Citizens of Kobane in the refugee camps, Suruç
"I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria." Erdogan, president of Turkey
Rojava, a symbol of hope, lies along Turkey's southern border, in the north of Syria. Rojava rises from the tyranny of Assad and battles the forces of ISIS and Turkey to uphold a revolution which seeks to 360 the political landscape in the region.
On Monday, over 30 young revolutionaries, travelling toward Kobane in Rojava, were massacred in Suruç, a small peaceful border town in Turkey where the locals sell fresh produce in the street, the kids swap stories and the refugees from Kobane, just across the border, rebuild lives from the pieces of a war.
In the same centre where I lay my head several months back, so did these 30 young activists, all of us driven by a fierce inspiration, conjured by Rojava. Where I stood in the courtyard planning my day, they stood singing their chants. Where I left, they stayed, they died.
Could we say it is the work of one suicide bomber? Or, was it the work of radical clerics? When abstracting the context we do a grave disservice to the victims, and we show an unwillingness to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future. So, was it also the facilitating hand of Turkey, the monetary arm of Saudi Arabia, and the watchful eye of Brussels and Washington?
Nothing strikes the fear of god deeper into Erdogan's veins than the prospect of Rojava succeeding. Rojava, an area comprised of three autonomous cantons and 4 million inhabitants in Northern Syria, is the home of a revolution, a bottom -up egalitarian transformation with women's liberation and equal treatment/opportunity at the heart of its philosophy. It signifies freedom from the despotism of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, where Kurds have been long persecuted.
"The US Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing (to Islamic extremist groups). But Western diplomats' and officials' general response has been a collective shrug." 2013 Brookings Institution Report
Late last year I wrote an analysis on ISIS, Iraq and the war on terror, it charted the rise of the extremist army, and the many factors contributing to the resurgence of this insurgency. Several months on, nothing has changed expect the death toll and urgency to turn things around before it's too late.
In the analysis I comment on my travels across Northern Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, travels that took place whilst ISIS started to wrap up their two biggest operational phases, 'Breaking The Walls' and 'The Soldiers Harvest'. From government officials to fugitive soldiers, I heard tale after tale of the money trails and arms flows.
Offloading goods for the refugees from Kobane, Suruç
A month after writing the analysis I headed to the Syrian/Turkish border town of Suruç, documenting the lives of refugees, freedom fighters, local officials and activists amidst the chaos of ISIS. Whilst there it became clearer that ISIS is a far greater threat than perceived in the Global North, and that the complicity in its success is far more shadowy than one might expect.
I heard countless stories of Turkish forces disappearing from checkpoints, of sudden vacuums appearing along the border. These stories were accompanied by first-hand accounts from freedom fighters who had seized scores of Turkish identity cards on ISIS fighters near the border, adamant that they utilise the well-timed pockets of no guards. Last year ISIS attacked Kobane for the first time from the Turkish side, an underhanded ambush, once again accompanied by a sudden disappearance of Turkish forces in the early morning.
"Everybody knows the money is going through Kuwait and that it's coming from the Arab Gulf... Kuwait's banking system and its money changers have long been a huge problem because they are a major conduit for money to extremist groups in Syria and now Iraq." Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
And what about ISIS in the grand scheme of things? Hillary Clinton said as much as the above quote in a Wikileaks cable; that simply everybody knows large sums of private financing for ISIS is coming from Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf monarchs, some of our closest allies, and not just to ISIS, but other branches of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Whether in Quetta or Dohuk, the word on the street was always the same; ISIS is the handiwork of European/North American and Saudi negligence and careful under-the-table facilitation.
The environment for ISIS's growth is not accidental; it is a tried and tested setting. The trajectory, and rapidity with which ISIS marches through it, is manufactured, not just by Baghdadi, but by those who easily dictate his surroundings/ability. Is it really even such a stretch of the imagination, considering the reputation history presents to us of European involvement in Western Asia. Engineering warfare is just good business, a good chunk of the global economy rests on the war on terror, and a good chunk of the war on terror rests on the engagement with ISIS.
The 50,000+ Iraqi fighters from the awakening councils, who fought alongside coalition troops, were left to oppressive government measures after the NATO invasion, and under US selected Prime Minister Maliki these fighters were by and large forced to join the ranks of ISIS. And what of the hundreds of millions of dollars we collectively flooded into the unknown coffers of the Syrian civil war? Into the pockets of 'moderates', who quickly turned out to be Al-Qaeda/affiliates, who we soon learned were working alongside ISIS.
"The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq, It's doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down." Martin Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Let's speak frankly. The colonial mindset that sought to dominate Western Asia and most of the world for its resources (and its challenge to their ideological hegemony) is alive and well. Bets, map-making, resource-grabs, pipeline establishing, back-handers and tonnes of arms, yes, colonialism is flourishing - in its racism, in its sexism and its lust for power it is perhaps more prosperous than it has ever been. Utilising the brown, bearded bogeyman, and claiming objectivity, time proves that the old dog doesn't need new tricks, but it also proves, like in Rojava and beyond, that the old dog can't always keep up.
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