Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, a city in northern Syria along the Turkish border, are putting up heroic resistance against Islamic State and have inspired demonstrations of solidarity worldwide — from cities in Turkey and a rally of 20,000 in Dusseldorf, Germany, to actions in Britain, France, Afghanistan and the U.S.
The battle for Kobani has shone a spotlight on the imperialist character of Washington’s escalating war in Iraq and Syria, as well as the capacities of the Kurds, who have a long record of struggle against oppression by the capitalist rulers of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Islamic State launched its bid to take Kobani Sept. 15, planning a short campaign with boasts of celebrating Eid al-Adha Oct. 4 in the city’s mosques. For weeks, U.S. officials and the big-business press have been shedding crocodile tears over the imminent fall of Kobani and coming slaughter of Kurds, including thousands of trapped civilians.
Kurdish forces are outnumbered by more than 3-1. With light arms they are facing down an army outfitted with tanks and heavily artillery. Yet more than a month later Kurdish militias, organized by the Committees for Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG), have held their own against Islamic State, which is said to control about a third of the city.
Kobani is surrounded by thousands of Islamic State fighters to the east, south and west. To the north, the Turkish government has amassed troops along its border and is preventing thousands of Kurds who are clamoring to join the fight from entering the embattled city. Meanwhile, Islamic State has been reinforcing its position with additional troops and arms.
Ankara’s refusal to let Kurds enter Kobani through the Turkish border has led to protests by Kurds in 35 Turkish provinces. Turkish authorities responded with a brutal crackdown. As of Oct. 10, more than three dozen people were killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,000 arrested, according to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
On Oct. 14, Turkish warplanes dropped bombs on the southeastern Turkish town of Daglica, targeting members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), after the group traded gunfire with Turkish troops. The PKK carried out a three-decade armed struggle for Kurdish rights and greater autonomy in Turkey. More than 40,000 people died in the bloody conflict that ended with a cease-fire in 2013. The PKK — which is branded as a “terrorist” organization by Ankara, Washington and European Union governments — has ties to the YPG in Syria.
“There is no tragedy in Kobani,” an unnamed deputy chair of the governing Justice and Development Party in Turkey told BBC. “There is war between two terrorist groups.”
“Kobani does not define the strategy of the coalition,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the press in Cairo Oct. 12. “Kobani is one community, and it’s a tragedy what is happening there, and we don’t diminish that. … Meanwhile, ISIL [Islamic State] has the opportunity to take advantage of that particular buildup.”
While not a strategic priority, the U.S. rulers would prefer not to see Kobani fall into the hands of Islamic State and U.S. warplanes have recently been stepping up airstrikes against IS positions around the city. But it’s hard to see how the Kurds are going to get what they need — more arms and a way for volunteer combatants to join the fight.
The Kurds and their ongoing struggle represent a major obstacle to Islamic State, as well as to the interests of the traditional propertied rulers of the region and the imperialist powers of America and Europe.
This is the source of the dilemma over Kobani. If Islamic State takes the city, it will strengthen their position. A Kurdish victory in Kobani would galvanize the Kurdish struggle. But whether Kobani stands or falls over the coming period, the fight by Kurds is just beginning.
One dynamic of the Kurds’ decades-long struggle and potential impact on the region is obvious to working people who catch footage or photos of Kurdish combatants. You can hardly find one that doesn’t include women. Across northern Syria, for example, women comprise more than one-third of Kurdish forces. And this image alone strikes fear into the hearts of many more than the reactionary followers of Islamic State and al-Qaedist groups.
The war being waged by Kurdish combatants against Islamic State, as well as the Kurdish people’s fight against discrimination and national oppression, deserves the support of working people the world over. They are part of the broader struggle to strengthen the confidence, solidarity and combativity of workers, farmers, women and oppressed people throughout the region.
Advancing Kurdish struggle rooted in history of resistance
Los Angeles protest calls for solidarity with Kobani
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