After 133 days of war against ISIS, the Kurds of Kobane, a border town in northern Syria close to Turkey, finally heaved a sigh of relief this week, as ISIS fighters fled their territory.
Despite upcoming challenges, including finding and dismantling unexploded devices and the threat of remaining ISIS fighters, Kurds took to the streets (and Twitter) to celebrate what many regard as a heroic victory against a brutal militant organization that has come to occupy large swathes of land across Syria and Iraq.
— Mazloum Mustafa (@mazlloum_m) January 27, 2015
— Mazloum Mustafa (@mazlloum_m) January 25, 2015
The failure of Turkish policy
Turkey's role in the suffering of the Kurds of Kobane did not go unnoticed. Indeed, Turkey is widely accused of siding with ISIS, an anonymous Western official told Al Monitor, due to the ongoing conflict between Ankara and Turkey's own Kurds. While voices across the world called for international support for the Kurds, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly asked Obama not to intervene. Despite having the second largest army in NATO and a fleet of tanks on the Kobane border, Turkey refrained from engaging ISIS, even forbidding its own Kurds from entering Kobane to join the fight.
Our enemies (Turkey&ISIS) thought they would destroy belief on independence in Kobanê. But attacks made us stronger! pic.twitter.com/Xvc8rylEWF
— Middle East 24 (@middleeast_24) January 23, 2015
Turkey's inactivity has aroused intense suspicion. A cartoon by Kaniwar, shared on Twitter by Massimiliano Voza, accuses Turkey of allowing ISIS fighters to enter Kobane, in order to weaken the resistance.
— Massimiliano Voza (@maxvoza) January 28, 2015
Turkey's response to Kobane's liberation was also not so friendly:
— Conflict News (@rConflictNews) January 28, 2015
Kurdish activist Joan Salihi tweeted:
— Joan Salihi (@joansalihi) January 28, 2015
A symbolic victory
It took some time for Kobane's struggle to reach activists around the world. While the global media has focused on the US-led coalition striking ISIS positions, Kurds have waged a war against ISIS on the ground that's gone largely under-reported and often ignored completely.
David Graeber, an anthropology professor at the London School of Economics, an anarchist, and a leading figure in the Occupy Movement, was perhaps the first voice abroad to bring the world's attention to the fight in Kobane. In an October 2014 article, titled “Why Is the World Ignoring the Revolutionary Kurds in Syria?” Graeber described Kobane as a “democratic experiment” that is developing according to anarchist ideals, comparing the revolutionary Kurds to the anarchists who fought in the 1936–39 Spanish Civil War
Online, leftist activists widely shared Graeber's article, which provoked a series of declarations of support by several leftist magazines and websites.
To better understand the comparison to the Spanish Civil War's anarchists, it's necessary to grasp what the inhabitants of Kobane (and Rojava, more broadly) have had to endure. Graeber explains:
The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots – albeit a very bright one – to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution. Having driven out agents of the Assad regime in 2011, and despite the hostility of almost all of its neighbours, Rojava has not only maintained its independence, but is a remarkable democratic experiment. Popular assemblies have been created as the ultimate decision-making bodies, councils selected with careful ethnic balance (in each municipality, for instance, the top three officers have to include one Kurd, one Arab and one Assyrian or Armenian Christian, and at least one of the three has to be a woman), there are women’s and youth councils, and, in a remarkable echo of the armed Mujeres Libres (Free Women) of Spain, a feminist army, the “YJA Star” militia (the “Union of Free Women”, the star here referring to the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar), that has carried out a large proportion of the combat operations against the forces of Islamic State.
It wasn't military superiority that sustained the Kurds’ resistance against ISIS, many believe, but their dedication. As Kurdish activist Dilar Dirik argued in The Kurdish Question: “The people of Kobane were massively outgunned. But their will to fight kept them going. They are fighting for a fundamentally different future.”
Hopefully, the region's future will remain rooted in the principles of democratic, ecological, and gender-liberated values, which the revolutionaries have so far managed to uphold surprisingly well. It may take some time, however, to overcome the destruction wrought upon this small Kurdish enclave.
— Conflict News (@rConflictNews) January 27, 2015