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March 25, 2020 39 mins

What would you do if the government collapsed? Over the last eight years, the men and women of North-East Syria have had a chance to answer that question for themselves. Using the political theories of an American anarchist and a Kurdish terrorist, they've built a feminist oasis in the middle of the world's most brutal war.

Music: "Bella Ciao" by Astronautalis (feat. Subp Yao & Rickolus)

Footnotes:

  1. Bella Ciao: A “Kurdish Anthem” Made in Italy, Has Become a Global Sensation
  2. The PKK: Coming Down from the Mountains (Rebels) 
  3. Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women's Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan

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Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to the Women's War, a production of I Heart Radio.
What would you do if the government was just gone
one day? A couple of months ago, that question might
have seemed more like a fantasy than it does Right now.
As I type this, huge parts of the United States
are in lockdown from the coronavirus. Millions of Americans are

(00:21):
out of work. Guns stores across the nation have sold
out of ammunition. Grocery stores are out of toilet paper.
Collapse right now seems more plausible than it ever has before,
perhaps even imminent, And depending on what movies and TV
you watch, you might expect the retreat of your government
to bring chaos and violence in its wake, But that

(00:41):
is far from a foregone conclusion. In two thousand twelve,
as the Syrian Civil War heated up, the soldiers and
secret police of the dictatorial Assad regime pulled out of
northeastern Syria. The men and women who lived there took
this opportunity to build something new over the ashes of
the old. As the world order we've all grown up
with phrase and crumbles, their story holds lessons for us all.

(01:06):
The woman you're about to hear from is a Syrian
militia woman named a Freen Masseo. I met her in
July two thousand nineteen at a training camp in the
Syrian desert. If you ask the Turkish government, a Freen
and her comrades are all terrorists. If you ask many
of the people in northeast Syria, they are saviors. And
if you listen to the mainstream media over in the
United States, they're just the Koords. As I write this,

(01:29):
a friend and her comrades are fighting and perhaps dying
for their revolution, a women's revolution. Throughout history, the first
city states were built on the basis of exploiting the woman.
If we go back to history, we see that it
was the women who created everything. In natural societies. Before

(01:50):
the rise of city states, women were leaders. But after
the system of city states was built up by men,
they began impressing women for the first time in history.
Throughout the last four thousand years, a system has been
built up over the woman. It doesn't allow her to work,
to go outside, to take up the gun, even in
her own home. She is not allowed to express her opinion.

(02:13):
Even when you get married and should live a shared life,
you cannot express your own opinion. You aren't free to
say what you want. Our goal is to bring an
end to this mentality. We don't say that women should
take a higher position than men. Our goal is a
quality between women and men, to make it possible that
our society can live with a free mentality. Neither women

(02:35):
nor men should be the oppressor. There should be equality.
The land in which a fren and her comrades live
and struggle is called Rojava. The word means west in
Kurmaji Kurdish, the language of most of its inhabitants. But
a Frien's comrades are not all Kurds. They are Arabs
and Armenians and Yazidis, as well as Brits, Americans, Spaniards

(02:57):
and Germans. The Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF are the
umbrella organization they fight under, but a freen is a
member of the Women's Protection Units or y p J
and all female militia. You've probably seen videos and pictures
of their fighters, beautiful young women bedecked in colorful kefia's

(03:18):
riting into battle against the Islamic state. Such images made
for easy, feel good coverage in a region where those
stories are hard to come by. But then the Caliphate
lost its last territorial holdings, and over the months, the
news spent less and less time talking about the Koords
and Rojava until in winter two thousand nineteen this happened.

(03:42):
Now about breaking news in the fight against Isis the
White House withdrawing troops from a key part of Syria
as Turkey plans an attack on US backed forces there.
Turkish forces have begun a major offensive in northeastern Syria
with air strikes this evening. The streaks of artillery lit
the sky of this border town, the Turkish army hitting
Kurdish targets just inside Syria. What we're seeing here, sir

(04:05):
is arguably one of the greatest betrayals um in the
history of of military In military history, the Turkish invasion
of Rojava, ironically named Operation peace Spring, immediately displaced two
hundred thousand people. Hundreds of thousands more would be made
refugees by the end of two thousand nineteen, as majority
Kurdish towns on the Turkish border were cleared out by

(04:28):
military force. The government of Turkey bust in Syrian Arab
refugees in a bid determanently changed the demographics of the region.
Western media coverage touched on some of this, but nothing
piqued as much fear in American and European viewers as
the threat that the chaos and Rojava might allow for
a resurgence of ISIS. A senior US defense official just

(04:48):
told CNN, Turkey's attacks are already heard in the U
S counter ISIS operations, effectively bringing it to a halt. Nick,
what are you hearing there on the ground about what
the attacks mean for the resurgence of ISIS. A Turkish
shell slams into an ISIS prison compound. Moments later, IIS
prisoners are seen making a break for it. Kurdish forces,

(05:10):
already stretched too thin, warned US they'd struggle to contain
ISIS detainees if Turkey attacked, and that's more or less
the story. Everybody knows. Kurds fighting ISIS than Turkey, than
Turkey and ISIS. There was a lot of talk about
Trump betraying the Kurds, but very little talk about what
those Kurds were really fighting for. If you listen to
the mainstream media IS telling of events, you might think

(05:32):
their ambitions extended no further than beating ISIS. But the
Kurds of Northeast Syria and their allies weren't just fighting Isis.
In fact, many of them considered the battle against the
Islamic state to be just a side effect of the
real fight, a war against the authoritarian virus at the
heart of both ISIS and the dictatorial regime of Turkish
President Erdwin. The people I met in Rajava believe the

(05:54):
path to victory in this war the only way to
achieve true peace is to strike at the heart of
authoritari arianism, the domination of women by men. The next
woman you're about to hear from is Horium Chamid. She's
a feminist, anti capitalist community organizer in Rojava. She lost
a son in the fight against ISIS, but she does
not consider Islamic militants to be her number one enemy.

(06:20):
Women have been suffocated in society by the politics of
the Syrian state. Their rights have been limited, and this
mentality has suffocated them. So they are scared to resist,
to resist against the oppression around them, to rise up
and say this is my right. I exist. We have
difficulties with this. Isis were well known throughout the world.
They were a barbarous enemy, not just for women, but

(06:41):
for all people. But women also have hidden enemies around them.
Oppressive men, customs, practices, economic repression, hidden things, women struggle
in secret. What I found in Rojava in the summer
of two thousand nineteen was so much stranger and so
much more revolutionary than the battle against ISIS or the

(07:04):
insurgent campaign against Turkey. This is the story of the
war in Syria you have not seen on the news,
the story of an idealistic dream that had the unlikely
chance to flower in the dry, flame racked planes of
northeast Syria. I'm Robert Evans, and this is the women's war.

(07:27):
I first heard about Rojava in two thousand fourteen through
a series of half credible far left blog posts and
social media posts. The picture they painted was of an anarchist, feminist,
utopian project in Syria, fundamentally reforming society at the same
time as it led the fight against ISIS. It all
sounded way too good to be true, and I was

(07:47):
instantly suspicious. What I was reading about Rojava was so
lacking in actual detail that it felt more like fan
fiction than real reportage, and so I dipped in and
out of the story. It became gradually clear something significant
was happening in Rajava, but it was hard to tell what,
and I didn't think about it too much until March
of two thousand sixteen, when I traveled to Iraq for

(08:10):
the very first time. I was there to report on
the ongoing battle against ISIS and the siege of Mosul,
which was then in its early days. I spent several
days near the city of Sulimania in Iraqi, Kurdistan, visiting
camps filled with Yazidi refugees. These men and women were
members of a religious minority, neither Christian nor Islamic, that
was targeted by ISIS for annihilation and enslavement. During the

(08:34):
Caliphates days of expansion, its soldiers poured into the towns
and villages around Mount Sinjar, the holy mountain of the Azides.
Isis massacred men and boys, they enslaved women and girls.
The Azidis have been targeted for genocide many many times
over the past few centuries. ISIS targeted them in part
because their women were considered famously beautiful, and since they

(08:56):
were neither Muslims nor people of the Book, Christians or
Jewish folks, they could be taken as sex slaves under
the sick interpretation of Islam practiced by the Caliphate. The
story I had heard on the news was that President
Obama in the United States Air Force intervened to stop
this genocide. Isis's advance was halted by air strikes, allowing
the Azidies to flee up Mount Sinjar. Food had been

(09:17):
dropped to sustain them. It was a good story, that
rare tale of a timely U S intervention to halt
a genocide. But once I started talking to survivors of
the massacre, dozens and dozens of them, a different story emerged.
The US air strikes had helped, and so had the

(09:39):
food drops, but everyone I spoke to was emphatic that
what had really saved them was not the U. S.
Air Force. It was the men and women of the YPG,
the y p J, and the p k K. The
story of Rojava is unfortunately a story with very many acronyms,
and I will do my best to stop them from
getting confusing. The y PG is a Kurdish acronym that

(10:01):
translates to People's Protection Units. It is a mixed male
female force, although the vast majority of its fighters are men.
Most Kurds called the WIPEG, the YEPIGA the wy PJ
are the women's protection units. These two malicious together composed
the bulk of the Syrian Democratic forces. They are the

(10:21):
core of the Rojavan military. In two thousand fourteen, the
Iraqi Kurdish military, the pesh Murga, abandoned the Azides and
fled from the Islamic state. As one survivor told me,
nobody helped the Azides but the Yepiga, and while they
were still fighting a desperate battle against ISIS and Syria,
the people of Rojava diverted troops to invade Iraq, punch

(10:45):
a hole in Isis's lines, and rescue roughly thirty five
thousand Zidis from near certain annihilation. Hearing all this got
me really interested. I started reading more. I learned that
the Wipeg, the wy PJ, and the whole Rojavan experiment
had only gotten started thanks to the help of a
terrorist group called the p k K or the Kurdistan

(11:05):
Workers Party. See what I mean about acronyms, the stories
filthy with them. We'll talk about the p KK a
little more later, but in short, the U. S Government
and the Turkish government consider them to be a terrorist group.
Other nations around the world disagreed and consider them to
be more of an insurgent army fighting for Kurdish independence
from the Turkish government. Depending on where you stand, both

(11:26):
descriptors are actually pretty fair. I wound up covering Iraq
two more times over the next year in order to
cover the fighting against ISIS and Mosel. With every trip
I made, I had heard more and more about the
strange things happening in Rojava. The story percolated out, drip
by drip. Most of the detailed coverage of the Rojavan
political system was still confined to left wing sources, but

(11:47):
the details had solidified a bit, and I started to
run into scholarly publications too. In two thousand sixteen, I
came across the book Revolution in Rojava, a very dense
analysis of what was happening in the area. Now, finally
I had a hard data to go with the lurid,
praiseful stories i'd come across on the internet. What I
read only made what was happening in Rojava sound more

(12:08):
incredible and enticing. I learned about the women's houses buildings
established by the new government, and towns and villages they controlled.
These were places where women could go for help, escaping
from abusive relationships, accessing education, or getting job training. In
some communities, the divorce rate leapt to more than fifty percent.
Almost overnight. I grew more and more convinced that something

(12:31):
very interesting was happening in northeast Syria, and over the
next two years I committed myself to visiting. Getting to
Rojava was easier said than done. Though there are no
commercially available airports in that part of Syria. The people
of the region were still considered rebels by the Assad regime,
so I couldn't just fly into Damascus either. The only
safe way into Rojava was across the Tigris through the

(12:53):
Iraqi border. It was not an easy or an inexpensive
journey to take. It took time to get my career
and find anansws into a position where visiting was even
a possibility. And while I waited and watched from a distance,
the situation on the ground in Rojava continued to evolve.
In October of two thousand seventeen, Rocca was liberated by
the Syrian Democratic Forces. Rocket is a large city in

(13:15):
Syria that became the capital of the Islamic State for
several years. The YPG and YPJ did the bulk of
the fighting to retake it from ISIS, supported by U
S artillery and air power, but once the Caliphate's territorial
holdings collapsed, the United States reduced its support of the SDF,
the majority Kurdish militias it had previously backed. The Turkish

(13:35):
government considered the YPG and the YPG, which made up
the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces, to be nothing
more than Kurdish terrorist groups, and they wanted to wipe
them out. In January of two thousand eighteen, the Turkish
government launched Operation Olive Branch, and their soldiers invaded the
Kurdish majority city of Afrin in Rojava. At this point,
the United States still provided air cover and military aid

(13:59):
to the sd F, but they withdrew their protection from
the area around Afron. The Turkish government began an ethnic
cleansing campaign against the Kurds there, bulldozing cemeteries, confiscating homes
and businesses, and moving in Arabs to change the demographics.
Many saw the invasion of Afron as a grim prelude
to what would happen to all of Rojava when the

(14:19):
Trump administration finally withdrew its support and American soldiers. I
began to feel that perhaps there was a ticking clock
on my chances to see this thing with my own eyes.
By that point, the cause of the Rojavan Revolution had
been taken up by left wing movements around the world.
When I visited Athens in early two thousand eighteen, I
saw protect Afron stickers up on light poles throughout the city.

(14:43):
One of my friends in Dallas held fundraisers for the
Kurdish Red Crescent of Humanitarian Aid organization in the region.
On left wing media, the story of Rojava attained mythic proportions.
One representative example is this episode of the now defunct
podcast The Guillotine, at the time, a popular far left
news and politics show. I don't know you keep waiting

(15:03):
around for a revolution. These motherfucker's are walking around with anarchists,
symbols painted on walls, hammers and sickers, sickles painted walls,
a K forty seven. They're literally fighting against states, trying
to destroy them. They're trying to create gender equality, They're
putting property in common. They've eliminated fucking prisons and cops.

(15:23):
I mean, what what more? What what if this movement
is too complicated for you and and not pure enough
for you? To get involved in. You're gonna be waiting
all goddamn day. Now, I knew a lot of that
had to be wrong. For one thing, Roshava definitely had prisons,
and there were numerous stories about the ones where they
kept captured ISIS fighters. But at least some of the idealistic,

(15:44):
anarchist wet dream stuff was in fact written into the
Rojavan Constitution. Here's how it starts. In pursuit of freedom, justice,
dignity and democracy, and led by principles of equality and
environmental sustainability, the charter proclaims a new social contract based
upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands

(16:05):
of society. It protects fundamental human rights and liberties, and
reaffirms the people's right to self determination. This constitution declared
all cantons, which are essentially states, and the autonomous regions
to be founded upon the principle of local self government.
Article twenty three of the constitution is particularly compelling to me.

(16:26):
It declares everyone has the right to express their ethnic, cultural,
linguistic and gender rights, and everyone has the right to
live in a healthy environment based on ecology balance. Under
Article twenty six, all residents of the autonomous regions have
the inherent right to life. Execution is banned in Rojava.

(16:46):
Article twenty seven guarantees women the inviolable right to participate
in political, economic, and social life. Some parts of the
constitution do run counter to the far left fantasies about Rojava.
The Charter Esta wishes a police force the sayish and
explicitly guarantees the right to private property, but it also
guarantees the rights of children, prohibits monopolies in shrines labor rights,

(17:09):
and guarantees a minimum representation of for either sex in
the judiciary. In short, the Rojavan Constitution represents what would
be a shockingly progressive platform in the United States, let
alone a chunk of rural northeast Syria. And this constitution
was not just a pie in the sky dream cooked
up by some left wing radical smoking weed in a basement.

(17:30):
At its height, three to four million people lived under
this system, and more than two million people still do today.
And right now you're probably wondering, how in the hell
did any of this happen in the first place. That,
my friends, is a weird and winding story, Like everything

(17:51):
in the Middle East. The origins of what's happening in
Rojava stretch back many centuries, but for the sake of brevity,
we will start with the tale of a Felon named
Abdullah a Jelan now Aujelon is one of those folks
who gets labeled as both a terrorist and a freedom
fighter depending on who you ask, and to make matters
more confusing, both of those terms are pretty accurate descriptions
of the guy. He was born in nineteen forty eight.

(18:13):
Probably that's essentially a guest because Aujelon was born in
a tiny village in eastern Turkey Oor merely and it
was no one's priority to keep track of birth certificates
back then. He was born part Turkish and part Kurdish
in the eyes of the Turkish government, though that Kurdish
part of him didn't exist from its beginning. The government
of Turkey has had a weird obsession with denying the

(18:34):
existence of non Turkish people's native to Anatolia. When Aujolan
was born, it was a crime to even speak the
Kurdish language. He got a job working in civil service
and eventually started teaching political science at the University of Ankara.
As the years went by, Aujolon found himself more and
more frustrated by the outright denial of Kurdish identity in Turkey.

(18:56):
To give you an idea of exactly how bad it is,
in nineteen ninety one, Layla Zanna became the first Kurdish
woman to win a seat in the Turkish Parliament. After
she took her oath, she spoke this single sentence in Kurdish,
I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish
people and the Kurdish people. Now, at that point nineteen
nine one, Kurdish was still illegal to speak in public.

(19:18):
It had only been legalized to speak in private earlier
that year. In videos of her speech, you can hear
the immediate, almost violent response to her words. Layla was
not jailed immediately for her actions because she had parliamentary immunity,

(19:41):
but her brief Kurdish speech set at emotion a sequence
of events that in nineteen ninety four led to her
arrest and imprisonment for ten years. This all happened in
the nineties, when Turkey was working towards EU membership. In
the nineteen sixties and seventies, when a Jolan was a
young man, even speaking Kurdish and private was illegal, and
as he grew more politically aware, Abdullah began nursing a

(20:03):
deep rage over how his people were being treated. In
nineteen seventy four, he met up with between seven and
eleven other young men who were furious at the status quo.
They put together plans to build a Kurdish leftist organization,
one unlike any political party that existed in Turkey. Augelan
was elected the leader of this political youth group, which

(20:23):
was initially just called the Epocular or the Followers of Appo.
Appo is Aujolan's nickname. It means uncle, and it's a
word I was to hear hundreds of times throughout my
days in Rajava. Over the next several years, the Apocular
evolved into the p k K, which was officially established
in nineteen seventy eight. It was initially a Marxist Leninist

(20:46):
movement whose aim was the overthrow of the Turkish government.
In its early days, the p KK feuded with other
left wing political parties, at times fighting their members in
the streets and carrying out assassinations. Gradually, the movement morphed
into a ragged guerrilla army, executing acts of sabotage and
inciting riots against the Turkish state. In the early nineteen eighties,

(21:07):
the p k K launched a mass of violence campaign
aimed at destabilizing the government. By nineteen eighty four, this
had erupted into a full fledged insurgency, and the p
k K were as vicious and brutal as any other
insurgent movement in history. They frequently killed civilians who did
not support them. The vast majority of their targets were
Turkish soldiers or police, but they did not hesitate to

(21:28):
murder innocent people who stood even non violently against them.
Throughout this period, Abdulla Agellon and his fellow leaders fled
to the safety of Syria and dug in There. The
Assad regime was hostile to Turkey and more than happy
to sponsor rebels on their soil. For nearly twenty years,
Augellan and his comrades ran one of the most brutal
insurgent campaigns in history. Well relatively safe themselves under Hafez

(21:52):
al Assad's protection. Tens of thousands of people were killed,
mostly by the Turkish government, but Apple was not squeamish
about sending huge numbers of people to their deaths, and
as in nearly all wars, most of the dead were civilians,
normal people caught in the crossfire. Up to this point,

(22:14):
the story of the pe KK and of dela Agelon
sounds like the story of many other insurgent groups and
their leaders. But there was something that separated of de
la Agelan from his blood soaked peers. He was capable
of admitting his failures. In the early nineteen nineties, the
b KK realized that their campaigns of indiscriminate violence had
cost them the support of many civilians in the rural

(22:35):
Turkish villages where they operated. Aujelon ordered an end to
the targeting of civilians. Abdullah's ideas about women were also
evolving in this period. The first p KK women's organization
had been formed in nineteen eighty six. Seven years later,
in nineteen ninety four, Augelon created the first all female
military unit. Now this was not entirely a new idea.

(22:57):
Iranian Kurdish rebel groups had experimented with female ele military
units back in the early nineteen eighties. But Aujelan did
more than just crib ideas from his fellow revolutionaries. He
committed himself to fighting for improvements in women's rights. Along
with his bloody guerrilla struggle. Aujelon, the unquestioned leader of
a violent authoritarian insurgent army, started asking his men to

(23:17):
cook for their wives. He wanted women's time freed up
for armed training and ideological study. Aujelon's political view shifted
considerably throughout the nineteen eighties and nineteen nineties. While once
to committed Marxist Leninist dedicated to the global struggle of
the proletariat, Augelon softened into more of a moderate socialist.
In nineteen ninety six, he named Germany as an example

(23:39):
of a socialist state he supported. In nineteen ninety nine,
Abdulla Agelan was captured on the Lamb in Kenya thanks
to a multinational intelligence operation. He was jailed on an
island prison named Mrali and the Sea of Marmara, and
he remains there to this day, alone in his small cell,
guarded by a thousand men. He began to delve in

(24:00):
a Sumerian mythology and history textbooks focused on Neolithic humanity.
He grew convinced that the root of all authoritarianism the
essential moment in which human civilization had gone wrong? Was
the domination of women by men. Prisons seemed to have
wrought a permanent change over Augelon. Whether this was a

(24:20):
coldly calculated plea for mercy from a brutal terrorist warlord
or the very real evolution of a man reconsidering his past.
Abdullah's new ideas had a profound impact on the p
k K, for he was still their leader. Augelon wrote
book after book about his new theories. He smuggled them
out of prison by hiding them as legal briefs sent
to the lawyers who were permanently appealing his court case.

(24:44):
As the years went by, Augalon's politics evolved further. He
came across the work of Moray Bokchin, a Jewish American
writer and anarchist philosopher who, like Augelon, had once been
a Marxist Bookshin had been one of the very first people,
back in nineteen sixty five to be warning humanity about
climate change. He believed this looming crisis required a fundamental

(25:05):
shift in reordering of society away from capitalism and towards
a less destructive, more egalitarian society. Libertarian municipalism is the
system he eventually proposed for this reordering. In brief, libertarian
municipalism calls for a radical participatory democracy, with every person
having an equal say over the matters that affect them directly.

(25:29):
Local communities in this system should govern themselves directly through
citizens assemblies and elect recallable representatives who coordinate and communicate
with other communities. The goal is to prevent situations like
we have in the modern United States, where voters in
a city make laws to govern the lives of people
in vastly different rural communities, and vice versa. Book Chain

(25:51):
believe this system would also make it easier to form
an ecologically responsible society. No community would vote to have, say,
an incredibly toxic oil refinery in their own backyard. Book
Chin wrote in nineteen ninety one that libertarian municipalism is
not merely a political strategy. It is an effort to
work from latent or incipient democratic possibilities towards a radically

(26:14):
new configuration of society itself, a communitarian society oriented towards
meeting basic human needs, responding to ecological imperatives, and developing
a new ethics based on sharing and cooperation. That it
involves a consistently independent form of politics is a truism.
More important, it involves a redefinition of politics, a return

(26:36):
to the words original Greek meaning as the management of
the community or police by reasons of direct, face to
face assemblies of the people in the formulation of public policy,
and based on an ethics of complimentarily and solidarity locked
up in m orally, book Chin's ideas merged with Aujolon's
own theories about history and feminism. He named his ideal

(26:59):
system democrat at a Confederalism and published an essay laying
out how it should work in two thousand eleven. This
became one of the foundational documents of the political system
in Rojava, and so through this very unlikely chain of custody,
the ideas of a fringe American anarchist thinker became the
foundation of a system that more than three million people

(27:19):
live in today over in Syria. It is easily one
of the unlikeliest things that's ever happened. From my perspective
as a journalist, judging how real everything in Rojava was
was complicated by the impressive level of pr savvy that
can be found among the Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
It started back in nineteen eighty eight when Saddam Hussein
began gassing Iraqi Kurds and world attention was drawn to

(27:41):
their plight by Iranian and British journalists who filled the
massacres from the air. Ever since, Kurdish movements have had
an intense appreciation and a deep gut understanding of how
the power of the global press can be harnessed to
help their movements for liberation, and so as the SDF
advanced against ISIS, they did so with the aid of
a BRU and social media campaign which spread footage of

(28:02):
the beautiful young women of the YPG squaring off against
fundamentalist militias. Regular Twitter videos of liberated towns showed women
discarding their veils in Ni Cobbs. This sort of content
was true, these things were actually happening, but it was
also a targeted propaganda campaign aimed at warming the hearts
of liberals and conservatives alike back in the West. The

(28:23):
Good Wild campaign succeeded in drumming up support for Rojava
around the planet. It also drew in hundreds of international volunteers,
mostly young men and women from around Europe and North America,
who traveled to Rojava to fight and to help build
a new egalitarian society. The stories of these international volunteers
created something of a sensation, particularly within the global left

(28:43):
wing media ecosystem. The revolutionaries of Rojava position themselves as
the tip of the spear in the global battle against
creeping fascism. In late two thousand seventeen, after the deadly
Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Anarchist International SDF volunteers
posted pictures of them selves with an anti fascist action
flag the Antipha flag you might have seen it rallies,

(29:05):
and the words from Mojava to Charlottesville, Solidarity with all
anti fascists Avenge heather Higher. Some of this messaging was
carefully coordinated by different organizations in Rojava, like the Syrian
Democratic Forces, but a lot of it, including the Avenge
Heather Higher photo, was ad hoc and grassroots, a product
of the fact that this revolution genuinely drew in large

(29:27):
numbers of committed leftists from around the world. These people
saw themselves as inheritors of a great anti fascist tradition,
the spiritual successors of the leftist partisans who first fought
fascism during the Spanish Civil War and the members of
the French, German and Italian resistance movements. During World War Two,
Kurdish fighters in Syria began to adopt foreign anti fascist

(29:48):
anthems as the soundtrack to their revolution. This ranged from
revamped versions of old Irish militant folk music to covers
of rage against the Machine songs to the old Italian
anti fascist anthem, the Chow Chow. Bela Chow means goodbye beautiful,

(30:13):
and in its original incarnation, it was a protest song
by female laborers and the patty fields of northern Italy.
After Mussolini came to power, a new version of the
song was adopted by anti fascist freedom fighters, and Bela
Chow grew into an international anthem of freedom and resistance
in Kurdish culture. The adoption of Bela Chow goes back
to at least two thousand and nine, when Iranian Kurdish

(30:36):
filmmaker as San Fatahian made a YouTube video which he
dedicated to the Kurdish people and all people struggling for freedom.
Fatahan felt a powerful emotional connection to the anti fascist
version of the song, which centers on a partisan waking
up in the morning to find a fascist soldier at
his door. The partisan and the song accepts his duty,
which is to die a beautiful death struggling for freedom,

(30:58):
and he expresses his hope that he will be buried
in the mountains and a flower will bloom over his grave.
Fatajan's own death came later in two thousand nine, when
the Iranian government executed him for being a member of
a Kurdish militant group. In two fourteen, the Kurdish singer
Chia Madani released the cover of Bella Chow that you
just heard, set over video of the men and women
of the YPG and J marching into battle against Isis.

(31:21):
The positioning of Rojava as part of this global struggle
against fascism was simultaneously canny, an intelligent way to get
international support, and also a large risk to their political
support from some of the governments of the world. Anti
fascism is, shall we say, a touchy political stance in
this part of the twenty first century. In two thousand nineteen,
the histories of Italian and Kurdish anti fascism and the

(31:43):
history of the song Belli Chow merged rather tragically in
the death of Lorenzo Orsetti. Lorenzo was an Italian citizen,
a cook, waiter and somalier from Florence who grew inspired
by the Rojavan Revolution and joined the STF as a
foreign volunteer. He died fighting Isis in March of two
thousand and nineteen, and during his funeral service, men and
women sang Beli chow in both Italian and Kurdish Lacha

(32:09):
lachachachacha Roa. In the spring of two thousand nineteen, the
stars finally aligned to allow me to visit. My podcast

(32:30):
Behind the Bastards took off that year. Right around the
same time, I wrote several articles in the wake of
the christ Church massacre that went very viral. I launched
a fundraiser and asked my fans to support my desire
to do more conflict journalism. To my utter shock, they
raised more than forty thou dollars. I now had the
opportunity in the funding. All I needed was a way

(32:50):
to get into Rojava and get the access I needed
to learn the truth about its system. I reached out
to a colleague of mine, Jake Hanrahan. Jake is a
four A reporter from Vice and currently an independent journalist.
He has a podcast called Popular front that focuses on
the gigy details of modern conflict. Back in two thousand fifteen,
Jacob found himself as the only Western journalist in southern

(33:13):
Turkey during an uprising by a Kurdish youth militia, the
y d g H or yet aga Hash. It started
when he received a message from a Turkish contact of
his telling him that the y d g H had
taken over a small city in southern Turkey named Jizra. Well,
I was there in January when that happened. By the
summer all it was total. So like they you know,

(33:36):
all the different towns basically set up why d H franchises.
And it went from being like the youth going like yeah,
we've got some rifles, which you know everybody does down there,
so the p k K coming the adults coming down
from the mountains where they're kind of hide out and
training them up and being like this is how you
build a bomb, this is how you do this, this
is how you do this. So I was like fuck,
it went there straight there, and you know, with two

(33:59):
of my colleagues and yeah, man, it was crazy. We
just saw like PKK gerrillas in like civilian clothes being
like we're the hy dg H. And it was like,
what you're thirty five, Like you know what I mean,
Like you're not the White d H. But then we
were seeing like, you know, eighteen year olds becoming like
pure militants, you know. So yeah, that's kind of my

(34:19):
history with a film of them. As you know, that
went bad, we got arrested and sent to jail for
a little bit. Jake and his crew spent several harrowing
days in a Turkish prison, incarcerated with a mix of
refugees and ISIS fighters. He was obviously freed and returned
to England. The whole experience sparked in him a fascination
with Rojava. He started studying the movement and making connections
to the people in the area. Since he'd been arrested

(34:41):
covering a Kurdish uprising, he had sort of an in
that most Western journalists lacked. It was a little like
having done time for the mob. Even though as a
journalist covering the White d g H, Jake had not
been entirely sympathetic to the movement. In fact, we were
actually questioning him. I was like, why are you shooting
like police officers, like they're not, you know, they're just
policing the air that used their job, you know, So

(35:03):
to be honest, like some of it was quite critical.
Between Jake's connections in Syria and my friends in Iraq,
we were able to put together a rough plan for
getting into Rojava. It was sort of unclear up until
the last moment whether we'd be able to cross the
border legally with the permission of the Iraqi government, or
if we'd have to pay a smuggler to sneak us in.
Either way, both Jake and I were committed to trying,

(35:23):
so in July I plopped down three thousand dollars on airfare.
I had to be careful to make sure I didn't
accidentally book Jacob leover and is Standbul. He is quite
literally a wanted man in Turkey. Jake's main job was
to find us a fixer, and fixers are a mix
between a journalist and interpreter, a tour guide and a
security adviser, or at least the good ones are. They

(35:44):
helped foreign journalists find stories, gain access, and conduct interviews
in war zones. The quality of your fixer largely determines
the quality of your story. When I was working in Mosle,
I'd had the extreme fortune of working with two of
the very best fixers in Iraq, Sangar Eel and I
are was Sul. Most of the journalists working in Syria,

(36:04):
we're all going after the same stories, interviews with captured
ISIS fighters and ISIS brides. World media only really wanted
stories from Syria that involved ISIS. I wanted to capture
something different, an exploration of the Rojavan revolution, of this
women's war and how it had transformed society. To get
that story, we were going to need the very best

(36:24):
fixer we could find. A couple of weeks before our flight,
Jake reached out to me with the name Kabat a Bass.
His sources said she was good, very good, but neither
of us had met her. Picking Kabat was a roll
of the dice, as these things always are. Thankfully, it
would turn out to be one of the luckiest rolls
of my life. For the trip from Iraq to Rojava,

(36:45):
we leaned on my old friends Sangar. I had spent
days watching him smooth talk Iraqi generals into letting us
in bed with troops at the bleeding edge of the fighting,
and Mosle Jake, and I figured he could probably talk
his way through any issues we had at the border.
With all that settled, the only thing left to do
was to actually fly to the Middle East. I'm on
my way first to Dubai, where I have a fifteen
hour layover, so about fifteen hours in the air and

(37:08):
about a fifteen hour layover. The nice thing about that
is that the hotels in Dubai are really luxurious and
very cheap. The journey to Iraq from the West coast
of the United States is not a simple one. It
started with a four hour flight from my home to
Los Angeles, and then a one hour layover, and then
a thirteen hour flight to Dubai, and then a fifteen
hour layover and then a short hop to Suleimania. I

(37:30):
had a lot of time for reading during all that,
and during the final flight of my journey I finished
reading George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. It's a book about
that famous author's time as a volunteer soldier fighting against
fascists in the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell had rather
complex political views. Most people would probably sum them up

(37:51):
as broadly socialist, but more than anything, he was anti authoritarian,
so in the late nineteen thirties he traveled to Spain
to fight alongside anarchists and communists, battling desperately to stim
the onslaught of the deadliest ideology mankind has ever produced.
In the book, he described his attitude in going over
this way, I had promised myself to kill one fascist.

(38:14):
After all, if each of us killed one, they would
soon be extinct. Sadly, for Orwell and the world, the
struggle of the Spanish anti fascists ended in defeat, and
it was a defeat that began within their own ranks.
The anarchists who had started the struggle against Francisco Franco
were outmaneuvered by social democrats and communists. Many of them
were purged violently by the people who should have been

(38:36):
their comrades or well. Watched in horror as his friends
and battle buddies were arrested and executed. He barely escaped
Spain with his own life intact. Musing over the tragedy.
Months later, he wrote, the fact is that every war
suffers a kind of progressive degradation with every month that
it continues, because things such as individual liberty and a
truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency. The

(39:01):
situation Rojava has more than a few parallels with the
Spanish Civil War, and as my plane descended into Sulimania
Airport in Iraqi, Kurdistan, I couldn't help but wonder if
I too was stumbling into the last days of an
equally beautiful, doomed effort. Jan game Moy The Women's War

(39:34):
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