By Nujin Derik
January 29, 2018
For more than a week, my home in north-western Syria has been under a full-scale assault by the Turkish Army and thousands of Turkish-aligned Islamist jihadists.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been threatening this invasion for a very long time. The Turkish Army has been targeting our villages with mortars and artillery for many months now.
I and my fellow members of the Kurdish Women’s and People’s Protection Units, often known as the Y.P.J. and Y.P.G., have fought hard for years to keep the Islamic State out of this autonomous region of Syria known as Rojava. We endured Turkey’s barrages and avoided returning fire, even after civilian casualties, so as not to provide a pretext for this invasion.
But Mr. Erdogan has nevertheless unleashed airstrikes, tanks and troops on this area that was once a relative island of peace in this war-torn country.
One would imagine the international community and especially the United States, which has been more than happy to partner with us in the fight against the Islamic State, would firmly oppose such an unprovoked attack executed in the name of racial hatred — Mr. Erdogan has stated his intention to commit ethnic cleansing of Afrin’s Kurdish population, or, as he says, to give the region to its “real owners” — but instead, it has been greeted largely with silence, and therefore tacitly condoned.
Does the Trump administration now care about nothing but its own immediate tactical interests? Wavering messages or calls for “caution” will not be enough. In addition to exerting real pressure on its Turkish ally, the United States should press for a no-flight zone over Afrin and the rest of Rojava. Leaders in Britain, France and elsewhere must also take a moral stand and demand a stop to this carnage.
The Turkish Army has been training the most extreme Islamist gangsters it could find as part of the so-called Free Syrian Army that is part of their assault, including members of the fascist Gray Wolf death squads and Qaeda affiliates, with high-tech weaponry purchased from the United States, Britain and Germany. They are being sent into our country backed by F-16 aircraft, German-made Leopard tanks and regular Turkish soldiers.
Yet Mr. Erdogan calls us terrorists, asserting that we and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that he has warred with in Turkey are identical. The hypocrisy of this transparent justification for his invasion is astounding. Our forces have led the fight against the true terror represented by the Islamic State — even while Turkey provided it support and its oil was sold in Turkey.
Now Turkey is allying itself with jihadists and backing them with NATO weaponry to attack us. Is the world really willing to believe we are terrorists because we share the Kurdish freedom movement’s goals of democracy, environmental protection and women’s liberation?
We proudly admit we support these ideas, as do members of the Kurdish movement in Turkey and elsewhere. But our forces have been focused on the fight against the Islamic State, one in which we’d rather have had Turkey as an ally, not an enemy.
Do Western powers now believe that too strong a commitment to their own professed democratic ideals is terrorism? Mr. Erdogan, on the other hand, is an enemy of women, whom he has called “half persons,” and the views of his fundamentalist minions are even worse.
But just as female fighters were instrumental in the defence of Kobane and the liberation of Raqqa — where a major objective was the freeing of the Yazidi women the jihadists had taken there as slaves — so we will resist invaders here in Afrin.
There’s much worth fighting for. Until the Turkish invasion we had been able to maintain Afrin as a haven for anyone fleeing the terror of the civil war. We worked to develop our own democratic institutions.
Though poor and largely without outside aid, we have shared what we have with refugees, to the point where the region’s population ballooned in size.
In keeping with our philosophy of democratic confederalism, we established local councils so that all can participate in the decisions affecting their neighbourhoods and communities. We hold independently monitored elections and ensure that women and all ethnic groups are strongly represented in governance. Our democratic system is increasingly the opposite of Turkey’s, where President Erdogan is crushing dissent and centralizing more power every day.
We have lost thousands of our brothers and sisters in the war against the Islamic State, and if this invasion continues, it will be only a matter of time before the jihadist remnants return to gain control of places we had liberated.
And Turkey’s forces themselves, allied as they are with extremist groups, pose a serious threat to our Assyrian and Armenian Christian and Yazidi communities. Turkey’s planes are killing children and civilians and destroying our villages. Those who had taken refuge here are fleeing and have no haven left.
We are asking the Western powers to act on their principles. Why are you not condemning a flagrant and unprovoked assault on the very men and women who stood shoulder to shoulder with you against the darkness of the Islamic State? Now a different evil, that of Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly undemocratic Turkey, aims to destroy our fledgling democracy. And this time, it’s claiming to act in your name.
Nujin Derik is the commander of the Women’s Protection Units in Afrin, Syria
Translated from the Kurdish by Elif Sarican