Is it a coincidence that I received the final version of the cover of my upcoming book about the (Kurdistan Workers Party) PKK, This Fire Never Dies, on the same day that I received the key to the house I will be living in the Netherlands? It is, of course – let’s not make this situation a spiritual meaning that is doesn’t have. It is just an expression of how my current life outside Kurdistan remains entwined with the lands where I left my heart.
The book This Fire Never Dies is the report of the year I spent with the Öcalan-fighters of the PKK, the (People’s Protection Units) YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), between May 2016 and June 2017. Published in Dutch in 2018 and longlisted for a journalistic prize, I am very happy that the English version is about to be published at Leftword Books . The exact date isn’t clear yet so please don’t ask, I’ll shout it off the roofs when it’s there, don’t worry.
It shows the daily life of the fighters, explains why their leader Öcalan is so important to them and what underaged members do in the organisation’s ranks, it elaborates about the fighters’ view on self-defense and violence. Of course, the ideology has a central place as well. Especially the ideology made the writing quite a puzzle, because the key components of it – women’s liberation, anti-nationalism and anti-capitalism – are so closely connected to each other that it was hard to disentangle them into chapters. I succeeded though, if I may say so myself.
The idea to write this book came soon after Turkey kicked me out because of my journalism about the Kurdish issue, in September 2015, after having been a freelance correspondent since 2006. I visited the Qandil mountains, where the PKK has its headquarters, for an interview with co-leader Cemil Bayik. As I looked out over a valley in autumn colours from a mountain top, I felt a need to stay longer instead of being a visitor for a few hours. How lucky the one who can call herself a journalist! Soon, the PKK agreed with my proposal to spend a year with them and write a book about it.
What was important to me, was that I would have the freedom to talk to anybody about whatever I wanted. I was given that freedom. I interviewed countless ordinary fighters and spent days and nights with them in camps, caves, at military bases, on roofs tops and in fields, which gives a unique insight into their backgrounds, motivations, dreams and struggles.
It feels distant now. I entered a world I will never return to. Staying with the Öcalan-fighters for a longer period of time and living in their universe, was a one time experience. But the connection I started to build with Kurdistan some ten, twelve years ago, has not broken. Also not now that am back in the house in the Netherlands where I used to live before I moved to Turkey. Did you know I was planning to go to Turkey for a year, back in 2006? How could I ever have foreseen what it would turn out to be? How big an impact Turkey and Kurdistan would have in my life? This impact is lasting. As soon as the virus allows, I will catch a plane to Kurdistan again to travel, to interview, to observe, to write. To get inspired.
Lousy at best
As I make choices about the empty Dutch house that I returned to and as the book cover slided into my e-mail inbox, I decided to invest in my connection to Kurdistan once again. Already, with my newsletter ‘Expert Kurdistan’ I keep very well up to date on what’s happening in the cities, towns and mountains so I can share it with subscribers every Sunday (join the club! ), but it’s just not enough. Despite the Kurdish language courses I followed in Istanbul, Diyarbakır and in Qandil, my Kurdish is still lousy at best. So I signed up for an online course, organized by the already legendary Twitter account KurdishLessons . Three times a week, both grammar and conversation – espcially the latter is difficult for me.
When I return to Kurdistan once more, I hope to connect even better.