AFTER reading the account in this paper of a new play about some of the Scots who went to Spain to fight against Franco, I saw reports of the funeral of Jac Holmes. Holmes was one of seven British citizens who have lost their lives fighting Daes as a volunteer with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, the YPG.

People like Holmes and his YPG comrades aren’t only fighting against this most recent embodiment of brutality; like those Scots from 80 years ago, they are also fighting for an alternative vision of society that should provide hope and inspiration to us all. And just as they did with Spain in the 1930s, our political leaders seem prepared to watch while that hope is extinguished.

The Middle Eastern faultlines go back even further. The borders agreed by the winning powers following the First World War split the area inhabited by the Kurds between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Rojava, meaning “the west”, is the term used to refer to West Kurdistan, the bit within Syria. Whatever border they found themselves in, fate was not on the side of the Kurds. The new Turkey was founded on an ethnic nationalism that refused to acknowledge non-Turkish culture or identity. Kurds in Syria weren’t given citizenship until 2011, with the first pressures of the Arab Spring.

The ideas that form the focus of 21st-century Kurdish politics in Syria and Turkey are based on theories developed by the American Murray Bookchin, filtered through the prison writings of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ocalan has abandoned his former path of Marxist-Leninist freedom fighter to call for autonomous grassroots democracy that doesn’t challenge existing state boundaries, but marginalises state power. In recent years, the PKK has made numerous attempts to put together a peace deal with the Turkish government, but any hopes of a peaceful future for Kurds in Turkey have been brutally crushed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s move towards fascist autocracy. When the new, leftist, pro-Kurdish and pro-peace, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won seats in the 2015 general election, it became the focus of escalating state-sponsored violence. The failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 was used as an excuse to clamp down on anyone opposed to his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The coup had no connection to the Kurds, but HDP politicians have been arrested, alongside tens of thousands of others, including journalists, teachers and academics.

Across the border in Syria, Ocalan’s ideas were developed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In 2011, as the Syrian state began to fail, the PYD was able to help organise the residents of the predominantly Kurdish areas to set up their own local assemblies and establish their own autonomous democratic organisations. Open to all people and democratic parties, these took over more and more functions. The PYD had no love for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but nor did they trust the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), with its links to Turkey and to hard-line Islamist groups. The Kurdish takeover of the main centres in 2012 was timed to pre-empt possible action by the FSA, and was achieved with little resistance and few casualties. Rojava was now an autonomous area consisting of three separate cantons– Afrin, Kobani, and Cizire.

In the midst of a sea of barbarism, the Kurds were creating a bottom-up, community-based democracy that stood as a model for the whole world. Surrounded by ethnic and religious division they stressed secularism and the involvement of all ethnicities and religious groups, and in an area known for patriarchal power they ensured equal roles for women. Ordinary folk were taking control of their communities and futures and proving that “another world” really is possible.

Just as Rojava was getting organised, it came under attack from Daesh. The YPG and all-female YPJ soon proved themselves to be the most effective fighters against Daesh. They repelled the attacks, including a major assault on Kobani, and pushed Daesh back. The YPG and YPJ took control of the land separating Kobani and Cizire, and the liberated areas spread to include Manbij and Raqqa, the Daesh “capital”. These areas were more ethnically mixed, but care was taken to include all ethnicities in the new democratic structures. In recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of this autonomous area, the name Rojava has often been replaced by the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, and the different groups that have come together to protect this are known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). (Apologies for all the names and initials but I hope it helps to sort them out.) The attacks on Daesh were given US air support, and Russia has helped mediate with the Syrian regime, but the Kurds were always aware that neither superpower looked beyond its own interests.

THE other powers looking to gain from this new Great Game are Iran and Turkey, both of whom want to give no encouragement to their own Kurdish populations. Turkey has given open support to the FSA, including to groups linked to al-Qaeda. And Turkey has been the route through which men have gone to fight for Daesh and Daesh has sold oil to finance its attacks. When Turkey has claimed to be targeting terrorists, relatively few of their attacks have been aimed at Daesh and most have targeted the Kurds; and Turkey, along with their friends in the FSA, has ensured that Afrin is still separated from the rest of Rojava.

The world has watched as the Kurds and their allies in the SDF have beaten back Daesh. The US has provided weapons and air cover, however it is the SDF who have been the men and women on the ground and have taken the heavy casualties. But now that the Kurds have done their bit to save humanity from Daesh, they are no longer needed. Erdogan has been able to move in for the kill with an all-out attack on Afrin and boasting of his plans for ethnic cleansing, confident in the knowledge that, in the old phrase, the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains. Afrin had been one of the most peaceful places in the area – so much so that its population had doubled with refugees from other parts of Syria. But now it is under ferocious attack from the Turkish army – the second largest army in Nato – combined with assorted Islamist militias. As casualties mount, the internet fills with pictures of dead and mutilated children.

The US had relied on the Kurds in the fight against Daesh and had aimed to use them to help maintain a US presence in Syria, but they don’t want to further alienate their Nato ally; and Russia is enjoying Nato’s discomfort. It is thought that the Russians have also made a deal to allow Turkey free rein in Afrin in exchange for Turkey keeping out of the fight for the city of Idlib, and there is no room for any regional autonomy in Russia’s vision of the future Syria. To guarantee Russian protection the Kurds would have had to hand control of Afrin back to Assad. The EU relies on Turkey to keep immigrants out of Fortress Europe, and to buy its weapons; and none of the big powers wants to see the success of a genuine alternative to top-down politics. Meanwhile our media is swamped with Turkish propaganda. So it is up to us to make the case for Rojava.

Kimmie Taylor, originally from Lancashire, is now fighting with the YPJ. She recently posted on Facebook: “My heart has been set alight and I have been given a hope for the world that is real and immeasurable … Now, to see Afrin being attacked means to see women’s freedom attacked, to see humanity attacked, to see the potential of a better world for the future attacked ...”

If you are not prepared to watch the destruction of a courageous people at the hands of the new clerical fascism, and if you take hope and inspiration from the society that those people are creating – then you have to stand with Afrin and the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.