Above Photo: Participants in a demonstration against the Turkish army’s invasion of Syria carry a long cloth ribbon with the colors of the Kurdish flag in Stuttgart, November 2, 2019. SEBASTIAN GOLLNOW / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES
As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan flew into Washington, D.C., on November 14, to meet with Donald Trump, anti-fascist and international solidarity activists were flooding into the streets in protest.
“The protest is in opposition to Turkey’s aggression toward North Syria,” says Flint Arthur, vice president of the American Rojava Center for Democracy. Arthur participated in the D.C. protests to “oppose Turkey’s ongoing attacks, invasion and occupation of North Syria,” a region known as Rojava. “It is an important way to keep attention on it and its related issues. It also helps the morale of people in Syria for them to know that people all over the world are demonstrating support for their cause,” Arthur told Truthout.
Earlier this month, as Turkey conducted airstrikes in northeastern Syria and its jihadist proxies terrorized civilians in towns along the Syrian-Turkish border, people took to the streets in Oakland, California. Red and green smoke flares were lit off from the roofs of neighboring buildings, honoring the color of the Kurdish flag. Hundreds marched behind a banner that read “Rise Up 4 Rojava” — the slogan-turned-hashtag for the escalating international solidarity movement that is fighting in support of the autonomous area of Rojava, which is now under threat from a Turkish invasion.
This escalation of solidarity protests led to a global day of action on November 2. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Berlin, Santiago and other cities worldwide, mass actions were held to show support for the Kurds under attack. Demonstrators used social media and trending hashtags, like #StandUp4Rojava and #BoycottTurkey, to share images, video, and statements of support with each other and the people in Syria.
“Demonstrations [are] one of the few outlets in which we can express solidarity and show our support for [Rojava] from afar,” says Deellan Shayda, an organizer with both the Bay Area Mesopotamia Solidarity and the California Kurdish Community Center, groups that are working on international solidarity campaigns in support of the Rojava revolution.
In Portland, Oregon, Demand Utopia, along with Rojava Solidarity Portland and Symbiosis, organized a public rally to update people on the situation. “I think we all prioritize solidarity with Rojava because it is a revolutionary Indigenous struggle led by women transforming gender relations in the region,” says Tyler Anderson, of Demand Utopia and the Rojava Solidarity Portland. “Rojava is also an experiment in transformative egalitarian political structures rooted in face-to-face, bottom-up decision-making where everyone in society has a say in the matters that affect them. As anarchists, libertarian socialists and social ecologists, we see the revolution in Rojava as part of an international process of a revolutionary change to replace our inhumane hierarchical capitalist state structures with one rooted in the voices of the people.”
The Kurdish Freedom Struggle
While the oppression against the Kurdish people has always garnered support from anti-imperialist movements, the social experiment in the Rojava region of Syria has captured worldwide attention. Since the Syrian government receded amid a civil war in 2012-13, the “Democratic Confederalist” ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have been put into practice. The PKK was a Maoist political party that had been fighting for the national liberation of the Kurds in the mountains of Turkey for decades, yet in the 1990s, the group began to shift its political view to include a more holistic view of hierarchy, patriarchy and the state. Inspired by the municipalist, anarchist ideas of Murray Bookchin, the PKK created a libertarian-socialist structure of intersecting councils and municipal collaboration instead of a coercive government and corporate-financial control of resources.
What came next was one of the most massive experiments in libertarian-communist living in history, providing a new vision in the same way the Zapatistas, the Spanish Revolution and the Makhnovist Free Territory in Ukraine did.
Rojava’s People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) continued to fight ISIS to free the Kobani region. With President Trump’s recent withdrawal of troop support, Turkey started sending in proxy battalions and bombing the area, continuing its decades of persecution of the Kurdish people and its protracted war against the PKK. Now, Kurds are under fire from the Turks and overrun with soldiers from a range of competing factions, and the experiment of Rojava is facing an existential threat.
The people of Rojava are asking for global supporters to organize in public shows of solidarity and donate to aid organizations like the Kurdish Red Crescent. This kind of international solidarity work connects local organizing with foreign areas in need of support, integrating their struggles into our own and providing support from the outside while they fight from the inside.
“It might seem small — handing out leaflets, going [to] a demonstration, writing a letter, sending a photo or video of solidarity…. [But] all acts of solidarity that have happened so far — and there’s really been a lot — they give energy to the revolution and to the struggle and to the defense of the movement here,” says Berivan Qerecox, an organizer in northeastern Syria with the Women Defend Rojava campaign.
Organizations around the U.S. and around the world are creating solidarity campaigns to support those in Rojava who are facing a threat to their communities. Public rallies and marches, pressure on Turkish decision makers and U.S. foreign policy deciders, and educational programs all make up the complicated patchwork of these solidarity campaigns. Most importantly, according to organizers, all of these efforts are useful.
“We should take the streets, we should organize and implement boycotts, and we should embody the spirit of Rojava by organizing in a way that demonstrates to people, as clearly as possible, what is in the process of being lost,” says Andrej Grubačić, an organizer, solidarity activist and author who has taught at a university in the Rojava region. “Why act for Rojava? Because Rojava is about the Kurds, and yet it is not. It is about all of us, who should be inspired by the experiment of a ‘democratic nation’ project of multiethnic coexistence that constitutes an example of dignified life.”
What Actually Works?
One key tactic is the boycott of Turkish goods, particularly Turkish airlines, since the Turkish government has a heavy stake in it. Boycotts are also part of other efforts to lobby the U.S. State Department to sanction Turkey in ways that are actually useful, rather than conventional sanctions, which can affect the most vulnerable populations in the community; and to shift foreign policy in ways that can reduce harm to the area. Activists also stress the need to be public about solidarity actions, to make sure that these organizations and events grow and are made as visible as possible.
“The feeling of complete isolation in an upcoming attack is terrifying … demonstrations [are] one of the few [ways] we can express solidarity and show that from afar,” says Shayda.
These tactics have included escalated protests, including direct action and civil disobedience, such as the recent blockage of the Norfolk Southern train outside Atlanta, Georgia. This was an attempt to block the transfer of arms from Northrop Grumman, an arms manufacturer supplying weapons to the Turkish Air Force, which is bombing the region.
“Get organized, talk to other people, decide what you can do and where your best place to work on and your best place to put that pressure, and then that’s the answer to what’s the most helpful and effective,” says Qerecox. “It’s what we put the most strength into and where we can be the strongest that is always going to be the most effective. It could be anything.”
Her organization, Women Defend Rojava, has written a letter to the UN Security Council “demanding several very concrete things that could put an end to the ethnic cleansing and the occupation” and putting pressure on UN participating nations to condemn Turkey’s actions. These demands include ending the Turkish occupation of Northeastern Syria, the UN providing border security, enforcement of a “no-fly zone,” formal disapproval of Turkish ethnic cleansing of the Kurdish people, and for the UN to consider “all ethnic groups of Syria and the elected women’s representatives.”
“Putting pressure on your representatives to in turn put pressure on those institutions to listen to these demands is really useful. It is really important that we have a unified voice. Even just writing letters, raising awareness is really important,” says Qercox.
Activists are looking for concrete ways to disrupt Turkey’s ability to continue its operation in Syria, to influence the direction of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries’ treatment of Syria and to end outside aggression against the area. While continued ceasefires are being discussed, the previous one was selectively observed and often still allowed air raids on civilian targets. Activists say something much more comprehensive is needed to protect and ensure the survival of the revolutionary area.
“The situation is very, very grave right now, and it’s really imperative for anybody who considers themselves a progressive to do whatever they can to intervene,” says Debbie Bookchin, a journalist and activist with the Defend Rojava campaign.
Bookchin added that progressives must organize on the long-term level, divesting from companies that do business with Turkey. In addition, she said people in Rojava have expressed that one of the things they most want from people in the West is for them to talk with each other about what Rojava’s model represents and how a direct democratic model could work in the United States. She said their message to people in the U.S. was:
“Take these politics back into your own communities. Do what we’re doing. Emphasize feminism. Emphasize ecology. Emphasize direct democracy.”