Activists from Turkey's Kurdish lead People's Democratic Party (HDP).
Below is the edited text of a speech given by Dave Holmes at the launch of the pamphlet The Kurdish Freedom Struggle Today in Melbourne on September 29. Holmes is a co-author of the pamphlet, published by Resistance Books. He is also a member of the Socialist Alliance.
This pamphlet aims to provide a short introduction to the Kurdish question for non-Kurdish readers in Australia. The focus is on Turkey and Rojava (the Kurdish majority liberated zone in northern Syria) where the struggle is being led by the revolutionary democratic wing of the Kurdish movement. That is, the People's Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
This is a mass struggle, involving hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.
Inescapably, there is little in the pamphlet about Iraq and Iran. It also does not deal in any detail with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan's current war against the Kurds as he schemes to get a majority for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the November 1 parliamentary elections.
The articles, by myself and Tony Iltis, aim to provide essential information and perspective. Apart from that, we felt it was important to let key figures speak for themselves so readers could get a feel for the struggle.
So we have the eloquent and powerful 2013 Newroz (Kurdish New Year) message from jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş's luminous vision of a new Turkey.
Then there are the inspiring interviews with HDP co-leader Figen Yüksekdağ and two Women's Protection Units (YPJ) commanders, which show very clearly the tremendous role women are playing in the fight on both sides of the border.
The final item touches on Australia's minor but shameful role in the conflict — its criminalisation of the PKK as a banned terrorist group.
Importance of Rojava
All around the world, in a myriad of struggles, people are fighting against oppression and exploitation. As socialists we support them all, so what makes the Kurdish freedom struggle today so special?
The answer is the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava has a clear goal — the creation of an inclusive, secular, radically democratic, feminist, ecological society. It has a revolutionary leadership worthy of the heroism and sacrifice of the people and a strategy to achieve its aims.
So much of what we hear about the Middle East involves sectarian and inter-communal violence. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) embodies this with its murderous intolerance and extremely backward ideology.
The Middle East is a tremendously rich mosaic of different ethnic and religious communities. Fundamentalists of all stripes want to destroy this beautiful diversity through ruthless violence.
This is clear in Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS fanatics control a large territory. It is also the case in Turkey, where the Erdoğan regime — following in the footsteps Turkish government's since the founding of the republic in 1923 — seeks to imprison the whole country in the straitjacket of a mythical Sunni Muslim “Turkish nation”.
Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazedis and a host of other ethnicities and faiths all endure discrimination and oppression.
The progressive Kurdish movement has explicitly rejected such reactionary nationalism. In his Newroz message, Öcalan puts forward a revolutionary perspective in these very moving words: “We shall unite against those who want to divide and make us fight one another. We shall join together against those who want to separate us …
“The peoples of the region are witnessing a new dawn. The peoples of the Middle East are weary of enmity, conflict and war. They want to be reborn from their own roots and to stand shoulder to shoulder …
“The truths in the messages of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are being implemented in our lives today with new tidings. People are trying to regain what they have lost.”
The great success of the HDP in the June 7 elections was based on this approach. It sought to be the party of the oppressed and exploited across the whole country.
And in Rojava, diversity is built into the very foundations of the revolution. Kurds are the largest ethnic group, but conscious efforts are made to engage and incorporate Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen and so on into the self-governing structures of the cantons.
In Cizire canton, for example, where the population comprises Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenians, the official languages are Kurdish, Arabic and Aramaic. All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language.
This is a matter of life and death for the Rojava revolution. The forces of darkness are constantly trying to turn communities against each other. If the revolution cannot adequately counter this, it will fail.
The ISIS killers have gained worldwide notoriety for their barbaric treatment of prisoners — and their public celebration of it. Captives have been beheaded, burned alive and shot in mass executions.
The People's Protection Units (YPG) and YPJ in Rojava have repudiated such inhuman behaviour. Prisoners are treated correctly. Individual lapses are always possible, but the Rojava authorities have an exemplary record on the humane treatment of prisoners.
The YPG/J have also signed the Geneva Conventions on not using soldiers under the age of 18 and have discharged many combatants found to be underage.
However, one has to put things in perspective here: when a 15- or 16-year-old has seen family members killed or when ISIS attacks a village threatening to kill everyone, it is entirely natural that many youth will pick up a gun and join the resistance, irrespective of their age.
Women in the forefront
All great revolutions have drawn women into the struggle. But I think it is true to say that the role women are playing in the Kurdish freedom struggle in Turkey and Rojava is unprecedented in history.
In Rojava women have their own armed force, the YPJ, making up at least a third of the combatants. They are also in the YPG. Women are combatants at all levels, including in the command. They have furnished hundreds of martyrs to the struggle.
Women in Rojava are fighting for a new society in which real gender equality prevails. The Rojava Charter (constitution) says: “Women have the inviolable right to participate in political, social, economic and cultural life … [the charter] mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.”
In Afrin canton in 2013, for instance, women made up 65% of the administration. The Prime Minister is a woman, Hevi Ibrahim.
We do not need to idealise anything. Rojava society is patriarchal but under the pressure of war, revolution and a revolutionary leadership, things are changing. Young women cannot be stopped by their fathers or brothers from joining the YPJ or the Asayish, the public order force.
While not everyone is on side and some people are disenchanted, the revolution has inspired and involved whole layers of the population.
I especially like the photo by Yann Renoult on the back cover of our pamphlet. This shows a revolutionary Kurdish family in Rojava looking out with what seems to be hope, determination and courage. There is Ocalan's image on the wall; all the couple's sons and daughters had joined the defence forces as teenagers.
One son had fallen in battle at the age of 18. Their parents were behind them, especially their mother, said the photographer.
Yes, the situation is terrible, but people know what they are fighting for and that gives the revolution a tremendous strength.
I hope this pamphlet can help spread awareness of the Kurdish freedom struggle, build support for it and play a role in the development of a more effective solidarity movement here in Australia.