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“What does it mean to be a militant? Being part of the Rojava Revolution

“95% of our struggle is that against ourselves. Only the other 5% are against the enemy” Abdullah Ocalan

The last weeks have been my toughest here so far. I have been unable to contribute much and continue working on my projects here, due to poor health. The perfect time for some self-reflection and introducing one of the core pillars of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement. Many great revolutionaries have contributed to the idea of self-reflection and militancy.

When I first came across the word militancy, I imagined somehow becoming hard: always working, never complaining. In short, becoming a revolutionary robot, able to surpass the mental, physical and emotional ‘constraints’ of being human. In Europe – even though I had slowly widened my understanding a bit more – I still somehow held to this ideal of a revolutionary. Someone who is young, fit, able-bodied and smart. Indeed, I have pushed myself more than I thought I could do, stayed up longer than I thought I could and achieved things I never thought possible. However, while this can be part of being a militant, it is not the whole story.

Coming here, the militancy of the comrades you meet is undeniable. There are heroic resistance stories, people sacrificing their life to save that of their comrades or to prevent themselves falling in the hands of the enemies. These include that of Sehid Berxwedan, or Ryan Lock, who instead of falling in the hands of ISIS, ended his own life. These stories and examples are invaluable for us, and yet this is only one part of a much broader understanding of militancy here. Soon after arriving, I realized the broadness of who is a Kurdish revolutionary. I sat together with comrades in their 70’s, sick and worn down from 20 years fighting as a Guerilla, joking how I have become a “terrorist” alongside them simply for being here. Sharing stories of undeniable love and care for the people of the world. For weeks, another comrade gave us dance lessons. She was a ballet dancer before she joined the struggle. She fought with the Guerilla for 14 years and got severely wounded. She is in constant pain, until she forgets it through her much beloved dancing. Yesterday evening, we sat together with an older comrade. She is fifty and was born in Rojava. Her brother was killed in Bakur (North Kurdistan) only two years ago. She was describing to us how she followed the front lines in Raqqa together with other comrades from Kongra Star (the women’s umbrella organization), founding and building up people’s councils in every newly-liberated village.

These efforts to cultivate a mentality and practice of grass-roots democracy are as much a part of militancy as the military battles are. The constant drive to build up alternatives: dreaming about them, realizing them, having many hard conversations, making many mistakes, learning from them and not giving up hope. Mariame Kaba, a black abolitionist from New York once said hope is a constant discipline – here I see this coming true.

Things are hard here. Things are far from perfect. Many women still live in incredibly difficult situations, the spiralling economy is crushing household finances and most people with essential qualifications – such as doctors and engineers – have left for Europe. Several rounds of systematic Turkish airstrikes on power stations and oil infrastructure have shattered the already-frail energy sector in Rojava, making electricity, gas and fuel even more expensive and scarce for the population. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to assassinate scores of top YPG and YPJ commanders, as well as those working as society organizers and women’s activists, through targeted drone strikes.

Yet despite all this, the comrades manage to keep alive within themselves an unparalleled energy, will to continue and spirit of optimism. When setbacks occur, when problems emerge (and of these there is no scarcity), when the circumstances make it seem like there is no way forward, still the comrades – and the people of Rojava – continue to push forwards. Of course, there are not many options other than to continue to struggle, given the situation. Yet as described before the deep culture that the Kurdish movement has built around their martyrs – the immense value given to those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom and their constant presence in our daily life through photos, memorials and stories – also offers the strength and will needed to renew a spirit of hope each day. To not just move, but move with momentum.

One rainy March day, I meet some comrades from Kobane (the place made famous in 2015, when a Kurdish-led resistance effort handed ISIS their first major loss and kick-started the liberation campaign that would result in the territorial defeat of the so-called caliphate in 2019) in the city’s large martyr’s graveyard. When countless childhood friends, family members, neighbours, loved ones and strangers have given their life for a cause that you believe in, to not try to carry on their struggle, channel their determination and passion and pursue their dreams of a better world in their place amounts to betraying them, they say.

This is the discipline Kaba speaks of: every day choosing to renew your will to hope, to dream and to continue to believe that against all the odds, it is possible to succeed. This is a kind of militancy that requires a strength that is not confined to the physically strong, young and able-bodied figure. A ‘robot revolutionary’ could never achieve this kind of militancy, because it is built on a deep emotional connection with your own spirit, your comrades, the path you have chosen to take together and the life around you. For me, this has meant to except my physical boundaries the last weeks, rely on my comrades support, listen to their harsh criticisms when I tried to move too much and reflect how I too, can expand my idea of militancy.”

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