Kurdish future hangs on Kobane resistance

Issue 
YPJ fighters in Rojava.

On the world map, Kobane falls in the north of Syria, right on the border with Turkey. According to the Kurds, however, it is the west of Kurdistan or “Rojava” in Kurdish.

There is a train line right by the town. This line determined the border between Syria and Turkey. The division of the Kurdish homeland in 1923 not only ensured a political loss for the Kurds, but also paved they way for many human tragedies.

From Kobane to Qamislo, many families were divided into two. One brother remained on one side of the train tracks, the other fell to the other side.

For decades, these relatives secretly and illegally crossed the mined border to visit each other. The Syrian and Turkish armies killed tens, if not hundreds, of people on this very border.

The Kurds of Turkey have used this border whenever they have ran into trouble with successive Turkish regimes. The people of Kobane always harboured and protected them. The most significant and notable journey across these borders in recent history was that of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's.

A short time after the inauguration of the Kurdistan Workers' Party in 1978, which waged armed struggle against the Turkish state, Ocalan, PKK leader, secretly crossed the border into Kobane from Suruc.

Ocalan was accompanied by Ethem Akcan from Kobane. Ocalan hid in Kobane for 43 days. Ocalan changed the houses he was staying at on several occasions. And from there, through contacts established by the people of Kobane, Ocalan went to the Bekaa Valley via Homs, Hama and Beirut. He stayed in Syria for 20 years. His ties with Kobane always remained.

During these 20 years, at least 3000 people from Kobane joined the PKK guerrillas to fight in different parts of Kurdistan. Considering the fact that at the time the population of Kobane was only 30,000 this is a significant sociological phenomenon.

Due to this, Kobane has always been a target of the Assad regime. But the Kurds there were always secretly organising. In March 2011, when the chaos in Syria began, the Kurds in Kobane were ready to take the initiative. They organised independently.

Of course there were certain groups that led this initiative. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), formed in 2003, is the most eye catching. But there were, and still are, various social movements and groups politically aligned with the PKK, especially women and youth groups.

In July 2012, the people of Kobane ousted the regime forces and took control of the city's administration. The Kurds called this move the Rojava Revolution. Subsequently, the same move occurred in the other cities, towns and villages.

Ten days later, I interviewed a commander of the People's Protection Unit (YPG) militia on Mishtenur Hill and he told me: “We will liberate every inch of Rojava. We will protect all the peoples of the region from the regime and the so-called opposition that consists of chauvinist and radical Islamist groups.”

This was the first interview with the YPG, and not many people had even heard of them. The announcement of the establishment of the YPG was made in Kobane. I had discovered at the time that preparations for the establishment of the YPG were being conducted secretly.

Due to the fact that Kobane had kicked off the Rojava Revolution, it was always a target. The first attacks began in March last year. Every attack was repelled. They always thought that because Kobane was the smallest of the Rojava enclaves, it would be the easiest to defeat.

The aim was to topple Kobane to completely cut off any route between the most easterly canton of Cizire and the most westerly canton of Efrin. By gaining military supremacy in Kobane, they thought they could militarily suppress the Kurds. And by taking control of Kobane they wanted a direct link between Jarablus and Tel Abyad.

This is the plan that Turkey has been trying to implement in Serekaniye since 2012. They wanted to overrun Serekaniye in order to take Cizire. If this had happened, Rojava would have turned into a bloodbath and the Rojava cantons would have been a mere dream.

However, the conditions were different at that time and Turkey's plans were reversed. Islamic State (IS) and the forces directing it wanted to use the “momentum” gained in Iraq in order to surround Rojava and suffocate the Kurdish struggle ― or at least stop it from institutionalising.

But at the same time, by demoralising the Kurds in Rojava, they wanted to weaken the hand of the Kurdish movement in the north of Kurdistan.

Of course, we cannot explain these developments through only the IS. The Kurds believe that this game plan was drawn up, and is being controlled, in some dark rooms in Ankara.

The Kobane resistance has shown that the Turkish state remains hostile to the Kurdish people.

Kobane has not fallen, like Turking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had declared. Rather, it is the Turkish state's mask that has fallen. Every Kurd you come across on the street will tell you this. In fact, this is the main cry of the hundreds of thousands of people that are continuously protesting across the world.

The Kobane resistance has paved the way for a new era in Kurdish-Turkish relations. The Turkish state wanted Kobane to fall in order to inflict a fatal blow to the Kurds. But the Kurds reversed this plan.

The developments in Kobane have forced the Turkish state to continue its dialogue with Ocalan in Imrali. In other words, we can now say that the Turkish state has lost hope in the fall of Kobane.

Now, the Turkish state can either start negotiations with the Kurds to attain a political solution, or it can continue to pursue its antagonism towards them. Some Kurds believe that the Turkish government will launch a comprehensive war against the Kurds after the general elections to be held next year. Both possibilities seem equally likely.

The Kobane resistance has also led to a renewed political and spiritual synergy among the Kurds. If all goes well, the Kurdish National Congress will congregate in Erbil early next year.

However, the contributions of Iran and Turkey will be important for this. This is because what Iran and Turkey think is very important for some Kurds.

Iran is not happy with the Kurds enjoying status in Syria through the Rojava cantons. If the national congress meets and recognises the Rojava cantons, Iran, and to some extent Turkey, will be displeased. The Syrian regime will also be very discomforted by this, but there are not many who care what it thinks.

The results of the Kobane resistance, first and foremost, will have an impact on the future of Syria. This is because if IS are defeated in Kobane, they will also be defeated in Raqqa, Tel Abyad and Jarablus.

The IS is the biggest threat to the communities in Syria. The defeat of the IS will lead to a better diagnosis of the ills in Syria. The path to the liberation of all the communities will be open.

However, we cannot expect this to happen any time soon as Kobane is still a war zone. While IS is based in the surrounding towns, Kobane will always be a target. We can expect this to drag on through to next year.

[Abridged from Kurdish Question.]

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