Steve Sweeney speaks to KIMMIE TAYLOR from the Syrian front lines about the Kurdish prisoners’ hunger strike
Kimmie Taylor from Blackburn was the first British woman to volunteer with the Kurds to fight against Isis in Syria. She joined up with the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).
I spoke exclusively to Taylor days before she returned to the front line in the offensive to retake Raqqa.
How and why did you first become involved in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle?
I had heard about and seen Kurdish solidarity actions before, but never really felt anything further until my trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in late 2015, where I met Yazidi families who had fled from Isis.
Most still had family members in the hands on Isis, as sex slaves, human shields, or brainwashed new recruits. They begged me to tell the world to help save their daughters, wives and young sons. I felt helpless.
It wasn’t until I came to Rojava in March 2016 that I saw there was an answer for the Yazidis, for the Kurdish people as a whole, and actually for all problems of war, poverty, and unhappiness I had seen in the world.
I know that you spent time in south-eastern Turkey. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
On my way to Rojava in 2016, I travelled through the Kurdish area of Turkey for the second time in my life. This trip was incredibly different than the first, just six months before. Unofficial war had been declared on the Kurds by the Turkish state. The scream of fighter jets flew over my head as they lowered into the ancient neighbourhood of Diyarbakir, dropping bombs every five minutes or less.
In the border town of Nusaybin, a Kurdish man took me into his home at dusk, telling me I would die if I waited another minute. Throughout the night the Turkish police raided houses, firing bullets and mortar shells continuously, less than 50m from his home. He was terrified.
When I attempted to enter Cizre town the following day, anti-terror police took me from the bus, put me in their armoured vehicle, and ordered I wait for the chief. He asked what I was doing there, and I insisted I was a tourist. He asked if I knew who the PKK [Kurdish Workers Party] were. I asked: “What is PPK?” — purposely saying it wrong. He asked if I knew the YPG [People’s Protection Units]. I also replied: “No.” “All of these are terrorists,” he told me. “Don’t trust anyone here, everybody is a terrorist.”
Later, in Rojava, I spent time in the town of Qamishli, which sandwiches the border wall with Nusaybin. That war, so silent to the outside world, intensified and continued every day for months, until I no longer heard the bombs because I had finally joined the YPJ and moved to the south of Rojava to face their other enemy, Isis.
When, until this day, I see the complete lack of media attention on the silent, deadly war in south-eastern Turkey, it is one of the most shocking, unbelievable, hurtful truths I have ever known. Media and governments have only just begun to call out Turkey on the illegal imprisonment of journalists, stating that the freedom of speech is paramount for democracy. Yet they stay silent on the mass killings of the Kurdish people, civilians, women, children, the youth, the elderly. Thousands killed without a single word from the world.
You were on hunger strike in solidarity with Turkish prisoners who were protesting against their treatment and conditions. Can you explain a bit about this?
I saw that the comrades in Izmir prison in Turkey were on their 50th day of indefinite hunger strike, and it was spreading to hundreds of people in other prisons across Turkey. What made me join on a five-day solidarity strike was that I understood the deep reasoning of why they were doing it. There is no other way to make demands or get out the truth as political prisoners in Turkish prisons.
The conditions are said to have gone far beyond human rights violations. These people on indefinite hunger strike are doing it for their comrades, not for themselves. They set demands to give their comrades and any other political prisoner in Turkey a chance to continue life and to fight for a democratic Turkey if they are eventually released, to give strength to activists and revolutionaries outside of prison to join and continue the struggle against the fascism of the Turkish state and for a democratic, free and equal society.
I know these people. They are the same as the fighters who fought in Sinjar and saved thousands of Yazidis when every other official army ran away.
When the world turned its back on a horrendous genocide, it is the revolutionary women and men of the PKK who came to their rescue.
They have the same mindset and goals as the women and men I now fight alongside in Raqqa; the YPJ and YPG. Those who have grabbed the world’s attention by giving their hearts and souls to fight the greatest evil of our time, Isis. Those who are applauded for their bravery, but ignored for their politics of gender equality, local democracy, ethnic and religious freedom.
I know these people. This hunger strike is the greatest revolutionary act possible to any prisoner, and there they are in the hands of the seemingly uncontrollable, power-hungry Turkish state.
I believe their indefinite hunger strike is their ultimate sacrifice of their physical selves. They have chosen to die for the lives of others.
What do you think of the role of the British government? And what should they be doing?
When we compare what I just said to the acts of the British government, I think it highlights perfectly the differences between these people. Could you ever imagine a British politician giving their life for another person?
The British government puts its own economical and political interests above everybody’s lives, including that of their own citizens — as we see in the state of our country today and the thousands of British lives affected by their policies.
If we do the smallest amount of research, we see that the British government upped its arms sales to the Turkish state, recently making a deal of £100 million for fighter jets. We also see it scramble to create strong trade and political ties with Turkey, to secure power on the world stage as the EU laughs in its face during the Brexit negotiations.
It will try to blame voters. They will try to blame Labour or the SNP, who will in turn blame each other. They will try to blame the unemployed, immigrants, teachers, underpaid and overworked nurses and doctors, unions.
Is it really anyone’s fault that the British government is selling arms to the Turkish state to be used on civilians, on freedom fighters and on funding Islamic terrorism across Syria and Iraq?
This is their decision. It is in their interests as capitalist politicians only focused on their careers and intent of holding membership in the Establishment, to keep Britain in turmoil, to confuse the public, and to keep the Middle East in constant war.
I am under no illusion that the British government, or any politician, wants very much or anything at all for humanity. But as the British public, we have the power to turn around policies that are a threat to other humans elsewhere as well as a threat to our own national security.
We must demand that they cease all trade and political deals with the Turkish state, now. We must demand that they confront Turkey on the requests of the political prisoners for the rights of all prisoners and to hold peace negotiations.
What do you think of the media reporting of the hunger strikes and the situation in general?
Again, it’s no surprise to me that the British media were silent about the hunger strikes. The corporations and media conglomerates are owned by a very small number of families — most notoriously Rupert Murdoch — who have always had and will continue to have very close relationships with any large or growing political parties.
The majority of British media is part of the Establishment which has the same interests as those I spoke of earlier. We say that we have free journalism in Britain, but this is not true, as the publishing of a story rides on the agenda of the Establishment, not the truth.
Only the British public can turn this tide. We can make the news by standing in solidarity with the Kurds, by actively demanding that the British government answer to its decisions on Turkey and that it takes a strong role in pushing Turkey into meeting prisoners requests and opening peace negotiations.
Have you got a message for people in Britain and support for the Kurds and Rojava?
When many of us feel despair for our country, as if their is no answer, that we are not capable of changing anything … I tell you to look again at the stories of the hunger strikers in Turkish prisons.
Not only are these people the only force who are effectively preventing an Islamist caliphate that could spread across the whole of the Middle East, but they are also the ones with answers to all problems implemented by the elite and produced by the capitalist system. Take strength and inspiration from them. We are capable of everything. We must do what we can to protect their struggle.