On war: Thoughts and observations from a YPJ female Internationalist - Part I

For months, Erdogan has been threatening to launch another ground invasion into northern Syria. European female internationalist Nudem Tolhildan describes the situation during the last few months of low intensity warfare from her perspective.

YPJ internationalist Nudem Tolhildan Nudem Tolhildan describes the situation during the last few months of low intensity warfare from her perspective.

Levels of war: Low intensity warfare means permanent war

The earth is shaking slightly from the bombings of the neighboring villages, a distant boom is audible. We are in our positions, ready for defense if necessary. Later in the news we learn about the children who were killed in a village close by. Four children.

Like the many we saw rumbling in the streets, taking care of sheep and goats or playing group games. Now the enemy has killed them. They fell "Sehîd" under bombs that Turkey sent over the border, in a war that is aimed at destroying the Kurdish society and the life and culture of the other ethnic groups in the area. It is directed against the freedom movement, the struggle for a democratic Middle East and against the self-government of the people, against the still existing communal village life.

Turkey aims at emptying this land of its people, by hitting the society where it is most vulnerable- its children. By shelling infrastructure and houses, without causing too many human casualties, Turkey wants to scare people away from the villages it plans to invade and make life there unlivable without drawing too much global attention. Continuous so called low-intensity warfare means war that is always present, always an underlying threat. 

War of water and the economy

As YPG and YPJ units, we are prepared for the Turkish army to invade. We are waiting for it as Erdogan bombards the region from the air. But the more time I have spent in the area, the more I understand the complexity of the war Turkey is waging on Kurdish society, and on the people of the Middle East. More than anything, economic war is present for all people living in the Autonomous Administration. The embargo makes everything more expensive and harder to get, although the Autonomous Administration is subsidizing basic needs such as diesel and bread in order to keep the prices low. The material situation in the people’s self-administration is in general much better than in the regime-controlled part of Syria. 

The Autonomous Administration successfully managed to build up production sites for some basic necessities in the last years – during the time of the regime, the region was used more like a resource colony, so there were almost no production facilities. However, because of the embargo, it is very hard to get the machines that are necessary. Turkey has been exercising its power along the borders into Turkey and South Kurdistan as well as on the water dams for years in order to sabotage the self-administration’s efforts.

This year especially, water levels dropped and water in some areas became a luxury, while diseases spread rampantly. In this way, Turkey is attempting to make a dignified life impossible and forces people to suffer hardships on a daily basis. All this is also the daily result of Turkey’s war, though it may be less visible than the constant shelling in the border regions. 

Information war

Then we have the ever-present psychological warfare, an effort to manipulate people's minds with an onslaught of misinformation. I was aware of it, but it still struck me with anger and astonishment to see how bluntly the Turkish-connected media actively spread lies through TV channels like Rudaw TV and others. For example, when there was an uprising in the ISIS prison in Hesekê at the beginning of the year, the Rudaw channel and other media supporting Turkey were saying that these prisoners were not ISIS-affiliated and had just revolted against the difficult conditions in the prison and that the PKK was using it as a chance to perform another genocide...

They are lying on this level. In reality, Turkey was actively supporting the attempted prison break of hundreds of ISIS fighters by bombing self-defense forces heading to the fighting. A lot of the weapons found with ISIS inside the prison were from NATO and the ISIS fighters who broke out were planning to flee to the areas occupied by Turkey, where ISIS is reorganizing.

The extent to which Turkey finances and directs all the Islamist gangs in the area, including ISIS, I only understood after coming here to Rojava. In Western countries, it‘s a topic that is often ignored, given the massive support Turkey still receives from the EU. According to ISIS fighters arrested by the SDF, the Turkish secret service is basically controlling the ISIS sleeper cells all over North and East Syria, giving them directives, and material and personnel support. But this is a topic for a whole other article (for more information you can watch interviews with YPJ commanders on our youtube channel.

Manipulation techniques are subtle, such as spreading defamation against self-administration and trying to influence the mood of people through social media and gossip spread by agents in society. And in these times, it is also effective to promise the people a comfortable way to travel to Europe, and an imagined end to hardships, and then employ the Islamist gangs in the occupied areas as smugglers, who can profit from the misery they created. 

Turkey’s goal: Emptying the area of Kurds and other minorities

In this way, Turkey plans to empty the area of its Kurdish population, which it sees as a potential threat to its own imperial plans (as in a recent statement from Erdogan, where he used the word PKK to describe the whole Kurdish population in Turkey as terrorists) and create an area to resettle the hundreds of thousands refugees from Syria and other countries that came to Turkey over the last years (read the Occupation Report by the Rojava Information Center) about the reality in the already occupied areas of Efrîn and the area between Girê Spî and Serêkaniyê ). And I haven‘t even written yet about the dozens of drone attacks carried out by Turkey in the last months, which killed some of the most dedicated people, in an effort to eliminate the morale, the brains and the hearts of the revolution. They do not understand that morale and fighting spirit will grow even stronger with each attack.

Resistance and the Welatparêz Mentality

When I talk to the villagers they get a lot of motivation from the fact that I have come here from Europe in order to fight on their side against Turkey and the Islamist gangs it controls, and to protect this land and its way of life. And I was really impressed by the radicality of the welatparêz (mentality of protecting your home land) families that I met. It means to take full responsibility for the defense of your own land, and not leave when the enemy is encircling you. To fight until the last bullet and give your life in self-defense if necessary.

"We are not afraid of your bombs, your guns, until we are dead we are not afraid", one elderly man and grandfather of many sweet little girls sang in a dengbêj (traditional way of singing), while we sat on his porch not far from the Turkish border. People like him are fighting this genocidal mentality, the mentality of occupation, the mentality of hundreds of years of oppression. He told stories of a long experience of struggle, and his time joining the uprisings (in Kurdish “serhildans“) in Northern Kurdistan (Kurdish areas in the Turkish state) in the beginning of the 90's. He also spoke about the experiences of organizing clandestinely under the Assad regime, and, of course, stories from the Rojava revolution after 2012, and his participation in the fight against ISIS. With his stories he spread motivation and good spirit for the struggles to come.