Be your own media !
The "minds" behind The Rojava Report website are a group of students from different backgrounds. ANF interviewed them on why they felt more information on Rojava and more in general on the Kurdish issue is needed and how they tried to answer to this need by creating their own site.
How did the idea of a blog on Rojava come about ?
All of us who were involved in setting up the Rojava Report understood that there was a huge lack of information regarding what was happening in the region. When the media in the US spoke about the Kurds in Syria - and this itself was rare - it was always along the lines of ethnic or sectarian violence, or to give another example of the "intractability" of the conflict. It was always in terms of an “Arab-Kurdish” conflict, as a corollary or side-show to the “Alawite/Christian-Sunni” conflict that has been the dominant narrative in the mainstream media. In general we felt that those advancing the revolution in Rojava needed a platform from which their voices could be heard, and on which they could stake out their own vision for the future of their country and the Middle East more generally, without the reductionist narratives there are so common among out the major news outlets here. It was meant to be a more unfiltered, more direct source of news about what was happening in Rojava.
How is the Kurdish issue in general perceived in the States ?
Of course that depends on who you talk to. However even among people who consider themselves informed about events in the Middle East, and are sympathetic to a degree to Kurdish demands for national rights, there is a huge dearth of understanding about the complexities of Kurdish politics in the region and Kurdish aspirations for a new Middle East. In regards to Rojava in particular there is still an assumption that Kurds are - or at least the PYD is (if they can make the distinction) - “close to the regime” or at the very least unwilling to do much about it. This unfortunately was the dominant narrative until the beginning of the revolution last summer - I mean if you read anything in the Washington Post or the New York Times through the Spring of 2012 that is what you find (and forget the television channels because they never had time for the Kurds). Just google “Kurds on the sidelines” and see how many articles come up! Then the narrative began to shift slightly after the revolution and it became something along the lines of “Kurds are dividing the opposition.” I mean can you imagine? It was as if they could not make anyone happy, or at least not in a way that respected the principles of their movement. But that is just the point because that is all lost, and even now the YPG is treated as simply one more sectarian militia, while the entire content of their revolution and their politically ideology is buried under a simplistic discourse of “Kurdish nationalism” and “sectarian strife.”
Why do you felt important to do such a blog?
As we said above we had felt for sometime that there was a lot of information that was not finding its way into American media, even the more alternative media outlets here. After the massacres of Kurdish civilians this July and the renewed fighting that followed attempts by foreign-backed jihadist groups to destroy the revolution, we felt it was even more important and more urgent to offer a different storyline for what was happening in Rojava. However when we wrote up a small piece and tried to get it distributed in a number of publications which we had hoped would be more sympathetic to the story we encountered indifference or disbelief. I mean no one had heard of a place called “Rojava,” much less of a revolution that was supposed to be happening there. So we started to translate articles and interviews that were already available from regional newspapers and news agencies and post them on the net. It was something of a shot in the dark, but our efforts have been slowly gaining momentum. I mean we are still a long way off from seriously challenging the dominant narratives but we hope to make a start, or at least to lay out a foundation that others could come and build on.
How has the blog been received in the USA ?
We have had a number of positive comments from some reporters working in the region, as well as some people active in blogosphere and on Twitter. Most, with a couple of exceptions, have been from Europe. Of course that is disappointing but it is still something. In general Europeans have a greater awareness of the Kurdish movement as it exists in Turkey, Iran and Syria, whereas Americans mostly know the Kurds through the invasion of Iraq and the American Government's cooperation with the government in Erbil. Many Americans have no idea who Abdullah Öcalan is, or the relationship between what is happening in Syria and what is happening in Turkey. If they have heard of the PKK they most likely think of a "terrorist organization" - I mean this has been the government line here for almost two decades - that there are “good” Kurds and “bad” Kurds, or “our” Kurds and “those” Kurds - and there are very few people attempting to challenge this. Of course there are exceptions - Democracy Now! comes to mind - but even then the story is covered so infrequently that it is difficult for them to offer any real challenge to the dominant narrative.
On a more general terms, what is your idea about the autonomy model the Kurds in Rojava are proposing ?
For anyone who has followed the model as it has been discussed and struggled for in Turkey over the past decade, the events in Rojava are really exciting. That is to say while in Turkey although there have been attempts to put the model into practice together with the “free muncipality” movement - state interference and pressure has always made such attempts difficult. What we are seeing in Rojava is the first attempt to implement the model as it has been imagined - without the interference of higher authorities and on a larger scale. What we are seeing with the peoples’ parliaments and the new economic cooperatives are really quite exciting developments and should grab the attention of anyone who is interested in creating alternative models to the current system, not only in Rojava or the Middle East but here in the “West” as well.