Months after the world was taken by surprise by previously unknown Kurdish groups that not only took on the Islamic State group, but succeed in recovering territory from the extremist movement that had billed itself as unstoppable, attention today is largely focused on the refugee crisis and Russia’s increased involvement in the Syrian conflict.
However, while the international media may have lost interest in the Kurdish struggle and the revolutionary project in Rojava – the Kurdish region in Syria – many remain curious about how that project is faring and how they can express solidarity with leftists in a land known more for war and radical Islamists.
Over the past several months, the Kurdish struggle has in fact gained several victories, not only in Syria, where Kurdish militias continue to win battles against the Islamic State group, but in Turkey as well.
Last June, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, or HDP, gained more than 12 percent in Turkey's parliamentary elections, passing the 10 percent threshold required to enter the Turkish assembly, the first time a pro-Kurdish party has done so in the history of the Turkish republic.
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For Kurdish activists and analysts, the formation of the leftist HDP and its historic gains in the June election should have been a cause for celebration not only for Kurds, but for all Turkish citizens who cherish democracy and seek social justice.
“Last year, in Turkey, Kurds, Syrians, Armenians, Arabs, Turkmens and Turks too, created a new political party, a broad front,” Mehmet Dogan, a Kurdish activist and anthropologist based in France, told teleSUR. “This is called the HDP, the Peoples’ Democratic Party,” he noted, and it has garnered “the mass participation of the country’s socialists.”
More than 6 million people voted for the HDP, Dogan noted, including 5 million Kurds and over 1 million Turks.
“For the first time in Turkey’s history, the Turkish people left a period of Turkish nationalist disinformation and manipulation, saying 'stop this war,'” he said. “Six million conscious votes, 6 million women and men, activists for democracy and pluralization in Turkey.”
In July, the Turkish government started a comprehensive indefinite operation against the Kurdistan's Worker's Party, or PKK, renewing the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which killed more than 40,000 people – mostly Kurds – over the past two decades, and putting an end to more than two years of a peace process and a cease-fire between the Turkish state and the PKK, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
In Syria, meanwhile, the Turkey-based Kurdistan's Workers' Party, or the PKK, and its offshoot in Syria, the PYD, has been making gains and consolidating power in Rojava, not for the formation of a traditional state, but autonomy under what is known as democratic confederalism, which favors important decisions being made by councils composed of regular people, not unaccountable leaders at the top of a hierarchy.
As world powers seem helpless in the face of the expansion of the Islamic State group, despite their fancy fighter jets and drone technology, the PYD and the PKK managed, in October of last year and again in June of this year, to fight off two Islamic State group offenses against the Kurdish city of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition and its anti-Islamic-State-group airstrikes, which started in September 2014, have yet to quell the extremist group's expansion. Additionally, it was annouced that Washington's failed rebel training program in Turkey is being suspended as it had produced fewer than 30 Syrian rebels after the U.S. spent more than US$500 million on the scheme.
On the ground, however, with limited resources and fairly classic weaponry, the PKK and the PYD managed to close in on the Islamic State group's self-declared capital of Raqqa in the north of Syria.
In July, the Kurds and their allies scored a major victory when they took over Tal Abyad, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Islamic State group’s self-proclaimed capital. A border town between Turkey and northern Syria, Tal Abyad had been used by the extremist group to smuggle both oil and foreign fighters across the border.
Promising Future for the Kurdish struggle
As for the future, Dogan believes the Kurdish struggle is headed in the right direction, despite the risks posed by the Islamic State group and neighboring states.
“The Syrian Kurds have recognized socialism, like their brothers of the Peoples’ Front in Palestine, for over 40 years, when, in 1978, they created the PKK,” said Dogan. “It now has the support of nearly 80 percent Kurds from Syria, Turkey, Iran and some of Iraq too.”
Dogan said the revolutionary concept of federalism proposed by the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, is now being applied on the ground in Syria and Turkey. “What did (the Kurds) do? Rapidly took control of Syrian Kurdistan, which we call Rojava, with their organized units and women,” said Dogan. But they did not seek to create an independent state or replicate Iraqi Kurdistan.
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“The Syrian Kurds were still following Abdullah Ocalan’s project of democratic federalism and took control of the north of Syria to defend it from an imperialist (Islamic State group) invasion. But, at the same time, they transformed Syria democratically into a Syrian federation of peoples.”
The Democratic Confederal system proposed by Ocalan, as described by the Kurdish activist Mehmet Aksoy, “is a system that rejects nation-statism, capitalism and capitalist industrialism and calls instead for democratic autonomy, ecological industrialism, and a socialist economy in the four states that Kurdistan falls into, namely Turkey, Iran, Iraq (already autonomous) and Syria.”
It doesn't reject these states, Aksoy said in an article published on the website Kurdish Question last October, but calls them to democracy by accepting Kurdistan's autonomy but also by devolving power to local councils, municipalities etc within the states themselves.”
The Path Forward in Turkey
Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish HDP in Turkey is now looking to secure a second victory in the country's snap election Nov. 1.
After the June 7 election, when the HDP entered parliament, the ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party, or AKP, lost its majority in parliament and therefore could not form a single-party government. The AKP then failed repeatedly to form a coalition government with the other three parties in parliament, a scenario that can prompt a repeat election, called by the president, who retains limited powers.
This is exactly what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did after his former AKP party failed to form a coalition. He was elected president in 2014 after an 11-year-stint as prime minister and has, ever since, been seeking ever since to change the parliamentary system in Turkey to a presidential one.
Dogan and other critics say the election and the action in the run-up are all part of AKP tactics to get back in power.
They suggest that the Turkish government is waging a physical war against the PKK and a war of words against the HDP as a reaction to the Kurdish victory in the elections. They say that by linking the HDP victory to the “terror” of the PKK, the government seeks to discredit the party.
In doing so, the AKP and by proxy Erdogan, who is supposedly not affiliated to any party, hope to secure the votes of the nationalists in the next elections and perhaps gain enough seats in parliament for a majority. Dogan said that such a maneuver by Erdogan and the AKP would not succeed to weaken the HDP, as many polls have indicated that the HDP is poised to achieve similar results as in it did in June.
Dogan explained to teleSUR why a more democratic way forward is so vital for Kurdish people: “Kurds will declare a new self-governance, mayorships and popular participation will take charge of security to defend ourselves because we no longer trust the Turkish police.”
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