In Part 1, Daher concluded our discussion of classes, sects, and secularism in the country by saying that ‘the Middle East and North Africa is not “exceptional” – nothing prevents it from struggling for the same things that other parts of the world want, such as democracy, social justice, equality, secularism’.
There’s a sense across a variety of UK-based left-wing groups that the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (the PYD) and its military groups, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) are vitally important to that struggle – that they are, so to speak, the least ‘exceptional’ forces in Syria. And, at least some of those former groups insist on Kurdish liberation against Turkish, Da’eshi, and otherwise reactionary aggressions, whilst also criticising the al-Assad regime – hardly a friend of Syrian Kurds prior 2011, or indeed after, as Kurdish-British historian Djene R. Bajalan explained recently – and remaining at least cognisant of the more progressive sections of Arab Sunni uprising.
There is something straightforward about ‘solidarity’ – it is with all oppressed and exploited people. Syrian politics, though, are not straightforward, and non-abstract solidarity has come to demand knowledge of, and judgements on, the relations between the region’s several revolutionary, liberatory, and non-reactionary political streams. Dangers, defeat, and dividedness in the country have made these judgements much harder, and overstatement much easier – nothing’s seemed more frivolous over the last few years than Europeans’ ‘solidarity’ via a borrowed sectarianism, in notional support of groups and struggles whose even medium-term continuation appears to demand a near-opposite approach towards each other.
In the following interview, Syrian-Swiss author Joseph Daher explains the concrete relations between Kurdish and Arab forces in Syria over the past four years, and the history of Europe-based groups’ relationship with each.
JH: I’d like to ask about the campaign against Da’esh in Raqqa, fought largely by Kurdish forces between June and October 2017, and supported by the US.
Raqqa is a majority Arab Sunni city, which Da’esh had taken as its major Syrian base from January 2014. As the pseudonymous author ‘Samer’ wrote in theirRaqqa Diaries, after Da’esh took control, ‘every day they make a crowd gather in the square, as if they are about to stage a play’, and then executed people.
Just over a year later, YPG/J forces broke Da’esh’s offensive against Kobane, in the spring of 2015. Following this, and after a name-change that Autumn, to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), they defeated Dae’sh in Minbij, in north central Syria, in August 2016.
In October 2016, Lahur Talabany, the Director of the Zanyari Agency, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK; major political party in Iraqi Kurdistan) intelligence unit, said that ‘if there were some sort of reassurance given to the YPG and the SDF, they could very quickly shift their forces towards Raqqa’ (from 17.00, here). They did shift; I believe the SDF forces were the most important ground force in Raqqa.
You’ve recently written that ‘the last major success of the PYD [i.e., political body of the SDF’s] was the expulsion of [Da’esh] forces from Raqqa’. You recognised the ‘deep humanitarian cost for its inhabitants’, but nevertheless saw it as ‘a positive situation’.
What are the circumstances of Raqqa currently, post-Da’esh?
JD: To be clear, I said that the defeat in mid-October of the jihadist group Da’esh in Raqqa by the SDF, which is a coalition of fighters – Kurds, Arabs, Syriac, albeit dominated by the YPG – with the support of United States Air Force, was certainly good news.
But the cost in human terms, as in Mosul a few months before, has been terrible.