The official announcement of the defeat of ISIS in Syria is imminent but who has defeated them and why is it directly linked to a hunger strike in Newport, Wales?
Plaid Cymru member and Kurdish rights activist, Imam Sis (32) is on Day 71 of a hunger strike in the Kurdish Community Centre in Newport, Wales. He began his hunger strike on the 17th December 2018 in solidarity with the Kurdish MP Leyla Güven, who began her hunger strike in Diyarbakir Prison on 7th November, 2018.
Over 300 Kurdish people, including hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners are now on hunger strike around the world demanding that the Turkish authorities abide by internationally signed treaties on human rights by restarting regular family and legal visits to the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan who has been the sole prisoner on a purposefully built prison complex on the island of Imrali, in the Marmara Sea for most of the past 20 years. One of the previous prisoners on Imrali Island was prime minister Menderes of Turkey who was executed on the island after the 1960 military coup.
But who is Abdullah Öcalan and what is his relevance to the Middle East and the defeat of ISIS in Northern Syria?
Towards the end of August 2014, Islamic State fighters were surging over the plains of Northern Syria having taken over Mosul city in Northern Iraq, carried out a genocidal massacre against the Ezidis in Sinjar and declared the ‘Islamic Caliphate of Syria and Iraq’ on 29th June 2014.
As they advanced and conquered whole swathes of territory, ISIS carried out the most barbaric massacres, mass shootings and war crimes. They marched hundreds of civilians into the desert and machine gunned them as they knelt in the sand. They ransacked hundreds of Kurdish villages, raping and beheading as they went, trading in young Ezidi women and girls as slaves for sex in market places. They invented new and grotesque methods of killings such as burning, drowning in metal cages, public crucifixions and throwing young gay men from the roofs of tall buildings & cliff tops.
It looked as though they were going to conquer all. As they approached the outskirts and outer suburbs of the Kurdish city of Kobane in Sept 2014, President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was gleefully telling the world that Kobane would be taken over soon by ISIS. The world held their breath.
Then something truly extraordinary happened. For the first time, ISIS met the most ferocious and determined opposition. The Kurdish resistance was nothing short of heroic and existential. It was ‘Freedom or Death’ and everybody who choose to stay in the city, picked up a rudimentary weapon and went to their stations to defend their city.
For the very first time, the psychological aspect of the invincibility of ISIS had been broken. The Kurdish people continued to stand up to the brutal relentless siege but eventually, military resources and supplies began to drain as Kurdish fighters began to literally run out of bullets as they fought, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
To slow down the advance of ISIS at a critical moment, one Kurdish woman fighter, Arin Mirkan threw herself under 2 ISIS tanks and ignited explosives strapped to her body imposing a psychological wound against ISIS fighters.
Eventually, the world could no longer ignore this extraordinary bravery, weapons and supplies were eventually airdropped by the US to the Kurdish fighters who by now had captured the attention of the world. An international coalition was formed and military aircraft began giving the Kurds, ‘close air support’ coordinating with the Kurdish fighters on the ground to strike against ISIS targets from the air.
The battle continued until the whole of Kobane was in rubble and in January 2015 the siege was finally broken and the Kurds then began to push ISIS onto the defensive, professionalising their military structures, that eventually formed the Syrian Democratic Forces and steadily began pushing ISIS back and retaking ground with many major battles in places like Manbij, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor where they have now been finally defeated. Over 7,000+ Kurdish young people, thousands of Arabs, dozens of international volunteers including 8 from the UK, fell defending the world from ISIS.
But who were these so called ‘angels’ who achieved such an extraordinary military and political feat on behalf of the whole of the global community against ISIS? So called academic analysts and ‘experts’ literally scratched their heads unable to explain the phenomenon. Online media trolls of the Turkish state attempted to criminalise them, as they had the Kurdish struggle inside Turkey, while much of the international media highlighted the physical beauty of the Kurdish women fighters of the YPJ, fighting side by side with their male comrades on the front lines with women leading the liberation of Raqqa and other major battles.
The reality is that the Kurdish peoples resistance has been rooted in the North of Syria for over three decades before and the history of the Kurdish people’s latest and perhaps most significant chapter of resistance against Turkey was arguably born in the North of Syria, where the now imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan had travelled to Kobane in 1979, before the Turkish military coup of 12th Sept 1980.
The Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan organised the Kurdish people there and established networks in Northern Syria. The PKK had been established one year before in the small village of Fis, in the district of Diyarbakir on the 27th November 1978. Abdullah Öcalan and the cadres of the newly formed, Partiya Kakerin Kurdistan, PKK, then established a training camp, Mazlum Korkmaz Academy in the Bekka Valley to train the volunteers of the newly formed Kurdish liberation movement, helped by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian.
The Kurdish movement grew expeditiously and the overwhelming amount of new recruits who flooded to the organisation for training came from the Kurdish cities of the North of Syria, cities such as Afrin, Kobane and Amude. The networks, loyalties and support for Kurdish freedom was already very well rooted and established in Northern Syria long before many ISIS fighters were even born.
So, it is not surprising to those who knew the history of the Kurds, to see a portrait of the Kurdish leader, displayed after the liberation of the ISIS HQ in Raqqa. Not surprising also because of the political revolution in Northern Syria, that has been influenced by the political ideas and philosophy of Abdullah Öcalan, ideas and philosophies that have been developed over decades of Kurdish struggle against racism and colonialism by all of the regions oppressive regimes who have brutally oppressed the Kurds. Political philosophies that were carefully intellectually tuned for the particular political needs and character of the Kurdish people.
Ideas that were forged initially in the heady political atmosphere of the decolonisation movements of the 1960s and 1970s but were crystallised by ideas forming over the years, of radical democratic representation, ecology and women’s liberation.
Ideas, encapsulated in the phrase, ‘Democratic Nation’ that have finally been able to be practiced in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria bringing real freedom to all communities and religions in the region. Freedoms not imagined by all ethnic and religious identities under the Assad regime before the so called, ‘Syrian Revolution’.
So you can now see in Northern Syria, in cities such as Manbij, 90% Arab populated, that was liberated by the Kurdish led forces motivated by the revolutionary ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, a new system of liberation theory and freedom embraced by the population. Ideas formulated by the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
The ‘Kurdish Question’ has, in many ways, morphed into a ‘Democracy Question’ predominantly but not exclusively, in the Middle East, with the Kurdish people’s leader, Abdullah Öcalan offering profound political solutions about democracy, ecology, women’s liberation and equal representation.
Abdullah Öcalan remains a living legendary, Mandela type leader of the Kurds but is offering ideas of democracy to a much wider audience. He has now been imprisoned, on an island called Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea since 15th February 1999. Isolated, physically, from the Kurdish people his ideas are very much alive and now being practised in the North of Syria following the defeat of ISIS. Ideas that are the very antithesis of the fascist ideology of hatred and subjugation practiced by ISIS. Ideas that place women’s liberation at the heart of his ideology that can bring real freedom and democracy to the Middle East.
The historical hunger strike being staged by Imam Sis in Wales, and by hundreds of political prisoners in Turkish jails has been led by the Kurdish politician Leyla Güven who has been on hunger strike since the 7th November.
The central demand and aim of the hunger strike is to begin a political process by securing regular visits for the family of Abdullah Öcalan and critically, for his teams of legal representatives that would open political channels that could eventually steer the sides of the conflict away from war and destruction towards a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue that has festered and caused so much pain and psychological trauma to both sides of the conflict.
But especially as the Kurds continue to suffer from the double indignity of misrepresentation, criminalisation and the Turkish government’s insistence on treating the Kurdish people’s legitimate struggle against forced assimilation and racism in Turkey, as an issue of ‘security’ needing a ‘military’ response and not a long standing political grievance of the Kurds demanding basic rights and justice. Turkey, under the dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan is closing down any political opportunities for the Kurds in Turkey who are suffering a ‘political genocide’ with thousands of innocent Kurds now incarcerated in Turkey’s prisons.
The hunger strike is a desperate plea for peace and justice. So, we must hear their voice!