Border Testimonies: From Suruc/Kobane, Turkey/Syria

On the walls of Istanbul can be read the graffiti, echoing Spain’s revolution of 1936, “Kobane will be the tomb of fascism”: the fascism of Isis, and of the Syrian and Turkish states.  In the Rojava region of Syria, a revolution is spoken of; an anti-capitalist revolution that has made real an autonomous self-government in  the hands of the people.  “In a Middle East where capitalist barbarism and imperialist interests are pursued with savagery the Rojava Model – which aims at and is building a form of life which is anti-capitalist, communal and on the side of freedom and democracy – is presenting an internationalist way of life to the peoples of the Middle East and the world. Kobanê is not the first, nor will it be the last.” (The Rojava Report, 08/12/2014) 

But the diversity of voices both celebrating and criticising the movement makes it impossible to judge it from a distance.  And the debate on the Left, both inside the region and outside is intense, with those comparing Rojava with the Spanish Revolution/Civil War berating the Left for ignoring what is at stake. (David Graeber, The Guardian 08/10/2014).  The hesitation however is perhaps born of histories, political and ethnic (the Turkish PKK, Kurdish nationalism, etc.) that lead those at least within the anarchist movement to question how revolutionary the Rojava experiment actually is.

Yet whatever the criticisms, and whatever the limitations of the movement are, any struggle against violent oppressive authority can only be defended.  And so much that one reads of about Rojava inspires.  Even if Karl Kraus was right when he stated, “That it is in the shadow of the ideal that evil best prospers”, there is far too much taking place locally, in examples of self-management, mutual aid, solidarity, the political participation of women, for all of it to be simply false or brusquely swept aside.  For all of those directly engaged in the creation of this new world, nothing will ever be the same.

And behind the uncertainty of the politics, lies the daily struggle of resistance of the people of Kobane, of the region of Rojava, and of Turkish Kurdistan.  What follows is a testimonial report of this resistance by Nora Freitag, from the Turkish border town of Suruc, located directly across from Kobane, accompanied by photographs by  Murat Bay of  We thank them both for their generosity in sharing their work with Autonomies.

waiting in line for food

What happens at the border to Kobane?
Impressions from Suruc (21.11 – 25.11.2014).

This is an attempt to summarize my impressions from the Turkish-Syrian border region and to share information. I want that all should remember that there is still war going on and that we have the responsibility to deal with this brutal reality. I live and work in Istanbul and travelled from 21.11 – 25.11.2014 to the city Suruc in order to support the local people.

The region on the Turkish-Syrian border is not really describable as Turkish. The everyday language is Kurdish; the overwhelmingly elected party is the Kurdish BDP. Mayors and district administrators are therefore all BDP party members. Whenever I come into contact with the local people one of the first questions is why I do not speak Kurdish. People point out to me that their identity differs from the one the policy of the Turkish government tries to enforce.

tentcamps 2

In the centre of the city is the cultural centre where volunteers try to organize the emergency situation. Thousands of refugees from Kobane and the surrounding region have reached the town and the surrounding villages during the last two months, mostly women and children. The work that needs to be done is huge, statistics must be created to get an overview of the number and location of refugees, depots in which clothes, food and drug donations arrive need to be sorted and tent camps must be established. There are still nowhere near enough shelters for all of the refugee families, whose number increases daily. With this crisis, the people close to the party and other volunteers are overwhelmed; the logistical requirements alone are immense. Many have been for weeks in the area and are busy around the clock. I see them tired, yet they can not allow themselves a break. From the Turkish government side meanwhile, no international aid agencies are permitted in the region. Neither Caritas nor the Red Cross; all the expected human aid organisations in such a situation of war are nowhere to be seen. Why? Some say that it is the Turkish government’s way to keep the Kurdish resistance occupied with the problem of refugees.

The political situation on the ground is very complex, almost impossible to understand from a distance. Abdullah Öcalan, who is highly respected and regarded as the head of the party, the PKK, is a democratic socialist. The fighting organizations in Kobane on the Syrian side, the YPG and the YPJ (women’s unit) are considered to belong to it. What this exactly means is only clear to me insofar as life in the village where I stayed during one week has very strong locally organised structures. We are passed from one house to another. Wherever I am, I actually feel that the kitchen, the food, beds, everything belongs to me just like to its residents. In the village where 47 families live, there are currently 48 additional families from Kobane who have found shelter in empty houses and rooms. In the minds of the people therefore there is no real border separating Kobane from Suruc. Only the Turkish military reminds one of this reality by patrolling in the towns and along the border fence. Local people tell me about ongoing harassment by the Turkish military. Some have been seriously injured by gas canisters or ammunition while trying to cross the border to support the resistance in Kobane. Constantly the electricity is switched off. Why? A common answer is that in this period, the Turkish military transfers Isis fighters or materials for Isis over land routes to Kobane.

Looking to Kobane

Overall, the distrust towards the Turkish State is highly present. “We have fought this war for 30 years”, is the explanation is that I hear all the time. Also, the distrust towards the Americans or British is great. Few believe that the air strikes actually make a difference in the war against Isis. This war in Kobane is a brutal new reality, but at the same time it is just another piece of the puzzle of a years-long, everyday situation of the Kurdish population in Suruc and the surrounding areas. “We grew up in war.” Many families proudly show me the pictures of their children, who were trained as fighters and now support the Kurdish resistance in Kobane. From a large area across the region, many people have gone to Kobane, including many young girls.

What does it mean that women fight? In the media, I have read a lot about the brave women of YPJ and the PKK. In fact, especially many men tell me proudly that their daughters are also fighters. The handshake of many women is strong, their looks are determined. When in the evening at the watch points in the village, from which you can look directly to Kobane, when war strategies are being discussed, women are also leading speakers. The party puts in all representative positions always a man and a woman. A day before my departure there is a demonstration organized in the village for the upcoming November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Many women have come from other cities, sit together and discuss. To what extent this also affects gender relations in everyday life, remains to be seen.

waiting in line for food 2

For two days I work in the refugee camps. The camps are built by some party members and volunteers on their own; no one here learned this work professionally. All the more surprising therefore that there are restrooms, a separate tent for children to be taught, in some camps also a woman’s tent for knitting. But the people in the camps complain about the less than adequate food supply and the unequal distribution of clothing and mattresses. Whenever I enter a camp I am warmly welcomed by the local volunteers. The doors are open to all, but not many people come here. Some of the camps are located right in the city centre. One that is still to be built is 12 kilometres away from Suruc, in the middle of nowhere. I wonder about if people want to leave their camp. Most of the people who fled do not in fact leave their tents. For the construction of new tent camps, there is an enormous lack of volunteers. One told me that they have built the fastest camp within one month. Donations that should have been delivered through the city of Sanliurfa to Suruc to the camps never arrived. Why? Because there the AKP governs, is the answer.

And what is my very personal confrontation in such a war-related situation? My feelings vary hugely between the fear of being superfluous, more even, to be a burden to the local people and the feeling that a thousand things can be done and that I can contribute to improve something. Again and again, the rushing sound of planes, shots and explosions through the area reminds me that I am actually very close to a war to which I cannot take any kind of position, except that it should stop. Support is needed everywhere, whether in cash or in the form of work in housing and emergency care of the people who had fled or even in the spiritual support of the people who live in the region. The moment I left, I am still sure it was the right decision to come to Suruc. Even if my physical support does not particularly make a change, yet alone my presence is proof to the local people that the war in Kobane concerns all of us.

Around the fire at the watchpoint


For but an aperçu of the debate around the Rojava revolution, a number of English language texts can be consulted on

Anarchist federation Statement on Rojava

Rojava: an anarcho-syndicalist perspective

A response to the article “Rojava: An anarcho-syndicalist perspective”

Internationalism is the only response to the Kurdish issue


Rojava: A srtuggle against borders and for autonomy

Rojava Revolution: building autonomy in the middle east

… and there is so much more …




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1 Response to Border Testimonies: From Suruc/Kobane, Turkey/Syria

  1. Jim Apker says:

    Thank you for your article. It was real and spoke not just to my sense of rightness but also touched my heart.

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