At the same time, significant gains have been made by the more than 2 million Kurds living in northern Syria where Kurdish militias have pushed back both Assad and reactionary al-Qaedist forces, leading the Democratic Union Party there to establish a semi-autonomous region.
The “peace” talks also included representatives from Washington, Moscow — which backs Assad — and 37 other countries. An invitation by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Iran, another ally of the Assad regime, to attend the conference was subsequently revoked on Washington’s insistence.
During the one week that talks were underway, 1,870 people were killed in Syria, including 450 civilians and 40 who died from inadequate access to food and medicine, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian military helicopters have been dropping some 20 “barrel bombs” — steel barrels packed with explosives — daily on working class neighborhoods in Syria’s largest city Aleppo and surrounding areas under rebel control.
On Feb. 4, regime bombs hit a mosque being used as a school, killing 11 people. Three days earlier, 34 were killed when barrel bombs hit the al-Bab area.
More than 500,000 civilians in rebel-held areas around Damascus have been besieged for months by government forces, with little access to food and medicine, according to the U.N.
Since the civil war started in March 2011, more than 130,000 people have been killed. Nearly 9 million — almost 40 percent of Syria’s population — have been displaced inside the country or are living as refugees in neighboring countries. An estimated quarter-million people in Syria are out of reach of aid deliveries.
Syrian Kurds declare autonomySignaling a step forward in their fight against national oppression, Kurds in Syria declared an autonomous government Jan. 21 in Hasakah province in northeast Syria along with the districts of Afrin in the northwest and Kobani in the north. Hasakah, which is 70 percent Kurdish, contains the majority of the country’s oil resources and functions as an agricultural heartland.
These areas are commonly referred to by Kurds as Rojava (western Kurdistan). Some 30 million Kurds live in northern Syria, eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and western Iran. They are the world’s largest national group without their own country.
Twenty-two cabinet ministers have been named to the new regional government, including Christians and Muslim Arabs, as well as Kurds.
Last fall, Kurdish fighters routed al-Qaedist forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Nusra Front, both of which had sought to seize control in the area and impose their rule.
Kurdish advances in Rojava come much to the dismay of Ankara, which has closed its border with Syria and announced plans to fortify a border wall to keep Kurds out. Turkey is home to an estimated 14 million Kurds, who have fought a decades-long struggle for national rights. The main Kurdish group there is the Kurdish Workers Party, which is allied with the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD).
“Kurds in Turkey protested against Turkey’s planned wall, while we protested on the other side from Syria,” journalist Mohammed Sharo told Reuters Jan. 22. “The way I feel now is, let them build the wall. That thing they call a border is no longer really there.”
The declaration of the Kurdish provincial government comes after organizers of the Syria conference, including Washington, Ankara and Riyadh, denied a request by the PYD to send a separate delegation to the talks.
One reflection of the gains made by Syrian Kurds is advances by women. The PYD and its military wing, the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People, have run the region since Assad’s forces were pushed out in 2012. It has created both male and female militia groups, with women comprising one-third of the force. And they’ve had a powerful impact in helping to beat back attacks by Islamist forces.
“When we arrived at the front it was dark, and al-Qaeda was close to our position,” Nojan, 20, told Reuters. “We shouted to them that we were women with weapons in our hands, here to defend our people to the death.”
“Here,” she said, “I not only learned how to carry a gun. I learned how to speak. I became a woman.”
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home