More than 80 people attended the Solidarity with Kobane and Rojava dayschool in Nottingham on 31 January 2015. The event was organised by Nottingham Kurdish Solidarity Campaign and the Kurdish Society of Nottingham Trent University.
Speakers included: Alan Semo, UK Representative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s Syrian sister party; Aysegul Erdogan, Roj Women and an Islington Labour councillor; Zaher Baher, Kurdish Anarchists Forum and Haringey Solidarity Group; Houzan Mahmoud, activist with the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq; Chris Leslie MP (Nottingham East); and Derek Wall of the Green Party.
Workshops covered: building solidarity and raising aid for the victims of ISIS; the origins of ISIS, and how to defeat it; Kurdish women’s struggle; and the significance of the new constitutional forms in Rojava.
In the debate on the Rojava constitution, we discussed the significance of the PKK’s switch from fighting for a Kurdish national state made up of Kurdish-majority areas in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, toward fostering self-governing “cantons” — Kobane, Afrin and Jazira within regions such as Rojava in Syria — and accepting a situation of “no war, no peace” with existing states, including the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
We talked about positive aspects of Rojava’s “democratic confederalist” constitution, in particular its secularism, and recognition of the different nationalities and ethnic groups in the area, but also how it is hard to take this as a model given the unusual situation in Rojava: it is an economically backward, primarily agrarian region, where the voluntarist impulse is peculiarly strong while its people face annihilation.
The drive to empower women is exemplary for this part of the world, and seems to be partially successful, not just a commitment on paper. Speaking about this, however, Zaher Baher said he didn’t think that there was much independent feminist activity as such, and noted that the drive for equality has come mainly from the PYD.
Questions raised included: how much political control does the PYD have over institutions inside Rojava; whether the forms of rule in Rojava really constitute the end of the state; what benefits accrue to office holders in Rojava and how do ordinary citizens control their representatives; is Rojava “post-capitalist” in any sense; who could defend the new democratic forms if the PYD/PKK turned its back on them (PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is supposed to have taken his “democratic confederalist” turn in jail after reading the work of American anarchist-leftist Murray Bookchin)?
With the exception of a good contingent from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Plan C and NCAFC members the rest of the left was absent. Participants talked about the bad attitude that much of the left has to the Kurdish struggle. Too many think that the Kurds cease to deserve support if they accept, however critically, military support from the US or its allies.
Even worse is the belief of much of the left that to criticise ISIS is to shade into “Islamophobia” — hostility to Muslims per se. The conference was clear that the fight against ISIS is part of a broader and crucial fight against Islamist political movements.
The idea for the dayschool grew out of protests organised in Nottingham in solidarity with Kobane when it was threatened by ISIS last year. It was a celebration of the liberation of Kobane; and a pledge to help Kurdish forces continue to push ISIS back further.