Fighting the good fight? Expeditionary force, Revolution, Rojava

Left: Kurdish YPJ fighter. Right: 1930s Spanish Revolution fighter

A small contingent of Canadians are organizing the 1st North American Expeditionary Force to fight alongside Kurds in Iraq and Syria against Daesh (ISIS), and some Canadian soldiers are already on the ground (see Canadian media reports here, here, and here). Though the group is only a few months old, the Facebook page and related communications for the 1st NAEF has been flooded with requests for information on enlistment by thousands of Canadians interested in joining.

The ideological underpinnings of the various Kurdish militant groups, and moreover the diverse political practices expressed in the various autonomous Kurdish regions, are amorphous. One group, the YPG/YPJ operating in western Kurdistan/Rojava which has defended the city of Kobane from Daesh attack, is noted to be essentially anarchistic and comparable to the Spanish anarchist revolutionaries of the 1930s (see article by/interview with David Graeber here and here). YPG/YPJ also has an active foreign fighter recruitment campaign (see Lions of Rojava FB page).

However, there has been some controversy within the international anarchist community about whether to support the Rojava revolution (see linked interview above). The crux of the issue for some in the international anarchists community seems to be the degree to which the Rojava revolution has cast off the Stalinist attributes of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which does not gel with an anti-state/anti-authoritarian stance. Examples of this controversy are a statement by the Anarchist Federation on Rojava and a post on the Ideas and Action site which call into question the legitimacy of the revolution.

On the other hand, there have been supportive responses to these criticisms in other anarchist and radical outlets, such as an article in Roarmag, as well as a post on, which notes:

This is an issue of principle: opposing oppression, and taking sides with the oppressed. Therefore we do not take a “purist” position that seems to be neutral, but that in practice equates oppressed and oppressor as equal evils.

To what degree these sorts of ideological issues matter to those Canadians fighting or wishing to fight in Kurdistan is unclear. From statements made by the soldiers themselves, it is apparent they have a sincere desire to help people fighting Daesh, with no motives of personal gain — these are not mercenaries or soldiers of fortune. In a way, this connects the Rojava revolution and the broader struggle of the Kurdish people even closer to the Spanish revolution of the 1930s: first of all in that similar factions were/are involved in both struggles; but also in that many of the foreign fighters who joined the international brigades to fight in Spain were not motivated by ideological allegiances to anarchism, socialism, communism, etc., but were, rather, simply interested in fighting on the side of the good (see documentary on Canadians in Spanish Revolution).

Thinking about this conflict, about the genesis of Daesh, about the potential contradiction of supporting militant forces ostensibly fighting for a Kurdish state, about the forces fighting to create no state at all, has been unsettling. Overall, I find myself in agreement with the notion raised above of not taking a purist position, and do indeed feel it is right to support the Kurds, to support the Rojava revolution, and to support those Canadians wishing to fight alongside them.

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