Klara Raqqa, a member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coordination team for the liberation campaign of Raqqa, said: “I would like to honour our commanders Sevin, Zozan, Ciya, Sozdar, Adnan Abu Amjad and all our fallen martyrs, who fought like heroes during the campaign. I would like to express that it is also for their sake that we have liberated Raqqa.”
Stating that the liberation of Raqqa came along despite all the political and military obstacles, Raqqa elaborated, “Raqqa is a city that was regarded as the capital of Daesh (ISIS) and therefore, its liberation will have huge effects both militarily and politically. It will change the course of this war and it marks a new beginning.”
Commander Klara Raqqa answered the questions of Yeni Özgür Politika on the liberation of Raqqa.
With what purpose was the Raqqa operation initiated?
First of all, I would like to remember our fallen commanders Sevin, Zozan, Ciya, Sozdar, Adnan Ebu Emcet and all our fallen martyrs and state that we liberated Raqqa in their name and for their sake.
The war taking place in Syria and the Middle East is showing itself most brutally in Rojava. From Ba’ath to Nusra and others, all organisations attempted here to force domination over the Kurds and all other peoples. It has been attempted to occupy the cities in Rojava. As the YPG and YPJ forces, we gave a sacrificial fight to rescue our people from the attacks and the occupation, and we finally came to this point paying prices.
We have witnessed occupation and exploitation in both political and military regard. The cities that Daesh had occupied, Manbij, Al-Bab, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, which are located along the Euphrates, are parts of Rojava. Kurds and Arabs have been living together for years and now, hundreds of young Arabs are joining the YPG and YPJ. Our purpose in Rojava is to fight for the freedom of all ethnicities. And this will only be possible, if both Rojava and all other cities in the North of Syria are liberated. In order to eliminate the threats of occupation and attacks, and in order to liberate the region, bring peace and prosperity, the liberation of Raqqa as much as all other campaigns we have launched, were inevitable. It is for this reason that from Jaza, Shaddadi, Hawl, Heseke and other cities, hundreds of young Arabs have joined the YPG/YPJ forces. The YPG/YPJ is the defense force of not only the Kurds anymore, but of all peoples that live in the region. Then, we were joined by peoples from all nationalities around the world, so today, we are defense force composed of peoples from everywhere around the globe.
With our operations for Jazaa, Hawl, Shaddadi and Manbij, we were able to eliminate Daesh step by step. Any campaign we launched was based on the will of the local peoples and on their participation, thus the trust in us constantly increased. Later on, these steps led to organize the common force of Syrian Democratic Forces, with which we were able to bring all fighting groups together that share these values.
To end with, Raqqa is a historic city along the Euphrates, neighbouring many other cities we liberated before. Raqqa also is a strategic city, important for the entire region, and an economically important transition point. Economically it is quite developed. Like in Halabja, Heseke and other cities in the region, Kurds and other peoples live together here. Our Raqqa operation was important, in order to eliminate the threats against our people, protect our values and liberate this land. It was a step towards realizing the Northern Syrian Federation and the brotherhood of all peoples that live in the region.
How important was Raqqa to Daesh? What kind of system were they planning to build here?
Daesh regarded itself the successor of Harun al-Rashid, who had lived in Raqqa and attempted to spread Islamic thoughts. This was part of their rhetoric, when they occupied other cities, and they made Raqqa their center. Their attacks on Rojava and Shengal were also coordinated from Raqqa. Daesh tried to implement a special warfare. Before the Kobanê victory, Daesh introduced itself as an undefeatable force. Beyond the occupation, they constantly increased their brutality in order to keep the people’s fears high. And Raqqa was known as its fortress, its capital. It was the dream of the peoples living in Raqqa that the YPG, the YPJ, and SDF would liberate it. Daesh’s suppressive practices in Raqqa caused huge damage. Some people were executed, others had to live in constant fear. The Daesh system forced people to submit or die. Every day under Daesh control, people have been killed or tortured, women were raped, children were instrumentalized. To the locals of Raqqa, this has caused huge psychological and sociological damage.
In Raqqa, Daesh could do military preparation for years. It was able to use all kinds of techniques to develop its defence, develop an underground system. When our operation in Raqqa began, Daesh focused on using mines against us. It also used many electric automatic weapons. Moreover, they made use of reconnaissance airplane and bomb laden vehicles. It used all kinds of modern techniques against our forces. We were supported by airstrikes, but without the sacrificial fight and will of our comrades, this success would not be possible. There are many complex aspects to consider in urban warfare. Despite all these challenges, we were able to liberate Raqqa step by step. Of course, we were aware when we began the operation that a huge war was expecting us and we were prepared. The operation lasted for 4 months, and we gave a heroic fight and lost dozens of comrades in order to liberate Raqqa.
You mentioned complex techniques that they used. How did you manage to fight them?
Urban warfare has many complex aspects and challenges that need to be considered. In order not to cause damage to the civilians while fighting in the city, one has to consider many details and be precise. A war never forgives mistakes. We used our experiences from former battles. We considered the rules and secrecy of warfare. To correctly ambush and encircle the enemy, to attack and infiltrate at the right moment… Those were the techniques we used. From the moment when the operation began, we did not rest a second, and constantly fought. We initiated special operations to evacuate civilians from the places where the fighting took place. We used special teams that were trained to rescue civilians, particularly women and children. Several times, our comrades sacrificed themselves and fell while attempting to save the lives of civilians. For instance, four of our comrades died during a rescue mission when they got attacked by a bomb laden vehicle. No doubt, there are values that this spirit of fighting produces. Despite all the challenges, we fought patient and with hope. Every single person, who took part in this operation, demonstrated endless will and courage. Otherwise, we wouldn’t hve won. However, our mission was not limited to only physically win over the enemy, but to truly liberate this land in the way it deserves.
During the fight, with which attitude did the local civilians meet you?
Daesh gangs had propagated against us for years through pressure against the people. Our comrades who shielded their bodies and sacrificed their lives to protect the people neutralized this wrong picture. Seeing the sacrifice and bravery of our comrades, the civilians realized that it was only lies that Daesh had told them about us. By liberating village after village, neighbourhood after neighbourhood, we could guarantee civilians to get back to their homes quickly. We began this operation on the demand of the people of Raqqa.
Even before we liberated Raqqa, the Raqqan People’s Council was established, that represented all segments and tribes of the city and held meetings. Also, images captured by the press during the campaign show how people welcomed SDF, YPG and YPJ forces on their arrival. In the end, we received huge support from the people of Raqqa. From the liberated areas, hundreds of young Arabs joined the SDF and tens fell as our martyrs. The people of Raqqa had awaited this liberation for years. When the moment of liberation came, even more civilians appreciated this and supported us. During this operation, the support of the people of Raqqa was very important.
What is awaiting Raqqa now?
This question is asked to us over and over again since the operation began. People are curious about what kind of system Raqqa will implement now. We believe in a different philosophy than the ruling regime or the Daesh occupation. The outcomes can be seen in the other cities we liberated before. Our goal is a Northern Syrian Federation. When Manbij was liberated before Raqqa, Manbij Peoples’ Council and Manbij Military Council were established. Our goal is not only to liberate the city, but also to educate the people, to build up a new society. Of course, it is a long procedure to get people over the Ba’ath regime and Daesh. But with the support of the people, we have the power and faith to do that. In future, the Raqqa Peoples’ Assembly will be in charge of administration. The Raqqa Asayish Forces will undertake the military protection of the city. The people will base on governing themselves. That is our priority.
What are the political outcomes of the liberation of Raqqa?
While launching the campaign, we faced political and military attacks of the exploitative neighbouring states. Turkey played a leading role in these attacks in order to support Daesh and prevent our operation from succeeding. The more we advanced in Raqqa, the more aggressively did Turkey attack the Efrîn Canton. We liberated Raqqa in spite of all political and military challenges and attacks. Raqqa was regarded as the capital of Daesh, and its liberation will have huge political and military impacts. Changing the course of this war, it will mark a new beginning. YPG/YPJ gave the fight in Rojava basing on the brotherhood of all the peoples. While claiming national rights, they also demanded this for all other peoples in the region. They liberated the occupied cities and handed them over to the local people. This attitude became the main way and principle of our fighting.
It also had impacts on international level. As forces fighting a heroic battle against Daesh savagery, we received support from all peoples around the globe. The construction efforts we gave and the system we built during the battle also gave hope to the other peoples. These outcomes also frustrated many policies pursued against us.
Turkey supported Daesh right from the beginning. What will the liberation of Raqqa mean for Turkey?
When our operation began, Turkey increasingly attacked Gire Sîpî, Efrîn and other places in the region. Doing so, it actually supported Daesh. In fact, Erdogan fed Daesh and created their infrastructure by providing them with weapons and logistics as well as medical help and treatment for wounded Daesh members. While feeding Daesh, Turkey also desired to be neighbour to a Daesh state. Liberation of Raqqa will be a defeat for the Turkish state more than Daesh itself. As the Turkish state was not able to realize its plans concerning Raqqa, it now wants to accomplish a result through attacks on Idlib and Efrîn, gathering its gangs there in an effort to overcome this defeat.
The YPJ did not only join the fight to liberate Raqqa; it also took part in the coordination team. Raqqa has a symbolic meaning, because it is the city where kidnapped Êzidî women were brought to by Daesh. Could you elaborate on the special meaning that liberating Raqqa has for the YPJ?
Not only in Raqqa, but also in Manbij, Kobane and during all other operations the YPJ played a leading role. Of course, liberating Raqqa has a special meaning for the YPJ, because it is a city, where Êzidî women were gathered and sold at the market. The YPJ is not only a defense force, but a way of living, thinking and resisting. It has won the hearts of many and is respected by the people. The fact that the YPJ became a military organisation, can be regarded as taking revenge for all the women, who had to suffer from the male-dominant system that found its most extreme current version in the practices of Daesh. We are not fighting for Kurdish women only, but for all women in the world. The YPJ has female fighters from many different ethnicities. Against the patriarchal system, we fight for the rights of the people, of the women in particular, in order to establish a fully democratic system and aim to bring together women from all parts of the world. In a region like the Middle East, joining the war, fighting for the rights of the peoples, and leading this fight, coordinating it as women, was regarded as a miracle. The resistance of Kurdish women, and the fight of the YPJ, has made this miracle real.
Not every war does automatically lead to build up a common life and brotherhood of different peoples. We are rebuilding peace and the brotherhood of peoples, who had lived together here for years. This is a consequence of the fact that we as women take part in this fight. And that is what differs us from other groups. Our fight is not only against Daesh. One should also see the huge resisting spirit that fighting women in this war have. Our plan is to build up an ethical-political society. This resistance combines a spirit of comradeship, heroism, defending the people and these values in themselves help to produce a new society. Very good comrades such as Sevin, Sozdar or Zozan have fallen as martyrs in this operation. For their sake, and in their name, we will rebuild this society and regard this as our patriotic, historic duty.
You are from Raqqa yourself. Can you tell us more about yourself? Who is Clara Raqqa? What did this operation mean to you? Would you share the feelings with us that you during the operation?
My family is originally from Kobane and Kurdish, but I grew up in Raqqa since my early childhood. When the Qamishlo resistance began in 2004, I was a student and began to learn about the Kurdish freedom movement. I was taken into custody due to the suppression of the Baath regime. My anger about the regime’s suppression grew from day to day. In 2011, shortly after the YPG was founded, I joined them and later, I joined the YPJ ranks.
I went to school in Raqqa, I made my first friends there, I learnt to live there. In these streets of Raqqa, I have hundreds of memories. Therefore, I am living two things at the same time, the past and the present. During our fight in Raqqa, I was constantly switching between the now and then. As a Kurdish woman, as a fighter of the YPJ and coordinator of the Raqqa operation, I am taking part in the liberation of the city of my childhood. My feelings are difficult to describe and explain.
We have also gone through suppression by the Baath regime. Our language, our Newroz, our joy was all prohibited, Kurds were not acknowledged. As a people, our joy was constantly prohibited and oppressed. Now, I am living the joy that was taken from us.
Of course, as a child, I never dreamt of this, but right now, the liberation of Raqqa was my biggest hope. Together with the sadness over what the peoples of Raqqa have been through, I am sharing the joy over liberation.
The fighters in Raqqa have inherited the freedom torch of Kawa the Blacksmith in order for the emancipation of all peoples. We fought a huge resistance against the Dehaks of the present. And our fight does not end here and now. We need to carry it to every part of life. Side by side, Kurdish and Arab youths have taken part in the liberation campaign in the Great Battle of Raqqa. This has a special meaning for itself. We dedicate the liberation of Raqqa to all our fallen martyrs, all martyrs’ families and our peoples.