By Carol MANN
All my life, I have been a pacifist, totally opposed to any form of militarism, armies, soldiers, indeed the very ethic of war. Today, for the first time, writing here in Rojava, I must relent, make an exception – which I hope will be the last.
As Daesh (ISIS) sweeps victoriously through territory after territory with the rest of the world wringing their hands, one unrecognized army is actually doing something about it. Certainly not the most trained, nor the most equipped or even the most experienced. Antique kalashnikovs and random weapons seized from the fallen enemy is all they have to fight with. What they lack in the modern arts of war, they make up for in determination. This is the army of Rojava, the autonomous Kurdish region of north-east Syria that has declared a state of revolution in their territory, composed of three separate cantons, Kobane, Jezire and Afrin.
On June 15th, they managed to join the first two, by driving out Daesh from the last village sthey occupy at Tal Abyad (or Giri Spi, in Kurdish), a hub for the transfer of Daesh volunteers going in from Turkey, as well as arms. Thus essential territorial continuity is obtained . Access to Kobane will mean the possibility of envisaging the reconstruction of the devastated city. For the time being, the access is blocked by arbitrary Turkish frontier politics, even worse than those we encountered at the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. Au contraire, foreign or national Daesh volunteers can cross the border into Syria without encountering the least hindrance from the Turkish authorities.
Only a few days before, the impoverished local populations had fled the advance of Daesh by attempting to cross the border into Turkey, only to be rebuffed by frontier soldiers waving guns at them. Even worse, on every newsreel of the event, one could see fighters with black turbans laughing at the villagers lugging their pitiful possessions under the blazing sun. There was the fiendish evidence writ large, the connivance between the Turkish authorities and Daesh whom they purport to oppose-or so they pretend to their powerful Western allies. Shame on us all! Those villagers, which included so many women and children, terrified of being reduced to slavery by Daesh, were forced to return to their homes, justifiably fearing the worse – until the Rojava onslaught began
The Daesh battalions are made up, in nearly equal numbers, of young women and men in their late teens and early twenties. Even more than fighting for a territory, they defend a social egalitarian world view where women hold a predominant place in any decision making process. Secular yet tolerant of every religious practice. The exact opposite of Daesh. Unlike their foes, they do not wish to redraw frontiers or conquer territory but create a social alternative to global capitalism and the nation-state. Quite the opposite also of neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan, fiercely nationalistic and hell-bent on business. They too have their army and their youthful combatants, the Peshmerga (who it seems now no longer allow females into their ranks) who have been wrongly credited by Western media, for saving the Yazidis from a genocide in process exactly a year ago. Those who have escaped live in a refugee camp (Now Ruz) in Rojava today and live to tell the tale. I have heard it with my own ears two days ago.
ISIS/ Daesh is not the only one to recruit Western youths made desperate by government who offer them no future. Here too there are young foreign fighters and pacifists who wish to partake in a revolution they have made their own. They hail from the Congo to Canada, as well as youths who identify with their Kurdish origins be it from Turkey, Germany or the UK. The Rojava male (YPG) and female (YPJ) combatants do not seek to convert or even to recruit, make no promises and offer no short cuts to paradise. In many ways, ISIS and Rojava recruits share commonalties in their original motivations, the positive and negative of a comparable process of rejection of a neo-colonialist West and the ideological vacuum in which all have grown up, whatever the side they are fighting on today.
These I have met have turned to the PYD, the Rojavan Revolutionary party, allied to the Turkish PKK for inspiration and motivation. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan has been jailed since 1999 and his party classified as terrorist by Western powers including NATO, even though Ocalan’ recent writings have steered away from their Marxist origins towards the generous theories of Communalism. Let it be said that Hamas has recently been removedfrom that selfsame list, its members henceforth benefiting from new-found respectability….
In the meantime, the idealists in Rojava are trying put their dreams into practice. Whether their utopian revolution will truly succeed in the long run needs to seen as so many questions, especially economic, need to be resolved. Yet one thing is sure and cannot even be questioned: their efficiency against the greatest threat to civilization as we know it. The Rojava army must be properly armed and trained in order to defeat an enemy they know better than anyone else. And the access to the cantons must be eased and no longer dependent on the whims of Kafkaesque border officials, both Iraqi-Kurdistani and Turkish, sinister allies to truly hypocritical Western states.
After that, I shall be able to return to my pacifist ideals – but certainly not before.
June 21st 2015