Emptiness, Madness, and Fleeing in Central America

By: Ramor Ryan 
teleSUR

Óscar Martínez's new book "A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America" takes the reader into the murderous cauldron of narco-capitalism.
The U.S.-driven war on drugs has been ineffective and counterproductive, and in his new book “A History of Violence,” journalist Óscar Martínez shines a light on some of the more devastating consequences of this policy failure in his native El Salvador and surrounding Central American countries.

His previous work, the much-acclaimed “The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail” (2013) focused on the dangerous migrant trail of the huge numbers fleeing appalling conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and to a lesser extent, Nicaragua. In this latest work, the author goes some way in answering the question why these people are compelled to flee.
“I want you to understand what thousands of Central Americans are forced to live through,” writes Martínez, who goes on to present a portrait of “this terrifying little corner of the world” ravaged by war, economically ruined and now overrun by powerful and ultra-violent drug gangs.
“Everything that happens to us is tangled up with the United States,” explains Martínez.

Prior to 1980, the rate of migration from Central America to the U.S. was very small. Then a series of internecine wars in the region – exasperated by “certain American politicians who tried to settle the Cold War in this small part of the world” – lead to the first massive wave of fleeing refugees. The Reagan administration sent millions in military aid to prop up deeply unpopular and repressive governments against left-wing insurgencies and in the process, devastated local economies and structures of society.

The levels of violence subsided in the 1990s with the onset of protracted peace processes, but a new threat engulfed the northern triangle of Central America as international drug cartels moved in to secure transshipment routes. Within a couple of decades, the region went from Cold War theater to a corridor for narco-trafficking, with 90 percent of cocaine consumed in the U.S. passing through the region.

The impact of the passage of illicit drugs – about 850 tons a year, reports Martínez – through these impoverished nations has been devastating. With massive profits to be made by independent contractors in securing the transport of the goods, local criminal groups, with the connivance of government and judicial elements, fight it out between themselves to secure the illicit routes.
It is all about profit, and the local narco’s business in Central America is to push consignments north to the Mexican border, where Mexican cartels will take over. A kilo of cocaine in Nicaragua, Martínez reports, “is worth $6,000; in El Salvador that same kilo is worth $11,000, in Guatemala is goes up to $12,000, and then in Chiapas (southern Mexico) it’s at $15,000 and by the time it gets to Matamoros (on the U.S.-Mexico border) it is already up to $20,000.” At each hub along the route, big profits can be made, and thus, control of the territory is viciously contested. The victor is most likely the best-armed, most brutal competitor.

It is a devil’s concoction as huge multinational Colombian and Mexican cartels intersect with ferocious local gangs known as Maras – imported from Los Angeles in the ‘90s – and the already established criminal fraternity – smugglers, traffickers, drug dealers, and a wide range of crooked cops, judges and politicians. As Martínez shows, the legal system is utterly unable to cope with the enormity of the problem, and the medieval-like prison system is nothing more than an overflowing academy for developing more ruthless gang-bangers to perpetuate the violence.

Incredibly, the current level of violence in the region – in most part generated by the narco-trade and its spinoffs – at times exceeds that of war time. For instance, during the Civil War in El Salvador, the daily death rate reached 16, while during September 2015, the author reports, the murder rate of 23 each day.
It is a perfect storm of impoverished post-war states, overseen by corrupt governments and judiciary, teeming with criminal organizations and street gangs all battling it out for a slice of the lucrative U.S. drug trade.
Into this murderous cauldron of narco-capitalism steps the fearless Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez with a mission to uncover the truth and expose the culprits. He bravely goes to the source of the stories, speaks to the people on the ground, and in the process, upsets both ruthless criminals and corrupt authorities.  

Frontline Reporting
 
“A History of Violence” presents 14 overlapping journalistic pieces that take the reporter into the murky depths of the drug trade, the cartels, the gangs and linked industries like human trafficking. He visits police precincts, jungle outposts, urban prisons and squatter camps.

He meets a whistle-blowing city official in a fast food chicken joint, and a retired human trafficker on his ranch. He interviews a woman who was sold as a sex slave and a man who was kidnapped and forced to act as a mule for drug consignments over the U.S. border. He peers down an abandoned shaft full of corpses that will never be excavated. He is there to witness a community of incredibly poor Salvadorans driven out of their humble houses by marauding Mara gangs. And he is there when the police official comes along, not to protect the citizens from the attack, but to tell them to get down on their knees and pray.
A History of Violence constantly takes the reader to the most abject and poignant places to meet sometimes decent, sometimes vile characters.
One recurring character is a hardcore gangster called The Hollywood Kid – with a reputed 54 murders under his belt – who has turned state witness and is in a witness protection program of sorts. The Salvadoran police, without a budget to sustain the informer, consign him to a rural outpost, locked up and starving in a sweltering room above the septic tank.

It is a tale of a death foretold. Martínez is there at the grim end. The investigative reporter writes with typical pathos as he relates the proceedings around the funeral.  

“The wake was modest. About thirty people, friends of The Hollywood Kid’s mother sang evangelical hymns ... [She] sat slumped and defeated in a plastic chair next to the coffin. She didn’t cry. It wasn’t a first for her. In 2007 the Maras had killed her other son, Cheje … The Hollywood Kid’s widow was breast-feeding in the corner.”

Martínez constantly allows the reader these kinds of intimate glimpses into the protagonist’s lives. The Hollywood Kid was a murderous gangster, but he was some mother’s son. He grew up, as his bereft son will, imagining a different life.

Righteous Indignation

“A History of Violence” is not simply about storytelling, and despite the gruesome subject matter, is certainly not sensationalist journalism.  
Óscar Martínez is a passionately engaged reporter who goes under the surface to get to the truth. See how he fiercely divides the book into three sections – Emptiness (or the absence or disinterest of the state); Madness (what is festering in the emptiness); and Fleeing (the only option for many desperate people).

Martínez is incensed by the action (or inaction) of the powers that be and the abysmal failure of drugs policy. “I think that the model of combatting drugs is absolutely absurd,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s already been shown that prohibition is ridiculous. It’s already shown that criminalization is a loss for the state.”

He takes sides – with the dispossessed, the powerless, the victims of the wanton violence and the multitudes forced to flee in order to stay alive.

And with his colleagues at El Faro, the groundbreaking investigative Central American online magazine based in El Salvador, he names names, and unsettles the cabal of people getting rich from all this human misery.  

“I continue to believe that the journalism that I do, the journalism that we do at El Faro,” he says, “makes life a little more difficult for a few bastards.”

Ireland: The Uncomfortable Dead of Easter 1916

Ireland’s Official Easter Rising commemoration sheds light on 100 years of inequality and failed expectations.

Dublin was in lockdown on March 27th as the Easter Sunday State Commemoration was held to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Surrounded by an extensive ring of steel, 5,000 state dignitaries and invited VIPs witnessed an extravagant ceremony in front of the historic site of the General Post Office--The GPO—ground zero of the insurrection one hundred years ago.

Beyond the closed-off main thoroughfares, thousands of onlookers –predominantly tourists-- strained to catch a glimpse of the activities. If watching a small country’s drab army and fire brigade march by is your thing, you would have loved this. Spectator numbers fell dramatically short of the organizers expected 250,000. 


Photo: Easter April, 1922. Veterans of the 1916 Rising commemorate the Rising’s 6th anniversary by marching through the city. (Source: irishvolunteers.org)


 On a crowded side street, away the official events and television cameras, The Homeless Families of Ireland organization held a protest, raising a voice in particular for the 1,800 homeless children in the state. Invoking the Proclamation read by the rebels on the steps of the GPO in 1916, the homeless spokeswoman appealed for “all the children to be cherished equally.”
“On this day, we ask that we not only celebrate the rebels with flowers and speeches, but we commit ourselves to achieving their vision of creating a Republic of equals, by solving the homeless crisis which shames our nation today.”  
Reflecting the disparity within an increasingly two-tiered society, the two concurrent events were a stark reminder of the growing divide within the affluent Irish state between the haves and the have-nots. 

Revolutions never turn out as planned
The Easter Rising of 1916 was a pivotal historical moment not just for Ireland, but for colonized peoples all over the globe. The British Empire was at that time the most formidable power in history, controlling one fifth of the world’s population. Edward Said saw the Irish rebellion as a “model of twentieth-century wars of liberation”. 
The courageous--but doomed-- act to rise up against the global power by a few hundred rebels set an example, and inspired others. Anti-colonial rebels from India to Africa took note. Before the Russian Revolution the following year, Lenin hailed the Irish insurrection as “a decisive blow against the British Empire.” Yet it appeared a more significant political event abroad than in Ireland. 
The Rising occurred during a period of global unrest and revolutionary fervor. The 1916 generation were an enlightened mix of anti-imperialists, fenians, socialists, syndicalists, feminists, secularists and-- of course-- writers, poets and artists illumined by the rebellious zeitgeist of the age. 
The insurrection created a revolutionary moment filled with great potential: suddenly a different Ireland was not only possible but being created in the here and now. 
The tragedy of 1916 is that the revolutionary vision of the Proclamation--to change everything-- was defeated within a few short years by counter-revolutionaries emerging from within the nationalists’ ranks.
In the wake of the War of Independence and the Civil War, conservative nationalists working closely with the Catholic Church created an authoritarian and patriarchal statelet that did not differ greatly from the status quo before the rising. Notions of social justice and equality were put on the backburner. The revolutionary generation of 1916 was shoved aside; women were told to return to the kitchen. 
The dreams and ideals of 1916 were not realized, and the revolutionary impulse of the generation was lost. There are consequences when a great historical moment like the Easter Rising provides such a mediocre outcome. For Ireland, it meant 100 years of underachieving, where progressive change came slowly and only through the tireless efforts of grassroots initiatives. 

The Uncomfortable Dead
The Irish state was always uncomfortable with the notion of celebrating the Easter Rising. The 75th anniversary in 1991 was a mute affair, only really commemorated by marginalized republicans. The centenary presented a dilemma – how to commemorate a revolution when it is still unfinished business, and faced with a sizeable portion of the population deeply unhappy with the current government – some militantly so.
The solution was to make it a huge media spectacle, stripped of political currency, re-branding 1916 as a marketable commodity for tourists to consume. 

The first act was to change the date of the anniversary. Why commemorate the Rising on March 27th, almost a month before the actual anniversary of April 24th? 

Journalist Gene Kerrigan commented, “Why not hold it on the anniversary? Well, due to the lunar and solar cycles and a formula initiated by the Council of Nicaea in 325AD, this year Easter is within 10 days of St Patrick's Day. This created an accumulation of tourism potential, between March 17 and March 27, that the Government couldn't resist…So, yet again fumbling in the greasy till, it's brought the gig forward by a month, to boost the hotel and catering trade. We're celebrating the 99 years and 11 months anniversary of the Rising.”

With a reputed €45 million budget, the state has gone into overdrive, saturating the country with everything 1916. 1,800 or so commemorative events were scheduled – free talks, exhibitions, debates, film, performances and dramatizations; every form of media is swamped with anniversary content. Dublin is awash with centenary fervor, from theatrical reenactments in the streets to buses converted to Easter Rising tours. Buildings are draped with enormous banners representing different figures of the era, including notorious anti-insurgent political leader John Redmond, who described the Rising as a “wicked and insane” event.
While the celebrations are undoubtedly popular, the overflow of media coverage serves another purpose. With its multitude of interpretations coming from every historical, cultural, and political perspective, radical voices are marginalized, and the ideology of the Rising is dispersed through the cacophony of voices. And in the process, the meaning of the Rising is recuperated by the state. 
Many are boycotting the official commemorations and holding a Citizens' Centenary Commemoration on April 24th, the actual date of the centenary. 

Another Easter Rising 

Yeats’ mesmerizing words have long been employed in the service of official Ireland, and his Easter 1916 poem has been rolled out ubiquitously this month - All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.

But change has come too slowly since 1916 and the aspirations of the 1916 generation remain so; most of all for the sizable portion of the population that is excluded from the wealth of the nation: The homeless, the marginalized, those forced to emigrate, the 138,000 children living in poverty. 

On a side street in Dublin, the homeless are protesting the rising shame of Ireland’s growing inequality. These are the excluded, those from below. Official Ireland has no place for them.

For them, another of Yeats’ famous lines serves better – perhaps it is time once more to “hurl the little streets upon the great”.

Paid Off in Passion: The Life Lessons of John Ross’s Rebel Reporting

Book Review: Rebel Reporting: John Ross Speaks to Independent Journalists, Edited by Cristalyne Bell and Norman Stockwell. Hamilton Books, 2016

There is an amusing exchange between legendary journalists Studs Terkel and Hunter S. Thompson during a celebrated 1973 radio interview. Terkel comments on the notoriety of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author.
I just thought of a phrase for you - a disturber, you are a disturber, and that is probably what a journalist should be all about.”
Thompson quips back: “A lot of people are very insulted by my kind of journalism. But I am insulted by some of their stuff too…”

John Ross is of this ilk, this is his constituency. A little bit of Terkel’s folksy bard of the people storytelling, and a lot of Thompson’s gonzo-style frontline reporting. And in Rebel Reporting, Ross enters into the realm of academia to pontificate on journalism to a class of students, and lecture them on how most everything they know about the craft is wrong. John Ross, a disturber? Certainly! 

Pearls of Useless Advice
John Ross worked as a freelance journalist for 50 years, right up to his death in 2011, wrote ten volumes of fiction and non-fiction and penned numerous books of poetry. Rebel Reporting is a posthumously published series of lectures first delivered at San Francisco‘s New College in 2006, and quite unlike anything previously produced by Ross. To call them lectures is probably a misnomer – in reality they are a series of provocations, or incitements.

“Now we come to the part where I emit pearls of useless advice,” he tells the no doubt bewildered students, “Useless because you have to live this stuff to know it.” Indeed his empiricist philosophy makes for a remarkable and stirring series of interventions, a tour-de-force encompassing anecdotes and storytelling, interspersed with a medley of his inimitable beat poetry.

At root, Ross’s Rebel Reporting is a passionate plea -- a howl-- against conformity and complacency and an unrelenting attack on formal journalism as represented by J-School.
“Avoid J-School like a poison,” he counsels. “J-School teaches you how to lie for a living, how to sell your skills to transnational media consortiums for an ounce of flesh. J-School teaches you how to promote class oppression, consumerism, racism. How to justify genocide and the destruction of the planet. The status quo.”
Don’t hold back, John. Tell us how you really feel.
“J-Schoolers are not reporters.” he rages, “—they are careerists. J-School teaches you how your career is so much more important than speaking truth to power.”

John Ross is all about speaking truth to power. This is why the series is entitled Rebel Reporting, invoking his own book Rebellion from the Roots (1994), about the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. For Ross, journalism is not a profession but a moral responsibility. “The first thing you need to know is that you do not have a career in journalism. Forget about your career. You have an obligation—to tell the story of those who entrust you with theirs, to tell the truth about the way the world works.”

He delivers his talks like a poetry slam, his sentences read like melodic progressions and he habitually employs repetition to craft rhythmic cadences. “Rebel reporters are storytellers. Rebel reporters are poets. Rebel reporters are travel writers.”

His journalism is a world of freewheeling bards, not desk-bound hacks churning out fillers between the adverts. His reporters are vitally active participants in society at large: “Rebel reporters are all Joe Hills, trouble-making troubadours moving from town to town singing out the news in public plazas. The emphasis is on singing here.Rebel reporters put the music in the news.”

Ross was an engaging public speaker – a skill honed as a tenant organizer in San Francisco in the 1960s, even running for public office as supervisor – and this volume captures the essence and vigor of John Ross speaking live. All that is absent on the page is his signature self-effacing charm, as well as his stoical gait – a rough and tumble life had left him marked and visually impaired; he inevitably crouched closely to peer over bunches of papers. 

Rebel Partisan
Having impressed upon the students the potential folly of pursuing a journalistic career, what alternatives does he proffer?

For John Ross, nothing less than total emersion is enough. Reporting is a way of life, not a job, and intrinsic to that is taking sides – on the side of truth and against power. A good reporter is a partisan who, he asserts, “makes people angry, encourages organization, offers them hope that another world is possible. A good rebel reporter is a participant in rebellion, or resistance or revolution or whatever you call the struggle for social change.”  

Good rebel journalism incites rebellion, he declares. These are no idle words and Ross’s lectures begin with one reporter languishing in jail for withholding sources, and ends with the death of another, shot down in the line of action. The stakes are raised and the role of the reporter is magnified.
Risk -- both personal and economic -- is inherent in Ross’s proposition to reject J-School and eschew a formal career. In this sense, Rebel Reporting reads like a manifesto for freelance precarity, a double-edged sword at once righteous and perilous. Ross describes it thus: “I am free to choose what words to use, and also free to sleep under bridges and lose all my teeth.”

Clearly for him, the wager is worth it, and the fruit of the labor is serving the people. “The coin of our realm is passion,” he writes, beautifully. It is worth quoting this passage in full:
While corporate journalists bask in the bland neutrality of their vaunted “objectivity,” dabbling in a language drained of all outrage for fear of damaging their career track, rebel reporters, who know only too well they have no careers but rather a responsibility, are paid off in passion —passion for language, passion for telling the story with passion, passion for struggle and change, for sharing spirit, solidarity.

Handing it Down
Ross titles his series of talks “Handing it Down”, and in four installments explores various angles of rebel reporting - from how to cover global resistance movements (embed with them), to how to be an Anti-War Correspondent (never embed with them).

Ross’s mantra is “ir a lugar del los hechos,” go where the story is, and this he does with some prolificacy, managing to place himself on the frontlines of countless rebellions around the Americas and as far afield as Baghdad.
He covers the use and abuse of language, and ostensibly, gives advice to students on how to document injustices and pitch stories -- although he has already made it clear that all this can really only be learned in practice by doing.

What he is actually “handing down” are a series of musings on his life work, serving as a kind of pep talk and motivator for activists already engaged in the field of rebel reporting - his ‘community.’ John Ross, in his wisdom, has left us a somewhat reflective, somewhat instructional document outlining what it is to be a rebel reporter, what he has learnt from experience and mistake, and how to go about it with integrity.

Some might say his is a dying breed of on-the-road reporter, with pencil and pad churning out stories for disappearing newspaper outlets. Certainly some elements of John Ross’s repertoire have become superannuated through technology, but the rebellious impulse remains as prevalent as ever. Rebel reporting is thriving, and is everywhere evident in decentralized, dispersed and autonomous media networks online and in print.  

The spirit of John Ross lives, and one similarly courageous reporter immediately springs to mind. In terms of speaking truth to power, Barrett Brown’s reporting for The Intercept is exemplary. Although somewhat unfortunately hostage to the concept of ‘ir a lugar de los hechos,’ Barrett’s prison writings are subversively acerbic and captivating. Good rebel journalism incites rebellion indeed, something the prison authorities have noted, resulting in Barrett’s frequent sojourns in the hole. 

Throughout the book, John Ross extolls us to follow in the footsteps of rebel reporter luminaries -- Joe Hill, Live like him! Brad Will, Live like him! He would undoubtedlyand unequivocallyhave added one more name: Barrett Brown – Live like him!

From National Liberation to Autonomy: The Trajectory of the PKK

teleSUR, December, 2015
Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding Islamic State group threat on the ground in northern Syria. 

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
 http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html

The PKK - Coming Down from the Mountains
by Paul White (Zed Books, 2015)
 Review by Ramor Ryan

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding ISIS threat on the ground in northern Syria. Hand in hand with beating back the advance of ISIS, the Syrian Kurds--organized in People’s Protection Units (YPG)--are also implementing a democratic revolution within the liberated territory of Rojava, part of the historic homeland of the Kurdish people.

 To better contextualize these rebels–currently supported by US-led coalition air strikes, and alsoa source of inspiration for leftists the world over--one must look beyond Syria into the greater Kurdish region, and at the YPG’s much-larger affiliate, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

 For almost four decades, the PKK have been at the forefront ofanational liberation struggle for an independent Kurdistan spanning the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Denied statehood in the wake of WW1by colonial powers carving up the regional borders set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Kurds have been struggling for independence ever since. The current reinvigoration of the Kurdish issue can be attributed to the resurgent PKK, with a support base numbering millionsprimarily among Turkish Kurds and a formidable guerrilla wing based in the Qandilmountains, northern Iraq, (or in Kurdish eyes, southern Kurdistan).  

 In a geographical area convulsed by war, upheaval and competing local and global powers, the PKK and its affiliateshas emerged as a uniquely progressive movement, secular, left-wing and actively promotinggrassroots participatory democracy in its extensive zone of influence.

 They haven’t always been so. Paul White’s new book, The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains is a timely and useful critical analysis, exploring thecomplicated, messy and bloody development of the organization, as well as charting its remarkable ideological evolution.In an “astonishing transformation”writes White, the PKK moved in two decades “from striving for an independent Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan to the current position of advocating ‘democratic confederalism’ by peaceful means”.

A History of Endurance

White offers an insightful history of the PKK organization from its founding in Turkey in 1978 by a small group of post-68 Marxist students and Kurdish nationalists, emerging out of “racist provocation, and Kurdish economic under-underdevelopment.” Like the history of the Kurds, the story of the PKK organization is one of endurance, existing under the constant threat of annihilation.Armed struggle was the tactic chosen by the rebels in the wake of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, launching their campaign in 1984 with guerrilla attacks on military targets.

 As the conflict escalated, the Turkish military employed overwhelming force to crush the rebels, and “a total of 32,000 PKK militants were killed and 14,000 captured between 1984 and 2008”, writes White. “Some 5560 civilians died and 6482 Turkish soldiers were killed during the same phase.” Hundreds of thousands of Kurds were displaced by the military in scorched earth policies, driving many into the arms of the PKK. The Turkish militaries’brutal counterinsurgency policies seemed only to fuel the insurgency, and by March 2013, a million Kurds were gathering in Diyarbakir, the de-facto Kurdish capital in the southeast, in support of the PKK.

 By this stage, the PKK had changed its strategy, and sought a negotiated solution for the conflict. The group’s leader, the charismatic and somewhat messianic Abdullah Öcalan – imprisoned by the Turkish state since 1999 – declared that “a new era is beginning and arms are silencing, politics are gaining momentum.”

 White, an academic, although sympathetic to the cause, has little sympathy for the PKK.  His previous work Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Modernizers? The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in Turkey (Zed Books, 2000) provided a stinging critique of the PKK, particularly what the author saw as counterproductive Marxist-Leninist inspired armed struggle. White however, is enthused by the PKKs turnabout and sees it as a breakthroughtowardreal conflict resolution. Although the nascent peace process is “contradictory and perilous”, White believes that Turkish President Erdoğan has the will to back it, despite the threat from the Turkish‘deep state’ – a powerful cabal of military leaders and top government officials who have their own nationalist, even fascist agenda for the Turkish state.

 Democratic Confederalism


Alongside striving for a peaceful solution, the PKK have initiated a revolutionary process of participatory democracy on the ground in their zones of influence.

 White identifies the beginning of the transformation from “an orthodox guerrilla Marxist-Leninist group into an autonomist movement seekingdemocratic confederalism”withthe first PKK unilateral ceasefire in 1993. Recognizing that the armed struggle would not achieve the aimof an independent Kurdistan, the insurgent movement began to explore alternative ways of achieving Kurdish self-determination. After his imprisonment, Öcalandevelopeda non-statist ideology influenced by his reading of US social ecologist Murray Bookchin, advocating a self-managed autonomy with power based at community level.

 Putting theory into practice, the PKK set up an umbrella network in 2006 called the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), to implement a network of autonomous local councils and assemblies across Kurdish zones in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, as well as among the sizeable Kurdish diaspora in Europe.White describes how theKCK has “spread out to cities, towns, neighborhoods, streets, village organizations, communes and homes” as a movement organizing “to establish its own democracy, neither grounded on the existing nation-states nor seeing them as the obstacle”.Thus autonomy has taken hold to such an extent thatinmajor Kurdish provinces such asHakkâri and Şırnak“the people don’t accept the state authorities and two parallel authorities exist.” The Turkish state has responded by imprisoning some 8,000 KCK activists, an indication of how seriously it views the threat of autonomy.

 Intrinsic to the radical democracy of the autonomous model is equality for women, and Kurdish women have organized in the Free Women Unions (YJA) ensuring equal participation and representation within the assemblies of the KCKs. The female fighters taking on ISIS in Rojava have received much media attention, but women have long being central to the Kurdish struggle. White quotes independent reports stating that women constitute between a third and a half of PKK fighters. Rapperin Afrin, a commander of the PKKs Women’s Army, explains how “the women’s movement is the most dynamic part of the PKK. We are aware that without the liberation of women, a liberated society cannot be developed.”

 White also addresses the question of the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan. As the PKK transforms from an authoritarian and hierarchical structure to an autonomous, democratic movement, White outlines how Apo (Uncle, as he is known) has de-centralized the power structures of the movement, changing his role from absolute ruler to symbolic figurehead. Of course, being locked up in prison with his communication to the outside world mediated by his captors, realistically what other role can he play?  Nevertheless, he remains revered and, as White explains, assumes a more transcendental place in the struggle as a symbolic embodiment of Kurdish aspirations.  “Through their warm personal relationship with their serok(leader), his members and supporters have come to believe that they were already, in a sense, ‘liberated’ or at least ‘experiencing’ Kurdistan.”

 Coming Down from the Mountains

It is often repeated that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains, and in this work, White postulates that the PKKs’ current political initiative offers a real possibility of breaking that isolation. However, he recognizes that the recent rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the region destabilizes the peace process in Turkey. The Turkish government is seen as covertly supporting the Islamic State while the PKK has urged all Kurds to take up the fight against ISIS. In August 2014, the PKK was hailed for rescuing 20,000 Yezidis surrounded by ISIS in northern Iraq, and in the battle of Kobane, northern Syria, the PKK-affiliate YPG emerged as the most effective anti-ISIS force. The anomaly of the PKKs listing as a designated terrorist group is becoming increasingly absurd as the US-led coalition openly supports them militarily on the ground. Such actions add to what White describes as the groups “long transition from ‘terrorists’ to legitimate rebels.”

As they continue to accrue political capital and expand their popular base among the Kurds, it would seem that, against all odds, the PKKs time has finally come.





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Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding Islamic State group threat on the ground in northern Syria. 

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
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Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding Islamic State group threat on the ground in northern Syria.

Hand in hand with beating back the advance of the Islamic State group, the Syrian Kurds – organized in People’s Protection Units (YPG) – are also implementing a democratic revolution within the liberated territory of Rojava, part of the historic homeland of the Kurdish people.

To better contextualize these rebels–currently supported by US-led coalition air strikes, and also a source of inspiration for leftists the world over – one must look beyond Syria into the greater Kurdish region, and at the YPG’s much-larger affiliate, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

    The female fighters taking on the Islamic State group in Rojava have received much media attention, but women have long being central to the Kurdish struggle. 

For almost four decades, the PKK have been at the forefront of a national liberation struggle for an independent Kurdistan spanning the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Denied statehood in the wake of WWI by colonial powers carving up the regional borders set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Kurds have been struggling for independence ever since. The current reinvigoration of the Kurdish issue can be attributed to the resurgent PKK, with a support base numbering millions primarily among Turkish Kurds and a formidable guerrilla wing based in the Qandil mountains, northern Iraq, (or in Kurdish eyes, southern Kurdistan).

In a geographical area convulsed by war, upheaval, and competing local and global powers, the PKK and its affiliates have emerged as a uniquely progressive movement: secular, left-wing and actively promoting grassroots participatory democracy in its extensive zone of influence.

However, they haven’t always been so. Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a timely and useful critical analysis, exploring the complicated, messy and bloody development of the organization, as well as charting its remarkable ideological evolution. In an “astonishing transformation” writes White, the PKK moved in two decades “from striving for an independent Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan to the current position of advocating ‘democratic confederalism’ by peaceful means.”

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding Islamic State group threat on the ground in northern Syria.

Hand in hand with beating back the advance of the Islamic State group, the Syrian Kurds – organized in People’s Protection Units (YPG) – are also implementing a democratic revolution within the liberated territory of Rojava, part of the historic homeland of the Kurdish people.

To better contextualize these rebels–currently supported by US-led coalition air strikes, and also a source of inspiration for leftists the world over – one must look beyond Syria into the greater Kurdish region, and at the YPG’s much-larger affiliate, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

    The female fighters taking on the Islamic State group in Rojava have received much media attention, but women have long being central to the Kurdish struggle. 

For almost four decades, the PKK have been at the forefront of a national liberation struggle for an independent Kurdistan spanning the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Denied statehood in the wake of WWI by colonial powers carving up the regional borders set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Kurds have been struggling for independence ever since. The current reinvigoration of the Kurdish issue can be attributed to the resurgent PKK, with a support base numbering millions primarily among Turkish Kurds and a formidable guerrilla wing based in the Qandil mountains, northern Iraq, (or in Kurdish eyes, southern Kurdistan).

In a geographical area convulsed by war, upheaval, and competing local and global powers, the PKK and its affiliates have emerged as a uniquely progressive movement: secular, left-wing and actively promoting grassroots participatory democracy in its extensive zone of influence.

However, they haven’t always been so. Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a timely and useful critical analysis, exploring the complicated, messy and bloody development of the organization, as well as charting its remarkable ideological evolution. In an “astonishing transformation” writes White, the PKK moved in two decades “from striving for an independent Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan to the current position of advocating ‘democratic confederalism’ by peaceful means.” 

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english
Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a useful critical analysis exploring the group’s history and ideological evolution.

Kurdish liberation forces have come to global attention as the front-line defenders in the heroic battle against the marauding Islamic State group threat on the ground in northern Syria.

Hand in hand with beating back the advance of the Islamic State group, the Syrian Kurds – organized in People’s Protection Units (YPG) – are also implementing a democratic revolution within the liberated territory of Rojava, part of the historic homeland of the Kurdish people.

To better contextualize these rebels–currently supported by US-led coalition air strikes, and also a source of inspiration for leftists the world over – one must look beyond Syria into the greater Kurdish region, and at the YPG’s much-larger affiliate, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

    The female fighters taking on the Islamic State group in Rojava have received much media attention, but women have long being central to the Kurdish struggle. 

For almost four decades, the PKK have been at the forefront of a national liberation struggle for an independent Kurdistan spanning the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Denied statehood in the wake of WWI by colonial powers carving up the regional borders set by the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Kurds have been struggling for independence ever since. The current reinvigoration of the Kurdish issue can be attributed to the resurgent PKK, with a support base numbering millions primarily among Turkish Kurds and a formidable guerrilla wing based in the Qandil mountains, northern Iraq, (or in Kurdish eyes, southern Kurdistan).

In a geographical area convulsed by war, upheaval, and competing local and global powers, the PKK and its affiliates have emerged as a uniquely progressive movement: secular, left-wing and actively promoting grassroots participatory democracy in its extensive zone of influence.

However, they haven’t always been so. Paul White’s new book, “The PKK – Coming Down from the Mountains,” is a timely and useful critical analysis, exploring the complicated, messy and bloody development of the organization, as well as charting its remarkable ideological evolution. In an “astonishing transformation” writes White, the PKK moved in two decades “from striving for an independent Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan to the current position of advocating ‘democratic confederalism’ by peaceful means.” 

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-National-Liberation-to-Autonomy-The-Trajectory-of-the-PKK-20151202-0021.html". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article. www.teleSURtv.net/english