In the summer of 2012 the Kurdish people of northern Syria set out to create a multiethnic society in the Middle East. Persecuted for much of the 20th century, they dared to try to overcome social fragmentation by affirming social solidarity among all the region’s ethnic and religious peoples. As Syria plunged into civil war, the Kurds and their Arab and Assyrian allies established a self-governing polity that was not only multiethnic but democratic. And women were not only permitted but encouraged to participate in all social roles alongside men, including political and military roles.
To implement these goals, Rojava wanted to live in peace with its neighbors. Instead, it soon faced invasion by ISIS, a force that was in every way its opposite. ISIS attacked its neighbors in Iraq and Syria, imposing theocratic, tyrannical, femicidal rule on them. Those who might have resisted fled in terror. But when ISIS attacked the mostly Kurdish city of Kobane and overran much of it, the YPG and YPJ, or people’s militias, declined to flee. Instead they resisted, and several countries, seeing their valiant resistance, formed an international coalition to assist them militarily. While the YPG and YPJ fought on the ground, the coalition coordinated airstrikes with them. They liberated village after village and in March 2019 captured ISIS’s last territory in Syria.
Around that time, two UK-based filmmakers invited the author to spend a month in Rojava making a film. She accepted, and arrived to explore the society and interview people. During that month, she explored how the revolution had progressed and especially the effects of the war on the society. She found that the war had reinforced social solidarity and welded together the multiethnic, gender-liberated society. As one man in Kobane told her, “Our blood got mixed.”
What People Are Saying
“You haven’t been to Rojava yet? Let Janet Biehl’s graphic novel help you take your first step to the land of revolutionary hope, to North-East Syria, by providing a fascinating glimpse and thrilling insight into the most significant revolution of the 21st century. History is usually written by powerful elites and rulers, but Janet Biehl invites us to a new viewpoint. Their Blood Got Mixed is a creative contribution to a historiography from the perspective of those who actually made it.” Havin Guneser, she is one of the spokespersons of the International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan—Peace in Kurdistan” and author of The Art of Freedom
“In this graphic novel, Janet Biehl brings to life the revolutionary experience in the North-East of Syria, also known as Rojava. Biehl deftly combines a deep understanding of the democratic-confederal principles underpinning the revolution with an artistic eye capable of capturing the humanity of ordinary people, in an extraordinary situation, making history. This book is a most impressive achievement. It communicates a complex and dramatic story about the history and workings of the radical-democratic experiment in Rojava in a clear and compelling fashion. Its combination of historical narrative with political theory and graphic art will make it appealing to a very broad audience, not only of academics and political activists, but to the public more generally.” Dr. Thomas Jeffrey Miley, lecturer in political sociology at Cambridge University and co-editor of Your Freedom and Mine: Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish Question in Erdogan’s Turkey
“A spirited portrayal of the everyday life of a revolution at its most basic levels of societal organization and political mobilization. Janet Biehl beautifully shows the interactions, face-to-face negotiations, and debates between the people who come from different ethnic backgrounds in citizens’ councils in neighborhoods and villages. Despite the trauma of war, Biehl shows that these people insist on building a new life and an alternative society to make a break from histories of injustice that have torn apart the people from each other.” Sardar Saadi is director of The Rojava Institute of Social Sciences (RISS) at the University of Rojava
“Janet Biehl is one of our most important interlocutors for understanding the radical experiment in democracy that since 2012 has taken place in northeastern Syria. Their Blood Got Mixed breaks down an incredibly complex conflict-turned-social-revolution into a simple—but not simplistic—narrative, introducing readers to the men and women (especially women) who have sacrificed everything, including their lives, to simultaneously defeat ISIS and create a new society. Part history lesson, part reportorial journey, part sociology, this graphic novel explores what makes the revolution in Rojava tick.” Wes Enzinna, contributing editor at Harper’s
“How to capture history as it is in the making? Janet Biehl’s art is a powerful testimony of the dedication, the friendships, dreams, and sacrifices that animate one of the most radical moments in world freedom history. This book is a timely aesthetic company our imagination needs in times of planetary dangers. It is a concrete form of solidarity.” Dilar Dirik, the Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, and author of The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice
“I vividly recall how confused I was when I visited Northeast Syria for the first time to write about the democratic experiment. What both inspired and frustrated me, was that I hardly found anybody who had the time to sit down with me and explain. ‘What was it like?,’ my editor asked me when I returned. ‘They are all running around making a revolution,’ I said in awe and despair. A revolution it is. It’s hard to explain to outsiders because it is different than anything we know. That is why Their Blood Got Mixed touches me: it explains the revolution so clearly, so profoundly, with so much humour also, that it strengthens my hope. The more people know and understand what’s happening in Northeast-Syria, the better protected the revolution is. Their Blood Got Mixed makes a real contribution." Fréderike Geerdink, independent journalist and author of The Boys are Dead and This Fire Never Dies: One Year with the PKK
About the Author
Janet Biehl, an independent scholar and artist, collaborated with the social theorist Murray Bookchin for his last nineteen years (1987–2006). After his death, she wrote his biography. Bookchin’s writings influenced an ideological transformation of the Kurdish freedom movement away from Marxism and statism and toward grassroots democracy and ecology. To observe the implementation of his ideas, she visited northeastern Syria several times and chronicled her observations in numerous articles. She has also translated several German-language books about the Kurdish movement into English. Their Blood Got Mixed is her first graphic novel.