ROAR editor Joris Leverink is in north Kurdistan to report on the Kurdish struggle for democratic autonomy and the battle for Kobanê: a first report.
After a couple of days in north Kurdistan; having spoken to a lot of people and having seen and heard more than my head can reasonably process, it’s time to share some of my observations and experiences. Two days ago, on Tuesday October 7, Kurds across Turkey, but especially in the country’s south-eastern region, took to the streets to protest against Turkey’s role in the threatening massacre of Kobanê. The size and intensity of the protests were unprecedented—as was the reaction of the state—and the opinion shared by most of the people I met over the past few days was that this is the beginning of a new Kurdish uprising.
Before anything else, what has to be made absolutely clear is that the Kurds are not protesting to demand an intervention by Turkey, as has been presented in several mainstream media. The protestors, Kurds and sympathizers alike, rather demand an end to Turkey’s covert support for ISIS and for the border at Kobanê to be opened in order to let refugees out, and humanitarian aid and weapons in. Every single person I spoke with in Diyarbakır, Urfa, Suruç and in the villages at the border agree about one thing: ISIS could never have grown as big as they did, and conquer as much of Rojava as they have done were it not for the material, financial and logistical support they have received from the Turkish state.
Turkey’s dirty tricks
In a village outside Suruç, the Turkish border town facing Kobanê, a few young men, all Syrian Kurds, tell me that they can’t sleep at night because of their fears and worries. Kobanê can be seen at the horizon, and columns of smoke rise above the town as a result of the coalition bombings whose planes are constantly hovering over our heads. The men are part of a group of six families that crossed the border into Turkey together and who have now found refuge in the house of a local farmer. They confirm to me that they have seen with their own eyes how a train entered Syria from Turkey, laden with tanks and ammunition, destined for an unknown location in ISIS-controlled area.
Abdurrahman Abdulkhadir, a Syrian Kurd in his fifties who left his home about twenty days ago, is more clear on this subject: In the village of Xerbisan, about 30 kilometers from Kobanê where he owned a coffeehouse he saw the YPG/YPJ (People’s Defense Forces/Women’s Defense Forces) destroy four ISIS tanks. According to Abdurrahman the Turkish army observed the battle between the YPG/YPJ and ISIS from afar, and it was not long after this that he saw a train crossing into Syria from Turkey, carrying exactly four tanks to make up for ISIS’ losses at the hands of the YPG/YPJ.
On another occasion he spotted a group of men with “big barreled guns, like that of a sniper” coming from Turkey. This was right after the YPG/YPJ had forced ISIS into a retreat, and this group of armed men changed the course of the battle, eventually killing over eighty YPG/YPJ fighters. Sure, we have to remember ourselves that these are not hard facts, but when one hears the same “stories” and “rumors” time and again, coming from dozens of different sources, one cannot help wondering whether there is any truth in them.
Support for Rojava’s revolution
Among all the different conversations I’ve had with Syrian refugees over the past few days, there is one recurring theme: Every single one of them expressed their full support for Rojava’s social revolution. A 42-year old father-of-two, who now lives with his family in the courtyard of a local mosque in Suruç, relying on the municipality’s generosity to feed them, makes it very clear that his life had never been better than when democratic autonomy was installed in Rojava. “It was beautiful. Everybody could enjoy his freedom, men and women were treated equal and there was no friction between the different religious and ethnic groups.”
He tells me that his beard has turned white in the past two weeks, “I never saw anything like this in my life.” He then continues to explain that he would rather life in a tent in Rojava than to stay here in Turkey, where he fears the government so much that he doesn’t even want to give me his name. “There are two certainties in the life of a Kurd: oppression and death.” Unfortunately, the one thing that could change this destiny, Rojava’s revolution, has now all but ceased to exist due to the continued attacks of ISIS and the efforts of the Turkish government.
Abdurrahman stresses that the canton system, a type of confederacy of local communities that administrate themselves by means of local councils and direct democracy, was not merely beneficial to the Kurds, but rather was a project of all the local ethnic groups like the Syriacs, the Yezidis, the Turkmens Arabs and others together.
Wahab and Serhat, two young activists with the DAF (Revolutionary Anarchist Action) who have been at the border for over two weeks to show solidarity with the Kurds from Kobanê, help refugees on both sides of the frontier and keeping guard in one of the villages to prevent aspiring jihadist to cross into Syria to join ISIS share this opinion: “The revolution in Rojava is against state formation and terrorist gangs, it is based on emancipation and direct democracy; it is about autonomy and self-administration and rejects any form hierarchy and authority.”
As I write this in the city of Urfa, I can hear the police firing tear gas on the protestors a few blocks down. At the same time I can hear the fighter jets of the coalition forces passing over on their way to Kobane, which is about fifty kilometres south from here. The situation in north (Turkish) Kurdistan is escalating by the minute. Despite calls by the PKK-leader Öcalan and leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) Demirtaş to cease the violence another ten deaths were reported today, on top of the more than twenty casualties in the past two days.
The victims not only include Kurdish protestors, but also police officers and ISIS-supporters, sparking fears of an escalating civil conflict in Turkey’s southern provinces. The prediction that a new generation of Kurds is radicalized to such an extent that even the PKK finds it hard to keep them in line seems to come true, and one can only guess what the streets, neighborhoods and cities of north Kurdistan will look like if/when Kobanê eventually falls into the hands of ISIS.
There are dozens of more stories I want to tell, but the days are long and the nights are short here in Kurdistan. Another update will follow soon.
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance writer and an editor for ROAR Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @Jorislever.