‘There are no officers there, no hierarchy among these people
LOS ANGELES – When Paul Z. Simons travelled to Rojava in October, he wasn’t after photographing women in uniforms or reporting on war and destruction. Simons, also known as El Errante – The Wanderer in Spanish -- believed a revolution was happening, and he wanted to see this firsthand.
He showed his photos and spoke about what he witnessed and learned to a room packed with an enthusiastic and diverse crowd in Aguara Hills, California, on Sunday.
What struck this American journalist in Rojava was the progressive ideas and strategies that the Kurdish fighters in the autonomous region apply in order to defend their land and to represent a better future for humanity.
He says that “Americans, with their strictly hierarchal army structure, find it hard to understand (that) the Kurdish fighters are not an army but a militia.
“There are no officers there, no hierarchy among these people until they go to a battle, during which time they elect a person as their temporary leader,” Simons explained.
“The only exception to the rule is regional commanders who stay in power for only six months,” he added.
Simons clarified how the Kurds, by applying this strategy, dodge the corruption that can occur when someone has too much power for too long.
An emotional speaker who was deeply affected by what he had observed in Rojava, Simons explained to the flabbergasted audience how, for the first time in the world, a unique system is functioning where power does not come from above, but is pushed down to neighborhoods.
He explained that commune councils make important decisions and 40 percent of the members have to be female: “The only person who has the power to stop what is going on in the meeting is the female chairperson.”
In this truly democratic socialism, working communally is integral to the system and the contributions of all members are valued, according to Simons.
“Anyone who could fight and wanted to, was given a Kalashnikov,” said Simons, swallowing a lump. “Something is happening other than just war.”
He showed photos of the graves of the 233 civilians who were massacred, when in summer the Islamic State, disguised as Kurds working in the security force and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, infiltrated the region and exploded cars in downtown Kobani. The graves included that of a 14-months-old girl.
“After explosions, Daesh (ISIS) knocked on doors and anyone who opened the door was slaughtered," he said.
While ISIS is focused on terrorizing and destruction, the Kurdish militia are there “only to defend the liberated parts and not to attack or invade,” according to Simons.
ISIS has attacked civilians and fighters alike, according to Simons. For example, in one of the houses they had invaded, Daesh planted a mine in a mattress that was placed at a distance from the wall, so when the owners push it toward the wall, the mine would explode.
“Planting mines in a home isn’t meant to defeat fighters: it’s done to kill a child, a woman,” Simons said. “And yet, I felt safer in Rojava than I do in America. I am more afraid of my government than I am afraid of Daesh,” he said.
Simons, who continues to tour the United States to raise awareness about what he believes to be a revolution in Rojava, said that Turkey has to be placed under further pressure to open its border to Rojava.
“The closed border between Turkey and Rojava continues to stop information, medicine and weapons from reaching people who need those. Daesh fighters move between Turkish borders at ease and at will,” concluded Simons, whose talk was followed by a fundraising dinner for Rajava at a local Kurdish restaurant.