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(en) avtonom: Comrades in the Far Land: The Rozhavskaya Odyssey of the Anarchists [machine translation]
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:18:41 +0200
The invasion of the Turkish state in Rojava (northern Syria, western Kurdistan) caused anger, anxiety and an aggravation of a sense of
solidarity in the left and anarchist circles around the world. I remember well the days when, after the statements of Trump and Erdogan, we
sat at the monitors and waited for news: would the attack threat be another political bluff? Airstrikes began, but will there be a ground
operation? ---- Will, it began ... ---- The main subject of experience: will revolutionary autonomy withstand aggression? However, for many
people from different countries, friends and relatives of the volunteers, the blow of Turkey also became a personal pain and fear: tens or
hundreds of participants in the anarchist movement met the danger face to face, being at that moment in Syrian Kurdistan.
The news about people who left the comfort of their usual lives and went to Rozhava to take part in the revolution became familiar from
2014, when interest in building a stateless confederation in Kurdistan took over a lot of brains. However, the flow of volunteers into the
Kurdish revolutionary movement, though far from being so turbulent, existed before that.
For 5 years, the pilgrimage to Rozhava became a political factor, formed social structures around itself, and also found its own culture and
folklore. The very nature of this phenomenon is changing. Its dynamics combines both positive and negative traits.
The Rojava Odyssey of the Anarchists is a story worthy of being told. I base my story on the experience of many meetings and conversations
with volunteers in Europe, as well as in Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan, which I visited twice.
I. "Why bother looking and driving so far?"
The motives that move people to a difficult journey in Kurdistan, it would seem, are "so clear". In fact, it is worthwhile to dwell on them
in more detail.
The most obvious desires that lie "on the surface": to see the revolution and participate in it. Behind these formulations is often a deep
dissatisfaction with the situation in the modern anarchist (wider - left) movement. Many of those who aspire to Rojava understand that at
home "everything is wrong." They hope, having gained experience in participating in a serious revolutionary movement, to find the answer to
the question of how to organize the struggle in their countries.
Some succeed, although the answer is always complex and complex. Nobody has yet discovered a simple "recipe for revolution". This is what
the participants in the Anarchist Struggle (one of the units of the International Freedom Battalion) write about their findings. Let us
quote a lengthy quote:
"Here, in Rozhava, we learned to use a formalized tool to convey mutual criticism and self-criticism to each other in an anti-authoritarian,
constructive and non-hierarchical, horizontal manner. We call it tamil ... Criticism can be a gift that implies faith in one's comrades, in
their ability to become better, arising not from aggression, but from reflection and constant development. That is why it is necessary to
develop a new revolutionary culture of criticism and self-criticism.
Then inevitably comes a reflection on the personality of the fighter and the commitment of the revolutionary organization. Lack of
commitment is a big problem for the anarchist movement ...
Finally, we lack a serious and comprehensive political analysis that could replace a constant response to daily events. Of course, it's also
impossible to leave them without coverage, but how can we prevent them from distracting us from building our own strong position, developing
a strategy and deepening our understanding of tactics? "
Others do not look at participation in the Kurdish revolution as an "internship", but as the main way of self-realization. There are no
exact numbers, but it is safe to say that the bill goes to dozens of Europeans who in recent years joined the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers
Party and remained in Kurdistan for an indefinite period. Very likely - forever. "We have no way back," the blond and blue-eyed comrade
Revan succinctly answered the question about the timing of the return (all assistants and participants in the Kurdish revolution receive a
code Kurdish name).
Add here that some leave for Rojava, driven by the desire to completely break with their former life. "Nothing connects me with my previous
place of residence. I have no plans to return, "two future fighters of the Self-Defense Forces from Europe, whom I met in South Kurdish
Sulaymaniyah, repeated almost word for word.
Frankly, the fact that many of the people who are capable of systematic, disciplined and risky revolutionary work settle in Kurdistan and do
not return to lead it to their countries is hardly good for their "home" left movements. However, the five years that have passed since the
beginning of the active influx of volunteers is too short a time to draw conclusions about the consequences of this trend.
It should be noted that the initial motives of visitors often change already in Kurdistan. Moreover, the Kurdish movement pursues a
conscious policy of ideological indoctrination of foreign sympathizers and their close involvement in their activities. I met people who
were not interested in politics before traveling to Kurdistan. They wanted to "just fight ISIS," and eventually joined the Kurdistan Workers
Party. "I have never seen such selflessness, comradeship and conviction," one of these people, Kahraman, a former resident of Northern
Europe, told me.
II. Hospitality and Pragmatics
To see the situation in its entirety, it is necessary to touch on the motives of the host. What are the meanings of the Kurdish
revolutionaries endowed with an influx of volunteers from abroad?
In a first approximation, we can say that the arrival of supporters and assistants is favorable for any movement. In addition, one can
sometimes hear from Kurdish revolutionaries that they are happy to share their experience with comrades from around the world. It should be
noted that the participants in the Kurdish movement are distinguished by a strong, including ideological, focus on the struggle in
Kurdistan. The acceptance of foreign volunteers in Rojava is not a "simple" manifestation of international solidarity. There is a
significant pragmatic component.
Immediately make a reservation that the delivery of foreigners by roundabout routes to the besieged region, their maintenance and then
sending back is a very burdensome matter. With rare exceptions, if you are not a scholar or an international journalist, you cannot "just
come" to Rozhava, all its borders are officially closed or have extremely difficult access control, and most of the neighbors are more or
less hostile to autonomy.
"When you return to your countries, tell your people about what you saw here and convince your governments to refuse to support Turkey," you
can hear in Kurdistan as a constant refrain from many lips. In the face of volunteers, the local confederal movement acquires loyal
information dissemination agents and solidarity activists in the countries where they return. The participation of many foreign volunteers
attracted additional wide interest in the events in Rojava.
Those who are most imbued with the spirit and practice of the movement, the PKK integrates into itself as new personnel. In a number of
cases, newly made party members also go to their countries to conduct political work there.
The Kurdish movement has tens of thousands of soldiers under arms and a significant talent pool of specialists in the field of guerrilla
warfare. This makes the participation of several hundred internationalists in hostilities of little significance from a purely military
point of view. However, the symbolic effect is very large. To date, several dozen foreign volunteers have fallen in battles with the Islamic
and Turkish states. In the political culture of the Middle East, these people are called "martyrs." The blood of foreign martyrs attaches
particular importance to the events in Rojava both in the eyes of the inhabitants of the region and in the international context.
There are areas of activity in which the local movement is experiencing a clear cadre hunger. Qualified volunteers are important for Rojava
in such areas as medicine, journalism, engineering and several others. We will dwell on this in more detail below.
III. Bureaucrats, institutions ...
Veterans of the volunteer movement with nostalgia recall the years 2014-2015, when productive chaos reigned in the issue of receiving
volunteers in Rojava. Then there were different delivery options for those wishing to participate in the revolution in Rojava, and their
work in the autonomy was not so closely monitored by the movement.
Over time, the relationship between the PKK and volunteers took the path of institutionalization and bureaucratization. A minimum period of
six months was determined, which each arriving volunteer undertakes to remain in autonomy. The organizational process for selecting,
delivering and supervising foreign assistants was concentrated in the hands of several structures included in the "coordination of
internationalists": Communists of internationalists for civilian volunteers, YPG / YPJ-International for military volunteers and Gineology
for women who come to the region to study and practice " female knowledge. "
There are a number of reasons for this relative centralization in hosting foreign friends. Firstly, the desire to avoid irresponsible
behavior on the part of some volunteers who came to Rozhava rather as short-term tourists and abused traffic resources. On the sidelines,
the Kurdish comrades also expressed concern that the "partners" in the international coalition against ISIS are concerned about the
possibility of acquiring combat skills by left-wing radicals from Europe. This topic in its propaganda is actively exploited by Turkey and
The struggle for influence within the movement itself also played its role. In particular, among the foreign volunteers who joined the PKK,
a group of people stood out who wanted to concentrate in their hands control over all the activities of internationalists in Rojava.
A negative consequence of the bureaucratization of volunteering was a noticeable narrowing of the space for visitors' creative initiative as
part of their autonomy.
However, the "coordination of internationalists" is still not a monopolist in its field. A number of volunteers enter Rojava through other
structures. Until recently, the International Freedom Battalion was one of the most notable alternatives. This is a military unit formed
mainly by Turkish left organizations, allied PKKs. The battalion has a certain organizational autonomy, including the right to bring
volunteers through its channels.
In general, at the level of institutions and the rules for visiting Rozhava, for those who wish to join from abroad, everything is
constantly changing along an obscure trajectory, like much in Syrian Kurdistan ...
IV. How to participate in the revolution
Anarchists in Rojava operate in a wide variety of fields. The most famous was participation in the armed struggle. It began with a
disparate, for the most part individual, participation in the Self-Defense Forces (YPG / J). Then part of the libertarians created separate
anarchist formations within the framework of the International Freedom Battalion: the International Revolutionary Popular Partisan Forces
(IRPGF), which later evolved into the Anarchist Struggle (Tekosîna Anarsîst), as well as the less public Revolutionary Union of
Internationalist Solidarity (RUIS), which are the anarchists from Greece. Anarchists also make up a considerable "faction" in the ranks of
YPG-International and some other military structures.
Libertarians fought ISIS, including in such legendary operations as the battles for Kobani, Shengal and Raqqa. Our like-minded people also
fought with the Turkish army in Afrin, where the internationalist corps suffered heavy losses. The participation of anarchists in the
revolution in Rojava is sealed with the blood of many courageous comrades. Today, this sad but heroic series is crowned by the Italian
revolutionary Lorenzo Orsetti, a fighter of the "Anarchist Struggle". He died in a battle with jihadists on March 18, 2019, participating in
the storming of the last stronghold of the Islamic State - the large village of Baguz on the Euphrates.
However, the military path is only one of the segments of anarchist participation. Libertaria in Rojava is actively involved in medical
work. For example, Anarchist Struggle and Gineology train and send to the front para-doctors, first aid specialists in combat conditions. It
is also known about several European anarchists with medical education who worked in Rozhava hospitals and military hospitals.
Libertarians are also involved in cultural, educational and propaganda fields. A number of anarchists work in autonomy as journalists. Our
like-minded people can also be found in such initiatives as "Commune Film" (Rozhavskaya cinematic association), Academy "Mesopotamia" (one
of the first experiments in the field of higher education in Rozhava) and several others.
Large-scale civil volunteer work is organized by the "Commune of Internationalists", which hosts many libertarians who come to the region.
One of their most famous actions is the campaign for planting olive trees in Rojava, which has undergone almost total deforestation in
Gineology, in addition to studying "female knowledge", conducts social work. Project participants from different countries spend a lot of
time in Kurdish families, live side-by-side with Kurdish women. "We deliberately place our female comrades in Kurdish families. It's one
thing to have an abstract theory in your head. It is quite another to try it on real problems of people, correlate it with their real life.
Without such everyday "grassroots" work, the PKK would not have formed into a mass movement. This is a lesson that we need to learn, "Viyan,
Gineology coordinator from Germany, shared her thoughts.
As can be seen even from a brief review, the palette of anarchist participation in the revolutionary process in Rojava is also very diverse.
In the end
It is no secret that many anarchists and leftists, including in our country, are looking for opportunities to go to Rojava. They must be
prepared for the fact that this trip will be very difficult both in the domestic and in the moral sense. Among the main burdens called the
need to comply with the rules of the host country and discipline. For a European, as well as for a resident of the post-Soviet space, as a
rule, a situation is extremely unusual when, roughly speaking, you cannot go where you want and when you want.
We can say for sure that the "pilgrimage to revolution" is becoming a very important milestone for many of our comrades. I am deeply
convinced that those who return from Kurdistan with a bitter sense of disappointment or with no clouded naive delight are equally wrong. The
truth lies in a complex analysis of negative and positive traits and their causes, in an attempt to integrally understand revolutionary
realities. Outside of mythologization and romanticization, reality (and by no means only Kurdish!) Is very contradictory, and it is not easy
to digest. Those who, having experienced this, will not lose their desire to wage an active struggle, will become a revolutionary.
The landscape of the world libertarian movement is already visibly changing under the influence of the revolution in Kurdistan. One of the
aspects of these changes is the spread of PKK influence through its foreign representative offices and supporters from among local activist
activists. There is growing interest in the theoretical developments of the PKK, such as confederalism, the concept of "democratic
autonomy", and more specialized, as gineology ("female knowledge").
More importantly, under the influence of Rojava, anarchists and leftists are spreading the image of an organized and radical revolutionary
struggle as a model for understanding and adapting to local realities. The most important phenomena of the Kurdish revolutionary movement,
such as the revolutionary cadre, organized self-defense, the creation of autonomous zones beyond the control of the states, occupy the minds
of those who seriously intend to give anarchism a practical embodiment in the modern era.
D.Ch., November 2019
The text is prepared for the 39th issue of the journal "Autonomous"
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