North and East Syria today
North and East Syria has experienced significant highs and lows and many tumultuous events since the withdrawal of Syrian regime forces in July 2012 (now celebrated as the anniversary of the revolution on 19 July each year). These have included occupation of vast portions of Rojava by the brutal Islamic State gangs and their subsequent territorial defeat, and the invasion and occupation of Afrin (2018) and other parts of North and East Syria (2019) by Turkish armed forces and their Islamist proxies (including many former Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists).
Today the people of NES and their representative bodies and institutions continue to pursue their radical approach to a new and free society with great resilience and determination. They do so in the face of serious challenges, which include:
- Daily attacks from Turkey and occupied Afrin, including shelling, ground attacks and drone strikes
- Occupation of significant parts of North and East Syria and well-documented abuses by Islamist gangs in these areas, including kidnappings, sexual assaults and executions
- The need to provide shelter and care for large numbers of displaced persons from other parts of Syria and from the occupied areas of North and East Syria
- The need to provide secure facilities for an estimated 20,000 Islamic State prisoners and shelter for their family members
- An almost complete lack of recognition of North and East Syria as an autonomous political entity with the right to manage its own affairs and determine its own future within a democratic and decentralised Syria
- Due to lack of recognition and embargoes imposed by Turkey and the Assad regime, international aid and assistance provided to AANES has been inadequate and piecemeal (border crossings can be arbitrarily closed for extended periods)
- The NES region has recently experienced drought and further suffering has been inflicted by Turkey’s punitive restrictions on water flows in the Euphrates River, a key source of fresh water for the people of the region; Turkey’s “weaponisation” of water, contrary to international law and human rights norms, has also had consequential impacts on food and energy production
- Since 2020, the covid-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges for an administration and people already burdened with significant health and care responsibilities and with limited means at their disposal to properly respond to a pandemic
Like the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, the people of NES have lived through many tough times and appear undaunted by the challenges they face, pressing ahead with their unique experiment and developing it further from month to month. But they do need and appreciate support from people worldwide – indeed solidarity with and between oppressed peoples and their supporters is a key part of the politics of North and East Syria, as shown in their close links with the Basque, Irish, Catalan and Zapatista freedom movements and friendly ties with many radical and revolutionary groups around the globe.