The following interview was conducted by the Rojava Report with Athithan Jayapalan, a Tamil activist living in Europe. In the interview Athithan discusses the current state of the Tamil Liberation Struggle and compares this struggle to that of the Kurdish Liberation Struggle. Athithan also considers the possibility that the Rojava model could serve as an alternative to the nation-state model which has been the cause of such violence and oppression in Sri Lanka. Finally Athithan considers different possibilities for collaboration and solidarity among Kurdish and Tamil activists. Athithan can be reached at: athi11@
Can you briefly summarize the history of the Tamil movement? What is the current state of the Tamil movement in Tamil Eelam since 2009?
The sovereignty of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka was usurped by successive imperialist powers, beginning with the Portuguese in 1619, followed by the Dutch, and finally the British. The British artificially united the island under a unitary state in 1833 and in 1947 they undemocratically transferred power to the Sinhala English educated elite, who further consolidated this tradition of undemocratic rule by crystalizing it as a Sinhala Buddhist nation-state. As with the Kurdish people’s struggle in Northern Kurdistan, the Eelam Tamils commenced non-violent political mobilization demanding equal rights and self- determination within a federal system from 1948 till the 1960s. This was met with deceit and suppression, alongside state sponsored colonization schemes and anti-Tamil pogroms. In the 1970s, Eelam youth disillusioned with the parliamentary approach of the elder generation in resolving the national question, form armed revolutionary movements. The LTTE becomes the chief propagator of the liberation struggle from the late 1980s onwards. There are, as you know, many parallels between the PKK and the LTTE. Both have spearheaded a sovereign and revolutionary liberation struggle emphasizing egalitarian ideals and practice towards national equity, unity and gender equality.
This led the LTTE, (as with the PKK) into being criminalized and branded as terrorist by a range of regional and international powers, who are also responsible for aiding the Sri Lankan state in implementing counter-insurgency towards pursuing a military solution to the Tamil national question.
The LTTE went into a short lived peace negotiation with the Sri Lankan government in 1994, which broke down the following year with an unprecedented Sri Lankan military campaign against the Tamils. Likewise in 2002, the US-Japan alliance sponsored a Norway mediated peace process. From 2004 onwards the government unleashed a covert war in which thousands of Tamil intellectuals, politicians, writers and journalists were assassinated. From 2008 December till mid-May 2009, the government with the aid of multiple international establishments conducted a genocidal war, killing over 146,000 Tamils and annihilating the LTTE’s de-facto state and fighting formations.
Since then our people have been subjected to an unprecedented military occupation and a structural genocide, in which the national characteristics of the Eelam Tamils are systematically dismantled and annihilated. In many parts of Eelam, there is effectively 1 solider per 3 civilians; in addition you have the navy, the air force, the police, the British trained Special Task Force, auxiliary forces and various paramilitary groups. Currently more than 75 percent of the entire Sri Lankan armed forces are entrenched in the Tamil homeland.
This has led to a situation in which the remaining courageous voices in the homeland, represented by Tamil political parties and grass-root movements, are heavily monitored, intimidated and circumscribed. The demand however remains centered on regaining our lost sovereignty, to exercise self-determination and to secure justice for the crimes perpetuated against the Tamil people. This inevitably leads to the diaspora and fellow Tamils in Tamil Nadu, India gaining a more prolific role in addressing and articulating the political situation and demands of the people in Tamil Eelam.
-How does the situation in Tamil Eelam relate to the situation in Tamil Nadu and India more broadly? In the diaspora?
Broadly speaking the Tamils in India and Tamils of Eelam identify themselves as two different Tamil nations yet they consider themselves belonging to a common Tamil civilization, similar to the Kurds in the four regions. Eelam Tamils and Tamil Nadu Tamils are both subjected to state enforced suppression and oppression, yet the forms vary greatly. While Eelam Tamils have been subjected to genocidal acts of violence and policies, Tamil Nadu Tamils have been subjected to cultural hegemony of the Hindi elite in New Delhi and Bombay. Moreover the linguistic and national rights of the Tamils in India are curtailed, eroded and sought to be further encroached upon. In Eelam due to genocidal policies, territorial, national and linguistic rights have all been subject to systematic state violence.
In the present there is a burgeoning civil protest in Tamil Nadu, which has been mobilized since the genocide occurred in Eelam in 2009. This civil protest has consistently demanded political and legal justice for Eelam Tamils and for the crimes committed against them. The inability experienced by Tamil Nadu Tamils in terms of compelling the Indian government to act on behalf of their democratic will during 2009, exposed the fact that despite Tamils in India having a state within the Indian union do not exercise self-determination as the massacres in Eelam went on unhindered and furthermore with the aid of the Indian central government.
The Eelam Tamil diaspora are predominantly a refugee community created by the war policies of the Sri Lankan state, and since the 1980s have been a driving force, in a similar vein to the Kurdish diaspora, in sustaining the struggle for liberation. Likewise in the present the diaspora has been oriented towards activism demanding legal and political justice for their people back in their now occupied homeland.
-How is the question of the nation and the nation-state approached and taken up within the Tamil movement? What are the different views on the subject?
Due to the material conditions in Sri Lanka, the question of nationhood and rights are paramount for Tamils as that has been the primary locus for the genocidal policies of the Sri Lankan state. There is some difference within the diaspora on the question of internal or external self-determination, yet history has proven that there can be no existence of Tamils within the fascists’ Sri Lankan unitary state system. Yet due to the geographical peculiarity of Sri Lanka, being an island, co-existence is inevitable. However for Tamils such a condition has to be on the basis of national equality respecting various peoples’ self-determination, and through securing political and legal justice for those affected by genocidal atrocities.
In this regard a confederation in which the Sri Lankan nation-state is dismantled and Tamil Eelam is secured through a Rojava inspired model accommodating various communities of Tamil speakers could be a starting point for discussion.
-What is the current situation in terms of dialogue and solidarity among Tamil and Kurdish activists in Europe? How could this be improved in way that would be mutually beneficial?
Tamil activists, including myself, have in Norway, England and Germany been espousing solidarity with the Kurdish struggles and in particular the Rojava revolution. Likewise our Kurdish comrades have also stood with us at important moments and expressed their heartfelt solidarity. Such solidarity should become deeper and occur more frequently between Tamils and Kurds everywhere; an institutionalized process will benefit both struggles, as there are organic parallels between both our peoples and their respective struggles for equity and equality. Both are among the largest peoples without states and victims of the geo-political injustices of world powers. Direct solidarity and cooperation between us can maximize our grass-root powers, as well being a source of lessons and experiences from both sides can enhance our respective national struggles towards the effect of protecting us against the maneuverings undertaken by regional and world establishments driven by the greed and with the goal of enhancing their imperialist interests.
I believe Tamils and Kurds alike should forefront a transnational solidarity platform for oppressed nations and people around the globe in order to build an alternative to the exploitative capitalist-imperialist, industrialist and state centric world order which marks doom and oppression for a majority of humanity. This can circumvent the compulsion to deal with establishments in a manner which imposes restructuring and compromise of the people’s sovereignty and democratic will. For any international movements to build an alternative, it is imperative to accommodate struggles of equity mobilized by oppressed nations which are consistently neglected by various internationalists.
-What do you see as the significance of the Rojava Revolution for the situation of the Tamils?
The phenomenal revolution in Rojava, which has been waged, protected and advanced by the Kurdish people in solidarity with various religious and ethnic formations have shown the world an alternative to liberate the Middle-East from imperialism, capitalism, state fascism and religious fundamentalism. The revolution in Rojava has for oppressed people everywhere, in particular the Eelam Tamils, proven that a peoples’ movement can triumph despite the efforts of their oppressors and their external backers and material superiority in terms of arms and diplomatic power vested against them. Such a phenomenal spirit of resistance invigorates Eelam Tamils in the present. Given the historical junction the Tamils are situated at now with the absentia of Tamil politico-military power, it is crucial to build a broad grass-roots popular movement to re-build political and democratic power.
In this regard the Rojava model proves an extraordinary inspiration for Tamils. In particular regarding the system of eco-industry, collective ownership of the means of production, and the governing model of direct democracy exercised from the grass roots upwards. Such a democratic practice could be of immeasurable value for Tamils to rebuild effective national political power. Moreover it can also prevent the beleaguered Eelam Tamils and their homeland from being exploited by the corporate interests of various establishments who are now hovering as vultures to claim their payment for the assistance they have serviced for Colombo in its war against and occupation of Tamils.
-What lessons might the Kurdish movement learn from the Tamil experience?
Beside the organic links between our struggles and situations, there are geographic and demographic differences. Kurdistan is landlocked and harbors a plethora of peoples whereas Eelam is on an island inhabited by two principle nations, with smaller religious and ethnic minorities.
Beyond these differences, as with the Kurds, the Tamil liberation struggle held as its foremost principle not to compromise the oppressed peoples’/nation’s sovereignty and self-determination despite continuous machinations from the oppressor state and the external powers backing it. This has lked to confrontation with various world powers that are structurally dependent on dissecting independent people’s struggles to secure their imperialist, corporate, strategic and geo-political interests. Although our movement in the homeland was annihilated alongside a large portion of our people in the 2009 genocide, they did not capitulate and the spirit of resistance is still prevailing. In the course of the Tamil struggle we have lost well over 40,000 martyrs who laid down their lives embodying a spirit of struggle for emancipation and for building a better future for their people. The Kurds and Tamils have oceans of experience and insight from over three decades of revolutionary struggle, to be exchanged with each other and communicated to the world. In this process it is warranted that Kurd-Tamil solidarity must be strengthened and proceed to pioneer in creating a transnational platform in order to address and integrate the struggles of oppressed peoples and to contribute to the revolutionary transformation of humanity.