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Kurdish forces in Northern Syria are facing the threat of ethnic cleansing at the hands of the fascistic, ultra-nationalist Turkish government.
In a statement released by the White House on the 6th October, it was announced that US armed forces will withdraw from the border zone of Northern Syria, and that the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been given the green light to commence military operations in the region. This has been justified by the questionable claim that US forces have defeated ISIS, and that the imprisonment of international ISIS fighters is now an unjustifiable cost to the US taxpayer; thus the responsibility for these prisoners has been transferred to the Turkish state. This is, on the surface, a curious decision, given the mountain of evidence that ISIS and Al Nusra (another jihadist groups, also known as Tahrir Al Sham) forces in the Free Syrian Army have been consistently armed and funded by Turkey.
These developments make clear yet again that the fight against ISIS has never been the prime motivator of international actors in the region, rather the presence of NATO forces functions to fulfil the interests of the US allied imperialist bloc. Already Turkish forces have launched multiple offensives over SDF-held territories, with both ground troops and airstrikes, killing dozens of fighters and civilians, and causing thousands to flee their homes. If the insincerity of the Turkish government’s claim to be fighting terrorism required any further proof, the shelling of YPG bases in North Eastern Syria has already resulted in the escape of over 700 captured ISIS fighters.
North-Eastern Syria, the area known as The Federation of North Syria, or ‘Rojava’, has been a de facto autonomous region since the withdrawal of Syrian state security forces in 2012. The region is home to multiple threatened ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Yezidis, Turkmens, Chechens and Armenians, and Assyrians, as well as Arabs. Since the withdrawal of state forces, the area has been governed by the Kurdish-dominated PYD party and its paramilitary wing, the YGP. The historical and present oppression of the Kurdish people throughout Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey has created a political basis for a movement for Kurdish national liberation struggles. This oppression has included the repression of Kurdish languages and culture, the stripping of citizenship, and acts of genocide.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have also fulfilled a major role in fighting the Islamic State, though often in tension with the parallel regional anti-ISIS coalition: the armed forces of the Syrian and Iranian governments and Hezbollah. In doing so, the SDF formed an alliance with the United States military, who provided them with weapons and other forms of material support, as well as guarantees against aggression from their NATO ally – Turkey.
Thus the US had a great deal of leverage over the SDF, and was able to utilise them as a proxy force within Northern Syria, to secure for itself control of Syria’s oil fields. This served two primary functions for the US imperialists:
- Resource extraction – this oil having been sold on to America’s allies, including Turkey and Israel.
- Destabilisation – the creation of a fuel crisis across Syria having weakened the Syrian state. This latter ploy has also recently been a means to escalate imperialist aggression against Iran, when British marines seized an Iranian tanker apparently headed for Syria.
The US wishes to topple the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad and weaken the Syrian state, because this government currently stands against the regional hegemony of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the outbreak of the proxy war in Syria in 2011, it was one of the most self-sufficient countries within the region, and has defended and supported Hamas and Hezbollah in their fight against Israeli aggression and the occupation of Palestine.
This relationship complicates our position on the Rojava project, as socialist internationalists and principled anti-imperialists. Whilst it is undeniable that there is a legitimate historical and moral basis for the Kurdish people to be waging struggles against their own oppression, and there are progressive elements to the social formations of the PYD, we cannot view the revolutionary basis of a struggle only on its internal democracy and practices, but on its international consequences. To quote comrade Stalin, on the national question:
“support must be given to such national movements as tend to weaken, to overthrow imperialism, and not to strengthen and preserve it. Cases occur when the national movements in certain oppressed countries came into conflict with the interests of the development of the proletarian movement. In such cases support is, of course, entirely out of the question. The question of the rights of nations is not an isolated, self-sufficient question; it is a part of the general problem of the proletarian revolution…Lenin was right in saying that the national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy, but from the point of view of the actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism, that is to say, “not in isolation, but on a world scale”
The Foundations of Leninism, Joseph Stalin
As such we cannot offer uncritical support to the Rojava project. This is not a point of moral condemnation, but rather an honest appraisal of the concrete conditions of the ongoing conflict in Syria, and its wider implications. This criticism however must in no way detract from an absolute and unqualified stand against the ensuing genocide against the Kurds and other minorities in the region, carried out by Turkish forces and facilitated by the United States. The US government never held a care for the freedom or protection of the people of Northern Syria. Rather their intention was always to hijack the forces of a genuine liberation struggle, to strengthen their own imperialist stranglehold on the region.
This thesis has sadly been confirmed through the White House statement supporting Erdoğan, and the subsequent events over the past week. For the time being, the US has no further use for the SDF, and thus are content in allowing their NATO ally Turkey to take control of the region, knowing full well the catastrophic implications this holds for Syrian Kurds and other minorities in the region. Erdoğan intends to turn a large portion of North-Eastern Syria into a ‘buffer zone’, allowing him to extend his influence in Syria, whilst maintaining the integrity of Turkey’s own national borders. Erdoğan also intends to resettle several million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey within this zone. This resettlement would likely involve extreme violence as Kurds and other ethnic minorities, are displaced. This demographic reconstitution of the region would amount to an act of ethnic cleansing. This would fulfil the racist, ultra-nationalist objectives of the Turkish government, which has long viewed Kurdish movements for national liberation, including the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) and PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), as terrorists.
Many commentators view this as a betrayal. Trump is condemned for abandoning his allies. In fact it is no such thing. Whilst a tactical unity of the US and Kurdish forces had existed, there was never ideological cohesion between the two, and it is inconceivable that the US would ever elect to ally itself with the likes of the SDF against its fellow members of the NATO imperialist alliance. Similarly, Britain, whose military had previously trained SDF forces for tactical reasons, is perfectly happy to invite Turkish troops to participate in NATO training exercises in Scotland and northern England over the next fortnight.
Our stance on this situation should be most clear: the rights and liberties of the Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs and other groups throughout Syria can, in the present circumstances, only be defended under a united and sovereign Syria – free from war and foreign intervention. Erdoğan has long claimed that the existence of the autonomous region in the North is a threat to Syrian territorial sovereignty. Whilst it may be the case that a national liberation movement which allies with imperialist forces, in the process undermining the security of an independent state, cannot ultimately be revolutionary, it is also the case that Turkish invasion presently constitutes by far a more immediate threat to the state and the peoples of Syria. In saying this, we are not joining the calls being made for the US to continue its occupation in defence of their former allies; rather we are saying that their replacement by Turkish forces is yet another in this list of tragedies inflicted by imperialist powers and their regional allies, and one which must be opposed with as much force as is necessary.
So long as the peoples in Syria are forced to contend with the primary contradiction between their own national self-determinations, and the viciousness of imperialist violence, they will never be able to fight for greater democracy within the country, nor to ultimately settle matters with their own national bourgeoisie. Only with the defeat of imperialism will the working-class peoples in Syria be free to struggle for their own liberation. It is therefore encouraging to see in recent days that a restoration of cooperation between the SDF and Assad’s forces may be materialising, and that the SAA are already mobilising to join the SDF in fending off the invasion. Only through pragmatic unity between these parties to fight against the illegally occupying NATO forces, as well as the remnants of ISIS and associated groups, can the forces of imperialism and reaction be driven from Syria’s borders.
It must be restated that whilst our support for national liberation movements must derive from an analysis of their concrete impacts on the global anti-imperialist struggle, and as such we find much to criticise in the Rojava project, we must recognise the Turkish invasion of Northern Syria as an affront to humanity and our values of human emancipation. The issues surrounding the SDF and its relationship with the US do not in any way detract from the inhumanity of the ongoing invasion and the terror it is certain to unleash upon the Kurdish people, and all other ethnic groups in the region. As communists, we stand firmly and unconditionally against all acts of racist violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Our solidarity is extended to all the peoples of Syria, and it is our hope and belief that a unity of Kurdish and Syrian state forces can defend the country from this invasion, defeat the fascistic army of Erdoğan and drive all occupying forces from Syria. Our call is loud and clear:
No to genocide! Hands off Syria!