Roza Salih, who is Vice President Diversity & Advocacy at University of Strathclyde Students’ Association in Glasgow and NUS Scotland’s International Students’ Officer, has been organising protests in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle. She spoke to Solidarity.
This battle is now focused on Kobane, but it is a much bigger issue, bigger than Kurdistan. If Kobane falls “Islamic State” will increase their power and strength; the war will escalate; there will be more battles and massacres. It is the Kurdish people fighting now, but this an issue for the entire international community. If we can stop them here the tide can turned.
The Kurds are fighting for their lives and for their life as a people. They are facing genocide, worse even than what Saddam Hussein’s regime did at Halabja. These people are brutal, barbaric terrorists: it doesn’t matter who you are, they will kill you.
I also want to say something about women. Women are playing a huge role in this struggle. Perhaps never before in history have women played such a major role in a war. The women of Kobane, of all ages, are determined to live or to die defending their city. Elderly women are getting weapons and learning how to fight. Of course ISIS are ultra-misogynists with no respect for women’s rights: they have abducted thousands of women and sold them as booty of war. Kurdish women have everything to fight for.
What have you been doing?
I’ve been working with other Kurdish people in Glasgow. On Saturday we had a demonstration in George Square, to raise awareness and demand more and better coverage from the BBC, as a contribution to raising support for Kobane.
We’ve set up a Kurdish Human Rights and Cultural Group in Scotland, and are trying to mobilise the Kurdish community. I’ve also lobbied the Scottish government, and got my university to provide new scholarships for refugees. We are going on the TUC demo in Glasgow on 18 October. We hope to protest at the Turkish consulate in Edinburgh. We have various plans. Some young people want to go to Kurdistan and fight, but I’ve argued there is plenty we can do here.
I’ve got to say the response from non-Kurdish trade unionists, student activists and socialists has been weak. People are letting the issue of Western intervention get in the way of making solidarity. They say they support us but they obviously feel uncomfortable to do anything, to bring their solidarity out from under the carpet. This is ridiculous. Even if you are against the US bombing, why does that mean you can’t come and demonstrate with us?
What’s your view on the bombing?
I have always been against Western interventions in the Middle East. But there is a specific situation. ISIS are armed and trained and backed by all sorts of people. They are good to go. The defenders of Kobane have only limited weapons, and their courage. In that situation, how can we oppose military actions that help the Kurdish resistance?
What else would you demand?
We should demand weapons, military training, tactical and medical support for the Kurdish fighters. We should demand free movement for the refugees, both into Turkey and into Britain and other European countries.
We need to highlight the disgraceful role of the Turkish government, which is doing nothing to help. Do they support ISIS? There are rumours of Islamist fighters being treated in Turkey and sent back to the battlefields. Or maybe the Turkish government just wants to smash the PKK, to weaken the Kurdish struggle. Even now, they are bombing PKK camps inside Turkey. This is just the latest in a long history of oppressing the Kurds, going back centuries.
What can people do?
Support Kurdish people’s demonstrations. Find out what’s happening locally, go along. If there’s nothing, organise a demo. Most of all we need to raise awareness and raise our voices. People can write to MPs, lobby political parties, raise this in student unions and trade unions.
The National Union of Students national executive voted down a motion to support the Kurds, as well as workers’ movements, feminists and socialists in Iraq. What do you think?
I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated. Aaron Kiely [former NUS Black Students’ Officer] is saying how proud he is the motion was voted down. Supposedly it is Islamophobic. What was Islamophobic about it? I myself am from a Muslim background. Why would I propose a motion that was Islamophobic? In any case, it is not Islamophobic to condemn ISIS and its backers!
At the Scottish Executive, the motion was passed unanimously. NUS UK should have passed it too. The people who opposed the motion are now saying they support the Kurds, which is good, but actions speak louder than words. It seems that they are more focused on opposing intervention than making solidarity.
Right now things are very bad, and it’s a life and death struggle. If the situation improves, how would you like to see things develop in the Middle East?
I want the Kurdish people to have freedom – freedom from oppression and the right to decide their own future. Here in Scotland we had a referendum and the right to decide. The Kurds have never had that in hundreds of years. Normal life has been impossible; people are psychologically scarred. Now it is getting worse again. I want freedom for Kurdistan, and I want a society based on secularism, democracy and social justice – for the Kurds and for everyone.