Activists Offer Palestinian and Kurdish Solidarity

By Brandon Soderberg

Pouyan Bahar carried an antifascist flag and passed out yellow, red, and green pins (the colors of the Northern Syria flag) which read “Jin-Jiyan-Azadi” (“Women, Life, Freedom”) as a dozen or so people gathered in front of Baltimore’s Penn Station on Sunday, April 15 in solidarity with Palestine and Kurdistan and in opposition to United States foreign policy.

The goal was to start a nuanced conversation about self-determination, which isn’t always easy, when Palestinians and Kurds often view one another with suspicion and distrust, despite similar experiences with occupation and ethnic cleansing.

“I’m just here to stand in solidarity with people in the region who are standing for freedom against fascism of all kinds,” Bahar said.

In May of last year, Bahar was in Washington, D.C. along with others protesting Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s treatment of the Kurds when he and many others were attacked by Erdoğan’s bodyguards in brutal footage that quickly spread but has resulted in barely any justice for the injured.

“We were protesting against Islamic fascistic politics of the president of Turkey and we were in front of the residence of the Turkish ambassador and we got attacked by the armed guards of the Turkish president,” Bahar said. “And last month Rex Tillerson apparently went behind closed doors, met with the foreign minister of Turkey and decided to drop the charges against most of the Turkish guards. As of now, only four of the guards who attacked us, and two of the civilians who have attacked us have been prosecuted. The U.S. Attorney’s office has shown no interest in prosecuting the people who have actually been charged in Turkey.”

Flint Arthur of Baltimore Friends Of Rojava was also present in D.C. when Erdoğan’s bodyguards attacked. When he got on the mic at Sunday’s rally he reminded everyone that the one year anniversary of that attack is soon. He also acknowledged the nuance of the day’s rally and some on the left’s opposition to it.

“When we first talked about doing this, there were a lot of people who didn’t like it. ‘Why would Palestinians want to support the Kurds?’ ‘The Kurds are all separatists who want to steal the Arab land.’ ‘Why should the Kurds come out and support the Palestinians?’ All these kinds of questions came up and people tried to draw us into a geopolitical conversations like, ‘What does this have to do with Assad?’ ‘What does this have to do with Syria?’,” Arthur said. “We need to clarify that when we’re talking about these struggles that they are complicated, they are involved, and there are probably a lot of things we agree on and we need to have a lot more dialogue.”

Arthur was also quick to acknowledge the current problems with Palestinian and Kurdish relations.

“Baltimore Palestine Society disagrees with Kurdistan’s decision to sell oil to Israel. And I understand that entirely. But Rojava, if they were even able to sell oil would not have any control over where it was sold. They have been under embargo by Turkey, Iraq, the Islamic State, Assad, and they’ve been under embargo by the Kurdistan regional government for the entire time they’ve existed,” he said. “So if Northern Syria or Rojava managed to sell any oil, they smuggled it out and it was rebranded and who knows who bought it—and they probably took a loss. And if they did, well more power to them because that’s the only way they got any money to buy any weapons.”

“It’s tricky because Palestinian resistance and Kurdish resistance hasn’t always aligned, and in some cases they’ve been in opposition of each other,” said Sammy Alqasem of Baltimore Palestine Solidarity.

Alqasem mentioned the Kurds’ sale of oil to Israel though he views Israeli support of the Kurds as “one-sided and opportunistic.”

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s when Palestinians and Kurds were training together and fighting together, Israel was working with Turkey in direct opposition to the Kurdish militias,” he said. “That’s the kind of tricky parallel between Kurds and Palestinians that isn’t so black and white, even though we would maybe like it to be.”

Israel’s aggressive response to Palestinian protesters who have organized the 45-day Great Return March ironed out some of these differences—at least here in Baltimore, thousands of miles away. Since the start of the protest in Gaza three weeks ago, there have been more than 30 Palestinians killed and nearly two thousand injured.

“I think the most important thing when we talk about the assassination of Palestinian protesters is that we not just condemn the people who are killing protesters but also continue to remind ourselves what Palestinians are protesting and that they are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way for a reason,” Sammy Didonato of Baltimore Palestine Solidarity said. “Palestinians knew when they were planning this protest they were going to face violence.”

The wave of cooperation was also inspired by the U.S. bombing of Syria, although, as Didonato observed, the U.S. has been bombing and ostensibly at war with since 2011.

“The anti war movement is kind of blind in supporting anyone who in the geopolitical sense is opposing the current U.S. desires. The effort of this rally is that we need to be in solidarity with people, not government,” Didonato said. “Sometimes geopolitical solidarity is messy and doesn’t look as clean and pretty as we want it to be. So we can’t just be in solidarity with anybody the U.S. is opposed to—there’s still a lot of talk about a need for a Syrian revolution and those don’t fit into a nice, neat, and tidy, anti-war narrative.”

The idea for the rally came from Payam of Baltimore Bloc, which has always operated in a radically, realist political fashion. Bloc is an grassroots activist group instrumental during the Baltimore Uprising and other events related to Black Lives Matter, but their approach often strives to connect what’s happening here in the states to freedom struggles all around the world. Last week’s bombing of Syria by the United States, pro-Assad sentiments by some of the anti-war left, and Israeli aggression in Gaza in response to nonviolent Palestinians protests moved by Payam to reach out to Baltimore Palestine Solidarity and Friends Of Rojava and announce a solidarity event between Palestinians and Kurds.

At one point, Payam joked with the rest of the group about what kind of chant he should lead. No clever rhyming couplet can contain all the ire he had for everybody dominating the region.

“Fuck Assad, fuck Erdogan, fuck Netanyahu, fuck Trump, fuck Khamenei, fuck Barzani,” Payam joked. “Fuck every foreign element inside of Syria trying to get their hands on some shit that don’t belong to them.”

Collectively, the group finally decided on, “Hey hey, ho ho, Israeli fascism has got to go.”

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Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.