This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.
The decision by US president Donald Trump to give the green light to the Turkish army to launch a land and air invasion against Kurdish-held areas in north-east Syria is now spiralling into a wider conflict, involving the Syrian regime, Russian and Iran.
The Turkish army’s indiscriminate shelling of towns along the Turkish-Syria border already led to the slaughter of many civilians, including children. The Turkish army claims to have killed over 400 Kurdish fighters. Several Turkish soldiers have died. Over 200,000 people forced to flee their homes and water supplies to nearly half a million people are cut off.
Turkey’s Syrian militia allies, involving reactionary Islamic fighters, are accused of carrying out summary executions, including the killing of a female Kurdish political leader. There are widespread fears that the conflict will allow Isis fighters to regroup in the area, which is reported to have stepped up attacks.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s military adventure is partly motivated to offset growing domestic pressure as the economy fast declines. With his ruling party, the AKP, on less than 30% support in polls, Erdogan fears the outbreak of mass social and workers’ struggles.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), said it brokered a deal with Damascus that will see the Syrian army occupy Kurdish-controlled territory and deploy along the Syrian-Turkish border.
But a deal at what cost to Kurds? The Syrian army advance will see President Bashar al-Assad near his stated goal of reconquering “every inch” of Syria, after nearly nine years of bloody civil war. He will take advantage of the Kurds’ plight to try to seize back control of an oil rich part of the country.
The SDF claim the deal made with Damascus means Syrian forces will defend against Turkish army advances rather than ending Kurdish control. They assert that “Kurdish institutions” would remain in-tact. Yet the Syrian regime, which has the upper hand in the negotiations with the SDF, has always opposed the semi-autonomous statelet that emerged during the civil war, regarding it as an attempted “partition” of the country.
After the “stab in the back” from Trump, the SDF leader, Mazloum Abdi, claimed that the deal with the Syria regime and its Russian ally could “save the lives of millions of people who live under our protection”. However he conceded that it would entail “painful compromises”. The situation on the ground is fasting moving. But if he is able to occupy Kurdish areas, Assad is not going to allow the Kurds to consolidate genuine self-rule and a de-facto separate state. No more than Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can the dictatorial Assad countenance allowing the Kurds their full democratic, cultural and national aspirations realised.
US pulls out
With Trump pulling out 1,000 American troops from northern Syria, it is now a race between Turkish and Syrian armies to see who can grab as much territory as they can. While it is unlikely that either Turkey or Syria, backed by its “military sponsor” Russia, and regional ally, Iran, want to clash directly, the situation is volatile and a wider war cannot be ruled out. As Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan drives to create a 30 km “safe zone” in the region, his troops could soon find themselves face to face with Syrian troops.
The Kurds have a long history of betrayal by regional and world powers. Today they have the likely prospect of seeing the region carved up between competing regional and powers and their backers. So far, Erdogan is concentrating on seizing majority Syrian-Arab towns and is reportedly in phone talks with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, negotiating the future of majority-Kurdish areas.
The allies and defenders of Kurds today will turn out to be their foes and oppressors tomorrow. The US used the SDF as proxies to spearhead the fight against Isis in northern Syria. Once Isis was largely defeated in Syria, it was only a matter of time before Trump would ditch them. With a war-weary American public and Trump facing impeachment proceedings at home, the White House decided to cut and run.
The shrieks of outrage from leading Republicans and Democrats at Trump’s actions have nothing to do with any real concern for the Kurds’ plight. They represent a wing of the US ruling class that thinks US imperialist interests are best served by waging foreign wars and keeping troops in the Middle East, and other crucial parts of the world, for the foreseeable future.
Last week’s calls for the “international community” to deploy “an international force” to enforce a “no fly zone to prevent catastrophe” were simply ignored by the big powers. How can we rely on governments of the rich, which carry out austerity policies against their own working class, to act in the interests of Kurds and other oppressed minorities? The US, France, Britain – which has only now, under huge pressure, temporarily stopped arms sales to its Nato ally, Turkey – and other military powers, have for many years cynically exploited the Kurds’ plight, for their own selfish geo-strategic aims in the Middle East.
The Kurds and other oppressed peoples of the Middle East, and the entire working class, can only rely on their own strength, self-organisation and class solidarity.
- Working class solidarity and mass protests around the world to oppose the Turkish army’s bloody invasion
- Organise workers’ boycotts and strikes against the weapons trade to Turkey
- Build multi-ethnic defence militias, democratically-run, to resist Turkish army attacks
- No trust in regional and imperialist powers, who have only ever betrayed the Kurds
- Build powerful independent workers’ organisations, including trade unions and mass workers’ parties, on a socialist programme, in Syria, Turkey and across the region
- Link the Kurds’ struggle with Turkish workers resisting Erdogan’s anti-working class policies
- Full cultural and national rights for Kurds, including the right to self-determination
- Overthrow capitalism! For a socialist Kurdistan, as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East and Central Asia, on a voluntary and equal basis, to bring lasting peace and a transformation of living standards