American author and artist Janet Biehl’s graphic novel ‘Their Blood Got Mixed: Revolutionary Rojava and the War on ISIS’, a depiction of the social and political transformation that has begun to take place in north and east Syria in 2012, was published around the time of the 10th anniversary of the first days of the ‘Rojava Revolution’.
A remarkable example of ‘comic journalism’, the graphic novel is based on interviews with Kurdish, Arab and Asyrian people, translated to English by Ossama Muhammad and Hesen Eli.
After having visited the region twice in 2014 and 2015, Biehl says she had the opportunity to make a third visit as she was invited by two UK-based filmmakers to spend a month traveling with them.
In her Prologue, she says:
“In early April 2019, Ross Domoney and Danny Mitchell picked me up at Irbil airport, and for a month we moved around the Northeast carrying cameras and microphones, accompanied by two translators-drivers-fixers who made it all possible. We were warmly welcomed everywhere, as citizens eagerly shared their thoughts. So powerful and extraordinary was the experience that I knew I would need to share it with others, beyond even the film, and so I created this graphic memoir.”
The 256-page graphic novel was published by PM Press in June as paperback and kindle editions.
A review in Kurdistan-kolumne says:
“The graphic novel covers a wide range of topics from history to the economy, from the details of the democratic proceedings to the horrors of ISIS and the Turkish occupation of Afrin. While this may seem a lot, Biehl manages to give every topic the necessary space to give a good impression of what is going on. After describing all the atrocities that came with the war against the Islamic State and through the Turkish occupation, she focuses on her main interest: The intricacies of direct democracy and women’s liberation and education.”
The ‘Rojava Revolution’
19 July this year marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the profound political and social transformation in north and east Syria, leading to the foundation of an autonomous entity in January 2014, and resulting in changes involving forms of local governance, social and political empowerment of women, recognition of ethnic and cultural identities, and attempts at a more democratic education and health system.
The process was led by pro-Kurdish political parties, particularly the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and began in Kurdish-majority parts of the region, as Kurdish self-defence forces -organised under the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – took under control first the city of Kobane 12 July 2012 in the midst of the turmoil of the ongoing civil war, then Amuda and Afrin the next day. Towns of Ra’s al-Ayn (Serê Kaniyê) and Al-Darbasiyah (Dirbêsiyê) followed.
The transformation is referred to as the ‘Rojava Revolution’ (Kurdish word ‘Rojava’ meaning ‘West’ in English) by many, as the Kurdish-majority parts of the region is called ‘Rojava’, or ‘Western Kurdistan’.
PYD officially announced regional autonomy on 9 January 2014. Elections were held, popular assemblies established and the ‘Constitution of Rojava’, guaranteeing cultural, religious and political freedom of all people, explicitly stating the equal rights and freedom of women, and also ‘mandating public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination’ was approved.
As the amended December 2016 constitution used the title ‘Democratic Federation of Northern Syria’ for the autonomus structure, the Syrian Democratic Council adopted 6 September 2018 the new title, the ‘Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria’ (AANES).