Turkey Moves to Crush Rojava, the Kurds’ Radical Experiment Based on Democracy, Feminism and Ecology
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(October 10, 2019) — As Turkey launches an aerial and ground assault on northern Syria targeting Kurdish-controlled areas, we look at how the offensive threatens the Kurdish region of Rojava with Debbie Bookchin, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Rojava. She is a journalist and author who co-edited a book of essays by her father, Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy. We also speak with Elif Sarican, a Kurdish Women’s Movement activist and anthropologist at the London School of Economics, and Ertuğrul Kürkçü, honorary chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey, known as the HDP. He is a former member of Parliament in Turkey.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring into this conversation Debbie Bookchin, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Rojava. Her father, the late political philosopher Murray Bookchin, helped to inspire the Kurdish movement in Rojava. She just returned from there a few months ago and wrote a piece for The New York Review of Books titled “What the West Owes Its Best Ally Against ISIS.” There are many who have not heard of Rojava, Debbie. If you can explain what it is and its significance today in what’s happening just this week?
DEBBIE BOOKCHIN: That’s right. Thank you, Amy. You know, one of the things that we focus on is ISIS, which has obviously been a critically important part of the United States’ relationship with the Kurds. But in addition to discussing what the Kurds have been fighting against, it’s incredibly and critically important, and especially to the progressive community in the American left, to talk about what they are fighting for. And that is a society that is really unparalleled right now in the 21st century. It is a society that is focused on the ideals of grassroots democracy, feminism and ecology. And —
AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly where Rojava is.
DEBBIE BOOKCHIN: Well, Rojava is along the northern third of Syria. It is now — the Kurds are really helping [inaudible] a huge land mass, basically a third of Syria, which is another reason why it’s absurd that they are not being included as part of the negotiations on the future of Syria.
But I think what’s critically important — and I am very proud of the fact that a lot of my father’s ideas have influenced the Rojavan society. What is critically important is that they are saying that we have to create a society that truly empowers people at the local level. And that means, especially in the Middle East, a feminist society. And I was just there, and I had the opportunity to talk to many people. And if you look at what they are doing there, and if you look at, for example, the social contract, which is their equivalent of our Constitution, it enshrines the rights of women, in a way that puts our Constitution to shame, frankly. So, really, we’re talking about a very progressive society. And I think anybody in the United States, anywhere in the world, who considers themselves a progressive or a feminist should be very strongly behind the Rojava project. So, that’s one very, very important aspect of it.
And I think that the other thing that I just want to emphasize is that, you know, there are not only 10,000 or 12,000 ISIS prisoners, but there are also 100,000 families that are now being held in camps. And many of these women — there’s many children, of course, as well — but many of them, especially the ones who streamed out of Baghouz near the end of the so-called caliphate, the defeat of the caliphate, are very hardcore, serious jihadists. So, for Trump to say that this is not going to be a problem for us is an absurd thing to say. And you can imagine that they’re jumping for joy right now. But I think it’s really very — it is very important.
And I would actually like to say that, you know, I think that it’s, in a certain sense, to the enduring shame of the progressive community in the American left that there hasn’t been more support for Rojava over the years. We haven’t heard our Democratic candidates really even talk about Syria. And this is a — and part of the reason that this can be happening, especially after what we saw in Afrin, where the Kurdish army — and it’s really mostly a jihadi militia that the Kurds have employed, because, as you know, after the coup attempt, Erdoğan got rid of a good chunk of his Army.
So, you have essentially thugs who have come in and taken this once-peaceful region of Rojava called Afrin and turned it into basically an extension of a Turkish Islamic State, in which they’ve taken away people’s rights, in which they’ve looted, robbed, kidnapped people. And this is what we can look forward to. This is what’s going to happen in the rest of Rojava. And it is truly incumbent on all of us who claim to care for progressive values to stand up, to demand a no-fly zone for Rojava, to go to our representatives and say, “You know what? Tweeting your crocodile tears is not enough. We have to actually become active.” And the progressive left should really play a huge role in this. It is not something that we should cede to the Republicans.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ertuğrul Kürkçü back into the conversation in Brussels and ask you to respond to what Debbie is saying, but also to talk about the significance of the military that is now invading Syria. We’re talking about the second-largest army in NATO?
ERTUĞRUL KÜRKÇÜ: Actually, this is the exact example of what an unjust war is. It has no legal basis. It has no legitimate basis for Turkey’s security. It has no aim of bringing peace to any part of the world. But it is just designed for Tayyip Erdoğan’s domestic ambitions of crowning his presidency with a military victory against a people which comprises only one of the hundred of its, Turkey’s, population, which doesn’t have an army as such, but armed citizens.
And Turkey is now seeking to suppress their gains from the Syrian administration for self-governance. Their sin is to self-govern themselves, which is a must in any modern society, across Europe, in the United States, even in the Middle East. So, now Kurds are being punished because they are becoming a bad example for the northern Kurds — that is, the Turkish citizens.
The outcome of this war, when looking at the balance of the weapons, the armament balance, Kurds may be in a bad position. But when looking at the matter from the legitimacy of the cause, it is obvious that Turkey has lost the war from the start. And not even an international organization, not a serious government across the globe is for Turkey’s crackdown on Kurds in Syria. And all the peoples of the world are for the Kurds’ right to determine their future. So, in the long term — maybe the Kurds, in the short term, may be inflicted casualties, but in the long term they are going to gain not only the hearts, but also the minds of the peoples of the world, because they present the only viable outcome of the Syrian war: a democratic country with self-governance for every entity in Syria.
And this will be understood, whatever the Turkish government’s propaganda machine would say. They are called “terrorists.” Imagine, in Turkey, there are at least 50,000 terrorists in prison. Everybody against Tayyip Erdoğan is a terrorist. Even the main opposition party is a terrorist party. But this party, tragically, said yes to a Turkish incursion into Syria. They are both crying for the losses but also supporting the war efforts of the Turkish government. It is just like the German parliament which started the First World War in 1914.
So, I would like to say that, even now, at the beginning of this Turkish incursion in the Kurdish-controlled areas, there will be no support, no empathy with the Turkish government for occupying this land. And if the international community understands, comes to the support of a nation which has the right to rule themselves, anywhere in the world, then the outcome of the war may change. All unjust wars have been lost by their perpetrators. And this is going to be lost also. But this is going to cost the Turkish people economic assets —
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to go — Ertuğrul, we’d like to go back for a second to Elif Sarican.
ERTUĞRUL KÜRKÇÜ: OK.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: If you could talk, Elif, about what you expect to happen now? How long do you expect this Turkish offensive to continue?
ELIF SARICAN: I mean, if Turkey gets its way, if the Turkish Army and Erdoğan gets its way, it will continue until they have genuinely achieved the genocide of the people of northern Syria, northeast Syria.
But, of course, a lot of this is dependent on the international community, as well, and actually even more importantly the international community. You know, we’ve seen that the public opinion is deeply and quite aggressively opposed to this invasion. We’ve seen a lot of people, you know, very, very close aides of Trump, come out very strongly to this, including the sanctions bill that has been put together. We’ve seen a lot of important academics, like David Harvey, pull out from conferences in Turkey, and celebrities, like Cher, who have come out with this.
So, this kind of solidarity and this kind of public outrage is genuinely important, because the lives of 5 million people are in question, including almost 3 million Kurds, but also not just Kurds, right? It’s Arabs. It’s Assyrians. It’s Turkmen. It’s a lot of other Christian groups. It’s Yazidis. So there’s many people, many marginalized — historically marginalized communities that are at risk here, because the Turkish Army just are not making distinctions. You know, yesterday, an Armenian village was also bombed, including other Christian neighborhoods, as well. So, this is an all-out war against the people of northern Syria. But as Debbie mentioned, as well, and Ertuğrul Kürkçü, this is against and aims to crush the beacon of hope that is the system based on direct democracy, ecology and women’s liberation.
So, I think what’s important is that people — you know, a lot of people want to do things, but they don’t know exactly how to. It’s important to encourage people to academically, culturally, touristically boycott Turkey at this point and make sure that if there is an international power or a state that is not willing to stop this Turkish invasion, that the people of the world, that we’ll come together and make sure that they definitely pay for it.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank all our guests and also end with The Washington Post report. The Washington Post ran a piece earlier this week headlined “Trump’s decision on Syria crystallizes questions about his business — and his presidency.” The article notes Trump himself has acknowledged his conflict of interest with Turkey. Even after Trump became president, Trump Towers Istanbul remained part of the Trump Organization and continued to generate revenue for Trump himself.
We’ll leave it there, Elif Sarican, Kurdish Women’s Movement activist, speaking to us from London; Ertuğrul Kürkçü, honorary chair, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, speaking to us from Brussels, Belgium; and Debbie Bookchin, co-founder of the Emergency Committee for Rojava.
Senior Female Kurdish Political Leader Killed in Ambush in Syria
ERBIL, Kurdistan (October 12, 2019) — The Future Syria Party’s Secretary-General, Hevrin Khalaf, was killed on Saturday when Turkish-backed groups tried to take control of a point on the international M4 road.
“With utmost grievance and sadness, the Syria Future Party mourns the martyrdom of engineer Havrin Khalaf, the General Secretary of Syria Future Party, while she was performing her patriotic and political duties,” the Future Party said in a statement.
Khalaf was reportedly killed when a Turkish-backed group ambushed her on the road to the city of Qamishlo.
“A group of Turkish mercenaries tried to control the M4 road and killed many people, and Hevrin was one of them,” one senior official told Kurdistan 24.
Nobahar Mustafa, the deputy of the co-head of the Future Party in Ain Issa, said the Kurdish politician was traveling from the Jazeera canton to Ain Issa and then to Raqqa before the mercenaries blocked the way at a checkpoint and killed all the people there.
“All the passengers they captured were martyred,” Mustafa told Kurdistan 24.
According to a statement released later in the afternoon by the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Khalaf was dragged out of the vehicle she was in and summarily executed on the spot.
“She was taken out of her car during a Turkish-backed attack and executed by Turkish backed mercenary factions on the International Road between Qamishlo and Manbij, where her driver who was also martyred,” it read.
“This is a clear evidence that the Turkish state is continuing its criminal policy towards unarmed civilians.”
During a press conference in the city of Qamishlo on Oct. 5, Khalaf stated that the Turkish attempts “to occupy this land in order to defend the Turkish people don’t adjust to reality,” reminding that Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had liberated northeast Syria from terror groups.
“We — all the political forces — reject these threats, especially because they impede our campaign to create a solution for the Syrian crisis,” she stated.
“For this reason, the international community should support the people living on Syrian land to keep the security and not allow the Turkish forces to occupy Syrian land.”
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