“All religions have the same heart. We’re all one,” a man says to us warmly as we drink tea in his home.
We are in the city of Kobanê in Rojava, an autonomous and democratically run region in the north of Syria. In late 2014, Kobanê became the focus of the world’s media when ISIS attacked the city and surrounding villages. In response, the US eventually bombed Kobanê, flattening it in the process. As they fought ISIS, the bravery of the Rojavan YPJ and YPG fighters was all over the news, whilst their brother and sister PKK guerillas within Turkey’s borders were, and still are, branded terrorists by Turkey and its allies.
As we walk around Kobanê, we’re shocked by the absolute destruction caused by the bombing by the US and allies. About 80% of the city has been destroyed. 1.5 million tonnes of rubble has been removed from the city so far. Dust, toxic from the explosive bombs that were dropped, fills our lungs. I wonder what the cancer rate is going to be in years to come.
Many of Kobanê canton’s 451 villages are littered with mines and booby traps left by ISIS, as well as unexploded bombs from the US. There’s billions of dollars worth of damage, and of course the US hasn’t offered to pay a cent.
The border to Turkey is just a few hundred metres away from Kobanê city. But Turkey has permanently shut this border. It sees the majority-Kurdish, democratic region of Rojava as its enemy, and doesn’t allow building supplies in to enable the rebuilding of Kobanê. Turkey also doesn’t allow much needed medicines in, or medical experts, who are desperately sought after. In fact, the only people who can get into Rojava are mainstream journalists, who are useless when it comes to helping to reconstruct the city.
The Kobanê Reconstruction Board tells us:
“We need architects that can help redesign the city to make it more ecological. We need engineers to help with the water pipelines. We need all kinds of doctors and healthcare workers. We need psychologists, especially to support women and children. We need gynaecologists to provide services to women. We need support in vaccinations. We need mine clearance people.”
Most of the residents of Kobanê fled when ISIS attacked and the US bombed, and have since returned. Clothes have been hung to dry on washing lines, strung up in the rubble. A family waves to us from a ruin – all four walls of their apartment have been destroyed. All they have is a floor. But still, they grin giant smiles that make us feel welcome.
Walking around Kobanê, everyone shakes our hands, hugs us, or invites us for tea. We’ve never been to a more friendly place.
I ask a 14 year old boy: “The whole city has been destroyed. But everyone smiles so much. Why?”
“This is because we have returned to our city. We’re so happy to be back here,” he says with a big grin.
We meet many inspirational people whilst we’re in Kobanê. We’re lucky enough to chat to the women’s union, Yekîtiya Star. The women we meet go to the local communes and do workshops, promoting women’s empowerment. Women of Rojava meet at the Mala Jin (women’s house), which is a communal space where they can organise together and solve problems which are related to women’s issues. Together, women learn about Jineolojî, which translates to women’s science, and is PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s own term for feminism. The women tell us:
“Abdullah Öcalan argues that women make up half of society, and if there is no freedom for women, it will be a sick society. This ideology is not just for Kurdish women but for all women in the world. Many women from Germany have joined this ideology and philosophy.”
We also visit the Democratic Youth Union, which is a movement of young people. Its former name was the Revolutionary Youth. “We’re still revolutionary!” they tell us. “But we are now joining youths together in culture, sport and everything, not just the revolution.”
They tell us: “We want to build a society with the right politics and with equality. And we want to protect the environment. Our organisation is not just for Kurdish youths. This is for all youths in the world. We also have Arabs, Armenians and Turkmen in Kobanê. This is a place for everyone.”
We also visit a cafe, which is just one of many workers’ co-ops that have been set up in Rojava.
During my week in the city, I befriend a beautiful ginger cat, whom I unoriginally name Ginger. Ginger is blind in one eye. I wonder what he has been through, where he sheltered when ISIS attacked and the US bombed, and whether anyone looked out for him. I wonder what he has seen, and how frightened he was.
Whilst we’re in Kobanê, the Paris terrorist attacks occur. Everyone in Kobanê is, quite rightly, in solidarity with people in Paris against the ISIS attacks. However, the only rhetoric we hear on the streets is that “Turkey is responsible for ISIS. Turkey is to blame.”
Turkey is responsible for supporting ISIS (which I have covered in previous posts on Kurdistan), but we don’t hear anyone question about how or why ISIS exists in the first place, and why France would be a possible target. As Counterpunch points out: “The Islamic State’s own statement made clear that the attacks were in response to the French bombing of Syria.”
And Salon.com writer Ben Norton states:
“The illegal U.S.-led invasion of Iraq led to the deaths of at least one million people, destabilized the entire region, and created extreme conditions in which militant groups like al-Qaeda spread like wildfire, eventually leading to the emergence of ISIS.”
The reactions of Europe and the US’ politicians and media are shortsighted and highly predictable: Let’s bomb more! Make the public terrified and paranoid! Scapegoat Muslims! Make arms companies billions of dollars! and in the process, cause more terror!
Within hours of the Paris attacks, France intensifies its bombing of Syria and Hollande states that he will “lead a war which will be pitiless.” It’s disgraceful that western politicians use the deaths of those killed in the Paris attacks for their own gains. And, surprise surprise, arms companies see their stock prices jump shortly after.
After the attacks, TV screens are filled with footage of Obama and Hollande standing side by side, their nations’ flags in the background. I’m filled with a sense of dreaded deja-vu. The scenes are hauntingly similar to those of 2003, when Bush and Blair stood united in their “war on terror.” And we know how that has turned out.
As Noam Chomsky points out:
“If you want to increase the attacks, you do exactly what President Hollande is announcing right now. Let’s bomb them more. Let’s destroy ISIS by military force. Probably impossible. But if it did happen, it’s pretty likely that something worse would emerge from it. Because the roots are not addressed. And they are real.”
But the western mainstream media doesn’t ever take a critical look, and never addresses the roots.
As Claire Veale in ROAR magazine states: “The [Paris] terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?”
“We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.”
Whilst staying in Kobanê, we meet three journalists from French parliamentary TV. They’re making a documentary on Kurdish female fighters of the YPJ. Their ignorant, and somewhat racist, views about the women they’re documenting annoy me. “If these women didn’t fight, they’d have to marry their cousins!” one of the journalists says. Later on, I hear her talk about the Paris terrorists. “They just hate us,” she says. “Why? I don’t understand why they hate us so much.”
Walking around the ruins of Kobanê, it’s essential to realise that the wreckage is an outcome of Bush, Blair, Obama, Hollande et al’s ‘wars on terror’. It is our countries’ imperialist motives, and our own racist societies, that have led to an increase in the extremists who invaded Kobanê. It’s our continuing bombings and massacres in Syria, as well as the NATO bombing of Libya and US drone attacks in places like Yemen, that will lead to more deaths and more terror. As I join the march through Kobanê to remember the victims in Paris, I think about how important it is to remember the victims of ALL terrorism, including the victims of our own western nation-states.
We visited Kobanê in November 2015.
If you want to know how you can act in solidarity with Kobanê, go to http://www.redpepper.org.uk/rebuilding-kobane/