“Even if we douse it in the sea.
this fire will burn forever.
It beats out light in the darkness.
It burns on.”
– Bejan Matur
To be able to understand the importance of Kurdish women’s poetry in the contemporary context, it is first necessary to illustrate the condition of the Kurdish identity—regardless of gender—in the present day Middle East. The position of the Kurdish people within modern day society is possibly best portrayed by the old Kurdish proverb, “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” Following the end of World War One—the consequence of which was a thorough reconstruction of middle-eastern borders and the creation of a new geopolitical landscape—the Kurdish people have become a thoroughly disjointed, stateless entity dispersed across the mountainous territories now encompassed by the Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish borders. Denying the Kurds their own independent state, and forever erasing Kurdistan off the map, ushered in an era of oppression suffered at the hands of the regimes of either of the four aforementioned countries. Since they were no longer considered a legitimate nation, but rather a numerous minority in every country that they now inhabited, the Kurds have more often than not been subjected to ethnic cleansing (be it at the hands of the remnants of the fallen Ottoman Empire known as Turkey or the deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein), involuntary resettlement and forced attempts at assimilation via language bans.
Where Kurds are located in the Middle East via ‘The Kurdish Project’.
Within this whirlwind of endeavours to render the Kurdish identity non-existent by stripping the people of the rights to their own language, as well as abolishing their rights to freedom of cultural expression, and numerous armed uprisings in an attempt to reclaim the sense of ‘self’ from the merciless jaws of new identities assigned by none other than the oppressors, another, more covert struggle was taking place — the women’s struggle. In the midst of the Kurdish cultural apocalypse and perpetual ‘linguicide’, women have been—and still are—fighting their own battle in both the public and the domestic sphere of existence. They commenced not only fighting against ‘culturcide’ perpetuated by either of the previously mentioned countries by directly facing the oppressor in the field of battle, but also decided to stand up to another, less visible, but ever so dangerous enemy — the patriarchal mentality ingrained into every pore of society, thus dictating clandestinely each and every aspect of their every day lives. In a sense, the Kurdish women were victims of ‘double oppression’, that of the regime that turned the Kurd into the unmentionable ‘other’— an undesirable, barely existent, leper-like entity whose very language and culture are a threat to society — and that of the ever present notion of the dominant male/submissive female dynamics still deep-rooted in the middle-eastern society, thus becoming forced to tackle an array of gender-specific obstacles in an effort to save their own identities from extinction.
“Their political struggle, especially when armed, was often met with harsh state violence, which used a gross combination of racism and sexism, centered around sexualized torture, systematic rape, and propaganda campaigns that portrayed militant women as prostitutes, because they dared to pose themselves as enemies of hyper-masculine armies. In the Western discourse, Kurdish women’s agency in their struggle was often denied by claims that they are “being instrumentalized for the national cause” or that they participate in the liberation struggle in order to escape their sad lives as “victims of a backward culture”.” (‘Feminism and the Kurdish Freedom Movement’, Dirik, paragraph 3)
In the aforementioned passage, Dilar Dirik manages to perfectly illustrate the issues experienced by Kurdish women caused by the prevalent patriarchal mentality. It became clear that Kurdish women’s liberation cannot be achieved solely through the means of armed struggle, since the efforts will only continue to be undermined by mistreatment of women in other aspects of life. In order to fight the regime, one first had to destroy the notion of the dominant male and reimagine the woman not as a submissive ‘extension’ of a man, but an equal. Thus, in order to be able to successfully reclaim her culture, the Kurdish woman first had to reclaim herself.
Dilar Dirik in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan.
In a society where women’s actions are heavily dictated by the will of men, where there is little space left for women in the context of the public sphere—as well as regulated by the oppressive nation-state intent on reducing her cultural and linguistic identity to absolute nothingness—literature became a new battlefront, an act of defiance and unconditional resistance. Poetry replaced a gun, and verses written in Kurdish became bullets shooting through the walls encasing the Kurdish woman and piercing holes, however small, which allowed her to become seen by her oppressor and yet remain protected from him. The ambiguity of poetry allowed the Kurdish woman to express and explore a myriad of issues — from those addressing the taboo status of women’s sexuality, to those providing harsh political criticism cleverly disguised in the form of a seemingly innocent musing — while still remaining safely hidden from prosecution and ostracising by using the socially imposed ‘walls’ to her advantage, and fighting the oppression by ever so carefully filling her every word with vagueness, sure to enable her to render herself a submissive woman acceptable within the framework of patriarchy, if the need arises.
The aforementioned can be said to be rather similar to the notion of the veiled Algerian woman in Frantz Fanon’s essay, ‘Algeria unveiled‘:
[In the essay] the colonizer’s attempt to unveil the Algerian woman does not simply turn the veil into the symbol of resistance; it becomes a technique of camouflage, a means of struggle – the veil conceals bombs. The veil that once secured the boundary of the hone – the limits of woman – now masks the woman in her revolutionary activity (…) (Bhabha, pg. 63)
Much like the Algerian woman from Fanon’s essay, the Kurdish woman has learned how to turn the oppression suffered by women into her own advantage and seemingly give into the concept of an obedient, submissive woman by retreating from the frontline back into her own home. Her submissiveness is her veil which allows her to stand up to the oppressor and convey her revolutionary ideas to others maybe even more efficiently than a man — simply because she is not expected to engage in any of those activities simply due to the perceived nature of her gender. Her pages littered with words written in Kurdish and subtly portraying the long history of the Kurdish people is a weapon as effective as a gun wielded by a man fighting fervently on the frontline, maybe even more so. Unlike the frenzied gun fire in the midst of battle that sends a clear message of defiance and unwillingness to yield, poetry sends a much different, but an even more compelling message.
While soldiers and various other Kurdish individuals may perish, reading and writing poetry will ensure that the notion of ‘Kurdishness’ never does, for once the poem is completed it no longer depends on the poet. It becomes a part of society, slowly making its way from one individual to another remaining forever embedded in people’s minds. Once the poem is read for the first time after being written it cannot be destroyed. Its physical copies may be destroyed or banned, but the impact it left on its reader is something that can never be taken away from them since it is safely nested within the walls of their own minds, where it rests and waits to transferred to the minds of others. In that regard, the poem has more power than any other weapon used to fight the aggressor. It exists defiantly and indestructibly, sending a clear message — We exist. We are Kurds. We are women. And our existence can never be erased.
In the following paragraph is one of the poems possibly best illustrating all of the aforementioned, titled Separation from Earth and written by a Kurdish female poet by the name of Kajal Ahmad:
“When I exploded
Like the horizon, my hair
Became a belt around the Earth’s waist.
For the frozen poles of the south,
I turned myself into a pair of socks,
For the chills in the North, from threads of my soul
I wore hats and turbans.
The homeland was sick of me:
It wanted to tear me off like an old coat,
But I hung myself on the mercy of its beard
And from earth I was thrown off into the arms of the universe.
In the sky I became a star
And now I have my own place and my own passion
And I am denser with lives than Earth.”
In this compelling poem originally written in Kurdish, Ahmad tells not only a story of herself, nor does she solely provide her own personalized experience of the world as it may seem at first glance. Her poem is her story, but behind its carefully draped veil of vagueness, it is also every woman’s and every Kurd’s simultaneously. While speaking of her own experience of forcing herself into submission and reshaping the very core of her identity for various metaphorically expressed reasons (e.g. “For the frozen poles of the south, I turned myself into a pair of socks”), Ahmad also speaks for every woman suffering from oppression at the hands of the dominant male. She speaks for every woman desperately twisting and turning her own sense of self in a desperate attempt to conform to the expectations of society by becoming a submissive ‘extension’ of a male figure, but no matter how hard she tries to conform, any remaining particle of her true, independent self will remain an object of scrutiny by the dominant male (e.g. “It wanted to tear me off like an old coat, but I hung myself on the mercy of its beard.”).
The very same verses that speak of the women speak of the condition of the Kurdish culture in today’s society as well. It ever so covertly tells a story of the Kurds as a stateless nation, scattered and forced to wander the earth in search for a homeland that can never be found. It subtly evokes the notion of ethnic cleansings and forced resettlements that both played a significant role in creating the modern Kurdish identity (e.g. “The homeland was sick of me” (…) And from the earth I was thrown off into the arms of the universe. In the sky I became a star”).
Ruined city of Kobane, Syria.
Most importantly, the poem conveys a message of hope. In its last two verses (“And now I have my own place and my own passion, and I am denser with lives than Earth.”) the poem accentuates that even in the face of adversity, the author, the women and the Kurds have only been given a chance to grow stronger and more resilient for what is yet to come. By being written and read this very poem has now found its own place within more minds that there are lives on Earth. Its message of resistance has become embedded within the lives of women, Kurds and Kurdish women thus first allowing woman to utilize its power in their fight against patriarchal oppression and then Kurdish women to stand side by side with their male counterparts and reclaim their identity by speaking, writing and reading in the Kurdish language and openly living the Kurdish culture. Only when the women are free of the chains of the patriarchal mentality will the Kurds be able to efficiently fight the socio-cultural erasure at the hands of other countries and become truly free — and here poetry and its readers, and more specifically, women’s poetry, can play a crucial part.
Originally written in Croatian by Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja (17/07/2017)
Translated by Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja
Edited by Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Link to original post in Croatian here: click here
– Ahmad, Kajal. “Magazine.” Words Without Borders. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2017.
– Bhabha, Homi K. The location of culture. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.
– Dirik, Dilar. “Feminism and the Kurdish Freedom Movement.” Home – KurdishQuestion.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2017.
– Hale, Thomas. “A short history of the Kurds.” Financial Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2017.
– “Kurdish Academy of Language enables the Kurdish language in new horizon.” Kurdish Academy of Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2017.
After clashes between ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) and Turkish backed mercenaries of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) came to an abrupt end west of Manbij in early March, Turkey’s ‘Euphrates Shield’ operation essentially was put on hold. President Erdogan’s bid to dislodge YPG from Northern Syria, started in August of 2016, ended in stagnation. Forces from both Russia and US made sure that Ankara’s efforts to capture Manbij were nullified, and ‘Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) and FSA repelled(1, 2).
Manbij Situation map prior to March 29th. Credit for map goes to Transylvania Intelligence.
This embarrassed Ankara greatly and angered Turkish President Erdogan, as TSK and FSA could not advance any further, unless they wanted to be in direct conflict with Russia and US forces—something that Ankara was not prepared to do. With its hands tied and its forces forced to pull back, Turkey tried in vain to persuade US and Russia to reconsider their actions in Manbij (3). These meetings did not prove fruitful for Turkey and on March 29th, in a reluctant move, Ankara announced an end to its Euphrates Shield operation—one that lasted eight months(4). (August 24, 2016 to March 29th, 2017)
Military leaders meet in Atayla, Turkey March 7th. From Left to right: US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
Meanwhile, focus now shifted for YPG, as external pressure that had sought to jeopardise Raqqa operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’ was reduced. ‘Syrian Democratic forces’ (SDF) resumed their push for Raqqa, heavily clashing with ISIS and edging ever closer towards the snake’s heart. Crossing the Euphrates River with the assistance of US Special forces, SDF troops set sights on a city west of Raqqa called, ‘Tabqa’ (5, 6). It stands as one of the last obstacles before Raqqa.
SDF forces airdropped behind enemy lines gear up to prepare an advance towards Tabqa dam.
A strategically significant city known for its dam, Tabqa stood for many years under the occupation of ISIS militants, ever since August of 2014 (7). ‘Syrian Arab army’ (SAA) fought bitterly to maintain the city and its important airbase when ISIS militants were swarming around it, but were overwhelmed in the end. Majority of those captured were used for ISIS’ propaganda machine in execution videos and as a warning to those forces who dared to challenge it (8).
Years had passed since SAA’s defeat at Tabqa and ISIS now faced a new, as well as more determined foe. Coalition jets flew high above Tabqa and bombed positions around it, crippling ISIS militants defending its dam (9). Bullets ripped through the air, as SDF forces engaged with ISIS militants and edged their way closer to Tabqa’s airbase—taking it completely on March 26th (10). In a last ditch effort, ISIS claimed that Tabqa dam was on the verge of collapse due to coalition airstrikes(11). These claims circulated widely, but had no basis in reality—disproved later by SDF engineers, who found only minor damage (12).
YPG spokesperson Cihan Sheikh Ahmed speaks from recently liberated Tabqa airbase.
-Ankara’s eyes on Europe:
Ankara’s operation to oust YPG from Northern Syria may have been a failure, but Erdogan vowed to reignite new operations at a later date (13). ‘Justice and Development Party’ (AKP) now focused on other matters across the globe; namely, gaining support for a referendum to grant greater executive powers to Erdogan. From Germany to the Netherlands, Erdogan encouraged Turks living abroad to be sure to cast their ‘Evet’ [Yes] vote in April’s referendum (14). This call for support ignited a storm in Netherlands, as authorities turned back Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane and turned away other AKP agents from campaigning on Dutch soil (15).
Keeping in autocratic fashion, Erdogan denounced the Dutch government as Nazis—ironic given the president’s fascist tendencies (^Ibid). AKP loyalists in Rotterdam and Istanbul, meanwhile, committed mass genocide on oranges too, through the squashing of dozens of the delicious fruits in protest—a horrifying spectacle for many (16). When AKP loyalists were not butchering food products, they were protesting in the streets with Muslim Brotherhood and Grey wolves hand gestures. Some went so far as to infiltrate the Dutch consulate building in Istanbul and replace its Dutch flag with a Turkish one (17).
Evet supporters horrifically slaughter dozens of oranges in Istanbul.
Growing autocracy in Turkey for Erdogan had been simmering for months, but it was drawing towards a singular defining moment—Turkish referendum. AKP’s domestic policy of cracking down on journalists and jailing those with a ‘whiff’ of ‘Kurdish Worker’s party’ (PKK) affiliation, such as members of the ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ (HDP), only could go so far (18). It would take more than this and anti-European rhetoric and crackdowns to win Erdogan the referendum. Economic and protection narratives became more prevalent in government spokespersons’ speeches (19).
Evet posters have Erdogan’s face on them.
Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, did not listen to Ankara’s demands for US to end its support for YPG, when he came to Istanbul on March 28th (20). Ankara doesn’t seem to take the hint that maybe, just maybe, US does not want TSK and FSA to lead the Raqqa charge. A lack of organisation, centralisation and infighting amongst FSA does not look good to the ‘United States Central Command’ (CENTCOM). Moreover, why should the United States abandon an ally that repeatedly shows its effectiveness in combating ISIS? Besides, Trump Administration had more to deal with than just balancing its relations with Turkey and YPG.
Rex Tillerson meets with Erdogan.
-US’ reaction to another CW attack:
After a failed offensive by FSA and ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) troops to capture northern Hama, bickering amongst Assad opposition forces increased, well SAA steadily pushed back against a splintered opposition (21). For many years now, the ‘Syrian Airforce’ (SyAF) and Russian Airforce had been targeting civilian centres in a long campaign to ‘eliminate terrorists’. (‘Terrorists’ referring to both jihadists and dissenters of Assad regime.) Dropping barrel bombs, using chlorine gas and other chemical weapons, pro-regime forces killed thousands of civilians in an effort to cripple what resistance remained (22).
The International community’s silence and inaction in prior years had given rise to a man who was not afraid to use whatever methods at his disposal to regain control of a broken country. In 2013, Assad showed the world what Sarin could do to thousands in Ghouta—dropping the substance and killing thousands through toxic suffocation (23). Denying responsibility and instead throwing blame on opposition forces, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by UN, Amnesty International, Doctors without borders and OPCW, even hiding behind Russia’s back, Assad displayed back then a refusal to care for the lives of civilians or take responsibility (24, 25, 26). The chemical weapon attacks in Khan Shaykhun in early April would show no different.
A mother and father weep at the sight of their dead child, who was killed in the Sarin gas attacks in East Ghousta, 2013.
However, unlike the Obama Administration’s response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Ghouta (not doing enough), Khan Shaykhun would prompt Trump administration to take a much more ‘firmer’ stance. In retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens, and after having his heart tugged on by the sight of dead children, Trump ordered 59 tomahawk missiles to be launched at an Assad [Shayrat] airbase—a poor move for Trump (27). A poor move, not because of the act itself, but because the administration decided to inform Russia—who informed the Assad regime—beforehand (28).
Flight path of SyAF from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun. As provided by Pentagon.
Russia’s ‘tip off’ to the Assad regime allowed for it to pull most of its aircraft from the airbase, in effect only allowing the missiles to destroy a few aircraft and kill a few SAA personnel (29). This ‘symbolic’ move by the Trump Administration to deter future CW attacks has yet to show its long-term effects. However, one can say that such an act only showed, what was already evident to many, that Russia’s dedication to its ally only is rhetorical. In other words, if US decided to send ground forces into Syria to overthrow Assad, then Russia would not be willing to confront it.
President Assad and President Trump. On opposite sides of the world.
-A new phase with old problems:
Well Trump administration tried further to wedge itself between Russia and Assad regime, SDF forces continued to tighten the noose around Raqqa with continued attacks near Tabqa dam. These attacks aimed at setting the groundwork for Wrath of Euphrates’ next phase. Announced on April 13th by YPG command, as SDF and USSOF edged closer to Tabqa’s west, Raqqa operations entered a new [4th] phase—aim would be to cut supply routes to Raqqa and isolate it completely (30).
SDF commanders announce that liberation of Tabqa is next in Raqqa operations.
During the launch of the new phase, CENTCOM jets received poor ground intel from SDF commanders, which resulted in friendly fire that killed 18 SDF fighters—most from the ‘Raqqa Hawks Brigade’, a former FSA unit that joined SDF in 2016 (31, 32). FSA supporters, as usual, were quick to jump on this tragedy and claimed that Rojava forces were deliberately targeting Arab fighters within their own ranks. An absurd claim, given that there are a large number of Arab fighters fighting in Rojava forces and that are leading in the Raqqa offensive.
Always quick to target the YPG for any failure, the anti-YPG brigade was out in full force when these airstrikes happened. It is no surprise that such a high level of scrutiny was placed on the YPG, as many FSA supporters are quick to point out the faults of a different group and ignore their owns—usual tribalism on show. This was most evident with the apologetics surrounding the attack of busses transporting civilians, as well as SAA forces, from Madaya and Zabadani to the Idlib province.
Map shows area of attack in Idlib province.
A transfer and exchange deal, agreed to by Iranian militias and FSA, that was supposed to assure safe passage of civilians of Assad besieged cities in Damascus’ west and those of rebel besieged cities in North-west of Idlib, ended in blood shed (33, 34). A suicide bomber blew up busses filled with Shiite civilians and over a hundred died, including many children. FSA and Assad supporters blamed one another, but given the history of attacks by jihadists on Assad loyalists and civilians in the area, one is to wonder if HTS or ‘Ahrar Al-sham’ (AAS) is to blame (35).
Assad opposition had devolved over the years, from a centralised force that wanted to rid Assad and establish pluralistic democracy to a splintered opposition that now was dominated by jihadists who want an Islamic caliphate. This sad regression has been due to the longevity of the Syrian conflict, where thousands of Syrians have become desperate to end the conflict. Throwing their hopes on those who only seek to usher in a new tyranny, blinded by a mindset that has been brought up on Arab supremacy, many side with jihadist factions and any forces that depart from their mindset, such as Rojava forces. It is this mindset that Rojava forces are seeking to change.
Jihadists of Jund al-Aqsa, prior to 2017, when their fighters joined HTS.
-Changing minds, but not allies:
Helping to establish a ‘Raqqa Civilian Council’ (RCC) to takeover after SDF have liberated the city of Raqqa, SDF are seeking to change the mindset that has long plagued Syria. Appointing Layla Mohammed—a feminist and Raqqa local—to co-head the Council, Rojava forces sought to make a statement (36). By empowering women and putting them in places of authority, Rojava forces seek to change the gender dynamics and slowly erode the religious traditionalism that had sought to subjugate women as second-class citizens—A stark contrast to the jihadists’ vision.
Layla Mohammed (L) and Hamdan al-Abad (R) are leaders of the Raqqa Civilian Council.
Around the same time of Layla Mohammed’s appointment and RCC’s formation, Turkey was holding its referendum. April 16th saw Turks flock to voting booths, guarded at all times by Turkish soldiers and often surrounded by ‘Evet’ supporters, who kept close eyes on what way locals were voting. Intimidation was not the only thing awaiting potential ‘hayir’ [no] voters, but also fraudulent votes and a clear manipulation of votes to favour Evet side. Many counters of the results were filmed accepting fraudulent Evet votes—a clear violation of the voting process, but not to be a surprise, given Erdogan’s tactics (37).
However, what was clear to the world was that in Turkey there was still a resistance to autocratic rule. A majority of Kurdish regions in Turkey voted ‘Hayir’ and many of the major cities, such as Ankara and Istanbul, voted Hayir too. This showed that, even though the Turkish referendum was a victory for Erdogan, with 51.8% Evet votes in his favour, the coming darkness would have its future cracks of light from those areas (38, 39). With new power secured, President Erdogan could now set his sights on Rojava.
Results, as presented by AA – a Turkish state media outlet – for April 16th.
Now Turkey looks to be amassing troops north of the Tell Abyad border, for what looks to be a likely point of a possible future offensive by TSK into Rojava. Erdogan did say that Turkey would launch future military operations, this time without using the pretext of fighting ISIS, as it did for Euphrates Shield. However, Ankara’s methods of doing this are varied, but what is clear is that Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani’s ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party’ (KDP), whose party co-administrates the ‘Kurdish Regional Government’ (KRG), would play a part.
President Barzani of the KRG and head of KDP.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s KDP acts as a Turkish organisation that heads a ‘quasi-Turkish protectorate’, as KDP has allowed Ankara’s interests to dictate KRG’s foreign policy. This is no more evident in KDP’s actions towards the PKK in Sinjar and to the Yazidis of ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBŞ). In August of 2014, when ISIS militants were edging their way towards Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis became victim to a massacre that would see Yazidi women enslaved, children butchered and men killed (40). Many of Yazidis had been disarmed in prior days by KDP forces, which retreated when ISIS militants broke through—leaving thousands defenceless (41).
A corridor was opened just in time by the YPG with the help of the PKK and YBŞ to create a path between Sinjar Mountains and Rojava territory. This corridor served to save thousands of Yazidis from being butchered further, showing that the Rojava forces and PKK wanted to aid those battling oppression (42). However, KDP pushed Ankara’s line and cracked down harder in following years against PKK, as well as the YBŞ. Pushing Rojava Peshmerga into Sinjar in March 2017 to try oust YBS, KDP intended to push any trace of PKK from Iraq. These clashes continued between KDP forces and YBŞ near Sinjar Mountains, inevitably escalating with Turkish airstrikes on April 25th (43).
Ibrahim Huso and Newroz Guvercin are the two soldiers attempting to stop a Peshmerga vehicle.
-Bombs over Rojava:
Turkish jets flew high across Rojava and the Sinjar mountains, dropping bombs on YPG headquarters in Cizere and YBŞ’ military bases in Sinjar. Dozens killed, including many civilians and even KDP Peshmerga as well, showed that Ankara’s eyes were still firmly set on the Kurds (44). Launching further attacks, TSK clashed with YPG in the Afrin and Cizere cantons—battling at Darbasiyah. During this time, US commanders visited the site of the bombings in Sinjar a day later, despite the anger of both Turkey and FSA supporters (45).
A US officer, from the US-led coalition, speaks with a fighter from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the site of Turkish airstrikes near northeastern Syrian Kurdish town of Derik, known as al-Malikiyah in Arabic, on April 25, 2017.
Turkish warplanes killed more than 20 Kurdish fighters in strikes in Syria and Iraq, where the Kurds are key players in the battle against the Islamic State group.
The bombardment near the city of Al-Malikiyah in northeastern Syria saw Turkish planes carry out “dozens of simultaneous air strikes” on YPG positions overnight, including a media centre, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. / AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN
Rojava supporters began to campaign for a ‘no fly zone’ over Northern Syria, shortly after the airstrikes, to prevent further Turkish aggression. In the interim, US State department, Iraq and Syrian governments denounced Turkey’s airstrikes—US even going so far as to warn Turkey to not take any further action against YPG. However, Ankara ignored Pentagon’s demands and continued to mortar YPG positions, as well as attempt to push armour into Rojava (46). This defiance prompted CENTCOM to authorise US Special forces to come to the aid of YPG in Darbasiyah.
Wedging itself firmly between TSK and YPG, US armed vehicles—with raised American flags—drove with YPG to the border and set up positions to deter Turkish aggression. US flexed its muscle and Russia found itself desiring to do the same, as Russia followed soon after with troops being sent to Afrin canton to deter aggression too (47, 48). It was a Manbij situation all over again, as Turkey again found itself confronted by both US and Russia. Creating, in effect, a ‘buffer zone’ along the northern Syria border, US stands now in Ankara’s way–again.
YPG vehicles escort USSOF along Rojava border with Turkey.
Charles Lister and other anti-YPG analysts took this opportunity to beat Ankara’s drum at Congress and on social media, outlying desperately the need for US to reconsider its relations with the YPG. Like Roy Gutman before in February, Lister and friends spared no time in pointing out YPG’s connection to the PKK—a ‘terrorist organisation’ (49). Julian Röpcke, another ME analyst, even went so far as to decry the USSOF that attended the funeral of killed YPG fighters in Qamshilo. Highlighting yet again, how far the anti-YPG brigade will go in their hatred of Rojava forces and their affirmation of Turkey’s narrative (50).
‘Jihadi Julian’ is what many YPG supporters refer the analyst as.
-A New Dawn for Syria:
Now that Ankara is once again forced to rethink its strategy in Northern Syria, SDF forces are on the verge of liberating Tabqa from ISIS. Well I write this, most of Tabqa’s old districts have been liberated and clashes now go on in the last remaining streets of the city. ISIS is done in Tabqa that is for sure. There seems to be a determination with the SDF that has tickled the fancy of the US, as Trump administration looks to be aligning more firmly on the side of it in the fight against ISIS than Ankara (51, 52). Ankara is starting to read the warning signs and has become increasingly tenser with the US.
Map of situation in Tabqa, May 5th. SDF repelled an ISIS counterattack.
Turning its eyes to its rebel partners, Ankara, Damascus and Tehran did manage to come to agreement on future ‘safe zones’ for refugees and civilians in the Syrian conflict to return (53). Whether or not these safe zones will work is yet to be seen; however, I am sceptical that such agreements will last unless maintained through force. It is speculated that TSK might intervene to prevent these safe zones from regressing back into conflict zones, and to stop further escalation of tensions between rebel groups, such as HTS and Sham Legion.
Deescalation zones proposal and what it will look like if implemented correctly in Syria.
A new dawn breaks for Syria, as the forces of totalitarianism fight for survival in an ever increasingly difficult situation. Their leader gone and their units on the back foot, under siege by those who had suffered the most at their hands, ISIS militants now fight for what is left of a broken caliphate. With the strength of thousands that have perished in the most grotesque of manner behind them and with the cries of thousands in captivity still, female and male fighters—in equilibrium—of the Syrian Democratic Forces march onward. Rojava’s eyes are on Raqqa and its people now. Liberation is on the horizon.
YPG fighter oversees an airstrike.
Written By Anthony Avice Du Buisson
The United States is in a precarious position. Its NATO ally Turkey for the last couple of weeks has been pressuring Washington into a tough decision: ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) or ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). Ankara has placed enormous pressure on Washington to reconsider its support for ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) leading the Raqqa offensive, as it consists of fighting forces of the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of a domestic “terrorist” organisation—‘The Kurdish Workers Party’ (PKK). Instead favouring FSA and ‘Turkish Armed Forces‘ (TSK) to take over the offensive, Ankara wants to push the Kurdish militia group fully out of Coalition’s efforts against ISIS (2).
Territory divide in Northern Syria. Red for SAA, Blue for FSA, Yellow for YPG, Black for ISIS.
Launching operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ in August of 2016, under the pretext of fighting ISIS in Northern Syria, TSK and FSA began a campaign to dislodge YPG from the region. Pushing first to Jarabulus and then onwards to al-Bab, TSK and FSA forces took land from ISIS—engaging in clashes with YPG as they went (3). During this time, SDF forces launched its own offensive in November—operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’. Aiming to force ISIS from its second stronghold in Ar Raqqa, SDF strategically moved southwards and liberated large areas of land from ISIS militants(4).
Turkish Tanks heading towards FSA controlled areas in Operation Euphrates Shield.
YPJ and SDF fighters at announcement of Operation Wrath of Euphrates in November.
Plans for Raqqa froze in February, however, when Trump asked military officials to reassess—over a thirty-day period—the offensive(5). Ankara’s eyes set on Raqqa, negotiations between Washington and Ankara for FSA involvement became stagnant, as Turkey’s arrogance and stubbornness to deny compromise left its proposals for involvement dead in the water. Becoming more evident, that Ankara’s desire to extend its anti-PKK domestic policy into the realm of its foreign policy was not working in its favour(6).
Additionally, President Erdogan’s call for FSA to move onto Manbij after the capture of al-Bab, an area controlled by US-backed SDF and ‘Manbij Military Council‘ (MMC), increasingly greased Ankara’s grip of Washington(7). Leading military officials to push Turkey out of considerations for Raqqa, Ankara vows now to do what it can to take Manbij and move onto Raqqa—regardless of Washington(8). This increase in tensions in the region between Coalition forces is weighing heavy on US’ mind, as considerations over future of Raqqa’s post-ISIS state hang in the balance.
President Erdogan (Center) with AKP administration.
US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis.
Storming Western Manbij with TSK armour and troops, FSA engaged with YPG in a series of clashes south of Al Arimah region in the nearby villages of Tall Turin and Qahar(9). Well clashes on the field escalated, MMC took this time to default to Russia and negotiate a trade: In exchange for SAA governance of territory near Arimah region, MMC would have a buffer zone created between it and FSA(10, 11). During the announcement of this trade by MMC, US ‘Special Operation Forces‘ (SOF) moved into Manbij and Coalition officials quickly confirmed their commitment to SDF, as well as MMC(12).
Armoured vehicles of SOF enter Manbij.
Now that Ankara has its eyes wide shut on the Raqqa offensive, as it continues to deny negotiating with YPG and continues to believe that its FSA should lead, SDF continues its operation against ISIS. Advancing eastwards and cutting off road between Dier-ez Zor and Raqqa cities, SDF look to encircle the capital(13). Restricting blood flow to the serpent, SDF continue to wrap a noose around Raqqa and force ISIS into an ever-increasing stranglehold. By way of Pentagon providing oversight with airstrikes and armour, as well as with Washington fending off Ankara’s political bombardment, the road to Raqqa is clear(14).
SDF vehicles in eastern Raqqa.
Situation map of Raqqa offensive. Link: http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/6-march-sdf-have-cut-the-road-between-raqqa–deirezzor-cities
However, how long this road will be clear for in this hostile political environment is uncertain. Ankara’s determination to undermine offensive seems unwavering, as TSK and FSA continue to do battle with YPG near Manbij. In this contentious atmosphere, Washington has to ask itself an important question: How far will it go to keep its alliance with Ankara? I think the answer to this question will only become known in a post-ISIS Syria, which most likely will be in the next two years. Moreover, with Turkey increasingly becoming an Islamist dictatorship, US willingness to stop “radical Islamic terrorism” will be put to the test(15). I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst, as the US should be.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool
For the last nine months, Erdogan has increased crackdowns on journalists and political dissidents, especially Kurdish ones. In November alone, Erdogan arrested dozens of Kurdish MP’s and ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ members in Southern Turkish districts, which are predominantly Kurdish(16). This hunger for power that Erdogan displays and the evident desire to target any organisation that is remotely Kurdish or connected to PKK is frightening. Demonstrating a napoleon complex with censoring of media, Erdogan and Turkey demonstrate to the International Community exactly why no self-proclaimed free person should view it favourably.
Moreover, Erdogan’s domestic policy against fighting PKK ‘terrorists’ has extended over two nations external of Turkey and has shaped Turkey’s foreign policy. In Iraq, Ankara’s oversight extends to the ‘Kurdish Democratic Party’ (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) who is headed by President Barzani(17,18). Barzani and Prime Minister Yıldırım of Turkey have increased Turkish forces to KRG, training ‘Rojava-Peshmerga’ (Roj-pesh) and sending units to Sinjar in response to PKK. Occupied by a large Yazidi population, Roj-pesh units pushed recently into the area in an attempt to scare PKK out(19).
President Barzani (left) and President Erdogan (right) in Istanbul, in late February.
Denying this imposition from Turkish forces, ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBS) and locals armed themselves in response(20). A force created in conjunction with the PKK, the YBS was Yazidis response to ISIS’ massacre of its population in Sinjar in 2014. Now threatened by a new authoritarian force, Yazidis find themselves in the middle of a tough situation. This has not been easy, given that Roj-pesh fired upon YBS and civilians now flee a new battle area(21). One only hopes the Yazidis will find a place for their own, as it seems KDP deny them that now. (Kurdish Unity is something that I wish could be, as was in the days of fighting Saddam Hussein. However, tribalism runs deep.)
A family of Yazidis leave the Sinjar area. Displaced from Clashes between Roj-Pesh and YBS.
It is important to remember principles when analysing conflict, as it can become very easy to be a megaphone for a party. One principle that has guided me through is that of taking the side of the oppressed against tyranny and injustice. ‘Take the side of the victim; aid them in their struggle’. Those seeking to do justice and protect those facing tyranny should be supported. And those who depart from this are generally not to be trusted. However, even keeping to this principle is not always easy. But you have to try.
The Battle lines are drawn.
Current Situation map of Syrian conflict, March 6th.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson
It has happened.
After heavy bombardments and intense fighting, al-Bab has finally fallen to the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). This comes after months of shelling from Turkish artillery on the city and fighting between FSA troops, under the oversight of Ankara, and ISIS militants—battling for an area that is 30 square kilometres(2). Dozens dead and wounded, ISIS withdrew from al-Bab and FSA managed to take the area before ‘Syrian Arab Army’ (SAA) forces could advance.
al-Bab is circled in red and was captured by FSA on 25th of February.
Storming the city with Turkish armour, troops of ‘Ahrar al-Sham’ (AaS) were amidst the ranks of FSA fighters that took al-Bab. These troops are among the many Islamist forces that are fighting in ‘Operation Euphrates Shield‘ that Turkey started in August of last year (3). Armed and extremely zealous, these fighters rushed into al-Bab and had no hesitation in claiming its ‘liberation’ (4).
Ahrar Al-Sham fighters pose in al-Bab after capturing it from ISIS. (c. Feb 26th, 2017)
However, the inclusion of Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamist organisations such as ‘Tahrir al-Sham’ (HTS) in the ranks of FSA, demonstrate a rather darker aspect of the current Syrian opposition; namely, its domination by Islamist factions(5). This domination is because of infighting amongst FSA that has been going on since 2012. Fights between Salafist and Jihadist factions (collectively Islamist factions) and “moderate” (secular) factions have forced FSA in splintering(6).
Members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front carry their weapons as they walk near al-Zahra village, north of Aleppo city, November 25, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan
Once a centralised and organised opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship, and an opposition that I once previously supported, now has become a disorganised and splintered opposition(7). Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Sunni Islamist groups have come into the fray—gathering support over the years. Fuelled by a desire to replace Assad’s tyranny with the tyranny of Salafist jihadism, AQ affiliates fight against SAA and those who deny their ideology(8).
The butcher of Aleppo.
When Eastern Aleppo fell in December, many Syrians from moderate factions of FSA defected to Islamist factions. Desperate and afraid of reprisals from SAA, many either fled to Turkish protection or joined HTS and began fighting (9). Those still hanging on against both SAA and HTS, such as ‘Free Idlib Army’ (FIA), now fight on multiple fronts. Helpless and outmanned compared to jihadists(10).
This is convenient for both Russia and Assad, as Kremlin now has more justification to keep its airstrike campaign going in Syria. Kremlin and Damascus have claimed that airstrikes in prior months have only targeted ‘terrorists’(11). However, airstrikes have targeted more than just ‘terrorists’. Many hospitals, schools and civilian areas have faced barrel bombs, airstrikes and chemical weapons by both Russia and SAA forces (12,13). Thousands of civilians have died in Aleppo alone, during its siege.
Aleppo during siege in December.
An influx of jihadists in opposition ranks allows Kremlin now to move more swiftly in changing the narrative of Assad in Syria. Helping reclaim land for Assad is one thing, but to prevent further uprising and to secure Assad’s position as a ‘hero to the Syrian people’, Kremlin has started to increase propaganda around him and has pushed the narrative of ‘buffer to terrorists’ even more (14).
Moreover, by saying that all of the opposition that opposes Assad are Islamists, Russia forces west into a dichotomy: Assad or Islamists(15). In prior months, one could argue against opposition being entirely Islamists, but with current infighting and splintering amongst opposition, the propaganda view is starting to become more dominant.
Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.
Turkish-backed Islamists, who now desire to further an advance to capture Manbij, did the capturing of al-Bab with a desired goal in mind. Unlike Kurdish and Arab fighters in Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), as well as other Rojava forces (YPG and YPJ), these Islamists do not have liberty and democracy in mind. What they have in mind is the desire to create an Islamic State. When AaS’ fighters entered al-Bab, waving their index fingers in the air in the ‘Tawhid salute’ (oneness of god) and chanting Islamist slogans, the religious zeal was evident(16).
US forces and previous backers of FSA have halted their support, instead demanding that moderate factions regain control of opposition or risk being abandoned. This is very sad news, as many prior FSA supporters now watch the heart of Syrian revolution succumb to its wounds. With SAA tiger forces moving to cut off Euphrates Shield advancement, Turkish-backed Islamists and ‘Turkish armed forces’ (TSK) now scramble to continue offensive(17).
FSA fight in Aleppo region against SAA.
SAA forces reach the YPG held border near Manbij. SAA start advance against FSA.
Nevertheless, despite the erosion of FSA to Islamist domination, there is an unseen benefit in this conflict. That benefit comes from a possible securing of Rojava cantons in Northern Syria, especially Afrin Canton with Kobani canton. If FSA is bogged down battling SAA, then YPG may have chance to push against FSA and relink the cantons. In addition to this, if the cantons are linked and Rojava is secured, then it will give Rojava forces a better chance in negotiating the future of Syria.
However, before that can happen, YPG will have to defend Manbij from FSA advancement. President Erdogan has claimed the region to be in control of Arabs, implying that Kurdish militias are to abandon area or be forced out(18). YPG will refuse this and thus there will be future conflict to come.
New graduated YPG recruits in Afrin Canton, Northern Syria.
As for me, I watch these series of events on the sidelines.
Writing new observations in my journal.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
It is quite convenient for Turkey that there has been an influx of anti-YPG articles written recently. This comes at a time when US is rethinking its strategy in regards to expelling ISIS from Raqqa in Syria. The current offensive there is fought by Syrian Democratic forces (SDF), made up of predominantly ‘People’s Protection Units’ (YPG). This has caused Turkey much frustration, as Turkey considers the YPG to be a branch of the ‘Kurdish Worker’s Party’ (PKK). With PKK considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara, there has been conflict between PKK and Turkish government (1).
A woman cries over death of Turkish soldier.
Currently, YPG fight to secure a region in Northern Syria known as Rojava, which is just one of the four regions that Kurds consider a part of greater Kurdistan (Bakur, Baᶊûr and Rojhelat are other regions). ‘Rojava Revolution’ is what it is known as (2) and both men and women—offering a radical project given the environment that it is situated—are waging it. Assisted by US Special Forces and equipment, Rojava forces are Coalition favourites for fighting ISIS in Syria. For good reason as well, given that SDF and YPG, along with ‘Women’s protection Units’ (YPJ), have liberated many villages from ISIS (3). This rapid success and gaining of land in Northern Syria has made Ankara worried…very worried.
Bir Hebab and Makman fronts converge, as YPG encircle ISIS fighters.
In August of 2016, Ankara armed Free Syrian Army troops (FSA) with armour and pushed Turkish troops (T-FSA) into Northern Syria—igniting Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’. Under guise of fighting ISIS in Northern Syria, Ankara hopes to oust YPG from Northern Syria with T-FSA. Objective is simply to not allow YPG from securing Rojava and to keep a distance between YPG and Turkish border (4). Ankara has recently done its most to try undermine SDF’s operation, which is called ‘Wrath of Euphrates’—launched in November of 2016. Aim of which is to expel ISIS from Raqqa (5).
However, US tossed Ankara a lifeline with the recent rethinking of Raqqa offensive, as US Secretary of Defence and other officials now consider ‘alternative’ options. Proposing new strategies, Ankara desperately wants US to consider it and FSA for an offensive on Raqqa instead of YPG (6). (One of these strategies entails YPG making a pathway to Raqqa from Tel Abyad, even though that would also entail US oversight through conventional ground forces or it would result in a bloodbath, as forces would clash.) Pressuring Washington to consider its options carefully, Ankara has also sought to bring Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain into the mix to keep YPG in place by encouraging a greater local Arab force (7). In this geopolitical environment, Ankara has been doing its best to change the political dimension, as well as the narrative surrounding YPG.
King Salman and President Erdogan.
Recently a series of articles from Roy Gutman have appeared in ‘The Nation’ about Syrian Kurds—notably the YPG. In these articles, notably, ‘Have the Syrian Kurds Committed War Crimes?’(8) Gutman seeks to undermine the credibility of YPG by insisting upon collusion between YPG and ISIS, as well as accusing YPG of war crimes, such as expulsion of Arabs from their households. Gutman in these articles seeks to paint a narrative of an unreliable and despotic force that does not have the people’s best interests in mind (9). Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (10), Meredith Tax, Joey Lawrence and Flint Arthur (11) have responded aptly to these allegations quite well.
This war of misinformation coincides with Ankara efforts to push for alternative options for Raqqa offensive quite well, which leads one to suspect that there may be funding involved in the publication of such articles. However, although this is speculation, these articles do come at an apt and convenient time for Ankara’s interests. With Operation Euphrates Shield, ongoing Turkish backed FSA move closer to Raqqa, putting pressure on Washington to act quick in deciding whether to continue corporation with Rojava forces or give into Ankara’s demands.
Armed Turkish forces have fought in Al-Bab against ISIS for a couple months now, which show that the force that Ankara wishes to ask US to lead is woefully insufficient and undisciplined (12). This is important given that the fight in Raqqa is expected to be much heavier than in Mosul. In other words, the fight to liberate Raqqa is not going to be an easy one. Ankara has also vowed to march forces from Al-Bab, should it be victorious against ISIS, onto Manbij—a city liberated by YPG in August (13). Demonstrating that Ankara’s dedication to stop YPG runs deep.
FSA fighter shooting in Al-Bab.
However, Syrian Kurds are cynical about continued US support. There are Kurds that believe US will side with Ankara—abandoning them (14). If this does indeed materialise, then it will be no surprise for a large insurgency to grow and push northwards. Anti-american sentiment is already rife, as Democratic Union Party (PYD) has already sought other avenues, such as Russian and Assad regime support. Pushing a more pragmatic approach, Russia and PYD have pushed for an autonomous rojava in region, if Assad is to remain.
Regardless of what happens in the next four weeks, there is going to be a lot of disappointment and bloodshed for all sides. However, for now, one has to wait and see.
Written by Anthony Avice Du Buisson
SDF fighter waiting.
When in the course of human developments, current establishments prove to be unjustified and tyrannical to the requests of human dignity and rights, when these bodies only wish to subjugate, steal and dictate humankind, the individuals within a society most oppressed have the eternal right to dissent against, and revolt against, these establishments. Moreover, for those who wish to spectate to this injustice against human dignity, may it be known that those who are spectators of injustice are unknowing accomplices to tyranny. One has to take a stand when the moment demands it. One has to speak up to break the silence that comes from fear and inaction.
History shows that in every epoch, there are those who are willing to go against what a society deems ‘moral’, ‘traditional’ or—more condescendingly—‘normal’ in pursuit of their own identity; leading lives that inspire others to follow a similar course of action—from Rosa Luxemburg to Mona Eltahawy. These individuals do not choose their paths out of joy, but rather out of a desire to escape what is around them and to seek out or ‘create‘ a better realm. Often doing so as a part of a minority, these individuals nonetheless fight fiercely for dignity, autonomy, identity and other values that make for a better humanity. However, this journey is not easy and many face serious penalties for even daring to take the road less travelled. No better examples of the cost for dissenting than in those societies that depart from human dignity and rights, such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
One of the largest kingdoms in the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (abbreviated ‘KSA’) lays claim to many things; notably, Islam’s holiest sites—Mecca and Medina—and oil reserves that span across its large desert. For these many things, however, KSA also is home to an archaic system of laws that gets its reinforcement from culture, tradition and religion. Those who disobey or dissent from these laws have serious punishments to face, from imprisonment and lashings to execution via public beheading. (Dare to criticise the government and you will find yourself taken away by police, as was the case for blogger Raif Badawi who posted commentaries on Saudi Society and was sentenced to a thousand lashes and imprisonment in 2012. He remains in prison to this day, despite his wife Ensaf Haidar’s activism.) These laws reach all aspects of Saudi society and benefit those few who are wealthy and powerful. However, what is notable is the way tradition and religion play a large part in Saudi society, as both extend to the private sphere and defy the roles of men and women. Women’s role being the worse within Saudi Society, as is evident with the Male Guardianship system.
Slavery still exists and it comes in a variety of different shapes and forms: the Male Guardianship system is one. Male Guardianship is a system within Saudi Society that requires women to have a male ‘guardian’, which is usually a male relative, who has to accompany and give permission to a woman for her to be allowed to do tasks. From wanting to travel abroad to wanting to seek an education or even medical help, under Saudi law, a woman is required to have a Guardian who can grant permission. Furthermore, if a woman should be involved in a domestic abusive relationship with their guardian, then the guardian’s rights supersede those of the woman—under Saudi law. This means that should a woman complain to Saudi authorities of abuse by her guardian, the word of the guardian is listened to first. The Male Guardianship system is geared to favour Male Guardians. Denying autonomy, financial independence, identity and rights for women, Male Guardianship eclipses the life of a Saudi Woman and denies her a future by herself. It is a system that makes women slaves.
Moreover, the quality of a woman’s life depends entirely on her Guardian. There are guardians who are liberal in their approach and allow women to travel abroad, seek an apartment or work. However, and what must be noted, is that just because the quality of a woman’s life may be good in some parts in KSA, it does not negate the negative experiences of women who depart from said ‘good experience’. In other words, just because some slaves are treated better than others, does not deny what happens to the majority of slaves and the reality of slavery. As for every one woman in Saudi Arabia that benefits, there are at least ten others who do not. This must be recognised, as there are always apologists and PR spokes people that Saudi Government is more than happy to prop up, who will deny this and who will state how ‘nice’ women are treated in KSA. Others will justify the treatment of women by appeals to analogies, often along the lines of claiming Saudi women are ‘queens’ who must be protected. Even though queens are treated better than Saudi women are—having their own autonomy, as well as subjects to command—analogies like the ‘queen analogy’ still persist and the privileged stories of some Saudi women continue to be perpetuated, unknowingly at times, by writers.
Mona El-Naggar, an Egyptian writer based in New York, wrote an article in The New York Times called, ‘I live a Lie: Saudi Women Speak Up’ in October of 2016, about the experiences of Saudi Women in KSA. In it are many powerful stories, but one story stands out. Meeting a group of privileged Saudi students in Washington Square Park, Mona asked them about their experiences under the system. What was their response? “We don’t need to abolish male guardianship. We need to teach men how to be better guardians.” This is a slap to the face of those struggling under the system. By including this story, Mona unknowingly has undermined the piece she seeks to make. (Audiences have a tendency to think that a problem is not as big as it is when there are two sides to it.) Many Saudi girls have escaped from their home nation, many desiring ‘to feel the air on their faces’. One example of those who have escaped Saudi Arabia is Moudi, previously known by the online pseudonym, ‘Sinner’.
Using ‘Twitter’ as a means to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women, as Twitter is just one of the few sites not banned in KSA, Moudhi—like many Saudi girls—sought to give both fellow Saudi women and foreign audiences a window into the life of a woman in KSA. In real life a law student studying in the USA, Moudhi wore a mask to protect herself from both her family and the system. (Saudi Law, especially when it comes to studying abroad, can send back Saudi girls on scholarships for even daring to criticise KSA.) After a long time of contemplation, Moudhi took off her mask and voiced public criticisms of the Male Guardianship system. Despite the psychological abuse that follows her, both by her own family and Saudi males, Moudhi continues to raise a voice for Saudi Women. Stories like Moudhi’s are not to be taken lightly, as they emphasise what individuals can do and have to undergo when speaking truth to power.
[Writer’s note: More stories will be touched upon later within this essay. However, there are a few stories attached in the appendix.]
Picture: Moudhi, normal face and wearing a veil
History of Oppression
Acknowledging the role religion, culture and tradition play into shaping Saudi Society is imperative, as it fundamentally means accepting reality for what it is and not what it should be. Saudi Arabia in the 60’s and 70’s, just like most countries in the Middle east during that time, from Egypt to Syria, was undergoing radical shifts in culture as more of its populace were experimenting with art and discussing new ideas, such as whether the ban on women driving—imposed in 1957—should be lifted. (What should be noted is that women can drive in non-public areas and only if their guardians allow it; however, they are not allowed to drive on public highways.) However, these shifts in culture did not come without their hostile reactionaries. Ever since its formation as a kingdom in 1932, Saudi Arabia—initially under the leadership of King Abdulaziz—had to deal with trying to synthesise both the non-religious and religious sectors of its nation. Prior to its formation, Al Saud monarchy had a close relationship with the ulama—religious body of clerics. The ulama adhered to a more orthodox version of Islam, ‘wahhabism’ and helped the conquest of Al Saud monarchy over most of the Arabian Peninsula throughout the mid-18th-early 20th centuries. This bond between religion and the state (theocracy) helped to create the kingdom, as the government got its religious legitimacy from the Wahhabi clerics in turn for the clerics being able to propagate the ‘Tawhid’ doctrine—monotheism. (An intertwining of religion and politics was crucial in maintaining KSA’s legitimacy.)
This changed when British imperialistic ventures in the Middle East proved to be an obstacle for the Saudi government, forcing a rigid drawing of strict borders with surrounding nations, KSA had to cut concessions to the ulama and instead pursue secular goals—non-religious national security and foreign policy goals. This would muddle relations between religion and the state. Well more technological and secular influences made their way into the country from western nations, and a ‘modernisation’ of the country began to take root, Mullahs and clerics condemned this ‘westernisation’ of Saudi Arabia in their mosques. However, these mullahs dared not delegitimise the royal family, and when Al Saud monarchy called upon religious justifications for its proposed state policies, clerics dared but refuse. (This contradiction remains, as clerics ‘criticise’ policy in theory, but legitimise it in practise for the state—highlighting something worth note: the power of the monarch.) After the abolishment of slavery in 1962, pushed by Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and in conjunction with international pressure from the United States and Britain, Saudi Arabia’s growing internal struggles and changes led to the abdication of King Saud and the appointment of his successor—King Faisal.
King Faisal introduced ‘radical’ policies in the 60’s and 70’s to Saudi Society that would alter its structure. Through the pushing away of Wahhabi draconian rules and condemnations, Faisal was able to allow women the ability to seek an education and allowed for the creation of Saudi television—policies that cemented Faisal as a ‘reformer king’. This angered a great deal of Wahhabi clerics and religious fanatics, who saw these policies as a ‘perversion’ by the west on Saudi society. These clerics were not alone in their attitudes to westernisation, as religious fanatics throughout the Middle East were growing increasingly angry at their governments ‘capitulation’ to Western influences—seeing their nations going away from ‘pure’ Islam. (To those who were not fanatical in their beliefs, this growing change was increasingly affording women rights and public discussions were commonplace.) However, in 1975, Faisal’s reign ended with assassination by his deranged nephew—Faisal bin Musaid. After King Khalid’s ascent to the throne to fill void left by Faisal, KSA found it amidst turbulent political winds, as nations surrounding it were growing increasingly involved in internal struggles, from Iran to Iraq. These winds engulfed Saudi Arabia in 1979 with the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Armed with guns smuggled in via coffins, a group of insurgents stormed the Grand Mosque in Mecca and declared that Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi (redeemer of Islam), and demanded King Khalid to step down. Allegedly receiving word from Allah while in prison, Juhayman al-Otaybi believed Saudi Arabia to have lost its way and saw it as an imperative to not only rid the country of ‘western perversion’, but to also bring it back to a ‘purer’ form of Islam. Otaybi and his brother-in-law, Qahtani, gathered a group of a few hundred devotees to enter Mecca’s holiest Mosque during hajj (pilgrimage). Taking hostages, Otaybi demanded King Khalid to step down. This ‘mahdist’ group occupied the mosque (whereby it desired to establish a theocratic state), for nearly two weeks. It was quelled when French and Pakistani forces, scrambled together by the royal family in desperation to secure KSA’s legitimacy, stormed the Mosque, killing Qahtani and capturing Otaybi. However, King Khalid had to seek a ‘fatwa’ (religious decree) beforehand from the ulama to allow those forces to be given access to the Mosque to remove the insurgents. The ulama sought the opportunity to push for an amending of relations between the state and religion. In turn for allowing access, it wanted more power to affect policies, which it got after the recapture of the Grand Mosque. This increase in power meant that the Monarch gave Wahhabi clerics more decision making abilities and agreed to help export its religious ideology (Wahhabism) globally in the oncoming decades.
With the reforging of this alliance between the state and religion, Saudi Arabia started to reverse the modernisation that had gripped it in the 60’s and 70’s. The ulama began to impose stricter Islamic law (Sharia) upon the country: censoring media, enforcing greater restrictions on women and banning things like alcohol. Forcing women to cover up, either with an abaya or with hijab, KSA ended the liberal experimentation and started to enforce traditional roles upon Saudi women. King Khalid’s successor, King Fahd, allowed for the formation of the ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices’ (CPVPV), which intended to maintain these laws. It did this through the Religious police who were given greater reign to enforce dress code, sex segregation (aptly denoted by some as ‘sex apartheid’), the Male Guardianship system and ensure the domination of Islamic state policy. If a woman should be seen in public unaccompanied by her Guardian, then the religious police could take her and lock her up in a ‘care home’, which is a prison for women. In the education system, more schools had to have religious studies. In this way, the ulama wanted to regain Saudi Arabia’s status as an Islamic nation and ensure ‘Islamic values’ were spread to its populace—more orthodox values, as opposed to liberal ones. This ‘Wahhabi’ imposition on Saudi society did not come without its resistance.
Wherever there are those who are willing to subjugate others, there will always be a small pocket of dissenters willing to raise their voices against tyranny and defy state law. This was the case in Riyadh in 1990, where a couple dozen women drove cars throughout Saudi Arabia’s capital. Knowing perfectly well the risks, these women took their guardians’ cars and drove them—defiant of the law. Paying with the revoking of their passports and jail time, such a demonstration only shows the desire of women to have rights and sheer desperation of the Saudi government to keep its legitimacy through force. In addition, as it clamps down harder, there will be more resistance to it as women refuse to be silent. This ‘fire’ to have rights cannot be extinguished merely by physical force, as is evident with the continuation of such protests in the 21stcentury.
Picture: Wajeha al-Huwaider driving a car in 2008
Moving to end the Male Guardianship system
Movements have flurried with the advent of the internet and Social media, as more women gain access to platforms that allow them to voice their experiences under the Male Guardianship System. Despite KSA banning certain social media sites and apps, such as ‘Skype’, ‘Facebook’ and ‘Whatsapp’, sites like ‘Twitter’ and ‘Instagram’ remain, providing a venue for women to write and share videos of what life is like in KSA. Well there are many women who have to adorn pseudonyms to protect their identity from Saudi Authorities, there are those brave few who choose to come out publically—despite the costs. Saudi women activists like Wajeha Huwaider, a woman who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving a car in Riyadh in 2008, and Manal al-Sharif, a woman who launched ‘Women2Drive’ campaign that sought to teach Saudi women to drive in 2011, both have been in the public eye and have protested the ban on women driving. Aziza Yousef is another activist who is involved in the highlighting of women’s rights abuses in KSA. Highlighting a couple cases in 2014 (one of them being where a woman died on campus in Riyadh after not being given access to paramedics, all because of not having a Male Guardian), Aziza sought to petition the Shura Council with other activists to demand an end to Male control over women. These activists seek to highlight the grave human rights violations that Saudi Arabia is guilty of and have inspired many Saudi women to take up a new mantra. A mantra that has since gone on to define a movement: ‘I am my own Guardian’.
‘“When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end. This is my wish. My name is Aisha. I am just another woman who lives in KSA.“-Aisha
[Writer’s note: full story, as well as many others that I have received, will be attached in the appendix of this essay.]
In mid-2016, Saudi women took to twitter to start a movement to end the Male Guardianship system. Tweeting under various hashtags, such as #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen, #TogetherToEndMaleGaurdianship and #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه (Abolish the male Guardianship system), Saudi Women started to raise awareness of what harrowing experiences that happen in KSA. Many of these women, which included activists like Hala Al dosari, began posting videos and their stories of oppression, and began to demand an end to Male Guardianship and Saudi Women’s liberation. On its 159th day, at the time of writing this, #سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط_الولايه this Arabic hashtag is the primary one that many Saudis use to voice their concerns. Some of the stories included in this hashtag are very horrifying and provide just a glimpse into the life of Saudi women. Many of these stories include domestic abuse cases, where the Male Guardian has subjected their daughters and wives to torture, psychological manipulation and rape, and have gotten away with it! (Human Rights Watch wrote an excellent piece in July 2016 called, ‘Boxed In’, which highlighted many experiences from Saudi women.) Highlighting the injustice and discrimination of the system, the movement to end Male Guardianship has a couple goals, which many of those involved would agree with:
- Abolish the Male Guardianship System.
- End the ban on Women driving.
- Acknowledge human rights for women.
However, in order to achieve these goals, Saudi Arabia needs to acknowledge the abuses of its government upon its own people. The Saudi government is reluctant to do this and at times denies its treatment of women. This is evident with it saying one thing to United Nations Human Rights Council, but doing another thing within the Kingdom. (It is a sad state of affairs when KSA is Chair of the Human Rights Council of the UN, as it currently is and has been ever since 2015.) Prior to the current King Salman, King Abdullah had made small concessions to international pressure to give women greater rights. Electing thirty female members to the Shura Council, more as a publicity stunt than anything else, Abdullah made snail progressions that are still not enough. There needs to be more action.
Within the movement, there are both non-Saudis and Saudis alike who do their part to raise awareness of the plight of Saudi women. Those who are against the movement claim it to have a ‘western agenda’ in mind, because of the involvement of western individuals. This ‘rationale’ follows the same conspiratorial mindset of those who claimed that Otaybi’s zealots, such as the Ayatollah of Iran, were ‘CIA-backed agents’. In other words, it is ridiculous at best and seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the movement at worst. There is an international presence within the movement, but what must not be forgotten is that the movement is for Saudi Women’s liberation. Saudi women come first and their concerns for rights are the focus of the movement. In a nation where a woman can have her entire life dictated to by a Male guardian, where this guardian can take away her rights to go to school or seek medical assistance and so on, it is imperative to raise awareness of her struggles and seek justice to end them. Not just because she is Saudi, but because she is human. The struggle for Saudi Women’s rights is a part of the larger struggle for a better humanity.
The fight for Saudi Women’s rights is just one of the many fights that exist in the Arab world. Across the Middle East, women undergo their own struggle against oppression, whether it be from the totalitarian forces of ISIS to the theocratic imams of Iran, each one battles for freedom. In each case, there are those who have no personal stake in an issue, but choose to take the side of the victim and aid them in their struggle. Being motivated by a fire that burns within, these humans take up Bertrand Russell’s injunction to ‘Remember your humanity and forget the rest’. Refusing to be spectators of injustice and doing what they can to help. Reminding those facing oppression to continue to raise their voices, as silence is what gives tyranny power. Never forget the power of words.
The government of Saudi Arabia cannot ignore forever its populace’s voices.
Though it may try to, it will not win.
Saudi Women are too strong for that.
Never forget that.
Artwork: Ms Saffaa’s art for the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen movement
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (11/12/2016)
Original version can be found here for Areo Magazine: https://areomagazine.com/2016/12/13/a-kingdom-of-tears-male-guardianship-in-saudi-arabia/
-Aisha’s story: http://philosophyismagic.com/a-womans-struggle-aishas-story/
I do not care anymore for this life.
I have become empty inside, as a result of the abuse around me.
Everyone is against me and accuse me of doing sexual things that I have not done!
They make me out to be an oppressor, but it is they who support an oppressor!
When I was nine years old, my father sexually abused me. But I didn’t stay quiet, and I told my mother about what he did to me. It was the worst thing that I did, as he only became angrier and acted crazy. He expected me to be quiet, but I refused! Mother told me to tell her if anyone touched you inappropriately, then I had to always speak up. I never expected it to be my father!
As a result of me speaking up, he became very abusive to me. He would deliberately scare me and try to kill me, but my mother would stand in his way and she would threaten him that she would tell everybody about what he did to me. I was only a child and I would not sleep for some nights because I was afraid of him as he always threatens to kill me. He would tell me, “by god I will nail your head to the floor!” When we moved to another house I was relieved to find the room me and my sisters shared had a lock. I started locking the door each night but he would still threaten me that he would insert a gun from the window and shoot me from there. I spent nights sleeping in the corners of the room so the gun wouldn’t reach me. Why does he do this?
I want to understand why this happened to me? I’m a person who hasn’t done anything wrong, I was a ‘model’ girl. I did what I was supposed to do, from prayer to listen to my mother. As the years went on, he continue to deny me things. He tied to prevent me from going to school, but I would go each year and felt involved in a constant fight! Some days I was afraid he would see me and hit me infront of my friends. When I would come off the bus, he would slap me. Even my bus driver tried to stop him. These efforts were in vain, as he would continue to humiliate me and abuse me by telling how he wants to take me out of school.
He wouldn’t give me an allowance even. Everything I owned were hand me downs from my sisters and mother since I was a child. I used to wear my brother’s shoes at school because he was the only one who was close to my age at the time and I remember the girls in school would make fun of me since they were boys’ shoes. Even my name he put it in his company so he can prevent me from supporting myself (I never understood why he did this.) He refuses to support me and doesn’t allow me to support myself. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m experiencing severe depression. I’m always thinking about suicide, especially in the last couple of months. But I always think about my mother and my siblings and I don’t want to leave them alone.
He doesn’t even allow me to go to the hospital. I have asthma, and a many time I get severe attacks where I can’t breathe and my mother tells him take her to the hospital but he would say No, let her die. I want her to.
My father is just despicable. He’s the worst person ever.
He would lock me up in my room for days. My mother would bring me food from the window. Even the bathroom, I would only go when he’s not in the house and if he’s back I could never go in. I would avoid drinking anything so that I don’t need to go.
He’s always helping everyone, even some of his friends’ daughters so that one would believe us. When I call the police after he hits me they would ask me, what did you do? Then they would give me numbers to call none of which I get a response. So I lose hope.
When I called human rights, they called him and he lied to them and told them that he loves me and cares about what’s best for me and that he needs me at home and the worker believed him. He’s a liar. And when the worker called me again to make sure, my father threatened my mother, that if I don’t shut up he’s going to get an official form that proved I’m crazy and that they would take me forcibly to a mental institute.
By god everything I told you is nothing compared to what he’s done to me. I literally want to die. He’s not allowing me to live. He intervenes and prevent me from everything even what I wear. I dreamt of being a teacher. Or to just live a normal life like every other girl. God has gave him many things. He has many foundations under his name. Sometimes I feel that god is unjust. This oppressive man who’s stopping my life and future is just so blessed.
[Brief Note: Here is just one of the many stories that I receive from Saudi Women about Male Guardianship, which is a system that limits Women’s rights within Saudi Arabia. For security reasons, I have had to change the real name of this woman to ‘Aisha’, allowing her anonymity but also allowing her to speak about her story. Aisha’s story is just one of the many personal accounts of what women within KSA have to go through. This story will be included in a later article that I will post in November.]
“My name is Aisha.
I am a 23 years old Woman who comes from the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia.
Before I tell of my experiences living here, I wish to say just one sentence and I want you to read this sentence carefully, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” Let me explain why it is a crime to be a Girl in KSA.
Since I was five years old, I knew what the difference was between a girl and a boy. You see, I have a brother. When I was five years old, I was arguing with my brother who was at the time three years old. The argument was over food. I told my brother to not throw food on the floor, unless he did not want to eat it—it is wrong to otherwise. However, my brother did not listen to me and continued to throw food on the floor. It was in that moment that my father entered the room, after hearing me arguing with my brother. He beat me with his hands. Why did he do this? Because my brother was a boy and can do what he wants, and I am a girl and have to respect whatever my brother does, even when he is wrong. I remember having to cry in my grandmother’s room after that; it was so wrong.
As I grew, I noticed more and more the differences in the way that my parents treated me, as opposed to how they treated my other sibling brothers. Boys could go out with their friends, but I could not. Boys could take money and go out freely, but I could not. Boys could sleep where they wanted, but I could not. I noticed that whenever my brothers went out with friends, they never had to be accompanied by my father. However, whenever I went out, I had to be accompanied by either my brothers or my father. I felt like a prisoner who had to be accompanied, 24/7, by guard—all for being born into the wrong sex. It is not my fault for being born a girl by my mother.
When I asked my mother about why my brothers could get to do more things than me, she told me that it was because they were better than me. In other words, boys are better than girls; brothers are better than daughters. She told me that I was nothing without a male. “Your brothers can drive and bring things that we need, but girls cannot.” I felt so much shame when she told me this. I felt that I was nothing. I felt that I was cursed. The very fact that my mother could say that as if it were nothing, made me feel so helpless.
As the years went on, more and more beatings occurred by my father, and even by my brothers. It was only when I graduated from high school that I decided to change this. I decided to do all that I can to be independent. To show my family that even if I am girl, I can do many things that boys can do. I can still be a successful person, even without their support. When I told them that I wanted to study medicine or nursing at college, they laughed at me. My father and mother did not believe that I could be successful at this. However, I did not care about them, because they mean nothing for me. I believed in myself. The next day, I registered into my local university; however, I still have to give my father all the money the university pays for me to allow me to study, because if I refuse, then he will not allow me to study and will beat me.
First year of nursing was so difficult. I had to learn English language, because my course was mainly taught in English. None of my parents are educated and my father did not allow me to have a private teacher, even when I offered to use my own money. He cared more about money than he does about me. However, despite the difficulties brought before me, I managed to persevere and I worked hard to learn English, as well as complete my nursing course. I did all things to achieve high grades and it paid off. For once, I felt so happy. I did achieve some form of small victory. I graduated from nursing college with very high grades and I wanted to study abroad. I wanted to get a scholarship, but my father said “no”. He said it so easily. I felt that I lost hope. I became pessimistic; all my dreams destroyed, because my Male guardian said “No”.
Now I feel, whenever I wake and whenever I sleep, as if my body does not have a soul. I cannot study, I cannot work, I cannot Marry, I cannot go to the hospital, I cannot pay anything, I cannot visit friends without a Male Guardian. I am a slave that is forced to be chained for life. Some of my friends have accepted this reality, but I do not want to accept it. I want to break my chains and break my bondage. I want to breathe freely. I want to be free. I want to live my own life; be my own person. All because I am a woman.
Now you know what I meant by, “When you are born a girl in KSA, you will feel that the only crime that you have committed is being born into the wrong sex.” I am forced to love someone I hate. However, I am not the only one. There are many like me in my country. Many women who suffer as I do. We want our freedom from this tyranny. We want the Male Guardian system to end.
This is my wish.
My name is Aisha.
I am just another woman who lives in KSA.”
#StopEnslavingSaudiWomen is a social media movement that aims to raise awareness of the suffering of Saudi Women under the Male Guardianship system. The campaign aims at ending Oppressive laws towards women and granting them rights. Please be sure to raise awareness about the movement with friends, family members and others. Raising Awareness helps in the long run.
Story sent by: Aisha
Blurb written by: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
A dark veil is slowly rising over Turkey, as the ‘Justice and Development Party’ (aka, ‘AK Party’ or ‘AKP’ for short) has declared a state of Emergency. It comes in the wake of a coup d’état attempt by the Military against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With Soldiers blocking Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul and deploying tanks outside Atatürk airport, issuing a curfew for residents nearby, helicopters and jets flew over Ankara and declared that the Military had taken over the government. This was only to be the beginning of the long few days of struggle, violence and horror that would grip Turkey. The end of which would begin a purge upon Turkish society; one that is still ongoing and one that is helping elevate an authoritarian to the status of ‘totalitarian’.
Under the cover of night, pro-coup (‘coupists’) forces, within just the span of a few hours, bombed police headquarters, occupied AKP offices and held up broadcasting buildings of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. A statement was then issued upon seizure, claiming that a restoration of democracy was underway:
“Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged.”— Tijen Karaş, TRT, July 15th
However, despite this pronouncement, this was quickly rejected by both Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and later by Erdogan, who both went on to state the opposite of the coupist, notably that those involved in the coup are a ‘threat’ to Turkish democracy. Erdogan, conveniently on vacation in Marmaris at the time of the coup’s inception, proclaimed via the phone app ‘FaceTime’ on Turkish state media that those loyal to the regime (loyalists) were to take to the streets and show their loyalty in form of opposition to coupists. What followed was nothing short of chaos, as loyalists clashed with coupists on the streets and blood began to spill.
Firing Bullets at oncoming loyalists at Bosporus Bridge, coup soldiers tried in desperation to hold onto control. However, despite their desperation, heavy resistance by both protesters and police soon proved to be too much, as coup soldiers surrendered. Those still loyal within the military began fighting remaining coup soldiers, distinguishing themselves from coupists with red and white sashes around their arms. Mobs of Anti-coup protesters came out in droves across the country, cheering praises to Erdogan and hissing at those who dared dissent against the government—reflecting a darker side of Erdogan’s Turkish society.
Moreover, in a ditch attempt to strike at AKP, coupists blew up parts of the parliament building and fired upon Erdogan’s hotel…after Erdogan had left it. By the morning of July 16th, it was evident that the coup had failed in its goal to oust Erdogan. Upon arrival in Istanbul, greeted by thousands of loyalists and a handful of Turkish Defence Force soldiers (TKP), Erdogan addressed the nation and declared that the AKP government was in control and that the military was to undergo a ‘cleansing’. Erdogan also went on to blame the motivation behind the coup on an old comrade and now rival, a person that leads one of the biggest interfaith movements, Fethullah Gülen—Founder of the Gülen movement.
Now had this been the end of the story, one may be led to the conclusion that order restored itself in Turkey and life went on as usual. However, no coup ends without bloodshed and nothing is ever that easy. Rounding up coupists throughout Turkey, police and loyalists of Erdogan captured and belted—some were even lynched by mobs—dozens of coup soldiers. (Many of them were mere boys, no older than twenty-five, beaten by enraged mobs with belts—fear stricken in the face of bloodlust.) With Hundreds killed already during the coup and many thousands wounded, Erdogan still goaded on loyalists to keep protesting—this affair was not to be over within a mere twenty four hours.
Plotters of the coup range in rank from the highest in Turkish command to the lowest. From Air force Commander Akın Öztürk who was blamed for the orchestration of the coup to General Adem Huduti—a man who was, a couple months prior to the coup, praised by the AKP for killing ‘terrorist’ members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); how the mighty have fallen. However, what started to become clearer with this ‘cleansing’ of the military was ‘what’ this failed coup was serving. A darker plan was afoot, as Erdogan slowly removed high officials and replaced them with those loyal to AKP. Political rivals, those in months and years prior who had opposed Erdogan’s censorship of the media in late last year, escorting each one by one and handing them over into custody. A stench of tyranny was in the air.
A protest against the separatist military coup.-2016, July 17. Attribution: Photo taken By Lubunya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Democracy is like a train: when you reach your destination, you get off.” — Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Muslim Arab Youth Association Conference, 1996
Uttered before a crowded hall of young Islamic youth, the then Mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tight-fisted and full of zeal, denounced Democracy as a means to an end in 1996. Secular Democracy, Erdogan remarked, was merely a ‘tool’ to alter society towards an Islamic trajectory. It should have been clear back then what Erdogan’s plans were for Turkish Democracy—very different from what Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic, intended. Desiring to impose Islam upon society (Islamism), Erdogan showed early signs of the authoritarian path that he was later to lead.
Before one goes on, an important distinction is to be made between ‘authoritarians’ and ‘totalitarians’. Where the former desire for centralised power, notably in the form of a reduction of liberties and an increased power in the hands of the few; the latter desires the totality of control over others. Totalitarians desire the impossible, chiefly desiring absolute power over individuals. From the physical to the mental, a totalitarian desires the elimination of liberty and the total imposition of an ideology upon an individual. Using censorship, education, secret police and so on, the totalitarian uses all means available to subjugate and impose tyranny upon others.
Moreover, where authoritarian regimes limit press freedom and limit certain individual freedoms, absent the economic and social dimensions, totalitarian regimes go further in limitations. Totalitarian regimes utilise every possible dimension and intrude in the private lives of individuals. Instead of just the public sphere controlled by a dominant power, the private sphere is also occupied by a dominant power.
Furthermore, and to emphasize this difference of regimes (because it is important in the greater context when discussing Erdogan), what makes an authoritarian state like Singapore (for example) different from a totalitarian state like Saddam’s Iraq is that in the latter case one has to live in absolute fear—constantly. Kanan Makiya’s aptly titled book ‘Republic of Fear’ depicts Saddam’s Iraq perfectly, chiefly as a state of terror with around the clock disappearances, torturing and killing of political opponents, state ‘terrorists’ and civilians. (I have heard Singapore be described as a ‘totalitarian’ state, notably by Amos Yee in an interview with Dave Rubin. However, the reason why I take issue with that is that it downplays actual totalitarian regimes. One can still visit Singapore, live a relatively good life and leave it whenever they so choose. This is not the case in most totalitarian states, which deny individuals a good life with a tyrannical living experience.) Authoritarian regimes are watered down versions of totalitarian ones; however, if the authoritarians within said regime wish to elevated themselves to the status of ‘totalitarians’, then they merely need to catch that yearning for the impossible—total power. Erdogan caught this yearning early on.
A yearning for Islamism, notably a Turkish Islamist state, became more evident during Erdogan’s time as Mayor of Istanbul. Aligning with the Islamist ‘Welfare Party’ ‘Refah Partisi’, Erdogan took part in campaigns levied against the government. Attracting attention from the Turkish Constitutional Court, Refah Partisi’s Islamist activities were quickly deemed as ‘unconstitutional’ and soon were banned in 1998. Many protests soon followed and mass support for the party’s reinstatement grew as Islamists, which included Erdogan, vehemently opposed the court’s decision.
However, despite protests and calls to action, sentiments for support deteriorated and many arrests on protesters were made. “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….” For inciting religious hatred and breaking the law, Erdogan was imprisoned in 1998. In addition to this, Erdogan also was denied ability to take part in the political process of Turkey and had to give up his position as mayor soon following the judgement’s enforcement—a mark that seethed.
Nevertheless, Erdogan’s yearning for power and political capital helped him in founding the AKP in 2001. Under an agenda of ‘conservative democracy’ (a term for a political ideology that seeks more to pretend it is not Islamist in nature when actually is), Erdogan sought to work this time with the political process than against it. Focusing energy on pushing for social services and aiming at democratic reform policies, Erdogan’s strategy made considerable headway in the 2002 general elections—appealing to both upper and lower class voters. With a two-third majority vote in favour, AKP’s co-founder Abdullah Gül took power as Prime Minister over Turkey and helped annul Erdogan’s political ban. Almost in a chess-like move, AKP rescheduled the election in the subsequent months and made Erdogan their candidate. Swapping hands (essentially, ‘trading places’), Gül stepped down and allowed Erdogan to assume the Prime Ministership upon AKP’s victory. The chessboard was in place and the pieces set for Erdogan’s rise to power.
Manoeuvring each piece in place and taking down every obstacle in way, Erdogan slowly climbed the political ladder over the next ten years with the support of AKP. Digging its hands in the media and attempting to manufacture phantoms, AKP—after its second victory in the 2007 general elections—levied charges against political rivals, ranging from military officials to journalists, for being a part of a ‘terrorist’ organisation known as ‘Ergenekon’ (a shadowy organisation alleged to have been planning assassinations and bombings on the AKP).
In a series of trials, over 270 people were accused of ‘plotting’ against the government, many of them had—in prior years—criticised AKP government’s policies. Using Ergenekon as leverage to achieve greater power, especially by accusing and launching trials, as well as investigations into ‘members’ of it, Erdogan’s authoritarianism was showing. However, if the Ergenekon trials did not show Erdogan’s desire for control, then it would be the AKP’s reaction to the Gezi Park Protests in 2013.
Initially few in numbers, protesters grew in size in reaction to both Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and the police backlash to an Istanbul park sit-in protest—in which police used violent means, such as tear gas and forced removal of protesters, to try quell the protest. Erdogan cracked down severely in response to the [Taksim] Gezi Park Protests, calling police to march in droves against the protesters. In addition to this, misinformation about alleged assaults by protesters on civilians was spread by TRT (state media) and attempted censorship of social media, such as sites like Facebook and Twitter, became apparent with AKP pressuring businesses to not allow coverage as the protests went on. An abuse of power would be an understatement for Erdogan’s actions in response to the Gezi Park protests; what he was engaging in was pure political manipulation and corruption.
Throughout Erdogan’s rise to prime ministership and eventual succession as President in 2014, AKP had been in power for over ten years with a trail of authoritarianism to back it. Erdogan’s manipulation, political corruption and yearning for control made him many enemies, most notably Fethullah Gülen. A once ally of Erdogan, Gülen’s ‘Hizmet’ (aka ‘Gülen movement’, whose theology preached a more liberal version of Islam) movement gave inspiration to many people within Turkey. ‘A state within a state’ was present as millions followed the movement, something that only angered Erdogan upon his fallout with Gülen in 2013. Following corruption investigations that same year, Gülen sought to challenge Erdogan’s political position, which only further split the two—leading to the eventual crackdown of movement members in the subsequent years. An authoritarian cannot have dissent; there comes a breaking point. Erdogan’s breaking point was with Gülen. Power corrupts absolutely; Erdogan is no exception.
Police action during Gezi park protests in Istanbul. Events of June 16, 2013. Attribution: Photo taken by Mstyslav Chernov (Self-photographed, http://mstyslav-chernov.com/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
History repeats itself in so many ways. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown of coup soldiers and military commanders parallels the ‘New Order’ regime’s crackdown of the Indonesian Military in 1965. Using the failed coup as a pretext to rid communists and their sympathizers, the New Order swiftly got rid of almost all opposition to it—thousands were captured, tortured and killed in the purge on Indonesian society that followed. Currently, as I write, thousands of soldiers have been captured by loyalists of AKP and are currently undergoing torture in jail cells. High up military officials have been removed and replaced by Erdogan Loyalists; thousands of judges have been removed from their positions and hundreds of academics, either sympathetic to Hizmet or critical of the government, have been removed from their positions as well. Erdogan has unleashed a purge on Turkish society.
Whether or not the attempted coup to topple the government came as inspiration by Fethullah Gülen (who has denied allegations by Erdogan), by Military officials seeking to restore secularism or by Erdogan himself, the outcome has been the same: More power to Erdogan. (I believe that the coup was done by Military officials who were inspired by Gülen and wanted to try restore democracy. However, disorganisation and Erdogan catching on too quickly most likely sabotaged the coup from working.) This coup has been used as leverage for Erdogan to propel himself as uncontested leader of Turkey’s already illiberal system of democracy. I will not be surprised if Erdogan executes all those involved in the coup against him. His denied already political prisoners the ability to see lawyers and family members, and AKP is doing its best to reinstate the death penalty, which means that bloodshed will continue.
Take note, ladies and gents, of this failed coup in Turkey. If you learn anything from it, let it be a lesson in how a totalitarian rises. Erdogan is the next Bashar al-Assad in the making. As he slowly consolidates power, Turkey will find itself more and more morphing into a Closed Society. Furthermore, given Erdogan’s sympathies towards Islamic religious zealots who seek to impose their religion upon society (aka ‘Islamists’), Erdogan will most likely follow the path of religious totalitarians and form an Islamist dictatorship. Look at how the Islamists stand behind Erdogan’s regime and occupy Secular centres, singing praises and hissing at dissenters.
Militias form in defence of Erdogan’s AKP party; even as I write, many of them are doing Erdogan’s work for him and rounding up those anti-government dissenters that have sought to undermine the AKP. A state of terror is gripping Turkey and many are currently feeling its effects, as friends, relatives and loved ones who are Turkish Citizens living abroad see a once proud democracy go down the path towards Islamist theocracy. Erdogan wants this and is doing what is ever in his power to get it. Mark my words, Erdogan is creating a Republic Of Fear that will be equivalent in the oncoming years to the totalitarian Assad’s regime in Syria currently—a regime that is characterised by censorship of media, loyalists dedicated to the leader and a state of fear for its citizens.
Totalitarianism, especially the religious kind, is truly ugly to witness. Those who seek the impossible, namely the totality of control over others, can be said to epitomize what it means to be a totalitarian. It is purely a delusional pursuit of the impossible, but yet there is always those who seek the impossible and take it upon themselves to subjugate others to do so. Totalitarianism and despotism always end the same: Destruction. No tyrant lasts forever and history has shown the course of what happens to each regime that tries to.
Make no mistake; Erdogan’s regime will crumble but only in time. For now, Erdogan will only tighten his stranglehold over Turkey and elevate himself to the status of totalitarian. The tyrant will now only continue eradicating liberties of Turkish citizens and find more ways to ensure that the regime stays afloat. However, before it does there will be bloodshed, suffering and horror.
All totalitarians, despots and tyrants fall.
None last forever.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson (31/07/2016)
Banners with photographs of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, hang from the roof of a commercial building either side of a Turkish national flag in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, July 18, 2016. Attribution: Photo taken by Ismail Ferdous—Bloomberg/Getty Images
Clock holds time in its face.
Endlessly running in a clockwise formation;
no stop in site, for time stops for nothing.
Young faces, old faces, happy faces and sad faces—
all are a victim of its subtle but salient reality.
Mothers raise daughters;
fathers raise sons to its marching drumbeat.
None can stop.
So the fool tries to save what is now gone;
death is called to repeat and give back the fool’s gold.
Tears say nothing; for they cannot do anything.
‘Tick, tick’ is what is heard;
dead face with no remorse or feel.
Sandman comes to collect then goes,
then collects again—no stop.
Grim Reaper steals those tears shed from the fool;
mocking them with each death smile.
Clock cannot stop—
it will not stop, please stop.
Please give back those taken.
One to twelve each day, more are taken away.
Raven echoes long forgotten words.
Clock face can only stop once; no, no, it cannot.
Each hand pulls reality.
Time never stops.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Totalitarian regimes have a vested interest in limiting information and stifling discussion on matters of importance. A sign that a nation has succumb to the first stages of totalitarianism is that it will deny its citizens access to information and deny their fundamental liberties on superficial bases.
Even the most liberal societies can find themselves giving into regressive policies that seek to reverse progress that has been made. In these times, regress masquerading as ‘progress’ must be fought against. In other words, a conservative stance may be the best position to have when the whole of a society is plummeting itself into darkness.
Many will disagree with such a sentiment, however, if a movement that seeks to emancipate the people is hijacked by those who would seek to fight for the ‘greater good’ in a way that would impose a system of fascism that would seek to do this, then it is imperative in that instance to oppose the hijacked movement.
To emphasise this point with an example:
I see that the anti-Islamic political and Intellectual movements in Europe and America are being infiltrated by far-right wing groups. Well intentioned liberals who are opposed to Islamic fundamentalism and are supporters of Classical Liberal principles have found themselves increasingly having their voices being denied, and instead are witnessing far-right wing groups like PEGIDA, Front National and other such groups speak on their behalf.
These groups have no interest in individual liberty and the freedom of worship or even the freedom from worship, what they instead wish to accomplish is to swap one version of fascism (Islamic fascism) for another form of fascism (‘National fascism’). With this national fascism comes xenophobia, racism and bigotry akin to that of National Socialism in its wake.
Now, well there may be a good number of centrist intellectual individuals in such groups, the intention of said groups and their methods are problematic to say the least. However, this example is just one recent instance of infiltration and provides a warning to those who desire to keep their movement to its fundamental principles without those principles giving way to toxic ones. Another example would be the Iranian revolution of 1979 and so forth.
In all these examples, the point of keeping to one’s fundamental principles and the dangers of allowing those principles to budge is stated. It is important in such times that we not repeat history and not allow, especially for the case of anti-Islamic Intellectual and Political movements, for the hijacking of our movements.
I am a classical Liberal, but I will not allow my grievances against Islam to be hijacked by a Christian or catholic fascist sect just because they may have the same enemy. Their methods are fowl and they are to be opposed just as the Islamic fascists are to be opposed. It is imperative that other Classical Liberals be vigilant of their allies in this movement and be sure to remember one’s principles closely. Better this than have one fascism swapped for another.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson