How long will Australia remain silent about Syria?

NO REGRETS: Dr Hawzhin Azeez, right, in North Syria, left Newcastle in 2014.

NO REGRETS: Dr Hawzhin Azeez, right, in North Syria, left Newcastle in 2014.

My phone beeps and my heart beats a nervous palpitation – that familiar daily state of anxious existence that the oppressed and colonised live with. 

It is an urgent voice message from a People's Protection Units (YPJ) comrade in Afrin, northern Syria. Voice breathless but urgent, muffled with the sound of war in the background, he tells me how close the Turkish army and the Jihadists are to Afrin’s city centre.

I do not regret leaving my life and career in Newcastle in 2014 to join in the efforts to heal and rebuild the city of Kobane in northern Syria. 

I was drawn to the radical democratic revolution occurring in Rojava, the Kurdish majority areas of northern Syria.

Kurds had joined the uprising against Bashar al-Assad during the heady days of the Arab Spring in 2011. 

Inspired by the writings of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, the majority Kurds in Rojava had implemented a radical anti-state, anti-capitalist, gender-liberating democracy in their liberated zones.

When ISIS emerged in Syria, however, it rightly saw the inclusive and democratic Rojava as an obstacle to its Islamic State. 

ISIS attacked Rojava and thousands of Yezidi Kurdish women were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery by the Jihadists. Women’s Protection Units (YPG) responded to this by self-organizing to protect themselves and went on to play a major role in defeating the ISIS Jihadists when they tried to take Kobane in 2014.

The contrast between the empowered women of Rojava and the enslaved women of ISIS caused many women, like myself, to feel the same fierce beat in our hearts.

Late last year, the forces of democratic Rojava, including the YPG, decisively defeated ISIS, yet the world appeared not to notice.

Now, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also fears Rojava’s example of religious tolerance, multiculturalism and democracy. In January, Erdogan armed recycled ISIS jihadists, and backed by Turkish war planes, attacked the city of Afrin – a historically Kurdish city – in the north of Syria bordering Turkey. Although the Kurdish YPG and their allies, the YPJ, have pushed back Erdogan’s forces for over 53 days, they are virtually defenceless against the airstrikes in Afrin. Hundreds have been killed, many of them children. More than a million people are besieged in the city without water and food.

My friend on the phone urges the need for international attention and protests. I tell myself that if we can just hold on in the little besieged city until March 16 (and maybe even the entire month), then we will be OK.

March 16 marks the 30th anniversary of the clear spring dawn when my mother and I fled my country by horseback to escape the chemical weapons that rained on Halabja in Iraq during the  genocidal last days of the Iran-Iraq war. Could Australia ever be roused in protest for Afrin and the YPG-YPJ? Australia, like the rest of the International community, has remained largely silent over Afrin and the valiant people who beat ISIS.

It is 3am in Kobane and I am tired. I wonder, surely a person cannot be so unfortunate, and her people cannot be so oppressed, that she will witness to two genocides in a lifetime?

The cardamom-flavored coffee tastes unusually bitter in my mouth.

Dr Hawzhin Azeez is a Kurdish refugee who grew up in Australia and graduated in political Science and International Relations from the University of Newcastle. She lives in Rojava.