Published by Jin News on the 1/11/2022
Written by Eylem Ataş, internationalist fighter of YPJ
Witnessing the Kobanê revolution, which reshaped the world with historical resistance led by women, Eylem Ataş said that the freedom of Rojava and the North East Syria region owes to the ideological foundation that Abdullah Öcalan imagined and described. Eylem said, “Rojava is important for revolutions around the world because women here have shown that not only a woman-centered revolution is possible, but successful and truly democratic revolutions are only possible with the liberation of women.”
One of the protests that started in the Middle East in 2011 under the name of “Arab Spring” took place in Syria. After the protests that started in March of the same year, attacks started this time. In January 2014, ISIS gangs attacked Raqqa, then Mosul, and finally Shengal on 3 August. ISIS, which kidnapped women and children as well as massacres and rape against Yazidis, captured a large area both in Iraq and Syria in this process. Against the massacres by ISIS, the Kurds switched to self-defense in every area they were in.
ISIS last attacked Kobanê on September 15, 2014. As a result of the struggle led by the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) and People’s Defense Units (YPG), Kobanê was cleared of gangs on January 26, 2015, 134 days later, and this resistance was the first defeat that brought the end of ISIS. While the Kobanê resistance, which gained an international dimension with the participation of resisters from different faiths and peoples, continues, November 1, 2014, was declared as “World Kobanê Day” to support this resistance with the call of well-known names around the world. Witnessing the Rojava Revolution, Internationalist volunteer of YPJ, Eylem Ataş, evaluated the revolution in Rojava to the Jin News agency.
Why was the war of Kobanî an important war? How was it different from other wars?
It is almost hard to imagine now, but in 2014 when the Siege of Kobanî began, the YPG had only existed for a few years and the YPJ less than 18 months. Most of North East Syria was overrun by Daesh or still in the hands of the Ba’athist regime, and many of the structures which now make a free life possible here–from the local communes to the municipalities and self-administration itself–were still being planned and built up. For not just Rojava, but all of Kurdistan, the siege, the battle and ultimately the victory in Kobanî was the most significant demonstration of the strength and unity of our movement and showed to the whole region that we are not just capable of imagining a free life but fighting for and winning a free life too. The battle united friends from not just all parts of Rojava, but from the free mountains of Kurdistan, from Başur, Rojhilat, and Bakûr, and from the Kurdish diaspora around the world. Many comrades risked their lives to cross the Turkish border, some of whom had never been militant before but were inspired to join the heroic actions of the YPJ and YPG defending Kobanî. Kobanî was also a rare movement in history where even the secular elements that remained of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Pêşmerge from Başur came to support the struggle against Daesh, in the days before they both came under the influence of the fascist Turkish state, as they are today. For me when I arrived in Rojava it quickly became clear that the resistance of Kobanî was something special as I travelled around and visited many different structures and tabûrs, and when I asked “when did you join the struggle?” the answer was so often “during the time of Kobanî”.
Outside of Kurdistan, the struggle in Kobanî was especially important. In the minds of many people around the world, the Syrian civil war was no more than a complete disaster for humanity. They saw nothing but death and suffering, and had no hope of a better world emerging. Images on television and in magazines and newspapers showed Assad’s forces dropping barrel bombs and chemical weapons on children playing in the street, showed Daesh terrorists committing genocide against the Êzîdîs and burning prisoners alive, and Al-Qaeda’s gangs terrorizing people from Deir-ez-Zor to Idlib. Until Kobanî the work of the friends in Rojava had mostly been ignored by the outside world. But the resistance that was formed there started to make people pay attention. Amongst all death and destruction of this infamous civil war people started to see a glimmer of hope. Images of young women with nothing but old Kalashnikovs holding back the seemingly unstoppable forces of Daesh graced the TV screens of families in Europe and America. And just when all seemed lost, when the black flag the caliphate was flying from the tallest building, and just as Erdoğan celebrated the city’s downfall in a television interview, the tide was turned. Slowly but surely the resistance of Kobanî took back the city, house by house, street by street. The world began to realize that there was hope being built in Syria, and it was being built on the solid foundation of a Kurdish movement that envisaged not just replacing one oppressive power with another, but the establishment of a radically democratic society.
And importantly, the start of the liberation of Kobanî was the point at which international states through the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) began to lend support to the YPG and YPJ, an act which ultimately led to the formation of the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who went on to destroy Daesh as a military force and who today protect the people of North East Syria from the caliphate’s repeated attempts to reform.
The Kobanî war was seen as a move towards the end of ISIS. However, when we look at it today, the operations against ISIS continue in the Hol camp. How can we deal with the current existence and bases of ISIS?
The continued threat of ISIS is really much worse than one is lead to believe by Western news sources. While the SDF and self-administration have time and again tried to raise the alarm about the continued existence of Daesh, the 24-hour news cycle and social media make it seem like Daesh were defeated completely in March of 2019 when Baghuz was liberated. In additional to Al-Hol camp, there are 2 other serious threats posed by ISIS in North-Eastern Syria: Al-Sina’a Prison of Heseke and the situation in along the Euphrates river from Raqqa to Southern Deir-ez-Zor. And it is not just East of the Euphrates in SDF-controlled territory where we see these threats; the Ba’athist regime forces are struggling with a growing Daesh insurgency West of Tabqa and in the desert South of Deir-ez-Zour city. At the same time ISIS wilyats are gaining power around the world, from the Wilyat-al-Sahel in Western Central Africa to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. When we analyze these continued existence and activities of ISIS in the context North-Eastern Syria it is quite clear that without the ongoing support of the Turkish state they would likely not be able to survive in any organized form. We see Turkey supporting ISIS affiliates both actively and passively:
Actively, Turkey have provided direct support to ISIS for almost 10 years, including free passage for terrorists joining the caliphate and also returning to Turkey for medical treatment and training. Despite the caliphate’s territorial destruction by the SDF in 2019, Turkey continues this support by providing intelligence, money and weapons in SDF-run camps and prisons, and gives help to those trying to escape SDF custody with free passage back to Turkey. Almost every single escapee caught leaving SDF detention has claimed that their intended destination was Turkey, a place where they know they will be safe. This is illustrated no better than the fact that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS for more than 6 years, was discovered by SDF intelligence to be hiding just a few kilometers from the Turkish border, safe amongst the protection of Turkey’s SNA gangs. Passively Turkey support ISIS through their ever-increasing military campaign against the SDF in North-Eastern Syria. We have seen this year a huge increase in the number of drone strikes targeting commanders who have dedicated their military careers to fighting Daesh, as well as internal security forces who work to prevent ISIS’s resurgence.
An important and ever increasing aspect of Turkey’s passive support for ISIS is their war against the civilian population of North-Eastern Syria. This is principally in the form of cutting of the flow of water into the Euphrates, which was once the main source of both fresh water and electricity for all of Syria, as well as holding hostage the water pumping station of Alouk, just outside Serîkanî, which once provided water for almost half a million residents of Heseke province. The impact of this drought and reduction in electricity cannot be overstated, it makes life significantly worse for the average resident of North-Eastern Syria, sowing misery and discontent amongst the population with Daesh can take advantage of when recruiting and attempting to create chaos. We see this very clearly in the new pipeline built by the Self-Administration from the Euphrates to Heseke in an attempt to alleviate the water crisis there; despite construction being complete it has yet to come online due to constant attacks and threats by ISIS sleeper cells in Deir-ez-Zor.
Outside the borders of Syria we also see Turkey’s influence on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (Başurê Kurdistanê) through KDP’s complicity with the fascist AK Parti. KDP regularly close border crossings, prevents the import of supplies, equipment and medicine vital to rebuilding North-Eastern Syria and demands a huge tax (more than 50%) on exports of oil, gas and wheat to the region, much of which the KDP sends directly to Ankara. By frustrating the self-administration’s attempts to build a prosperous society here, Turkey hope to make the ground fertile for resurgence of Daesh and prevent the self-organization and self-determination of Kurds both here and across Kurdistan. We can see in this analysis of the problems that Turkey is causing some clear solutions that we must struggle towards. Yes, the military operations against sleeper cells by SDF special forces alongside the international coalition must continue, but equally importantly we must strengthen society. This means providing both the material means for society to thrive, such as clean and plentiful fresh water, reliable electricity and food supply, and a strong local economy, but also the ideological means to create community cohesion and co-operation. Imperial forces like Turkey always seek to sow division first-and-foremost. By separating races, religions and political groups it is easier to conquer them one-by-one. The strength of democratic confederalism is that it gives us a framework to build a society where Kurds and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, as well as Armenians and Turkmen and many other minorities, can participate as equals in society. The American revolutionary, Helen Todd, famously demanded “not just bread, but roses too”. If we are to overcome the fascist threat of ISIS, this revolution must afford people not just bread–the means of survival–but the roses of dignity and respect that a truly free, democratic, and multi-cultural society provides. I still very much believe this is possible, and it is why I have chosen to spend my life here with YPJ striving for such a society.
Rojava was called a women’s revolution, why was it a women’s revolution? Today, the ongoing struggles in Iran and around the world are led by women. What message did women send in Rojava?
Rojava, as part of the ongoing revolution across all parts of Kurdistan, can be truly described as a women’s revolution because it made concrete Abdullah Öcalan’s proclamation that without the liberation of women there is no liberation of humanity. When we study the history of leftist and anarchist struggles we often see the issue of the rights of women given serious consideration, but rarely do we see an entire revolution predicated on the liberation of women. In liberating Rojava the revolutionaries here did not say “we will free Rojava so that women can be free” they said “In freeing themselves, women will liberate Rojava”. It is precisely this that makes it a women’s revolution, and not just a revolution which includes women. And it is important to stress that this goes far beyond the existence of the YPJ. While the Kurdish woman with her keffiyeh and Kalashnikov has become a global symbol of this revolution, throughout society women –not just Kurdish women, but of every ethnicity here– have taken to revolutionary works from the bakery to the factory, in schools and hospitals, to political office and diplomacy, as well as in the reviving and strengthening of their mother languages in schools and in literature and journalism. Rojava is important for revolutions around the world because women here did not just show that a revolution centered around women can be possible, but that successful and truly democratic revolutions are only possible with the liberation of women at their very core.
Where does it get its philosophical and ideological bases? In this sense, can we state that Abdullah Öcalan’s idea of a democratic nation has come to life?
It is certainly true to say that Rojava and the wider region of North East Syria owes its freedom to the ideological base that was imagined and described by Abdullah Öcalan. But it also goes beyond that. As Marx did before him, Öcalan insisted that we cannot simply create a utopia fully-formed, but it is something that must be strived for every day in every village and neighborhood, that must be built in co-operation by all people of different races, religions and with equal inclusion of the genders and participation of the youth. It is a struggle that will never be over and must be built up and defended every day. What really inspires me is how the people in North East Syria have not just implemented the framework which Öcalan outlined, but how they have gone beyond it while remaining true to the principles of the revolution; where the liberation and empowerment of women is a core necessity, not an afterthought, where organizing must always start at the from the smallest possible unit and not from the top-down, where everyone can criticize and each has a duty to self-criticize.
Turkey gangs continue their attacks together with ISIS gangs in Rojava. How do you evaluate the international silence?
The international silence on Turkey’s support for ISIS in Rojava is just one part of the international states’ tacit support for all aspects of Turkey’s oppression of the Kurds, which itself is part of the Turkish revanchist war not just against the Kurds but also the Armenias, Syriacs, and Greeks that has been going on for over a hundred years. From their support for the gangs still raping and looting Afrin and the daily shelling and drone strikes (despite their so-called ‘cease fire’), to their influence of KDP and the Pêşmerge in Başur and the use of chemical weapons against the gerilla in the mountains, the fascist Turkish state in fact receives very much active support from international states. The Turkish Armed Forces has tanks that are made by Israel and Germany, their jets come from America, their drones have motors from Canada and mechanical parts from England, and their artillery was designed by Korea.
Companies from nearly all members of NATO, as well as Russia and Korea make billions of dollars a year selling weapons to Turkey to enable its imperial wars and internal oppression. At the same time Turkey is selling hundreds of Bayraktar drones to oppressive states around the world, making a fortune from the misery of oppressed peoples thousands of kilometers away. Furthermore, since 2016 the European Union has provided Turkey more than 6 billion Euros ostensibly to support Syrian refugees, but a huge amount of which funds Turkey’s deadly border force that cuts through Kurdistan and murders on a daily basis. The ‘silence’ that we see from the so-called ‘international community’ is in fact the faint sound of international capitalism quietly making profit from the oppression and misery of Global South. In turn, Western states violently oppress dissenting opinions to enable this profiteering, imprisoning those who even dare to hold the flag of the YPJ at a public demonstration.
What is clear is that this capitalism has no conscience, no morality and no long-term view or understanding of the world. We most obviously see this in the climate crisis, but recently also in Ukraine. The Western states were happy to profit from cheap gas and raw materials from Russia’s oligarchs while Putin committed atrocities in Chechnya and Georgia, and now Ukrainians are suffering from Europe’s complacency in confronting Putin’s fascism. In exactly the same way we see NATO member states happy to profit from their relationship with the fascist Turkish state, while Erdoğan and the neo-Ottoman AK Parti busy themselves rebuilding a Turkish Empire for which Kurds, Armenians, and Libyans alike are suffering. In Rojava we see the antidote to this imperialism and for more than 10 years now this revolution has, despite being surrounded by enemies, shown itself to be resilient and adaptable, able to not just resist Erdoğan’s empire building but create a thriving nation while doing so.
After Kobanî was liberated from the occupation, you declared the liberation of Kobanî to the world. What would you like to say about the meaning of that day?
There have been many events throughout the liberation of Rojava and wider North-Eastern Syria that are worthy of celebration; the founding of YPG and YPJ, the liberation of Raqqa, the defeat of Daesh in Baghuz to name just a few. But when we look back at the 10 years of militant revolutionary struggle here, and the decades of activism, resistance, and organizing that came before it, there is something about the liberation of Kobanî that stands out as being particularly noteworthy. For me personally, and for many other internationalists, it is noteworthy because Kobanî was the first time that the struggle in Kurdistan captured our attention and inspired us to travel here.
For Kurdistan –and also for Syria– the liberation of Kobanî is noteworthy because it was definitive proof that even in the darkest of days, when nearly all hope is lost, democracy and self-determination could defeat the forces of fascism and oppression despite even in a region that has suffered from centuries of imperialism and decades of racist dictatorship. Whenever the struggle seems too hard to go on, whenever all seems lost, it will be possible to remember the victory in Kobanî and definitively say “there is still hope”. And, finally, for all humanity, Kobanî came at a time when darkness was really beginning to envelop the whole world. Humanity stands now on the edge of a precipice, with a capitalism-driven climate crisis threatening to make our whole planet uninhabitable, with fascist, neo-Nazi movements seeing huge successes across Europe and the US, and with the renewed threat of nuclear war between NATO and Russia, it is almost impossible to imagine a positive alternative. But the fact that a small group of determined revolutionaries fighting for a better life were able to overcome seemingly impossible odds to liberate Kobanî is all the proof we need that on a global scale we can overcome the seemingly impossible crises of capitalism and build a truly free life together.