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 observations and experiences. Two days ago, on Tuesday October 7, Kurds across Turkey, but especially in the country’s southeastern region, took to the streets in protest against Turkey’s role in the looming massacre of Kobanê. The size and intensity of the protests were unprecedented (at least since the violence of the 1990s), as was the reaction of the state. The opinion shared by most people I have met over the past few days is 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 a military intervention by Turkey, as has been presented in several mainstream media outlets. Instead, the protesters — Kurds and sympathizers alike — 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 to in Diyarbakır, Urfa, Suruç and in the villages at the border agree about one thing: ISIS could never have grown as big as it did, and conquer as much of Rojava as it has done, were it not for the material, financial and logistical support the extremists 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 airstrikes, with airplanes constantly hovering over our heads. The Kurdish 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 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 and 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 those 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. Of course we have to remind 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 but wonder whether there is any truth in them.
Support for Rojava’s revolution
Among all the different conversations I have had with Syrian refugees over the past few days, there is one recurring theme: every single person I spoke to 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 their freedom, men and women were treated equally 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 share his name with me. “There are two certainties in the life of a Kurd: oppression and death.” Unfortunately, the one thing that could change this Kurdish destiny, the Rojava revolution, has now been all but exterminated in Kobanê due to the continued ISIS attacks and the cynical efforts of the Turkish government.
Abdurrahman stresses that the canton system, a type of confederacy of local communities that govern themselves by means of local councils and direct democracy, was not merely beneficial to the Kurds, but was a common project involving all the local ethnic groups, including the Assyrians, the Yezidis, the Turkmen, Arabs and others.
Wahab and Serhat, two young activists with the Revolutionary Anarchist Action (DAF) in Turkey, who have been at the border for over two weeks to show their solidarity with the Kurds from Kobanê, help refugees on both sides of the frontier and are keeping guard in one of the villages to prevent aspiring jihadists from crossing into Syria to join ISIS. They share Abdurrahman’s 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 of hierarchy and authority.”
As I write these words in the city of Urfa, I can hear local police firing teargas at pro-Kurdish protesters a few blocks down. At the same time, I can hear the fighter jets of the coalition forces passing over on their way to Kobanê, which is about fifty kilometers south from here. The situation in North Kurdistan (Southern Turkey) is escalating by the minute. Despite calls by PKK leader Öcalan and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) leader Demirtaş to cease the violence, another ten deaths were reported today, on top of the more than twenty casualties of the past two days.
The victims do not only include Kurdish protesters, 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 now seems to be coming true, and one can only guess what the streets, neighborhoods and cities of North Kurdistan will look like if (or when) Kobanê eventually falls into the hands of ISIS.