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Green light: Erdogan, Trump and the threat of ethnic cleansing

With Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria, those who hold revolutionary socialist or democratic principles must hold them higher than ever before, says MARCEL CARTIER

IN SOME ways, recent history appears to be repeating itself. 

It wasn’t so long ago in December 2018 that the commander-in-chief of the US military, Donald Trump, announced that he would be pulling all troops from Syria.

This followed a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was apparently sufficient to convince him of the fact that Ankara could lighten Trump’s “burden” in Syria by taking over responsibility for “security” there, including the threat of any remaining cells of fighters from Islamic State (Isis).

Of course, that planned US withdrawal didn’t happen. Back in Washington, Trump was almost immediately met by a backlash among a prominent section of the US ruling class, specifically within the Pentagon, who argued that it would be in the interests of national security to keep some forces in Syria. 

Many were baffled at the notion that Erdogan’s Turkey — a country that has long been proven to have helped facilitate the transfer of Isis fighters and logistics into Syria — was being trusted with fighting against these same forces. 

As we now fast forward roughly 10 months, the events of the past few days seem strangely familiar. 

Another phone call. Another withdrawal announcement. More bizarrely worded tweets. 

This time, however, the withdrawal was rapidly carried out, at least in areas along the Syria-Turkey border where roughly 50 to 100 US troops had been overseeing a so-called “safe zone” that was ostensibly set up to keep the peace between Turkey on the one hand, and the Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on the other.

Now, Erdogan is fulfilling his promise for aggressive action, with air strikes and a ground invasion of northern Syria. 

Mercenaries from Turkish-backed “Free Syrian Army” groups are mixed in among regular troops. 

More significantly, the threat of ethnic cleansing — which Erdogan has promised to deliver under the guise of “humanitarianism” (resettling Arab refugees from other parts of Syria in Kurdish-majority areas) — looms.

But how should leftists and anti-imperialists — who are supporters of the Kurdish national liberation struggle and who take inspiration from the Rojava Revolution which has aimed to created a grassroots, feminist democracy rooted in the fraternity of nationalities across Syria — view events?

After all, many of us on the left have supported the Rojava project not because of US involvement, but in spite of it. 

We have followed closely the revolutionary transformation in the northern part of the country from the proclamation of autonomy in 2012, long before Washington began air strikes against Isis while under tremendous international pressure during the 2015 battle of Kobane. 

The YPG itself has been keenly aware of the dangers of any kind of military alliance with the imperialists — no matter how tactical or tentative — and has pursued talks between its political wing and the Syrian government to find a political solution that would see the Syrian Arab Republic rebranded as a multiethnic entity. 

There was limited YPG-Syrian government co-operation in Afrin during the Turkish invasion of early 2018, and a call subsequently made by the YPG for Damascus to take over security of Manbij.

In addition, Kurdish forces have consistently stated their position that no foreign troops should be based in Syria whatsoever. 

Contrary to the the mistaken idea that assumes the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is a nationalist or separatist entity, they have demanded that the territorial integrity of the country be maintained and that “Balkanisation” be taken off the table. 

In December 2018, when Trump announced what would become a botched withdrawal, the Kurdistan Communities Group (KCK) said that the US move would strengthen the character of the revolution, writing that it has been distorted “by the presence of external forces. In this way, all external forces and inhuman gangs such as Isis have prevented the struggle of the peoples of Syria from taking its original direction.”
            
The dizzying pace of events of the past few days vindicate what the Kurdish Freedom Movement has said from the beginning — that such a relationship with a “frenemy” was always weak and riddled with contradictions, and always one that would at some point be “here today, gone tomorrow.”

The fact that the YPG, the Kurdish Freedom Movement as a whole, and the autonomous administration are not ignorant of the fact that the US never had the true interests of the Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian masses at heart seems to be lost on many commentators who can’t seem to see them as anything other than mindless pawns of imperialism.

One case in point is an October 8 editorial on RT.com which reads of the tentative alliance with the US: “If Kurdish leaders thought this would somehow translate into support for statehood, or dominion over traditionally Arab-majority territories, they were dangerously deluded.” 

But statement after statement from said “Kurdish leaders” made clear that such a “delusion” was never held.

Today, there are those in the halls of power in Washington who are crying foul that there has been betrayal on Trump’s part of “our Kurdish allies.” 

Among these are some of the most vile reactionaries one can conceive of. 

Senator Lindsey Graham was so appalled by his fellow Republicans’ decision that he went on the only news network he would be sure Trump would watch — Fox News — to vent his frustration at the White House. 

This is the same man who just days earlier visited an immigrant detention centre on the US-Mexico border and made clear that he didn’t care if they had to be held in cages “for 400 days.” 

If anybody thinks such a grotesque person has an ounce of humanity in his body and genuinely cares for human life, let alone the Kurdish nation, they should probably think again. 

It doesn’t bear repeating here some of the most prominent historical cases of US targeting of the Kurdish revolutionary movement over the span four decades, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the YPG takes ideological inspiration from. 

It’s enough to remind the reader that despite some US politicians calling “the Kurds” their “allies” in Syria, the US has still been at war with the PKK through intelligence co-operation with Turkey through the entire period of the Syrian war.

Yes, there are many in the halls of Congress from Nancy Pelosi to the much-celebrated progressive Ilhan Omar who are (it must be said, opportunistically) decrying Trump’s decision to play into the politics of impeachment and Russia-bashing (since they seem mostly obsessed with stating that Trump’s decision was a gift to Putin, Assad and Iran). 

But to state what should be the obvious — it’s delusional to think the US was ever going to choose an alliance with Kurdish radicals who they never supported politically, instead of a long-standing one with Nato’s second-largest military force. 

The tragedy here, then, is not necessarily the US pulling out of Syria, but its green-lighting of Turkey’s impending assault on Rojava, which would be an extension of Turkey’s prevailing war that all important arms of the US ruling-class already support within Turkish and Iraqi borders. 

To say it bluntly: the US under Trump is extending its already existing support for ethnic cleansing policies in these parts of the Kurdish nation into the Syrian sphere. 

Whoever wishes to see a pure social revolution will never live to see it. Vladimir Lenin, often considered to be among the purest of revolutionaries, once uttered this expression, and it’s a sentiment has been proven correct across the past hundred years.

National liberation struggles and social revolutions, especially in the context of encirclement by hostile forces, are never simple processes.

Tactical alliances are made, then discarded. “Friends” today can become enemies tomorrow. The Kurdish movement is no novice student of history, especially since it has endured a wealth of knowledge on the subject through direct confrontation with the imperialist beast.

Thus, the question is whether or not sections of the left that have so far kept their distance from supporting the most dynamic social revolution of this decade are finally willing to support the anti-fascist struggle now that the US has made clear where its long-term allegiance lies.

For its part, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria has restated its willingness to continue the process of negotiation, saying it remains committed to “dialogue to reach negotiated solutions. 

“We once again state that it is for the unity of Syria and society. We will protect our people against all kinds of attacks.”
 
Erdogan’s plan is to resettle two to three million refugees in Rojava, essentially changing the demographics for Serekaniye, Gire Spi, Qamishlo, Kobane and other cities that line the border, much in the way he did in Afrin last year. 

It would be just the latest in a longstanding history of Turkey’s campaigns to engage in ethnic cleansing — not very different from the Israeli practices in Palestine that Erdogan hypocritically denounces without feeling any sense of irony or shame.

Erdogan claims he wants “fountains of peace” in northern Syria; yet he also claimed his mass murder campaign in Afrin was an “olive branch” of sorts. 

Hiding behind such beautiful expressions can’t obscure the heinous and bloody reality, however. Rojava understands the current juncture as one full of the danger of more heartache, pain and sacrifice. 

As the Autonomous Administration has said: “We gave 11,000 martyrs in the struggle for revolution … The invasion threats that the Turkish state has issued have no justification and have actually now become a major obstacle to peace and security in Syria.”

For those who hold revolutionary socialist or democratic principles, now is the time to hold them higher than ever before. Solidarity cannot be a matter of mere well-wishing; the time for militant action is upon us. 

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