[Marxism] Leila al-Shami: The assault on Aleppo

Andrew Pollack acpollack2 at gmail.com
Thu Feb 25 07:29:24 MST 2016

Love the balanced and challenging portrayal of the various Kurdish forces -
challenging because we need to find ways to forge unity with the best of
It ALSO gives crucial concrete examples of grassroots self-management of
liberated areas in Syria NOW, not just as some fondly-remembered episode of
5 years ago.

On Thu, Feb 25, 2016 at 7:58 AM, Michael Karadjis via Marxism <
marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:

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> Leila Al Shami is co-author, along with Robin Yassin-Kassab, of 'Burning
> Country, the best book available on the Syrian revolution. This is an
> excellent interview with Leila about the mass-murderous Russian-led
> counterrevolutionary assault on the people of Aleppo. She takes a very
> balanced view, in my opinion, on the question of the PYD/YPG/Rojava, while
> clearly situating its current appalling role in the Russian genocidal war
> on the people of Aleppo in its expansionist, irredentist plan to "link"
> Kurdish cantons by conquering Arab territory.
> The assault on Aleppo
> February 25, 2016 by Leila Al Shami
> https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-assault-on-aleppo/#more-368
> The questions for this interview were written by the authors of Syria: The
> Stolen Revolution.
> “We Will Not Leave The Trench Until The Night Is Gone” By the activists of
> Aleppo, photographed by Barry Abdulattif. Source: The Creative Memory of
> the Syrian Revolution
> We are currently witnessing what looks like the crushing of anti-Assad
> rebellion forces. The Aleppo battle seems to be a turning point in Syria’s
> civil war before a general confrontation with ISIS occurs. In your opinion
> do rebel forces still shelter components of the revolutionary Syrian
> movement? Or are they nowadays reduced to sunni confessional militias,
> supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia?
> Anti Assad rebels in north Aleppo are now facing a relentless assault by
> Russians from the air and an Iranian backed ground force comprised of
> various sectarian militias. This has transformed their struggle against a
> fascist regime into a national liberation struggle. The Russian Air Force
> has decimated civilian infrastructure in the province. The main rebel
> supply route from Turkey has been severed. The rebels are surrounded in the
> Azaz corridor by regime allied militias, Daesh and the Kurdish YPG.
> If Aleppo is besieged up to 300,000 people will be cut off from the
> outside world. Tens of thousands have fled the city. As well as crushing
> the armed resistance the Assad regime and its imperial backers are carrying
> out a deliberate and systematic policy to depopulate the liberated areas of
> Syria.
> When we talk of ‘liberated areas’ it’s more than just rhetoric. Under
> threat in Aleppo are the different local councils which ensure the
> governance of each area and have kept providing services to the local
> population in the absence of the state. We are talking about more than 100
> civil society organizations (the second largest concentration of active
> civil society groups anywhere in the country). These include some 28 free
> media groups, women’s organizations and emergency and relief organizations
> such as the Civil Defense Force. It also includes educational organizations
> such as Kesh Malek which provides non-ideological education for children,
> often in people’s basements, to ensure school continues under bombardment.
> Under Assad’s totalitarian state, independent civil society was
> non-existent and no independent media sources existed. But in Free Aleppo
> democracy is being practiced as the people themselves self-organize and run
> their communities. This for me represents the original goals of the
> revolutionary movement.
> The armed militias in the north Aleppo area include both the Free Army and
> Islamists. The Islamists represent the conservative culture of rural
> Aleppo. They are comprised primarily of Aleppo’s sons, brothers and
> fathers. They have strong local support and men and women have taken the
> streets in recent days calling for rebel unity to defend Free Aleppo from
> this fascist onslaught.
> The rebels receive tepid support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
> Nothing until now has made a real difference on the ground such as
> providing the rebels with the anti-aircraft weapons they desperately need.
> This is changing with Turkey’s military intervention. But Turkey’s
> intervention is primarily designed to prevent the establishment of a
> Kurdish state along its border. It has not intervened solely to protect the
> Azaz corridor, but is shelling civilians and uprooting olive trees in
> Afrin. No state is intervening to defend the popular struggle but rather to
> defend its own interests and those of its elites.
> What is the current situation in the eastern Ghouta and in the rebel
> controlled zones in the south?
> The eastern Ghouta is also under relentless attack. Assad and Russian
> forces have targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure such as schools,
> hospitals and market places. Over 160,000 people are trapped under regime
> siege in desperate conditions. Some authoritarian rebel groups have also
> been accused of stealing and hoarding food, contributing further to the
> people’s suffering. But despite these challenges the people of the Eastern
> Ghouta have practiced communal solidarity in the most creative and
> practical ways and kept life functioning. They’ve dug wells for water
> supply, set up solar power and recycled methane from waste to provide an
> alternative energy supply. They’ve operated makeshift hospitals and schools
> and grown food (often roof-top gardens) to fend off starvation. Since the
> beginning of this year two towns in the eastern Ghouta, Erbin and Zamalka,
> have held democratic elections for their local council.
> The rebels in the south are under a lot of pressure at the moment and the
> regime, under cover of Russian airstrikes, has made strategic gains around
> Deraa. Most hospitals and clinics in east Deraa are now out of service due
> to bombardment. The Deraa provincial council reports that more than 80,000
> people have fled their homes to seek refugee deeper in rebel-held territory
> or have moved towards the Jordanian border which is closed. The south of
> the country is held mainly by the Southern Front, a coalition of over 50
> Free Army groups with a secular, democratic agenda which have largely
> refused to cooperate with extremist Islamist groups. The Southern Front
> receives support via Jordan which has been reducing assistance to the group
> in recent weeks, under US pressure, to get rebels to focus their fight on
> Daesh (even though there’s little Daesh presence in the south) rather than
> the regime.
> How would you interpret YPG/PYD strategy? Do you think there will be a
> final armed confrontation between the Kurds and the Baathist regime, or do
> you think Russians, Iranians, Kurds and Baathists have a shared vision of
> the future of Syria? In other words, is there a general agreement on land
> and power sharing within the former borders?
> In the case of the Kurds, key regime figures have said they will not
> accept Kurdish autonomy in the north. Concessions given to the PYD by the
> regime so far should be seen as tactical. But it now looks as if the PYD
> has turned to Russia as its protector. And for Russia an alliance with the
> PYD is a useful tool in its fight against Turkey. The PYD has at times
> entered into strategic alliances with the regime, but the YPG has also
> fought the regime. It’s alliances are solely pragmatic in maintaining
> control over the north. If Arab resistance forces are neutralized, it’s
> possible that Assad will turn his attention to destroying Kurdish autonomy.
> Whether Russia and the US (allied with the YPG) allow this to happen
> remains to be seen.
> The Russians, Iranians and the regime realize that Assad will be unable to
> reassert his control over large parts of the country which he has already
> lost. It’s possible there will be a partition of Syria and the imposition
> of mini states along sectarian lines. In areas which the regime and its
> allies hope to control, we are witnessing the ethnic cleansing of Sunni
> (oppositional) communities and their repopulation with communities loyal to
> the regime and its allies. When the regime took over Homs, the land
> registry was destroyed and Alawites moved into vacant Sunni homes. The
> assault on Zabadani and crippling siege on Madaya by the regime and
> Hizbullah are designed to force Sunni inhabitants to leave the area. It’s
> feared that Lebanese and Iraqi Shia militia members and their families will
> be resettled there. Iran and Hizbullah’s involvement is to maintain the
> strategic link from Iran to Lebanon which runs through Damascus (and
> Baghdad) and is fueled by sectarianism. As for Russia, deals have already
> been made to hand over Syria’s energy sector to Russian companies. Both
> Iran and Russia see Syria as a key battle ground in their geo-political
> struggles with Saudi Arabia and the West respectively.
> Do you perceive the unification of Rojava’s canton (Afrin, Kobane,
> Jazira), its political and social system, and the creation of Syrian
> Democratic Forces (multi-ethnic and multi-confessional – YPG ruled) as a
> democratic alternative to the regime Reconquista?
> It’s not a ‘democratic’ alternative but it’s an alternative. The
> Self-Administration is monopolized by the PYD. Those Kurds that oppose the
> PYD have been silenced, imprisoned, tortured and assassinated. The PYD has
> now moved beyond the idea of democratic confederalism (democracy without
> the state) – an idea which I strongly support – towards attempts to carve
> out a new state through linking the cantons. This includes its expansionist
> turn to take over Arab majority areas under cover of Russian airstrikes.
> The Syrian Democratic Forces aren’t an alternative to the regime. Dominated
> by the YPG and including some minor Arab forces, they were established to
> gain the support of the US led coalition in the fight against Daesh only.
> Kurds have suffered decades of systematic oppression at the hands of
> Arabist (and Turkish nationalist) regimes and their struggle for
> self-determination should be supported. Inspiring examples of
> self-organization and direct democracy have occurred on the community level
> through the communes established in towns and villages across Rojava.
> Kurdish youth are filled with libertarian spirit and all Syrians can learn
> from the ideas which are spreading across the north. My main fears are that
> this will be undone in the end by PYD authoritarianism and that
> Arab-Kurdish ethnic conflict will break out. If ethnic conflict breaks out
> it will be a result of three factors: the attempt of the Syrian regime to
> destroy any Arab-Kurdish alliance which emerged during the revolution; the
> failure of Arab opposition leaders to stand fully behind the Kurdish
> struggle for self-determination; and the actions of the PYD and extremist
> Islamist militias. All Syrians will loose in such a scenario.
> Do you consider the Rojava cantons a safe place for Syrian political and
> revolutionary opponents to shelter? Or is exile still the only way to
> escape dictatorship?
> Because of the current practices of the PYD the Rojava cantons aren’t a
> safe place for political and revolutionary groups operating independently
> of the PYD.
> Afrin has welcomed some families fleeing Aleppo. But it’s unlikely the
> cantons will allow large numbers of Arabs to seek safety on their territory
> incase they upset the demographic balance. The countries surrounding Syria
> have closed their borders except in exceptional cases. Many people simply
> do not have the option of leaving and do not have any place to go.
> Do you think the US and Russia agree on focusing the war on ISIS and that
> occidental powers are abandoning the opposition forces to Bashar and
> finally isolating Erdogan?
> In terms of the regime the Russian and US positions were never very
> different – no one wanted to see it dismantled. It was about Assadism with
> Assad (Russian position) or Assadism without Assad (the US position).
> What’s changed is that now neither are calling for Assad to go.
> In terms of fighting Daesh – rhetorically they both agree that this is
> their main focus. But as we have seen, very few of the airstrikes carried
> out by Russia have been on Daesh, but rather on the resistance militias
> fighting the regime and Daesh too. It must not be forgotten that the Free
> Army which is now being decimated and the (former) Islamic Front have been
> the most effective force on the ground at fighting Daesh – pushing them out
> of large parts of northern and eastern Syria in 2014 – before Daesh came
> back in force with the heavy weaponry it seized in Iraq and US support was
> given to the Syrian Democratic Forces. It appears the US has abandoned the
> rebels, even though it never truly supported them beyond applying pressure
> to force Assad to the negotiation table – a strategy which failed. The
> results of this will only be the strengthening of Daesh and other extremist
> groups like the Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra.  The US has not been
> responsive to Turkish concerns and proposals in Syria (such as arming the
> Free Army and establishing a safe zone) it has been more accommodating to
> Iran than its traditional allies – Turkey and Saudi. Alliances are
> currently interwoven among opposing interests and in flux
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