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I have recently read the book "Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the 
Syrian Revolution" (edited by Jules Alford and Andy Wilson).

I won't review the whole book at this time.  I have previously reviewed Burning 
Country, by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami (al-Shami is also a 
contributor to Khiyana) : 

I will just comment on Khiyana's coverage of the Rojava revolution.  While 
acknowledging some positive developments in Rojava, the authors are hostile to 
the PYD.

The book contains an interview with Shiar Neyo, a Syrian-Kurdish activist who 
has lived in exile for a decade.  Neyo says that the situation in Rojava is 

"On the one hand, it seems that the experience has begun to achieve commendable 
gains, such as secular management of the state apparatus, ensuring greater 
rights for women and the participation of minorities in administration, a 
greater participation and more agency for the local population in the 
management of their affairs...

"On the other hand, however, the experiment may well end with the strengthening 
of the PYD's dominance and the increase of oppression in the name of protecting 
these gains, along with their gradual squandering in return for narrow 
political interests." (Khiyana, p.242)  Neyo accuses the PYD of suppressing 
dissent (arresting political opponents "under a variety of excuses", closing a 
radio station, etc).  

Responding to similar accusations from Human Rights Watch, the Rojava 
administration has said it is committed to democracy and human rights, but 
faces severe objective difficulties:   "However, it is necessary to bear in 
mind the extraordinary circumstances under which we live: the constant threat 
of war, the devastating blockade, the flux of refugees, the shortages of basic 
services related to communication, electricity, water and many other 

They say they do not punish people for their political views, but only for 
criminal actions. (See the Democratic Self-Rule Administration's response to 
Human Rights Watch report)

I am not in a position to judge the validity of Neyo's claims. But if the 
Rojava revolutionaries sometimes fall short of their own democratic principles, 
this would not be surprising.  Societies at war or under siege often suppress 

Rojava has been under continous military attack by ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and 
other groups backed by Turkey.  There have also been intermittent attacks by 
the Assad regime.

Rojava has also been under a blockade by Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional 
Government (i.e. the government of the Kurdish region of Iraq, which is 
extremely hostile to the Rojava revolution). 

The ENKS, a coalition of Kurdish political groups opposing the PYD, is aligned 
with the KRG.  Hence the KRG's blockade of Rojava would be expected to cause 
hostility to the ENKS.

Neyo recognises that Rojava has been attacked by Turkish-backed forces.  He 
says that some activists who have been critical of the PYD have now joined the 
YPG/YPJ to fight against these forces:

"After armed Islamist factions - the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and 
Jabhat Al-Nusra in particular - started to attack Kurdish areas in mid-2013, 
igniting a war that continues unabated between them and the PYD forces, many 
Syrian-Kurds started to change their position towards the PYD and the YPG 
forces that it dominates.

"The Islamist factions are fighting this battle under an Islamist banner some 
times and under an Arabist banner at others. But the real engine behind them is 
the Turkish government, the arch-enemy of the Kurds... 

"The combination of these factors has pushed many Kurdish-Syrians to accepting 
the PYD's authority out of self-defence or out of fear that the radical 
Islamists might win and subsequently impose their rule and their values that 
are alien to the local population, like what happened in al-Raqqa...

"Even those most critical of the party started to see it as the 'lesser of two 
evils'.  I know many Kurdish activists in Qamishli, Amuda and other areas  who, 
before these developments, used to organise demonstrations and write against 
the PYD, but have now suddenly started volunteering in the ranks of the YPG, 
which is largely controlled by the PYD, to fight against the Islamists for the 
reasons previously mentioned".  (Khiyana, p. 240)

I would add that some parties previously part of the ENKS have left it and 
begun to participate in the Rojava revolution.

Neyo does not discuss the political ideas of the PYD.  He doesn't  mention the 
PYD's program of democratic confederalism.  Those interested should read the 
book "Revolution in Rojava: democratic autonomy and women's liberation in 
Syrian Kurdistan", by Michael Knapp, Anja Flach and Ercan Ayboga (Pluto Press, 

Neyo claims that the PYD is likely to establish a "totalitarian regime".  
Whatever the faults of the PYD, I have not seen evidence sufficient to justify 
such a dire prediction.

Of course, bureaucratic degeneration is always a danger in a revolutionary 
society under siege from a hostile environment.  But I would hope that when the 
war and blockade are ended, any departures from democratic practice will be 
ended too.

Chris Slee

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