Maria Edgarda Marcucci is an Italian writer, and she is known as ‘Eddi’ to many friends and people who have been following her political activism, myself included; for those with whom she visited Northern Syria, she is known as ‘Shilan’. The fundamental questions in her first, newly published book are: What if telling the story of something which is still happening falsifies it somehow? What if the very idea you choose to fight for is soiled, diminished, or harmed by telling it wrong – or to the wrong people? Those questions are what Eddi – a cartoon version of Eddi, which appears drawn by artist Sara Pavan throughout – asks herself as an introduction to her book, Rabbia Proteggimi (Anger Protect Me): an exploration of her life since her return from The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, Rojava, which gained its de facto autonomy in 2012.
The story Eddi tells is two-fold: that of the Rojava confederation, and of Eddi’s direct experience of it, during her visit in 2017-18 and after her return to Italy. The idea Eddi chose to fight for is manifold, but it is also Rojava: freedom, democracy, confederation, revolution, peace. And that idea, of Rojava, but also as a set of ideals, has been under attack ever since its foundation, in 2012; then again in 2014, with the siege of Kobane; and again in 2017, 2018, 2019, and even now ten years after its autonomy. Kobane was the turning point, as Eddi clarifies: the YPJ and YPG (Women’s Protection Units and People’s Protection Units) became organised groups in the region with international echoes, born out of those groups fighting against the Islamic terrorist Daesh (ISIS) organisation, and for the liberation of the large ethnic Kurdish population in the region. Since then, many other supporters have joined or explored the ideas of Rojava and of the YPG/YPJ, including Eddi and three of her close friends from Italy. By 2017, when she was able to spend some time in the region, plans were already advanced for the creation of an internationalist commune and of the YPJ international academy. This is what she writes about this time (my translation):
There were very few of us, and maybe twenty or so of them [the new arrivals]: getting enough chai ready for everyone was proving to be quite the task. We had gone through some brief introductions and it was no surprise that I was a little more interested in those who shared my background: there were a few Italians in the group. I spoke a little more with one of them, he was curious and irreverent, without ever slipping into arrogance. His name was Tekosher, fighter, ‘but back in Florence I’m Lorenzo.’ He also told me we had a mutual friend, Dilsoz, another Italian internationalist who was currently on the front line at Deir el-Zor, the region where ISIS was retreating. I immediately liked him: sly smile, kind eyes, sarcastic without ever being cynical and very willing to talk. Our conversation was in bits and pieces, partly in Italian, partly in English with everyone else (we still only knew a few words of Kurdish), and constantly interrupted by our various tasks and requests, so that the small crowd felt comfortable and welcomed.
‘I came here with a civilian delegation, then I chose to stay with the YPJ,’ was my quick reply to his question about how I’d made it here. He made no secret of his reasons, on the other hand: ‘I wanted to do something useful. I was a cook in Italy, a good restaurant mind you, I was doing pretty well for myself. But the idea of spending my life making food for people who pay 20 euro for one plate of pasta, while everything around us crumbles… well, it felt awful.’ I knew exactly what he was talking about. ‘I mean, there’s only one life, doesn’t matter how long you have but what you do with your time, right? Why else are we here, if not? As they say: add life to your days, not days to your life!’
I was struck by the ease with which he spoke of these huge topics, by the warmth of his eyes and his body language, welcoming, open. When it was time for goodbyes, we exchanged numbers so we could keep in touch. I saw he had that same sentence on his Whatsapp profile; a personal motto then, or at least something more than just a saying. I smiled. Yes, I liked that Tekosher guy. ‘Well, it’s been a pleasure! See you soon.’
Lorenzo – ‘Orso’ as those of us in the Florence area also knew him, ‘Tekosher’ to the cause – was killed by Daesh in March 2019, a year after Eddi’s return. After a Kafkaesque court trial, which lasted a year, Eddi was sentenced to ‘special surveillance’ by the Italian State: she was considered a ‘threat to society’, due to her ‘angry temperament’ and ‘soldier-like mentality’; she had participated in student demos, strikes, political events (in support of feminism, LGBTQIA+, disability rights) prior to visiting Rojava, and that was enough of a precedent for the judges to sentence her to two years of curfew, isolation, obligation to report all her movements, forbidden from attending demos, events and removal of her passport. The trials form a sizeable section of the book, which was mostly written during her sentence. Here is sample from one of them, in Eddi’s voice (my translation again):
I don’t want to bring you to the level of frustration I had as I was going through this charade, but I do want to share some of the ridiculousness, to help you empathise.
Let me try explaining myself better: D’Amico, the lawyer, answers questions with enough ambiguity in the phrasing, and that’s when the games begin. In brief, he presumes there was physical contact between the ‘social block’ of the demo and the riot police, and says so because ‘that’s usually the case’. [Our lawyer] Novaro, however, has seen several videos from multiple angles, and knows that the dynamic is entirely different: the videos clearly show that the demonstrators were charged out of the blue, and they were at least several feet away from the police. Novaro asks for tangible proof, D’Amico has none, so Novaro asks for a clip to be shown. Between the ‘I have none’ and ‘let’s watch a clip’, prosecutor and court fall over each other with different voices, not dissimilar to the trial last March: prosecutor with vehemence, court with economy. They both suggest to Novaro that instead of offering the clip he should accept D’Amico’s first answer (the wrong one, that is). But while Gianetti [one of the judges -AV] just sounds like he wants to be done with this, Pedrotta [the prosecutor -AV] speaks with the urgency of someone who just noticed an accidental assist and has no intention of letting it go to waste. It’s perfect, it coincides with what she was saying: between fact 1 (the demo on the move, opened by the banner that I’m also holding) and fact 2 (the police charging), both demonstrable, is fact X, stated but never proven, that the charge was a response: the riot police had been threatened. Eventually, we finally get to see Novaro’s submitted clip, and the dynamics of the event are incontestable.
Eddi’s sentence ended in March 2022. Since then, Rabbia Proteggimi has come out, and she can promote it around the country. She can attend events again. She can tell audiences of her experience as an activist on multiple fronts, and she can help demystify and unravel the spin of news events from Syria, Turkey, even Ukraine. She can talk about the internationalist efforts against terrorism and despotic rule that she is involved in. Eddi can now tell her own story, the right story in her own words. But will we listen?
By Alex Valente
RABBIA PROTEGGIMI (Anger Protect Me)
by Maria Edgarda Marcucci
illustrations by Sara Pavan
Published in Italian by Rizzoli Lizard (2022)
Translations from Italian by Alex Valente
Maria Edgarda (Eddi) Marcucci (she/her) is a writer and translator. She has been an activist with a number of groups and movements since 2011, and joined the YPJ in Rojava during 2017-2018. On 17th March 2020, she was sentenced by the Italian courts to two years of special surveillance as she was considered ‘a threat to society’.
Alex Valente (he/him) is a white European currently living on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and səlilwətaɬ land. He is a literary translator from Italian into English, though he also dabbles with French and RPGs, and is co-editor of The Norwich Radical. His work has been published in NYT Magazine, The Massachusetts Review, The Short Story Project, and PEN Transmissions.
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