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Tag Archive for ypj

Report Back from the Rojava Revolution Bay Area Tour

Rojava Revolution Bay Area Tour

Rojava Revolution Bay Area Tour

 

Sunday, December 6th, 7pm, Santa Cruz

SubRosa Infoshop, 703 Pacific Ave

Monday, December 7th, 7pm, Monterey

Old Capitol Books, 559 Tyler St

Tuesday, December 8th, 7pm, Cupertino

De Anza College, Campus Center, Conference Room A&B, 21250 Stevens
Creek Blvd. $3 parking permit required for campus parking.

Saturday, December 12th, 7pm, Oakland

OMNI Commons, 4799 Shattuck Ave

Sunday, December 13th, San Francisco

Station 40, 16th Street 4040 B (Near Mission Street). Note, Station 40
is up two flights of stairs.

Sponsored by: Modern Slavery, FireWorks, Ruins of Capital Distro,
Industrial Workers of the World/Solidarity Network San Jose, Direct
Action Monterey Network (DAMN), SubRosa Infoshop, OMNI Commons, and
Station 40.


Rojava Dispatch Final: Journey Home

IMG_0241El Errante

 

“Mr. Errante … did you visit Syria?” The US Border Patrol officer stares at me through the bulletproof plastic that separates us. He shifts in his seat. The man wants an answer.

“Me? Syria? No. No way … too dangerous,” I say. Praying the lie doesn’t show on my face. I’m in Dublin, at US Pre-clearance, almost back to the States and now, it seems, I may have some explaining to do.

He scoops up my passport and customs declaration in his right hand and says, “Come this way Mr. Errante. We’re going to search your luggage.” For the first time, during the entire trip, that sickening feeling of real fear rises inside me.IMG_0404

 

 

 

 

Two days earlier — Paris. A singular morning, fresh sun and breeze, the kind of daybreak that only the Mother of the Revolutions can serve for breakfast. I walk through Père Lachaise Cemetery my head and shoulders hunched forward. I know this old boneyard like a good friend, and there’s one memorial that calls me now. The Mur des Fédérés (the Wall of the Federals). A place on the enclosing wall of the old cemetery where several hundred Communards were taken to be slaughtered by the forces of law and order. The memorial comes into view, a simple plaque on a wall of stone. Nothing more. I pull a YPG flag from my bag IMG_0424and drape it over the memorial. I take a photo. A German man and his daughter walk around the corner. I ask him to take a photo of me and the wall and the flag. As he preps, my hand once again rises, almost unconsciously in the V salute and he snaps a few photos. I am not done. There are two more photos to be taken. One photo with the flag draped over Oscar Wilde’s tomb, and one photo at the sculpted bronze cap that seals Nestor Makhno’s ashes into the Columbarium. Taking the final picture I notice an odd thing, did the likeness of Makhno smile a bit when I placed the YPG flag? Or is it me?

The Border Patrol officer walks me to a holding room in the Pre-Clearance area. I am told to sit on a row of benches. As I sit I see that I am facing a wall of waist high one-way mirrors. In the reflection I can see several officers directly behind me looking at my passport and paper work. They talk quietly and nod.

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My mind begins to play smuggler’s games. I go through all the potential contraband in my bags, numerous YPG/J flags, buttons, and patches. A book called Stateless Democracy, TEV-DEM flags, HPC flags and an HPC emblazoned brown uniform vest including two Velcro pockets that exactly fit a Kalashnikov banana clip for 7.62mm X 39 mm bullets. Additionally, several pro-YPG/J, TEV-DEM magazines in scary Daesh-looking Arabic and latinized Kurmanji. Welp, enough there for a few hours of interrogation, maybe even a day or two of detention. One of the Border Patrol officers calls me to his window. I stand, turn, and walk with measured steps to where he motioned me.

After the stroll through Père Lachaise I hail a taxi and head to the hotel. The taxi driver swerves through the Place de la République on our way back to the Left Bank when it catches my eye. A flag; the yellow/red/green flag of the Kurdish Autonomous Region, then two, and then three of them. Finally I see a huge YPG pennant, yellow with red star, as it lazes and hops in the mid-afternoon swirl. I yell at the taxi driver to stop and pay the fare frantically. I hop into traffic on the Rue du Temple and quickly read the sign over the bandstand, “International March against Daesh, For Kobane, For Humanity.”IMG_0427

Whooomp, there it is, it’s November 1st — International Kobane Day, and one more time, I am enmeshed in the Revolution.

I walk through the crowd, smelling the food, seeing the colors, transported back to Kobane and Cizere by the sound of spoken Kurmanji, and the feeling of rebirth, of making a new world. There is a tent where representatives of the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Turkish, HDP) sit, drink tea, and converse. I walk over and introduce myself. I show them some of my photos and posts about Rojava. They speak together, then someone is sent to find a translator fluent in Turkish, French, Kurmanji, and English. After what might be my last glass of Kurdish style tea for a very long time, the translator arrives and we begin to talk about how HDP integrates activities with events in Rojava. As the conversation runs I once again feel it. The openness, the excitement, the lack of fear, the infectious hope in everything these folks do and believe. The. Damned. Hope.

The Border Patrol officer eyeballs me up and down and asks if I have any cigarettes in my bag. I grin and say, ”Yup, 15 packs of Gitanes and Gauloises, can’t buy’em in the US anymore, y’know.”

A slight smile crosses his face and he asks about money, gold, anything else I might try to be getting across the border. I answer that I have a few Euros, a few dollars — maybe a total of $100 altogether. No gold, no cheese, nada. He tells me to have a seat while they x-ray my bag. I return to my seat. Only one thought crosses my mind now, did the YPG/J use any paint on those flags that might show up on an x-ray? Oh well, what the hell. I’ll find out soon enough.

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As I leave the rally one last sign catches my eye, white on black, and bold, cutting statements in French — demanding victory for the YPG. Well, it’s the folks from the Fédération Anarchiste (FA), come to voice an opinion. I saunter over and introduce myself, they know me a bit, I know them a bit. I am invited back to their infoshop just off the Place de la République. I sit for a while, tell them what I’d seen in Rojava. They ask questions. I have some answers — not many. I walk around their space, buy a few posters, thank them and leave. Now, a short night’s sleep, a long day’s flight, and home.

The Border Patrol officer calls me to his window. I am now frustrated and angry and hope I can hold my tongue. He looks me up and down one last time and says, “Mr. Errante, you can proceed. Your bags will be put back on the plane. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

“No inconvenience at all, really,” I respond. And with that final lie I leave Preclearance, feeling very much, sodomized.

At the San Francisco airport I debark the plane and walk slowly toward the bag claim. It’s taken me 26 hours to travel what should have taken 13. My back and legs ache and my head feels like a tree is growing in it. As I round the final corner my compañera appears up ahead. She smiles and we walk quickly to each other. I touch her hand, it is cool and warm, it feels like love. We embrace, I smell her hair, and I whisper, “I made it.”
“Home,” is all she replies. The sound of her voice — dusky, low, familiar — tells me the rest.

(My name is El Errante. My name is Paul Z. Simons. Thanks for reading — hope you enjoyed the Dispatches.)IMG_0436

Rojava Dispatch Five: The YPG/YPJ; Militias That Grow Hope

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YPG dimeşe, erd û ezman diheje
(YPG marches, earth and heavens tremble)
—YPG motto

 

El Errante

 

“Wait….what….we’re lost?” Mohammed the translator nods and I turn to the driver. He shrugs. I had headed out in Qamishli to do an interview about the Hêza Parastina Cewherî (HPC, Self Defense Forces), the new citizens’ militia formations in Rojava. The driver — per every other taxi driver on earth — knew a short cut that would get us there on time, guaranteed. Problem was he knew where we were, but couldn’t find the address of the HPC. So as we sat on a corner deciding what to do, I noticed several yellow YPG flags floating over an old fence. The driver pointed and shrugged, indicating maybe they know. Couldn’t hurt.

The Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG, People’s Defense Units) and the Yekîneyên Parastina Jinê (YPJ, Women’s Defense Units) are the armed backbone of the Revolution. The YPG, formed in 2004 (YPJ in 2012), is no army. It is a militia, a people armed, in the best sense of the word.

Some facts…
YPG/J Organization (Unit Name and Size)
1) Team, 6 – 10 fighters.
2) Suite, 2 Teams, 12 – 20 fighters.
3) Block (Kurmanji—garug), 2 suites, 24 – 40 fighters.
4) Company, 2 Blocks, 48 – 80 fighters.
5) Estimated Total YPG/J Census, 50,000 fighters
6) There are no officers. When engaged in operations, the fighters choose (by vote or consensus) Team/Suite/Block/Company Leaders. When idle, there is no leadership structure at any level, save Regional Commands. Commanders are chosen (vote or consensus) for regions and Cantons (Kobane, Qamishli) and can only serve six months in any given commando. They are then replaced. There is no re-election.

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We all hop out of the taxi and approach the YPG outpost through a tangle of tank traps, concrete barriers and mud. The fighters at the gate are older than most I’ve met before, with graying beards, dark, tanned skin, and wrinkles. First thought, these guys look tough, real tough. We shake hands and when they find out I’m an American, one goes to tell the Commander. He returns with a tall well-built balding man, with clear grey eyes. We shake hands and he introduces himself. He is the Commander of the Qamishli Cizere Canton T.S. Cemal (Martyr Cemal) commando with approximately 400 fighters (4 Companies). He invites us in for coffee or tea, and to meet the fighters. What the hell. I’m late for my interview, it’s chilly — a coffee would be nice, I want to meet the fighters; and I like this man.

The YPG/J have developed some unique protocols regarding training, deployment, and morale. Some more facts…
1) Training for a YPG/J fighter lasts 45 days.
2) After training, the fighter is asked where and what type of duty s/he would like to do. They can opt for front-line service, tactical reserves, Turkish border patrol, internal checkpoints, or logistics and communication. The choice of duty, where to serve, and how long to serve, is solely the individual fighter’s.
3) Leave in the YPG/J varies with commando and combat situation. When idle, single men, and most YPJ fighters (who are usually unmarried) go on leave 4 days a month. Married men serve one week, and week off. When engaged in battle, leave is still offered to the fighters, but is rarely taken. One Kobane Commander joked that the seige lasted only a month because the married fighters realized that the more Daesh they killed, the sooner they would see their wives and children.
4) Food, clothing and shelter are provided to all YPG fighters, they also receive compensation amounting to about $100/month — for odds and ends, cigarettes, candy, amusement, travel, what have you. This seems small by US standards, but in Rojava it can go a long way. I pay about one dollar for a pack of Gauloises Blondes, and a kilo (2.2 pounds) of candy will set you back $0.75.

The Commander and I talk as we set off to the barracks. He tells me the men are rested, ready to fight, though the area has been quiet for months. The commando deploys, on a revolving basis, 15 fighters per week to the front. He has only one new recruit, a boy of 16, who left Aleppo and crossed Daesh lines to join the YPG. Breakfast is over and the fighters are lounging near the barracks. They see the Commander and me moving towards them and a few start walking over, then more follow. I introduce myself through Mohammed, they seem surprised that an American would visit; one or two look down, boots shuffle in the mud. I move closer and start shaking hands, I look in their eyes, I mumble thank you in English. The fighters nod, they smile, they get it. One or two say in Kurmanji, “You are welcome.”

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I ask if I can take some pictures, the Commander maneuvers the fighters onto the tarmac to a spot in front of a large YPG flag snapping in the wind. A few photos, and as we walk off for coffee several of the less shy militiamen grab my arm and ask for individual or group photos. I stand with the men, arms on each other’s shoulders, we smile at the camera. In that moment one word flashes into my mind like summer lightning; a Spanish word, from a different insurrection and a different time, Hermanos.

A table is brought out and several cups of steaming, brackish Turkish coffee are set. Mohammed, the taxi driver, the Commander and I sit and drink while the fighters stand and look on. I ask some questions. Most are from Cizere, many from the city of Qamishli. They tell me that their fight isn’t just for the Kurds, but for the whole world. And not just to defeat Daesh, but to win a Revolution. They want me to understand this. That it is important. I tell them I do understand. I tell them I believe it also.IMG_0336

 

 

 

 

The cups are drained, time to go. I rise and thank the Commander again. He thanks me, and walks off to his duties. I begin shaking hands with the militiamen, saying thank you to each one, holding eye contact. Now, I need them to understand. The fighters form a line as I move so I can spend a moment of time with each of them. As I pass down the row it feels like a chunk of steel has settled in my heart. The first older soldier we met has been by my side the entire time. He follows us to the taxi. I extend a hand and to show our mutual respect, we kiss each other on the right cheek, the left cheek and then the left shoulder.

Back in the car I start thinking about the HCP interview up ahead, and then my eye catches the yellow YPG flag, still dancing in the morning breeze. There is a popular song in Arabic which include the lyrics, “God save the YPG; they protect the people; Arab, Kurd and Christian are brothers, they protect the land and grow hope.” And I think to myself: yes. Protect this militia of individuals who fight with their whole heart, who are fearless, who are kind, who grow hope, and who I have known for a short time as brothers. May their desires, for peace, for freedom, to be with their families and friends, become reality.

I looked at the taxi driver motioning forward with my hand and said, “So?”

He fired off some rapid Kurmanji to Mohammed who translated,” He said you forgot to ask about the HPC address…”

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Rojava Dispatch Three: Members of Commune Sehid Kawa C Decide on New Boundaries

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By El Errante

The two Hyundai minivans cruise caravan style through the backstreets of Kobane. In the first van are two representatives of the Kobane Canton’s TEV-DEM, the body charged with implementing Democratic Confederalism. In the trailing minivan I ride with the translator and driver. Tiny children play on either side of the street and seem ambivalent to the passing cars, if they can survive a month long siege by ISIS, a few stray cars are nothing.

I had met Ahmad Shaif at the Kobane Canton Center, a bullet-pocked building set on a hill in Kobane. In previous years it had been the government center for the Syrian state and was subsequently expropriated by the Kurds after the representatives of Assad’s regime exited the canton post-haste. Ahmad is one of several TEV-DEM administrators, and his office bare of paperwork, computers or any other item one would associate with a workspace in the West, is the place where Kobane residents come to for assistance in maintaining their communal councils. We had met and he had invited me to a council commune meeting he was helping to facilitate. I was in, definitely in.

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Our vehicle stopped on a side street and an older man greeted us, hands shook all around, I was introduced and welcomed. We went through a rubbled courtyard and up a flight of steps. Shoes were kicked off, and we entered into a room fully carpeted with cushions spread sofa-like around the walls. A window opened onto the room and several bullet holes impinged the glass, these projectiles had traced a neat line of holes into the concrete of the far wall. Above this damage, a picture of Ocalan was hung, draped on either side by YPG and YPJ flags. The room started to fill with men, most older and Kurdish, and one or two Arabs. Women slowly joined the group as well, the older women, their heads swathed in scarves, would take turns shaking hands around the room and then sit. Men and women sat apart, the empowerment of women not yet extending to the predefined Middle East cultural space.

Mr Shaif began saying that it was a pleasure to be welcomed by the council, and that he was happy with the number of people attending (18 total, 10 men, 7 women—and me). He then drew out a map and laid it on the carpet, pointing to a block in a tangle of lines and circles meant to represent the Sehid Kawa (Martyr Kawa) neighborhood of the city. He continued that with the recent influx of immigrants into the city they were expecting the commune to expand, and that if it grows larger than 100 families it may be too unwieldy to be responsive. Possible geographic divisions were discussed with the council; a few questions, a few answers, some leaning over the map and nodding. He finished by saying that the division of the commune, if any, was up to them. He wanted to present the issue and whatever they decided was fine. Just call with an answer.

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I was introduced and got a chance to ask a few questions. I asked about what they do, on a regular basis, as a council and got a wild range of responses, from dealing with marital issues, helping get gas and rides to and from clinics, shopping, whatever was needed, whatever was urgent. Finally a man said that during the siege it was the council that had kept the commune fed and clothed, that helped with YPG intellingence gathering and that when the fighting became desperate commune members were issued Kalashnikovs and fought with the YPG to save their neighborhood. I asked if all were given weapons, including the women. He nodded and said everyone willing to fight, fought.

My curiosity got the better of me and I asked about the line of bullet holes in the wall. The man who had initially welcomed us stood and pointed out the window to a two story building some 200 feet away. Pointing, he indicated the line of sight between the buildings top floor and the damaged wall in his house. Then holding an invisible Kalashnikov he sighted the building and pretended to shoot back. Saying that he had returned fire and that the gunman had eventually left.

Version 5

 

 

 

With my questions done they asked me what the Americans thought of Kobane. I said many supported their Revolution, many wanted to hear more, and those ignorant enough to have an opinion without information didn’t matter. There were some smiles and nods—especially the women, a few seemed surprised at my directness. Finally a young woman of fifteen asked me what I thought. I closed my eyes for a moment and said, ”What’s happening here may be part of the future, not just for the Kurds, but for everyone. I know I feel welcome here, and safe. And as small as that is, it’s a big change from much of my experience.”

Ahmad then rose and thanked the group, we all shook hands again—there were some touching of hands to the chest, and we left.

Back out on the street the children were busy playing, somewhere a dog barked and the drivers were cranking over the vans engines. I stopped Ahmad and asked about how the communes had formed, did TEV-DEM have responsibility for that task. He shook his head, “Some formed spontaneously, some we helped get started, many have yet to become stable, with strong council members. It’s a process, and in Kobane the siege speeded up the formation of the communes, but the rebuilding and lack of resources has now slowed it. We can’t stop though, these communes are at the center of society.”

He nodded and left. I climbed into the van and set out for my hotel, some coffee and to think through this thing. This new thing.

(The name of the commune, Sehid Kawa C (Martyr Kawa C) is derived from the name of the neighborhood in Kobane — Sehid Kawa and C designates it as the third commune formed. Many of the city’s areas are being renamed for the YPJ/G fighters who were killed in those respective neighborhoods. Martyrs, their lives and deaths form a large part of Kurdish resistance consciousness and symbolism. More later….)

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