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LIKE Stalingrad and Jamara, the Kurdish city of Kobane represents an epitome of anti-fascist struggle, famous for repelling the Isis siege in the autumn and winter of 2014.
In all three cases, revolutionary forces battled against the odds to win decisive victories, in the midst of competing imperialist powers prevaricating and contradicting themselves.
During the siege of Kobane in 2014, desperate for the world to pay attention to the destruction of the city by Isis, the Kurdish movement called for a day of action on November 1, which became known as World Kobane Day.
This tradition has continued every year since, to mark the heroic resistance of the Kurds in stopping the Isis onslaught.
The city of Kobane lies in the very north of Syria, divided in two by the Turkey-Syria border. The border was plotted along the route of the Berlin-Baghdad railway following the first world war, during the colonial carving up of the Ottoman empire.
The name Kobane is believed to originate from the German word Kompanie, as it had been created as a company town situated on the line from Berlin during the golden age of imperialism.
Its proximity to the border meant that Turkey’s brutal policy towards the Kurds was put on display when it denied permission to allow people and weapons to flow into Kobane during the Isis siege, despite the fact that the border was always porous when Isis militants were attempting to cross.
Just a month prior to the siege of Kobane, Isis militants had carried out the Sinjar massacre, killing and abducting thousands of Yazidi men and kidnapping the women as sex slaves in Sinjar, northern Iraq.
Fifty thousand Yazidis fled to the mountains, without food, water, or medical care, and under siege by Isis. The Kurdish forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Turkey, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Syria and the Peshmerga from Iraq launched an offensive to bring the Yazidis to safety.
The absolute horror of what happened in Sinjar, and the heroic rescue operation, was soon followed by the siege of Kobane.
In September 2014, Isis launched an offensive on the city, capturing swathes of the villages surrounding the city, killing civilians, Kurdish militants, and forcing over 100,000 civilians to flee.
The situation deteriorated at the beginning of October when Isis took some of the city’s suburbs, torturing, raping, mutilating and beheading Kurds.
Incredibly, the YPG held firm, and were reinforced by hundreds of Kurdish volunteers crossing the border from Turkey.
By the time Isis entered Kobane, most of the city’s residents had fled. After taking around half the city, it was looking like it could fall entirely to Isis. However, once the Kurdish forces co-ordinated with US air strikes, they were able to repel their common aggressors and push them back, finally regaining the city in January.
The Sinjar massacre and subsequent siege of Kobane provided stark examples not just of horrific acts of inhumanity but showed the world the resistance of the Kurdish people against repression.
Kobane became a byword for this heroic resistance. I asked Karker Bakur, an English construction worker, trade unionist, and YPG volunteer what impact the siege of Kobane had on his desire to join the fight against Isis. “It was central,” he told me. “The siege of Kobane was a huge, global moment, and it was in the thousands-strong rally in London during the siege that I was sure I’d volunteer.
“During the same time, the martyrdom of Ivana Hoffmann [a 19-year-old German volunteer] showed me that it was possible for international leftists to volunteer.”
When I asked if this was the case among the wider ranks of international volunteers, he said: “Everyone had heard of Kobane, and we were always very excited to meet anyone who had fought in Kobane.
“It was legendary. We loved saying it, like it was almost too much to believe: ‘We’ll meet you in Kobane.’ It seemed unreal, like saying we’d meet in Stalingrad.”
Few people in Britain understand the extraordinary savagery of this battle. Ordinary young men and women took up arms against the evil death cult attempting to establish a caliphate through destruction, rape, pillage and murder.
One was Arin Mirkan, a volunteer for the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) who blew herself up as Isis approached the Kurdish positions at the beginning of October, to stop their onward march and evade capture by the sadistic, torturous rapists.
This was at a crucial point in the siege: Isis outnumbered the YPG, and were making huge advances, taking land right on the outskirts of the city.
The explosion killed over 20 jihadists, it is thought, and blew up two huge tanks that were advancing into Kobane. Arin was just 20 years old and a mother of two.
Mirkan has since been immortalised in a statue. Before joining the military ranks of the YPG, Bakur volunteered first in the reconstruction of Kobane.
“I took part in the reconstruction just after the siege, and then returned a year later as a soldier in the IFB [International Freedom Battalion, a unit within the YPG made up of international socialists and anarchists] in 2016 and it was unrecognisable.
“It went from being a pile of rubble to being this hive of culture and life, centred on this incredible armed angel statue, the statue of Arin Mirkan.
“When we first returned to Kobane and saw the statue we almost crashed our car; we were so taken with it.”
In the summer of 2015, a Turkish youth group, the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (SGDF), associated with the socialist, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), organised a visit to Kobane to assist with the reconstruction.
As young people assembled in the border town of Suruc, an Isis car bomb attacked, killing 33 young activists and injuring 104.
This is the risk borne by those who take up the struggle to forge a better life, free of repression, war, greed and exploitation.
Despite this risk, the people of Kurdistan continue this struggle. Because of this, and despite the horrors of what happened in Sinjar and Kobane, there is hope.
Three years later, Kobane is secured but the reconstruction work goes on.
The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria was declared in March 2016 as more of Rojava (Western Kurdistan) became liberated from Isis control. It is not recognised by the Syrian government, although its supporters have said they see it as a step towards a federal Syria rather than a separate state.
The first commune elections were held in the Democratic Federation in September, implementing multi-ethnic, multi-faith self-governance for the people of northern Syria.
On October 17, Raqqa — the self-declared capital of the Isis “caliphate” — was liberated by the Syrian Defence Force led by the Kurdish YPG.
When I asked Bakur to summarise the significance of Kobane for the Kurdish liberation struggle, he invoked the famous Kurdish maxim: “Resistance is life and Kobane is synonymous with resistance.”
Rosa Gilbert is the co-founder and co-secretary of the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign. For more on the campaign visit: kurdistansolidaritycampaign.org.
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