Practice of Stateless Democracy, Kobani: PYD, ISIS and Turkey
Practice of Stateless Democracy, Kobani:
PYD, ISIS and Turkey
The Kurdish city of Kobani, about which nobody except the Kurds knew anything until recently, has attracted the attention of people in various parts of the world including the West due to the fight against ISIS which is considered to be a common enemy against humanity. One of the main reasons of the ISIS attack on Kobani is the fact that the democracy radically (in a way that Rousseau would defend) based on people’s sovereignty, idea of living together relying on ethnic and religious solidarity, gender equality in social and political life and the building of a democratic nation have already started in Kobani and the Kurds intend to apply this regime in whole of Rojava region. While the talks between the Turkish government and Kurdish movement are going on, the strong opinion that the AKP government is supporting ISIS stands as one of the fundamental elements that are damaging the trust relationship among both parties. As a result Kobani will be a significant determinant in every stage of solution process to the Kurdish Issue of Turkey’s.
Turkey’s recent hectic political agenda has focused on the peace-talks with Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (Kurdistan’s Workers Party – PKK). According to Öcalan’s own claims, it has been discussed that the conditions are mature enough for the transition of the talks conducted directly with Republic of Turkey or from time to time via Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (Peace and Democracy Party – BDP) delegation, to a further step; to the negotiation phase. Accordingly, the secretariat , which is demanded for the operation of process by Abdullah Öcalan, must have contained the necessary concrete steps for “The Kurdish Peace and Solution Process”. However the resistance in Kobani, as being a global concern with the powers become part of the process has turned into the only topic of the agenda.
Up until recently, almost nobody was aware of the existence of Kobani apart from Kurds. However, Kobani has attracted great attention from many places of the world including the West with its resistance against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the so-called common enemy for humanity. Making acquainted with Rojava, particularly with Kobani, the developing relationships of people from every walk of life with the revolutionary Kurdish people, whom they have been cognizant of their existence, vary. They have started to meet and identify these groups in close with their evolving tag from “terrorism” to “insurgents”. Kobani resistance that the world has been witnessing via international media, Kurdish women’s movement and its armed struggle as being main actor opposed to the dark idea of ISIS with its ideological infrastructure and its political formation have become the centre of attraction for various media organizations including renowned women magazines such as Elle and Marie Claire. Articles and portraits have been published regarding the questions that who these armed militant women are, where they come from and what their purpose are. An Australian broadcaster woman explains what is happening by holding a Kurdish militant woman’s hand and running with her in the middle of the war. Post von Wagner, one of the most famous journalists of Germany appreciates the Kurds for resisting against ISIS by writing how valuable and admirable their resistance is. French intellectual Bernard-Henry Lévi urges for PKK to be removed from the terrorist list. Plus, a group of people including Noam Chomsky and Desmond Tutu, who fought against the apartheid regime in South Africa, calls for urgent action and solidarity for secular and democratic Rojava model.
The majority that thinks the sympathy for the revolutionary resistances relied on armed struggles and for the romantic guerrilla movements remained as 20th century fashion has believed that the women’s fight for freedom and gender equality could not exceed the limits of academia and legal platforms. We all witnessed that it is a historically significant landmark that not only the state as a monopoly, but also the insurgents have the weapon that Kurdish women used against the ones who want to destroy their freedom and future ideals.
What is the Strategic Importance of Kobani?
Looking at what is happening in Kobani in the frame of the severe attacks and beheadings of ISIS, and minimizing the issue to mere calls for conscience and necessary solidarity that are supposed to demonstrate against the humanity tragedy would be an incomplete approach to describe what is happening there. Because, ISIS does not hurt lives and properties, but also harms the new world models, new models for life styles and envisagement of human creatures that the Kurds, the Arabs, the Assyrians, and the Armenians have been trying to build for new identities and resistance points. These groups have greatly suffered since the foundation of a nation-state, have been pushed out of the political arena, and been victimhood for their existence and identities with the foundation of Syrian state after the French mandate in Kobani. Indeed, their new ideals are what being damaged at most by ISIS.
One of the main reasons of ISIS attacks and the reason that they want to take the control over Kobani is that the democratic confederation of local self-government structures that the Kurds aim to implement in Rojava, the aim of radical democracy, which is applied through city, village and district councils and based on a radical public sovereignty in some sort of Rousseau logic, the aim of communal habitation based on ethnical and religious unification, the aim of gender equality in social life and in political representation and of the construction of a democratic nation have already started to be implemented. In order to concretize more the political management model which is now target of ISIS and its regional and international supporters in Kobani we should mention: there is a parliament, a prime minister and 22 ministers in all cantons of Rojava region that is organized as three self-governing Kurdish cantons since January 2014. All ministries have to contain a minister and two deputies, and if the president is Kurdish, then the deputies have to be an Arab and an Assyrian, and one of those three has to be a woman in any circumstances.
Kobani, where is geographically located at the heart of a sort of Kurdish region in the middle of Afrin and Cezire cantons, has a historically importance for Kurds as being the first city that achieved to be freed from Assad regime by resisting and thereafter accumulated necessary conditions in the way of implementation and institutionalization of democratic self-governing model. Another reason why ISIS attacks is that Kobani is geographically detached from the other Kurdish cantons. If ISIS gained the control over Kobani that is located in the middle of the region, ISIS would get more room for manoeuvre, and most importantly be motivated for a probable further occupation of other Kurdish cantons. Moreover, if Kobani passes into ISIS’s hands, Mürşitpınar, the border crossing point between Turkey and Syria will also be captured by ISIS. Hence, this is where the main issue evolve with Turkey apart from physical borders of Kobani and shared common faith between Kurds living in both parts. However, to examine the most important problem of recent days for all actors, first it is necessary to define who the political powers subjected to this issue are and what they correspond.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria referring to Islamic State founded in Medina in 622 with their chosen name has changed its name several times since its establishment. During its first years of establishment its name was “Cemaat El-Tevhid vel-Cihad”. It was renamed then to “Tanzim Kâidât El-Cihâd fî Bilâd El-Rafidayn” from 2004. Soon after in January 2006, the organisation started to be known as an umbrella organisation called Mujahedeen Shura Council, which aimed to reunite the Sunni insurgent groups that were fighting in Iraq, including Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and failed due its radical methods. In October of the same year, it consolidated into “Islamic State of Iraq” under the leadership of Abu Ayyub Al-Masri, and with the announcement of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as caliph in July, the name “Islamic State” started being used. However, as a result of the conflict with Al Nusra front that is supported by Al-Qaeda, it started to use “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” that covers a greater geography.
The first known leader of the organisation that declared its allegiance to Al-Qaeda on 17 October 2014 is the salaf Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi from Jordan, who had been in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden. Al-Zarqawi fought for the demolition of the kingdom of Jordan for not being Muslim. However, as a result of the occupation of Afghanistan by USA forces, he joined in active conflicts, and wounded in the foot. Lastly, as we know he carried out the leadership of Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. After Al-Zarqawi died during the air raid of US Army, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri from Egypt and Abu Abdullah Al-Rashid Al-Baghdadi took the leadership seat respectively. After they were killed in 2010, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi from Iraq became the leader and up until now he has maintained his position. The organisation has had a new form under the leadership of Baghdadi and it’s known that it has started to organize itself as a “state” form. It has been establishing emirates in the places where it takes control over, and has been collecting taxes. Its main source of income is trade, particularly the oil trade.
Islamic State is not only fighting against Alevi, Shia and Christian groups, but also fighting against the groups from Sunni sect of Islam that are not Salafist, by using mostly the tactic of suicide bombing.
In 2013, under the leadership of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda declared that Al-Nusra Front under the leadership of Mohammed Al-Colani, which consists of Syrian militants whose majority fought with Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in Iraq and returned to their own country after the withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq, is the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, and proclaimed that ISIS should stay in Iraq. However, Baghdadi replied that they would not limit themselves within Iraq in any circumstances and that they would move through Syria. He accused Al-Zawahiri to be committed to the borders drawn by Treaty of Sykes-Picot.
How does ISIS Think Militarily and Politically?
Even if the attacks of ISIS have concentrated on Kobani these days, there had also been many violent attacks in other Kurdish cantons recently. As the YPG began to narrow the movement field of ISIS around Al Hasakah which provides the connection between Mosul-Shengal and Rojava, ISIS attacked Shengal, the holy place of Yazidi Kurdish. The main target for capturing this line by YPG and deactivating ISIS in that district is to constrict Salafi-ISIS connection, which is tried to extend from El-Ambar to Syria, only in Deyr ez-zor and Rakka. Haseke, the only big city of Rojava, is a quite significant centre from the point of strategic location and oil-wells. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the attacks on Shengal on August in this respect.
Another striking issue is that the places that were formerly under the control of Kurdistan Democrat Party (KDP) such as Mosul have been abandoned to ISIS in such vulnerable conditions. After the withdrawal of the KDP without putting any resistance from Shengal, ISIS tried to create lines for itself to act by attacking to the Yazidis who are the only different faith group in the region where there was no physical support. The message that they wanted to send to Sunni people with Shengal attacks is very important in the sense that they are confidently making process to achieve their aim to reunite Syria or Iraq with a particular sect of Islam rather than the same one religion.
ISIS that altered course to Baghdad over Mosul changed suddenly its route to the Maxmur camp where the Kurdish refugees who migrated mostly from Hakkari and Şırnak as a result of the evacuation of their villages in 1994 live. This is another issue that has not been discussed much, yet should be examined more. Hence, according to some independent observers the aim of ISIS and its supporters in this region was to expand its siege area by occupying Maxmur, thus to ensure that Rojava was surrounded by ISIS, KDP, and Turkey from all sides. If it was achieved to break the resistance with the siege in accordance with plans in Rojava, revolutionary Kurds would be removed and there would be new actors having power over the region in the new political atmosphere. Moreover, it would help traditional Sunni Kurdish forces to have more power than the ideal of Rojava and the radical democracy that it represents. However, this was not what happened in the course of history. With the armed wing of PKK coming from Qandil Mountains and the intervention of YPG, Maxmur and Shengal have been rescued from ISIS after great tragedies –almost 500 Yazidis were killed, thousands of them were forced to migrate and hundreds of Yazidi women were captured.
Who is PYD, the Main Actor of Kobani Resistance?
During the match between El-Cihad team of Qamislo (consisting of Kurds predominantly) and El-Futuva team of Deyr ez-zor (consisting of Arabian predominantly) in the year 2004, 9 Kurdish people died in the provocation environment occurring after the fans of the Arabian team unfurled the photos of Saddam Hussein and the number of the dead people reached to 30 and 2500 people were arrested due to the following rebellion. Becoming more apparent with the Qamislo rebellion, 5 people from the founder and manager cadre of PYD, including Şilan Kobanê, were killed by the radical İslamist groups by laying an ambush near Mosul in 2004. In the same year, the council member of the organization, Ahmad Hussein Hussein was killed and former parliamentarian Osman Hacı Süleyman, from the leading figures in the organization, was killed in 2008. In 2012 on the other hand, in pursuit of seizing Kobanê, Amûde, Afrin, Tirbespiyê and Dêrika Hemko, PYD has begun to exist permanently among key actors in the region.
Becoming one of the most grave concerns of Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy, Rojava issue has mainly entered to Turkey’s agenda this year. However, it is clear that it has not recently entered to government’s agenda. The arrest and torture of 15 high school students belonging to same family who wrote “the people want to bring down the regime” which is the slogan associated with the Egyptian Revolution on the walls of their schools triggered violent clashes in Deraa, the city in the border of Jordan in Southwest Syria, in March 2011. Moreover, as the Battle of Aleppo began in 2012, anti-regime Islamist discourse arose rapidly and the country almost completely got into the conflict-causing effect of the civil war. In those days, the leader of PKK Abdullah Ocalan who is a prisoner in İmralı Island called on the hunger strikes to stop and warned about Syria and Rojava.
He was saying that:
“Syrian Kurds cannot solve the problem only by taking control of 6 cities. Democratic institutions should engage with all population including Arabs, Jews and Christians. They need to work and build the institutions together, so that the autonomy can enhance its true meaning. Neither Bashar Al-Assad nor Free Syrian Army can liberate people there. The conflicts in the region are too dangerous. The democratic autonomy to remove the danger can only be built with the common struggle of all people and institutions in the region. The only way to find a real solution is to cooperate with people there. Syrian Kurds better know that it is not possible to solve the problem with having 6 cities. If they cannot evolve, they might compromise their chance for success. Cooperation is a better way for Syrian Kurds.” (18.11.2012)
The solution offer of Öcalan is summarized in this short paragraph about Syria, becoming one of the most significant agenda topics in the international politics today. However, it is required to remember that the Kurds, getting involved in international politics due to Rojava today, was a community having no identity card under the regime of Assad as well as they constituted a community, whose cultures and languages were ignored due to the fact that Arabian Nationalism-based Ba’ath ideology denied the difference of other ethnical communities, and who were forced to be Arabian and to immigrate with extraordinary conditions and physical pressures, in other words, they lived as an internal colony.
In conclusion, having been engaged in politics in Middle East for long years and being closely acquainted with internal balances of Syria and social and political conditions of the Kurds, the statements of Abdullah Öcalan in 2012 give us clues how the Kurdish party gets ready politically and practically for the processes to be occurred particularly in Rojava and generally in Syria. Meanwhile, in which condition Turkish state and government was politically?
Collapsed Syria Policy of Ankara and Kurdish Dilemma
The relationship between then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Syria President Bashar Assad, called as “brother” by him, was in a quite intimate level by considering going on holiday with families in 2008. However, as the civil war became widespread in Syria, Erdogan moved away from this “brotherhood relations” and assumed a clear attitude to knock down Bashar Assad and drove it to the level of calling international powers for military intervention against Sham. The sudden and quick ending of the “brotherhood relation” –based foreign policy of Syria and Turkey caused full of question marks. A statement of Emine Erdoğan while explaining the close relationship with Asma Al-Assad proves the end of their friendship. Emine Erdoğan says: “I wanted to arrange a meeting with her, then I sent a note to Bashar al-Assad via my husband, but she never responded to me.”   This is a good example of how the relationship between Tayyip Erdoğan and Bashar al-Assad was beyond diplomatic practices.
“If Mrs. Assad called you and asked your help, would you help her?” Mrs. Erdoğan answers:
“If she had such demands those days, I would definitely help her. If she asked for help, not for her husband, but for her children and for herself, I would say ‘Come to Turkey with your children and live here, we provide you protection’, and I would love if she lived here.”
When the question was: “What would the Prime Minister Erdoğan think about this?” she answers:
“I think he would think in the same way I do, because the situation of women and children is special. I believe that Asma Al-Assad would never allow what is happening there, and could never be content in such conditions. I was thinking that she would leave to his father’s place with her children, but she didn’t. Then, I stopped hoping that. Yes, we were actually good friends. We used to see each two or three times per year, I even hosted her mother and her father in 2006. When Sümeyye visited Syria, she stayed in Mrs. Assad’s place. We were close friends and there were no protocols between us. In fact, I still prefer to believe that she disapproves the incidents. She was for the democratization of the country.”
Interviewing with only Cumhuriyet (The Republic) Newspaper in Turkish press since the civil war in Syria, Bashar Assad states the breaking point of the relations with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was that Ankara interfered in the internal affairs and supported the armed Islamist groups, wishing to convert Syria into a sharia regime:
“Erdoğan has tried to interfere in our internal affairs by exceeding the limits of friendship and brotherhood. However, this is a sovereign state with a respect to itself. We would never allow anyone to interfere in our own affairs. The desire of interference in our internal affairs leads unfortunately Turkey to be a proponent of all bloody attacks in Syria. Turkey provided all sort of logistic support to the terrorists who killed our people. Afterwards, our relationship moved towards another dimension with the entrance of dangerous adventures for both Turkey and Syria. These were what happened in our political relationship.”
The provision of logistic support from Turkey to the radical Islamist insurgent groups including ISIS, as Bashar Al-Assad emphasized it as the reason of their separation with Erdogan while explaining the direction of their relationship in 2012, is also confirmed by David Cohen who is the Under Secretary of the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, an agency of U.S. Department of the Treasury. The claims indicate that Turkey is a side of the subject in fact, such as ISIS, calling all the world’s attention and even being identified as the richest terrorist group, sells the oil, obtained from the captured oil-wells, to Federal Kurdistan Regional Government via some agents and finally to Turkey through them as per the statements of Cohen, and Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (National Intelligence Service – MIT) trucks, being asserted that they carried weapon and ammunition to Syria, were caught firstly in Hatay and then in Adana in the borders of Turkey, and almost all the Al-Qaeda warriors, fighting in Syria, passed through Turkey according to the international presses.
In conclusion, the parts proclaimed that the peace-talks conducted by Kurdish movement and Turkish state via Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party – AKP) government have recently congested. For Kurds, the main reasons of this result are the procrastination of negotiation process by Ankara government, the lack of concrete steps such as the education in mother tongue or the release of PKK prisoners, and the silence of the government to the massacre of Kurds in Rojava. It’s seen inacceptable, by Kurds, the excessive intolerance of the Turkish government to the Kurdish legal movement (Demokrat Bölgeler Partisi (Democratic Regions Party – DBP)/Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party – HDP) in their support to Rojava. Moreover, the strong opinion that AKP government supports ISIS that still persists its surrounding of Kobani undermines the confidence.
On the AKP side, the presidential election held on 10 August 2014 was a turning point for the inconveniences coming to the surface. The fact that Selahattin Demirtaş with 9.8% of votes won more than AKP’s expectation strengthened the Kurdish side. Giving the sign that HDP may exceed the electoral threshold of 10% in upcoming Turkish general election in 2015 and may enter into the parliament with strong and broad-based opposition, this result disturbed AKP, because it seems that AKP has indexed all its accounts related to resolution process after the 2015 election. The other reason that the solution process stopped on the AKP side is that PYD insists on secular and gender equity model sharing the larger universal values instead of cooperating with Free Syrian Army that AKP supports. The successful implementation of local self-government model in Rojava seems to ratchet up the autonomy debate that is covered up at the moment to a new level. The level that AKP evades to open up to discussion in Kurdish issue has already started to be discussed in international press with the predictions for applicable model of Kurdish future.
As a result, Kobani appears to be the key determinant in every level of solution process of Kurdish issue from now on.
Ebru Öztürk, Ph.D. Candidate, CADIS, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris
Please cite this publication as follows:
Öztürk E. (January, 2015), “Practice of Stateless Democracy, Kobani: PYD, ISIS and Turkey”, Vol. IV, Issue 1, pp.24-36, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=7768)
 PYD (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat – Democratic Union Party)
 ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)
 The Treaty of Sykes-Picot, in 1916, defines the borders and the faith of Middle East of today and is a confidential contract by exchange of letters between Picot signed on the behalf of France and Mark Sykes on the behalf of England, with approval of Russia.
 The biggest city in eastern Syria and the seventh biggest city of Syria
A city in northern Syria that is 160 km away from Aleppo
 The Taliban exploded the two 19 meters length sculptures of Buddha seen asleep in Bamiyan state, on the route of Silk Road in Afghanistan in 2001, by using dynamites, reasoning that they were insulting to Islam. Considering the tragedies that Yazidis have been through, it seems impossible to compare such attacks with Yazidi attacks. However, it gives us a clue to understand the practices of radical Islam ideologies.
 Being a region where ISIS cannot occupy and take control over, Rojava is very important. Besides, it has a strategic importance for resisting with its own power.
Ba’ath party was founded in 1940 by Michel Aflaq and Salah Al-Din Al-Bitar, and its ideology affects not only Syria, but also Iraq. Ba’ath, meaning resurrection in Arabic language, is separated with articial boundaries drawn by the most imperialist countries. It is an ideology and a movement based on Arab nationalism, defining itself leftist and aiming to reunite all Arab nations in one single country.