Dispatch from Diyarbakir, October 31

by Ulf Petersen

Sixteen YPG/YPG fighters dead in twenty-four hours, and no end is in sight—the brutal game around Kobanê continues. Two friends from the Bağlar neighborhood, aged 32 and 35, tell me that if they didn’t have sole responsibility for their daughters’ care, they would rush to join the fight. “We’re not afraid of İşıd,” they say, using the Turkish shorthand for Islamic State (IS).

Kobanê could become a Kurdish Gallipoli, a founding myth for a “Kurdistan” of some political form. Sentiments that Rojava should unite with the KRG—in northern Iraq, led by Masoud Barzani—and with the PKK movement in Turkey are strong. Barzani’s peshmerga fighters were welcomed joyfully, as Nick Brauns describes.

The battle for Kobanê is strengthening Kurdish identity. That identity, a feeling of a deep connectedness, is the principal source of the Kurds’ spirit of resistance, strengthened by hatred for the Islamic State. Many Kurds consider the PKK’s program of women’s liberation, ecology, and council democracy to be an indispensable component of their Kurdish identity, indeed of Kurdish existence today.

On Tuesday we talked with Ahmet Türk, a Kurdish politician who, along with the Aramaic Christian Februniye Akyol Benno, is co-mayor of the large city of Mardin. He emphasized that the Kurdish people’s struggle points to a solution for the entire Middle East. The goal is “democratic confederalism,” in the sense of Abdullah Öcalan, that transcends borders and guarantees peace and equality for all ethnic and religious groups.

By comparison with the pogrom mentality that is being inflamed by the Islamic State, the Shiite militias in Iraq, and other forces, this project seems a humane and democratic alternative.

Today I met a seventeen-year-old Kurd from Erbil, who three years ago gave up his Muslim beliefs and became an atheist. In fact, he has tattooed on his chest the symbol of the prophet Zarathustra, but he keeps it covered up, since his life is precious to him.

When we return, we will report on the conversations and observations at the border at Kobanê and in the refugee camps. We will consider how leftist movements here and in the West and approach the danger of German, Kurdish, Arabic, and other nationalisms and religious fundamentalisms as a common problem.

Diyarbakır, October 31, 2014

Video: Child care in the refugee camp Arin Mirxan in Suruç


Translated by Janet Biehl.


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