Kurdistan and solidarity without borders: Testimony of an internationalist volunteer

see also.. Turkey proudly announces upcoming 4th illegal invasion and genocide in Rojava- worse than Russia in Ukraine May 25, 2022

from redlatinasinfronteras. via thefreeonline translated and shared with thanks By Leandro Albani for La Tinta May 30, 2022

Manbij, Rojava On the right, Comandanta Eylan, who fell in the city of Al Bab. On the left, the combatant Ismael, Kemal’s companion.
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“I realized what a historic moment the battle between Daesh and the Kurdish movement was”

Thousands of men and women came to Rojava to join the fight led by the Kurdish people against the Islamic State. Kemal, a Spanish anarchist, was one of them and tells his story to La Tinta.


Kemal sends me photos. In some, he can be seen practicing shooting, resting, talking with the residents of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), where he was twice as an internationalist volunteer, between 2016 and 2018.

His story, where militancy, combats against the State Islamic (ISIS or Daesh), learning that will mark him forever and the ever-living memory of comrades who fell defending the territory, is similar to that of thousands of people from all over the world who decided to come to a Syria in the midst of war to join the resistance led by the Kurdish people.


Of course, Kemal has a first and a last name, but he prefers that I write about him with the nickname he chose in Rojava.

He knows that many other internationalists who returned to their countries -especially to Europe- were victims of judicial persecution.

Although European governments continue to publicly declare their rejection of Daesh, the citizens who went to fight the followers of the Caliphate were classified on more than one occasion as “terrorists” and were brought before the courts.


I speak several times with Kemal, an ocean separates us , but it is not inconvenient for me to tell the story. “About my personal data, I can only tell you that I am from Aragon, Spain,” he summarizes. And he apologizes to me if he prefers to leave his personal life at that point.


Kemal describes himself as “a normal guy” who had “normal jobs”, who “likes to play sports” and with an anarchist militancy that allowed him to develop a “political consciousness”.

His story within the Spanish libertarian movement intersected with the political and social process that emerged in 2012 in Rojava, when the population of northern Syria declared autonomy, and, driven by the Kurdish movement, decided that it was time to change their lives radical.


“I have to tell you that militancy, as we know it in the West, is completely different from what it means in Rojava and in the sphere of the Kurdish movement –says the Aragonese-. I just made the decision to fight for those who didn’t have so much.

I don’t know if I mentioned it to you the other time, but for me the gesture made by so many thousands of foreigners who came to Spain to fight against fascism in the International Brigades has great value. Doing the same for other people seemed like the best way to honor his memory.”


Hevales


With each photo he sent me, Kemal added a comment. In one he says: “Heval Chekdar. A great guy, full of good humor and a good person. He fell in the Raqqa operation”.

In another: “She was our commander in Manbij. Heval Eylan, possibly the best commander I’ve ever had. I could tell you a lot about her, but for another time. She fell just the day after we parted ways, at the hands of a Turkish attack when we were in the Al Bab operation.

At the other extreme is Heval Ismael.”
“Heval”, in the Kurdish language, is synonymous with “comrade”, “companion” or simply “friend”.


Along with another photo, Kemal says: “The day Manbij fell. The one below is Heval Lorence. The guy with the most sense of humor you could ever imagine in a war. He fell in the battle of Raqqa”.
Manbij and Raqqa are some of the cities in northern Syria where the Spanish fought against Daesh, after enlisting in the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish self-defense forces that liberated the territory and defended it from the machinery of death that the Islamic State deployed for several years in Syria and Iraq.
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The arrival of this anarchist militant in Syrian Kurdistan was not by chance. In the heat of the so-called Arab Spring, the struggle of the Kurdish people aroused sympathy of all kinds throughout the world.

The internationalist contingents did not stop arriving in a territory besieged by the Syrian regime, by Daesh and by the Turkish State, which to this day continues to bombard the region and maintains several areas illegally occupied, as is the case of the Afrin canton, invaded in 2018.


Among the internationalist volunteers, there were everything from anarchist and communist militants to former US Marines and right-wing Catholics. In that whirlwind of people difficult to describe, was Kemal.


the historical moment


“I knew the struggle of the Kurdish people and sympathized with it, although I did not identify with the ideology of the PKK”, says Kemal, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the political-military organization with more than four decades of existence and that fights for the liberation of the Kurdish people.


“It was following the events of the war in Syria and the battle of Kobane that I learned about the paradigm shift of the PKK and democratic confederalism, which is the consequence of that change,” he explains.

As an anarchist, I felt identified with that ideological evolution that, although it seemed natural a priori, was the opposite of what history had been showing us.”

see also> “Free me to sing one last time” – Terrorist President gave Nudem 19 years jail for Terrorism of Singing in Kurdish.. demands Sweden Extradite other innocent Activists –


The Battle of Kobane in 2015 was the turning point for Kemal. For three months, the YPG together with the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) defended the Kurdish city that ISIS tried to take and occupy. “There I realized the historical moment that the battle between Daesh and the Kurdish movement represented,” he says. It was the struggle of completely antagonistic forces, which could determine the future of many millions of people in the Middle East”.
Wasting no time, Kemal found out how to get to Rojava as a volunteer. Overcoming the most diverse drawbacks for a journey that was not easy, Kemal set foot in Syrian Kurdistan convinced that it was his place of struggle.

The first impressions of the territory, inhabited by some two million Kurds, but also by Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Circassian and Turkmen people professing different religions, always return to the memory of it.

“Rojava was immersed in a revolutionary process – he affirms -, often improvised due to the war situation in Syria and that had caused a power vacuum, which the Kurds were filling as they went”.


little london


The liberation of Manbij, with its Arab majority, took place in October 2016. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of the YPG/YPJ and militias of other nationalities, spent several months fighting against Daesh, which kept occupied the city.

With ISIS controlling Manbij, its population was subjected to the harshest repression, especially women. The best-known images of that liberation show women forced to wear niqabs, throwing the black dresses to the ground, stepping on them, and then hugging YPJ fighters.


Kemal lived through those days of fury, chaos and repressed joy for a long time. He fought Daesh, he put his body to help the liberation. “I think I could write an entire book about Manbij!” exclaims the man from Aragon. And then he delves into his memories and analysis: “The first thing to take into account is the historical and strategic context.

At that time, the International Coalition pressured the Kurds to attack Raqqa, which was the political capital of Daesh, but the Kurds were clear that the important objective was Manbij”.


“The area of ​​Al Bab and Manbij was the only strip of Daesh territory that bordered Turkey and everyone knew that it was Daesh’s main source of supplies,” he details. By conquering that territory, we would cut off that source.

Manbij was the more important city of the two, although, in Al Bab, the proportion of the Kurdish population was higher. And this leads us to a second reason: by conquering Manbij and Al Bab, we would be able to territorially unite the three cantons where the revolution and democratic confederalism had triumphed: Jazire and Kobane with isolated Afrin”.


The fighting to liberate cities occupied by ISIS was not only military. In just a few months, the jihadists and mercenaries of the Caliphate had applied – always at gunpoint – an educational and administrative system that enshrined the most orthodox and conservative teachings of Islam.

Any questioning of this was answered by torture or directly by death.


Kemal assures that, in Manbij, “interaction with civilians was difficult, due to the mistrust generated by Daesh propaganda and because they did not allow the population to evacuate. People only felt safe to escape when they saw us and we opened a safe corridor.

Although there were times that hundreds of people escaped running towards us while being fired upon by Daesh forces from the city.”


“The Manbij battle was tough,” says Kemal. Everyone knew what was at stake there. Daesh was also aware that its main source of supplies was at stake and sent several thousand of its best fighters to defend this strategic point. There was such a concentration of international fighters that the locals called it ‘little London.


life beats death

“El gran acierto en Rojava es que se construyó un movimiento inclusivo”


In those days of brutal fighting in Manbij, it is hard to believe that there were moments of tenderness. War, death and violence seem to destroy everything, but the force of life breaks through with desperate tenacity.

Kemal knows very well about this and tells about it: “I remember a group of civilians that we evacuated while we were guarding the perimeter. R

I remember a man yelled something at me, he seemed angry. At the end of the group, there was an old woman who came to me screaming and I got scared, but when she arrived, she hugged me crying and covered me with kisses.”
Another man, whom the internationalist asked to show him what he was wearing under his clothes as he approached, ignored him: he began to sing, dance and hugged him with all his might.

Kemal’s memories flash like snapshots: “A colleague informed a group of civilians that the niqab was no longer compulsory. Little by little, and suspiciously, the black fabrics fell to the ground. A girl about five years old decisively threw everything on the ground, without a second thought.

Her little brother, who was next to her, picked up her sister’s clothes and returned them to her. But her sister threw everything on the ground again in anger and she started jumping and stomping everything energetically.”


On one of those days, while Kemal’s unit was preparing for an assault against Daesh, a father with his young daughter approached them to ask about the evacuation of civilians. The man and his daughter were shocked when they were told that “the small woman next to us giving orders over the radio was the person in charge.”

“The father’s face was disbelieving. But the girl’s face… It was shocked, as if she were looking at a Marvel superheroine. Probably, that girl had never seen any woman being in command of so many men.

The face of that girl convinced me that, indeed, we were changing the world”, emphasizes the internationalist.


like a stranger


There is something that is repeated among many internationalists who were in Rojava and then returned to their countries: they feel a certain boredom, they think that daily life repeats itself monotonously and that they do not look with the same eyes at the country where they were born.

This is not due to the frenzy of war, but to having gone through with bodies and minds a revolutionary process in the heart of the Middle East.


I ask Kemal about the differences between his two stays in Rojava, separated by more or less two years. “The differences start from a personal point of view,” he answers. The first time I was motivated by my desire to contribute to the internationalist struggle and to learn from the Kurdish revolution, just as a Kurd would.

The second time I already knew what I was going to find. The first time we participated in the battle of Manbij and in the Al Bab operation, until our forces allowed us to. When I found myself back in my house, in my city, I felt like a stranger, useless, doing irrelevant jobs while looking, week after week, at the photos of my comrades who had fallen in combat”.


Kemal shooting practice Rojava la-inkImage: Kemal at a shooting practice at the YPG/YPJ military academy.
Those feelings that crossed Kemal made him decide to return to Rojava. In his new stay, he joined the Tabour International, also known as Tabour Antifa, a unit made up only of internationalists.

With the experience on his back, Kemal accepted greater responsibilities in the unit from him. In this second stage, the internationalist says that Daesh was already “in a clear decline”, after the liberation of Raqqa, the city that he had occupied and named the capital of the Caliphate.

Kemal has no hesitation in stating that, at that time, “the most real threat came, as was later shown, from the Turkish state, which attacked us. We had to go to defend Afrin, but victory was not possible there, because the international support we had to fight Daesh simply disappeared.

With air dominance, it was only a matter of time before Turkey won that battle. Unfortunately, in Afrin we lost many comrades.”

Imagen: Combatientes extranjeros que se sumaron a las YPG


One before and one after


I ask Kemal to list the successes of the Rojava Revolution. It is not an easy task: clarity in the midst of war is a precious commodity. But Kemal is not daunted and he tells me that he considers the PKK’s paradigm shift to be among the successes.

With democratic confederalism, the Kurdish movement opted “clearly for the liberation of women, something that can be decisive and that is changing the lives of millions of people. This can suppose a historical before and after”, he affirms. To this, he adds environmentalism, because “if we don’t stop the destruction of the planet, political struggles won’t make any sense: there won’t be a planet for which we can fight”, he indicates.

And he also names “direct democracy”, which he describes as “a remarkable historical fact”, since “a revolutionary movement could evolve from more authoritarian forms to less authoritarian and participatory forms”.


From a nationalist struggle to an internationalist one is another point that Kemal highlights. “The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, abandons the idea of ​​pursuing his own state to seek transformation

One of the states in which the Kurds live in more participatory and less repressive models”, he explains. Hand in hand with this, the creation of internationalist brigades in Rojava stands out, because “international involvement in a revolution, even if it is characteristically Kurdish, can have great importance on a global level.”


The last characteristic that Kemal points out is the integration of the various peoples of northern Syria in the face of assimilation promoted, in this case, by the Syrian state.

“In the Rojava Revolution and in our fight against Daesh, we liberated many territories that were not demographically populated by Kurds,” he analyzes. However, the Kurds have suffered throughout history the attempt to assimilate their culture and they do not want to do the same with others. Thus, we find in Rojava a whole mosaic of different peoples, cultures, religions and tribes, each with its share of autonomy within this great federation.

This commitment to decentralization is an advantage and a defect at the same time: on the one hand, it prevents assimilation and imperialism, but it also prevents the advances of the revolution from reaching all corners equally”.
“Every heval I lost hurts me”

“Los internacionalistas estamos preparados para defender Rojava del fascismo”


Regarding the mistakes that are being made in Rojava, Kemal tells me that he is going to refer to the criticism that he once made when he was in northern Syria.

Arriving in the territory to join the fight was complex, the internationalist points out, because, in addition to the obstacles put in place by the European governments themselves, it must be added that “the management of the Kurds who were in Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) was deficient.

We managed to be sent to Rojava after a lot of insistence, but many comrades who came after us gave up after the number of problems they encountered”.

It should not be forgotten, says Kemal, that the authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – administered by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) and a fundamental ally of Turkey – “did everything possible so that their Kurdish compatriots did not receive international aid ”.


Kemal also addresses the military issue: “Kurdish forces are traditionally used to fighting in mountainous terrain, which is their natural home, and they do very well there. But they were not used to fighting a conventional war on flat land and then in the cities. It must be borne in mind that the Kurdish people are a proud people (they have no other choice), that they prefer to learn their lessons themselves rather than have someone from the outside teach them to them.

They also give more importance to ideological training than to military training. And this clearly translates into lives lost.”
“The Kurds proudly accept the fact that falling down fighting for the people is the greatest honor that a unit can have -remarks the international volunteer-.

But for me, who lived for so long with so many people who are now gone, every heval I lost hurts. To this reflection, Kemal adds: “The mistake of the Kurds was not to provide all international fighters with the same opportunity, allowing many internationals to return home only with the traumatic experience of war and destruction, without giving them the opportunity to meet the other side of the revolution.


Kemal brings to the present another memory. When the battle in Manbij and the operation in Al Bab ended, his commanders allowed him and other internationalists to spend a few days “in the civilian sphere”. “For us it was wonderful, because after months of war and fierce fighting, spirits were low,” he says. The visit to civil life gives you the opportunity to see not only what we were destroying (the previous months of war), but everything that the revolution was creating. Get to know the academies, the university, the TEV-DEM (assembly participation system), the Kongra Star (the women’s organization), etc. It was a breath of fresh air for us.”


Kemal marks what he considers a final mistake: “The lack of autonomy in the internationals. During the Spanish civil war, the brigadistas were allowed to create their own autonomous groups by nationalities, unions, etc.

And play a leading role in the fighting. In Rojava, from the International Military Academy to the front, the commands were occupied by Kurds who, in many cases, did not understand the internationals”.


What I learned


After several months of conversations, exchanges of messages and various consultations, with Kemal we are finishing a talk-interview marked by distance.

His life and his experience in Rojava are multiplied by many men and women who chose to join the resistance of the peoples of Syrian Kurdistan. I tell him to tell me about his apprenticeship. Kemal elaborates: “The most important thing is the Kurdish sense of community.

For them, the common good is above the individual good and that is not negotiated. You do not realize to what extent capitalism and individualism have permeated among us until you live the experience of Rojava.

In Rojava, you share with a group of people, sometimes of different ideologies, practically everything: work, food, responsibility and decision-making, rest, training, fighting and even life.

When you return home, you realize that even among revolutionary people you have a hard time finding help if the other person has something better to do”.

Imagen: Integrantes de la Unidad 223 en el Kurdistán sirio


Among the learnings, Kemal highlights the practice of tekmîl, the form of criticism and self-criticism used by the Kurdish movement among its militants. That discussion and evaluation tool that “serves to openly criticize something you don’t like and also to make an honest self-criticism”.

“You have to keep in mind that the Kurds have a habit of constantly criticizing and self-criticizing, and this is taken as something natural.

However, in the militancy of the West, criticism tends to be taken as a personal attack or an attack on the movement”, he summarizes.
The war, its consequences and deep marks return to the words of the internationalist. All of this “taught me to value what I have in my home,” he says. “When you go back and see people’s problems, you realize how far removed from reality we live in the so-called first world,” Kemal concludes.

Also in the revolutionary field: those of us who live in the first world think that we are the vanguard of world revolutionary thought when, deep down, our ego prevents us from seeing that, in reality, we should learn the lessons instead of giving them”.


*By Leandro Albani for La Tinta / Cover photo: A/D.

https://latinta.com.ar/2022/05/batalla-daesh-kurdos/

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