Category Archives: Syria

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

Anarchist Struggle in Rojava

TA members educating YPG members on tourniquet use
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Anarchist Struggle, or Tekoşîna Anarşist in Kurmanji, is an anarchist combat medic collective operating in Rojava since the time of the war against Daesh / Isis, though its roots go back further. For the hour, you’ll hear a voice actor sharing the words of a member of TA calling themselves Robin Goldman about the their experiences of Asymmetric Warfare waged by Turkey and its proxies in the TFSA, the culture of TA right now, the medical work they’re doing, queerness in Rojava and other topics.

You can find TA online on twitter at @TA_Anarsist as well as their website TekosinaAnarsist.NoBlogs.Org. Members of TA suggested that folks interested in queer and trans organizing in Rojava support the group Keskasor, Kurdish for rainbow and based in Diyarbakir, Turkey. It can be emailed at heftreng.keskesor@gmail.com, found on twitter via @Keskasor_lgbti or on instagram at @KeskesorLGBTI, though their social media presence was last updated in 2020.

Some Formations Related to TA:

Groups mentioned ala Rojava:

Announcements

Zolo Azania

Former Black Panther, political prisoner and BLA veteran Zolo Agana Azania is seeking help. Since being released from prison and returning to the streets of Indiana in 2017 after more than 35 years behind bars, he has poured himself into organizing solidarity and support for other former prisoners. He still has not received his 2020 covid relief funds, likely impacted by his housing precarity, and is trying to purchase an inexpensive house to offer him stability in his later years. If you’d like to help, you can cashapp Zolo at $ZoloAzania5 . You can hear an interview with Zolo from 2018 plus his participation in an IDOCWatch panel at our website, linked in the show notes.

Eric King’s Mail Ban Temporarily Lifted

That’s right, you can send mail and books to anarchist and anti-fascist prisoner, Eric King! You can find his writings, art and updates on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, you can find his amazon wishlist there as well and you can send him letters via:

Eric King #27090-045
FCI Englewood
9595 West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123

Asheville Continues To Attack The Homeless

In a last minute addition to these announcements, according to a leaked email by a local, Asheville-based non-profit serving houseless folks, Asheville’s City Council may be considering passing an ordinance based on the failed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida ban on the sharing of food in public spaces, which in the Asheville case appears to be based on a suggestion by Asheville Police Captain Mike Lamb. An article just published on the Asheville Free Press explains the context, what the non-profit group Beloved is suggesting as next steps, which includes applying pressure at the upcoming January 25th City Council meeting. This comes on the heels of a wave of knocks, warrants and arrests of people engaged in protests against homeless sweeps here in freezing temperatures at the end of last year. Keep an ear out and toss support for legal fees to the Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross legal defense fund at ­ or you can donate to the final straw’s payment methods with a note that it’s for legal defense and we’ll pass it off.

Fire Ant Journal #11 is Out!

You can find the latest edition of Fire Ant Journal, featuring writings and art by Thomas Mayer-Falk, Eric King, Pepe and info on Sean Swain, Jennifer Rose and more via Bloomington ABC

BAD News #52 is Available!

The monthly episode of the A-Radio Network’s English podcast includes Črna Luknja with a member of CrimethInc on the fire at their publishing house recently, A-Radio Berlin brings words on the attack by leftist bro’s on the queer anarcha-feminist Syrena squat in Warsaw, Elephant In The Room gives a brief round up of the uprising in Kazakhstan and comrades at Free Social Radio 1431 AM in Thessaloniki talk about the eviction of Biologia Squat.

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. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Yasin  is a remix by Rizan Said of this song (original version based on an Arab folk song from the Hesekê region featured in the film “Darên bi Tenê” or “The Only Trees”)
  • Şervano by Mehmûd Berazî (an article about the song, often played at funerals)

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with whatever names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations, or experience, as you would like (to help the audience orient itself)?

RG: Yeah, so you can call me Robin Goldman. I use they/them pronouns. I am in my 30’s. I’ve been in Rojava for a couple of years now. I have a background in a couple of things in computer work, and then also in healthcare work. And yeah, that’s me in a nutshell.

TFSR: Cool. Thank you, again, for having this conversation. Could you give listeners who may not be familiar with the Rojava revolution, like a brief synopsis of its kind of trajectory that you think people should know for this conversation?

RG: So I’m absolutely not qualified to give a full synopsis of the Rojava revolution or anything, but the very bare bones for somebody who’s not familiar at all, the reason that it’s known as RO-ja-va, or Ro-JA-va, it’s pronounced both ways, is because that’s the Kurdish word for “west”, and Kurdistan as an area the way that it’s historically understood was divided into four regions. So Bakur, meaning “north”, is the part that’s in Turkey; Rojhilat, meaning “east”, is the part that’s in Iran; Başûr, meaning “south”, is a part that’s in Iraq, and Rojava is the part that’s in Syria.

So when we talk about the Rojava revolution, we’re talking about the western Kurdistan portion of Syria. And in 2017, there was the final push to to defeat ISIS and it’s sort of self proclaimed capital of Raqqa, that kind of completed around 2018 and they’re still, like, sleeper cells and Daesh carriers out bombings and stuff but for the most part, they’re not holding any significant territory anymore.

In 2018, Turkey, and its proxy forces invaded Afrin, and in 2019, they invaded Serê Kaniyê. So over the last couple of years, before I came, there was a big shift from the way that the fighting happened and the type of combat and the type of diplomatic situation and everything, from kind of the images that Americans got used to seeing of a person on foot with an AK in their hand, like fighting Daesh, which was very much the image from kind of the Daesh war. Now, a lot of the fighting involves like drone strikes on the part of Turkey, and it’s become much more asymmetrical.

Now we’re in a situation for the last couple of years ever since the Serê Kaniyê invasion, which was a very quick invasion that Turkey did, that took a big swath of territory towards the end of 2019, that Serê Kaniyê a meta-stable situation where there’s ongoing aggression. There’s shelling pretty regularly along the front line, which is like the new border between the area that’s occupied by Turkish proxy forces and the area that is still held by the SDF, which a lot of people who are referred to as “the friends”, so if I refer to area held by the friend, see if that’s that’s usually what that’s what I mean, I might kind of forget and refer to them that way, cause that’s the vernacular. And now, the issue is there’s this constant brinkmanship from Turkey- well, I can get into later because I guess there’s more questions about this stuff. So that’s kind of where we’re at now.

Ideologically it’s based on a lot of ideology that comes from 40 years of armed struggle by the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, which originated in Bakur and the Turkish portion of Kurdistan and originally had the characteristic of like a national liberation struggle as a lot of sort of post-Soviet post-colonial struggles did. But over time, the main thinker of the party, Abdullah Öcalan, who was imprisoned in I believe, 1999, he did a big shift in ideological orientation from an authoritarian, communist, classic Marxist Leninist type of strategy to one that is much more democratic and much more compatible with anarchist ideals, in particular. And he exchanged letters with Murray Bookchin. And this got the name of the new paradigm and it’s based on three pillars, which is ecology, women’s liberation and democratic confederalism. So that’s the ideological basis of the society that’s being built in the autonomously administered area now.

TFSR: Cool, thank you very much. Yeah and I’d like to talk about some of those other specifics of what’s been going on a little bit later. So could you talk a little bit about – and please correct me if I’m wrong on this pronunciation – but Tekoşîna Anarşist, “Anarchist Struggle”. For folks who aren’t familiar with the project, like how long has it been around and what are its goals? How does it operate?

RG: So I haven’t been around since the beginning so I can’t get a super detailed description of the origins, but Tekoşîna Anarşist, which is just Kurdish language for “Anarchist Struggle”, has existed in its current form for I think, between three and four years at this point. And it started as a part of I know people have seen these logos and these groups with names like IRPGF, and IFB. The IFB, the International Freedom Battalion, was something that was, during the time of the Daesh war, a group of sort of various internationalist organizations that had militants – *cat meowing in the background* sorry, my cat is joining this. Our cat Shisha wants to join this interview.

TFSR: Hello Heval cat.

RG: *laughs* So those those were like a coalition of the different sort of internationalist groups that had militants here at that time. And they were like cooperating together – because some of them were kind of smaller groups – and there were multiple groups that have English as the common language, or were otherwise kind of not using mainly Kurdish or mainly Arabic, like a lot of the groups *more cat meowing*. who were from here were doing. And so there’s still a lot of people from that struggle in that time around, but I wasn’t around yet then, I was still in the states then. So I can’t give like a real detailed history. But yeah, we started kind of under this umbrella and eventually kind of became more autonomous. And we’re now an autonomous collective that is doing work with different partners, like we’re involved with both the military work under the SDF, and also like the health committee kind of work. So we kind of have two bosses now at this point *chuckles*.

TFSR: And you described as a collective right? Is it it’s made up of people that are over in Rojava under the autonomous administration? Or is it like international? Or is that a thing that you can talk about? And like how do decisions get made, just collectively among the body of membership?

RG: Yeah, we’re really decentralized in the way that we make decisions, we try to embody our anarchist principles, which means different things to different people too so it’s something that we’re constantly working on within our organization. We’re constantly evaluating our organizational structure and frame and debating about whether we want to change our decision making protocol, or how much protocol we want to have at all. You know, the same sort of things that any anarchist organization is going to be familiar with *laughs*. It’s uh, always a bit of a struggle, but we’re committed to putting our ideals into practice in terms of radical democracy and trying to root out the patriarchy and other oppressive dynamics, not just in society, but within ourselves and within our organization, as a continual process.

TFSR: So would you say that as to the goals of TA that TA is about like supporting the Rojava revolution and challenging it to be more radical and some of its conceptions?

RG: Yeah, I mean, we’re a really small group – the number of us here at any given time is typically less than 10 – and so our purpose and our mission kind of evolves also, as the conditions change, but it offers a place for people that might not fit into another structure really well, like in particular, in terms of queer identity issues. Of course, ideologically, I think we’re definitely not the only anarchists involved in this revolution, there’s people in pretty much every international structure, you know, there’s people of different anarchist ideals that have been or are currently in different groups and different types of work. So we’re not claiming to represent all anarchists, by any means, but um, you know, to people who ideologically want to participate in the work in this particular frame, and to have these types of organizational discussions as they’re, you know, participating in the work.

And also, yeah, to try to find ways to respectfully challenge the revolution, like you said, to push it to remain as what we understand is more radical and more revolutionary, as well as learning from them. I mean, Öcalan also has published critiques, specifically of anarchists, and you know, not saying that anarchism is wrong or bad, but his critiques I think, are actually quite the same as ones published by Malatesta many, many decades ago. So, engaging with these critiques we’re in a unique position because we are not just reading anarchist theory or trying to embody anarchist theory in small collective in the midst of a capitalist economy like collectives in the US, for example, we’d be doing, but we’re in the midst of a messy revolution, full of contradictions and really understanding what that means and seeing how the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

TFSR: Cool and if you feel comfortable, if you don’t, but if you feel comfortable, I’d love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to go over and to join and to, like, participate in this struggle that is, like difficult to get to and also dangerous.

RG: Yeah, for sure. So I’ve been interested in, ever since 2016, when I met with somebody who had been here with YPG and he was just giving a question and answer to some anarchist groups about his experience and he was being really candid about it. And to me when I read about it, and then also, when I heard about it from him, it’s that it really reminded me and a lot of ways of, I was also reading a lot at the time about the Spanish revolution of 1936. It’s something that a lot of anarchists, I think, will be really familiar with, really inspired by. And seeing kind of the similarities there and, you know, when I was reading about 1936 Spain, and thinking like, “oh, you know, if there was something like this in my lifetime,” you know, and then realizing there is! And not only Rojava, Rojava is not the only revolutionary project in the world right now, but it’s one that I was lucky enough to have some contact with. And I was able to join a Kurdish language class, which I didn’t learn very much from at that time, but I, it got me started.

And then so over time, as I was also doing work before I came here with organizations that were inspired by a lot of the same ideas of this movement. I was really getting into ideas inspired by Murray Bookchin’s ideas about municipalism, and social ecology, Democratic confederalism. These sort of ideas were interesting to me, not only at a theoretical level, but because I was working with groups that were trying to implement them, and that were already themselves inspired by hearing about the things that were happening here and other places, with setting up communes and decommoditizing the necessities, communization theory, dual power.

So I was working with groups that were republishing stuff that was being published by the movement here and stuff from Make Rojava Green Again and other groups that were here, and we were, you know, trying to put tekmîl, this critique and self-critique that’s inspired by sort of a Maoist practice originally, you know, we were using some of these tools that came to us through this movement and things that they published.

So we really were curious about, if we could learn more from this revolution, and if we had anything to contribute to it. So yeah, for all those reasons, I came here to see what I could see, see what I could bring back to my organizing back home, and to see what I could possibly contribute, also, to moving the revolution here forward.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about how TA, or Anarchist Struggle fits in and relates to the broader constellation of groups in the Syrian Defense Forces – the SDF – and with the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, the long name for AANES, I guess, another name for Rojava? Is that a good way of putting it?

RG: So like I mentioned, TA is one of many groups that are existing for internationalists, some of which are kind of involved with SDF military works, and others are more purely civilian. A lot of people who want to come here they go directly to talking to YPG, YPJ, because they don’t know that non-military works exist. Or then a lot of times people contact us because we’re the only group besides YPG that they’ve heard of that internationals can join.

So I just wanted to like put out there that there’s also quite a few others. For civilian groups there’s the Internationalist Commune, and there’s Jineoloji International, which is studying the women’s movement and I think that one’s only open to women and nonbinary folks. So on the military side, there’s YPG and YPJ. Various communist parties have a presence here that are sometimes bringing internationals from certain places, and sometimes not, I don’t know so much about their…and they range from classic Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist organizations to other ones that are more Maoist inspired. So they have like, even within, you know, having in common that they’re authoritarian communist, they have quite an ideological diversity, as well as tactical diversity among them.

And then there’s also media groups, there’s the Rojava Information Center, which is a great source of information, and also people are coming and working with them in a journalistic capacity. There’s Heyva Sor [A Kurd], which is the Kurdish Red Crescent, which is the civilian medical work that has a huge project of like trying to set up basically a functioning health system in what is now kind of a chaotic systemless soup of various health services.

So those are the words that are available to internationals. And then as well as our relationship to the SDF, we are responsible to the SDF- the way that the SDF works is it’s sort of administered by local military councils. So like, each area has a military council that serves for the defense of the area. Mostly, this was kind of set up, I think, during the Daesh war and continues to function during this phase of the war, that like, for example: in a region where we’ve got a Kurdish community, an Assyrian community, an Armenian community, a Syriac community, there will be both military and civilian sides to the defense so there’ll be like a local community defense which people are familiar with HPC, which got the nickname “grannies with guns”. So it’s like the sort of civilian side of the community neighborhood defense and then the military council is the other side of that. That’s the military side of the regional defense.

So there’s, for example, the Khabour Guards are the Assyrian community, and they speak an Assyrian language, it’s different, it’s not Kurdish, it’s not Arabic. There are quite a few Arabic speaking groups that are participating in the military council. So the military council of a city or of a region will have representatives of all these types of groups that are functioning for the defense of these communities in the area and they’ll coordinate together to coordinate the defense for the region. So we work with the one in the area where we’re operating.

So that’s how the SDF is structured. So when I say we have a relationship to the SDF, that’s how that works. And then in terms of the health structure, there’s a military hospital system that is free for members of the military. So that’s like, where we get our health care from directly, like if we need care. And there’s also civilian hospital systems, and there’s private clinics. Because it’s a time of relative peace a lot of our work is civilian health work. There’s a big epidemic of cutaneous leishmaniasis, which is a skin parasite that’s spread by these little biting insects which requires a lot of injections to get rid of it and there’s been a huge problem with overcrowding in the clinics. So we’ve been assisting with the effort to give injections to people, both civilian and military to get rid of this parasite. So that’s been taking up a lot of our time recently. That’s just an example of the type of work that we have.

TFSR: Awesome. Thank you for that there’s a lot in there, I’d like to also get back to the some of the medical issue and the work that you do a little bit later. In the meantime, in November of 2021, there was a major fear that Turkey would be escalating, like creating a new offensive across the Syrian border into Rojava. Could you explain kind of what happened there to your understanding, and is that still looming danger?

RG: It’s always a looming danger. It seems like Turkey was hoping to get the go ahead from the US and or Russia to launch a full scale invasion and they didn’t get it. They didn’t get the permission they wanted. The impact that this had on us here was that people were really convinced that there was like an imminent full scale war about to happen. We really ramped up preparation, getting extra hospital space ready. And the fact that it didn’t happen…these kinds of things – this was more pronounced example – but these kinds of like “an invasion is about to happen” feeling occurs pretty regularly, and so we’ll ramp up the activity for a little while, and then we don’t really ever, like let our guard down. I mean, I don’t think there’s a feeling that the danger is past, just postponed.

TFSR: So the last time that The Final Straw spoke with members of TA it was before Turkey’s 2019 incursion into Rojava – which, again, correct me if I’m wrong on these points that I’m making – but which seem to end up in a large stretch of territory along the border within Syria’s borders, falling under the control of the Turkish state. I know that TA was heavily involved in the resistance to Serê Kaniyê, but can you tell us a little bit more about this? And have you heard about the Turkish state using the so called “buffer zone” that they put in to demographically shift the area, like pushing out Kurds and other residents from the region and resettling Syrian refugees that they had been taking from Europe within their borders?

RG: Anything that Turkey is doing in terms of resettling people, officially, any information we would have about that would be from the same sources that y’all would have. So I don’t really feel like I can comment on that. I do know there’s been a lot of human rights violations by the occupying forces – the mercenaries and the Turkish state – in particular in Afrin and Serê Kaniyê regions there have been a lot of kidnappings of civilians, there have been a lot of reported rapes and there’s been desecration of graves. There’s been a variety of human rights abuses, there was a year end report that was published by the SDF about this topic. So yeah, people can…I don’t have the exact numbers off the top of my head, but people can look into that.

Another way that they’re using the Serê Kaniyê region and the Afrin region in particular – the reason they chose that region in particular to take – is because it has resources, it’s very difficult to conduct life without. So in particular water the word Serê Kaniyê, I think – I could be wrong about this, my language skills aren’t great – but I think it means “the head of the spring.” It’s where water comes from, or water comes through, Serê Kaniyê, and Turkey has really been using water and dams and the ability to shut off access to water, as well as shutting off access to other resources to try to wage war of attrition and really damaged the civilian morale by making it difficult to come by the necessities of life, really tryna starve us out. They cut so much water the past summer, the Xabûr river, basically completely dried up. Crop harvests were just a tiny fraction of what they were the previous year, especially with the grain. So there’s going to be a huge problem with the grain shortages for the next year. We’re looking at, like, potentially, like massive food shortages because of this, and there were massive water shortages last year. It was pretty grim.

So Turkey’s strategy with this is not only to use the space to demographically create a buffer, which also was Syria’s official policy prior to the to the revolution to the war. [Bashar al-] Assad was also doing this, he was trying to create a green belt of Arab populations through sort of a combination of targeted gentrification and more direct repression of Kurdish inhabitants of the area, to try to cut the unity of the of the Kurdistan geographical region.

TFSR: That’s terrible, I’m sorry. I mean, is part of the goal – besides just starving out and pressuring people – also to make them sort of identify the difficulties that they’re facing with autonomous administration? Or is it a little less subtle than that?

RG: Yeah, no, I think it’s less subtle than that but I think also that’s happening. And I mean, there are people that stayed and fought through years of war that now we’re in relative peace, and they’re just, maybe they have children, they’re just experiencing so much poverty.

A lot of people have family members that have gone to Europe to work to send money back, and more and more family members are having to leave to go to make money to just survive, that like people who are really ideologically and personally connected to their land and to their cultural identity, they don’t want to leave, (but their) finally getting close to throwing in the towel because of the shortages and economic difficulties, even though they weathered the storm of close to a decade of war.

So that’s something that’s like really, also a huge part of the fight that like as we lose civilians, if we don’t have civilian populations, the population become sparsely it becomes much more difficult to defend the land.

TFSR: So you’ve already said before about stuff that goes on in Turkey, you may not have a more immediate connection to but I’m gonna ask the question anyway and you can give me that same answer if you want. But over the last number of years, Turkey’s economy has been sliding into a crisis that’s worsened dramatically – specifically, over the last few months – has this tension spilled over the border in any way that you’ve experienced? And, just speculating, do you think that this could mean the end of the 20 year AKP rule and its neo-Ottomanist push?

RG: I have no idea what this means for specific political parties in Turkey, but the way that this is affecting us is that like everything that goes wrong in Turkey, everyone wants to point the blame onto a different scapegoat. So he’ll blame the Kurdish movement in Turkey, you know, the guerrillas in the mountains there, or he’ll blame Rojava, and he’ll, you know, cut resources. He’s got different alliances with Iraqi Kurdistan, and political parties there. Like, right now, the borders closed between Iraq and Syria, the Semalka Crossing, that’s like the sort of unofficial crossing, that’s been the main one that we’re able to use for the last few years.

It’s estimated it’ll be close for two months, it’s, we don’t know when it will open again. There’s been shortages of sugar, which is a big deal, because people put like, they have half chai, half sugar in there, in their cup of chai. So like, not having sugar for their chai is like a really huge issue for people’s morale, culturally, it’s very important to have, you know, these resources. You know, they’re not letting cigarettes go across, just things that are designed to like, make people’s lives miserable here, they’re doing this to make up kind of political points that they’re losing in Iraqi Kurdistan or in Turkey respectively. So I think Rojava economically kind of becomes the scapegoat or the you know, the whipping post for failing economies in the neighboring countries.

TFSR: So to kind of keep on the Iraq question, like there’s been a lot of conflict in south Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan between the Turkish state and PKK elements that are there with the Kurdish Democratic Party. The more conservative Barzani-led administration, they’re siding with Turkey. For instance, there are allegations also a Turkish use of chemical weapons, but this hasn’t been making news in the US so much. Are you aware of this? And has this affected things in in Rojava?

RG: I’ll be honest, I can’t I don’t really know of an answer to that question. I’m not knowledgeable about that.

TFSR: Cool, I appreciate that honesty. Back to TA a little bit: can you share a little more about the medical work that y’all do? And why this was chosen as a focus? As I understand in 2018 or 2019 y’all got an ambulance, for instance, that enabled y’all to do combat medic work during that time. How widespread was or is this among SDF, I guess the practice of ambulances and mobility, and what’s the general response to your work been in the area?

RG: In the time that I’ve been here, which again, I came after the Serê Kaniyê war, so there hasn’t been a full scale war in the time I’ve been here. We do have an ambulance, we had one already when I got here, I’m not sure when we got it. I know during the time of the war, they were using it to evacuate wounded, to evacuate people from the hospital in Serê Kaniyê out of the city, and that kind of thing, to protect civilians as well as wounded military members. I know that there were members of TA that were here at that time that did very heroic things and saved a lot of lives.

I think that the space for that kind of work opened up because a combination of the disinvestment over decades in this region, plus the brain drain of, you know, 10 years of war, resulted in a situation where there was just like, really a huge lack of people who were both trained and willing to go into dangerous areas to do kind of emergency medical work. And I know, like, for example, I heard from people who were in the time of the Serê Kaniyê war they were giving out tourniquets and, like, there were people who were arriving at the hospital with wounds that they would have been saved by a tourniquet, from people that were their people in their unit or wherever had been given tourniquets, and they weren’t using them. Where people would get these individual first aid kits and just empty it out and use the thing that they came in to carry stuff.

So there was a big gap in understanding or seeing the value in this kind of work. I think that coming from a Western perspective, and also with more of an understanding and experience of how state militaries work, there was more of a value placed on this type of preparation. So seeing how that went down, there’s been a big work not only in our group and other groups as well, to do like education, we’ve been teaching the different military groups about how to use tourniquets, how to improvise tourniquets because we don’t have a good supply of premade tourniquets but you can make a pretty great one from you know, a torn piece of T-shirt and the cleaning rod of your rifle, for example. Giving education on how to stop massive bleeding, how to do chest seals for something that’s punctured a lung, basic stuff for just keeping people alive long enough to get them to the hospital.

We’ve been really shifting our focus from providing the care directly to providing education to people on how to do this kind of care. And like I said, we’ve been doing work with the civilian medical system as well, to try to improve and develop our skills and stay ready when we’re not in a situation of having to provide emergency medical care. There were also reports – and I don’t know how official these are or whatever – but I heard more than one person talking about feeling at least like Turkey had been targeting ambulances, or that marked ambulances were a target. And a lot of times now, especially with the drone strikes and stuff, when people are injured they’re not waiting for an ambulance to show up, they’re being thrown in the back of a pickup truck or a logistics van or something that can go faster than an ambulance can over the shitty roads here and get to the hospital as fast as possible.

So having people that are able to stop massive bleeding or you know, keep their lung from collapsing or whatever, while they’re in the back of their of their Hilux, or whatever, I think we’re seeing that that’s going to make more of a difference than having an ambulance. I mean we do still have the ambulance and we make visits around places where maybe other other ambulances aren’t willing to go. But it’s become more of a mobile clinic for the time being. Like, not a real clinic, but like, you know, we go and we make checkups, we give the injections for leishmaniasis. If people look really sick, and their commanders aren’t letting them go to the hospital, we’ll write them a note and sometimes that carries an extra authority. We give them advice for like if they’ve got a cold or something you know how to take care about and not get sick or this sort of thing.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s super insightful. I really appreciate that answer. So how have you seen COVID-19 experienced in Rojava, as far as like how it’s spread, or access to tests, vaccines, and PPE, any of this sort of stuff?

RG: With PPE, it’s really not widespread. Some people are wearing masks now. It’s become not super strange to wear a mask. I would say it’s not normal, like most people aren’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing or anything but at the beginning, like if you didn’t shake people’s hands and give everyone a hug, it was super rude. Whereas now people have started a little bit, if you do like a little bow or a wave instead of shaking hands, or if you are wearing a mask, people don’t think that’s super weird. They started to understand what that is and what it’s about. They still don’t give a lot of attention to COVID, although they it’s been really inconsistent. Because they built a new hospital for COVID but it’s been pretty much empty because people aren’t going to the hospital when they have these symptoms. And people have definitely died of COVID here, a lot of people have gotten COVID, people in our group have gotten COVID and have mostly recovered thank God. So like people are seeing that it’s existing, but sometimes there are tests, we had PCR tests for a while, then we had the rapid antigen tests, and now I guess they don’t have any test? So they’re saying that there’s no COVID anymore like it’s done, just because, I think it’s because they ran out of tests.

So it’s a really inconsistent response, like and they got a vaccine, we got the first dose of the vaccine, but then we couldn’t go on time and get the second dose. And then by the time we went to get the second dose, they didn’t have it anymore. So now we’re trying to figure out if there’s some other city where we can go to get the second dose, it’s really, it’s really a mess. There have been some lockdowns, but they’ve been really inconsistent. It’s been different, like, from city to city and a lockdown pretty much means that you just can’t go in or out of the city for usually like a week or two. It’s been it’s been really inconsistent.

TFSR: Yeah, that doesn’t sound disimilar, actually, to a lot of other places, just maybe on a different scale. But yeah, a lot of the same problems are pretty, seem pretty ubiquitous, as far as accessing testing and the social spreading of like what knowledge there is to protect oneself from it.

This is off topic, but I just heard an interview the other, I think earlier this week on Democracy Now with folks at the Texas Children’s Hospital that had developed an open source and copyright free vaccine and were distributing it, like they were working with a manufacturing infrastructure in India and a few other parts of the world to just get it as widely distributed as possible. That’s pretty hopeful for me, as far as that one specific, like, you were mentioning those bite vectored infections that y’all are helping to inject folks against, but as far as the COVID thing, I don’t know.

RG: Yeah, I mean, part of the issue with the COVID thing here, too, is like, I think part of the reason that they didn’t keep the vaccines around, it’s not like there was so much demand that they were going like hotcakes, I think nobody wanted them.

TFSR: Because they didn’t see it as an actual threat or because they’re, they don’t like vaccines?

RG: I think it’s a combination of as much of health literacy is an issue everywhere, it’s like very, very much an issue here. People aren’t trusting the countries that are manufacturing these vaccines, they’re also occupying forces. Like it’s all coming from either the US or Russia. So there’s like political mistrust, as well as like, kind of the attitude towards you know, after 10 years of war, people are kind of, a lot of people have this sort of like, “you can’t scare me,” like “COVID, I don’t care” kind of attitude. So it’s a combination of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s that sounds kind of common also the people that I’ve talked to imprisoned in the so-called US, they’re like, “I don’t want to catch this, but they’re trying to kill me every day and have been over this whole sentence, so whatever. Something’s gonna get me or it’s not.”

RG: Yeah, it’s really, really difficult to fight against this kind of fatalism and this kind of mistrust, because it’s not wrong. Like, it makes sense.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, for sure. You’ve mentioned with like, ambulances being targeted by drone strikes and I kind of wonder what it’s like being engaged, even though you’re not currently engaged in hot and regular and heavy war with Turkey – even though the threat is constantly looming, and there are things like drone strikes – what’s it like being engaged in such an asymmetrical warfare against the state power was such advantages in terms of resources, weaponry, like drones, and airstrikes and border fortifications, and the ability to organize assassination attempts, notably against leaders of the Turkish Left in Rojava. And I know it’s a big question, but also being party to a conflict that is facing off against in this complex mess between like, Turkey as a NATO force and the second biggest military in NATO, and the US at some points, acting as a support in some parts of the conflict also, as a NATO state, you know, this sort of thing.

RG: I mean, I can only speak for me in terms of like, what it feels like, to me. To be honest, it’s terrifying. It’s very scary. When I first got here, especially for the first few months, I was just conscious constantly of the fact that like, we could all die at any moment. I guess you kind of get used to it, you focus on what you can do. You get to be able to kind of recognize how far bombs are by what they sound like. I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for that. You just, you try to focus on on what’s in front of you, and you try to have an eye on the long game, you know. To know that nobody knows what’s going to happen, that there are more important things, there are there other determiners of victory rather than who has the biggest guns.

TFSR: I think that I already kind of asked the thing about what is TA working on right now, or you answered it through a lot of the medical discussion. Do you do want to sort of wax philosophical about the future of TA and what directions that might go?

RG: Yeah, like I mentioned, we’re talking about our questions of organizational form. We’re having debates right now about some readings that we did about the Makhnovists platform and we’re talking about platformism, we’re talking about decision making strategies and consensus and you know, a lot of the same things that any kind of anarchist organization struggles with. Because as we grow, and as we develop over time and have different organizational needs, we have to sort of refine our approach to the concept of structuring ideologically and practically what that means for us.

So in ideological terms, we’re doing that. We’re working a little bit on our image, I think, especially early on with the nature of the Daesh war in particular, and the demographics of the group, that it got a bit of a bro-y image. We’ve gotten critique for that, we’ve taken this to heart. We’ve really tried to focus on not only questioning the patriarchal values that get embodied in military works, and the way that we do that, but also focusing more on the women’s liberation in the ecology, pillars of the revolution that we’re involved in.

We’ve gotten more involved in society works, like, we’ve gotten to know people, both civilian and military people kind of in other groups or who aren’t officially affiliated, but are just supportive, that we interact with in the villages around us. We visited some kind of cultural activities, in particular, like Armenian cultural revival. There’s a lot of Armenians in Syria, who ended up here as a result of the genocide. There was a huge forced march of Armenians to Deir ez-Zor. Also a lot of Armenian women and children were kidnapped and sold or adopted by Kurdish and or Arab families.

TFSR: At the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian genocide by the Turkish state you’re referring to? Or is this something during Daesh war?

RG: No, no, this is the 1915 genocide. So there’s a big effort as part of this, I think that Öcalan calls it “xwe nas bikin”, and it means like, “know yourself”, meaning like, know your roots, know your heritage. There’s a big push for sort of cultural pride among Armenians, Assyrians, people who are kind of cultural and religious minority groups here. So there’s a council that’s doing Armenian language lessons. So we’re trying to get involved with learning about this kind of things, and learning more about the history and the cultures of the area. And try not to have like a white savior complex or anything like this, where we kind of just come in and like do our work, which was sort of, I think, earlier on, there was less opportunity to do anything that wasn’t immediately necessary because the situation was the way it was. But now we have a lot more opportunities.

So yeah, just being more connected and more involved in the many, many facets of this revolution that aren’t immediately obvious, or things that we’re necessarily already thinking about, from the way that – in particular from America – like what we, what we see. And a lot of the news and the image that we have this place, I think in America in particular, is like at least three years out of date at any given time, because we don’t have such strong ties to here the way that Europe has a much more lively exchange of people between this region. And in for example, Germany and England both have big Kurdish movements.

Sorry I’m getting a little bit off topic. So the question what is TA working on now and in the future…so yeah, we’re working on that, we’re trying to bring more people, especially we’re prioritizing bringing women comrades, gender nonconforming comrades, trans comrades. There’s a lot of contradictions on on queer issues in the movement generally, but in terms of our ability to exist an organized as queer internationals, we have been very lucky. We have the space to exist and challenge some of the beliefs and assumptions that people have. So that’s something that we really value as an opportunity we want to make the most of.

TFSR: Yeah that’s awesome. Yeah, in the past, the Kurdish movement in Rojava has been somewhat unwelcoming to gay, lesbian, queer and trans folks. It’s our understanding that the Kurdish movement in Bakur, in Turkish occupied northern Kurdistan, has historically been amazingly pro LGBTQ but because of some local attitudes in shorter time for building up support in the region, the movement has been really impacted by holders of conservative social mores. That said, over the past years, the women’s movement was starting to slowly try and shift that attitude. How do things stand now, if you all have insights on this?

RG: There’s a lot of really contradictory things going on. My experience has been that, especially as internationals, we can get away with a lot more than people from here can in terms of this kind of stuff. Especially because, I mean, they consider it as weird to be vegetarian as they do to be gay, for example. Like, *laughing* we’re just freaks in general like so they kind of just shake their heads and let us get away with being weird. Whereas for a person from here who’s queer, they, they face a lot, a lot of difficulties, a lot of danger that we as internationals are privileged to be largely exempt from.

That said, I think within the movement, there are people who see queer issues as part of the struggle against patriarchy, and there are people who don’t. You get a variety of attitudes, ranging from you know, “homosexuality is a social disease of capitalist modernity”, to you know that it’s just simply doesn’t exist, you know, to people who, like I said have a much more progressive attitude towards it. The comrades from Turkey or from Bakur do tend to have a much more informed and accepting attitude, I would say, in my experience.

We are not the only group by any means that has out vocal queer members. And I think that we’ve gotten more careful and respectful and strategic since the days of the, you know, TQILA banner, if anybody saw that photo, which was a great photo, but it caused huge, huge problems. Especially with like, for example, the more socially conservative tribes that the autonomous administration needs to try to bring into its project and win some goodwill with. There’s just a lot to balance. Because on the one hand, we’re pushing to try to, you know, advance social attitude towards the concept of gender, the concept of sexual orientation.

On the other hand, you know, we had friends that were working in a women’s health clinic, and one of the questions for women that were having various health problems was, “how often do you have sex with your husband? How often do you want to have sex with your husband?” And some of the women were like, “Want? What do you, what do you mean, want? Like, what does this want that you’re talking?” It just, depending, there’s just such a huge range of attitudes and experiences related to gender and sexuality here that it’s a complicated situation.

TFSR: Thank you for that. The broader Kurdish movement has a heavy focus on the ideological aspects of the struggle and the Rojava revolution being part of military training, with studies of Öcalan’s work and structured collective life considered as or more important than the combat related training. What sort of commonalities does life at TA have with the way life is structured in the broader movement? And are there ways in which an anarchist perspective causes it to diverge?

RG: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it’s been different at different times in TA’s history. I think for the time that I’ve been here, at least, the last year especially, we’ve had a lot of emphasis on the ideological development. Not only within our organization, like when we did military training, we allocated ample time for discussions of patriarchy, patriarchal dynamics, how we can engage with the realities of our situation without unnecessarily advancing sort of patriarchal values. And we talked a lot about the role of sport, our relationships to our bodies, competitiveness, you know, whether it’s good to be competitive, the destructive nature of competitiveness, toxic masculinity.

So we’ve made time in our training schedule to really intentionally sit down and discuss these aspects, discuss our relationship to the concept of hierarchy, being you know, in a military situation versus in other situations. As well as at various times we do reading groups, discussions on topics that are, as we get time – lately we’ve been really busy – but when we get time we do a rotating seminar where someone will kind of prepare an hour or two discussion about a topic related to women’s revolution, gender liberation, some aspect of anarchist history. We did one on understanding antisemitism, just a variety of topics. We’re a bunch of nerds at heart to like, we’re all always reading things. I’m in like a signal group of people who are reading the book, The Ghetto Fights right now, which is about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

I think one of the things we did for a while, it’s a kind of a common practice that we adopted from other groups is when we have our list of who has night watch duty and people take like an hour or two shift for security in the night, and there’s a list and it’s really common to put like an inspirational revolutionary quote on the list, so whoever’s making the list has to like constantly be reading more stuff and finding new sources of inspiration there.

And we don’t only do these kinds of education’s in our own group, we’ve also participated in more formal education with other internationals from other organizations that were coordinated to come together for like a month long, you know, learning about the history of this movement, the history of philosophy in the Middle East, readings and discussions like an intensive 10 hours a day of lectures and discussions and movies about relevant topics, so. As much as we get time for we really we really do take seriously the ideological development.

TFSR: Can you share with us a little about your understanding of the Kurdish movements approach to autonomy and statehood? Do y’all have any insights into the possibility of, I guess the TEV-DEM, or PYD, formalizing an autonomous region with Bashar al-Assad’s government?

RG: Um, as far as the relationship between the autonomous administration and the Assad regime I don’t understand it, and I can’t comment on it. As far as kind of summarizing my experiences or my discussions that illustrate some of the wide variety of opinions within the quote unquote “Kurdish movement”, I would say that – saying “the Kurdish movement” implying that there is just one, or even just several – like, I don’t know. The discussions I’ve had with people, just like random people on the streets sometimes even, like I talked to one guy, this one old guy I met in Qamişlo who was saying he was really supporting the PKK for a long time, and he’s a, he described himself as a Stalinist and he really was pro USSR and but then, when the new paradigm happened and the split in the party happened, he started to support the model of Başûr Iraqi Kurdistan, he became a Barzani supporter. Because to him, a state was just so important. Like even though he called himself a communist, communism was like nothing compared to having a state. So that was a wild ride of a conversation.

So I mean, there’s people you know, that range from, there was like a really, bit irreverent, but quite illustrative meme that was going around of like a political compass of people within the Rojava movement, too, and there was the PKK boomer who doesn’t know that there’s a new paradigm. Like a bit making light of the wide variety of ideological orientations you find towards the concept of statehood. But in terms of how it’s actually being implemented, it seems like there’s a big, almost US-style democracy, I say, “almost”, is something that a lot of just regular people are supporting, as far as I can tell. At least from what I hear from friends, for example, in Rojava Information Center who know a lot more about this than I do, so this is all like third hand information.

But yeah, in terms of like the approach to statehood, there are some people that are like really still hardline, like we need our own state. There are some people that ride around with pictures of Saddam Hussein on the front of their motorbikes because they’re the same flavor of Islam that he was and they see this cultural identification is the most important thing to them. It’s a huge variety of opinions. And what is happening within the more ideological oriented discussions is maybe not completely reflective of what the general everyday man on the street kind of person’s gonna think as well.

And also to call it “the Kurdish movement”, like again, at least in the area where we are there’s a lot of Assyrians, there’s a lot of Armenians, there’s a lot of Arabs. There’s definitely a lot of Kurds as well, but to describe this movement at this point as “Kurdish” is a, it’s Kurdish inspired, it’s Kurdish led but it’s not a “Kurdish movement”.

TFSR: In a recent interview that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group peace in Kurdistan, Duran Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the SDF under Rojavan command in the fight against Daesh or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic and federalism but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russian and Iranian influence in the region. It’s a proxy situation.

This specific radio show and podcast is based in the US, you’ve mentioned that a number of people involved as internationals are from the US, and a lot of our audience, most of our audience, is based in the US, so I think this, this is why I bring up this question: can you talk about the US relationship to Rojava, the illegalization of the PKK and the KCK, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the autonomous administration of north and east Syria? As I understand many internationals who come back from Rojava face difficulties from the various states that they live under because of some of these are similar illegalizations?

RG: Yeah, I think Americans have a bit easier time than some of the people from other places, I think Brits have quite a difficult situation now, the laws that have been passed in the last couple years are horrific. As far as the criminalization of the PKK, I know that increasingly different countries, including I think England recently, most of them haven’t changed their evaluation, but have at least reopen the debate into a classification of PKK and whether it’s the terrorist organization or not. I don’t know the history of how the illegalization happened, or, you know, I can’t really comment on that, as far as just anecdotally, like I know, I’ve had friends that have come back from Rojava to different places, and in the US, some friends have kind of gotten follow up from the feds, but I don’t know of anybody who’s really faced heavy repression because of it.

However, the issue is there have been some people who have been accused of unrelated things, but then had their prior involvement with this region used to kind of intensify the repression they face for other things. So the repression is there and it’s definitely important to be conscious of it, and for individuals who participate to be careful, but also for people who care about this revolution, or who just care about freedom generally, to fight against the criminalization of the PKK, the criminalization of participation in this revolution, the criminalization of you know, even travel to this region for some people. As far as the impact on the ground for people here who aren’t internationalist, I don’t know that there’s a quantifiable simple like impact, it just makes things generally harder. But I think the impact, as far as I’m at least able to comment on this, you know, is mostly to people going to other places, working in other places….

TFSR: And for listeners who are interested in more on the lasting effects of repression in the US, they can check a couple of episodes ago to our interview with some supporters of Dan Baker, who formerly had participated in the Rojava revolution, and is facing a few dozen months in prison, not for that directly but that was definitely brought up in his court proceedings.

RG: Yeah, he is the one that put something on Facebook, no? And, and it was sort of connected somehow, abstractly?

TFSR: Well he was, yeah. Definitely that has something to do with it, yeah. He basically had said, after the January 6 events in DC, he was in Florida, and he said, “Hey, Trumpists in Florida are threatening an arm siege on the Capitol, antifascist should come out with weapons and like keep them from attacking the general population”. And it had been brought up since he had come back from Rojava, like he had, he was doing some medical work at The CHOP Seattle, and after a shooting had happened had been approached by the FBI. But then also, yeah, his participation in Rojava had been brought up during his court proceedings for calling for people to show up at the Florida capitol to act as a community defense, not a defense of the Capitol, but act as a community defense against armed Trumpists who are trying to commit a putsch.

How can listeners learn more about TA and the social revolution occurring in Rojava, or the struggle going on in Rojava? And how can they get involved or support the communalist movement and aims from where they’re at?

RG: Well I’ve mentioned earlier on this list of different organizations that people can do work with here. So knowing that if people are interested to come here, it’s not only military connected work that’s available to them, their civilian work for internationalist as well.

There’s also, you know, the need for solidarity work in people’s home countries, in the US, in particular, like pressuring lawmakers to reduce the repression on on not just people who come here, but also to remove the PKK from this international terrorist list. There’s a push to have a no-fly zone for Turkey to limit Turkey’s ability to make incursions into the area. There were some boycott movements on companies such as Garmin that were manufacturing drone parts that Turkey was using, which Turkey is also now supplying drones to Ethiopia to suppress the resistance to the genocide in Tigray as well, so that’s worth noting the connection there.

As far as learning more about TA in particular, we have Twitter, we don’t update it super often, our internet’s not super reliable all the time and media isn’t our top priority. And we do answer our email when we can. So if people have questions for us, we can be contacted that way. And as far as supporting Rojava generally: inform yourself, follow the news and the history. There’s a really great book that I read called A Road Unforeseen by Meredith Tax. I know she, Meredith Tax, has done speaking tours with Debbie Bookchin, I believe, who runs the Emergency Committee for Rojava. They have events that you can get involved with, you can educate yourself, you can connect other people. So yeah, Emergency Committee for Rojava is usually a good place to find stuff.

TFSR: I can put links in the show notes to some of the texts that you’ve brought up. There’s, for instance, the one about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising., there’s like a free PDF on the publishers website, which is really helpful. If you have any other links that you want to share, too, we can happily put those in there. Is there anything that I failed to ask you about that you’d like to share?

RG: I think one of the most valuable things that I’ve quote unquote, “learned” from the revolution here in my time here, and just from the society and seeing the effort, and the slow and steady pace of building the communes and the cooperatives and all of the issues that they’ve run into, and starting over that they’ve had to do, and the perseverance that they’ve had to have, is that the work that that I see a lot of my friends, in particular anarchist, but not only anarchists, doing in the US, and in Canada and other places like it – and I’m talking about like housing cooperatives, land trusts, tenants unions, connecting the tenants unions to labor unions – any kind of organizing like this with the people, that is with the eye to, not just to win a concession from the boss or the landlord, but to further connect the people to their community and to each other and going to city council meetings, doing things that that may seem pretty unrevolutionary and unglamorous at the local level…that’s the quote unquote, “real work”.

Like I think American anarchists suffer the most from a belief that the real revolution is always somewhere else, that the real revolutionary possibilities and activities are always somewhere more exciting. That anything we do is, you know, we like to call each other “cosplayers” or kind of put down each other’s work or our own work, and I think that the most valuable thing that I’ve learned from being here is, is this is the real work, the work that we’re doing here is not significantly different than the work that revolutionaries, I’ll use that word, are doing in the US, are doing in Canada, and that especially those connected to land struggles for Indigenous people, I think that is absolutely the right track. And we should have more faith in ourselves, we should take ourselves more seriously and we should have more of an appreciation for the ways in which the conditions are good for us to do this work, the material resources, the access to knowledge that we do have, and to, to support each other in this and to really see the potential.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you. And thank you, Robin, thank you so much, after long days and in the middle of your busy schedule to take the time to, to communicate your views and your experiences. I really appreciate hearing him and I’m excited to share him with the audience. Thank you.

RG: Yeah, thank you for taking so much time to talk to me and being patient with all this, tech issues and everything. *chuckles*

TFSR: *laughs* Blasted technology. And pass my love and appreciation to TA please.

RG: I will do that, thank you

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Photo taken from Al Jumhuriya

Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.

This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations.  The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places.  Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.

Joey Ayoub is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor and researcher. He publishes frequently on https://joeyayoub.com/ as well as on the blog https://hummusforthought.com/ and the related podcast by the same title.

Leila Al-Shami is a British-Syrian activist and co-author of ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘, a founder of the international solidarity site, TahrirICN and writes on http://leilashami.wordpress.com/ .

Below are links to some resources that Joey and Leila suggest interested listeners check out to for perspectives by folks on the ground in the region:

Lebanon links:

Syria Links:

Timestamps:

  • Sean Swain [00:02:32 – 00:09:34]
  • Intro to Lebanon & Syria [00:09:34 – 00:21:35]
  • Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
  • Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
  • Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
  • Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
  • Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
  • Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
  • Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
  • White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
  • Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
  • Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
  • Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]

Announcements

Michael Kimble Benefit

Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble.  Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved.  Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.

BADNews February 2020 (#31)

This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.

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Playlist

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Transcription

The Final Straw: I’m very happy to be joined by Leila al-Shami and Joey Ayoub. Joey is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor, and researcher; he was the Middle East and North Africa editor at both Global Voices and IFEX until recently, and is co-editor of the book Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising. Currently he is doing a PhD at the University of Zurich on postwar Lebanese society. Leila is a British-Syrian activist and the coauthor of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.

Leila al-Shami: Thank you.

Joey Ayoub: Thank you.

FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.

First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?

JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.

Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.

Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.

LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.

Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.

It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.

FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?

LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.

So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.

But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.

And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.

FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.

JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.

The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.

Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.

These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.

The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.

Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.

They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.

That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.

FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?

JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.

It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.

The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.

And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.

This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.

That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.

The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.

That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.

What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.

Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.

The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.

FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.

LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.

But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.

These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.

So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.

I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.

Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.

There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.

FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?

LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.

By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.

But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.

We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.

So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.

But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.

FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?

LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.

Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.

In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.

But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.

In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.

FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?

LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.

It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.

This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.

So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.

The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.

FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.

JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.

That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.

In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.

And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.

To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.

Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.

In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.

So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”

FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?

LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.

The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..

The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.

FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.

LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab BaladiJoey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.

I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.

JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.

Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Sourceagain, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.

A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.

The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.

What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.

It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.

Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.

Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.

FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.

LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.

The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.

It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.

JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.

The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”

If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.

That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.

FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.

JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.

Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.

FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.

Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?

LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.

Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.

That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.

For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.

These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.

FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?

LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.

I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.

And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.

JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.

That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.

At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.

The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.

LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.

There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.

That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.

We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.

Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.

FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.

LS: Thank you for inviting us.

JA: Thanks a lot.

From Southern Appalachia to Northeast Syria: Anarchist Combat Medics in Rojava Speak + Solidarity with SC Prisoners

Solidarity with SC Prisoners!

Download Episode Here

This is a show with two parts, firstly I got to sit down with two members of Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross about the ongoing and increasingly dire situation in South Carolina prions. I won’t take up too much space here with an intro because we have a pretty packed show, but they outline some upcoming actions coordinated at the behest of people incarcerated in SC, a phone zap scheduled for tomorrow (Monday the 21st), and about organizing as anarchists doing prisoner support/solidarity.

Phone Zap information:

“What you can do:

-On Monday (October 21): Call Head of SCDC Bryan Stirling at 803-896-8555 to tell him about this multi-city, international action. Let Stirling know that his department is now not only a national embarrassment, but an international one as well!

-All week, October 21-28: Follow and spread the hashtag #SunlightIsAHumanRight

-Ongoing: Document what you and your loved ones are experiencing; evidence and testimony will help us prepare a formal complaint”

Get in touch with BRABC at blueridgeabc@riseup.net

Blue Ridge ABC

c/o Firestorm Books and Coffee

610 Haywood Road

Asheville, NC 28806

Anarchist Combat Medics in Rojava Speak

Secondly, Bursts got a chance to connect to a couple of anarchist comrades working as combat medics engaged with the SDF in Rojava. In this episode, they speak briefly about the work they’re doing, their experiences in the recent Turkish invasion into Syria. Here are a few news sites you can keep up with on what’s been going on, also check out the recent interview on fellow Channel Zero Network affiliates, ItsGoingDown.org with CJ, a Syrian anarchist in Qamishlo, as well as the recent series by crimethInc, also of Channel Zero Network, on background of the Rojava revolution and anarchist approaches to it.

Teem Propaganda Workshop

Teem seeks to educate students in digital design skills, image preparation, printmaking techniques, dissemination methods and visual strategy to sharpen our movements’ ability to communicate, disrupt and intervene in spectacle society.

For four days, students will be hands on learning screen-printing, risograph, offset lithography, publication layout, design for print as well as partaking in conversations and lectures to connect practical with theoretical knowledge. We will exercise, eat, and take care of the space together while producing material. Participants will leave the program with not just the printing and design skills to produce effective propaganda, but also a know-how about starting (and continuing) an autonomous printshop.

To register email teemworkshop@protonmail.com

More information on this event can be found at https://teem.noblogs.org/

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Music for this episode found on a Solidarity with Rojava playlist, musical loop by William.

 

Rojava, War, Imperialism, and Defense: An interview with Gönül Düzer

An interview with Gönül Düzer about standing up for Rojava in the face of Turkish invasion

YPG/YPJ logo from the cover of "A Small Key Opens A Large Door" book
Download This Episode

For this special podcast episode I spoke with Gönül Düzer, who is a labor activist, math teacher, and a board member of the Kurdish Cultural Center in Chicago. Gönül was willing to take the time to speak on the current Turkish invasion of Northeast Syria, some history that would be useful to keep in mind when considering current events in this region, the complex tensions of being an anti imperialist and calling for US support, and about the Global Day of Action on this Saturday October 12th against this current invasion into NE Syria which has been brought about by actions by the US and many many more topics.. She also talks about Rojava, the role that this region plays in the area, and some ideas about how to get involved against the current invasion.

The audio quality for this podcast special is a bit low, so I recommend listening in a quiet place with headphones if you can manage that.

We will be airing a version of this episode on Sunday, the day after the Global Day of Action, so you won’t hear from us that day via this platform, but we will be back in your podcast feed next Sunday with more content.

A content warning for this episode, Gönül describes some brutal actions on the part of Daesh or ISIS, including rape and sexual assault. The descriptions are not graphic but may be difficult to engage with.

You can go to the Rojava Information Center at rojavainformationcenter.com, @RojavaIC on Twitter, for on the ground updates about this situation.

You can also visit the link for a way to support the Rojava Medical Emergency Fund. Since the majority of medical NGOs have pulled out of the region, it has become necessary to pull together whatever medical needs fighters may have from a rapidly diminishing resource pool. This fund is for on the ground medical supplies and secure communication equipment for those people defending NE Syria.

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For a radio version of this episode, airing on 10/13/2019, you can visit our Collection on archive.org. This episode contains more music, including a song written in support of Tekoşîna Anarşîst (Anarchist Struggle), an anarchist group fighting in Rojava, plus some audio submitted by a listener of a pro Rojava, anti-imperialist rally held in Chicago on the Global Day of Action on 10/12.

Please help spread this information! One thing that people in Syria are asking for is informational, educational efforts on the part of allies abroad.

Biji Rojava!

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Music for this episode:

Bella Ciao – Kurdish version by Chia Madani

Kendal Maniš-Marşi – Rojava (Destane Kobane)

Şoreş Ronahi on Turkish assaults on Afrin Canton, Rojava, Syria

Download This Episode

This week, Bursts spoke with Şoreş Ronahi of the Youth Movement of Rojava (Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava), an autonomous movement within Tev-Dem, the movement for Democratic Confederalism in Rojava (located within Northern Syria).    Mr Ronahi speaks about the Turkish assaults, aided by ISIS/DAESH forces now flying the so-called Free Syrian Army flag, to attack defense forces and civilians in the Efrînê Canton (also spelled Afrin or Efrin elsewhere).  We talk about the political stance of the Turkish government as relates to Kurdish people within and without the borders of Turkey, with the Social Revolution in Rojava, the shifting U.S. relationship to the YPG & YPJ militias under the control of the PYD administration in Rojava, the Revolution’s approaches to engaging and fighting patriarchy and ethnic hatred in Syria and the region and more.

As a side note, although Rojava is not an explicitly anarchist project, it is an anti-nationalist, anti-state movement that holds as its pillars ecology, anti-capitalism & feminism and is in part inspired by American former Anarchist turned Communalist, Murray Bookchin. Beyond Bookchin’s impact, Bursts personally feels that Rojava adds an IRL experiment in combat and revolutionary organizing that many anarchists have engaged in in the form of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces, The Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army, within other elements of the International Freedom Batallions as well as in the PYD administered YPG & YPJ militias on the front lines fighting DAESH.

The fallen YPJ soldier that Şoreş mentions at the end of the interview is Avesta Xabûr.

For past episodes on #Rojava on this show, check out our conversations with Kurdish feminist Dilar Dirik (pt 1 & pt 2), our conversation with American anarchist Guy McGowan Steel Steward fighting with the YPG (pt 1 & pt 2) and our discussions with anarchist and writer, Paul Z. Simons after his study and visit to Rojava (pt 1, pt 2 & pt 3)

The track finish with is Euphonik with the song Y.P.J. from their album, Inconnu Mais Reconnu II.

Playlist

An interview with members of DAF, an anarchist collective in Istanbul, plus words from Sean Swain

Turkish Anarchists of DAF, pt 1

anarsistfaaliyet.org/
Download Pt 1

Here, we present both parts one and two of an interview with Merve Arkun, Hüseyin & Özgür, members of Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet, or DAF. DAF translates to Revolutionist Anarchist Action and is a network of overlapping collectives in Turkey. They are based out of Istanbul and run an office and two cafe’s, both called 26A, which is a meeting space and employer for collective members. This conversation was conducted on March 19, 2016, a few short hours after a DAESH (ISIS) bombing occurred in the Beyoğlu neighborhood of Istanbul, on the touristy street called İstiklal Avenue, just a few blocks from one of the collective’s cafe’s and their newspaper office.

The bomb killed 5 people (4 tourists plus the bomber), and injured some 36 more. The tension in the city in the days before the bombing was palpable as trucks of riot police roved around the neighborhood, and embassies and foreign schools closed for security reasons. The approaching Newroz celebrations, or Kurdish New Years, were slated to take place a mere 2 days after this attack in the contentious Taksim Gezi Park so recently after the resumption of military and legal hostilities between Kurdish groups and aligned leftists and the Turkish government headed by the AK Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This decision most certainly would promise demonstrations and conflict
between security forces and civil society around the right to the contentious park, and against the war on the Kurds both in Syria and Turkey by Erdoğan’s government.

Besides the 26A cafes, DAF includes an Anarchist Women’s collective, a publishing project in the form of the Meydan Gazette (published monthly in paper form), and a youth collective, the Lycee (or High School) Anarchist Federation called LAF. In addition it organizes arts events and projects, and participates in labor organizing and solidarity with Kurdish resistance and the Rojava Revolution. DAF also organizes in tandem though autonomously with anti-militarist and anti-conscription activists in Turkey.

Merve is an active member of the Meydan Gazette publishing crew, the Anarchist Women’s collective and also in a seperate but related anti-militarist group. Hüseyin is a main editor of the Meydan Gazette and involved in the 26A cafes. Özgür is involved in Meydan & the self-defense program and the PATIKA ecological collective.

Throughout this first hour: Merve, Hüseyin & Özgür talk about the collectivized economic and living structures of DAF and how that pans out to support collective members and build collectivized models for survival within and against capitalism.

In the second podcast episode, the interviewees discuss: PATIKA Ecological Collective and their publication, organizing with communities in the Black Sea region against a hydro-electric dam, and more; Merve’s work with the Conscientious Objector Association against militarism and conscription; Meydan Gazette and their other publication projects; the modern anarchist movement in Turkey since 1989; solidarity with Kurdish populations in Turkey; organizing material support for the Rojava Revolution and aiding in helping anarchists join the struggle there; and more. Download Pt 2

To see an article (in Turkish) about Esra Ankan, you can visit the Meydan Gazette’s article here:
http://meydangazetesi.org/gundem/2016/02/trans-tutsak-esrayla-dayanismaya/

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Announcements

Vigil for The Pulse Shooting

******A quick announcement: There will be a vigil tonight at 9pm at Firestorm Books and Coffee at 601 Haywood Rd in West Asheville for the victims and community affected by the shooting that occurred last night in Orlando, Florida. The shooting occurred at the Gay dance club called The Pulse and media outlets are announcing that there were 50 people killed in what appears to have been a targeted attack by someone from outside of the area wielding an assault rifle and a handgun. The hostage situation that developed was ended by a SWAT invasion at 5AM this morning (6-12-1016). Come out tonight and support this community.******

Notes From Sean’s Segment

Sean Swain speaks about a comrade of his in his facility, a trans woman who was put away for defending herself against an assaulter. Her government name is Adam Bockerstette, and while she can receive mail

under her chosen name (which is Kara), we were unsure about how to spell that. So if you do choose to write to her, your letters can be addressed to Kara Bockerstette, but note that your envelopes should be addressed to:

Adam Bockerstette
#606000
PO Box 120
Lebanon, OH 45036

Also keep an eye peeled at http://seanswain.org/ for more updates about Kara and her situation.

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Oso Blanco

Good news for our comrade on the inside, Oso Blanco, who was sentenced to 80 years in maximum security prison for a series of bank robberies and a firearms violation. Oso Blanco is someone of Cherokee descent, and has been politicized during his time in prison and before. Recently there has been a massive fundraising effort on the part of his support team to get him transferred out of his former facility, and for legal fees to get his sentenced reduced. Both of these efforts have been
successful!

Thanks to fundraising efforts and donations, they have reached their fundraising goal at this time. Of course, money will always be needed until Oso Blanco is completely free – donations are always welcome. The support in donations and spreading the word was fast and amazing! Oso Blanco has been assigned a lawyer who he feels comfortable with and he is moving quickly to make sure the motion is filed by June 25th, 2016. Communication with Oso Blanco has been iffy at best. Please write him to
show support. If you donated, write and let him know as it will help immensely to raise his spirits. If you would like to donate further, and for guidelines on what mail will and won’t get into his facility, you can visit his support website at: http://freeosoblanco.blogspot.com/

To write Oso Blanco at his new location, you can address letters to:

Byron Chubbuck
#07909051
USP Lewisburg
PO BOX 1000
Lewisburg, PA 17837