On 7 December, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for greater British “engagement” in Syria, saying we should “re-insert ourselves in the process”. But in his speech, he ignored one very important truth.
Fortunately, an experienced reporter who visited Syria in March 2016 has now spoken to The Canary. And she has set the UK government straight about what it really needs to do in Syria.
Johnson’s speech and the invisible truth
In his speech on 7 December, Johnson said:
When in the course of a prolonged and vicious struggle you eventually record a success, then it is essential – with due humility and caution – to celebrate that success. So I draw your attention once again to the defeat of Daesh [Isis/Isil] in Raqqa, and the victory of the 74-member coalition – in which the UK played a proud part.
He then argued that “we need more engagement, not less”, before insisting:
We must collectively re-insert ourselves in the process because it is Western cash that will eventually rebuild Syria, and that can only happen in the context of a political transition…
But what the Foreign Secretary failed to mention was that the most effective local ground forces in the fight against Daesh in Raqqa (and elsewhere in northern Syria) were left-wing feminist fighters; and that these forces have been consistently shunned from the Geneva peace talks.
Who are the liberators of Raqqa?
Experienced author and activist Rahila Gupta visited northern Syria in March 2016. And she told The Canary:
They say history is written by the victors. Yet the Kurdish-led forces that brought about the rout of Raqqa, and facilitated self-government in nearly one third of Syria, have no seat at the Geneva peace talks which began on 28 November. Nor have most people heard about the secular, direct democracy with a focus on women’s liberation that has been established in Northern Syria.
In this video, she tells us a bit more about this region in northern Syria – often referred to as ‘Rojava‘:
She also spoke of how attempts to end gender inequality are at the heart of the political process:
The failing Geneva talks
The Geneva peace talks have been failing since they began. And accordingly, there’s been much stalling and starting in the latest round of talks too. But one thing that has long been clear is that powerful players like Turkey oppose the involvement of Rojavan forces in the peace process. Hence why they have not been invited. In fact, even Russia has put its rival dialogue process for Syria on hold until 2018 apparently because of Turkish objections to Kurdish involvement. (Note here that Turkish forces have been regularly attacking mostly-Kurdish positions in northern Syria for many months now.)
Talking about the UK government’s attitude to the Rojava, Gupta told The Canary:
The UK’s position is somewhat invisible… I understand that, at the higher levels of government, they are all aware of Rojava. But nobody is prepared… to allow the Rojava administration to have a voice at the Geneva peace talks… There are many things that the UK government could do, and I certainly think that their relationship with Turkey has compromised them.
Why should we care?
In a call for progressive people outside Syria to support Rojava, Gupta said:
Rojava is a beacon of hope… [It] provides that alternative template that we are all seeking… Here is something better. And we need to understand it, we need to study it, we need to talk about it, we need to raise awareness of it.
So while Boris Johnson and the UK government seek greater “engagement” in Syria and to “re-insert” themselves there, they are letting both us and the Syrian people down. Because Syria doesn’t need more Western intervention. Its people need the world to hear their voices.
One simple but very important action that the British government could take to foster peace in Syria would be to stop ignoring the experience in Rojava. The region doesn’t only deserve to have a voice in the Geneva peace talks for democratic reasons. It also deserves to have a voice there because it provides a working alternative to religious, ethnic, and gender division and discrimination. And that’s a voice we should all be supporting.
– For more excerpts from the interview, in which Gupta describes in greater detail her first-hand experience of Rojava/the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), follow the links below to see her speak about:
– Sign the petition for the inclusion of Rojava in the Geneva peace talks.
Featured image via Flickr