8 July 2014
A report of a political briefing hosted by Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, held in Westminster on 2 July and organised by Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.
The keynote speakers were a senior delegation of leading representatives from Rojava, Syria: namely, Saleh Muslim, co-president of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Deputy General Coordinator of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB); Basam Ishaq, chairman of Syriac Council (representing the Christian community); and Abdul Karim Omar, the spokesperson of Jazira Canton Foreign Affairs Department.
The delegation, visiting the UK to urge support for the people of Rojava, explained their independent perspective on the Syrian conflict before a specially invited gathering of parliamentarians, policy advisors and researchers. The majority population of Rojava are Kurds but the self-administration that has been established in the past few months had brought together all the region’s communities. This highly positive development needed to be more widely understood.
The Europe Union was urged to cease thinking that democracy stopped at its borders.
An urgent appeal was issued to the British people and UK government, as well as all the democratic powers, to support the people of Rojava in their peaceful struggle to establish a democratic society in the face of attacks from ISIS insurgents and the machinations of aggressive neighbouring powers. This has become more urgent in recent days as ISIS has focused once more on destabilising Rojava, and in particular Kobane, which has seen fierce clashes in the last week that the Kurdistan National Congress recently warned would lead to imminent massacre.
The people of the region were striving to set up a new democratic administration to run their own affairs based on the values of diversity, human rights, pluralism, and gender equality; these were exactly the principles that were the basis of democratic societies everywhere around the world.
But Rojava was now under siege and fighting for its very survival. As a matter of urgency, the blockade needed to be lifted, the meeting heard.
The representatives called for the pressure from Turkey to be halted and for all border crossings to be opened up to enable essential aid to get through.
Addressing the question of respect for human rights and security in Rojava, the speakers pointed to the fact that a million refugees had fled to their region precisely because it was seen as safe and secure, at least much more secure than other parts of Syria.
They urged delegations from the UK and Europe to visit the area to see for themselves and learn what was actually taking place.
The aspirations for freedom and democracy were the motivation that initially sparked the uprising in Syria and these demands were now being implemented in Rojava.
It was said that Kurds more than most people in the country desired change since historically they had suffered most at the hands of the Baathist regime.
In 2012 the Damascus regime’s forces had been pushed out of region of North Syria now known as Rojava and since then, the people had established an inclusive governing council comprising some 35 organisations representing all the different communities in the region; this not only comprised Kurds, but included Alewis, Christians, Arabs and people of other faiths.
In order to protect themselves some six months ago the people of Rojava had established three self-administration councils.
It was seen as essential to organise in order to survive and to resist the onslaught from ISIS and other jihadi groups linked to al Qaeda.
These groups were incredibly dangerous and the enemies of all. “They should be understood as posing an immediate threat to all of humanity. They emphatically don’t believe in the principles of democracy,” the briefing was informed.
ISIS was committing all manner of appalling atrocities including public executions and even practising cannibalism, Saleh Muslim warned. Issuing a wakeup call to the international community, Mr Muslim stressed that ISIS was a real challenge for all.
He argued that the Rojava model offered a genuine democratic alternative to both the repressive policies of Assad and ISIS.
He explained that the people of Rojava had come together to agree a “social contract” to develop freedom and democracy where all communities were represented and women were treated equally.
For the very first time ever the ancient languages of Syria had been recognised in a legal agreement.
Also for the first time people from different communities were protecting each other; for example Moslems were defending Christian churches and shrines from the assaults of ISIS.
Basam Ishaq explained that democratic self-administration had finally emerged after three thousand years which meant that for the very first time ever in Syrian history the ancient languages of the country had been recognised in a legal agreement or constitution.
He argued that the peaceful revolution, in which he had actively participated in its early days in Damascus, had since been hijacked and turned into a bloody civil war.
The people’s aspirations for freedom, equality and dignity were not reflected in the jihadist opposition or the so-called “moderate” rebels led by expatriates with little connection to people inside the country.
The SNC that was established in Istanbul had proved ineffective and its leadership was not genuinely interested in creating a civil, pluralistic and democratic Syria; but were vying for position and driven by personal ambitions.
They would not be able to attract sufficient support among the Syrian people to really carry out a change the country, he believed.
The real patriots were those who stood up to all those who abused their power and as an offender Assad was far from unique.
The social experiment in Rojava should be attractive to all those who wanted to see a truly democratic alternative emerge.
While Rojava was trying to govern itself through democratic participation and was practising transparency, unfortunately the opposition had repudiated Rojava’s proposals.
The people need to be presented with a compelling vision to inspire them.
In Rojava all the parties respected each other’s identities and were fully committed to pluralism and sharing power.
The true failure of the opposition was that it had kept Assad in power by creating insecurity and offered no popular alternative.
The opposition were weakened by division and what was needed was for all the opposition groups, including the Kurds and Rojava, to achieve unity.
Failing to do this is leading to a Syrian version of the sectarian divide witnessed in Iraq.
The accusation levelled against Rojava that its leaders are “pro-Assad” was strenuously refuted as mischief making with no basis in fact.
Rojava was also accused of wanting to separate from Syria; however this charge was also totally untrue, the briefing was told.
The aim was to demonstrate what a future Syria based on diversity would look like.
They insisted that not everyone who opposed Assad wanted to see the introduction of a religious state. In fact, many preferred the separation of religion and state and this was exactly what was being carried out in Rojava.
As a Nato member Turkey should be stopped by its allies from taking actions that sought to undermine Rojava as this only made the place less secure for the people.
The head of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq Massoud Barzani was urged to show more support for Rojava.
The third speaker, Abdul Karim Omar, spoke about what the delegation wanted from the UK.
He insisted that the Rojava administration in just a few months of its existence had become a successful model that deserved international support.
There were about one million refugees from other parts of Syria who had to be supported by the existing regional population of one and a half million.
Resources were extremely scarce and finances were under tremendous pressure. Little aid was getting through. This situation needed to change urgently to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Medical assistance was an absolute priority.
There was a lot that the UK government could do if it so desired in order to exert its influence to relieve the pressures on Rojava.
The administration also welcomed help to improve its fledgling administration in areas such as policing and the judicial system which were currently organised by well-intentioned volunteers from all the different communities.
The representatives of Rojava concluded with a strong appeal for urgent international support for their attempts to implement democratic change founded firmly on popular participation.
They believed that it was still possible to transform Syria peacefully to build a society where all communities were treated equally.
But an immediate challenge was to resist ISIS which was a threat to world peace.
They believed that once the magnitude of the threat posed by ISIS is understood, especially following the fall of Mosul, all countries including the UK would review their policy towards the crisis in Syria which had endured for far too long.
Most people in Syria still wanted a secular state and were opposed to ISIS which consisted of many foreign fighters.
The world needed to show its support for the legitimate and justified struggle of the people of Rojava for a better life in a secure and peaceful environment.
Participants in the briefing were also informed about the ‘democratic initiative’ drawn up by a broad coalition of parties in Rojava, which launched fresh proposals for a political resolution to the conflict in Syria, based this time on unity and diversity, and which aims to engage with opposition groups from across the country. The founding text is available in an English translation.
The briefing proved successful in highlighting the importance of Rojava as an initiative that had come from the people on the ground. They deserved greater support and practical action could be taken such as organising delegations to visit the region. It was emphasised that visitors would be protected and security concerns need not deter those wishing to help.
 Human Rights Watch recently published a report alleging human rights violations in Rojava; authorities in Rojava responded to the allegations last week..