Kurdish Women Are Shining
There'll be some changes in part of Syria from now on. In his brilliant new book, The Opinion of Mankind, discussing, among other things, theories of the state and how we should think about politics today, Paul Sagar contends that although the state remains the central unit of analysis in both domestic and international politics, its basis, nature, purpose, and normative authority are subjects of protracted disagreement and confusion. Nowhere is this more true than in the remarkable new political entity, run by Kurds in Syria, stemming from a democratic and humanistic revolution that has women's liberation at its center. That entity has some powers, though it is not an ultimate decision-making agency.
This is the advent of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, Rojava, (DFNS), in an area that became autonomous in 2012 and created a de facto unit of three non-contiguous cantons, about the size of Connecticut, in March 2016. Politics is rarely tidy, nor does it take undeviating forms. Though Rojava declared its independence, it is not a state, but at the moment more a stateless democracy with local self-governance and popular assemblies. The DFNS is not officially recognized by Syria, nor by any other state or international organization. In a statement by Mark Toner, then-U.S. State Department spokesman, the U.S. in March 2016 warned that it would not recognize the self rule of an autonomous zone in Syria and that the U.S. was committed to the unity and territorial integrity of Syria. That policy should now be changed.
The world owes the Kurds proper treatment. They are an ethnic group who go back in Syria over 1,000 years. Perhaps the most famous Kurd was Saladin, the 12th-century Kurd from Tikrit (now in modern Iraq) who defeated the Crusader states in the Levant and ruled most of the Middle East. The Kurds were ill served after World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Peace Treaty of Sèvres, signed on August 10, 1920, partitioned that empire and provided for the future creation of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Mandatory Palestine, including Transjordan. It also promised that part of the new country of Turkey, the predominantly Kurdish area lying east of the Euphrates, would have autonomy. Turkey agreed to accept this and to execute the consequent decisions.
However, Sèvres was amended by the Treaty of Lausanne of July 24, 1923 that recognized the creation of the Republic of Turkey and its boundaries and ended the demands of autonomy for "Kurdistan."
The moment has arrived for the Trump administration to recognize fundamental changes in the area, to support true allies, especially those like the Kurds with a message of democracy and civil rights. This is even more the case in a period when Russia has been manipulating the U.S. media and part of Congress, sown discord in the U.S. political system, and been unhelpful in the solution to the brutal Syrian civil war.
The world is confronted by a Syrian regime that in a fierce air campaign continues with savage carnage to bomb the area of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, home to 400,000. This is in spite of the delayed and watered downed resolution of the U.N. Security Council on February 24, 2018 for a 30-day nationwide ceasefire to be implemented "without delay," except for military operations against terrorist groups such as ISIS, Nusra Front, and al-Qaeda. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has defied the international resolutions for a ceasefire. It is imperative that a ceasefire be applied across the whole country, including Afrin. This should apply also to Turkey, which is warring against the Kurkish militia, the Kurdish People's Protection Units or YPG, in northern Syria. Turkey sees this as the branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, that it regards as a terrorist group. The U.S. is directly involved, since the attack is in an area where U.S. troops are stationed.
In stark contrast to the Assad Syrian regime is the new entity, the DFNS, known as Rojava, the outcome of a so-called "secret revolution." Officially a secular system based on gender "equality" and presenting a challenge to Islamic law, the Rojava system's power is decentralized with village assemblies and communes, legislative councils, and commissions.
What is outstanding is the prominence of Kurdish women. Female fighters in the Women's Protection Units, the YPJ, played a key role in the siege of Kobani and in rescuing Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar. The prominent Egyptian feminist writer and activist, and co-founder of the Arab Association for Human Rights, Nawal el Saadawi, complimented Kurdish women for their fight against ISIS, showing courage. Those women are waging a battle against an oppressive, abusive society, and for democracy. The Equality Decree of November 10, 2014 in Syrian Kurdistan provided rights for women, meaning "equality in all walks of public and private life."
In Rojava, women's organizations, whose functions change, are funded and run by volunteers and provide a variety of services; control of gender violence, especially honor killings; family mediation; legal support; safe houses for women and children; and personal economic and social empowerment. There are now rules against child marriages and forced marriages. Women must be 18 to marry, and they must consent to marriage. Female genital mutilation and domestic violence are proscribed.
Women are participating politically in law-making and holding political positions, including co-presidencies. Some were candidates in the 2015 election. All administrative bodies have co-chairs, and 40% of any governing body must be female.
The Rojava entity can be seen as not only a national ethnic issue, but also an experiment in Middle East democracy and an example of the importance of women in an area where women have traditionally been repressed. It could be a blueprint for other societies in the area. In any case, it is important that the Trump administration welcome and encourage it.