Life inside the internationalist Guerilla Battalion in Rojava

The IFB is an armed unit in Rojava. We had the opportunity to interview an internationalist from the IFB shortly after the start of the turkish invasion in Serêkaniyê October 2019.

The International Liberation Battalion, often abbreviated as IFB or EÖT (Turkish acronym for enternasyonalist Özgürlük Taburu), is an armed unit operating in Rojava. The IFB was founded in June 2015 by several communist Turkish / Kurdish parties, in particular the parties and organizations MLKP, BÖG and Tikko played a central role in the construction of the battalion. The MLKP activists are strong and numerous in the IFB. They work intensively and participate in basic work in order to participate in the long-term process in Rojava. The IFB is organizing itself and is no longer under the command of the YPG People’s Defense Units. The IFB has its own military women’s structure, which is named after our comrade Ivana Hoffman, who died in March 2015. The battalion consists of numerous leftist internationalists.

We had the opportunity to interview an internationalist from the IFB shortly after the start of the turkish invasion in Serêkaniyê October 2019. Our interview partner is originally from France. He spoke a lot about his daily life in the guerrillas, about the time during the invasion and the resistance struggle in Serêkaniyê. Originally the Interview was spoken by voice, we trans-scripted it into an article.

Q: Can you give us a small introduction of yourself? What’s your history?

A: So about myself: I’m a French militant, a revolutionary militant obviously. I’m an antifascist, anti-capitalist. I am a kind of what we call in France autonomous militant. Autonomous not in a way of like a single militant but militant from the Autonomous movement. The Autonomous is the main radical movement in France. Autonomous movement doesn’t mean that we are not organized, we have autonomous organizations, and I am in some of them. I am a member of different groups in France and in Italy. We are doings things, not just talking. Now I am 24. I started with militantism when I was 14. Because of my life, because of how I was living in the countryside, it was pretty hard to make actual political things. It was more like getting a lot of political knowledge and trying to meet with people and all that stuff. When I was 16 to 18 I began to make some action and some organizational networking. When I was 17 to 18 I could become a member of some organization in the city. I moved to the city for my university and studies. I was able to make radical militantism for a few years. Just after turning 21 I left for Rojava. It was at the end of 2016 and I remained there a year and a half. First I spend 5 weeks within in the YPG Academy which is the place where the YPG is ideological and militarist speaking forming the new international volunteers. After that I went to the IFB. If you want to join the IFB you have to be affiliated with a Turkish party. At that time I chose to join the party DKP BÖG. DKP being the party and BÖG being the armed wing basically. I was part of the Qalta-line, In a city 25 kilometers in the north of Raqqa. Then I went to Raqqa until the end. Then I went to Afrin when the invasion started in the beginning of 2018. I was the first internationalist fighter to arrive there and to go to the frontline war. I stayed in Afrin until March 2018. After that I went back to our headquarter base. I remained there until May, then I went back to Europe for 9 months. I made political work and was holding some conferences in different countries about Rojava, thanks to my network and friend’s network. I came back to Rojava in March 2019. I spend a week in the mountains. (…) I was mobilized every time we were in an alarm situation because of invasion. I was sent to serekaniye a few times. When the invasion started I was already there. I was fighting the 12 days battle of serekaniye. Then I left the city with the last convoy. We were ordered to all leave the city. Then I continued to fight during the Til Temir front line. On all these villages between Serekaniye and Til Temir I continued to fight against the Turkish army and these jihadi groups working with the Turkish army, and I am still fighting. Since January, we are in a more quiet situation. Still, some fights sometimes but not so much. Since January its just standby back and training the new international volunteers. I’m like a trainer. As soon as the front line will be more active again I really like to go back and fight. One time in October 2019 I have been injured the first time and I have been injured a second time in November 2019. After the second time for a week I was staying back waiting for my Injuries to recover. After that I went back on the front line. That’s it more or less for my introduction. A little bit long I’m sorry.

Q: There are many forces operating in Rojava, why did you choose the IFB?

A: Basically because IFB is the political military structure existing in Rojava and because politically I am very close to them. There is this structure called YPG International but I have two problems with the YPG International. The first one is that a lot of different kinds of volunteers are going there. People who are not political, or they are political but from the right side and even people from the far-right side but not anymore. So this was my problem. Second problem is that tactical speaking I don’t like to spend time with them so much. They are not on the front line so much. They are taking part in fights and I really respect them, but they are less active that the IFB for example and also in terms of autonomy, they don’t have so much autonomy. They are very depending on the Kurdish movement. They don’t have so much autonomy of initiative. In the IFB we are able to have some autonomy of action. We can choose if we want to be directly involved in the structure on the front line. The IFB cooperates with Kurdish fighters from YPG or YPJ which we are actually doing. That is more interesting I believe. On the front line IFB is doing work on our back while in YPG international there is no front line they are just like waiting in a base and doing work there. We are able to do a lot of things like training, special training, visiting civil friends and working on other projects. Normally people in the IFB are all highly political. It’s a mix of Marxist-Leninist Turkis parties who are friends with YPG YPJ and a lot of international volunteers who are Anarchist, Trotskyist, Autonomous, this kind of things. Very cool. So it makes more sense for me to be with IFB.

Q: What role did the IFB play during the Rojava invasion of the Turkish army and jihadist proxy militias in October 2019?

A: The IFB was on standby in Serekaniye a few days before the Invasion, so we were ready. The IFB adopted a new fighting mode. Instead of being all together as big units as it was during the Raqqa time for example against Daesh, because of airstrikes and drones and all these stuff it makes no sense to be a big group and moving together. So we had to be small groups with a lot of autonomy and a lot of movement ability basically. We should be very fast, very fluent. We have split in a lot of small groups with special abilities. Some people specialized in heavy weapons, some people specialized in missiles, launchers, thiskind of things. Some people specialized in sabotage, some people specialized in sniping. We were teamsof 2 or 3, maximum 4 people and mobilized in different areas in Serekaniye and around Serekaniye. The whole IFB has operated during the Serekaniye time in October 2019. After we left Serekaniye a part of IFB remained together and some parts of IFB and some friends from the MLKP decided to make mixed teams with YPG YPJ. So we went back to fight in mixed teams with YPG YPJ to fight in all these villages between Serekaniye and Til Temir. Why this choice? Because we knew Serekaniye, we knew the city but all the villages between Serekaniye and Til Temir we didn’t know them so much. So we wanted to be in mixed teams with local people. That is making more sense. This is what we did and I think we did a good job to be honest. It was the first time I have seen our teams being so efficient. We have always been efficient but the choices we have made, I really think they made us more efficient than usual. Less static than before because before we were only IFB teams, we were always waiting for orders from Kurdish commanders. The fact of mixed teams let our possibilities to take initiative some times with people who know the battlefield because they are from the area. We were more active than usual. Were was almost an operation every day since the invasion from October until December, so this is pretty cool.

Q: Are the fights still going on?

A: About the fightings, they have never been gone but its really really quiet compared to before. Low, sporadically fightings around Til Temir. Some times operations at night, some fast operations, some special operations like sniping during night or day for now. Since the end of December 2019 it’s a bit more quiet, and we are waiting how the situation is going to evolve before we are going back to intense fights.

Q: Was the fighting experience against the Turkish forces different from the fighting against Daesh?

A: Obviously the fightings with the Turkish forces were full different from the ones with Daesh. Luckily I was a little bit used to this kind of war thanks to Afrin, or because of Afrin. The main difference to the fights against Daesh was that the situation with the airplanes was reversed. Against the common enemies it was US airplanes and french airplanes airstriking enemy positions but now it is turkish airplanes and drones striking us. The sky as a dimension is fully hostile now whereas before against Daesh it was mainly friendly. This is a big difference. Also, Daesh didn’t have so much big artillery. They were not very good and accurate when they are shooting with mortars. The Turks are very accurate with mortars and have also big artillery which they use a lot, fucking a lot. That’s a big problem obviously. Yes it is obviously harder against Turkish forces, that’s why we are losing until now. Our army is not a professional one. And we are a poor army, so we don’t have the same means as the Turkish army which is the second largest army of NATO. So yes, because of their technology equipment and fire superiority its harder than against Daesh. They are mainly their proxies, their jihadist or nationalist proxies against us who are very similar to Daesh, some are actually former Daesh members. But also sometimes they are using Turkish officers to coordinate the groups, or some commanders from Turkish special forces. And also, Daesh had vehicles but compared to Turkey not so much, because Turkey had a fucking lot of vehicles, a lot of tanks, more than Daesh, a lot of tanks. All their troops are moving in armored vehicles. This makes it harder for us to strike against.

Q: What is your everyday life like when you are not fighting?

A: About the day-to-day daily life: there a lot of things to say. I can tell you what our daily life is right now as we are back and as we are not in an alarm situation where we mobilize on the front line. Basically we wake up at 05:30 in the morning. We prepare ourselves, short cleaning and after that we start sport at 05:45 am. We do one hour of intensive sport, very intensive sport until 06:45 am. Every day we do different kind of sports. Some times we do general sport where we train all of our body.  Some times we do specialized sport where we do arms and shoulders, back and ass, legs, this kind of things. Some times just stretching when we have rest days. Some days we do a lot of cardio, fraction learning. Then at 07:00 am we have breakfast. We end breakfast between 07:30 and 08:00 am. After breakfast, we have half an hour/ an hour of common tasks like to order and clean our base. So from 07:30 to 08:30 or from 08:00 to 09:00 more or less we are doing this work. After that to 11:30/ 12:00 we have education. Depending on the days we have political and ideological education or these days we have a lot of military education, a lot of theory, specifically in the morning. It can also be things like technical education, informatics education, it can be anything basically. These days it is especially military education and some days its ideological. Then around 12:30 we have lunch. Depending on the days from 12:00 to 12:30 pm or from 12:30 to 01:00 pm. Then we can rest a little bit until 02:00 pm. And then from 02:00 to 05:30 pm or from 02:30 to 06:00 pm we again have education, usually military education. Some days it can be language or ideology.  If we do theory in the morning we to practice in the afternoon. Some times we have full theory days, some times we have full practice days. It depends. But usually we have theory in the morning and practice in the afternoon. Around 06:00 pm we have a small daily meeting just between the training groups, to analyze our training day, to analyze our mistakes, to criticize, to suggest new things, to propose things to do. Around 06:30 pm we have dinner. From 06:00 to 06:30 pm or from 06:30 to 07:00 pm basically. Then between 07:00 and 07:30 pm we have what we call the DPT, its like a tekmil, like a meeting tekmil (tekmil turk. for eng. The whole) with everyone, every member of our base, international comrades, different training groups, Kurdish and Turkish comrades, everyone. Usually we finish between 07:30 and 08:00 pm. It’s in 3 parts. First part is things about the day, what we did today, we share what information we got during the day. Something like “ok we went outside, we met this comrade, we went to this meeting outside, we went to buy things, we trained this and that today.” this kind of things. Also, this is where we share critizism, suggestions, proposals, how to change your life, how to improve things. Then the second part of this meeting is the news. We share specific news all about Rojava, all about international things. (…) And then the third part is preperation of the next days. Specially for the day after but also later days. (…). After from 08:00 to 09:00 pm or from 08:30 to 09:30 pm we have language education, in Kurdish for now. This is every two days we have language education. All the other days from 08:00 to 10:00 pm we do common things like we watch a movie together, pretty cool usually. Or we have discussion but more chill, more relaxed discussions. Or we play games together, collective games. At 09:30 or 10:30 pm we go to sleep. And then we wish a good night of course until the good morning when everyone wakes up. We have to guard duty, it depends on the night, 1 hour, 12 hours, it depends. We do guard duty outside for security. So we have very busy days and very short nights, but its cool though. It’s interesting. (…) At least we are doing useful things. This is our basic day. Of course some days are special. Once a week we have half a free day. And once every 10 days we have full free days usually. We use this free days to go out to the cities around Til Temir or Serêkaniyê, Serêkaniyê not anymore. We are seeing friends, we do some work with them, different things, buying stuff, seeing tailors to fix our cloths, or just visiting friends, military friends or civil friends. We visit families from soldier friends, it’s cool. We have some friends in Qamişlo and I try to visit them. We also go and take some collective time together. When it’s summer we went many times to swim in different places. We go to some nice places to spend time together. We walk, make rallies in some hills, make picnics, sports… We make football parties with comrades from other structures, it’s cool. We visit a lot of people every week. We are visiting people every time we have free time basically. When we don’t have education time, so when we have more free days, we are way more out. In a few months we will be more free, in this case we will visit friends from Tekoşîna Anarşîst who are good friends of us. They are an anarchist group of westerners. They were in IFB before. Or we go to visit. Friends from YPG International. It’s cool, I can’t complain. In our structure we have a lot of freedom and autonomy to visit people.  

Q: Has your life changed since the days of the October 2019 invasion?

A: Yes, obviously our life has changed a lot since the Turkish invasion. As we have seen we have a lot of security issues, some emergency meetings. Especially people who are affiliated to the IFB, so to Turkish left parties, are targeted by secret services from Turkey. And especially internationalists. International volunteers who have been in the IFB from the Turkish left is full high danger. This is a problem for us. Usually we use our cars and our cars are non-military cars. There are no military symbols on it, no military marks. We avoid using them because it’s dangerous, it’s exposing us too much. We avoid going to some places now where it’s dangerous for us now. When we go outside we have to be very careful about every single word we say to civilians or even sympathizers because any information can be used by our enemy. Basically we are way more careful and many times we have to evacuate our positions when there is the risk of enemy airstrikes or drones. Turkey is still using drones. There are territorial limits of the occupation but still Turkish drones are flying in the south of Til Temir and Serêkaniyê. It’s more stressful, more guard duty, it’s a more unstable situation for us, we are moving a lot, always careful, ready to leave, we are not as able as before to visit friends, not able to travel as easily as before. Also, before we were going sometimes around Kobanê but now its very hard because of the territory the enemy is occupying. Now we have to take a big tour in the south and it’s taking a long time, so we can’t go so often. The life really is less nice since the invasion. Serêkaniyê was really a city we loved a lot and now we can’t go there anymore. So this has really effected our daily life. Some things I can’t share with you, I am sorry. The resources we receive are less good since the invasion because we have to be careful about our resources. We are always thinking that we have to evacuate in a few minutes. We can’t have a long term perspective. This is a pain, to don’t know what will happen. We are living day to day and can’t make big plans. If we make plans they are constantly collapsing, this is a problem. The uncertainty is hard to be honest.   

Q: Is there anything else you want to say?

A lot of things to talk about. I think it’s important that people realize that it’s good to make protest, to make rallyes, to support the struggle here. I am not saying that the struggle of the kurdish people and revolutionaries is the only one and the only interesting one, there are a lot of different struggle around the world that deserve to be supportet, but if people want to support us then rallyes are not enough, I’m sorry. Right now we have to put pressure on the fascist turkish state and to impact their economy, to impact their remains. To that we have no choice, we have to be ready to make things that make real damage to their economy, making damage to their production system, making damage to their diplomatic representation. It’s important that people accept the idea that as militants we have to be offensiv in our relationship with our enemy. If you are a militant you have to offensiv, you have to be aggresive. Aggresive in a way of you have an enemy you destroy it. We are not discussing or debating different ideas, we are not having a conversation about life, about the world, no. We are talking about people who are openly fascist and the world they are trying to build is a nightmare. If we don’t oppose that with every means we are going to lose. It is imporant to realize this. We are at war, not only in the hills and deserts in Rojava but in every street, in every state, in every continent we are at war against an idea and one of the main actors of this fascist idea right now is the Turkish state, we have to attack it by every means we have to attack it, it’s important. There will not be any freedome if there is no full destruction of the turkish state. This is a reality. The Turkish state, since it’s foundation, is a fascist state. All states are opressive and authoritarian, but the Turkish state is very special. The Turkish state is the best image of the direction towards which modern liberal states are going to. The Turkish state is just a step further in the officialization of open fascism. The french state, the US state, a lot of so called liberal states are going towards this directions and we have to stop it. I think we have to destroy the Turkish state as a priority.