'A David and Goliath struggle' — eyewitness report from South Kurdistan

July 27, 2022

Australian cinematographer Jake Lloyd Jones is in Bashur (South Kurdistan) in northern Iraq, observing what he described as a “David and Goliath struggle” between the Kurds and the Turkish state.

He spoke to Green Left on July 22, two days after the Turkish military shelled a popular tourist spot in the Iraqi province of Duhak, killing at least nine people (including children).

Video footage courtesy of MerJa Media.

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Why did you decide to make this trip to South Kurdistan?

I have been interested in the Kurdish struggle for a long time. I used to be very interested in the revolution in Spain, when the Spanish republic was fighting the fascists between the two world wars. The Rojava revolution has a lot of similar political ideas.

It is a David and Goliath story and I am amazed by how much they have achieved, in terms of women’s rights and things like that, so I always wanted to do whatever I could to help support their cause.

As the Rojava revolution marks its 10th anniversary, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s regime in Turkey is stepping up its military offensive against Kurds in Northern Iraq as well as North and East Syria. Some of the fiercest fighting is currently taking place in the former. What can you tell us about this?

Turkey has been backing the jihadists in Syria for years now. They don’t like [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad and they don’t like the Kurds. NATO has — in order to get Turkey to agree to let Sweden and Finland into NATO — totally rolled over and shown their belly to Turkey and Turkey is now openly using chemical weapons on the Kurds and bombing civilians — a couple of days ago they killed a one-year-old baby at a popular tourist destination here — and the world says nothing, as long as Turkey keeps doing what NATO wants, and it is just really disappointing.

We were at the Halabja memorial the other day and we saw pictures of dead children killed by weapons supplied by NATO countries and now it’s happening again. History is just repeating itself.

There have also been attacks on the Yezidi community in Shengal (Sinjar). Can you please explain the background to this?

One of the most moving stories that you will hear in this long war is about when ISIS [Daesh] overran the Yezidi villages in Mount Sinjar and the Peshmerga that belonged to [the] Barzani [family] and the KDP fled without firing a shot. In fact they even disarmed the Yezidi, promising to defend them and then just left them to the mercy of these ISIS head-choppers. Those people were surrounded, they were on top of the mountain in the same July heat that we’re experiencing right now. It was unimaginably hot — the children were fainting from dehydration — and nobody was coming to save them.

It was actually the female guerrillas from the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] and the YPJ [Women’s Protection Units] who put their own lives on the line and went in there, forced a corridor through the Daesh lines and carried those children out on their backs under fire.

Now, Yezidi refugees — you can find them all over the world, even in Australia — can’t return to their homes because the area is controlled by both Iranian militia and the Turks. And it’s not in Turkey, it’s in Iraq. Turkey is just wandering around, they have military bases here and they are completely complicit in the continuing oppression of these poor Yezidi people. A lot of the young girls and women were sold into slavery by ISIS to the jihadists and if you go to north-west Syria in the area that is held by Turkey, the jihadist families are sitting there protected by Turkey with these Yezidi slaves. And because it’s Turkey, nobody does anything.

What is the response of the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to these persistent and violent aggressions from Turkey?

The Iraqi government has been pretty weak until this latest attack — where some Arabs were killed — and now they’ve lodged an official complaint to Turkey. Up until then it seemed to be open season because it was only Kurds getting killed, and the Iraqi government didn’t seem too concerned about that — even though Turkey was coming into Iraqi territory and bombing, and has actual military bases here in northern Iraq.

As for the KRD, Barzani and the KDP, they are actually collaborators, they are actually assisting Turkey in this, when Turkey is attacking the Kurds. It’s quite astonishing, but that’s just how mercenary these guys are.

On July 20, in Tehran, Erdogan repeated his intention to launch a new invasion of Rojava, to occupy a 30-kilometre-wide “security zone”. How imminent do the Kurds you have spoken with think this invasion is, and what are the prospects for it being prevented, if not defeated?

Well, the Kurds here are ready to mobilise if that invasion occurs. They are watching the news very closely. They are hoping that Russia and Iran will manage to discourage Turkey from doing it, but Turkey is a bit of a rogue animal, they don’t care if they are being told not to do it.

The problem is that 30 kilometre zone along the border is where most of the Kurds in Rojava are. All of their major towns, cities and bases are within that 30km zone. So, effectively eliminating Rojava if it happens. The Kurds are up against a NATO army with artillery and aircraft made in America, they are using chemical weapons. The chances of the Kurds, with just their light arms being able to stop that — I am not optimistic about that.

You visited Halabja. What lessons should the world learn from the 1988 Halabja massacre and its consequences?

At Halabja, one of the most shocking things we saw there was a photograph of the opening of that memorial. And standing on the podium was Colin Powell and Barzani. Both of whom — Barzani is a collaborator who sold out his own people — and Colin Powell — it was America and the CIA who was supporting Saddam Hussein when this happened, and they gave Saddam instructions on how to manage the propaganda and cover it up and conceal what had happened. And [Powell] is standing there in his suit looking all sad. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And now, again, Turkey is doing the same thing.

Yesterday, we buried a comrade who was killed in the mountains by a chemical attack from Turkey. Again, the Kurds are the victims; again the weapons are coming from us — from the West.

[Transcript has been edited for clarity and accuracy.]

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