It is not that any of us longed to die. It was only that we believed that in this transience, this short human life, it was preferable to die on ones feet moving towards a just idea. Moving in solidarity, in defense of the powerless. Then it would be to die on our backs or our knees, half lives, shuffling along like zombies. Always asleep. With meaningless, un-free lives wasted. Lives spend like serfs and slaves.
Have you ever had an amazing noble idea in your head? That simply refused to translate itself or find traction in reality? Have you ever risked everything, sacrificed absolutely everything for such an idea? Myopically, almost psychotically pushing forward in the face of a stubborn, intractable cruel reality. When you can bring yourself to do that. To engage in nothing short of overwhelming zealotry. Pursuing a new reality, a reality where the vast suffering of this world is mitigated. Where the chaos and carnage and daily humiliation that is the lot of most humans is undone by rights, by hope, by heroism. That is called the motivation for the fight.
It has been a very long hard bloody road to the mountains and back from them. From Manhattan to Jerusalem to Havana. All the trips to the City of Port-Au-Prince. To Greater Boston. Back to Brooklyn then to out Russia. Across Russia on a train then into the Middle East to fight in Rojava. Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Egypt and then back to the Big Apple again. Riding on the backs of armored trucks and flying carpets. On horses, on tanks on airships. Over the great rivers and through the woods. Mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains. With stopovers where all civilization has come to a resolute end in the Fertile Crescent. Smoldering villages. Enormous cities razed to the very foundations. Once historic places, simply crushed and undone. Burning down river by river shore to deep sands of desolation. A revolution within a civil war within an endless third world war. A place called Kurdistan which exists not on maps but in the hearts and dreams of perhaps forty million stateless, long oppressed people. Engaged a very long fight for their right to exist.
How do you make any sense of such carnage to people that were not there? How do you make an enjoyable narrative about bloody chaos? Articulate ideas that when they become facts on the ground, have vast contradictions. Have improbable capability to survive.
My name is Sebastian Adonaev, but the Kurds named me “Blacksmith Winter”, or Kawa Zivistan. The Arabs, they needed to name me too so they called me “Abu Yazan”. Because my then part-girlfriend, part-confidant Polina has a son named Yazan. I was 33 when I deployed but looked and felt a bit younger. I felt brave or stupid enough to volunteer for a war. At the most desperate heights of the conflict, which would end up killing over 500,000 people, there was a cry for some extra hands, some Hamsas. Every side called up all available reinforcements. Just before Baghdad almost fell, the mostly Shiite al-Hashid ash-Sha’bi Popular Mobilization Forces called up half a million Iraqis to hold I.S.I.S. back. The Assad Regime enlisted thousands of Russian, Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah to fight Daesh and other Sunni rebel factions aligned with ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army brands and the Al Qaeda reboot H.T.S. The Islamic State took in over 40,000 foreign fighters and the mostly Kurdish forces in the “Syrian Democratic Forces” enlisted just 500. I fought alongside the Iraqi Special Operations Forces in Iraq and for the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the Y.P.G. Militia defending the idea of Rojava in Syria. I contributed very few bullets, mostly serving as combat medic during my time there. Mostly stopping hemorrhage and carrying the wounded to ambulances. Mostly trying to train people to save lives, actually, at a time when almost everyone wanted to kill.
After defeating the so-called “Islamic State” as a force holding any territory, the United States military all but completely abandoned their Kurdish allies and Turkey invaded Rojava.
We who survived to talk about the Syrian Civil War, we often found there were not easy words to describe what we took part in. This is story grounded in history and ideology. The tale of a stateless people spread over 4 nations, 40 million strong. This is a love song after a series of hard fucks in Spanish and some love making in Russian. This is a Post-Soviet Lullaby, written in Imperial English about Western privileges. I have heard on the wire that the Turkish Army is fully mobilizing to crush Rojava. A fully modern army of over 435,000 soldiers. That Anya is losing her mind in Baghdad and Ana Campbell, that optimistic young woman I once gave hand grenades to, well she died in an airstrike in Afrin. Here I am in Capitalist Modernity’s very heartland and loving embrace. Doing nothing useful for Kurdistan. Just writing stupid love songs. Composing vain self serving propaganda plays.
I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to hide and what I can give away. I’m actually very detached from Western thinking so I don’t even know what actually makes compelling propaganda in the West anyway. Actually, the sly and looming enemy knows most of our real names, and frankly were there not many informants amongst us, it is simply a matter of sad fact that to get their passports back many of the French and British volunteers gave us away. Not to snitch jacket, but with a little lean on anyone can make a person flip. Really, there were not that many of us internationalists to keep track of. As the mad China-man Andok said, “the hard drives containing our data were barely even secured and this place is awash in spies.” Our overall numbers were estimated to be around 500 strong of which around 50 later perished. Mostly in combat, some in a wave of alleged suicides. We were small enough therefore for the various security services to keep track of.
So what is the actual purpose of this little manuscript? It is certainly not to glorify or denigrate the volunteers. I think it brave we went there but I don’t think we game changed a single thing. Perhaps we were all only there to bear witness that the revolution has even happened. It is surely not my aim give away military secrets and name names, because I am many things but not a Josh, a ‘donkey ass betrayer’. Suffice to say the C.I.A., MI5 and the M.I.T. know all our names.
I heard some comrades sang like little opera singers to get their European passports back. All speculation, none can actually say. Americans, we had the easiest deal. After ISIS is finished maybe it will not be so black and white, fighting a N.A.T.O. ally and what not. Assisting a revolution for stateless democracy, womens emancipation and social ecology in the heart of the war torn Middle East. ‘Heval Ciya’ the Scott always used to say that the 231 Sniper Unit changed the entire game, but really only the United States and the Coalition airstrikes probably, certainly did. When the last of the under 2,500 U.S. Special Forces leave the Turks will invade in force and try and undo everything.
There’s a story we heard about a Y.P.G. Euro volunteer vacationing in Turkey immediately after his tour. He was of course arrested and will serve life in prison. He probably should have made better choices for leave and decompression. There are lots of crazy people here. You have to be little crazy to travel half way across the earth to enlist in a revolution inside a bloody brutal civil war amid a great power confrontation placing Russia and Iran directly against the United States and N.A.T.O.
I was told by ‘Heval Jansher’ the Y.P.G. guerrilla who helped train us that, that if I survive the war I should “write something about Rojava that does justice to the over 12,000 martyrs. That does justice to the cause of Kurdistan. Honors Abdullah Ocalan and upholds the values of the revolution.” That it should humanize this resistance struggle inside a revolution inside a civil war inside a great game for the Middle East.
“Maybe Heval, just make it a kind of strange fucked up love story,” Jansher joked with me over cigarettes and endless black tea.
So I hope this account manages some of that, compiling the oral history, experiences and many martyrdom’s shared amongst the approximate 500-600 foreign Y.P.G./Y.P.J./I.F.B. Internationalist fighters. At the very least I’d like to capture what it was that made us enlist in this hell to take part, to fight and die and kill and try and help, to be less than a foot note in the epic tale of Kurdistan. But still a part.
“It has to be a love story or they will never make a movie about it comrade,” Heval Jansher once said, “to the West without a Movie, it is perhaps like this struggle is not even happening at all.” But he also said a ‘real revolutionist’ has no love except for his or her people. That any romantic love is a “bourgeois luxury for civilians”.
“Our love story is for the Resistance of the Age” he used to say, but then Heval Jansher also laughed and noted Jake Gillenhaul was then already shopping around a script where he plays an anarchist falling in love for a beautiful Y.P.J. fighter and another action exploitation of the Y.P.J. was coming out soon in France. But that will likely not go anywhere useful.
“You see, in real life we would probably platform and deport this stupid volunteer and the Y.P.J. comrade, she would be shamed and sent briefly to prison” Heval Jansher told me. A famous saying states that the “Kurds have no friends besides the mountains.” Well that’s no longer completely true. The 500 who served and the 45 who died besides the 12,000 Kurdish and Arab martyrs of the battle to defeat ISIS and defend the Rojava Revolution will live forever in the Kurdish tradition, since in Kurdistan ‘Martyrs never die’. Shahid Namarin. These were kind of talks we had at the Qerechow Academy.
That then said this is not a love story at all. It’s not even “a Middle Eastern Western”. The revolution itself has hardly been secured. The struggle is hardly over. The iron heel and might of the Turkish army looms right over the border to the North. Ready to descend quickly and murder us all. Undo everything that has been fought for against the so-called Islamic State. The Forces of the bloody dictator Assad backed by the Russian army and Hezbollah dig in to the south of the Euphrates river. The collaborationist Iraqi Kurdish K.D.P. Peshmerga, the Iranian supported Hashid Ashabi popular mobilization forces, the Shi’a dominated Iraqi Army and all manners of Iranian revolutionary guards to the south east in Sinjar. To the West the Jihadists of Al Qaeda’s latest rebrand and Islamists of different types in Idlib.
Enemies of the revolution on every single side! In fulfillment of my promises I will try and present our little part of the story as the defense has really only just begun. Everything might be wiped away before you even paid attention to vastness and hope of it. I worry, no sadly I expect, that long before this manuscript is ever published anywhere, all will be lost. My remaining Hevals will all be killed. The Turkish Army will literally roll over the border and everyone will be slaughtered. This isn’t really speculation, since it has happened many times before.