News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
In a new report from Özgür Gündem, Ersin Çaksu interviews Meryem Kobanê, the General Commander of the YPJ in the Kobanê Region. Meryem speaks about the situation in Kobanê, the war with ISIS, the history of the YPJ, and the progress of the revolution in Rojava more generally. Below is the entirety of the interview translated into English.
-How do you evaluate the near year-long fighting in and subsequent siege of Kobanê? What has happened in the past year, can you explain a little from the perspective of a commander in the war?
The fighting is Kobanê began a year ago on July 20th. The goal was to break apart the Kurdish regions. For this Kobanê was chosen. After Kobanê they planned to take control of the other parts one by one. Fırst this was tried in Serêkaniye. Then they went after Kobanê. One of the most important factors in the attacks is Kobanê’s geo-political position. On one side is the Euphrates River and on the other side resides a large Arab population. To the east of Kobanê is Girê Spî (Til Ebyad) and there is a large Arab population there. The influence of geography determines the military strategy. The elimination of this region will make the elimination of the other regions easier. Kobanê has been encircled for a year and continuous campaign of violence has been being waged. This is psychological, military and economic war.
-Can you explain what you mean by economic war?
Without a doubt one of the most effective ways of forcing a nation to surrender, to destroy its will and to make it dependent on oneself is to tie it to oneself economically. This is the politics of capitalist modernity. First they leave them hungry, then they accept their surrender. This has been done in many conflicts. It was done during the First and Second World Wars. Now it is being done in this current third world war. Water has not come to Kobanê for a year. Electricity is not being delivered. There is no trade. Nothing comes from outside and nothing goes outside. This is a war in its own right. Forcing people to migrate by depriving them of work and bread is a special kind of war. It is the most merciless road to surrender. Many special methods have been employed in this war. But the resistance and heroism in this war has been just as large. I can say this about the psychological war. Fighting has broken out somewhere every day. There is a community here. They are not all soldiers. It has created a different kind of mood. For example in some of our villages when mortars are fired children make bets on where they will land. Children are playing with spent bullet casings. This is something inhuman. In they place of toys they have mortars and bullets. This is a great danger for a community. But alongside of this a spirit of resistance has emerged. For example a 10-year child will tell you, “heval (friend), don’t go down this road there are assassins down there.”
-In one of his meetings Mr. Öcalan observed that in “in order for the people of Rojava to create their own model they must be a fighting people.” In your opinion has Kobanê been successful up until now on the subject of self-defense?
Kobanê is a city known for its patriotism. It is very connected to the land. This patriotism and these connectedness to the land also gives birth to a militant spirit. A militant and fighting spirit comes firstly from patriotism. If a people does not love the land it is not possible for it to live on it. And up to a point I can say that it has been successful. For example many of our villages have been encircled. When we tell them to evacuate the children they tell us “when our land goes let our children go and we with them.” They say there is no meaning in living in a foreign land. We have had close to 200 martys within a year. Most of them were family people. Of course this is very important. That is to say in the revolution of the peoples not only young people are fighting. Young and old, men and women are fighting. The number of our male and female martyrs is almost the same. This shows the “fighting” spirit that Leader Apo has spoken about. At some point this fighting spirit is a way of life. Just as the spirit of revolution is not only militantism but a way of live, this fighting spirit is also a spirit of creativity. For example this year the water to Kobanê was cut off. But everyone dug wells. It fulfilled many needs. This is the fighting spirit. As it has been organized it has spread to the whole of society. In fact an organized society is a warrior society. But we also still have our weaknesses because we have not had the opportunity to reach people one by one.
-Despite the war we are witnessing the construction of a new life in Kobanê. Has the circumstances of the war hindered work around this construction?
Without a doubt this has had a major effect. War is a reality that occupies one day and night. Because the enemy does not afford you any opportunities. A little earlier while speaking about the psychological war I wanted to speak about the communal rather than individual effects. For example the people of Kobanê planted their own vegetables this year because they couldn’t get them from outside. But when the fighting started most of the crops around the Euphrates dried up. These may be little things but they are things which have an effect on the life of a family or a community or a city. It is a reality that there have been some failures and that we have not reached the community in every sphere. That is to say there is a war going on. People are working during the day to make ends meet and at night are taking up arms and a position on the front.
-If we turn to the goal of ISIS in attacking Kobanê again, what in your opinion might these goals be and who are behind them?
ISIS is an international organization. They are everyone’s soldiers but as it seems no one will take responsibility for them. We think that the capitalist system prepared them especially for the Middle East. For example their capture of Mosul has a symbolic meaning. As you know Mosul or Nineveh was the capital of the slaving Assyrian Empire. The message of slavery is once again being delivered to the peoples. I compare their style of fighting with that of Genghis Khan. In the same way that he plundered the places he passed, destroying historical sites and burning libraries these people exhibit the same kind of behavior. They do not recognize the peoples, their wills or values. They are not supported by just one power. The war between democratic modernity and capitalist democratic is taking place here. It just hasn’t been given this name.
-Ok, so what do you think of the often-quoted and well-documented claim that Turkey is supporting ISIS?
History has its moments and we are living those moments now. Until a short time ago the Syrian regime was supporting ISIS. They were fighting together against the Free Syrian Army. But now they are fighting each other. Today this danger also exists for Turkey. This war must not seem like a worthy cause to the peoples of Turkey. Today Syria, tomorrow Turkey. I am addressing the the true patriots, democrats, intellectuals and writers of Turkey. See this reality. Turkey is rearing a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And this wolf will some day come to bite Turkey. And this is not too far off. We have been fighting against them for two years and we know their strategies well. Turkey is making a big mistake. Rojava’s neighborhors ought to know that they will next in line tomorrow. Those who remain silent in the face of all of this accept them as their own soldiers.
-How to evaluate the hostility to Rojava exhibited by the KDP and other Kurdish organizations during this latest period?
Kurds have always had a history that makes one sad. This is also a history of treason. And today history is once again repeating itself. The masks they put may be different but the mentality is the same. They want to once again employ the politics of divide and rule. I mean this mentality is a great danger for Middle East society as a whole. It is also the case for Kurdish society. For example you look at these young people who are fighting for themselves for the first time. When you look at this you cannot accept that the Kurds are without honor. Those who approach this without honor are putting themselves in a corner. They can get nothing from their speeches and their participating in the encirclement [of Rojava]. Do they think they can benefit from burning down their brother’s house? There is no moral or ideological or conscientious side to this. History will curse them. Later generations will curse them. Instead of thinking of the future they are thinking about today. Those who fail to think about the past and the future cannot engage in correct politics. They are thinking with the logic of today and trade. They obsessed with power and destroying those who oppose them. We hope they will turn away from these shameful policies. Perhaps in keeping their logic of trade they will come to say “a fault confessed is half redressed” (In Turkish: Where one avoids damage one profits). If they do this perhaps history will forgive them.
-We want to stop here to consider a little the role of the YPJ. The resistance of the YPJ has attracted much attention. What do you want to say on the subject. How was success achieved?
It is necessary to address this question from two sides. One is its effect in the military sphere and the other its effect in the social sphere. Women have a leading role in the construction of a democratic, egalitarian and moral-political society. Because women are the creators of a sense of community. They are the main foundational element of society. Women’s role of fertility and patriotism is of paramount importance in society. If we consider Kobanê specifically we can say that the effect of feudalism has been great. When we first formed the YPJ here we had many difficulties. But after we founded it here Kobanê became the city with the most participation in the YPJ. The women of Kobanê have seen what will is able to become.
-What kind of difficulties did you face? Can you explain a little?
Families made problems. We said that the effect of feudalism in this region persists. For example the concept of “deficient” was stilling being used for women in Kobanê. This is a manifestation of the oppression faced by women in this society. There is still an understanding that women are a vehicle for producing children and a simple human made to do work at home. But Leader Apo’s words – “the place where they enemy has materialized the most is the place where the greatest reaction will manifest”- has proved themselves true once more here. For example those who married at a young age, or were children brides, or were married to men much older than them are all here. Sometimes when I hear the stories of some of our fighters I am very shocked. In the 21st century the percentage of literacy among women continues to be very low. However with the start of the Rojava revolution it was women more than anyone else who participated. The effect of this was great. Many of our friends blew themselves up in order to avoid capture by ISIS. I should add that these were women who had been fighters for 3 or 4 months. They know that when they fighting against ISIS they are not fighting against just any force. Because the mentality of ISIS is a mentality of the slave period. They have never viewed women as human beings. In fact they believe that those killed by women will not go to heaven. For example in fighting last year some of our friends made the suggestion that in order not to suffer excessive losses they should not remain on the forward position. But we as women went and held the forward front. Our male friends swallowed their pride and came back to their positions (laughing). I can say that women who have been oppressed here have developed a strong spirit. A profile of the warrior woman is emerging. We have no problem in fighting our enemies. The only problem is sometimes we go after our enemies too hard. An example: one of friends who had been in the war in Kandil for 3-4 months took off her shoes to attack because the ground was so muddy. This is an unwritten legend. It is something like the butterfly that goes right toward the fire. Because they have tasted freedom once. That is the women of the YPJ has tasted freedom. They know how to liberate themselves. This spirit has a major effects on the those around them. For example many people ask “why are the women going and we are not going?” Here I wanted to speak to you about Martyr Agirî who fell in fighting in the village of Evdiko. She shocked the enemy by standing up facing a tank and opening fire. When her friends Erdal and Kendal were killed she gathered up all of their explosives and attacked a house where the enemy was positioned, where she blew herself up and was martyred. Her friends could not stop here. She had been a fighter for four months. So what had this friend of ours learned? She had only learned three things. That is patriotism, the women’s freedom philosophy of Leader Apo and the freedom of women. Here Leader Apo’s philosophy of thought and invocation to action emerges. I can say that Martyr Agirî was a realization of Apo’s thought.