Chapter (5) Five
“The Capital of Place that Does not yet Exist”
“I found myself as a young man in Diyarbakir City, the place we call ‘Ahmed’, the future capital of all Kurdistan.” The black walled citadel of Bakur.
Recounts Heval Roj, Comrade Rising Sun, or Comrade Dawnbreak, either one.
A poetic if not fully epic place. An ancient citadel of giant black stone walls and total martial law. A town of prisons, stories, heroes and valiance in the epoch of the Kurdish people. Little wine bars, a thriving literary scene. It cannot decide whether to be eastern or western, Turkish or Kurdish. The epicenter of a great revolt, or the dystopian mockery of the full blown repression of a colonizing power forcing a boot heel on our neck. As Kurdistan is a powerful and long repressed enduring idea, that idea is becoming a reality on the barricades here and long running fight in the mountains. An imagined community of over forty million souls who are wrongfully, shamefully divided between the imposed nation states of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran all things have two names, all things are both real and imposed upon us. As if to be a Kurd requires an act of insanity, and an act of double thinking. A persistent zealous fight to make the world acknowledge our rights and identity. To admit we have a right to survive as a nation beset with enemies on all sides.
Following the Turkish military coup of 1980, the Kurdish language was prohibited in public and private life. The prison of Diyarbakir filled up and the endless wails of rape and torture propelled the movement to full mobilization and to take up arms again.
Diyarbakir, which in my people’s tradition is also called Ahmed has now swollen to nearly 4 million people since the eradication and ethnic cleansing of over 5,000 Kurdish villages in the great ranges of mountains to the east. The primary battlegrounds between the Party and the Turkish State. Growing up there, there was of course no Kurdish allowed in school, no Kurdish books or music except deeply underground. Were it within the Turkish State’s power, we would not even have Kurdish names! We would admit to being backwards people of “Mountain Turks”. I was born in the year of the largest, latest and greatest uprising. And although since the days of the Medes there have been “one thousands sighs and one thousand failed revolts” ‘, this uprising was to be completely different.
In 1984 Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Workers Party simultaneously attacked three Turkish army posts and police stations in Bakur and announced the beginning of the revolution. For the next thirty years, almost without pause the P.K.K. and it’s armed guerrilla would battle the Turkish military across Bakur, the name we call the Turkish occupied zone of Kurdistan which means “the North”. Over 50,000 would die, mostly Kurds actually. The Turks would engage in vast acts of scorched earth barbarism and we in the Party would eventually turn to outright terror. In the end, the majority of the deaths were Kurdish civilians. In the end the only liberated ground was a handful of villages deep in the mountains of North Iraq, the Qandil.
Now, ‘Heval Roj’ is of course not my real name. It is the name given to me by the guerrillas of the P.K.K. when I joined the Party. By that time we were fully surrounded in Qandil being attacked on all sides and death seemed certain. Total defeat as well. Our great leader had been kidnapped in Kenya. Major leaders of the movement including the brother of Abdullah Ocalan, Osman, had completely betrayed us. Our own Iraqi Kurdish brothers in the K.D.P. and P.U.K.-Peshmerga were collaborating with Turkey and American to annihilate us.
How do I tell you my story? What does it really matter? How does this even begin or end for an outsider. For people who do not even know where Kurdistan begins or ends, or even care. As Turkey is a N.A.T.O. ally, and no matter what it says or does will remain a beneficiary of great power largesse.
“I cannot tell you my real name of course. I cannot speak for the Party, nor can I fully disclose the deepness of my hope and my hate to a stranger. I can only speak to a feeling shared on differing levels by thirty to forty million Kurds. ”
I will try to say something for the benefit of doubt, that non-Kurds could care about us so much that they would come to our land by the hundreds. To fight and die alongside us not simply fighting in resistance to Islamic radicalism, genocide and repression, but also because they grasp the larger idea. The total an utter radicalism and implications of Abdullah Ocalan’s vision. For the survival of the revolution rests not in securing a Kurdish State, but instead to export these ideas abroad. To make the blood of the martyrs raise the flood waters of all mankind and provide a blueprint for liberation.
Of course we began as communists, we began admiring the Cubans and it was the Russians and Palestinians that first trained armed the resistance in the early days in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. But we are not Communists or Nationalists anymore. Our thinking on the subject of liberation has evolved. The Cuban connection and the Palestinians connection are very real and enduring parts of the story.
But, when we all almost died on the mountain top, surrounded and out gunned in 2000 there were no Cubans, or Russians or Palestinians to help us as they were all defeated or fully besieged. By some miracle, or just by sheer will the Party survived. And the 1989 defeat of Communism internationally required us to climb higher, dig deeper to criticize and self-criticize. To adopt an evolution in our thinking. With our ranks decimated, the armed struggle In a complete stalemate, declared a terrorist organization by almost every European country; we evolved. The revolution could not ever be won with arms and ideology alone. Nor could we secure Kurdistan while every other nation on earth embraced “Capitalist Modernity”. To secure our victory and survival as a people in Bakur, Bashur, Rojhelat and Rojava we would embrace the ideas of a Jewish anarchist from Vermont, as re-interpreted in prison by Ocalan and implemented by the new largely female leadership of the Party. This methodology called “Democratic Confederalism”, adopted by the Party in 2004 would soon find actual expression in Rojava. The Wild West of Kurdistan, the North most area of Syria. In 2014 when the Civil War broke out the Party and its allied militias seized control of major towns and cities across Syria abandoned by the Assad regime.
Thus we came down from the mountains, out of the underground and prepared to make a stand in Rojava where the radicals of the Islamic State were terrorizing out people and butchering everyone in their path. If we go back to the mountains it will signal only our isolation and defeat. If we hold these cities, if we showcase that we are fighting to defend not just for Kurds but for Arabs, Assyrians, Yazidis, Circassaians, Chechens and the Turkmen too; if we show that Democratic Confederalism is the solution, the way ahead for all oppressed peoples; then others will join us. And like the Nawruz mountain fires this uprising will eventually spread everywhere! There is a historic destiny to our revolution. To be victorious where all others failed!
Out of habit, he lights a cigarette and pours himself a cup of black tea. On the walls of the small office set up at the training base, which is also his room, Comrade Roj looks the dead in the eyes. Or death in the eyes? Or perhaps both. As the posters of the martyrs plaster all the walls and the war is everywhere around us.