On Saturday, thousands of members of London’s Kurdish diaspora held another rally to draw attention to the battle for Kobane. The town in northern Syria has seen fierce fighting in recent weeks as Kurdish fighters have defended the town against IS militants. More than 500 people are thought to have been killed in the battle so far.
In London, the Kurdish community has spent the past week rallying to show solidarity with Kobane and to pressure the international community to help the Kurdish forces. On Saturday, crowds gathered outside Parliament from two o’clock, waving flags and chanting “Unite, unite, unite against ISIS”, which has become the unofficial anthem of the rallies.
The crowd began to move towards Whitehall. As it did, the generally peaceful vibe of the demo was briefly disrupted by a scuffle with the cops in one corner of Parliament Square. Things escalated quickly as people rushed over. I later heard that some young guys thought they had been stopped and searched unfairly. Tensions were running high and with all the shouting it was hard to tell who was trying to inflame things and who was trying to calm things down. Except the guy next to me, who made his feelings clear by swearing at the police and chucking a water bottle at them.
Police flooded in, wrestling a few people onto the tarmac. They formed into lines to contain the crowd, some of whom staged an impromptu sit down protest to demand the release of their friends. Traffic was also blocked on Parliament Street by a small number of sit-down protestors, but they soon dispersed to join the rest of the rally, which was moving up through Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square.
Organisers took to PA systems to get people moving again and to carry on the demonstration. Charing Cross police station later said that two people had been arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. One guy I spoke to was concerned that the arrests would make people think badly of the demonstration, but I reckon a scuffle with the cops doesn’t stop you being on the right side of history when you’re protesting against IS.
As the march continued down Whitehall, I decided to pick some of the protesters' brains. Aras Lewes, 46, has been in the UK for nine years. He is originally from Halabja, a Kurdish town in Iraq which endured a genocidal massacre with chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein in 1988. He lost his entire family, as well as his eyesight for three months. He told me that while he would like to see Kurdish forces better armed by the Western governments. While the Kurdish forces have mostly Soviet era weapons, IS are using modern, US made, heavy weaponry [seized](http:// http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/isis-stole-some-shiny-new-weapons-from-the-iraqi-army-989) from the Iraqi army.
Student Piro Balloglu was keen to point out that the Kurds are the most progressive people in the area. “The PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party" and YPG [Kurdish paramilitaries] are the only force in the Middle East that represent modernity, that have anything that supports and stands for democracy. Every country that surrounds Kurdistan represents autocracy, fascism and the Middle Ages.”
This was echoed by teacher Zeynep Fidan, 29. She said she said that the female fighters in Kobane are, “absolutely remarkable. I think it makes ISIS even more full of hatred towards them because they’re everything they’re not…the fact that they may be killed by a woman is even worse for them.”
Professor of Anthropology at the LSE and noted anarchist David Graeber was there too. He recently wrote comparing what’s happening in Kurdish areas now with the social revolution during the Spanish civil war – with a democratisation of decision making and work places being run by workers' cooperatives. He asked if the international left is really going to sit about twiddling its thumbs and not helping as the revolution is destroyed by Islamist fascists.
“I think what’s going on in Kobane is one of the epic revolutionary struggles of our time but nobody’s recognising it as such,” he told me. “What’s going on… is an amazing experiment in self-rule and democracy. They are doing things that could teach us a lot about what real democracy is… I think all the world powers are terrified of that idea. The last thing the Americans, Turks, any of those wants is actual grassroots democracy to take fruit.”
As the protest wound down, the crowds dispersed from Westminster, and a small crowd remained in Parliament Square and sang along to traditional PKK songs on a sound system. The government is continuing a cautious approach, providing air suport to the Kurdish fighters. In Kobane, the YPG will continue to fight IS, and Kurds accross the world will continue to support them.
Watch – Rojava: Syria's Unknown War