By Dirk Campbell

The Rojava project is a revolutionary socio-political idea which could, if it were allowed to survive, transform the middle East and perhaps our entire world. My daughter Anna, other foreign friends like her and thousands of Syrian Kurds have been, and still are, willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Which means it must be a very powerful idea indeed.

  Abdullah Öcalan, the political philosopher on whose writings the Rojava project is founded, was kidnapped in Nairobi in 1999 in a combined CIA/SAS operation. He was on his way to South Africa at the invitation of Nelson Mandela. He was rendered to Turkey, put on trial and condemned to death for terrorism. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the insistence of the UN Human Rights tribunal. He has been in solitary confinement on Imrali Island in Turkey ever since.

Öcalan writes from his prison cell that the Turks are just as much prisoners as he is, because they are held in confinement by the same nationalist, racist, misogynist beliefs, at war with nature, as everyone else. He says that all nation states based on such principles are inevitably held in subjection to them. That’s why his political philosophy holds out hope for the world. It is non-violent. It is founded on three principles: feminism, inclusivity and environmentalism. Respect for everyone, all nationalities, respect for nature and above all respect for women. These fundamental principles are what determined in Anna’s mind that she would join the Women’s Protection forces in Rojava, because they corresponded exactly with her own values.

Left: Anna Campbell
Photo: Katie Vandyck, Lewes.

Conditions for the Kurds in Syria are unimaginable to us. Daily acceptance of violent death, never knowing who will go next. Seeing your home destroyed, your loved ones destroyed, facing the constant imminence of your own destruction. Here in comfortable Britain our main concern is with Brexit. We have no idea of what the Kurdish people are going through because they are unrepresented in every country where they live. Of course their harsh unjust treatment is bound to produce resistance. And this resistance will be called terrorism. Just as the ANC in Africa, with Mandela at its head, was labelled a terrorist organisation – or ETA in Spain, or the IRA in Britain, or any other popular resistance movement. Until a just accommodation is reached there will never be peace, only more repressive measures.

The Turkish state hates the Kurds because they think the Kurds threaten their national integrity. Just as the British state, until relatively recently, saw our own minorities, the Irish, Scots and Welsh, as threatening in the same way. We did to them what the Turks are doing to the Kurds now. We realised, perhaps too late, the immorality of our ways. The Turks have not yet learned this. The Kurds are suffering the same discrimination, expulsions and murders that we inflicted on the Irish, Scots and Welsh. That the European settlers inflicted on the native Americans. That the Nazis inflicted on the Jews. It is racism, pure and simple.

The most scandalous injustice of all this is that the Syrian Kurds, until yesterday, were the faithful allies of the West in fighting against Islamic State. They were supported by Britain and the USA and supplied with weapons. They did our job. They attacked IS, defeated them and rendered them ineffective. Our message to them? ‘Thanks. You have done our work for us. We now leave you to the tender mercies of the Turkish army, furnished with the high tech weapons we have sold them.’ Yes. My daughter was killed by British-made weapons, in the hands of Turks, trained by British military experts.

The British government has failed to condemn the Turks for their genocidal intentions despite the fact that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, openly announced that he would drive the Kurds out of Afrin and change the ethnic composition of the area. He has done what he said he would do, bloodily and at enormous human cost, without a peep of protest from the international community of nations. His aim is to eliminate Kurdish self-determination in Syria by eliminating the Kurdish population.

As an environmentalist I am pledged to any cause that places the well-being of nature in equal standing with human well-being. As an intelligent (I hope) person I am pledged to any cause that supports the equality of women and includes all voices in its dialogue. I am not optimistic about the future of Rojava. I expect it will suffer the same fate as Catalonia in the Spanish civil war, i.e. it will be crushed by powerful global forces in whose interests it means nothing. But I have a germ of hope. We, the once-powerful British, abandoned our racism and our repressive measures against our minorities and our colonial subjects in favour of respect and inclusivity. If we can do it, maybe the Turks can do it. I dearly hope so.