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A letter from #Rojava

I’ve been in Northern and Eastern Syria for almost a year now. I was lucky to be able to work here with the women’s movement.

Originally published by Barrikade Info. Translated by Enough 14.

That means meeting many different women from this part of the world. Arabic, Armenian, Kurdish, Syrian, Yezidi and more. Young women, mothers, fighters in the self-defence forces, women who give political analysis from their work in diplomacy. Women who look after us as if we were their own children. They sleep next to us on beds that they have lovingly laid out after we have argued about who does the dishes. Women who get up at 4 a.m. to milk the goats in the village. Women teaching at the university. Women who are still not sleeping at 4 o’clock in the morning, who have weapons in their hands and who guard the lives of their loved ones and comrades.

It’s a beautiful image, not an exaggeration. Beauty is as present as it sounds. But it is not a fairy tale. I have seen how communities and organisations that only work with women deal with conflict and discord and with great harmony. I have seen lively debates and disagreements about how best to do things. A woman is never just a woman, we are many other things too – our age, our religion, our culture, our family and our work determine ourselves. These things give us different perspectives. To say that we are all one, that we have common goals and common interests does not mean that we are all the same.

One of the most impressive and encouraging things about the revolutionary project in Northern and Eastern Syria is its willingness to accept this and to accept this diversity. Under Autonomous Self-Government not everyone is expected to agree constantly. They are expected to develop structures and methods for democratic discussion to maintain this diversity. And that is what they are doing and will continue to do, except that the situation in many areas has changed radically since October 9. I was in Serekaniye when the first bombs fell. A peaceful, joyful protest had just come to an end and the city was in an afternoon rest. We ate. Twenty minutes later the families fled while the self-defence forces rushed to their positions.

The invasion and occupation by the Turkish state, both with its own forces and with jihadist proxy gangs, is now well documented. The world is aware of this, and the people of the world are angry and willing to take action while nation states and international institutions tolerate genocide. The Turkish state declares that it wants to create a “security zone” in Northern and Eastern Syria.

A truce was declared on October 17. For the people of Northern and Eastern Syria, this means little, except that international interest in the still growing threat has diminished. The war has changed slightly, but it has not stopped at all. Jihadist gangs set up by the Turkish state are still actively advancing and trying to conquer land and take important roads. Bombs are still falling from fighter planes or drones. I’ve seen photos of streets I’ve walked and streets I’ve driven, stained with blood. Places we once crossed in convoys on our way to protests, where we honked and waved out of the windows, are now darkly marked on a map. It seems innocent, but the dark marking on the map means: no longer free. We can’t go through here anymore. Especially women are not safe here.

For the Turkish state, the ceasefire was just a political trick to convince the imperialist powers to escort them to their desired territory so that they would not even have to wage war to achieve occupation. Russia is the youngest of these powers, having previously concluded a similar agreement with the United States. Turkish troops who have used illegal chemical weapons against civilians and committed other war crimes are now being accompanied on “patrols” through the border region of Northern Syria. A considerable area is already under the control of occupying troops, but these patrols go much further. Through the villages where the mothers get up at 4 a.m. to milk the goats and still have the energy to welcome guests like long lost daughters. Past the cities where the people of self-government work around the clock for a better, safer and more democratic world, where young women learn from each other at universities and children go to school. This is a tactic to prolong the occupation. This is the beginning of a slow, creeping attack that is as deadly as last month’s fast and brutal attack.

Erdogan wants to bring about demographic change in Northeast Syria by forcing people from other parts of Syria who are currently in Turkey to go there. This will destroy the pluralism and democracy that people have created here. He has announced these plans openly and internationally under the guise of ‘refugee return’. The ‘security zone’ is nothing more than violence and occupation and the ‘return of refugees’ is forced resettlement, demographic change and occupation. It will impose homogenisation on the diversity of the region. Before the Turkish invasion, Northeast Syria welcomed thousands of displaced people from war-torn parts of Syria. The area was by far the safest in the region.

Whether the media and the international powers accept it or not, the war continues. But of course also the resistance. Every Turkish patrol that has not yet arrived in Northeast Syria has been greeted by a crowd of civilians throwing stones, singing, protesting, blocking the road and throwing the worthless and insulting aid packages distributed by Russia back onto their vehicles. The day before, a young man was killed when an armoured car drove over him. I am sure that the mothers in headscarves covering the streets with boulders will only have increased in number and anger because of this. In the Til Temer and Ayn Issa regions, women are still at the forefront of local military councils and self-defence forces. Women work tirelessly to support displaced people, in the health sector and in the organisation of neighbourhoods.

The women and people of this region will not accept the occupation. So they need the rest of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in that resistance.

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