“Turkish intervention in the Kurdish territory in northern Syria poses a threat to a great experience in horizontal democracy and self-management”
Tue, 18/02/2020 - 11:57
Interview. We spoke to Massoud Sharifi Dryaz, associate professor with the UAB and researcher with CER-Migracions. Of Kurdish origin, he has lived in Barcelona for five years.
Massoud Sharifi Dryas is a Kurd from Iran, one of the four countries the original Kurdistan is divided into, and a place he left behind over ten years ago when he went to study in Paris. He gained a PhD in Sociology there and has now been living in Barcelona for five years. As an associate professor with the Faculty of Sociology at the UAB, this expert in migration talks to us about his first-hand knowledge of Kurdistan, about the displacement of people between different countries with Kurdish populations and about the studies he has carried out on social movement.
When you were studying Kurdish social movements did you find parallels with European movements?
My thesis was on the different levels of involvement in Kurdish social movements, ranging from membership of an association to armed struggle, and particularly on how these commitments affected people’s personal lives and society in general. In short, I wanted to study why people mobilise or demobilise, and how they do it. What I found is that the inexistence of democratic opportunities for people to freely express themselves leads to decisions on joining or dropping out of social movements which differ to decisions here. In Europe the concept of social movement is really restricted to some specific characteristics, but there are very different paths in contexts of oppression.
What is the experience for the Kurd identity when it’s divided across four countries (Iraq, Iran, Syrian and Turkey), each of which displays a different form of tolerance towards this identity? Did Kurds move according to the level of freedom of expression in each country?
Before answering that I would just point out that Kurdistan has never been a state, but for thousands of years Kurdish territory has been identified as such by other peoples around it. After World War II, when there were Kurdish mobilisations, those mobilisations occurred in nearly all four states, but with hardly any notion of the borders. It wasn’t a single movement, but different stakeholders with different aspirations who stayed in touch because the borders at that time were much more liquid and flexible.
At the end of the 1980s, when the Kurdish genocide happened in Iraq, where over a hundred and eighty thousand people were murdered, many of those who fled reached Iran. Kurdish families in Iran gave them a roof over their head and food for a long time.
Basically, these were movements shaped by very tough conflicts. If they’re not persecuted, the Kurds have strong roots to their land and don’t change area easily.
Kurdish groups have steadily equipped themselves with other means of protection and self-protection, such as community support, mutual help and territorial control
If we talk about Syria, what are the origins of the ‘Rojava conflict’?
I think it’s closely connected with the historical relationship between the Kurds and the states. For the Kurdish people, the state has never represented what it’s supposed to be, something which offers us safety, but rather the opposite. Kurdish groups have therefore steadily equipped themselves with other means of protection and self-protection, such as community support, mutual help and territorial control. Self-management and the forms of governance that have developed in Rojava over these years also have distant origins, as between the 12th and 17th centuries, Kurdish emirates were completely decentralised in the way they were organised, collaborating between them but with their own complete autonomy. In any event, I would stress that the majority of Kurdish movements are left-wing, and when there have been the tools to control and manage a territory like in Syria, it’s normal for that to happen with this horizontality and participation by people.
From the 1960s and 1970s, Kurdish women started to have a place in Kurdish social movements
In terms of the mobilisation of Kurdish women, how would you explain the pre-eminence of women in a struggle in an environment which isn’t exactly feminist?
I’m often asked that, and I’ve got a theory I’m trying to demonstrate through my studies. The Kurdish people don’t particularly respect women’s rights, on the contrary, Kurdish women are oppressed. But the characteristics of the economy of Kurdistan mean women have a much greater presence in the public sphere than the rest of the peoples of the Middle East. It’s a very agricultural area and women took part in work in the field, as well as doing care work of course.
Finally, there’s a part that comes from the renewal of Marxist ideology in the1960s and 1970s. From those decades, women started to have a place in Kurdish social movements and struggles. Women’s will to enter a traditionally male-dominated space clashes with the discrimination they suffer. Yet with time and the increase in the number of women in movements, they steadily get stronger and start to question the way they’re treated and stand up for their place in decision-making. So, when the Rojava conflict happens there’s a solid base of Kurdish women who commit to the cause, to war, on the front line.
What situation does the Turkish intervention in the territories in northern Syria leave this democratic and feminist organisation in?
I don’t want to be too pessimistic, I don’t want to say there’s no hope, but it’s true that when a structure is not legitimised by a state it’s difficult to make yourself heard, and consequently many steps are made in danger. In general, I’d say the Turkish intervention in Kurdish territories in northern Syria poses a threat to a great experience in horizontal democracy and self-management.
What future do you see for the Kurdish people?
Today, states have more and more difficulty maintaining oppression with traditional tools. The existence of a global civil society, thanks to digital communication, extends the Kurdish cause, like many others, much further than the borders of the conflict. In Barcelona, for instance, although there’s only between eighty and a hundred Kurds, there’s a much broader community as lots of people in Barcelona support us and mobilise here with us and for us.
The problem with the reception system is that it deresponsibilises administrations
As a sociologist, what do you think of the Spanish reception system?
To keep it brief, I think the problem with the reception system is that it deresponsibilises administrations. The fact that the Spanish state is responsible, but that care is provided on a local level through entities, ends up distancing the real decision-making form the situations of people requesting international protection, diluting responsibilities as a result.