An alternative built against the system of monopolies and nation states
Since more than ten years, a revolution has been developing in North and East Syria. It has fundamentally changed the lives of everyone in the region and achieved great steps towards women’s liberation. One of its core principles is to strive to create a democratic nation—an alternative to the model of capitalist nation-states that are founded on exclusion, nationalism and the idea that one religion is better than another. As an alternative, a system of self-administration has developed in Rojava that allows everyone to participate equally and communally without assimilating any cultural or religious attributes of different population groups. This is an important part of resisting the genocidal politics that have been waged against the Middle East in great parts, especially the Turkish fascist state. In a two-part series, we have introduced four women from different religious or ethnic backgrounds who describe their experiences concerning the transformations and their participation in the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ). This is the second part of the series, you can find the first here.
My name is Nûjiyan Amed Serdar. I was born in Shengal in 2001. I had two sisters and three brothers. I didn’t go to school and only learned to read later, when I joined YPJ, because I wanted to read the books of Abdullah Ocalan. My family is connected to its homeland. Our tribe is the Habbaba tribe. They are very connected to the Yazidi religion. My family had a very dogmatic approach to religion and you couldn’t criticize anything. It was a big contradiction to me that my family was so connected to religion while oppressing us so much. I was the oldest girl in the family and had to take care of the household chores. My family prepared me to be married off one day.
When the last Shengal genocide happened and ISIS attacked I got to know the HPG and YJA Star forces coming to help from the mountains. I was very influenced by them coming to the defense of Shengal and their approach to life. Their friendship and way of life seemed to be completely devoted to a search for freedom. There were two fighters named Amed and Nûjiyan, who visited my family many times. Their approach influenced me a lot. Their way of being friends was very appealing to me. Amed Karawan played a huge role in the resistance of Shengal, even if he was a Turkmen and we were Yazidi. He knew our culture very well and was connected to it. This is why we valued him. He sometimes said “I am also Yazidi”. He knew our religion and was just living with us. He was very curious. He said he was the son of Yazidi people. When he spoke to us he was always joking and full of joy for life in a way that influenced me a lot. He said your mothers and fathers are like mine and didn’t see himself different from us. He said that we should never see ourselves as different from other people. He truly understood our culture and was loved a lot by our people because of his deep knowledge. He shared everything with us. I said to him: “Why would you just come here and live our culture?” He said it made no difference for him, since he was a child of these people. So I thought at this time that if ever I would become a revolutionary, I would fulfill Amed’s dreams of a free, just, and equal society. After he fell, I promised myself that I would one day fulfill this dream. After the genocide happened and so many of our people got massacred, I decided to join self-defense units. I based my decision on my love for the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan and the ones who fell in the struggle to defend our homeland. Amed and Nûjiyan also gave their lives in this defense, and I wanted to get revenge for them. It became my dream that one day I would be able to freely go to Amed in Bakur.
When I joined YPJ it was on April 4, 2020. It was the birthday of Abdullah Ocalan. I am very happy to be a part of the YPJ because, in our organization, you get to know your own personality. YPJ is also a military force of women, and you learn to recognize how much strength you actually have. You learn about life and how you can gain the strength to live the right life. After joining the self-defense forces of the YPJ, I analyzed the contradictions that I had with my family. Getting to know the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan better and reading his books helped me a lot in this. I finally understood why my family approached me the way they did. Girls were not loved in their family, they were merely grown up and sent away. My family had demonstrated this approach. Even if I had taken on a great responsibility in my family, I never saw any respect. They still planned to marry me off to someone and send me away. This was a great contradiction for me. Why did they approach me like this? Why did they see women as worthless? Why couldn’t they see my progress and achievements? In the YPJ you learn to struggle against things that you are not able to struggle against in society. Furthermore, you struggle not only with your group, your friends, or your male comrades, but you mostly struggle with yourself. I lived a completely new life and saw a friendship I had never seen before. All of this is based on the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan. I also got to know my strength and my bravery. I watched my own progress and learned to stand on my own two feet as a woman. Furthermore, I did not expect everything from my surroundings anymore. Also, I started to understand the enemy after I had survived the Shengal genocide. Our enemy is very brutal, but you do not really recognize its true nature while you live in society. After I joined the self-defense forces, I started to understand better. My conviction to seek revenge also grew.
After I started to educate myself, I changed a lot. In the movement, you can analyze your roots and who you are. You know that as a woman fighter, you stand on your own two legs, and no one will pick you up. Abdullah Ocalan put a lot of faith in women struggling for freedom, and I wanted to gain this strength in my personality.
Our movement involves a lot of different people. While I was living in society, as Yazidi people we were on our own. We thought we couldn’t live with people who believed in a different religion. We didn’t agree with anyone outside our own culture. But if the society sees the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan brought into practice, it realizes that everyone wants a free life. Connected by the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and many others all came together. If it weren’t for this, we wouldn’t have gotten to know each other. As Yazidis we couldn’t agree with Arabs before because, when the genocide happened, the attackers said they were acting in the name of Arab people. But if you live in our movement, people from every nation live together. Every one of those people who struggle together with us creates an opportunity for us to learn that we, as different nations or religions, can live together, be friends and struggle together. If war starts, we will, for example, always be fighting together, no matter from which nation we might be, and we will always sacrifice ourselves to catch a bullet in order not to hurt any of our comrades. The basis for this to be possible is the thought of Abdullah Ocalan and the strength we gained following the paths of the ones who gave their lives for this revolution. We always strive to implement their dreams. Only the struggle of the ones that came before us made it possible for us to reach the level of organization we have today. The project of the democratic nation, our common life, has made me progress a lot. Before, I didn’t believe I could live with anyone who isn’t Yazidi. But when I came to the YPJ there was everyone, so I started to learn. I stayed with Turkmen, Arab and Assyrian women. As I know my own culture, I should also know the cultures of others. Because when we came to YPJ we didn’t only come for our own city but for the freedom of four parts of Kurdistan and the world. So for this reason, I am very curious about any nation in the YPJ and their culture. So now, whoever I will stay with, I don’t see any difficulties. I want to know everyone, since everyone has a history and a reason why they are like they are. In our society, you don’t have the chance to research a lot about the background of your religion or its approach to others. When I joined YPJ everything seemed so interesting in front of my eyes. Abdullah Ocalan, even if imprisoned in an isolation prison, never thought only about one nation. He thought about everyone, and now his thoughts have spread everywhere. This is why we also came from so many different places to YPJ. So everyone develops. When someone is thinking backwards and something bad happens, they directly say “This is because of the Kurds” or “This is because of Arabs”. Some also deny their identity and do not live according to their own culture. For example, someone who is Arab would say they are Kurdish. This happens because they do not understand the truth of being an Arab or Kurd. Sometimes comrades would say “this is a Kurd; I can’t live with her”. But everyone should know their nation and religion, as well as the ones of the others, so that these things don’t happen. If we accept the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan we are obligated to develop ourselves in these areas. As people and as movements, we have to develop. There should be adaptation to different religions and believes. When problems appear, the reason is that people don’t know their own identities.
As a Yazidi girl and a woman, the women’s movement is very important to me. The struggle for women’s freedom made me progress a lot. It helped me to know the nature of my enemy and learn to struggle. On the other hand, our daily life as women together brings me a lot of joy, because we are organizing as women. When we are sitting together, maybe laughing and joking, I see how much strength and motivation you can gain from our communal life. At home, I had few friends because, in the family, you always had to take part in household work. You do not see your own strength in such a life. When I came to YPJ I got to know my strengths. I progressed a lot and learned how I could go and fight, or how you can play a vanguard role for your people. If you live communally and share everything—food, work and friendship—then you gain a lot from this. At first, I said, “How can you live like this”. I had doubts about this life. But when you live this life, you see that in this way, you can struggle with yourself and live the right kind of friendship that leads to freedom. When you start to understand the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan, you start to understand how and what to struggle for. If you are knowledgeable, you wage the right struggle. If you do not educate yourself, you will not know how to live this life. Life needs a big struggle. I learned a lot from this. How can I, as a woman, play a role in the self-defense war? Maybe until now I only took part in military operations but even seeing only an education and firing your first bullet, you see how much strength it gives you. Before, I didn’t believe I would be able to do something like this, but the friendship that we share in the YPJ makes you believe that you can do anything. I changed a lot through these things, especially as a woman. How can you also struggle with male comrades? How can you build a strong friendship? In society, you do not live as communally. We are always together from breakfast to the evening. As a woman and a Yazidi woman, I see the women’s guerilla as very inspiring.
In our society and movement, there is a huge struggle for the freedom of culture and religion and a common life. This is possible because of the efforts of Abdullah Ocalan. For about three years, we have had no information about his situation. The enemy wants to create a barrier between us and his thoughts. But this is not possible because we have decided to struggle for the ideas of Abudllah Ocalan. If we are not successful in our struggle, this will also harm Abdullah Ocalan. What makes us continue is our belief in each other. No matter how many times our revolution might be under attack, we always find answers. We want to prepare ourselves even better as the YPJ to defend our homeland against occupation. You should study your enemy and its political reality very well. Because this project, the project of a democratic nation offers hope for humanity’s future and is worth defending against any attacks.
My name is Sozdar Kobane, and I was born in 2001 in the city of Sarrin (Sirinê) in the south of Kobani. My family had a love for their homeland and was connected to it. So they participated in the revolution in North and East Syria. I decided to join the ranks of the Freedom Forces in 2017. My family wasn’t directly connected to any tribe. We are Arabs, and our religion is Islam, but my family isn’t very connected to religion and is more modern and open. The economic situation of my family was normal—neither rich nor especially poor. They lived off their own work and efforts. Because I grew up away from the rest of my family with only my grandmother, she had the greatest influence on me. I rarely saw my mother and my father until I was about 12 or 13 years old, when I first went to stay with them.
When I left to stay with my family, I saw a lot of things in their lives I couldn’t agree with. I started to oppose them, and after some years, I turned away and joined the ranks of the YPJ. When I came to join the YPJ I was finally able to analyze many of my experiences and start to struggle for a free life. For sure, some of our traditional or feudalist personality traits are resistant to change. But if we struggle to change, we are achieving this slowly, step by step. Especially with education, you change over time. If you stay together with other women from YPJ in difficult times, your friendship becomes a lot stronger. If you continue to deepen your knowledge, you progress. Abdullah Ocalan has created a project for us, and we are now struggling on the basis of this project: the democratic nation means for us that we cannot make differences between each other. We are all equal. I myself saw this, that from whichever nation we are from or which language we might speak, we are joining together in this struggle. We live together with any nation or language and commonly struggle for our homeland. It is our responsibility to learn each other’s languages and cultures if we are living together. For sure, there are a lot of problems, but we are overcoming them. For us, difficulties are a possibility for progress because when we are struggling with them, we are progressing. We first need to understand the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan very well and then bring it into our lives. To understand these things also means to put them into practice.
This struggle is a continuous one and we are organizing as women in order to defend ourselves. I have many memories, especially from when we fought ISIS. When we went to the last liberation offensive in Deir ez-Zor and ISIS surrendered, we had finally succeeded. There were the YPJ fighters Gûneş and Amara from Afrin, who were translating. A woman came and passed a child into their hands, but they didn’t know that ISIS prepared this child and suddenly it exploded in the middle of both women, killing both of them instantly. To fight ISIS, to liberate our peoples was a struggle that took a lot of risk and sacrifices on our side. I have often lived for a long time with women who later gave their lives for the revolution. In the YPJ we get to know ourselves, the reality of women, and how we can struggle in the movement. We analyzed the reality of women in society because there is a great difference in our lives. We struggle for humanity and a life of equality and freedom. I hope that all the women can get to know the thoughts of Abdullah Ocalan. I hope that all the women can love their lives and develop true friendships with their surroundings and a good relationship with themselves. Abdullah Ocalan has shown the right way for us, and I walk on the line of Zîlan, the line of resistance and women organization. We are living a new life. We are struggling on this ground, and we will resist on this path.