Democracy in Northeast Syria threatened by a NATO member: Turkey

From the ruins of the war, an unexpected revolution has risen in northern-east Syria.

From the glorious resistance in Kobane until the last battle of Baghouz, a military alliance made up of Kurds, Arabs, Syriac-Assyrians, Turkmen and Armenians, took up the arms to fight the Islamic State and succeeded in driving them out of the area.

In northern Syria, people from different ethnicity decided to live in a society based on a direct democracy system, where men and women from different ethnic and religious background can live in freedom and harmony, and where care for the environment is a key principle. A society inspired by the theories of a senior Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan as described in his book “Democratic confederalism” is a reality in north-east Syria. But this revolution is going unnoticed in the West.

Thousands of Kurdish, Syriac or Assyrian women who fought Daesh alongside men, have done much more for advancing women’s rights so far than decades of Western feminism.

 “We don’t feel particularly courageous or special. Fighting against the tyranny of ISIS is a normality for us. We could not leave our brothers fighting alone,” Nisha Gewriye, commander of the HSNB (Bethnahrain Women’s Protection Forces), told me when I met her on the frontline in Raqqa (September 2017), during the battle to conquer the city back from the jihadists. “ISIS fighters were scared about us because they believe that if they are killed by a woman during the battle they will be deprived of virgins in paradise as promised by the Koran,” she said.

The role of women is fundamental not only in the military sphere but also in the political one. The so-called “Rojava contract” calls for all administrations to have a system of co-presidency where there is one man and one woman with equal power.  

Religious freedom is another pillar of the revolution: travelling to Kobane, the city symbol in the fight against ISIS, one can find a Christian church where the Christian community counts four families and forty members. They are all converted Sunni Kurdish and live at peace with other members of Kobane’s Muslim community. This comes in stark contrast with the fact that conversion from the Muslim faith to another could be punished by death in many Muslim countries.

“We have good relations with other people here in Kobane. They accept us as Christians,” Omar, one of the member of the community, said while welcoming me in the church. “We invited our neighbours to celebrate Christmas with us and to decorate the Church with traditional Christmas symbols such as nativity scenes, Santa Claus, Christmas trees,” he said. A blatant divergence with Europe, where we are too afraid to expose these symbols in the name of political correctness.

In one of northern Syria’s biggest city Qamishli, it is possible to see Christian Orthodox churches and cars parked along the streets with big Christian crosses on their dashboards. Worshippers are not being scared to publicly pray or to attend the holy mass. Cultural centres are open to all members of the community despite their faith, ethnicity or sex.

All these victories are now under threat. The threat of a NATO member which considers them terrorists of the same level of the PKK and that wants to “expel them from that area.” Turkey, with the voice of its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wants to destroy the society based on multi-ethnics, multi-religious ideals and gender balanced.

Turkey had already invaded the Syrian territory in January 2018 with the “Olive Branch” operation when it conquered the Kurdish canton of Afrin. From that moment on, 250,000 Kurds had to leave, threatened by Turkey-backed jihadist groups and by the Free Syrian Army. The armed groups active in Afrin are said to have committed war crimes against the Kurds, according to the UN report of 31 January 2019. 

More than violence, bribes and kidnappings, the destruction of Kurdish martyrs’ monuments, substituted with Turkish ones or the deletion of any streets or squares names in Kurdish language poses a greater problem to their rights and identity. 

The European Union, supposedly a champion in human rights, can’t stay at the window to simply watch. It has to strongly condemn the Turkish aggression and Member States have to help the Kurds to continue their project of democracy and peace in an area that has already suffered from too many years of war.