Culture Is A Weapon. Join the Fight:

Music and Solidarity for Rojava

female:pressure's music compilation to raise funds and support for Rojava's revolution

and / August 31, 2016

Photo by Marine Drouan. Left to right: Empty Taxi, Angie Balata, AGF, Annie Goh, Leyla Boran, Ipek Ipekçioglu, Leyla Ahmed

In 2011, the Arab Spring swept across North Africa. Stemming from popular uprisings that broke out in Tunisia, the rebellions spread to Libya, then to Egypt. The protests reached Syria on March 15, 2011, when pro-democratic demonstrators took to the streets to demand the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and the release of political prisoners, including a group of boys who were arrested for painting graffiti in the city of Daraa that read “The People Want the Fall of the Regime.” Syrian security forces responded to the peaceful protests with bullets. In the following weeks, as demonstrations continued, Syrian security forces conducted military operations across the country resulting in the death and detentions of thousands. Armed resistance began in the Syrian city of Jisr al-Shugur near the Turkish border on June 4 after Syrian state forces fired on a funeral procession. In the months that followed, Syria descended into one of the bloodiest civil conflicts of the 21st century, which continues to this day.

Image of female Kurdish fight with gun. In Spark Mag.
Poster for female:pressure’s compilation for Rojava. Art by Marine Drouan.

At the same time in northern Syria, ethnic Kurds, who were no strangers to the horrors of state repression, were organizing themselves. For years they had struggled for recognition and independence from the Assad regime in Syria and the government of Turkey. Kurds in Northern Iraq were also engaged in a years long struggle first against Saddam Hussein, and later the Islamic State group (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Collectively they asserted their claim to autonomy and self-determination to all who sought to marginalize them. As the situations in both Iraq and Syria dissolved into chaos and the Islamic State capitalized on troubles in the region, the Kurds continued to resist with the same determination that has marked most of their history. But something uncommon was surfacing among Kurds in Syria. The struggle was evolving from one aimed at gaining a nation to one aimed at creating an entirely new kind of society.  The idea of that new society would shape the birth of Rojava.

In November 2013, an unprecedented democratic experiment took shape in the form of a self-governed, autonomous community based on social, racial and ethnic justice, religious freedom, ecological principles and gender equality. The “democratic municipalism” that is the basis of this society is guided by an affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the Partiya Yekita Demokrat. The party is influenced by the teachings of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK whose philosophy was shaped by the American social ecologist and anarchist Murray Bookchin. The region that became known as Rojava is defended by militias known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and an all-female arm called the Female Protection Units (YPJ).

This year, the all-female electronic artist network female:pressure released a compilation on International Women’s Day entitled Music, Awareness and Solidarity w/ Rojava Revolution that paid homage to the YPJ. All proceeds raised by the compilation are donated towards The Village Project, an initiative that seeks to create a space open to all women in Rojava in pursuit of empowerment and autonomy. As noted on the compilation’s Bandcamp page, the network envisions the album as sounds “in support of a continuous, relentless opposition to regional fascism, religious or secular.”

The tracks on this collection represent a harrowing ascent through layers of human conflict and the struggles necessary to the construction of new societies. It recognizes that these changes are violent, or can be, and it doesn’t shy away from those realities. But there is hope, as well. Hope that through the process, and despite the staggering losses experienced by Kurds, Syrians, Iraqis and others in the region, there can be realized a common humanity that transcends the violence and connects everyone to the central values of equality and justice.

The first track is an offering from Miranda De La Frontera dedicated to Viyan Peyman, a Kurdish musician, poet, activist and soldier in Rojava’s YPJ who was killed in 2015 during heavy fighting with ISIS. It begins slowly with an assembly of ethereal sonics followed by a sample of Peyman singing, overlaid with the reverb-soaked sounds of machine guns and explosions organized into a minimalist rhythm. Throughout a woman speaks in English about the meaning of Rojava saying, “The women’s movement in Rojava does not think in terms of rights, because there is no state to give you rights. They have learned it the hard way, that to survive and exist you have to struggle to create a society in which social justice and equality are internalized. Who cares about rights that exist on paper and don’t mean anything in reality? We don’t want the world to know us as the women fighting ISIS only. And we also don’t want people to know us for our weapons. We want them to know us for our ideas.”

Another standout track is Ksenia Kamikaza’s “Warrior,” which entrances the listener with a steady beat and samples heavily from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Clear fragments of Dr. King’s words slip out, slowly answering each other while reminding listeners that the world he envisioned lives on and that it is an idea one must fight to keep alive (“I have a dream… I still have a dream). Following that is “Afraid of Women” by Olivia Louvel which serves as a testament to the courage of the YPJ fighters and the fear they drive into the reactionary forces of ISIS.

The compilation contains samples from various interviews throughout. The clips of activists and fighters who are part of the revolution in Rojava provide the listener with first-person accounts of the process to sustain the revolution and stem the tide of ISIS. The liner notes also provides links, writing, stories and messages provided by the artist for each track. Some provide more insight on where samples were picked from. For example, lo. batt.’s “Ah Kobani” is based on the sounds of a YPJ fighter singing while a doctor tends to her wounds, and the liner notes provide a link to the video the sample was taken from.

The women’s movement in Rojava does not think in terms of rights, because there is no state to give you rights. They have learned it the hard way, that to survive and exist you have to struggle to create a society in which social justice and equality are internalized. Who cares about rights that exist on paper and don’t mean anything in reality? We don’t want the world to know us as the women fighting ISIS only. And we also don’t want people to know us for our weapons. We want them to know us for our ideas – Viyan Peyman

female:pressure have provided a powerful means to spread awareness on the Rojava Revolution while raising funds to help sustain it. They’ve also created a chronicle of the revolution’s fighters – living and dead – so that their sacrifices should not disappear from the public’s awareness.These women are not the sexualized objects as perceived and appropriated by the fashion houses of the west (the act of which is scrutinized in the track “Woman & The Gun”). They are soldiers engaged in the life and death struggle of building a new world. The echoes of this sonic installation help ensure their survival.

Already the forces of reaction seek to snuff out this vision of a new society as Turkey continues targeting the Kurds rather than ISIS. With the failure of the recent coup, Turkey’s Erdogan is in a stronger position than ever before to wipe out the Kurdish revolutionaries. Given this context, the necessity to spread such awareness and generate support and solidarity is more crucial than ever. And, while the outcome of the revolution in Rojava is uncertain, it reminds us that the realization of a new society is never beyond our reach.

This review first appeared in issue #2 of the South Texas-based zine The Drop