More than a thousand Kurdish demonstrators rallied in London last night as their countrymen and -women in Kobane battled with Islamic State (IS) forces. The town on the border of Syria and Turkey has been the site of clashes between the Kurds and the jihadists for weeks, and only now has the West intervened by bombing IS troops.
Marching from Dalston to Seven Sisters, the protesters expressed their fury at the world powers they feel have done so little to address the threat IS poses to the Kurdish people.
A man holds the Kurdish flag
“We have been neglected by the entire international community,” Aysegul Erdogan, a human rights activist who helped organize the rally told me as the march set off down Dalston Lane. “At first, when the anti-IS coalition was created, we Kurdish people were happy. We wanted them to keep an eye out for Rojava, in north Syria. Now we feel that yet again the Kurdish people have been left to be massacred.”
Most of the anger of those protesting was directed at Turkey, which has left its tanks immobile on the border and fired tear gas at Turkish Kurds protesting against IS attacks.
But their anger was also directed at America, Europe, and other members of the anti-IS coalition that only weeks earlier came to the aid of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidis in Iraq.
“We want to know why the international community will support northern Iraq but keep quiet about our home in Rojava,” said Kamaran, a 40-year-old originally from Sulaymaniyah in South Kurdistan. “We need to know why.”
“Nobody cares about Kurdish people,” added a young Turkish Kurd studying architecture in London who didn’t want to be named. “If this was other people, the world would have a different approach. But we’re talking about Kurdish people, and that means nobody gives a damn.”
The protestors were from different parts of Kurdistan but some, like Birsel Doyraz, a 35-year-old mother with two kids, came from Kobane itself. “One of my brothers has already passed away during the current battle,” she told me through a translator. “Another is still fighting alongside three of my cousins. All of my family are still there; none have been evacuated. Everyone is scared of death, but they will stay and fight to the end."
Birsel was one of 30 Kurdish activists that have been on a hunger strike outside the UK Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street over the past few days to implore the British government to arm the Kurdish resistance and help stop the genocide everyone is fearing.
“We decided to do the hunger strike so they can hear our voice,” she said, a bright Kurdish flag wrapped around her. “And we will carry on doing these hunger strikes even if it takes months. I will do my best until the world hears my voice and does something about it. But at the moment everyone is silent.”
Yesterday’s rally and the hunger strike were two of many actions the local Kurdish community has organized over the past few days. Earlier that morning, a number of activists occupied the Terminal 2 building at Heathrow airport. The day before, a short occupation took place at Oxford Circus station forcing British transport police to temporarily close it.
Similar actions have taken place across Europe. In Turkey, violence has flared between the government and thousands of Kurdish protesters, testing the fragile peace talks that had been developing since 2012. In Brussels, activists forced their way into the European Parliament to put pressure on the EU.
What activists are demanding is support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia group that has been fighting against IS with inferior resources but astonishing courage.
The YPG has been in control of Kobane and the whole of the autonomous Rojava region since 2012. They are considered by many to be the military wing of Syria’s main Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party (PYD)—a group Turkey, America, and Europe consider to be terrorists because of its affiliation to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
This is not how most of the demonstrators in London see things, though. Many waved the group’s yellow, red, and green flag while chanting, “We are YPG, YPG is us.” Others held posters with the face of Abdullah Ocala, the jailed leader of the PKK, whose face has become a symbol of Kurdish oppression. Kawah Milani a 50-year-old IT worker from Eastern Kurdistan told me he is horrified at Turkey’s refusal to help the YPG.
“Right now they are the main force fighting the Islamic terrorists and yet they are the ones called terrorists,” he said, taking a brief break from the megaphone he was using. “It’s related to Turkey’s long term plan and policy in the region. They want to defeat Rojava, an autonomous self-determined area in Western Kurdistan. That’s why the West doesn’t help the YPG resist in Kobane. It’s incredibly dangerous. There are thousands of people left in the city, woman and children included. We all know what their fate will be.”
Follow Philip Kleinfeld on Twitter.