The Rojava Revolution and the Liberation of Kobani

Published on ZNet, by Justin Podur and Sardar Saadi, Feb 13, 2015.

Since September of 2014, the city of Kobani has been in the news as the site of a battle between Kurdish forces from the Rojava region and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). At the end of January, the Kurdish forces (YPG and YPJ) announced that Kobani had successfully repelled the attack. But ISIS is still in control of villages surrounding Kobani and maintaining its threat to other parts of Rojava.  

Sardar Saadi is the coordinator of the Rojava Media Project, a media production and training project for young people in Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria, and a doctoral student in anthropology based in Toronto. I interviewed him on February 7, 2015.

Justin Podur: Can you describe your visit to the Rojava region, and tell us a bit of the geography so we can orient ourselves: … //

… JP: The Rojava revolution is surrounded by enemies, the Syrian government and ISIS, the Turkish government, even Iraqi Kurdistan, no one wants the revolution to succeed:

  • SS: I would relate this to the PKK and Ocalan’s idea of democratic confederalism. The PKK is the only revolutionary force that you can encounter in Kurdistan and maybe in the whole region. The PKK has shifted its politics from seeking an independent Kurdistan to a democratic Middle East in the last decade or so.
  • Unfortunately many analysts who follow what’s happening in Kurdistan, they think of the PKK as a nationalist movement. That’s not true. They are really trying to convince people that what they are trying to do is about the whole Middle East. I think it’s a smart move, and it is working. The PKK and Kurdish movement has long tried to establish a kind of geographic unit for the Kurds throughout the 20th century. In the end, there is only a little part of Iraqi Kurdistan that has been freed, which I believe is not truly free. After Rojava everyone saw that the politics of the Kurdish movement matters more than how much territory they control. That’s how the PKK is winning. In terms of social and political activism, the PKK has become a Jacobinian force in Kurdistan, trying to push people to organize around peoples’ assemblies, communes, and councils. What we currently see in this region is that the people have no option rather than being subjected to the state’s politics (Iraq, Iran, Syria) and imperialist rule or to Islamic organizations. The PKK is the only Left option.
  • After the liberation of Kobani, Turkey’s PM Erdogan just said they don’t accept any entity from “North Syria” comparing it to “North Iraq”. The Turkish state’s politics has been a politics of denial, of not accepting any kind of political formation, especially by the PKK.
  • There is a lot of talk about ISIS, but the person with aspirations to be Caliph is Erdogan, not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. On the other hand, Barzani’s politics are similar to Erdogan’s and aligned with the West to develop the neoliberal market in the region. Internally, in Kurdish politics there’s a huge division between political parties and movements and personalities: those aligned and close to the PKK, in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where it is dominant, and those close to Barzani who are mainly traditional statists and Kurdish nationalists who believe that the PKK is not serving the people’s ambitions in Kurdistan and who think the whole idea of a democratic Middle East is not serving the Kurds.

JP: Is the battle for Kobani over?

  • SS: In the centre of Kobani it’s over. The YPG is spreading and gaining control of the surrounding areas. However, the fight against ISIS is far from over. There’s a possibility that ISIS could come back, but right now, they on the defensive. They are going to change direction toward other cantons of Rojava. Afrin is in danger: it’s small, it’s close to Aleppo, and the political development in Aleppo between FSA, the Syrian regime, ISIS, and Al-Nusra front is very crucial for the fate of Afrin. But on the other hand, it’s more mountainous and defensible compared to Kobani.
  • Right now the fighting is happening on the eastern front toward Gire Spi or Tal Abyad. The YPG’s strategy is to liberate there next. There were some news reports that they want to contact Arab tribes of that area to collaboratively liberate the city from ISIS. If they do that, Jazeera and Kobani will be connected. They are about 120km apart, and the area in between is under ISIS control. It would be a strategic move, but very difficult to accomplish. The Sunni Arab tribes and the Kurds of Rojava do not have a good relationship. The Arabs think of the Kurds as Assad’s agents, and the Kurds think of the Arabs as occupiers who moved to those areas in the 1950s-60s because of Assad’s “Arabization” policies. Nonetheless, the PYD’s politics is based on co-existence with each other on a shared homeland. It will be a test of the idea of the democratic Middle East.

JP: How important were the western airstrikes? They are advertised as if they were the only factor:

  • SS: That’s how they want to portray the liberation of Kobani in the mainstream media, as if it was solely because of the airstrikes. CNN did a shitty piece that says the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdish forces) liberated Kobani ( There were only 200 peshmerga in Kobani. About 410 YPG and YPJ fighters died fighting ISIS, and, as far as I know, only one peshmerga fighter was killed. No one can deny their help for the liberation of Kobani and the YPG in many occasions thanked them. However, they were only logistical forces and not on the front line. But according to CNN, it was the Peshmerga, and airstrikes by coalition forces, that did the whole job.
  • The YPG’s position from the beginning has been: ISIS is not the Kurds and YPG’s problem. ISIS comes out of NATO’s politics against the Syrian regime. Now the YPG and YPJ is fighting ISIS on behalf of everyone in the region. Kobani is liberated but it is in ruins. No building is undamaged by coalition’s airstrikes and ISIS’ shelling the city.
  • Back in summer 2014 when ISIS attacked Kobani canton, it was 2-3 weeks that the YPG called for help. It was the time that the airstrikes could have stopped ISIS outside of the city. In one interview with YPG in Kobani (, a spokesperson pointed out that it was NATO’s mistakes that saw all their heavy weaponry end up in ISIS’s hands, and all we asked was for coalition forces to destroy those tanks and artillery that they had indirectly supplied ISIS, could they at least destroy their own stuff. The coalition forces didn’t help the YPG and YPJ forces until the media paid attention to the resistance in Kobani. The Western mainstream media just found out that there’s something happening there even though what they did was to show this resistance through sexualized depictions of Kurdish women fighters against Islamic extremists. The depictions were awful, but the media attention did help. Turkey was pushing really hard against the airstrikes, arguing why not just let this one city fall. So to answer your question, yes the airstrikes did help, but the brave men and women of YPG and YPJ liberated the city.

(full text).


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