Semalka crossing when it was closed / credit: Twitter
Semalka, meaning 'three houses', lies on the Tigris River; a floating bridge, it is Rojava's (Syrian Kurdistan) only gate to the rest of the world. It had been closed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on 16 March 2016 as an embargo was put in place the same day Syria's autonomous region declared the Rojava-Northern Syria Federation. Now after almost three months it has been reopened for an undeclared, but short period of time.
Rojava is landlocked and the 822km long border to the north (Turkish occupied Kurdistan) has been totally closed since 2011, when the Rojava revolution began. To the south there is only the Islamic State (IS). When I travelled to Rojava as part of a delegation in 2014 there was trade with Iraq over Til Kocer (Al Yarubiah) but that was also occupied by IS shortly after.
For several decades in Rojava’s Cizîrê canton, the Syrian regime systematically concentrated on the monocultural cultivation of wheat and to a lesser extent on cotton. Cizîrê provided up to 50 percent of all Syrian wheat, its share meant that it was called the country’s breadbasket. Kobanî and Afrîn were mostly given over to fruit and olives. Afrîn supplied 25 percent of Syrias’s olives. But people cannot survive only on cotton, olives and wheat.
The embargo’s effects on Rojava are severe. Most dramatically, Rojava with its wealth of wheat and oil can’t sell its products abroad. Farmers sit on their wheat and cotton. The transitional government has no money to pay wages, let alone meet the needs of ordinary people and refugees. Now the Semalka crossing has been opened for a few days and people believe things are good. Unfortunately this will not be the case!
There are severe limitations to the border crossing reopening. Rojava cannot sell its products, therefore there is little revenue, "we can barely afford to eat something", says a friend from Rojava. “The transitional Government (in Rojava) can just pay only $25 a month for a teacher, but people need around $200 to live a reasonably good life.”
The reason why so many people leave Rojava is not the war but the embargo say people. “This is a total economic blockade that has made the markets all empty, people are suffering due to weak purchasing power and they have spent their savings,” a trader from Qamishli said to K24 recently.
There is a shortage in all areas; machines, medication, and general medical supplies and equipment are urgently needed. The lack of medication and infant formula is raising infant mortality. The price of imported goods, including food, is skyrocketing. Medications sold on the black market are prohibitively expensive. Although the councils have set price controls, that doesn’t affect the price of the black-market.
Although Rojava is a rich country, the politics of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is making it suffer. The embargo is one of the policies used by the KDP to blackmail Rojava and gain influence. The KDP wants the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), their offshoot in Rojava, which has ties to Turkey and jihadist forces, to be part of decision-making. Asya Abdullah, the co-chair of the PYD said in May that the KDP have two conditions for the border to reopen: one is ENKS peshmerga forces to cross over into Rojava and the other is for a share of the profit at the border. The other parties in the Kurdistan Region do not agree with the embargo. The Gorran Movement and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are against it.
Lahur Talabani, the director of KRG's Zanyari and Parastin Intelligence Agency and Counter-Terrorism Group, said a day before the border was reopened, "[The] people of Kobane have suffered enough. KRG needs to open the border to allow further provisions such as medicine and milk for children. We have a moral duty in Kobane; we should not let them continue to suffer because of political differences. The border needs to open."
“The border offers the KDP a way to look sympathetic to Turkish concerns and to pressure the PKK-aligned groups, at the cost of some sympathy from a Kurdish population that is in general very sympathetic towards compatriots in Rojava. The decision does not come from the KRG, but from the Turkish government, and the KDP is part of the coalition of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey,” said Abdulkarim Omer, foreign relations head for the PYD-led Auto-Administration in an interview with ARA News.
Rojava is a model for democracy and the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The KDP has no right to destroy this wonderful project for its own interests. Rather, it should recognise the Democratic Autonomy project and develop a common struggle against the Islamist reign of terror and its supporters Turkey and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand Europe must strive for an end to the embargo by Turkey.
What we need is a large support campaign for the revolution in Rojava though! And we need a strong campaign to ensure that the borders are opened permanently and without limitations!
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