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The Once and Fictive Rojava

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Click to see all the 2019 IPNE Book Awards

Before we get going, this is a certificate recently presented to me at the Independent Publishers of New England annual conference for my novel, the Courage in Fiction award. I can’t say it’s the “coveted” Courage in Fiction award, as this is the first year of its existence. The book was a finalist in the Genre Fiction category, but the judges (librarians & IPNE members) deemed it exceptional more for its cheek than for its prose, it seems.

Courage (not mine) has been on my mind for the last month thinking about how much of it is on display in Northern Syria, as it’s déja vu all over again as assorted Islamist fighter storm into northern Syria from safe havens in Turkey, this time on the coattails of Turkish armed forces. And it’s déja vu all over again for the region’s inhabitants who thought the  plague known as ISIS had been wiped out, a cleansing that my novel’s protagonist had fictitiously bravely been part of. We’ll get to that déja vu later.

As I write, Turkish troops and aircraft are consolidating Turkish control of several strips of land 20 km deep into Syria. Turkish forces have bombed buildings and enlisted jihadist mercenaries to do the dirty work of ethnic cleansing of Kurds in the autonomous region of northeast Syria known as Rojava. Almost 200,000 residents of the area have fled, some to cities to the south under Syrian control, others east to Iraq where there are refugee camps, only to pile up at the Iraqi border without shelter after being refused admittance.

Donald Trump green-lighted the assault that Turkey’s Erdogan has long said was needed to root out Kurdish PKK guerrillas from Syria and Iraq that he launched in early October. As details of the fighting and its consequences are had to come by in US news media, you might check out the interactive Syrian Civil War Map that’s updated continuously with live reports from the field, or see dispatches, photos, and videos at ANF News from the perspective of the resistance.

Interactive Syrian Civil War Map from https//syriancivilwarmap.com/
Interactive Syrian Civil War Map from https://syriancivilwarmap.com/

These events trouble me not just because of the humanitarian crisis Turkey has unleashed, but because it has attacked semi-autonomous Rojava, a beacon of participatory democracy in a region known for despotic and kakistocratic rule that both the Turkish and Syrian governments hope to stamp out before it spreads. Under Rojava’s 2014 constitution, Women are men’s equals in public life, including going to war, and religious discrimination is forbidden. All government units and committees are directly elected and must have male and female co-chairs.

Thousands have turned out to march in support of the Rojavans in dozens of cities across Europe, but there’s hardly a peep of protest in my part of the world. In Athens the other week, close to 10,000 Rojava supporters marched to Syntagma square, the seat of the Greek government.

Kurdish and other protesters march to Syntagma Square to denounce the Turkish invasion

So many, so passionate. This video shows them marching from Polyteknic University to rally in front of the Greek Parliament, where a Syrian Democratic Forces commander addressed them by phone with updates on resistance actions.


Rojava and its resistance to the Islamic State inspired me to write the novel Turkey Shoot and framed my Iraqi protagonist. Orphaned by ISIS in Mosul, antihero Mahmoud Al Ramadi fought beside foreign volunteers and Kurdish commandos in Syria to liberate the city of Tal Abyad from the Islamic State and reclaim it for Rojava. (which did happen, but alas, Tal Aybad is now under siege by Turkish troops and and Islamist mercenaries.) The slaughter of his family set Mahmoud on a path of revenge that took him to Greece and back to Turkey. But he was no Islamic fanatic; his jihad was not to impose Islam on anyone, but to purify his soul and strike back at those who had enabled the Islamic State to ruin his life. Strangely, were Turkey Shoot a true story, what Mahmoud did might have prevented the Turkey’s invasion of Rojava. Sometimes life imitates art.

Naturally, I worried that Mahmoud’s background and mission might put potential readers off, especially when my PR tells them “I’ll give you your ‘Islamic extremist’ who you say hates democracy and wants to destroy your way of life, and make you weep for him.” And recently, a publicity agent who contacted me about promoting Turkey Shoot told me, “I’m not sure if this country is ready for this” after reading it. Times are tough when defenders of democracy are labelled terrorists.

How threatening Kurdish direct democracy must seem to Erdogan and other hegemons. Self-rule simply cannot be tolerated if it does not serve the interests of the ruling class, who will go to any lengths to stamp out alternatives to monopoly capitalism and its enablers. Thanks to that, there are few places like Rojava.

Hegemons can’t succeed on their own; a lot of us need to buy in. The rich and powerful disdain the idea of people governing their own communities, workplaces and institutions independent of their tentacles, and suppress such efforts as well as news about them. Most people calmly, happily even, acquiesce to be ruled by their “betters” or else don’t feel that struggling to win a rigged game will get them anywhere they want to go. In such a climate, expect populist and revolutionary movements to emerge, more of them as time goes on. Sooner or later, everyone who doesn’t aspire to the ruling class will need to choose one, simply to survive with dignity. When forced to go down with the ship, you need to go down fighting.


Some Things You Can Do

In it, Jenna Krajeski, a journalist with the Fuller Project for International Reporting, says:

…it does seem like Erdogan has gotten what he wanted, which was essentially to destroy this experiment in northern Syria and to make sure that there was no hope of Kurdish autonomy on the border with Turkey. The best evidence of the positive side of what was going on in Rojava is the pictures and stories coming out of the region since Turkey started the incursion. Just the amount of civilian life lost, people fleeing their homes, it tells you that if nothing else, the Kurdish government in Rojava was doing a good job of keeping people safe from ISIS, from Turkey, from Assad. That’s a huge achievement and it has just been totally obliterated.

Now that the world is paying attention to those stories, do what you can, and thank you.

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