Kurdistan: Why Kobanî did not fall

[For more on the struggle of the Kurdish people, click HERE.]

By Dilar Dirik

January 27, 2015 -- Kurdish Question, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- One year ago, today, Kobanî declared itself as an autonomous canton.

Today, after 135 days of fearless resistance, the people of Kobanî have liberated the city from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). Since September 2014, the YPG and YPJ (People's and Women's Defence Units) have been leading – there are no other words to describe it -- an epic and unbelievable resistance against the latest wave of attacks by ISIS.

The women and men, who lead the most glorious resistance of our time, hoisted their flags on the last hills that were occupied by ISIS and immediately began their line dances, accompanied by old Kurdish revolutionary songs and slogans. Ever since, people around the world rushed to the streets to celebrate. After the countless tragedies, massacres and traumas that this region has had to suffer recently, the pains that have preceded this moment make victory even sweeter. One eye sheds tears for the dead, while the other cries out of much deserved joy.

But let us go back one year. It was around this time in January 2014, when major international actors met at the so-called Geneva-II conference to discuss a resolution to the war in Syria. The Kurds, who had been fighting both the regime as well as extremists like the al-Nusra Front and ISIS ever since they took control over Rojava in 2012, were not invited.

Further, in order to pacify the Turkish state, the international community adopted an explicitly hostile attitude towards Rojava, because the main actors in the region are ideologically affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish state’s arch enemy, which is labeled as "terrorist" by the US, the European Union (EU) and Turkey. In fact, the international community marginalised Rojava long before it marginalised the jihadists in Syria. Turkish state officials repeatedly emphasised that they would “not tolerate terrorists by the Syrian-Turkish border”, referring to the Kurds in Rojava, not to radical Islamists.

Yet, without relying on anyone’s approval, and in spite of all this hostility, the people of Rojava declared three autonomous cantons at the same time as the Geneva-II conference: Kobanî, Afrîn and Cizîre. The message was: “We will build our autonomy and we do not need anyone’s approval.”

For the last three years, the Kurds, who took a “third way” and refused to pick either the opposition or Assad, tried to warn the world about ISIS, but were completely ignored. The co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava, Salih Muslim, was denied visas four times to the US. In 2013, almost a year before the world even knew about the jihadist group, his son died fighting against ISIS.

The latest wave of attacks on Kobanî is just one out of many that preceded it. All of the Kurd’s warnings were discarded as conspiracy theories, simply because listening to them would mean to acknowledge that the anti-Assad block has indirectly or directly supported and sponsored jihadist murderers in Syria.

Today, US vice-president Joe Biden and others state exactly what the Kurds have been saying for years: states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey supported jihadists. Literally overnight, after thousands of people had been murdered already, ISIS became an "issue", around the same time in which ISIS crossed over into Iraq -- the failed state into which the US poured billions of dollars after invading and where many forces hold strategic economic and political interests. And then the same states that formerly supported the jihadists suddenly became part of the coalition against them, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

After the people in Kobanî had already resisted for more than a month all by themselves, the coalition saw an opportunity to show that their strategy against ISIS works. They suddenly supported the same people they had previously marginalised. But even today, though everyone appropriates Kobanî's resistance for their own agendas, the same forces that lead this resistance are labeled "terrorists", while there are no consequences for the states that explicitly contributed to the rise of ISIS.

If we lived in a world in which the dominant forces that portray themselves as the defenders of human rights, freedom and democracy were actually genuinely interested in the principles that they advocate, all of this hell on earth would have been avoided. But leaving aside the fact that arms trade and the destabilisation of the region are profitable for many global actors, another ugly truth is that those, who wanted to topple Assad, benefitted from jihadist presence in Syria for a long time. This was much to the benefit of the Assad regime, which kept on claiming that no genuine opposition in Syria exists. And today, the horrid reality is that Assad looks like the lesser evil so that even the coalition seems to soften on him. What a kafkaesque tragedy for the people of Syria!

Considering all of this, are we really expected to congratulate the main instigators of war and conflict in the Middle East for liberating Kobanî? Those who funded or at least turned a blind eye to murderous jihadists? Those who started unjust wars and destroyed the region with their policies? Those who appeased the Turkish state, which has supported extremist rapists and murderers?

What is really behind Kobanî’s resilience? What does Kobanî symbolise in an era of failed revolutions and endless wars?

The people who are fighting in Kobanî have an ideology, a world view, a vision that has kept them going. Can we say that the coalition air strikes did not help at all? Of course we cannot.

But let us ask ourselves why the coalition went from “Kobanî is about to fall and it is not our priority to save it” to putting all efforts into protecting it. Had it not been for the resilience of the people on the ground, who collectively mobilised with Kalashnikovs only to defend their city, the opportunity for the coalition to “rescue” Kobanî for its own interests would not have arisen.

After all, half a year before US-led air strikes bombarded ISIS positions around Kobanî, elderly women in their 60s had established their autonomous “mother’s” self-defence battalions on the ground. Without these people’s determination and willingness to sacrifice, no air strikes on Earth would have saved the city.

It is important to understand that the Rojava revolution has been a people’s struggle from the beginning until today. Unlike other uprisings in the recent times, it was luckily not co-opted by anyone due to geopolitical conditions and survived by relying on its own strength, against all odds. Kobanî's courageous stance against the men who want to draw the colours of the Middle East black, resonated with struggling people all over the world. Many are praising and some are instrumentalising Kobanî now, even right wingers and Islamophobes, because everyone wants a piece of the victory pie.

But the same powers that now appropriate Kobanî for their own interests, label the politics of these courageous fighters as "terrorist". The resistance of Kobanî is based on a rooted tradition and did not appear out of nowhere. The fighters emphasise that it is the philosophy of the PKK that motivates their struggle. When liberating Kobanî, the fighters immediately chanted “Bijî Serok Apo” – Long live Apo (Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s imprisoned ideological representative).

In other words, the strongest enemies of ISIS are internationally labeled as "terrorist", just like the rapist, fascist jihadist murderers. Similarly, everyone is trying to instrumentalise the suffering of the Yezidi people from Mount Sinjar (Shengal) for their own interests, but the thousands of Yezidi refugees in the Rojava state that the international community is doing nothing for them, while it was the YPG/YPJ and PKK that rescued them in August and looked after them ever since, in spite of the embargo on Rojava and the war in Kobanî.

Uncomfortable facts for those, who portray themselves as the rescuers!

Rojava is an alternative for the region, torn by ethnic and religious hatred, unjust wars and economic exploitation. It does not aim to build a new state, but to create an alternative system to the global capitalist, male-dominated nation-state paradigm, by advocating regional autonomy through women’s liberation and in cooperation with all peoples of the region, termed as “Democratic Confederalism” by Öcalan.

The refusal to accept the parameters of the global system is what has mobilised the population in such a devastated region, in between war and embargo, and this is precisely the reason why Kobanî will never fall. In the midst of war, Rojava’s cantons have managed to establish an incredibly empowering women’s movement, a self-governance system that operates through local councils in a bottom-up grassroots fashion, and a society in which all ethnic and religious components of the region work hand in hand to create a brighter future.

This is in radical contrast to the monopolist “one religion, one language, one nation, one state, one flag” policies, the dictatorships, monarchies, sectarian tyrannies and patriarchal violence in the region. And the anticipation of such a free life is the main motor of the Kobanî resistance. The dominant system makes us believe that principles and ideals are dead, which is why a collective mobilisation and sacrificial resistance such as the one in Kobanî seems so unbelievable to most people. But the fact that the second-largest city of Iraq, Mosul, fell into ISIS’s hands within days, even though the US had put billions of dollars into training the Iraqi army, while the small city of Kobanî, where elderly women created their autonomous battalions, has become a fortress of resistance for people across the globe, shows us that the possibility of a different future is well alive!

You cannot separate the political mobilisation of the people in Rojava from their victories against ISIS. That is why the least we can do to honour the fighters of Kobanî is to respect and support their political aims! The recognition of the Rojava cantons is long overdue. But even if the world does not recognise Rojava, it will still insist on being, because it has proven that it does not need anyone’s approval to exist. It is exactly this resistance and self-reliant struggle, this refusal to subscribe to the Stockholm-Syndrome-like state in which the Middle East finds itself, so much so  that it is forced to be happy over “democracy” that comes in the form of breadcrumbs, that has not allowed Kobanî to fall.

The victory and dignity of Kobanî should give hope to all peoples of the Middle East and beyond. Surrounded by the dark flag of ISIS, the bloodthirsty Assad regime, the vicious Turkish state, a suffocating embargo, cold-blooded foreign policy calculations by global hegemonic powers, ethnic tensions and sectarian wars, the smiling people of Kobanî have stuck to their liberationist revolutionary principles and helped the sun of Mesopotamia rise against all of this darkness.

Victory belongs to those who dedicated their lives to it. Let us honour the braveness of these selfless human beings and the victims of the war by exposing the policies and interests of the states and structures that created this inferno to begin with.

May we look forward to more revolutionary moments of joy like today and never forget those who dedicated their lives to it!

Bijî Kobanî!