St Andrews Day in Aberdeen

What better way to celebrate a national day than with an anti-racist march? SSK was very happy to be asked to speak at the rally in Aberdeen, where a rather damp crowd listened to the speech below:

Comrades, brothers and sisters,

I am very happy to be here on behalf of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, not only because the Kurds are an often unnoticed minority in Scotland, and not only because Kurds are suffering a brutal repression at the hands of a Turkish government that Theresa May calls her friends and sells British-made arms to. What makes me especially glad to speak about the Kurds on an antiracist demonstration, is the opportunity to talk about the achievements of the radical Kurdish movement, inspired by Abdullah Öcalan – including all they have done to break down ethnic barriers and cut through religious prejudices.

In Turkey, in Northern Syria, and in the Qandil mountains of Iraq, the Kurds are striving to create an alternative system based on an inclusive bottom-up grassroots democracy. In a part of the world know for overwhelming patriarchy, their movement is actively feminist, pushing for women to take a full role in society and ensuring every organisation has male and female co-chairs. Theirs is a movement that values ecology and sees humanity as part of the natural world; and a movement that tries to ensure that all ethnic groups are able to practice their own culture and language and take full part in running society.

When, at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Assad’s authority was in retreat, the Kurds in Northern Syria were able to take advantage of the power vacuum to take autonomous control of the areas where they lived and to put their radical democratic system into practice. But almost as soon as this was established, they were attacked by ISIS. The Kurds’ successful fight back in Kobanê was the first time that ISIS suffered a major defeat. And the Kurds and their allies have gone on to liberate other areas from ISIS and to bring those areas into a democratic federation. Syria is ethnically very mixed and the newly liberated areas are home to a wide range of different peoples, with different languages, cultures and religions. In setting up new structures huge care has been taken to ensure that all minorities are represented.

Although Öcalan started his political life fighting for a Kurdish state, this progressive Kurdish movement, which now turns its back on top-down state power, is only too alert to the dangers of any form of ethnic nationalism. They know that the majority group will always dominate the minorities – even a majority group that was once itself a minority.

I was able to see this radical politics in action when I visited Northern Syria in May. One of the places we visited was Manbij, which the Kurds liberated from ISIS and which is made up of several ethnic groups. We visited Manbij Women’s Council and met Arabs, Turkmen and Circassians, as well as Kurds. Discussion was slow as remarks often had to be translated into two languages, but they told us how they were knocking on the doors of all the families in their neighbourhoods, both to help the women come out and take an active role in wider society, and to remind people of old bonds and mixing between different ethnic groups and of the importance of working together.

Their approach provides an example of what is possible. But at the same time, every Middle Eastern and global power is intervening in Syria for their own selfish agenda, and these are often ready to play one ethnic group off against another for their own advantage. Turkey has systematically destroyed the Kurdish areas within their own borders, and invaded and overrun the Kurdish canton of Afrîn in Northern Syria, which had become a safe haven for refugees from across the region.

Now Turkey is eyeing up Manbij and even Kobanê. And although the US and Europe are happy to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, they have no interest in supporting the Kurds’ radical project, or even in protecting the Kurds themselves.

But the more that people across the world spread the word about what is happening, the harder it will be for our governments to continue to act with impunity. International solidarity is vital to protect both the Kurdish people and the revolutionary ideas that they have gifted to all of us.

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