Notes of a Scottish woman in Rojava
Sarah Glynn visited Rojava as part of a British delegation.
Sarah Glynn is a committee member of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan (www.sskonline.org.uk).
She just got back from Rojava and she published her account on Bella Caledonia. The piece, called, Afrin and Manbij – a Tale of Two Cities, is a detailed feature of the trip.
"Earlier this year, - writes Glynn - the world learnt briefly about a place called Afrîn. There was even a discussion in the House of Commons, though with no motion and no vote. And the BBC was forced to interrupt its coverage of the fight between Assad’s government forces and militant Islamists in Eastern Ghouta to take note of what they termed ‘Syria’s other battle’. But once Afrîn city had been captured by the Turkish army and the jihadi militias with which it is aligned, Afrîn became old news, and quickly forgotten".
Glynn went for a week in the autonomous, predominantly Kurdish, Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, where she was part of a delegation invited by Kongreya Star, the umbrella group for the region’s women’s organisations.
"Everywhere we went - she writes - we were reminded of the importance of Afrîn, and that the fight for Afrîn and for all that it stood for is far from over".
The delegation met several people and institutions. "One of our first meetings - Glynn writes - was with the Syrian Democratic Council, the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Just as the SDF brings together the Kurdish defence forces – the YPG and female YPJ – with allied forces, so the Council combines representatives from different parties and ethnicities. The Council’s co-president (every organisation has dual heads, male and female) is from Afrîn and has family among those displaced. She talked about the conditions being suffered by people left in Afrîn, where occupying Turkish and Jihadi soldiers rape and kidnap for ransom, and regard women as existing for the service of men".
The delegation could not make it to Shehba, as "it has to be reached via a strip of land controlled by the Assad government, and we didn’t get the requisite permission", explains Glynn.
Instead the delegation visited an Afrin family in Kobanê (one of 300 who have been found homes in the city). "They were – writes Glynn - relatively lucky. They had been sent on from Shehba because they needed medical help that wasn’t available there. The father had an injured leg, and he and his mother-in-law both needed surgery. The mother had given birth to twins the day after they arrived in the city. They told us that when the autonomous administration had taken over control of Afrîn in 2012 they had been very happy. They could use their own Kurdish language and live the way they wanted. When Turkey attacked they had moved from their village into Afrîn city, only leaving for Shehba when the SDF told all civilians that they should evacuate. With the mother heavily pregnant, the grandmother unable to walk, the father injured, and a young child in tow, that was not easy".
The visit to Manbij, was also very interesting for the delegation.
"Manbij was liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces in August 2016, after 2 ½ years under Daesh control. - writes Glynn - Unlike the Rojava cantons, Manbij is not majority Kurdish. At the Manbij Women’s Council we met with women from different ethnic communities: Arabs, Turkmen and Circassians, as well as Kurds. An important part of the council’s activity consists of reminding people how different ethnicities have lived together in the past, and encouraging people to acknowledge the ethnic mix within their own families. Members told us how they go round from house to house knocking on people’s doors to find women from all ethnic groups who may never go outside their homes. They try to get them involved in public life and help them to find paid work that gives them a measure of independence, and they also help them to resolve the inevitable conflicts within their families. This is not easy work and requires patience and persistence. They explained that although many of the women they visit know what they want, they are afraid to act. Living under Daesh control has made them fearful and suspicious of public activity; and, unlike in the Kurdish areas where Öcalan’s ideas had inspired a strong underground movement that was ready to break free, they were not used to challenging patriarchal cultural traditions".
"One of the Arab women told us that she had been inspired by the way the Kurdish women worked together when they were living under Daesh, and had resolved to continue with this activity after liberation. Another wanted to express her thanks to the YPJ and SDF for liberating them from what felt like the end of life. In order to change social attitudes, the activists try and talk with all members of a family, including the men. A third Arab woman acknowledged the support she got from her own family, who shared her thinking, but not all families are sympathetic. We were told that there is a lot of educational work to be done before it will be possible to bring in even such a basic rule as outlawing polygamy. It was noticeable that the only women we saw in Manbij with uncovered heads – outwith the strangely anachronistic mannequins in the shop windows – were the Kurdish Women’s Council members".
At the end of her piece, Glynn writes: "As we were flying home, UK Prime Arms Dealer, Teresa May, was abasing herself in front of Erdoğan, and mentioning the Kurds only as ‘terrorists’. Our government will not be forced to change tack unless the Kurds can be seen to have wide popular support. Building this will be a major task, but, as the experiences of Afrîn and Manbij demonstrate, history is at a crossroads, and the different paths lead to very different futures".