In the week preceding the International Women’s Day, Afrin hosted a series of manifestations combining the struggle for women’s liberation and the resistance against the currently ongoing Turkish invasion. Citizens from various parts of northern Syria have been gathering in Afrin for days, organizing protests against the operation ‘Olive Branch’ (that has entered its second month) that has so far primarily targeted civilian areas. Since it is possible to claim that the attack on Afrin not only compromises the territorial integrity of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, but also represents an attack on the concept of women’s liberation as one of the fundamental pillars of the Revolution in Rojava, the North-Syrian women’s platform Kongreya Star invited all women to spend the 8<sup>th</sup> of March, as well as the days preceding it, in Afrin. Therefore, in anticipation of Women’s Day itself, a series of events devoted to women took place, with demonstrations and thematically related educational lectures being held all around Rojava. The central event held on March 8th will take place in Afrin, where numerous women will once again stand side by side in solidarity and say ‘NO’ to human rights violations committed by Turkey, ‘NO’ to genocide, ‘NO’ to oppression and ultimately ‘NO’ to all instances of the patriarchal mentality that prevents women from practicing autonomy and self-determination.
In light of the events surrounding the upcoming International Women’s Day, their meaning within the context of the Turkish invasion, as well as the general significance of the 8<sup>th</sup> of March in this undeniably ‘female revolution’, I spoke with Sara [full identity known to the author], a Spanish member of the autonomous, women’s branch of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, who visited Afrin a couple of days ago as a part of a civilian solidarity convoy intent on joining the demonstrations taking place within the city:
You are a journalist yourself and you have also worked with Rojava Azadi in Madrid, so it is no surprise to now find you in Rojava, but could you still tell me more about the events that brought you to where you are now?
After two years of working with Rojava Azadi Madrid, giving speaks, translating the news related to the Kurdish Question, studying and reading about Democratic Confederalisim and Jineoloji (the science of women); I decided to come to Rojava with two aims in mind. The first one was to inform the public about the struggle against Daesh and write reports on life in northern Syria. I was in Raqqa during its liberation and I spent time with YPJ fighters in order to try and understand their motivation and the radical changes taking place in their lives.
My second aim was to better familiarize myself with the development of radical democracy in the cities and villages, and find out how this new system in the north of Syria actually works. I also wanted be close to the women’s movement, to get to know the improvements of the women’s liberation better and become aware of the difficulties it is facing. For this reason I joined the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, which has recently launched an ecological campaign titled “Make Rojava Green Again”. As part of the autonomous women’s group inside the Commune, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Jineoloji Conference in Rojava, as well as attend several educative lectures on Jineoloji and women’s history. I visited Parastina Jin, the civilian self-defense group that is rooted in the very essence of the self-defense paradigm. I can say that coming to Rojava, even though it is difficult to be in a foreign country, far away from family and friends, has been one of the best experiences of my life.
In one of your articles you mention two heroic women – Avêsta Xabûr and Barîn Kobane, both of whom (albeit under very different circumstances) were martyred defending Afrin. In a literal and an ideological context, how should their deaths be understood?
Their deaths are the greatest acts of bravery a person can exhibit in her/his life. Both of them, Avêsta and Barîn, where really young women, as most of YPJ women fighters are. They sacrificed their lives for their families, their land and their friends, but also for an ideology that doesn’t believe in borders, an ideology that is trying to change the world and save humanity from its own destruction. I know that, when a YPJ fighter heads to the battlefield, she is thinking of all the women of the world, and is fighting for their liberation, even if she has never left Syria. So, I think we should understand their lives, their personalities and their sacrifices as a legacy humanity, and especially women, need to preserve.
You have been in Afrin until recently, and I am informed your convoy was attacked by Turkey on the way there a couple of days ago. What is the current situation like in the city itself? Can you tell me more about what you came to do in Afrin?
During my stay in Afrin I experienced a state of war that the local population endures on a daily basis. The bombardment and shelling are every-day events. While I was in there, the Turkish bombing took place every day, continuously, for 5 or 6 hours. Until now, the Turkish army didn’t bomb the center of Afrin directly, save for a few rockets that hit inside the city. So far, they have usually targeted the surrounding areas, trying to scare the population in order to make the civilians leave their villages and the city. The Turkish army directly targets civilian settlements and infrastructure. Since the 5th of March, the Turkish army has subjected the city center of Jindieres to heavy bombing. They bombed the market, the center of communal life in every Middle Eastern city. Dozens of civilian have been killed.
The life in Afrin city still continues, the morale of the locals is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The people are amazingly active. They attend demonstrations, they organize all the logistics needed for the solidarity convoys that came to give support, they help in the hospital and in the committees. People support the resistances in many ways and through numerous different activities. I went to a “meclise” of a neighborhood (a self-administrative communal council where the neighbors organize and discuss what is necessary in the area). They explained to us how they are organizing the accommodation for the internal refugees that have been displaced as a consequence of the Turkish invasion.
However, the most incredible thing was that all of the people I came into contact with confirmed that they will not leave the city and that they will resist until the end. They know that the plan of the Turkish state is to drive the original population out of the region and bring refugees from Turkish camps controlled by jihadist groups. Hereby they want to establish a radical Islamic government and destroy all the progress built by the population of Rojava during these seven years of revolution. For example, one time I spoke with a mother. She told me “Even if all of the men of my family get killed, I will stay in my home and wait for the enemy. As long as I am alive, I will not let them enter”. The plan of the Turkish state is to smash the revolution. What is currently happening is a genocide against the Kurdish population. Turkey is trying to completely erase whatever has been built thanks to this new democratic project in the Middle East and it is not the first time that the Turkish state has engaged in massacres of such proportions.
Kongreya Star invited women to gather in Afrin on the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day and the days preceding it. What is the significance of this date in the context of Afrin resistance and why is it important for you to be a part of the gatherings taking place in the city?
It’s important because the 8th of March represents a day on which we, the women all around the globe, are commemorating the resistance of women in a world-wide struggle. We pay tribute to the women who were burned in the textile fabric in 1857 for protesting against the injustice of capitalism. We remember all the comrades who have been killed during this struggle and we carry on their legacy as we continue to fight. For one day, we unite the different realities and struggles of all the women resisting the patriarchal system. And on this day in Afrin, thousands of women are resisting the same enemy, the patriarchal state mentality and war. They apply the paradigm of self-defense, meaning that they know that they have the right – as does every living being on Earth – to defend themselves against any kind of attacks. This doesn’t only mean taking a weapon and going to the frontline, this also means to organizing and managing their lives by their own free will. It means helping each other during hard times and provide mutual support. It also means taking part in the public life and organizing autonomously until free women become the norm in every aspect of life. The women are leading the revolution in northern Syria, they are changing the reality as the society knows it in a way that has not been seen in hundreds of years. The women know that the current attacks represent a war against their freedom more than anyone.
VIDEO: Delila, fighting in Rajo front of the resistance
As a member of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, how are you marking the International Women’s Day?
I will try to do my best at my job which includes providing information about the women’s solidarity convoy and the different demonstrations/actions that will be taking place on the 8<sup>th</sup> of March in Rojava, as well as trying to place them within the context of a global ‘mobilization’ of women taking place all around the world. Every female comrade of the Internationalist Commune is doing a really important job. One of our friends is in Afrin as we speak, joining the women’s caravan and participating in the general activities planned for the 8th of March in the city. Another friend will join to 8<sup>th</sup> of March demonstrations in Cizire Canton, in the city of Tirbespiye. Each canton of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria will host regional women’s demonstrations which have all been organized by a joint platform of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian women’s organizations. It is also important for the media to report on these events, as well as it is important to establish a presence on social networks. Even though there is a war and the bombs are killing people every day, even though many women lived under the horrific despotism of the Islamic State for several years, even though most of the women in this country have family members or friends who became martyrs, they are still taking to the streets and showing that they will not give up, but will continue fighting for freedom, peace and justice.
In a revolution that can rightfully be called a ‘women’s revolution’, where each day is dedicated to free women, why is it still important to somehow mark the 8th of March?
The women’s movement in Rojava understands the fight against patriarchy as a common struggle of all the women in the world. The 8th of March is a symbolic day that connects the common feelings and struggles of thousands of women around the world as we all work towards the same goal and fight against a common enemy. Also it is a day that can be used as an opportunity to reflect on the work that has been done so far and the improvements brought about by the struggle, which can be helpful in determining what should the new initiatives and steps taken consist of. It is a day for all the women to come together and occupy the public space. Even though the north of Syria indeed experienced a significant improvement, the streets still remain a male domain, as is the case everywhere else in the world for that matter.
I am sure you – as do all the comrades around the world – recognize the fantastic and powerful feeling of coming together, and staying together knowing that nothing can stop us. This kind of a feeling is also really important for the women in northern Syria. They belong to different communities, they are of different religion and come from different areas, but when they unite on a day like the 8<sup>th</sup> of March, they realize that they are unstoppable.
What would you say is the most important message the women gathering in Afrin and joining demonstrations are trying to convey?
This is the message: Defending Afrin means defending the women’s revolution. The Turkish invasion of Afrin is a war against a democratic society and women’s freedom of self-determination. At the same time, solidarity with the resisting women in Afrin sends a message that women’s solidarity is stronger than the fear of war and repression.
Since you have experience of working in Rojava itself, as well as working with a solidarity group in Spain, what would you say are some meaningful and truly helpful forms of solidarity women outside of Rojava are able to engage in?
Inform yourself and inform the people in your surroundings. Try to understand the context of the revolution, the needs of the women in northern Syria and the Kurdish freedom movement. Take note of the campaigns and the requests of the Kurdish movement directed to the international community. This basically means opposin the system of injustice and oppression while building local and global alternatives based on human, ecological and egalitarian values. For example, the call for international solidarity titled “Women Rise Up For Afrin” has been a success in some countries of Western Europe and South America, with many creative solidarity actions organized by women. However, the women’s movement in Rojava would also like to reach out to women in other parts of the world. These types of campaigns represent important opportunities to connect, to internationalize the women’s struggle, to gain knowledge about the experiences of women from other countries. Then we will know that we are not alone in our daily, socio-political fight against patriarchy and exploitation in any form. By performing acts of solidarity internationally, the women of Rojava – who are resisting a siege and an embargo imposed on them not only by Turkey, but also by regional states and global powers – will also see that they are not alone. This is what gives them, and us, a reason to deem defending Afrin an act of defending the women’s revolution from the fascist mentality and all reactionary forces.
Enough is enough