Rojava: Mid-East's biggest democratic hope targeted in terrorist massacre

July 29, 2016

Qamişlo, July 27.

On the morning of July 27, a bomb-laden truck exploded in a crowded area of Qamişlo in Rojava (northern Syria). This terrorist massacre, claimed by ISIS, killed at least 44 people and left about 150 injured. Many surrounding buildings were destroyed, and among the dead were a number of women and children.

Why was Qamişlo targeted? The reason is the city was named as the proposed capital of the self-declared federal system of “Rojava and Northern Syria” earlier this year. It is a multi-ethnic city of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, and Armenians.

It is near the Turkish border and the city of Nusaybin — one of the largely-Kurdish communities in Turkey that has been destroyed in recent months by NATO's second biggest army.

ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the massacre, claiming it was in retaliation for a Rojava-led military operation aimed at closing the final link between ISIS and Turkey in Syria. The attack hit an area close to a local police centre and a nearby government building, but many who died were civilians.

Starting at the end of May, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the army of Rojava and Northern Syria — encircled and entered the city of Manbij, which is still under ISIS control. The focus of defeating ISIS in Manbij is to cut off the group's Syrian capital — Raqqa — from Turkey.

This offensive has been covered recently in the Western media, but with minimal focus on the progressive and democratic struggle of the SDF.

As well as retaliation, the attack on Qamişlo may also have served as a distraction from the Manbij offensive. Or, as the Rojava Cantons General Coordination has argued, an attempt to obscure Rojava's successes — such as gender equality, secularism and direct democracy.

But Rojava has been under attack from ISIS and other jihadi groups in Syria since long before world leaders started to recognise their existence in 2014.

According to the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM), the most influential political coalition behind Rojava's revolutionary project, “Our people will give the most ideal response to these inhuman terror groups and the powers supporting them by strengthening their unity and further embracing the values of revolution.”

The SDF was ready to launch an attack on Manbij early this year, but the US encouraged it not to do so largely because of Turkish opposition to its presence around Manbij. As Rojava has been blockaded by Turkey since 2012, the SDF relies on its tactical cooperation with US airstrikes to boost the impact of its committed ground forces. For this reason, it heeded US advice.

But because pushing ISIS back in Syria would be welcomed as such a big achievement in a pre-election US, the Obama administration eventually ignored Turkey's requests and gave the SDF the go-ahead at the end of May.

The Manbij offensive is essentially an SDF operation, but it is led by the 3500 fighters of the Manbij Military Council (MMC), 3000 of whom are local Arabs from Manbij. Like the SDF, the MMC is a multi-ethnic organisation and includes Kurds, Circassians and Turkmen.

On July 27, as MMC forces approached the centre of Manbij, one fighter said: “More Manbij youths join us as we move forward. People have joined us because they see that the power of ISIS gangs has been broken.”

Indeed, local people from the area have spoken of their happiness since liberation from ISIS. And one reason for this is that, although ISIS has delayed the offensive by using civilians as human shields, MMC fighters have opened humanitarian corridors in order to rescue civilians — many hundreds of whom have been brought to safety and away from the warzone in recent weeks.

According to MMC spokesperson Şervan Derwêş: “We are trying to be precise and sensitive because of civilians. We are going to liberate the city when the time is right.”

Speaking in late June, Derwêş said: “After Raqqa, Manbij is the second largest city occupied by IS in Syria. Militarily and in terms of contact with the rest of the world, Manbij is of strategic importance.

“Manbij connects the gang group to the rest of the world and to Raqqa. For this reason our offensive to liberate this city is a big step towards the liberation of [Raqqa].”

The terrorist attack in Qamişlo will not change anything. The people of northern Syria will continue to liberate their communities from the oppressive rule of ISIS. And they will keep resisting the seeds of division and hatred that these chauvinist jihadis seek to sow.

That is the nature of Rojava's political model, which is not just about self-defence but about forging an inclusive, democratic and egalitarian alternative.

So while ISIS seeks to kill and enslave all who get in the way of its chauvinist mission, Rojavan forces will keep liberating and empowering them. And no amount of terrorism will stop them from dreaming.

[Reprinted from The Canary.]

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