Maxmur – refugee camp or revolutionary oasis in the desert?

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If you drive along the road from Kirkuk towards Mosul, your impressions are characterized by a lot of dust and the pungent smell of petrol. After this monotonous image continues, the Mexmur refugee camp appears in the distance. The numerous gardens and trees make it feel like you are approaching a desert oasis.

The camp is located between Kirkuk, Mosul and Erbil. The majority of the approximately 12,000 people in this camp come from the Botan region in northern Kurdistan. In the course of the burning of villages, looting and deliberate expulsion by the Turkish occupying state in the early 1990s, many were forced to leave their homes. From then on, the story of the exodus of the people of Maxmur begins. A story of unimaginable pain and difficulties, but also a story of a struggle to defend dignity, a story of resilience. Since its departure from Botan, the camp has changed location five times. From then until now, the camp has been under constant attack by the fascist Turkish state. Air raids, secret service operations, attacks by Islamist militias. These attacks are supported and sometimes even carried out by the KDP, whose practice resembles that of a branch of the Turkish secret service (MIT).

Until the first permanent housing structures were erected in 2003, tents were the only protection against weather conditions. It is important to note that temperatures of over 50°C are the norm in Maxmur’s long summer. In the early days, there were not even any tents. The situation of the population of Maxmur today, in which at least the most existential survival needs can be more or less satisfied, is the result of a long struggle. When the first school was founded in a tent in 1994, there were not even pencils for the students, but nevertheless, they were taught in the Kurdish language. A freedom that still does not exist in Turkey today.

Armed drones of the Turkish occupying state fly daily over the refugee camp, which is located over 200 km from the border with Turkey. The fascist Turkish state spares no expense or effort in trying to use the camp’s young people in particular for its own purposes. There is hardly a cell phone in the camp on which an MIT agent has not called at least once. Sometimes it is threats of violence, especially against relatives living in Turkey, sometimes it is material enticement. Another means that the secret services try time and time again is to circulate drugs and prostitution in order to control young people in particular. Whenever people came from the camp to other cities, whether to work, study or for health treatment, the enemy left no stone unturned. Another widely used tactic is to induce emigration to Europe. When the Islamic State attacked Mosul at lightning speed in 2014 and threatened to spread in all directions, the Iraqi Army and KDP forces in charge dropped everything.

In this context, a group of the People’s Defense Forces (HPG) rushes to Maxmur to avert the worst. As a result, a small contingent of HPG guerrillas remains to protect the camp from possible attacks.

Under these harsh circumstances, the camp’s society organizes itself in a radically democratic way according to the paradigm of Rêber APO. From the commune to the People’s Council, the Women’s Council and the Youth Council, the organs of democratic confederalism were established and filled with life. In the economic sector, the number of cooperatives is growing and the economic transformation is progressing despite the obstacles posed by the existing embargo.

Around 4000 pupils are taught in Maxmur’s schools today. From kindergarten to high school, around 200 teachers cater to the needs of children and young people. However, as education is of enormous importance, there are also various academies where the population is educated in subjects such as jinology, ecology, democracy and much more.

After health care was absolutely disastrous, especially in the early years, there are now two hospitals in Maxmur that not only care for the population of the camp, but also numerous patients from the surrounding area.

The stories of the people of Maxmur are not just enough to fill books, but libraries. Countless families have lost members in attacks on the camp. Many of the camp’s daughters and sons have become martyrs in the armed struggle. Whether in the mountains or in Rojava. But instead of being victimized in all these adverse circumstances, the people maintain an extraordinary dignity and live with their heads held high.

It is absolutely impossible to make the history and reality of these people understandable in a few lines. At least I can mention the deep reverence one feels when getting to know these people and their struggle.

Without even beginning to forget the reality of Maxmur’s people, the camp offers a certain potential to show that another world is possible and, above all, how. In addition to the lack of freedom due to its status as a refugee camp, an impressive process of liberation is taking place within society. Guided by Rêber APO’s philosophy of freedom, society is being transformed step by step. The revolutionary significance of the camp is no secret, especially to its enemies, and this aspect alone is enough to justify murderous attacks and silence the international state community.

This year too, the camp is by no means spared attacks. In spring, it is the Iraqi army that approaches the camp at dawn in armored combat vehicles. As in the previous year, the aim is to fence in the camp. The Iraqi government is not acting in its own interests, but under pressure from the Turkish state, which is threatening to stop the flow of the Tigris River, which is vital for Iraq. The population immediately stands in the way of the soldiers. On the front line, mothers block the access road. When the soldiers persist, the young people respond to the attacks with stones, causing the soldiers to flee. At this moment, Iraq opens fire. A youth is hit in the chest by a bullet and only by great luck does he escape death. The siege by the Iraqi army lasts 16 days. During this time, the entire population keeps watch at key points and whenever soldiers approach, they scare them away. In the end, the other side gives up the operation.

While the simmering Israel-Palestine conflict overshadows everything in the media, the Turkish occupying state is expanding its attacks on Rojava enormously. All supply structures are being targeted and the number of civilian casualties continues to rise.

But Erdogan also seizes the opportunity with regard to Maxmur and attacks the camp unnoticed by the world public.

On October 7, a Turkish combat drone bombed the forecourt of a mosque. A woman and two children are injured. Another drone attack follows a week later. Again, a woman is seriously injured.
On October 13, a Turkish UAV bombs a car near Erbil. The occupants are all from the camp. Three female passengers are injured. The driver of the vehicle is the newly engaged Dilovan Işlek. The rocket hits the driver’s side and 27-year-old Dilovan becomes Şehîd.

Although Maxmur is a refugee camp and the UN is therefore responsible, it shows no attitude towards the attacks. A frequently used excuse is the presence of guerrilla forces in the vicinity of the camp. It is claimed that it is a military camp. In order to dispel this propaganda and because the original task of the guerrillas around Maxmur had been fulfilled, the guerrillas withdrew their forces in September. Following the announcement of this, a battle broke out between Iraq and the KDP on Qereçox Mountain, at the foot of which the camp is located. Among the KDP’s casualties is a member of the Turkish secret service, which once again confirms an obvious fact.

It is certainly not news that the UN, EU and other states are no help to a people who have an idea of freedom and are not prepared to sell themselves. Fairy tales about the humanism of the EU and UN can no longer be made credible to anyone, and the people of Maxmur know this only too well. Solidarity can only be expected from the global democratic society. The fact that stories like Şehîd Dilovan’s are also being heard outside Kurdistan and that the attacks by the fascist Turkish state are not going unnoticed lies solely in the power of freedom seekers around the world, above all the internationalist youth.

Sipan Vidanova,

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