Besieged since September 15, the northern Syrian Kurdish-majority city of Kobane (whose Arabic name is Ayn al-Arab) has mounted a heroic, all-out resistance to the murderous Islamic State gangs.
As of September 25, despite the superior heavy weaponry deployed by the IS, it appears that fierce resistance and determined counter-attacks have halted or slowed the assault. Nonetheless, the IS has pushed closer to the city centre than ever before and the situation remains perilous.
Kobane, 135 kilometres north-east of Aleppo, hard up against the Turkish border, is a vital part of the “Rojava Revolution”. Its system of “democratic confederalism” is an inspiring attempt to build a society inclusive of all ethnicities and religious communities and to empower women.
The contrast between this humane, democratic project and that of the brutal, fundamentalist, women-hating IS could not be greater.
Kurds are the majority community in Rojava (which means “west”, as in West Kurdistan) but many other ethnic and religious groups are also part of this experiment, including Arabs, Assyrians, Syriac Christians and Turkmen). In this sense, Rojava is a model for the entire Middle East.
The defence of Kobane has become a national crusade for the Kurdish people.
While tens of thousands of residents have sought refuge in Turkey, most of the people have not left. Often residents take the elderly and children across the border and then try to return to fight.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has led a decades-long struggle for Kurdish rights in Turkey, has called on Kurdish youth to go to Kobane.
Thousands of Kurds have crossed into the city from Turkey to join the defence effort led by the Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). About 3000 PKK fighters have reportedly left their bases in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains heading for Kobane.
In the east, a YPG force is advancing on the IS-held town of Til Ebyad, west of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) between the Kobane and Cizire cantons (districts) of Rojava. This new front is a bid to reduce the pressure on Kobane. The YPG has inflicted heavy losses on the IS gangs, but faces stiffening opposition.
Kurds have established a solidarity camp and vigil on the Turkish border opposite Kobane. It has been attacked by police with water cannon and tear gas.
The protesters want to stop Turkish support to the jihadis and prevent IS wounded crossing into Turkey for treatment. There are plans to monitor 160km of the border to inhibit the Turkish-IS collaboration.
Turkey, which has long oppressed its large Kurdish minority, is opposed to the Rojava Revolution. Without Turkey’s support, the IS gangs would be in a much more vulnerable position.
Rhetoric notwithstanding, the Turkish authorities are giving direct support to the IS killers. Villagers have witnessed trains unloading tanks, weapons and ammunition at the border opposite IS-controlled villages. Just before the assault on Kobane began on September 15, witnesses reported that several thousand jihadis came in buses and were escorted across the border by Turkish soldiers.
A private hospital, supported by government-linked entities, has been established in Antep (Gaziantep, about 90km from Kobane) to treat wounded jihadis. It is hardly a secret, with photos being published in a daily left-wing newspaper.
And now the Turkish government is floating the idea of a “buffer zone”. The buffer would be on the Syrian side of the border. It would not be aimed at the IS but at buffering Turkey from the deeply unpleasant reality of a democratic, self-governing, multi-ethnic, Kurdish-majority Rojava.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used to say that achieving a settlement with the country’s large Kurdish minority was his main priority. But Turkey’s flagrant support for the Islamic State would seem to have killed off any meaningful negotiations with the Kurds.
Despite the courage and commitment of its people, Kobane faces a tremendous challenge fighting an opponent backed by state power and armed with superior weaponry. If the city should fall there will be a massacre and a question mark placed over the Rojava revolution. Conversely, if the IS can be checked it will be a great victory.
The West (including the Australian government) talks about waging war on the IS but the real fight against the fundamentalists is being waged on the ground by the YPG-YPJ and the defenders of Kobane.
If the West were serious it would immediately supply artillery, anti-tank missiles and armoured vehicles to Kobane to enable it to offset the captured US and Russian weaponry of the IS. But no one should hold their breath waiting.