Punks for Rojava: Understanding The Rojava Revolution

The international network Punks For Rojava on the history of resistance

Punks For Rojava is a network consisting of people from the punk community worldwide.

Our aim is to provide support for Rojava and educate people about the events there, as well as the ideology on which their society is built upon. The similarities between the society in Rojava, based on an ideology called Democratic Confederalism, and the ideology of the international punk community are huge.

Democratic Confederalism is an ideology that rejects the notions of nation states, religious influence over society, dictatorship in all its forms, as well as capitalism. Democratic Confederalism is based on direct democracy, total gender equality, secularism, ethical pluralism and ecology.

Therefore, we feel that it would be hypocritical of a movement that claims to embrace such ideals not to support a society that’s putting them into practice.

So far we’ve been doing benefit shows in different countries in Europe, we sell merchandise, and we’ve participated in demonstrations and other activities in support for Rojava.

In this text, we’ll explain the history of Rojava to make readers better understand the situation and why do we need to support the ongoing revolution of our friends there.


The Origins of Kurdish Resistance

It is hard to tell where to begin the story of Kurdistan or Rojava, but the development leading up to the present day situation started with the end of the First World War in 1918.

When the First World War ended, Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire found themselves on the losing side. The victorious Entente powers were then able to dictate the conditions for the peace agreements.

At the Versailles meeting in 1919, the winning powers stated that Germany and its allies were to blame for the war. Because of that, Germany was forced to disarm almost completely, to make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to the countries that had formed the Entente powers. In result, the Austria-Hungarian Empire was divided into several smaller states.

Since the Еntente powers viewed the Treaty of Versailles as a successful way of dealing with the powers of the losing side, they decided to hold a similar meeting the year after. This time the Ottoman Empire was to be divided.

By then the Ottoman Empire had existed for 700 years. At its peak it controlled most of the Middle East, Northern Africa and the south Eastern part of Europe up to Vienna.

Even though the Ottoman Empire was officially a caliphate, different religions and cultures were tolerated to a rather large extent. It wasn’t until the last years of its existence, when a Turk ultra nationalist group called the Young Turks took control over the empire, that persecution of minorities started to take place on a large scale.

This development resulted in the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915, as well as genocide of Greeks, Syriacs and Assyrians around the same time.

In 1920 the conference about the division of the Ottoman Empire took place in Italian town of San Remo. At the meeting, it was decided that a couple of new states were to be created. One such state was Iraq, which was to become controlled by Great Britain, and Syria, which in turn was to be in control by France, and another one was the state of Turkey with Istanbul as its capital.

While there wasn’t any Kurdish delegation at the meeting, the newly founded Kurdish organization sent a map of what they wanted to become future Kurdistan, with Diyarbakır as the capital. During the meeting, it was also decided to accept the Kurdish demands for a new state, and the Kurds were told that if they manage to get control over the area within a year, they would be allowed to apply for a UN membership.

All these decisions were ratified the year after in the Sevres treaty. As you might have guessed, these decisions were met with anger in the newly formed state of Turkey, which was now led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Losing the areas now situated in Syria and Iraq was bad enough for Atatürk, but the threat of a Kurdish state almost the size of Turkey was something even worse.

To prevent the Kurds from  gaining control over the area, the Turkish regime launched massive offensives against Kurds and other minorities. Lots of civilians were killed, deported or gone missing. The two main powers behind the division of the Ottoman Empire—Great Britain and France—already had their colonies, and since none of them thought it was worth going to war with Atatürk, they decided to drop the demand for a Kurdish state.

In a third meeting in Lausanne 1923, the borders for the new Middle East were finally drawn. The Kurds now found themselves and the land that they had been inhabiting for thousands of years divided into four separate nation states—Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Most of the Kurds live in the Northern part of Kurdistan, which was now under Turkish occupation. In Turkey, severe repression against minorities started to take place. The use of Kurdish language, dress, folklore, and names were banned and the Kurdish-inhabited areas remained under martial law until 1946. In an attempt to deny their existence, the Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” until the 1980s It was prohibited to use Kurdish letters in names. The Turkish state has changed the name of all Kurdish towns and villages to Turkish names.

As a result of this oppression, some students formed the Kurdistan workers party (PKK) in 1978. In the beginning, the PKK was a Marxist-Leninist organization, and their main goal was to create an independent Kurdish state. The party was soon outlawed by Turkish authorities, and as the repression against Kurdish civilians increased after the 1980 state coup in Turkey, the PKK began an armed struggle against the state.This struggle went on through the 80s and 90s, with lots of casualties on both sides.


Öcalan and the Birth of Democratic Confederalism

In 1999, Abdullah Öcalan, the beloved leader of the PKK, was captured by the Turkish state, with the help of  the CIA and Mossad. He was first sentenced to death, but the sentence was later changed to a life time imprisonment. Still today, he is the only prisoner in a high security prison on Imrali island outside the Turkish coast.

In prison, Öcalan started to read lots of political literature, and eventually read the works of the American anarchist called Murray Bookchin. Bookchin, who above all was an ecologist, was as critical of communism as he was of capitalism. Instead, he proposed a third way—a kind of anti-nationalist anarcho syndicalism that emphasizes ecological sustainability.

Öcalan and Bookchin started to correspond with each other, and by time Öcalan grew more and more critical of his own movement. Some time during the early 2000s, Öcalan started to abandon the Marxist Leninist ideology. Instead, he formulated an ideology of his own, called Democratic Confederalism (also known as Democratic Autonomy). At first, this major change was met with scepticism within the PKK movement, but after some years most of the movement accepted the change.

In Bakur (Bakurê Kurdistanê), as Kurds call the part of Kurdistan occupied by Turkey, Kurds tried to implement Democratic Confederalism as a parallel society to the Turkish state. These attempts were met with severe repression from the state’s side. Instead, Syria turned out to be the place where visions of radical democracy, feminism and ecology would be implemented for real.


The Kurdish Resistance in Northern Syria

Syria started out as a French colony, and after it gained its independence it was ruled by autocratic regimes, often backed by European powers. In 1971, Hafez al-Assad came to power, and he carried out a despotic rule until his death in the year 2000. His son, Bashar al-Assad, then became president. Consequently, Bashar al-Assad continued the dictatorial ways of his father.

In 2011, the so called Arab spring finally reached Syria. People took it to the streets, carrying out mass demonstrations and painted slogans on the walls. The regime responded in a brutal way, with deadly violence and mass arrests.

Soon the demonstrators started to take up arms, and western media reported about a group called FSA, the Free Syrian Army, who bravely fought against Bashar’s dictatorship, aiming to overthrow him and establish democracy in Syria. However, as time went by, the truth turned out to be slightly different.

At the same time, the Islamic State, who just defeated the Iraqi army in Mosul and seized their arms and military equipment, crossed the Syrian border. The regime was now under attack on two fronts, and that made Bashar al-Assad withdraw most of his troops from Northern Syria.

Northern Syria is ethnically mixed, but in many regions Kurds are in majority. At the time of the Arab Spring, a party called the PYD (People’s Union Party) started to gain popular support. The party had been around since 2003, but as most oppositional parties or organizations in Syria, it was soon outlawed by the regime.

In essence, the PYD shares PKK’s ideology, and they also try to organize themselves in the same way, making sure that there is complete gender equality within the organization, and that all minorities within the organization have political representation. Now, during early 2012, when the regime pulled back their forces from Northern Syria, activists from the PYD simply went into regime controlled areas and asked the regime soldiers to withdraw from the territory. And so they left, without any armed conflicts or other kinds of fighting.

Soon the PYD, through the armed forces of Rojava, the YPG and YPJ, the latter being an armed force entirely made up of female soldiers, together with some other organizations sharing their ideology, had seized control over three regions in northern Syria. They called these three regions cantons, and soon they began to implement the visions of Bookchin and Öcalan in all the three regions.

They worked in all levels of society, and with all groups inhabiting these regions, to establish the Democratic Confederalism that they had been fighting for.

New World Summit, Rojava I 16-17 Oct. 2015, Dêrik, Canton Cizîrê, Rojava

So what is Democratic Confederalism?

First, there are the three pillars of Democratic Confederalism:

  • Democracy, meaning direct democracy where those affected by decisions are also the ones taking the decisions.
  • Women’s rights. This pillar has been a high priority for the movement for a long time, even in the first years of the PKK. it was clear that they prioritize the rights of the women in a way that no similar organization did. In Rojava, this issue has the highest priority. We can see that clearly if we look at the structure of their society, since in every important position of society there is one woman and one man sharing the work and the responsibilities. We can also see it if we look at the society’s charter, which is Rojava’s equivalent to a law book. There it says that no decisions can be taken unless at least 50% of those voting on the decision are women. Also, women have parallel separatistic organizations on all levels of society, and oppressive cultural and political traditions like child’s marriages and domestic violence are strictly prohibited.
  • Ecology and ecological sustainability is the third pillar, although here it must be said that the situation in Rojava, with a war going on around it, and with the Turkish blockade, has made it a bit hard for the society to be as progressive as it wants to be when it comes to ecological sustainability.

In practice, the society in Rojava is organized from the bottom and up, like a pyramid turned upside down. The smallest entities of society is the commune (not to be confused with communes in the west world, in Rojava a commune consists of 300-400 people. It could be some blocks in a town, or a village). In the commune, the people of the commune vote on decisions that directly affects them. As previously stated, 50 percent of the voters needs to be women, otherwise the decision is not valid. All these communes have representatives that they can send to the next level of society if the questions addressed cannot be solved within the commune, or if the decisions affect people outside of the commune.


In the communes, people work in different committees, such as you can see on the picture here. The same structure remains on higher levels, up to the highest level where the representatives represent the different cantons.

Democratic Confederalism rejects the notion of nation states completely. Therefore the goal is not to create an independent state in northern Syria, but rather to include as many regions and people as possible into this system.

Throughout the war in Syria this policy has with time been proven effective, as the YPG/YPJ has been expanding its territory mainly within the Islamic State. Many of the people who are living in these now liberated territories are not Kurds, but they have chosen to be part of this confederation anyway.


Syrian War & The Battle of Kobanî

However, the story YPG/YPJ hasn’t always been that bright.

In late 2013, the Islamic State, who were by then undefeated, mobilized their forces to attack the canton of Kobanî. In the beginning, things went fairly well for them. They took all the surrounding villages, while committing horrible crimes against the civilian population there. After few months they pushed into the city.

Despite the heroic defense by the YPG/YPJ, the IS pushed further and further into the city. It wasn’t until the US started to bomb IS that the battle finally turned around.

With the help of US airstrikes, block by block the YPG/YPJ were taking back the city and its surroundings. The siege of Kobanî officially ended in February 2015, and left thousands of dead terrorists.

The battle of Kobanî is often seen as a turning point in the war, much due to the fact that it was the first time that anyone defeated the Islamic State. Even though the IS carried top modern military equipment from the US army—stolen from the Iraqi army when they defeated them in Mosul some months earlier—they lost this battle.

On the other side of the border, Turkey eagerly watched the development. They closed the  border, and they shot people who wanted to go to Kobanî to defend it.

Kobanî is often described as the Stalingrad of the Islamic State.

For the administration of Rojava and its military branches, the battle of Kobanî was the start of cooperation with the US. The US hesitated for many years before they drew the conclusion that the YPG/YPJ was actually the only potential ally in Syria that they could fully trust. The main reason for their hesitation was their partnership with Turkey. In the eyes of the Turkish regime, any Kurd dominated group that gains any kind of power or influence is a potential threat to the Turkish state. Their biggest fear is that if Kurds manage to gain influence Syria, it would trigger an uprising among the Kurds in Turkey. And if Kurds abroad would be powerful enough, and also have access to modern military equipment, they know that there’s a real risk that the Kurds in Turkey will gain access to that equipment too.

Therefore, the US needed to somehow cover up the fact that they were about to start a military cooperation with a Kurd dominated group.

Representatives from the US began to hold meetings with representatives from Rojava and their allied groups, and as a result of those meetings the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) has been founded. The SDF consisted mainly of Kurdish soldiers from the YPG/YPJ (about 85%), but since they now fought under a different name and a different banner, the US could state that their partner in Syria was actually a multiethnical force, containing soldiers from almost all ethnicities in Syria.

The reason why the US started to support the armed forces of Rojava was not because they agreed with their political idea or anything like that. The real reason was that they didn’t have any other option. When the war started in Syria, the Obama regime handed out weapons to almost any group that fought against the Assadist forces. These groups, often referred to as “rebels” or the Free Syrian Army (FSA), were more or less viewed as heroes who fought for democracy during the first years of the war.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin objected against these US policies on an early stage, by saying that half of these groups were actually terrorists, but at that moment very few people agreed with him.

In reality, what Putin said was an understatement. ALL of the groups labeling themselves FSA after 2013 had an Islamist agenda. Among these groups you would find Ahrar al-Sham, Jabbath al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda to name a few. There simply wasn’t any other democratic opposition left in Syria except for Rojava, and the American weapons that Obama delivered to what he believed would be a democratic movement were now used to enforce Sharia laws in the rebel controlled areas.

Pretty soon after Donald Trump became president of the US, he decided to ship arms to the SDF, and to cooperate with them in order to take over all Jihadist held areas in Syria.

Arm deliveries started during the Spring of 2017, and shortly after that the military operation “The Wrath Of Euphrates” was launched. It’s main goal was to take the IS capital Al Raqqa. This operation was lead by Rojda Felat, and the SDF mobilized 30,000 soldiers for the operation, whereof about 40% female soldiers from the YPJ. The offensive started in June 2017, and after some months of intense fighting, Al Raqqa fell in October 2017.

Rally in Afrin against the Turkish invasion. February 2018 | Theregion.org

The Offensive of Afrin

In the aftermath, the US continued to deliver arms to the SDF, as they pushed further and further south into IS held territories.

For the regime in Turkey, these territorial gains as well as the downfall of the IS was a huge backlash. They had been supporting the IS by letting jihadists travel through Turkey. In January 2018, the operation Olive Branch was launched with the aim of taking over Afrin. This operation was made possible by the passive participation of Russia and the US.

Turkey held meetings with Russia, since Russia controlled the airspace over this part of Syria. Russia has been supporting the regime throughout the whole war, while Turkey supports the FSA and other terrorist groups fighting the regime. At this moment they could however cooperate for the benefit of both.

Turkey knew that the regime, together with Russia, was planning an offensive to retake the Idlib province. If the regime would take Idlib, there would be almost no FSA held territory left except for some small pockets in the south. The Turkish plan was now to convince the Russians to open up the airspace for them over Afrin, so that the Turkish army, with assistance from different terrorist groups, would take over Afrin. They would then ethnically cleanse Afrin, and let terrorists from Idlib move into the houses that used to belong to Kurds or other minorities.

Unfortunately, Russia agreed to this, since they saw it as a chance to increase the tension between the two NATO-states—Turkey and the USA.

When Turkey launched this offensive they used chemical weapons, bombed villages, tortured and murdered civilians. They mutilated bodies of dead female soldiers, looted villages and cities and made the living conditions impossible for the civilians in the area. The YPG/YPJ fought heroically, completely abandoned by the rest of the world against NATO’s second biggest army. After three months they decided not to give up Afrin, but to retreat from the cities in order to avoid civilian casualties. Since then there are still YPG/YPJ troops active in Afrin, but they now use the tactic of guerrilla warfare.

For the civilian population of Afrin, the take over by Turkey and their terrorist partners has been disastrous. In this enclave, that used to practice direct democracy and advocate gender equality and secularism, it is now forbidden for women to go outside without a male relative, and they also need to cover themselves, just like in the IS held areas. Almost the whole population has fled to other parts of Rojava.

After these tragic events Erdoğan threatened to push further into Rojava. As a response to that threat, the US and France sent troops to Manbij, the city that borders the Turkish held areas.

The SDF continues the fight against the IS, and on May 23 2019 victory against the caliphate was declared as the IS was surrounded and defeated in their last stronghold, al Baghuz.

Within the SDF held territory, more than 100 000 IS-terrorists were kept in jails and prisoner camps. The Rojava administration asked European countries to take responsibility for their own terrorists, but with the exception of Kosovo, all countries denied the request.


Rojava Needs Our Solidarity Now

Shortly after that, Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw their troops from Syria. The announcement came directly after a phonemail between Trump and Erdoğan. It was a complete surprise to the whole Trump administration, as well as for the American soldiers stationed in Syria.

Both Jim Mattis, Trump’s secretary of defense, and Brett McGurk, the US envoy in Syria, resigned in protest. After weeks of contradicting messages from Trump, it was decided that the US would maintain a small military presence in Rojava. Turkey’s president Erdoğan was furious, and from time to time he threatened to invade Rojava.

In October 2019, Donald Trump announced that the US would no longer stand in the way for a Turkish invasion of Rojava. Two days after that, the Turkish regime announced the beginning of ”operation peace spring”, officially aimed at establishing a so called ”peace corridor” along the Turksh-Syrian border, stretching 20 km into Syrian land. Except for the Turkish army, several islamistic terror groups participates in the operation. Already during the first days, Turkish planes bombed areas where IS terrorists are held, and as the same time as the first Turkish attacks, IS sleeper cells in Al Raqqa carried out several attacks within the city.

Punks For Rojava banner during the ongoing protests in Chile

Three days into the operation Turkey has been reported using forbidden weapons such as white phosphorus and cluster bombs against civilians. Gangs of terrorists have been executing civilians, threatening women’s equality and it is clear to everyone, maybe except for Donald Trump, that a full scale genocide is to be expected. Hundreds of thousands of people are already fleeing the attacked areas, and ISIS-terrorists have begun to escape from the prison facilities where they are held.

As punks, we stand firmly against war, nationalism and religious fanaticism; against subjugation of women, against weapon companies, and in mutual aid and support of the direct democratic project of our friends. #RiseUp4Rojava #Punks4Rojava

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