD progressively began to put up checkpoints in the Kurdish area of Afrin, and reports started to emerge accusing the PYD of harassing political activists, enforcing its authority over Kurdish areas, and of fights between PYD and KNC supporters.
Kurdish organizations were used in the past by authoritarian regimes and imperialist actors for their interests before being sacrificed when these interests changed. Similar things have occurred with Palestinian organizations, who have been used by various regional authoritarian regimes. No trust can be put into regional or international states in a perspective of liberation.
The PKK remained fiercely critical of Barzani’s party, the KDP, and affiliated parties, for the ‘feudalism’ and corruption with which it associates them. The KDP, for its part, blamed the PKK and its sister organization PYD for their violent politics and unwillingness to collaborate with others except as the leading partner.
The outbreak of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011 allowed the Kurdish national question to be formulated in a way that is new in the history of the country in many ways. The uprising also gave the PYD an opportunity to become the dominant Kurdish political actor in Syria. However, the initial cooperation between Arab and Kurdish groups and activists in the protest movement against the Assad regime continued to decrease.
EL: Rojava’s experience seems to be the most politicized social experience of the Syrian revolution. Nevertheless, we see that there was no concerted struggle by Kurds and Arabs against the Assad dictatorship and against ISIS. What are the reasons for this?
JD: The increasing isolation of the Kurdish popular movement within the Syrian protest movement was the result of two factors:
First, the PYD pursued a policy of strengthening its political influence through its own armed forces in order to control the Kurdish majority of inhabited areas, to enforce a form of Kurdish autonomy, and to attempt to geographically link the cantons of Rojava. This was achieved by maintaining a confrontation-free attitude as well as a tactical and selective understanding towards the regime. The regime was busy fighting on other fronts and saw the growing influence of the PYD/PKK as a tool to put pressure on Turkey. The presence of the PYD on the Turkish-Syrian border also cut off Syrian-Arab armed opposition forces—the majority of whom reject Kurdish national demands—from their bases and supply lines in Turkey in some areas. The PYD did not hesitate to oppress other Kurdish political actors and activists to dominate the Kurdish political scene in Syria. They also committed human rights violations against other populations, including Arabs, notably seizing (with the military assistance provided by Russian airplanes) a number of opposition-held, Arab-majority towns in northern Aleppo, and displacing large segments of local populations in February 2016.
At the same time we should also acknowledge the achievements and experience of PYD-managed areas, which were hailed for the high inclusion and participation of women in all sectors of society, including the military struggle, the secularization of laws and institutions, and to some extent the integration and participation of various ethnic and religious minorities.
The second element that explains the increasing isolation of the Kurdish question in the Syrian uprising is indeed the hostile political attitude of the Syrian-Arab opposition body in exile as well as within the country. This position is represented first by the SNC and second by the coalition dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, conservatives, and liberals, which is allied with the Turkish AKP government and is directed against the political demands of the Kurdish people in Syria. These groups also supported armed attacks by Turkey and opposition armed groups against the YPG and Kurdish civilians. They promoted an Arab chauvinist discourse against the Kurds and rejected demands by Kurdish political parties for federalism, for example. They did not propose an inclusive program that could have appealed to the Kurds (and other sectors of the society as well, especially religious minorities).
Starting around mid-2016, the PYD cantons came under increasing pressure from political changes on the international and regional stage. This applies in particular to the failed coup by part of the Turkish army against the AKP government, which led to a more authoritarian policy and drastic measures in Turkey, especially against the Kurds. This would affect the areas held by the PYD and the subsequent rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow.
Lately, the Syrian Coalition, composed mainly of liberal, Islamic, and conservative personalities and groups, has not only supported Turkish military intervention and continued its chauvinistic and racist policies against the Kurds in Syria, but also participated in this operation by calling Syrian refugees in Turkey to join the Syrian armed opposition groups fighting in Afrin. They have called for Turkish military intervention for a long time and have encouraged Arab chauvinism and racism against the Kurds, while even justifying and supporting the presence of Islamic fundamentalist movements. The Syrian fighters in Ankara have promoted racist speeches and violent behavior (assassination, looting) against Kurds since the beginning of the military operation and occupation of Afrin. Most Islamic fundamentalist movements, from Salafist movements to the Syrian Islamic council to the Muslim Brotherhood, have openly supported the Turkish invasion and cheered it.
This also led to an increase and deepening of ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds. This situation drove more and more young Kurds into the arms of the PYD.
Several leftist and democratic groups and activists supporting the uprising have condemned the Turkish military invasion of Afrin, but they remain, unfortunately, a minority. Of course all Kurdish political groups, despite their rivalries, have condemned the military assault on Afrin.
After the occupation of Afrin, Erdoğan declared that Turkish forces will press their offensive against Kurdish YPG fighters along the length of Turkey’s border with Syria and if necessary into northern Iraq.
The series of victories of pro-regime troops in the northern regions in 2016 and 2017 also complicated the situation for the PYD, while threats against them increased. The uprising had prompted the regime to seek selective and temporary agreements with the PYD in the first place. As the Assad regime strengthened its position by conquering new territories, the insurgency ceased to be a threat. In this way, the regime could once again turn its forces against the Kurdish regions and, with the agreement and support of regional and international actors, prevent any form of autonomy in Kurdish inhabited regions.
The Turkish military operation against Afrin and the recent failed Kurdish referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan have shown that international and regional powers are unwilling to pursue Kurdish national or autonomous goals.
No solution for the Kurdish issue, or an inclusive Syria, can be found without recognizing the Kurds as a proper ‘people’ or ‘nation’ in Syria, and providing unconditional support to the self-determination of the Kurdish people, in Syria and elsewhere. This does not, however, justify being uncritical of any negative PYD policies, or YPG or SDF operations.
EL: Could we put the Palestinian issue and the Kurdish issue in a single perspective, as it seemed to be shaped by the outbreak of the Arab Spring? What could that be? And after the defeat of the Arab revolutions, what could be the prospect of emancipation for the two oppressed peoples?
JD: While acknowledging there are differences between the two causes, I think that we can still have general principles. Their causes are, in my opinion, linked.
Kurdish organizations were used in the past by authoritarian regimes and imperialist actors for their interests before being sacrificed when these interests changed. This has happened and will most likely happen again. At the same time, similar things occurred with Palestinian organizations, who have been used by various regional authoritarian regimes. No trust can be put into regional or international states in a perspective of liberation, although tactical collaboration can exist on some occasions.
We must be clear: as it has been shown, regional and international ruling classes have no willingness to participate in the liberation of Kurds and Palestinians. The fate of the Kurds and Palestinians in Syria and elsewhere are inextricably linked to the dynamics of the popular movements of the region and resistance from below. What is desperately needed is solidarity between all revolutionaries (Arabs, Kurds, and all other ethnicities) who are against the Assad regime and against all the regional and international imperialist powers.
Our slogan should be “Our destinies are linked.” More generally we have to link the different uprisings and resistance in the region. That way we can see the links in our struggles and that each defeat of people in struggle for democracy and social justice is a defeat for all. Despotic and authoritarian regimes learn from their experiences in repression and share them with their allies. This is a reality, and this is why we need more collaborations between progressive forces throughout the region.
8 May 2018
Edited lightly by Antidote. Reprinted from Syria Freedom Forever with permission. Check out all their stuff.
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i The PKK was formed in the late 1970s in Turkey and its ideology was originally a fusion of Marxism and Kurdish nationalism which was intended to be used as the foundation of an independent, Marxist-Leninist state known as Kurdistan.
ii The PUK was originally a leftist Iraqi-Kurdish political party that splitered from the KDP in the mid 1970.
iii The KDP is the oldest Kurdish political party in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was founded in 1946 in the Kurdish region of Iran where the Iraqi Kurds led by Mustafa Barzani were taking refuge.
iv Nine Kurdish political parties established in 2009 what became known as the Kurdish Political Congress, which included the following parties: the Syrian Democratic Kurdish Party led by Sheikh Jamal; the Kurdish Left Party led by Muhammad Mousa; the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria led by Nasreddin Ibrahim; the Kurdish Democratic Front; the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria led by Dr. Abdulhakim Bashar; The Kurdish Democratic National Party in Syria led by Tahir Sfook; the Kurdish Democratic Equality Party in Syria led by Aziz Dawe; the Kurdish Coordination Committee; the Kurdish Yekîtî Party in Syria led by Ismail Hamo; The Azadî Kurdish Party in Syria led by Mustafa Jumaa; and the Kurdish Future Movement led by Mashaal Tammo (Hossino and Tanir 2012).