5 February 2016
Reporter Ersin Çaksu speaks with Roni Botan, a commander with the Civilian Defence Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Sivîl / YPS) in the Kurdish town of Şirnex (Turkish: Şırnak).
YPS units have been declared across North Kurdistan in recent months in response to attempts by Turkish security forces to crush local movements for autonomy.
Does any living-being have a chance to survive without defending oneself?
Today is a day for taking responsibility for the projects of self-government and for raising one’s voice.
If there had been barricades in Wan (Van), Sêrt (Sirt) and Qoser (Kızıltepe) would there have been as many extrajudicial executions?
Now a weekend protest makes no contribution to the revolution. However there is no front or behind the barricade. There is Kurdistan. There is self-government. Either we will become a new Vietnam or we will experience what happened to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. I am speaking to the youth: There is leadership. There is a party. There is a movement. What are you waiting for?
The YPS was proclaimed in a period when the AKP regime has declared a war against Kurds. What was the goal in the formation of the YPS?
Before getting into that allow me to salute the struggle which the Kurdish people have been waging, in particular in Sûr, Cizîr (Cizre), Silopiya and Nisêbîn (Nusaybin). At the end of 2014 the AKP began to impose war on the Kurdish people. While they were holding meetings with the Kurdish leader Öcalan Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish movement they were simultaneously drawing up plans for war. This became entirely clear in Rojava. We also saw this and as Kurdish youth also saw that this war would not remain within the borders of Rojava. We saw that a new ‘dirty war’ strategy was waiting at the door. As this dirty war was knocking on the door our people declared a series of self-governments. The YPS was declared with the aim of defending self-government.
You say that the AKP brought the war to your doorstep… could you explain in more detail?
The AKP’s wish for war confronted us quite openly in Rojava. However when their strategy did not develop according to plan there, they took a decision for war [in North Kurdistan] before the June 7th elections. When the war came to our doorstep we took it upon ourselves to develop the self-defence of our people. Does a living being, which does not defend itself, have a chance to stay alive? It is a reflex against death. When we talk about defence let’s not just think about weapons. There are economic, social, and military attacks and the form of resistance needs to be in keeping with the form of attack. We have taken as a basic principle that we cannot recognise a state which does not recognize our will and which is endeavoring to annihilate us.
How do you assess the widespread silence in the face of the great resistance, which the Kurdish people have shown against the State’s plans for complete annihilation?
They need to understand that a weekend protest march or a press statement is not going to stop the attack on our people and the policy of destruction and murder that lies behind it. No longer will protests done during one’s free time be enough to stop these war aims. Our people in Kurdistan in Turkey’s cities and in Europe need to take a stronger stance and take stronger actions against this policy of genocide. The Alevi community and the left-socialist groups must take a stronger stance. From now on silence means neutrality. It is widely seen and almost no day passes that a Kurd is not gun downed, executed or arrested. Today is the day for taking responsibility for the projects of self-government and raising one’s voice against these massacres. It is not the day for sitting around, watching and producing commentary.
Well, how do you assess the claims from certain circles that the construction of ditches and barricades has ‘legitimised’ the state’s attacks?
These are the special war arguments of the Turkish state. This is how they are conducting 70-80% of the war. They are trying to strangle the people’s demand for self-governance and impose their own will by screaming about ditches and barricades. Everyone knows that these ditches are just a tactic. A tactic is decided upon based on the situation and time and it changes. What is strategic is the people’s will for self-government. Self-governance is a strategic demand. Yesterday it was pursued through political means, the day before through actions of civil disobedience; today it is carried out through the construction of ditches and barricades.
The other question is; were there ditches in Wan (Van), Sêrt (Siirt) or Qoser (Kiziltepe)? No. Yet state forces executed many people. It is saying ‘I have always suppressed you, from the Qoçgiri [rebellion] (1920-21) till now, and I will continue suppressing you in the same way. The state’s message is clear: I will also destroy you in the 21st century. I will not recognise your existence, or a geography called Kurdistan. We need to see all of this with the same clarity.
What are the people saying?
There is no great division within the people. If the state has tried to create such divisions it has so far been unsuccessful. There are certain groups and agents connected with it that are working to create such divisions but they have no chance of success. The Kurds are not the Kurds of former years. We saw this [during the Kobane uprisings] between 6-8 October 6-8, 2014. Everyone saw this (in-fighting between Kurds). That such things happened is normal under these circumstances. When we look at the history of Kurdistan there has always been this line. This was the line of the Raybers and the Êzdînşêrs (individuals seen as traitors in Kurdish history). However with the lessons of history and with the growth of the Kurdish Freedom Movement and society these tendencies have been diminished. This is no longer fate. We will tackle the problem of treachery. We say this openly and operate according to this. If the PKK has developed from a handful of people into millions then it means this line of treachery has also been broken.
There has been sustained debate about whether to be in front of or behind the barricades. How do you assess this?
This is a limiting discourse with no small degree of condescension. It is an effort to reduce the question of self-government to the question of ditches. However there is no in front of or behind the ditches. There is Kurdistan. There is self-government. There is the defence of the people’s self-government together with its rights, identity and status. There is the defense of legitimate rights. The ditches are a method of defence implemented to defend the people. We need to assess them as such.
How do you assess the people’s resistance? What are your expectations?
Our desire is that the people of Kurdistan will develop the struggle. One should work to grow the resistance wherever one is – the village, city, town, university, school – wherever one is they should work to grow the resistance. This cannot be in theory only but must happen through practice. If armed then with weapons, if through political means then through politics. Now is not the time for talking it is the time for doing and for taking part.
A weekend protest can make no further contribution to the revolution. As this period of oppression befalls our people, we must not stand by, we must not rest. If we do this then we will be guilty of great negligence. No longer can anyone stay on the sidelines. It doesn’t matter where we are. Today we do not need to be thinking about what acts of oppression are taking place in Şirnex, Cizîr, Silopiya, Sûr and throughout Kurdistan; we need to feel it and create a unity of spirit. It is with such a unity of spirit that we will be able to defeat the enemy.
You said that there have been high levels of participation in the YPS. What are the emotions of the youth joining the YPS and and what message would you give to the youth?
We have surpassed the phase where Kurdish youth gained their identity. For the youth now is the time for taking action. The first goal should be to join the YPS. This is a revolution. It is the revolution of women and youth. Every youth who says, “I have a revolutionary spirit and a feeling of love for my homeland” needs to heed this call. The example of Rojava is right before us. Now it will not happen with applause. They must come and breathe in the revolution and feel it. The YPS is the place of struggle. This is the address for liberation. If we are destroyed then they are next in line. Let them look at Rojava. It started with small groups and today the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. They turned a light for the Middle East. We have the potential of going even beyond them.
We have overcome our fears. Now we must walk onwards and upwards. There is the example of Sri Lanka and the example of Vietnam. Either we will become Vietnam or we will experience the aftermath of what happened to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. I am speaking to the youth: There is a leader, there is a party, and there is a movement. What are you waiting for? There is a paradigm, there is the YPS, there is resistance and leadership, and there is also an assertion. This is a chance for us, a chance for everyone. Now is the time for success and victory. The first quarter of the 21st century will be crowned with the victory of the Kurdish people. We must know this and act accordingly.
What do you think of the rumors that frequent curfews will be declared in Şirnex?
Well there is already a savage attack. This can be seen particularly around Cizre and the attacks in the Botan region. One can also see the heroic resistance, which has emerged in response to this. It is rumored that the so-called governor of Şirnex will declare a military curfew. What difference does it make if he declares one or not? It has no meaning for us. This is there decision to take. However our resistance will continue as long as the Turkish state’s occupation continues. Our struggle will continue. They want to create a big fuss and scare the people with their talk of curfews. But the people of Şirnex possess an accumulation of resistance and struggle and will pay no attention.
Until now your struggle had taken place under the name of the YDG-H but now the YPS has been formed. Why the YPS?
The YDG-H remained a largely local organisation, more limited to the neighbourhood. With the proclamations of self-government the YDG-H was no longer a local phenomenon. Its goals and means were too limited. When this was recognised the YPS was proclaimed as a way of departure. The YPS was developed through the institutionalisation of its political, military and social relations. It was developed according to its needs. Today it is the YPS, tomorrow it could be something else. This effort is connected to certain goals and targets. It is connected to the wishes and needs of the Kurdish people.
In closing is there anything you want to share with public opinion?
This struggle needs to be analysed correctly. The enemy must analyse it correctly as must our people. The enemy is continuing with its classical analysis. We have nothing to say to it. However our people should not adopt the analysis of our enemy because they are looking at it in the wrong way… It is now time to leave these things to one side. People must take part in the effort. It is the last chance. The time to speak has long since passed, now is the time for action and participation.
This interview was originally conducted for the daily Özgür Gündem by Ersin Caksu and published on 19 January 2016.
It was translated into English by Rojava Report and originally published on their website.