Joanna Palani, a 23 year old fighter of the YPJ, the famous Kurd “Women’s protection unit”, is currently detained in Denmark, presumably for terrorism. The YPJ is an all-female brigade of the Syrian Kurdish forces, engaged in the fight against ISIS.

In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Palani says she is currently in prison in Denmark. She says she doesn’t know for how long, but “it could be two years.”

“I need your help to spread the news that the YPJ is not a terrorist organization,” she pleads.

The YPJ is part of the YPG (also known as the People’s protection unit), which is the armed force of the Kurdish Region of Rojava in Western Syria. They have been widely recognized as instrumental in the fight against ISIS in Ìraq and Syria. They most notably played an important role in taking back Kobane from terrorist control in 2015.

Palani is a Danish student, born in a refugee camp in Iraq. She comes from an Iranian Kurd family of Peshmerga fighters (the armed force of Iraq Kurds). Last year, she abandoned her studies in Copenhagen to fight with the Peshmergas and with the YPJ.

Both organizations are significantly backed by the US and generally acknowledged as legitimate military units. However, when Palani returned to Denmark while on permission after fighting for a year, she was forbidden to leave the country and her passport was confiscated.

Danish police told the Russian channel RT that Palani was suspected of wanting to leave the country to participate in activities that could threaten Denmark’s national security. She hasn’t been able to return to the YPJ since. The only information about her arrest to date is the short video she filmed herself.

The confiscation of her passport, and, presumably, her subsequent detention, are supported by legislation intended to stop Danish citizens from joining jihadist groups abroad. Some argue that Denmark is courting Turkey’s help to keep refugees out of the EU and, therefore, included the YPJ, a group Turkey doesn’t like, as a group to watch out for.

David Romano, a political science professor at Missouri State University, formerly of REMO, the réseau du Moyen-Orient du CERIUM (Université de Montréal), told Forget the Box that he can’t speak to Danish motivations as it would simply be “speculating about behind-closed-doors Turkish pressure” but did have this to say about YPJ/YPG:

“In the court of public opinion, they are certainly pretty legitimate — empowering women, protecting minorities, fighting ISIS, etc… The U.S. does back them, so that is an indirect indicator as well. High level U.S. officials meet publicly with YPG leaders, and U.S. special forces are embedded with them (along with many Western volunteers). Russia calls for them (via their political parent, the PYD) to be included in peace talks on Syria, and only Turkish objections prevent this.”

Ilhan Erdem was arrested in Istanbul on Monday over alleged links to the alleged masterminds of the failed coup attempt in Turkey July 15th. He is the second Canadian national to be swept up by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sharp retaliation against the Gulen movement. Canadian authorities are unsurprisingly scant on details.

Erdem has worked for years as an Imam in Ottawa, where he was also a member of the Anatolian Heritage Federation (AHF). A friend of the family says that he has been working as an education consultant in Turkey for the last three years.

He was arrested on Monday in Ataturk airport on what the AHF calls trumped-up charges. According to Turkish press, he is accused of leading the Gulen movement in Ottawa.

The Gulen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, is a world-wide network endorsing the teachings of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is a former ally of Erdogan who turned into one of his most popular critics.

The president wasted no time in blaming him for the coup attempt that left 246 people dead earlier this month. This claim provides the government with a justification to crack down on the dissident group – a suspiciously convenient one, according to some. It is nonetheless accepted as accurate by the majority of officials, including the Trudeau government.

The Turkish population has demonstrated both against the coup and against Erdogan’s authoritarian response (namely the imposed emergency state).

AHF has stated that Erdem’s views are “simply aligned with those of Hizmet.” According to the Federation, the Canadian is victim of Erdogan’s persecution of all his detractors, “including peaceful Hizmet participants.”

Concerns for two Canadian Detainees

On Monday, while Erdem was being arrested, the Canadian government was meeting with the Turkish ambassador to discuss the case of Davud Hanci, a Calgarian recently arrested under similar circumstances. Hanci was visiting his sick father in Ankara with his wife and two children when he was arrested for allegedly having a hand in the coup attempt, according to his family.

His relatives expressed concerns over his safety to Radio-Canada, especially after seeing photos of people arrested in connection to the coup being beaten and mistreated on social media. They said Hanci’s wife was able to see him for a few seconds. He reportedly only had time to say that he was okay and anxious.

No one has been able to contact Ilhan Erdem to date.

Canadian officials have been tight-lipped about both cases. In fact, they only confirmed that a second Canadian citizen has been detained in Turkey, but refused to identify him, citing privacy concerns.

They had adopted the same stance in the case of Homa Hoodfar, a Montreal Professor currently detained in Iran, even advising the family against speaking to the media. The information came from relatives in Hoodfar’s case and from the Anatolian Heritage Federation in Erdem’s.

A source not authorized to speak publicly confided to Radio-Canada a few details about the meeting of Canadian authorities with Turkish Ambassador on Monday. They said that the government was trying to know more about the specific motives of Hanci’s arrest and wanted to express official concerns the Turkish government’s increasing resemblance to a military dictatorship.

Late on Wednesday night, Global Affairs Canada assured that they are providing consular assistance to Erdem’s family and that they are in contact with the Turkish embassy.

As I’m writing these words this morning, the situation is becoming direr for the Kurdish resistance in Kobane. So far, the resistance has bravely faced the 22 days long assault lead by ISIS. Meanwhile, here in the West, there are a lot of conflicting views regarding the supposed defeat or victory of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). One thing is for sure, though. The struggle of the PKK and the YPG will go down in history and may have the opportunity to mobilize the whole of Kurdish people in a renewed struggle for “national’’ liberation.

Protests erupted yesterday in the Northern Iraqi Kurdish Autonomous Region, Turkey, in Rojava (the Syrian portion of Kurdistan), and Iran in support of the Kurdish resistance in Kobane, but also in support of what has come to be known as the Rojava Revolution: the struggle to establish a network of autonomous communes, which function within a framework of radical direct democracy.

Unfortunately the spontaneous uprising of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Kurds throughout Kurdistan and beyond was met with tear gas and violence by the Turkish authorities. The clashes between Turkish law enforcers and protesters claimed several lives as of the latest news.

kurt taksim
“ISIS murderer, AKP complicit.” From a protest in Istanbul, Turkey on September 21, 2014.

Meanwhile, the United Nations called for direct action in support of the Kurdish combatants to prevent a massacre. Several Western government officials have also voiced their concerns about what they think will definitely be a major military setback, if ISIS were to overrun the Kurdish forces in Kobane. So what’s preventing the Western powers from attacking ISIS? Wasn’t that exactly the main reason for our intervention?

Many of the proponents of an intervention against ISIS have championed the idea, that without the support of the Turkish government, the long-term defeat of ISIS seems implausible, and that in order to defeat ISIS any international coalition needs Turkish support. This being said, however, think, for instance, of the picturesque moment, when Turkish tanks turned their backs on Kobane. If the non-involvement of the Turkish forces is an indication of anything, it is that the Turkish government has no interest in stopping ISIS’s assault against Kobane.

Little is known of the Turkish “non-involvement” in the past three years during the war in Syria, but one thing is certain. The policy of “non-involvement” was merely a façade. There is strong evidence that the Erdogan administration, in a strategic gamble to topple both the Assad regime and prevent the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous enclave in Syria, allowed the smuggling of weapons and of jihadists through Turkey to ISIS. There are also allegations that Turkey was complicit in helping ISIS find commercial outlets to sell its oil. Isn’t that amazing? Somehow, all major contributors of this so-called coalition of the willing, United States, Britain, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have contributed in some shape or form directly in establishing ISIS’s hegemony in the region.

Given that the Turkish government has for decades fought the PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party, the Marxist wing of the Kurdish resistance) and oppressed the Kurdish people’s right to self-determination, in Turkey and throughout the region, it’s not surprising that as of today Turkey has no interest in saving Kobane.

It is my firm belief that that not only do global left-wing movements have a lot to learn from the Rojava Revolution, but the fate of these movements is undeniably linked to the struggle of the Kurdish forces in Kobane.

The revolutionary thesis of Rojava is the overcoming the paradigm of the nation-state. The theory of democratic confederalism, which was theorized by the previous and now jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, in the first volume of his prison notebooks entitled the Roots of Civilization. Drawing extensively from the theories of libertarian municipalism, social ecology, and communalism, notably elaborated by Murray Bookchin, the PKK have succeeded in creating a radical new blueprint not only for left-wing movements in the region but also throughout the world.


The PKK, through the KCK (Group of Communities in Kurdistan), has created a unique synthesis of eco-socialism with an important emphasis on the aspects of the notion of ungrowth; decentralized libertarian socialism, with the setting-up of a unique structure of decentralized and communal direct democracy; and of feminist and alter-globalization theories through the deconstruction of the theory of the nation-state, the participation and citizenship of all of the diverse array of ethnic groups enshrined in their constitution.

It is my heartfelt wish that it won’t, but Kobane may fall, like the workers’ councils of Barcelona fell to the hands of Franco’s fascist thugs during the Spanish Civil War, but its memory and the project will live on. For the sake of humanity, it is our duty to support and to remember the awesome struggle and ideal of the Rojava Revolution. It is my wish, that through the lessons learnt from Kobane and the Rojava Revolution, we will see the dawn of a reinvigorated Kurdish struggle, and also the dawn of a new chapter in left-wing movements.

Amidst the chaos unleashed by the opening of the Pandora’s Box that is neo-liberal capitalism, Kobane is the Thermopylae of the Kurdish people and of everyone who dares to dream a better future for all of humanity.

A luta continua.

The air in Taksim Square is practically on fire as pepper spray drifts through the humid Turkish breeze. It burns not only demonstrators but also nearby shop-owners and passing tourists.

Just twenty meters outside of Taksim Square demonstrators were peacefully protesting Istanbul’s mayor’s plans to construct a mega shopping complex over Gezi Park. The makeover would uproot some 75-100 year old trees and park walls in the process.

taksim square teargass

After Turkish riot police used smoke grenades and pepper spray to disperse demonstrators, construction crews started felling the trees. The next day demonstrators returned to replant them.

Now, on its fourth day of protests, shots can be heard nearby as tear gas canisters hit the ground, emitting a 20 foot tall plume of white smoke, forming a smoke-filled wall through streets of Istanbul. A woman balancing a tray of lemon wedges passes through the crowd to serve the bloodshot and hacking demonstrators. They rub lemons across their eyes.

taksim square lemon slices

I witnessed one protester beaten bloody. Another demonstrator told me that one protester had already died in hospital on the second night of protests (though I have not been able to confirm this account).

For now the protests are an initiative spearheaded by the Taksim Platform Group. But this may be the start of a movement against Turkey’s Olympic-industrial complex.

A series of grand urban development projects are slated for years to come as Istanbul’s Summer Olympics in 2020 dauntingly approaches. An ambitious Olympic-industrial complex will set off aggressive massive projects similar in scale to what was witnessed before the Beijing Olympics in 2002.

Perhaps the most far-reaching project is the one to artificially create a second Bosphorous straight that coasts Istanbul. Turkish Prime Minister and project supporter Recep Tayyip Erdogan described it as a “crazy project.”

taksim square statuePlans are also underway to build a bridge from Poyrazkoy in the European section of Istanbul to Beykoz on the Asian side. Scheduled to be completed by 2015, officials claim it will be the longest suspension bridge in the world and literally be a bridge between east and west. Meanwhile opponents call the project wasteful excess given that Istanbul already boasts two bridges across the peninsula.

Erdogan, now one of the project’s strongest supporters had said back in 1995 when he was mayor of Istanbul, that the bridge project now being undertaken would be “murder” to Istanbul’s green area. Indeed, Istanbul is less green and more grey as concrete cement conceals more and more of its cityscape and its skyline has already begun to be littered with billboards advertising the 2020 games.

The Olympics is an important milestone for pathway to European Union membership. Endogan’s conservative government is a driving force behind Turkey’s push towards industrial modernization and presenting itself to the EU as a country that is willing, open and meets the standards of other EU nations.

But the country may not be prepared to go down such a direction, or at least willing to accept the new changes. As Turkey pushes forward towards modernization and potential EU membership it will have to not only negotiate between its people’s past, present and future but culture and religious identity as well.

As the world approaches 2020 more will likely be heard about Turkey’s politics. For now, the battle in Taksim Square continues.

*Photos by Trent Lee, more of his photos available on our Facebook page