Three issues captured attention when Nilüfer Koç from the Kurdish National Congress spoke at the Ecosocialism 2022 conference on October 26: the popular uprising in Iran; the war in Ukraine; and the Rojava Revolution.
Koç said that the slogan “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” — or “woman, life, freedom” — gives “new hope” for all the oppressed people in the Middle East. Developed during the Kurdish liberation movement, it was an animating feature of the Rojava Revolution in northern Syria, and has now been taken up across Iran.
Koç explained that the slogan “has become a kind of medicine for the people in Iran, for all the people led by the Kurdish women and the Kurdish people”. It has become a global expression of solidarity with the movement for freedom for women, she said.
Koç said that the slogan’s meaning incorporates democratic confederalism, coexistence of diversity and social economy. The slogan is an expression of democratic socialism, she said.
In response to a question, she explained that the philosophy began in 1994 when the Kurdish women’s movement paired “Jin” (woman) and “Jiyan” (life), which have the same root word in Kurdish.
Imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan wrote a letter in 2013 suggesting adding “Azadi” (freedom) to the slogan. “For freedom, you have to act, which means being organised,” Koç explained.
She argued that “many of the Kurdish women who are now leading this process [in Iran] have been watching the revolution in Rojava, because Rojava could survive against Turkish aggression [which has] the support of global players”.
The ten years of the Rojava Revolution have been an inspiration for people around the world as a leading expression of the Kurdish liberation movement. However, “the Kurdish people are now at a very critical stage since the NATO summit in Madrid” in June, Koç said.
The summit decided that NATO will continue to support Turkey “whatever the cost”, she said.
She characterised the deal signed between Turkey, Finland and Sweden prior to the summit as an agreement to “keep a blind eye for the interest of Turkey by sacrificing the Kurds”.
The current borders of the Middle East were drawn up in the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, dividing Kurdistan between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The treaty expires in July next year.
“Turkey now has eight months [until the Lausanne Treaty expires] to solve the ‘Kurdish problem’,” she said. “And Turkish president [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan is clear on how to solve the ‘Kurdish problem’ — by committing ethnic cleansing.”
“Erdoğan’s dream is to implement the national oath from 1921,” she said, referring to the final decisions of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is aiming to require former territories of the Ottoman Empire which are now part of Iraq and Syria, she said.
According to Koç, the problem is “not that Kurdistan was divided among four states, the main problem and the main threat is that Kurds [as a people] have been denied”.
There was no mention in the Lausanne Treaty that Kurdish people exist. “So, by denying the Kurdish people, a green light was given to the newly established states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria to continue ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Kurds,” she said.
Koç believes that Erdoğan is now updating this policy in the context of the turmoil in the Middle East since the Arab Spring. He believes that since several Middle Eastern states are weak, now is the time to reclaim lost territory from the Ottoman Empire.
This explains Erdoğan’s goal of aiming to occupy parts of Kurdistan and annex them into Turkey.
“But, against this occupation there is also a very big and historic resistance,” Koç said. “The fighters of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] are preventing Turkey from occupying this part of Kurdistan.
“For that reason, Erdoğan’s regime is committing war crimes, by using chemical weapons. Since April, the Turkish army is systematically using chemical weapons to weaken the guerrilla resistance.”
She drew a comparison between Erdoğan’s actions and the final stages of the Sri Lankan regime’s genocidal war against the Tamils in 2009.
“You remember, firstly the Tamil Tigers had been weakened, the commanders were killed, using military high-technology,” Koç said. “Afterwards, in just four months they killed between 80,000 and 200,000 Tamils.
“Erdoğan wants to implement the same strategy against the Kurds.”
Koç said that Turkey has “a green light from NATO and particularly the US” for this.
She explained that there is a confluence of interests between Turkey and the US. The US is trying to weaken and isolate China, Russia and Iran by various means.
The Kurdish resistance movement is the main obstacle to Erdoğan’s expansion plans, she said, and Erdoğan is threatening the US that he will make alliances with Russia and Iran if they don’t support his plans. Turkey is also seeking to become an observer in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Kurdish activists in Europe are planning solidarity actions with the local resistance to Turkey’s attacks.
Koç explained how she was seeking support from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for an independent investigation into Turkey’s use of chemical weapons. However, they refused to offer assistance, because they had not received the request from any state.
In discussion, Koç was asked about the war in Ukraine. She said the left was split on what to do, which “weakened those who can be helpful to the people of Ukraine”.
She said “there is no need for the left to speak on behalf of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin [or]... [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky [or] … [US President] Joe Biden”.
“It’s clear that Russia occupied another country and this is illegal — it is against international law,” she said. “There is no excuse for Turkey or Russia to occupy foreign territories.”
She said that some people would excuse Turkish or Russian expansionism as part of “self defence”, or that they are “forced” into military action. Koç rejected this excuse, saying Putin had other options. “Occupying is not part of self defence.”
“I feel sorry for the people of Ukraine,” she said. “Because ... their country [is] a buffer zone in a power-sharing conflict between two states: the US and Russia.”
The result has been millions of refugees and hundreds of thousands killed, she said.
She argued that progressive forces have to be clear of their aim to be a “third power”. “It is not our duty to take part in hegemonic [support] for those who are in conflict because of power sharing”.
“We could also play a role building mass movements saying we are on the side of the people, and if there’s a progressive power in Ukraine, we should support them.”
We should not see our role as support (directly or indirectly) for Putin or NATO, she said. “That is not our duty.”
In response to other questions, she strongly advocated learning about the experiences of the Kurdish liberation movement, especially democratic confederalism. She said that this could be applied in Iran, other parts of the Middle East and around the world.
[Listen to Koç’s presentation and other recordings from the conference here.]