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(en) Defying the nation-state in Syria by Leila Al Shami by Fifth Estate #396, Summer 2016

Date Mon, 23 May 2016 14:03:59 +0300


Syria's current borders were designed by the imperial powers hundred years ago in the midst of World War I as part of a secret treaty between France and Britain sought to divide the spoils posed by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. The power was transferred from western to local elites as colonial masters that the state was giving way to the post-independence state. ---- The three political axes that emerged from the anti-colonial struggle-socialism, Arab nationalism and Islam embraced the idea of ​​a strong state as the basis of resistance to Western hegemony. In the case of Syria, it gave way to an ultra-authoritarian regime in which power is centralized around a single man in Damascus, Bashar Al-Assad; underpinned by a powerful state bureaucracy and security forces. But today, new forms of organization are emerging challenging the centralized authority and state framework.

During the revolution against Assad began in Syria in 2011, large tracts of land were released to the extent that, for 2013, the regime had lost control of about 80% of the country. As the state disintegrated communities had the need to create alternative structures to ensure that life could keep functioning in the new autonomous areas.

The model that emerged was based on the vision of anarchist Syrian Omar Aziz, who published a paper in November 2011, the eighth month of the revolution, advocating the establishment of local councils.

He argued that it was inconsistent that revolutionaries participate in protests the day before returning to live in hierarchical and authoritarian structures imposed by the state. Aziz believed that revolutionary activity should permeate all aspects of life and therefore advocated radical changes in social relations and organization.

Supported and called to create autonomous non-hierarchical organization and self-government, based on the principles of cooperation, solidarity and mutual support. His vision of the councils as forums organized horizontally through which people could work together to achieve three primary goals: to manage their lives independently of the state; cooperate collectively; and start a social, local, regional and national revolution.

Together with his colleagues, Aziz helped establish the first local council in Zabadani, which was followed by similar ones in the Syrian cities of Barzeh, Daraya and Douma.

Tragically, Aziz was arrested in November 2012 by agents of the secret services of the Assad regime and was confined to the infamous prison Adad, where he died three months later. Shortly before his death he said: "We are not less than workers of the Paris Commune, they withstood 70 days and we already took eighteen months."

Hundreds of local councils have sprung up across Syria, transferring power to the communities at the expense of the state. These are civil administrative structures, and most have chosen their positions through democratic processes or by consensus something never seen before in the totalitarian regime of Assad. Some of these structures convene elections every 3 or 6 months to revoke representatives that are not properly and decisions on issues dealing acting are taken by majority vote.

They consist of revolutionary activists, professionals and representatives of large families or tribes. In most cases they are independent of political or military factions or groups, and in mixed communities as Yabroud, Selemmiyeh and Manbij, local councils include representatives of the various ethnic and local groups.

In the absence of the state, local groups are those that guarantee water supply, education and health care to local communities. They have mounted alternative energy sources such as solar energy, and cultivate the land to fight hunger in besieged communities.

Several members of the boards committees, assume different responsibilities: the work of media relations, civil defense and humanitarian aid distribution. Local councils in the neighborhood or village levels are sometimes connected with the broader provincial councils. Choose presidents and co-presidents and contain a number of commissions or departments such as media, health, safety, welfare, legal and civil services.

These experiments of self-organization happen in the middle of a complex web of challenges and obstacles. The liberated areas have been the main target of air strikes Assad (and more recently the Russians) in an attempt to crush any alternative to the regime.

Continuous attacks on these areas have contributed to the displacement of the population and they have left many refugees seeking safety abroad. The militarization of the uprising, which began in the summer / fall of 2011, it transformed from a horizontally organized, inclusive and nonsectarian a struggle between authoritarian factions trying to gain hegemony and deny freedom and self-determination movement to communities released.

The clearest example of this is the most extreme Islamist factions have tried to seize power from local councils to impose their own parallel structures as the Shura Councils and Sharia courts; despite popular protests in places that has happened this development of the situation.

These groups are still part of the armed struggle against Assad, (and now with the military involvement of the imperialist powers, are also part of the struggle against foreign occupation) as fighting Daesh (ISIS). But none of these groups has been part of the struggle of the Syrian people for freedom, social justice and self-determination. They seek to replace an authoritarian state on the other.

Councils at the provincial level are often linked to the Syrian National Coalition (the opposition in exile) which in turn is influenced by the agendas of international powers, especially the reactionary Gulf and Western governments. Because of their financial dependence, its grassroots character is seriously compromised. There are also other obstacles social.

Syrian society is very patriarchal - through the family, the tribe and the nation state. Few women are part of the local councils, despite the leading role of women in revolutionary groups and civil society such as the Local Coordination Committees, or the many social centers for women in the liberated areas. These support the activism of women and their involvement in the economic, political and social spheres as a means through which to challenge patriarchal structures.

In the northern Kurdish region, the social revolution has been much more inclusive with regard to women. The three Kurdish cantons (Jazira, Ayn al-Arab and Afrin) declared democratic autonomy in January 2014, each establishing a parliament, various ministries and courts.

Together, the three cantons of Rojava make up the territory that is largely led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PYD is strongly influenced by the ideas of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, who in turn was influenced by the ideas of the American anarchist Murray Bookchin and defends the new political paradigm Democratic Confederalism.

Based on the principles of direct democracy, gender equality and environmentalism, democratic confederalism challenges the concept of nation-state, and substitution wants to create regional autonomy and promote self-organization and self-government.

Along Rojava communes are the means by which people come together to find solutions to their needs and challenges of everyday life they face. Each commune has a number attached to it to address issues such as education, justice, food, environmental issues and self-defense committees. Decisions are made on the basis of consensus.

The communes are connected to the district councils are composed of representatives of the commune and political parties (as communes) have a participation fee of 40% for women. These then are attached to the cantonal administration through various mechanisms that coordinate with the councils and the regional government of Rojava.

Unlike other areas of Syria, Rojava has escaped the scorched earth policy of Assad and his allies, allowing these territories flourish and develop.

Although this also face a number of challenges. Despite his libertarian rhetoric, the PYD dominating the Autonomous Administration of self-government is an authoritarian party that has silenced, arrested, and killed other Kurdish opposition groups.

People's Defense Units (YPG), dominated by the PYD, and the Democratic Forces of Syria supported the US has recently developed offensives in areas of Arab majority with the support of Russian air strikes. It seems an attempt to build a state that goes against the ideas of democratic confederalism and generates the risk of inter-ethnic confrontation.

The Kurds face turn authoritarian continuous attacks of the Turkish state tries to crush the aspirations of self-determination of the Kurdish people both within its borders and in Syria. They also face attacks by extremist Islamist groups, especially the Daesh, Jabhat Al Nusra (Al-Qaeda linked), and Ahrar Al Sham.

All over Syria, structures and oppressive and hierarchical institutions have been torn apart and people are organizing their communities and dealing freely. There has been no greater challenge to the concept of nation-state in the world since the Spanish Revolution of 1930.

But as shown above, these experiments regions are threatened from many angles. Due to the strength of the counter, what will happen with the collapse of the Syrian state, is the imposition of mini-states, armed, fences and rhetorical speeches that create more division and a state of perpetual war.

Solidarity with the Syrians in their struggle is vital. Still, many groups that identify with the "left" not only have shown their solidarity with the Syrian revolution, but have an infamous support the counterrevolution. This is usually due to ignorance on the Syrian context, Orientalism and a growing Islamophobia.

Many have not understood the enormous diversity of the actors that are embedded in the conflict right now, actors sometimes share similar goals (such as the overthrow of the regime), but ultimately finalists have different objectives.

There is an inability to distinguish between armed groups and civil resistance; between armed groups that have a democratic basis or whose activity is part of the self-defense of their communities and those with an authoritarian agenda; between those who seek to dissolve the traditional structures of power and those who only seek power for themselves.

The revolution faces many challenges, and no one should be fooled into thinking that a free society is the result. And counter states are much stronger than us. Still, amid all these challenges, anarchists should support the oppressed and exploited, those who are creating new forms of organization in the most difficult circumstances and those who face their total extermination.

Practices solidarity will be more fruitful than ill-informed theoretical bravado.

Leila Al Shami is co-author, with Robin Yassin-Kassab, of Burning Country: Revolution and War in Syrians, Pluto Press (2016). He has worked in the human rights movement in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

He is a founding member of Tahrir-ICN, a network that connects the anti-authoritarian struggle in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. She lives in Scotland and has the blog leilashami.wordpress.com.

In Rodolfo Pedrero

Excerpted https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/challenging-the-nation-state-in-syria/
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