Turkey is still threatening to invade Syria again, while it is bombing civilians and fighters to smithereens with drones in both Kurdistan in Iraq and in Syria, seriously limiting the movements of guerrilla fighters in Kurdistan. The guerrilla resistance in the Zap region south of the Turkish border is holding out against the invading Turkish army better than Turkey anticipated, but still, the pressure is real. It worries me, while I know it shouldn’t.
The journalist’s default setting is to follow day to day developments meticulously, not to miss or oversee anything that may influence a proper analysis of the current situation. When your beat is Kurdistan, there is a constant anxiousness about new violence against Kurds. I remember very well when the battle for Kobani was going on for example, and I spent weeks on end in Suruç, the town across the border from Kobani from where you could follow the ISIS siege and the Kurdish resistance and where an ongoing solidarity campaign was organised: whenever I woke up at night, I frantically checked my phone to see if I had missed any dramatic development and if Kobani was lost or not.
The victory came in January 2015 and a few days later I visited Kobani for the first time. I need not have worried.
But it doesn’t always end well. How grave the shock was when Turkey invaded Afrin, Northwest-Syria, in the early days of 2018. Also there the resistance was fierce, but it couldn’t prevent Turkey from taking over. In this case, Turkey had the air power, while in Kobani, the Kurds managed to secure US air assistance. Until today, Afrin is under occupation of Turkey and its mercenaries, who are not only violating human rights on a large scale but are also engaged in infighting, which makes for a toxic, ultra-dangerous cocktail of violence.
It was repeated in late 2019, when Turkey again invaded Syria and managed to occupy Girespi and Serekaniye, where the population had enjoyed peace before and are now still suffering under occupation.
Is it reason to despair? It is definitely not.
For my book ‘This Fire Never Dies – One Year With the PKK’ I spent a full year with Öcalan fighters, so not just with the PKK but also with the YPG and YPJ in Syria. One of the things I learned is to look at developments over a longer period of time. A much longer period of time, even.
I remember sitting in a camp in the Qandil mountains, talking with a veteran guerrilla fighter. He spoke about his ideals for a world where capitalism wouldn’t rule and destroy anymore, where the patriarchy had crumbled and community reigned again instead of competitive individualism. Although it sounded great, I remember being a little bit annoyed as well. Sure, that’s what you’re fighting for and it’s great to envision a future you believe in, but did he expect in any way that he would live in such a world, or even the generation of fighters that came after him?
Of course not, he said to my surprise. There is no reason to think capitalism and the patriarchy will end that fast. But he was absolutely convinced that these destructive systems were not going to last, and it was their task as guerrilla fighters to lay the groundworks for the period that would commence after the patriarchy had fallen. It may take generations, but the day will come, and the objective was to be prepared and implement something better when the chance would occur. This struggle was what could give me hope.
This perspective has helped me tremendously to deal with troublesome times. Also in retrospect, I remember, because sitting there under the walnut trees I brought up the peace process that had crumbled in 2015 while I had had hope I could report about nascent peace and justice when I moved to Diyarbakır in 2012. The Kurdish movement had used the peace process to build experience in organising people around for example neighbourhood councils, and that was not lost but invaluable for the future. The guerrilla fighter I talked with said: “The revolution forces us to think in longer periods of time than just our lifetime, or the life time of our children or even grandchildren.”
It would have been exceptional if peace and justice would really have broken out exactly at the time when I had moved to Diyarbakır – of course, I mean, journalistic intuition is one thing but arrogance another 🙂 Instead, I could value what I was actually a witness of. If I chose to believe that indeed one day the patriarchy would fall, wasn’t it great that I was alive now, and that I was reporting on a movement that was struggling to build something better already now, in the first half of the 21st century? One day, people would be looking back at these decades, when many of the founders of this movement, that probably won’t exist anymore as such in a century, were still alive, and I got to be a witness! Suddenly I considered myself very lucky.
It’s a personal struggle sometimes to keep this perspective, now that I am back in the cycle of following the news meticulously again, feeling angry and frustrated about the violence and pain inflicted and the lives of people being ruined. I have to consciously tell myself what I learned is a very profound slogan: the hope is in the struggle.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.