Mahmoud Patel, a professor at the University of the Western Cape and executive member and chairperson at Kurdish Human Rights Action Group South Africa spoke to The Daily Vox on Wednesday, during a protest against the Turkish government’s recent incursion into Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.
South Africa has a policy on the Kurdish struggle. It’s part of foreign policy. At the last policy conference, it was adopted like it is for Palestine, Western Sahara, and Sahrawi as well. South Africa has a moral high ground to stand up for human rights when they are violated anywhere in the world. More so currently in Rojava with the recent invasion, which is illegal into northeastern Syria by Turkey.
Rojava refers to the autonomous administration of North and East Syria by Kurdish people.
As we speak, there are 300 civilians who have been killed. A convoy of journalists was bombed two days ago, and they have passed on. A lot of human rights violations have started to take place. A senior leader, a young progressive leader was bringing all the different communities together was killed. Her murdered body was mutilated by jihadist proxies supported by Turkey.
Earlier this month American president Donald Trump ordered out the roughly 1,000 American forces who had operated for years in northern Syria. These forces have reportedly shielding the Kurds from a Turkish offensive. The Turkish military has since launched an offensive against the Kurdish forces in the area, which it brands ‘terrorist groups’.
What is currently happening in Rojava in the past few years, especially this year after the official defeat of ISIS. They’ve built an egalitarian society, a society where women are accorded not only equal rights, but they also have decision making power, whether it is in the administration, whether it’s in the military battalions in the YPJ. Even here in South Africa, women formally have equality, because in terms of a constitution. But our society is still very patriarchal. In fact, their struggles were inspired by our African struggles and South Africa.
Hundreds of people whether they are Arab or whether they are Azadi have all joined andcome together precisely because of the democratic values and the philosophy that you use in Rojava. This is inspired by the thinking of Abdullah Öcalan who is currently incarcerated.
Öcalan is a Kurdish leader and one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party. He was branded a terrorist by the Turkish government and given a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali.
We want the invasion to stop. We prefer and we demand that is a peaceful dialogue takes place with all the parties concerned. We want all parties to be part of this process and not to be decided by foreign powers who are not on the ground. The people themselves must decide. We want the South African government to take diplomatic and political stances to say no to human rights abuses committed by Turkey, against the indigenous people. We want South Africa to put pressure on the Turkish Government to stop the invasion.
Like they have a position on the Israeli embassy with the downgrading, they should seriously consider downgrading the Turkish embassy here in South Africa as well.
Additional reporting by Fatima Moosa