Til Temir: Front line – A letter from an internationalist friend

A combatjet passes in low flight over the city of Til Temir, making the windows of the houses vibrate, where Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians coexist in this arid city located today few kilometers of the front. When the blazing sound of the engine passes, the crying of a baby is the first thing to break the silence. We did not feel any explosion, it seems that this flight only wanted to frighten the population. Now heads of neighbors pop out from the windows to see that everyone is good.

-Perhaps now that their soldiers have arrived, their planes are arriving as well.

-Surely it’s Russian, Russian planes have to fly lower than the others to see what happens!

-No, it must be American! Now that the Americans are leaving, so are their planes.

And they laugh. They laugh to scare the fear. The fear they have is that the next plane won’t pass by, that it will drop one of the bombs we’ve heard exploding on the outskirts of the city for days now. That’s why nobody mentions that the plane in question is surely a Turkish F-16, so as not to spread fear among the few people who are still left in this neighborhood. Many neighbors marched days ago to Haseke, where a couple of weeks ago they have started to build a new refugee camp to receive people displaced by this new war. A new war that is confused with the previous one.

Five years ago Til Temir experienced the war against the Islamic state on the front line, especially the Christian villages nearby where the Salafists showed their cruelest face, mutilating and decapitating those who captured alive to the cry of “infidels” and “Allah is the greatest”. They are the same cries that we hear today in the videos that come from the front and that circulate between Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages, where groups of armed men trained by the Turkish state celebrate how the Kurdish politician Hevrîn Xelef is executed, or how they capture the fighter of the YPJ Çiçek Kobane.

When we arrived in Til Temir in mid-October, seeking to open a humanitarian corridor to the then besieged city of Serekaniye, Til Temir’s seven schools were already filled with elderly people, mothers and children fleeing Turkish bombs. Since then the front has continued to inexorably approach the city, and more and more towns and villages have to be evacuated. Yesterday the father of the host family, a teacher in one of the schools that had to stop classes to accommodate refugees, showed me a video of a small village from which a large column of smoke was rising.

“This is my village. It was bombarded by a Turkish plane. The hevals have been alone defending the village for three days, everyone had to flee because of the bombs.”

A strange front

Following the withdrawal of United States troops in early October, the agreement between the Self-Administration of North-East Syria and the government forces of the Syrian State has created a strange situation. The regular forces of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) are deployed jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to deal with the Turkish occupation. For the first time in more than seven years, government soldiers have set foot in the territory where the Kurds, along with Assyrians, Arabs and other ethnic groups of northern Syria, have implemented the self-government project inspired by the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, known as the proposal for democratic confederalism.

A little less than a week ago the first reinforcements of the SAA arrived in Til Temir. We knew this because the morning they entered the city, they spent about twenty minutes circling and firing into the air waving the Syrian flag from old trucks, full of young and badly armed soldiers, before heading for the front. They hoped that this flag would protect them from Turkish mortars and fighter planes, but it did not. From the Legerîn Ciya hospital (an internationalist doctor who came from Argentina to Rojava and who died just over a year ago) we could see how the same afternoon, the improvised operating theatres were filled with Bashar Al-Assad soldiers wounded by the bombings and mortars of Erdogan’s soldiers (and others of jihadists).

Yesterday we saw once again American helicopters flying over the city, which indicates that they were moving troops again. After announcing their withdrawal in early October, last week, Donald Trump explained that they were returning to Syria to “protect the oil”. Neighbors explained to us that their convoy of armored vehicles was returning to Qamislo after pro-turk Islamists attacked them as they passed through Ain Issa in the direction of Kobane. In the military base they had there, today the Russian flag is flying, and a few days ago Russian soldiers have been patrolling together with the Turkish army along the border between the cities of Serekaniye and Amude. A few kilometres further, between Qamislo and Derik, it is American soldiers who patrol.

This morning SAA reinforcements arrived again, this time with old Russian tanks and a few mortars and other heavy weapons. They will need them. The day before yesterday, when we went to visit the front, we saw the conditions in which they were deployed in the different villages where the SDF still maintain the defense of the territory. After the withdrawal of the SDF from the city of Serekaniye on October 12, the front has moved to the semi-desert plains that separate the scarce 40 kilometers between Til Temir and Serekaniye, where the Islamists advance thanks to the air support of Turkish planes and combat drones.

In a war in these conditions, it is sometimes difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy. At the front we are usually guided by the premise that if he doesn’t shoot you, he is a friend. The great hospitality of the Middle East, where everyone you meet greets you with vocation and invites you to sit down and have tea, can lead you to live strange situations. The most recent, looking for a translator to explain to the captain of a team of SAA mortars that we did not want sugar in the tea he offered us, while a group of soldiers unloaded the cannons behind the SDF lines while they asked us, honestly surprised, how it is possible that we could speak Kurdish and not Arabic.

Internationalism and Revolution

Rojava’s revolution has inspired social movements all over the world, highlighting without doubt the libertarian, feminist and ecological character that Kurdish socialism promotes. Solidarity committees translate, organize demonstrations and denounce the Turkish occupation to different countries, coordinating with the extensive Kurdish diaspora that has dispersed in recent decades because of repeated wars that have threatened their survival. In the framework of the campaign #RiseUp4Rojava, last Saturday, November 2, we saw more than a hundred demonstrations in dozens of countries around the world.

We are also quite a few internationalists who are currently working on the ground, especially in communication and health care, covering the fronts that resist the invasion. We said that war sometimes creates strange companies, and I think it is an adequate description when we see the two main international teams that are currently assisting the wounded on the front of Til Temir in coordination with Heyva Sor (the Kurdish Red Crescent). On the one hand, a group of anarchists from different countries who have coincided in Rojava and who have been working for some time as a combat medical team. On the other hand, a group of American and Burmese Christians who have been working for more than two decades as combat medical teams in different conflicts.

In fact, one of the international martyrs that this Turkish offensive has claimed so far, belongs to this team. Yesterday one of the ambulances at the rear of the front was hit by a projectile that wounded two people and put an end to the life of a third. His name is Zao Sang, born Thailand, who lost his life shortly after the impact caused by the serious injuries. Also the German Konstantin G. (Andok), fighter of the international brigade of the YPG, was killed by the Turkish bombs in a convoy headed to Serekaniye. And today we had to add a third name, which is that the commander of the international battalion for freedom Ozge Aydin (Ceren), a Turkish national, died from the wounds that led to her coma last week. Their names lengthen the list of the hundreds of combatants and civilians who have been killed in this Turkish offensive.

To speak of death and war can easily frighten the western reader, accommodated in the first world where wars always take place away from home. The revolution of 1936, when tens of thousands of international brigadists came to support the war against fascism during the second Spanish Republic, is a long way off. A third of those who came could never return home again, but their actions meant an important chapter in the history of revolutionary internationalism. Today in Rojava we are a handful of internationals, inspired by the revolutionary project of Rojava, living and discussing the contradictions that this society generates, debating on how to develop an internationalism with the base of democratic confedralism. The war in Spain was followed by the 2nd world war, and there are a lot of similarities with the situation we are living today, so is more than ever necessary to reflect together on what future we want to build.

In fact, today we have published a global appeal together with other internationalists to come to support the resistance of Rojava, to understand and learn what it means to build (and defend) a revolution.

The number of internationalists who have come to put their grain of sand to Rojava is difficult to calculate, but it is far from the 50,000 brigadists who more than 80 years ago answered the call to confront fascism when we needed it most. No doubt this should make us reflect if we are really ready to carry out a revolutionary process or if it is just a romantic imaginary that we explain while we live our privileged lives. Revolution is not a road of roses, but no one has ever said it was easy. However, the alternative is to allow patriarchy and capitalism to continue to lead our lives, and for me and the many other comrades who are here, this is no longer an option.

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