Ozgur Amed is a journalist, columnist, teacher, and activist from Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey. He spoke to Dylan Murphy, in conjunction with Rojava Report, about the democratic revolution underway in predominantly Kurdish Rojava in the Syrian state ― opposing both the Assad regime and fanatical Islamic State (IS).
Despite sustained attacks by IS on Kobane in Rojava, resistance fighters liberated most of the city ― and Rojava's fascinating and inspiring experiments in direct democracy live on.
Associated Press said on January 15: “It is a stunning reversal for ISIS, which just months ago stood poised to conquer the entire town ― and could pierce a carefully crafted image of military strength that helped attract foreign fighters and spread horror across the Middle East …
“In September, ISIS fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey …
“In the past month, the Kurdish fighters have made more advances, leading to a remarkable battlefield shift … Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimates the Kurds now control roughly 80 percent of Kobani … 'Kobani is on the verge of being free of ISIS,' Abdurrahman said.”
The full version of the interview can be read at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
Can you briefly explain the origin of the Rojava Cantons and the revolution more generally? When did they emerge and what is new about them?
Rojava is the smallest part of Kurdistan [which has no independent state but is divided between four existing states in the region]. The Rojava Revolution was introduced to the world from Kobane on July 19th, 2012.
The fate of the area's 3 million Kurds, who had for many years lived under occupation by the Syrian regime, entered a new era in the form of a rebellion against the nation-state.
The cantons themselves were formed a short while later after the acceptance of Rojava's constitution. The Cizire Canton was officially proclaimed on January 21 last year, the Kobane Canton on January 27 and the Efrin Canton on January 29.
The Democratic Autonomous Canton Administrations (Cizire, Kobane and Efrin) remain a part of Syrian territory. In every canton there exists a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies.
These are formed from various local units. These cantons do not involve themselves with any of the tasks of a state, they defend the rights of local communities and take as the principle the resolution of problems through peaceful means.
Who are the forces defending Kobane? How have they been able to defend the city from IS, which is much better armed?
Today, Kobane’s official defense force is the People's Defense Units (YPG), which was formed in 2004, and the Women's Defense Force (YPJ) which was formed independently in association [with the YPG]. These are the two military forces which are responsible for the self-defense of the whole of Rojava.
The heaviest attack on Kobane to date began on September 10 and was declared an official battle on September 15. It continues to this day.
Over the course of this battle, various other forces joined in the defense of Kobane and we still observe them fighting there. One of the most important of these is a group known as El Ekrad, or the “Kurdish Front”.
It began as a part of the Free Syrian Army during the Syrian civil war and later separated. Over the last couple of months, Peshmerga fighters [an armed group from Iraqi Kurdistan] are also there. About 150 Peshmerga fighters went to Kobane after a decision of the [South] Kurdistan parliament.
There are also groups such as the Ehrar Syria, the Siwar El Raqa and Sems-i Simal who are fighting IS. This to say, not only Kurds are fighting in Kobane. There is a war of the peoples.
There are also revolutionary groups from Turkey there. There are fighters from all over the world. There are also people from the United States, Netherlands and African nations who have come as individuals to join the fight. These are the forces taking part in the battle.
A war can be lost when one puts down their weapons. It can be lost when one loses their hope or faith. According to the fighters themselves, one of the most important sources of motivation is the great injustice being perpetrated there. It is the knowledge that if it not confronted today, it will grow much larger tomorrow.
Much has been made of IS’s barbaric attitudes toward women. At the same time, women face violence and oppression all over the world. What role have women had in the Rojava revolution?
There is a reality expressed by Asya Abdullah, the co-President of the Democratic Unity Party (PYD ― the largest political party in Rojava). She said: “When the revolution began Kurdish women took part with all their might.”
This is to say, Kurdish women were already engaged in struggle before the revolution began in Rojava and had organised in all spheres of life. This is to say, when the revolution began, Kurdish women were ready. They took part in the revolution already prepared.
We can say that Kurdish women led the Rojava revolution. Women have a part in every decision taken in Rojava. The colour of the Rojava revolution is the colour of women.
Women in Rojava have led this revolution and are leading in the conflict that continues to this day. An example is one of the symbols of the Kobane resistance, Arin Mirkan.
It is women and children who suffer the most in war. Right now, IS is selling women from Sinjar in their slave markets and this is happening in the 21st century! Their attacks target women systematically. War thereby affects women twice over.
Therefore, when one considers all of these factors, the role that women have in the revolution and the reason they can be found on the front lines becomes clearer.
The women who are fighting define this revolution and this resistance as the possibility to “breathe”. These women are not only fighting for the rights and organisation of women in the Middle East, but all over the world.
They always underline this when they express themselves. A woman fighter in Kobane is protecting the rights of a woman in Diyarbakir and the rights of a working woman in New Jersey and contributes to their struggle.
Many people have been speaking about the “women’s battalions”. The first women’s battalion was the Martyr Ruken Battalion, formed on March 5, 2013, in Efrin. After that, the organisation quickly spread around Rojava. The formation of these battalions, which first took place in secret, is now occurring everywhere quite openly.
The capitalist world is still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis and wealth inequality is rising in many places around the globe. What economic alternatives are being proposed in Rojava?
The economic pillar has been an essential part of the Rojava revolution. The revolution defends an autonomous economic model and is working to put it into practice.
Capitalism has surrounded everyone and everything, and in a century in which it is difficult to breathe and where we are seemingly bereft of alternatives, an exit is now being discovered through an alternative economic model and a communal economy.
Dr Ahmet Yusuf, the economic minister of the Efrin Canton, made some important remarks recently at conference held on the “Democratic Autonomous Economy”.
He said: “We take as a principle the protection and defence of natural resources. What we mean by defence is not defence in a military sense, but the self-defence against the exploitation and oppression which society now faces.
“There are many obstacles to restructuring the communal economy in Rojava. Systems that take capitalist systems as their reference have tried to obstruct our progress in the economic, as well as the social spheres.
“We ourselves take the communal economy as our principal. We are working to create a system that combines anti-liberalism, ecological sustainability, and moral common property with communal and cultural production.”
This revolution is developing cooperatives based on a social economy as its economic alternative. The communes will be a primary force within the people’s assemblies.
The cooperatives that have been founded are being given enough space within the economic sphere to sustain themselves. There exists the strength in the three cantons to found an economy along a socialised principle in the agriculture, livestock, industry and service sectors.
What can ordinary people across the world do to support the ongoing revolution in the Rojava cantons?
The most important thing is to show revolutionary solidarity. It has become clear that we are obligated to do so. IS is trying to slip in on every side.
Rojava should not be isolated politically. Because it is not only developments in the Middle East that are affecting this. Rojava is the target of many other countries, and in particular Turkey.
The other day, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said: “The formation of the cantons is a threat to our country.”
In reality, it is impossible to understand how they constitute a threat. With every diplomatic step taken, this kind of discourse will die down a little, because the Rojava revolution is a people’s revolution and is a struggle for the construction of democracy.
It is a fight for freedom and not a cover for anything else. It is within this framework that support must be given.