Today, on the 19th of July 2020 we celebrate eight years of revolution in Rojava. Since 2012 the liberated areas of North and East Syria have been a global locus of revolutionary energy, struggling against fascism and counter revolution as a beacon of hope for many. Through the sacrifice of many thousands of martyrs and out of the chaos of war a new world is being built here.
It is on this day that we celebrate the liberation of the city of Kobane from the Baath regime, it is a day the symbolizes the start of a new phase in the history the Kurdish freedom movement. But where did this golden moment come from and how was built into a lasting revolution? The reality is that the system that we now see in N.E Syria is the result of a process beginning in the 1980s. It was in 1979 that Abdullah Ocalan (the ideological force underlying the Rojava revolution) was crossing into Syria where he gave political education for almost 20 years. The effect that this had on the Kurdish population cannot be overstated; in an environment where their very humanity was denied by the Baath regime Ocalan preserved the dignity and identity of the Kurdish people. Without his influence it is very possible that the Syrian state would have succeeded in it‘s program of cultural annihilation.
In 2004 uprisings broke out across Rojava and even reached as far as Damascus in response to the death of 32 Kurds. The deaths took place in confrontations orchestrated by the Baathist police after a football match in Qamishlo and were a measure of the level of discontent across the country especially within the Kurdish population who had suffered decades of economic exclusion and cultural repression. Unfortunately in the face of a huge retaliation by the Syrian state the uprising was quelled and the moment lost.
However, the “Serhildan of Qamishlo“ proved the will of the people to stand up in the face of severe repression and fight. What had been missing in 2004 was a depth of organization and preparation that left budding movement vulnerable to the response of the state. It was with this experience and analysis of the situation that the organizing efforts in the following years were expanded dramatically. Despite having to work in a state of total secrecy networks of self-defense grew through the region.
On the 19th of July 2012, in the midst of the “Arab Spring“, the fires of revolution spreading through the Middle East and North Africa arrived in Rojava. The Kurdish people of Kobane took up arms and demanded the Baathist troops leave the city.
The example of Kobane was soon followed by cities across Rojava from Efrin in the west to Derik in the east the people were able to push the Regime from their cities and place the power into the hands of the people. In the end the chaos that the whole country found it‘s self in lent in the favor of the fledgling revolution. The Regime was in such a state of disarray that it was mostly evicted from the cities of Rojava without the need for an escalations of violence, instead choosing to focus it‘s efforts in the south of the country.
Of course, we cannot ignore the global and regional context in which the revolution appeared. It was a door that was opened by circumstance in the course of history but was the organization binding together the Kurdish society that layed the path beyond this door. It was this strength that was able to convert insurrection into revolution.
Like many revolutions, since it‘s birth it has been struggling against a deadly cocktail of reactionary and imperial forces to maintain and grow it‘s self. It was the heroic resistance against the fascist Caliphate of ISIS that brought Rojava to the attention of much of the world. The forces that began as underground self-defense units grew to become the YPJ/YPG that defended what had been won from the Syrian state against the new threat of an “Islamic State“. In this conflict alone the people of N.E Syria gave over 11,000 martyrs and many thousands more injured.
It is on the foundation of these sacrifices that a new system of direct democracy has been built. It has been able to overcome the dangers of nationalism and spread though diverse social fabric of Syria, bridging divides that were maintained for so long by a statist logic of divide and rule. It is the first time in the history of the region that we see Arab, Asyrian, Kurdish, Armenien and other minorities fighting shoulder to shoulder for a common cause, not for the domination of any one identity but for the preservation of all. Not only in the military field but in all areas of social life. It is taking practical steps in all areas of life to center the liberation of women, understanding the freedom of woman to be the fundamental measure of freedom in society. The source of this paradigm is the works of Ocalan who, despite his being held in isolation by the Turkish state, produced the ideological backbone of the revolution. These ideas find their practical application in everything from a female/male co chair system in all institutions to the system of peoples councils that decentralize power to the local level.
New ideas that can prove themselves effective in enriching the lives of society will always be a threat to the established order. Rojava is no exception; in 2018 the fascist Turkish state annexed the canton of Efrin sending a clear message that they would not accept this ideological challenge to their hegamony, fearing it could spread within their own borders. This aggression continues until today, with the occupation of Serikaniye and Gire Spi in October 2019 and new offensives forever looming on the horizon. Even at this moment the Turkish state is attacking the democratic forces in the mountains of Basur Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). In spite of all of this the revolution in N.E Syria remains, it continues to grow deeper in its practice and root itself in the hearts of the society who have seen how it can improve their lives. No matter how many of it‘s critics insisted that it is a passing phase the force continues to grow and it‘s influence spread.
Today on the 19th of July we pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives for a new world, and we celebrate the start of a new chapter in the history of the Kurdish people, of Rojava, the Middle East and global revolution.