The branch of an olive tree traditionally represents peace in the majority of the world's cultures. However, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime, this long-known symbol of amity seems to have acquired much more sinister connotations. During the recent days, Turkey has launched a military operation quite ironically named ‘Olive Branch’ and initiated an open invasion of the Syrian North. Together with the neighboring villages, the city of Afrin has since been continuously attacked by the Turkish forces with airstrikes maiming and killing numerous victims, men, women and children alike.
On one hand, it could be said that the attack was ‘provoked’ by the recent US announcement regarding the establishment of the border force consisting of around 30 000 SDF fighters that Turkey interpreted as a direct threat to its own national safety (which can hardly be justified since the establishment of a border force would mainly serve as a preventative measure inspired by the need to be able to intercept any possible future attempts of terrorist attacks possibly conducted by the remnants of ISIS, and would, as such, be defensive in nature). On the other hand, however, it is blatantly obvious that the attack lacks any true legitimacy, so much so that it could even be perceived as a terrorist action in itself, and is only a product of a strong anti-Kurdish sentiment and the Turkish regime’s animosity towards the PKK as well as YPG/J as its perceived military offshoots in Northern Syria.
The aforementioned military intervention that, in only a matter of days, resulted in deaths and injuries of numerous unsuspecting civilians residing within the Afrin Canton shows that the successfully waged battle against the Islamic State and its militants seems to have represented only the beginning of the struggle for a democratic society rooted in the idea of women’s liberation. What is the connection between Afrin and women’s liberation? While the nature of the relationship between the two might not be immediately obvious, its covertness makes it no less existent. In such a context, the situation in Afrin surpasses mere political power-play and becomes much more symbolic than initially thought.
Ever since the beginnings of the Revolution in Rojava, Afrin has played a crucial role in the context of implementing the ideological framework on which the revolution was built which, to an extent yet unseen in the world, accentuates the importance of the women’s liberation as a foundation of a truly free, democratic society. As was noted by Halil Deniz, already in 2013, only one year after the start of the revolution, 65 percent of individuals involved in the city administration were none other than women themselves. Even though the situation regarding the position of women, in a span of only 5 short years, improved dramatically throughout the entire territory of Rojava, what makes Afrin special is the fact that it is one of the very few areas that has managed to remain mostly untouched by the destruction brought upon by ISIS. Afrin has allowed room for a much more rapid development of the ideas concerning women’s liberation. It can be argued that, throughout recent years, the women in Afrin have been able to establish themselves at various ‘civilian’ levels, such as culture, work or any usual day-to-day tasks for that matter, more easily than in other areas that were more heavily affected by the war, where the accent had to remain on the woman in a strictly political and a military context for the sole purpose of survival and defense against the twistedly patriarchal ISIS oppression.
One of the main tenets on which the Revolution in Rojava is built is the notion of complete and utter freedom and equality as a prerequisite for the creation of a just society devoid of all forms of oppression – a polar opposite to the ideology enforced by the Islamic State that the women and men of Rojava vigorously and zealously fought against for years. In this context, it needs to be addressed that women can be said to represent the most oppressed group, not only in the context of ISIS, but within the great majority of societies (since the patriarchal mentality still seems to be prevalent all around the globe) and are, therefore, pivotal for the establishment of a system beneficial for all. Freedom of only some, or only of those more privileged, cannot in any way constitute true freedom in its intended form. That is why a change staring from ‘the top’ is not enough and a ‘bottom up’ reform of the society is needed. Therefore, only when women, as the most oppressed of all group, find their way to freedom and find their place as equal to others, can all people be free.
Since, as was mentioned in the previous passage, it can be argued that equality can only truly be considered existent if it is manifested in all, and not only some, groups and parts of life, the importance of Afrin as an area allowing for a change in the perception of women in social, cultural, political and military aspects becomes undeniable. Afrin in fact does, in its own right, represent a bastion protruding from a great ideological construction built on the foundation of women’s liberation that allows for the pillars of freedom and equality to stand tall and ever so stable. This is why the Turkish attack on the aforementioned city represents a direct attack on the flourishing concept of women’s liberation. Attacking one of the rare areas previously unaffected by the terror of ISIS, where significant progress in regards to the state of women’s rights has been noted in practice, represents nothing more but a plain attempt at the destruction of a budding free existence, the seed of which was planted by the sacrifice of many brave women who stood up to ISIS as an ultimate form of the patriarchal oppression and gave their lives in order to show that a different world is possible if women reclaim their position within the society.
As was stated by the Kurdish Women's Office for Peace in regards to the Turkish invasion of the Afrin Canton: “[Turkey] works with patriarchal, inhumane forces that pose a global threat to women, peace and democracy. The attack on Afrin is above all an attack on the women's revolution. For Rojava is also an example of women not submitting to the patriarchal system of war and domination, not surrendering to their apparent fate but having the strength and courage to build a free society. Rojava is also an example of the emergence of women's liberation out of society, fought for by the women themselves in the Middle East - beyond the state, nationalism and capitalism and despite the wars waged against the people.”
The aforementioned should be reason enough for the world to react, condemn and stop the further destruction of Afrin at the hands of the Turkish regime. Destroying the city and murdering its people sends yet another sinister message – the wish to destroy the idea behind one of the possibly greatest developments in the context of women’s liberation in recent history and annihilate freedom itself. Afrin is not just a city. Afrin is women. Afrin is freedom. Afrin is humanity.