News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
The following piece tells the story of Rifat Horoz, who became better known by his nom de guerre Karker Kobanê after he traveled to the city to aid in Kobane’s defense and reconstruction during the ISIS offensive last year. Karker Heval, who became a member of the YPG, was killed during the ISIS terrorist attack on Kobanê last week. Journalist Rojin Akın had spoken with Karker just a couple of weeks before his death, on July 11th, and wrote this article about Karker’s life and his motivations for coming to Kobanê. It has been translated into English below.
At the end of 48th avenue, in Kobanê city center just across from the Canton building, there is a courtyard stacked full of mortar rounds, the destroyed wreckage of cars, rockets, bombs and all kinds of spent ammunition. Before the war this area had been used as a sports field. Today the courtyard is a temporary storage area for ammunition and waste that has been collected from the surrounding area for eventual use in museum commemorating the battle. The children’s toys and flowers that have been placed atop the mortar rounds give the courtyard the appearance of a colorful garden but they are unable to conceal the savagery of war. This is a garden that is permeated by a deep pain.
As we gazed around wondering how many people lost their lives because of these mortars, or what children these dolls had belonged to, Karker Heval approaches us. He responds to our greetings with a ‘dem baş.’ When I ask him what he is doing here he replies in Kurdish that he has become a member of the YPG, and laughing, he begins to tell his story. “My name is Karker Kobanî. I am 60 years old, and I am from Silopi, that is Diyojen.”
He could see that I was curious about his claim to have joined the YPG, and I won’t lie I was a little surprised. I have met a lot of people from Turkey taking part in the Kobanê resistance but someone in their 60’s and an Albanian from Silopi…Karker Heval is the grandson of a guerilla fighter active before the First World War. His origins were from Pristina but he was exiled to Silopi around the time of the Second Population Exchange. Karker Heval was born there and moved to Zonguldak with his family where his father found work as a coal miner.
Karker Heval went to primary school in Zonguldak. Because his father was a miner and a trade unionist he became acquainted with strikes and rallies at an early age. When he was around 13 he lost his father in a mining accident and moved to Istanbul to live with an aunt. Here he studied and worked as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. In Istanbul he met many young people active in revolutionary activities. In fact the neighborhood in which his aunt lived was home to a lot of revolutionary politics. With the help of a revolutionary he knew he began to work for a time in a local book store. In 1976 he met a number of the founders of the Rizgari movement and began to work with them. He marched in the ranks of the Ala Rizagri during the bloody events of the ‘77 May Day. In 1978 he was arrested as part of the Rizgari case and was incarcerated in the same cellblock as İsmail Beşikçi. Karker Heval tells us that “for me prison was a great academy.” Prison was transformed into a platform for learning and debate.
Toward the end of 1991 he was released from prison and came back to Istanbul and began to work in shipping. He eventually opened an international shipping branch in Antep. However he did not abandon his revolutionary activities. He already knew some things about the PKK members who had taken part in the Rizgari movement. By coincidence he met Cemil from Batman, who was directing the party’s work in Siverek and Hilvan, during his work trips between Antep and Siverek. In fact Karker Heval’s life was full of a series of coincidental encounters with Kurds.
His father’s occupation as a miner, the conflicts between the oppressed and their oppressors, as well as the right of a nation to determine its own fate were all questions that had shaped Karker Heval. He was always interested by the questions of Kurds, Kurdistan and an independent Kurdistan. He tells us that “the were criticisms and analysis, as well as demands, made by other organizations that resembled those of the Apocu’s [supporters of Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK] but they never worked out in practice. The Apocu’s were also putting them into practice. The human being was at the heart of this movement.” He became active in political work during the HEP-DEP era and was always working out in the streets. He also worked distributing newspapers and journals when he had the economic means, telling us that “if you have any free time fill it with that.” Explaining that “most of the youth know me,” he spoke of how he worked with the youth in every place he went and took part in their activities.
And then September 15th, 2014…the day that the ISIS gangs, the enemy of humanity, attacked Kobanê. He came to Suruç has part of the call for mobilization sent out by Abdullah Öcalan to all people and to Kurds in particular. He took active part in the human chains actions in the villages of Alizer-Mahser and Musa Anter and was active in organization of border-watches to prevent the gangs from crossing from Turkey into Kobanê. He helped to found popular education courses and gave seminars. “Because we came following the call of the Kurdish popular leader we were guests of the leadership and needed to act in way that was keeping with the paradigm they have presented us” he said, “For that reason we tried not to waste a single moment.”
They repaired mud-brick houses and turned them into museums and libraries (the Arin Mirkan Martyrs Museum and the Kader Ortakaya Library). Of course as he was taking part in all of these projects he sought out a way to cross into Kobanê. Those in the YPG came to know of Karker Heval and what he was doing and they invited him to Kobanê. He traveled around Kobanê for 3 or 4 days. There were unexploded bombs. mortars and mines everywhere. These conditions sent Karker Heval into action. He met with a friend connected to the canton government and requested to be allowed to collect together all the bombs, mortars, mines and other refuse left over from the battle that were scattered around the city and to form a war museum. All he needed was a comrade who knew Turkish and a vehicle. It was all immediately organized and a YPG fighter was assigned to be his assistant. Since the assistant knew Turkish and Kurdish it made it much easier for him to communicate with the people of Kobanê. Soon everyone in Kobanê knew him and when they found some any munition such as a mine or bomb they would inform him and he would come and collect it. As of today he has collected more than 800 unexploded bombs, 120mm, 80mm and 60mm mortar rounds, close to four tones of mines and more than 200 hand-grenades from Kobanê city center. When I ask him if he has had any training in ordnance removal he responds that “if you read and understand the paradigm developed by leader Apo then you will be capable of any task.” There is an ascription to Öcalan in almost every sentence he utters.
Karker Heval tells me: “Our leadership says that history is experienced in the moment. In the moment we find ourselves there is a war in Kobanê. I at this moment am a witness to this war. I am part of it and in it. I must be here in opposition to those forces which have organized ISIS fascism against the system that is developing here around the paradigm set forth by our leadership. I decided that it was necessary for me to take part and that I needed to add my will to the will of the part. Two philosophers fought here. The philosophy of our leadership and that of imperialism. The philosophy of imperialism has been buried in Kobanê and in Rojava. The fighters of the YPJ and YPG are burying this fascist ISIS organization and their supporters, these gangs that have nothing in common with humanity, in the garbage heap of history. A revolution is taking place here. For 40 years we have shouted in the streets for a socialist revolution. Now we will build socialism here. Come and let us build socialism together. Whatever kind of socialism you may want, whatever kind of people’s revolution – come here and lets build it together. Right now Kobanê is going through a wonderful moment, a process of construction. The doors of Kobanê are opened to all of those who want to witness this and want to write history, everyone who says to herself I too want to build the revolution.”
As he finishes his words Karker Heval takes his leave from us, and, in the 35 C heat, he resumes stacking up the collected munitions for the war museum.