This article, by Nûdem Qamişlo, staff member of “Navenda Diplomasî Civakî Bakûr û Rojhilat Syria” (Center for Social Diplomacy in North and East Syria) in Qamişlo, was first published in the March/April 2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report, and in English on 23 April, 2022.
Diplomacy can be defined as the establishment of relations between peoples. With the development of states, the definition of diplomacy and also its form has changed. Diplomacy became establishing relations between states for state interests or better for the elites of the state. Thus, it often plays an important role in wars.
But the origin of diplomacy was different. If we look at history, we see that good relations with neighbors or with neighboring tribes were essential for survival. Therefore, great importance was attached to maintaining good relations with each other. Since women played an important role in these early societies, diplomacy was mainly in their hands, they mediated in conflicts, established relations for exchange and all needs of the tribes. The tasks of diplomacy were very diverse. Relationships between tribes were maintained, good cooperation among themselves and mutual support between tribes were important. Examples of this were hunting (agreement on hunting grounds) and later food cultivation. Here, tribes or communities worked together. There was also marriage between tribes and communities. In case of conflicts and problems, it were women who mediated. On this basis, peaceful coexistence between tribes or communities was possible and ensured survival.
How Diplomacy Became an Instrument of Domination
With the development of states, diplomacy took on a fundamentally different meaning. It lost its social character. It was now only about the interests of states and about using diplomacy to strengthen one’s own position of power. Diplomacy became an instrument of power, and it could take various forms from then on. It could create and shape relations between states with the help of negotiations, meetings and conferences, and well-trained diplomats. The goal of this form of diplomacy was to defend one’s own interests and often led to wars. Thus land and mineral resources are distributed and political interests are defended. Here, instead of peace, war arises, instead of togetherness separation evolves, instead of honesty, lies and deceit prosper.
At the time of the Cold War, states realized that this form of state diplomacy did not offer enough room for maneuver to influence people and win them over for their own interests. During the Cold War, most states, e.g. the USA, Great Britain, France, Russia or China, developed a form of civil diplomacy that used other methods to spread their own ideology more convincingly among people in other states. Propaganda, culture, music, language, student exchange, cooperation with civil organizations … all this was used for their own state interests. Both capitalist and so-called communist states used this kind of civil diplomacy.
Even today, after the Cold War, in the course of the so-called globalization, most states practice a broad-based diplomacy, both as a classical state variant through official representatives at meetings, assemblies, conferences, etc., and the so-called civil diplomacy, implemented by many well-trained professionals.
Democracy of Society Creates the Basis for Diversity and for People to Connect With Each Other
But when we speak of civil diplomacy, we mean something different. Not in the interest of some elites or states, but in the interest of marginalized peoples, exploited people or activists, i.e. 99% of the people. This is diplomacy in the classical sense of the word: connecting people from different religions, ethnicities, cultures, countries, with different views, to be able to develop strength together. Where states try to divide and rule or allow only one dominant culture, one way of thinking and living, civil democracy, in contrast, creates the basis for diversity and for people to connect with each other. Creating opportunities to know and understand each other, to find solutions and social alternatives together. This is the practice of civil democracy.
A revolution has taken place in North and East Syria, and it is still continuing. A new system, a new way of thinking and living is being built here. In all fields, in all areas, there is movement. A vast amount of energy and experiences can be shared. Sharing them and not imposing them from the top down, but discussing them on a social level is part of civil diplomacy. This is how alliances can be built with other revolutionary, social and ecological movements. In social forums or other meetings, ideas and experiences can be exchanged with practical work to discuss and solutions to social and ecological problems can be found.
On the other hand, North and East Syria is still at war. A large part of the country is occupied and every day attacks and human rights violations are taking place in the occupied areas. Furthermore, attacks on civilians in North and East Syria are taking place from the occupied areas. A large part of the original population has been displaced. Demographic change has taken place.
Except for Catalonia, not a single state, not a single government has recognized self-administration in North and East Syria. The people are still suffering from a political and economic embargo, and threats of war are also commonplace. That is why solidarity at the level of people of civil societies is vital.
Struggle in North and East Syria Gives Hope
In many countries of the world, especially after the outbreak of the pandemic, the state pressure on the population has become stronger, the rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer. In the capitalist states, emptiness and hopelessness prevail and there are many social and environmental problems. Right-wing extremism and hatred of everything that is different are growing stronger every day. In such hard times, the struggle in North and East Syria can be a hope, a point of light. Despite all the difficulties, an alternative is being built and social cohesion against IS and other extremist groups is palpable. Capitalism wants us to believe that there is no alternative to it, but the practice in North and East Syria shows that, against all the state attacks, an alternative can be lived.
There are numerous social areas for the practice of civil diplomacy. The January 2022 International Conference on Religion is a recent example. All too often religion has been and continues to be used for wars and domination interests. But what can cooperation between religions look like? How can religions initiate and support peace processes? What can an interpretation of religion look like that spreads democracy, peace, plurality and love for each other? There are many negative examples like IS, al-Qaeda, to name some of the most extreme ones. But there are also quite a few positive examples, such as the cooperation of religions in North and East Syria, or the World Church. The coming together of different religions and religious communities is civil diplomacy in action.
Sports and culture are also areas of possible joint activities. At festivals, the different cultures can present themselves to show the wealth of cultures and languages. In capitalism, the cultural and linguistic richness of a society is displaced by an often superficial but dominant culture. Festivals where folklore, music and theater can be presented are an important weapon against this form of cultural globalization. Joint sporting events, for example soccer competitions for women’s teams, also offer opportunities to create space for encounters. For North and East Syria, which lives under a political and economic embargo, sports are very important. Sport that is about sport and not about money or power.
Two more examples of areas where civil diplomacy plays an important role:
– The area of health. On the one hand, it is about the basic practical difficulties of building a health system in North and East Syria and, at the same time, about a health system that should be accessible to all and in which the focus is on people and not on profit.
– The field of education. In North and East Syria, an education system is being established in which students are taught democratic values and skills and are taught in both their own and foreign languages.
Civil diplomacy is a very rich field with many possibilities. It is indispensable if we want to spread Democratic Confederalism and if there is to be democracy in the true sense of the word not only in North and East Syria, but everywhere.
The strategic forces for diplomatic work are social, ecological, feminist and revolutionary movements, minorities, religions and other social organizations. Thus, we can strengthen Democratic Confederalism everywhere in the world.