Turkey initiated “Operation Peace Spring” on October 9, 2019, with the intention of occupying Rojava. This preceded 12 days of historic resistance which included anarchist and revolutionary left battalions. The clashes took place from balcony to balcony, street to street, and house to house. Despite the technical superiority and being outnumbered by Turkish forces, with only a small number of people, they resisted for 12 days until a ceasefire was implemented.
This is an interview with an anarchist who fought in Serekaniye with the YPJ.
Do you remember on October 9th, how the attacks on Serekaniye began?
It came to us that the day before there had already been an attack, a bombing, but that it had been decided not to respond. So it was a little conversation behind the scenes, between the companions that we were in my small group. We said: “What will happen?” Two days before we were on the street guarding at night and everything was too quiet. At one point the body feels it, because the tension increases and the body notices it.
And on the 9th, I remember it was past noon, we were in our normal position when we heard the first bombings and from our position we could see the smoke. I remember that my whole body, that all my blood told me: “Now, come on, let’s start.” And of course, I had not yet experienced such a strong sensation, and to see it physically … We all met at home and our commander told us: “all prepared, take the backpacks, take a position”. From that moment it was as if things were triggered little by little … Suddenly, there are many noises that you do not understand … There was a lot of smoke, the city was prepared to avoid observation from the sky by drones, and move under this smoke with psychological affects. Then all the cars full of families, marching with what they have been able to take in ten minutes …
I imagine that the air factor was very important, right? What was it like to fight an army that is supported by warplanes?
The first days were very hard, because with the first bombings the first mass wounded arrived. They are not wounded by war typical city war, they are injured by explosions, entire groups of people, it is another type of war. At first, for example, transporting injured from Serekaniye to Til Temir was a lottery. Ambulances and civil convoys, which did not pose any military threat, were bombed. People were bombarded and then the people who were going to collect the bodies that had just been bombed were also bombarded. There were no scruples, only eager to conquer the territory.
When there were airplanes, at first with the companions we made jokes. When we felt the noise of a plane or a drone, there was always someone who said: “It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen!” But in reality it is the uncertainty of thinking if they have already detected you before, if they are going to shoot where they know they have to. The uncertainty of saying, “Where will it fall?” The first feeling is that of running, but of course, the issue is that when you run away is when you are detectable. We kept the blood cold, when we saw them nobody moved, we controlled the fear, the uncertainty, that voice that told you have done well before and they have not seen you, mixed with the fullest and deepest trust with the companions that I had by my side fighting the invaders and fascists.
I trusted the companions with whom I shared the first days, because they have experience in the city, in the mountains and have lost many people, precisely because of bombings, so they have it very integrated. They know that with this machinery of war we do not have great possibilities, but we have the strategy, the courage of all these years of resistance, we know that we should not fear air support, we know that it is a machinery against which we cannot fight against frontal and direct form but that is why there are other strategies. Know how to move, share fears and doubts and have a lot of patience. It takes a lot of patience: wait and wait.
What else would you say you’ve learned from your most experienced partners?
Rojava’s story has a set of values, but I have really begun to understand these values when I have been with them. Everyone is afraid, but I have not seen at any time doubt for the companions. Their fight is something that they carry so much inside, that comes so much from injustice, from the decision they made to give everything for the fight, for the defense of the land, that when it came to fighting, I saw it in the day to day.
I saw how they took care of each other, in how when one was tired, the others took care of her. I saw serious wounded companions fighting, very young companions fighting, all always aware of where the others were … There were times when we had to continue, but if there was an injury, the first were the wounded companions. And the ones that fell wounded all they wanted were healed and came back, to heal them as they could and continue in the front. I have seen companions not sleeping in three days, not eating in three days, not taking off shoes in days, sharing everything, not having food, not having water and sharing what little they had … No one was left behind. I have not seen anyone fall behind.
There was a very strong feeling of defending. That it was a fight to defend the land, a fight against fascism, a millenary struggle. Why what they live is an attempt at ethnic extermination, a culture and also a movement that is led by women. See that everything you had built, which has cost so much pain, at the level of organizing society, women, that everything is democratic, confederal, that there are structures … see how all this can be destroyed in two days … well, of course, the spirit didn’t stop, nobody rested. There was a strength and a courage, a courage, that if they did not come from the heart and the feeling of “enough!”, Serekaniye’s resistance could not have been the way it was, because everyone had reasons to run away, with the machinery of Turkey, the second largest NATO army, who can fight against this? Only history, the ideological conviction, the defense of the land, the defense of the struggle of women, can against all this.
And I have not only learned from the most experienced companions, for me it has been incredible to share this time with 18-19 year old girls, Kurds, Arabs, who have joined the fight to rebel against a life that condemned them to be women of home and have a man, or who have joined by ideological conviction. That being so young they have taken the courage to join the armed resistance, with all that this entails for society … I was thinking of the Spanish civil war, of the women of the CNT-FAI. Elissa García, for example, who died at the front at 19 years … And see how the militant women of the movement open the way for the other women, for the young women. It has been amazing. There are also many things that I cannot explain, because there are many feelings that are like images that I remember, that I cannot express with words …
What images come to mind when you think of Serekaniye?
Many. From the beginning, I remember when my group was separated into two smaller ones. I have the image of when the partners of the other group were going to take a position and we were going to another place. I thought: “Maybe this is the last time I see them” and that has left me a lot. I remember very well that day, the columns of smoke. And as they were loaded with the biksi [name popularly used to refer to the PKM light machine gun designed in the USSR] and its backpacks.
And then I have many images of the hospital, because we made part of the resistance in the hospital, which at one point ended up being part of the front. It was 5 days, but I remember it as if it had been 10 hours. I remember the hospital, in the dark, because when the çete [term that literally means “mercenaries”, used to refer to jihadist groups taking part in the Turkish state’s offensive against Northern Syria] approached, there wasn’t electricity. And in the middle of the darkness, the light of the cigarettes that the comrades smoked. And the doors, why the light came through the doors. He did control of the wounded, asking each one: “How are you? All good? – Yes yes I’m fine”. And the wounded fighting. Because we all knew that we were surrounded, that we were going to be trapped in the city. And we gave each other courage, we said “no one leaves here, because here we are defending everything.” In the end, when we had to retire, the last image of Serekaniye, the city burning, everything burning …
You were surrounded and due to diplomatic agreements with Turkey you were ordered to withdraw. How did you receive this order? How was the withdrawal for you, after so many days fighting tirelessly?
The order arrived in the morning and we did not believe it. At first we didn’t believe it. But I remember that the feeling of devastation came quickly. They told us to leave, to prepare all the material. All the convoy, all the cars filled with all the defense forces, we left little by little and discovered that the enemies had gone out to the street. Everyone left their lines of defense and went down to the street, went out to the balconies, to make us a corridor, so that we could see them. You saw the Turkish soldiers and the jihadists, some in military uniforms but others camouflaged as civilians, throughout the hallway to the hospital. We saw the faces of those who until recently were attacking us, hidden 100 or 200 meters from the hospital. I remember one of the commanders telling us: “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot because the war isn’t over.” It was very hard, we didn’t expect it. All the adrenaline of so many days, all the emotion contained … but you see the comrades who have been fighting here for 7 years, plus some 10 years in the mountains, and you feel that you don’t want to be sad.
Do you feel that you have no right to be sad?
I have the right to be sad because Serekaniye has been my home, where I have seen comrades die, where we have defended the streets, where I have met families, like everyone else. But on the other hand, I feel that it has been a hard but beautiful resistance, that what we have done is part of history. And if you don’t keep this in mind, you go down fast, your morale falls, the word “defeat” enters your head. Yes, militarily it has perhaps been a defeat, but ideologically at no time. Serekaniye has been a reference, also for the population. Many people took up arms, especially boys and young girls.
Historically, weapons and armed struggle has been a closed ground for women. How was it for you to get in touch with this?
I believe that women have always been present in the armed struggle, but more invisible. Perhaps in smaller quantities, but throughout history there have always been references of women who have participated in the armed struggle and have built a bit the base and the way for many of us to consider it something possible, a path that is also our way.
In any part of the world and in any social and political context, as women and for the specific oppression that is imposed on us, we have always developed forms of self-defense, we have always had to use the tools we had at our disposal to defend our bodies, our thoughts, our life, the territory … As women, we are trying to introduce that this is not our role, but history shows the opposite, it shows that we have always been able to look for solutions, ways to fight and that is what happens in Rojava. Women have organized to build structures, learning spaces, support, mechanisms to fight and defend all this. Why … if we don’t do it, who will? We cannot wait to leave the decision on how we have to fight, we cannot entrust our future to structures that are oppressive. I consider, therefore, that self-defense is something that defines us as revolutionary and as women in general, it has always been part of our life because we have always been the object of the oppression of patriarchy, of the State, of all social institutions. Then I consider that in Rojava weapons are another method of defense, another element to protect the spaces where we grow, and a way to defend collective life and oppressed peoples, of which women represent the vanguard. It has not been easy for me to assume this, it has been a great learning.
Within my family, only men have participated in this form of resistance against Franco, basically my grandfather. But having the reference of my mother, my grandmother, the women of my family who during the Franco regime and post-Franco regime have been oppressed, some have organized and others have not, but if they had had the possibility, they would not have ruled out this way, like me, that having the possibility and having comrades who can introduce us, how could I not participate in this fight?
And it has been a process, a hard learning, very hard. Why the most important thing is not to take the weapons, but to know why you take them. At one point you ask yourself: “maybe I fall martyr here,” and the feeling was to say “we are fighting for life.” It is a lesson, and I continue to learn.
How was the relationship with fellow men? Was there a difference in treatment?
Most of the battle of Serekaniye, during which I was in the line of defense, I must say that we were mostly women. In our group there were also men but mostly we were partners. At no time did I receive orders from a man, my manager was always a woman. Yes, there were certain moments when I felt overprotected, but I think it was more because I was international. At first, these moments occurred, but quickly disappeared due to the harshness of the war and for the day to day, for sharing everyday life.
I was surrounded by women like the ones I was with, there was no room for gender differences, at least this is what I have lived. In all politicized environments there is always a task that partners should do much more than to give space to women at the level of militancy they deserve, and here it is not that they say that it is not necessary and that there is no domination of the partners towards the comrades, but it seems that there is the work of years in this aspect. Because many times we ourselves also place ourselves in this role, right? We have it internalized. The partners here have an attitude of not accepting this role, an attitude of saying: “We will not wait for men to change, we are the engine of this change.” And this attitude has also helped men a lot to understand the change in attitude they should have when they are struggling with women.
Once in the hospital, for example, where there were more men, yes, I noticed more differences, but we were not for nonsense. We could not. We were 4 or 5 people taking care of 40 wounded every day, apart from the martyrs and what it was to function, function, work and work, and in moments of rest, guard and fight.
In a context of war, everyone is very clear who the enemy is. This is what I have sometimes missed at home, in myself and in others. We have so many open fronts and so many enemies that we are not able to build something solid.
During the clashes in Serekaniye, in Europe and, for example, specifically in Catalonia, there were demonstrations, actions, demonstrations of solidarity with Rojava … Did you get this? How did you get it?
During Serekaniye we didn’t have much contact with the outside. Most of the time the phones did not work, the internet did not work, but the few moments that worked was basically what we looked at: how was the situation of the territory, what were the movements, share how were the other comrades and see what it happened at home in Europe. Then of course, every manifestation, every text, every action, every photo, every story … in 5 minutes everyone knew it.
Everything we saw was running fast to show it to the other teammates, because the morale rose so much. For example, seeing in Catalonia the photographs of black flags, flags of the YPG and YPJ … this has been incredible for us. Seeing the union of all these struggles … and for the movement partners here it was incredible. Many times they didn’t believe it. I showed them the pictures of the riots in Catalonia, the banners, the flares and it was exciting to share this and be able to say: “Look, look! Catalunya, my land!”
The feeling was that you were not alone, that people were connected to you … We have never expected or expect anything from the States, but at the level of society, at the level of peoples, of empathizing, of feeling the same oppression, this has been very important. I have no words to describe how the women’s movement, whatever the organization, has reacted throughout Europe for the defense and support of Serekaniye. I have no words to see how the partners have worked hard to bring us their warmth, and all the responsibility that many people in Europe felt with Rojava.
What would you say are also the lessons that would have to be exported from here to the movements and struggles in Catalonia?
I think one of the most important things I’ve learned here is the value of commitment. The commitment to really decide to fight the rest of your life. To make a decision that is not easy and to dump all your energies and time in building a base, to do it in the long term and with perspective. Not wanting to do things too quickly, but having perspective of what the revolutionary construction of a territory means, including society, people. I am not saying that in Catalonia there is no commitment, I say that there comes a time when, in the face of oppression, there is no possibility or half measures, it is one thing or another. And sometimes we expected to respond, but if we respond without having built the entire base on a social, ideological and structural level, the response to the attacks will be very short. It will not be long because it will not be ideological, it will not be based on common and shared values.
And then, of course … how to say it in Catalan? There is much talk here about bawerî, about faith. I believe that at home we have no faith in our own steps, in our structures, in our commitment, also at the vital level. Because if we do not start with ourselves, if we do not fight against our sexist personality, against the competitiveness that exists in us and the capitalist mentality that we have, if we do not learn to live collectively, how can we consider a real change? This is what I have seen here, that life and struggle are the same, that we have to get people to believe again, get organized again and not be afraid of difference, because the difference is what makes community. Look here, in Serekaniye the families and the companions were Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Turks, international … sometimes we didn’t even speak the same language, and we all defended the same. And yes, here there is a context of war, but at home there is also war, society also suffers a war, simply that in a different way: in the form of wage labor, evictions, patriarchy … and in Catalonia, after the referendum, with all the repression. The strength of Europe continues to expand, we continue to have comrades in prison, evictions of historical projects, siege of migrated people, criminalization of abortion, privatization of health, world leaders to decide the future of the population, control and police violence of all colors … And Russia, the Spanish State, Germany, the United States … next to Erdogan. War!
Anarchist ideas taught me the struggle of the civil war revolutionaries, the comrades I have in Europe taught me the strength and the need to interconnect struggles, of internationalist solidarity. The companions of Rojava and Kurdistan have taught me the importance of unity and commitment to raise a land and defend oppressed cultures under mountains of ruins. And all of you have taught me the value of the struggle to defend the territory and the freedom of mothers, sisters, comrades, as well as the construction of another society, of revolutionary values with strong foundations. I look to the future in another way … The destruction of the State, the overthrow of prisons and police stations, the isolation of banks and large companies, the confrontation with fascist and patriarchal policies … are tasks that deserve commitment, decision and courage.
Mutual support, collective decision making, neighbor organization, defense structures, commitment, courage … We are prepared, let’s start walking.