When the Capitol building in Washington DC was stormed, I couldn’t help but think of the summer of 2016, which I spent in a PKK language camp in the Qandil mountains.
It was the summer of the (alleged) coup attempt in Turkey. On the evening that the coup attempt happened, I was asleep in my tent. Only the next afternoon, when we were building a swimming pool in the river using tree trunks and rocks, a guerrilla fighter came to tell us what had unfolded in Turkey the day before. I learned incredibly so much from this detachment of guerrilla life in the mountains from the everyday news cycle. In short: concentrate on your own struggle.
To be honest, I was extremely frustrated when I learned about the attempted coup a day after it happened. As a journalist, I was used to following the news all the time and receiving updates and a wide range of sources continuously. This time, I hurried to a larger camp in the vicinity where there was a TV-set, only to find Turkish pro-government TV-channels, which didn’t give updates about what had happened the night before but spread rhetoric about Gülen and praise of Erdogan and for everything else, nothing much.
To understand my frustration, you must know what I was doing there in that language camp. At the end of May 2016, I had started my one year presence with the Öcalan-fighters to write a book about them – the Dutch version was published in 2018 already and the English version is about to come out. I was initially sent to the Kurdish language camp, as any outsider who wishes to stay with the movement for a longer period of time. So when I learned about the events that had unfolded, I wanted to know everything from different angles to better understand how the fighters were dealing with this situation. How could I do that when electricity was not even allowed in the camp where I was staying?
I felt even more lost when in front of the TV the day after the coup attempt, the guerrillas weren’t paying that much attention to the news. They were having their own conversations, while others were concentrating on their ‘kar’ (task), which was translating articles and books from Turkish to Kurdish or vice versa. Also, in the camp where I stayed, the coup attempt wasn’t much of a topic. We were all just doing what we were supposed to do: finish our grammar homework before the next lesson. My anxiety peaked.
But gradually, I learned to understand that this ‘detachment’ is exactly what makes the movement strong. It’s not really detachment. They are just not very surprised because they are well educated and they know the ways in which the system works. Turkish history is littered with coups, and the police violence against (alleged) coup plotters was of course no surprise either. Their involvement is shown not in indifference or detachment, but by their efforts to build an alternative society, based on principles that are radical opponents of what the capitalist patriarchy is built on: community, feminism, equality. That is the most important goal of the struggle.
Everybody focuses on their task. Some are of course following the news closely because they write press releases in the name of the movement, are doing journalism or have to follow events to determine a short-term and long-term strategy.
But others are busy with economic projects, involved in education of the people and of new recruits, take care of graveyards where their comrades are laid to rest, take care of distributing food, fuel, blankets and other necessities or give or receive physical or military training. They are, in other words, dedicating their lives to building the society they envision.
Ideological education is an important part of creating that alternative. Not only to build confidently, but also to clearly see what’s happening in the wider world. Because that’s what I saw happening that day after the (alleged) coup attempt: a solid understanding of the ways the system manifests itself. Had I been in a PKK camp now, in the days after the fascist attack on the Capitol building in Washington DC, I’m sure the guerrillas’ reaction would have been the same.
Disgust, but no surprise at the way white supremacy and patriarchal, colonialist violence manifest themselves in the land that is built on exactly those destructive values. It would have done to them what the coup attempt in Turkey did: encourage them to build that new society with even more dedication.