On Sunday, the Turkish war machine, supported by so-called Syrian rebel troops took control of the Kurdish-majority city of Afrin in northeastern Syria. Of course, while the western media were busy condemning the Assad regime’s offensive against Islamist forces in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, they paid no attention whatsoever to the brutal onslaught against the Kurds, who have never attacked Turkey.
In a speech hours after the fall of Afrin, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan said: “the symbols of peace and security now wave in Afrin’s city center, not the rags of the terrorist organization. Most of the terrorists tucked their tails between their legs and fled. Our special units and members of the Free Syrian Army are cleaning up the remains of their forces and the traps they left behind.”
The hours and days since the fall of Afrin have proved beyond doubt there is nothing peaceful about the occupation forces that now control the city. Pictures coming from Afrin after the withdrawal of the Kurdish armed forces show soldiers flying Turkish flags from buildings and rebels tearing down a statue of the Kurdish mythical revolutionary hero Kawa Haddad. But more importantly than the destruction of the symbols of the Kurdish struggle which have been the focus of most of the western media, terror has been unleashed against the civilian population.
Arrests of civilians and revenge against women not wearing the veil have also been reported by witnesses fleeing the town. Many videos have been circulating on social media of Turkish-backed forces beating up civilians and calling them ‘pigs’ or worse. Similar videos have also been aired with militiamen beating and mutilating corpses of Kurdish soldiers while calling them the most degrading things and chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’. Following the fall of Afrin, there were countless photos of Turkish-backed mercenaries breaking into shops and houses, leaving with food, equipment, blankets and whatever else they could loot while proudly posing for the cameras with the Jihadi one-finger salute. It is a testament to the professional standards of the ‘free’ western press that images of these Salafi-jihadi madmen were paraded as 'freedom loving Syrian rebels'.
The truth is that the Free Syrian Army has for a long time been a thin veil covering a whole slate of reactionary, Islamist militias. The mercenary forces now fighting for Turkey are no different. They include a variety of Jihadi elements, including ISIS and al-Qaida veterans who in particular have been the target of recruitment for the Turkish proxy army, which is now doing part of the dirty work in Afrin. Of course they are backed by Turkish tanks, fighters, helicopters and semi-fascist nationalist brigades recruited inside Turkey itself. This ‘peaceful’ band of brothers has been indiscriminately bombing (including napalm bombs) the defenceless Kurdish civilians: their homes, their roads and even aid convoys carrying food and medicines.
The terrorist Turkish army and its allies against the Kurdish and non-Muslim people begin murder, kidnapping, robbery and disrespect for humanity and bring them to unknown places.— rakan_barzani (@BarzaniRakan) March 20, 2018
Where is the United Nations?
.#BreaksilenconAfrin #BreaksilenconAfrin pic.twitter.com/Q3xsn07YaF
Nevertheless, the western press faithfully reproduced the Turkish narrative, sprinkled with only a few meaningless reservations. The actions of western powers stand in stark contrast to the hue and cry they were raising at the same time against the Assad regime’s offensive against Eastern Ghouta, a Damascus suburb controlled by the most reactionary Islamist forces who have regularly and indiscriminately bombed Damascus.
Asked about the Afrin offensive, all a top US official could say was:
“We hope the operation in Afrin will end quickly and we have said that we know that Turkey makes every effort to limit civilian casualties. We do not have any doubt about efforts in that regard.”
That is to say, the US is hoping for a swift victory for Turkey, and not for the Kurds, with whom they are supposedly allied. Throughout the offensive, US officials have cynically made it clear that they would not support the Kurds in Afrin, because Afrin serves no strategic purpose for the US. The British foreign minister Boris Johnson has gone so far as to insist that “Turkey has the right to want to keep its borders secure”. Meanwhile, Germany has continued to supply advanced weaponry to Turkey. While some in the west are now shedding crocodile tears over the looting committed by Islamist barbarians, there can be no doubt that western imperialism has fully backed Turkish aggression.
Despite all their talk about defeating Islamic fundamentalism, western powers, along with their Gulf allies, have been the greatest backers of the Jihadis and even now are supporting this rag-tag mercenary army of ex-ISIS and Al-Qaeda forces against the single most efficient force combating ISIS on the ground.
Meanwhile, Russia is behaving in no different fashion than the western imperialists and prepared the offensive by removing all its ‘peacekeepers’ from Afrin and opening up Syrian airspace for Turkey to use, while Iran and the Assad regime have grudgingly accepted the offensive. On the one hand, Russia is playing Turkey against the US, but it also doesn't want to allow its ally Iran to become too strong on the ground in Syria. Having no major ground force in Syria, Russia wishes to balance other powers off against each other so it can throw its own weight around and follow it own interests.
The Iranian-supported forces did send a symbolic force of a few hundred Shia militiamen to Afrin to fight with the Kurds, but while Iran wants to impede Erdogan’s power inside Syria, the Iranian regime also sees Kurdish independence as a threat that could inspire the Iranian Kurds at a later stage. Iran and Turkey are playing a game of dividing up chunks of Western Syria to dominate as their own fiefdoms in a post-war Syria. There is no room for an independent Kurdish entity in this equation.
As for Assad, he is at this stage the prisoner of his allies and has little say in these matters. Nevertheless, he is happy to see a weakened Kurdish movement, which could then be forced to cede independence to some sort of unified Syria in the future. While he did allow some Kurdish fighters to cross from the Eastern Kurdish areas into Afrin, this was tightly controlled and at the cost of the Kurds ceding a major neighbourhood of Aleppo city to regime forces.
In the last analysis, however much all of these powers fight each other, it is in their common class interest to crush the Kurdish movement, along with all of its democratic achievements, which undermine their own designs of ruling the region. Using the most reactionary Jihadi elements is of course not a problem (for either side), as long as the narrow interests of the ruling classes are maintained.
Erdogan does not hide that he wants to crush the areas currently held by Kurds in Syria. For him, any semblance of independence is a threat that could spread to Kurdish areas in Turkey, where millions of oppressed Kurds live. The Kurdish movement, in the form of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) also became a key focal point of the first stages of the rising class struggle in Turkey. Helped by the pathetic, loyal opposition of the People’s Republican Party (CHP) Erdogan managed to whip up extreme anti-Kurdish nationalist hysteria and thereby mobilise the most reactionary layers of Turkish society behind him. In this context, and with Erdogan’s support clearly declining in his traditional constituencies, as shown by the constitutional referendum last year, the Afrin offensive is a key element in securing Erdogan’s AKP a victory in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
نیروهای نظامی ترکیه و متحدانش روز یکشنبه بعد از ورود به شهر عفرین در شمال سوریه مجسمه کاوه آهنگر را از وسط میدان شهر پایین کشیدند و پرچم ترکیه را بالا بردند.#BreaksilenconAfrin pic.twitter.com/AxTW2m4EPb— گوزن عاشق?️ (@iranianformal) March 18, 2018
Connected to all of this, the Afrin offensive is part of Erdogan’s plan to secure the northern parts of Syria as a gateway for spreading Turkish influence deeper into the Middle East. Once the military clearing of Afrin has taken place there is no doubt that Turkey, true to Ottoman traditions, will try to relocate hundreds-of-thousands of Syrian Arab refugees to Afrin to ethnically cleanse its Kurdish makeup and create a Sunni Arab protectorate, which could serve as a gateway to spread his influence through Syria and beyond.
After Afrin, Erdogan’s immediate aim is to secure the city of Manbij, something the US is willing to cooperate on – according to the Turks. Further down the line, a similar plan is crystallizing for Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates river, as well as the Mount Sinjar in northern Iran. All of this will form a springboard for the AKP’s neo-Ottoman dreams of dominating the cities of Aleppo, Mosul, Erbil and Kirkuk in the future.
The US, in principle, is not opposed to Turkey’s plans. US imperialism is using the Kurdish forces as a bargaining chip for the future to maintain its dominant position in the Middle East. The US administration has gone out of its way to explain that the alliance with the Kurds is merely a temporary one. In the end Turkey, with its key position in NATO and being the biggest industrial power in the Middle East, is far more important for US capitalism than the destinies of the Kurdish people. The fact that some western media outlets have now suddenly woken up to (some!) of the atrocities of the “rebels” in Afrin - after the fact! - is nothing but their cynical way of using the plight of the Kurds as a means to extract concessions from Turkey for themselves.
Being encircled from all sides and with no one coming to their aid, the Kurdish leaders decided to pull out of Afrin to maintain their forces. They have announced a new stage of guerilla fighting against the occupation forces. From a purely military point of view and facing a direct clash with the full force Turkish armed forces and the Jihadi gangs, this seems like their only option. It proves beyond any doubt that the Kurdish people cannot trust any of the major powers roaming around in the region. As we have pointed out on many occasions, ‘small’ nations are so much small change in the games and struggles between the major powers. Once they are finished using them, they have no qualms about crushing them or allowing others to do so.
On the other hand the Kurds have many allies in the oppressed workers and youth throughout the region. The Rojava Revolution came about as a part of the initial Syrian Revolution and it only succeeded because of its revolutionary and democratic methods, which appealed to wide layers of workers and poor in the region. That shows the way forward for the Kurdish liberation struggle.
In Iran, where the masses are beginning to move on a revolutionary path, the route is open for the Kurdish Movement to form a united front with the Iranian masses against the mullah regime in the next period. Similarly, in Iraq, there is huge potential for a radical, left-wing movement with a clear programme of liberating the Kurds to develop and spread. Firstly amongst the Kurds themselves, who hate the treacherous Barzani and Talebani semi-tribal rule almost as much as the central government. And secondly, also amongst Iraqi workers and youth, who see no future in the mesh of sectarians and corrupt gangsters presently holding power in Baghdad.
In Turkey, the Kurdish movement rose to prominence by posing as a radical, anti-establishment force, not only for Kurds but on a class basis across national boundaries. With the decline of the Turkish economy, the intensification of the class struggle and the continued erosion Erdogan’s rule, the next period will see more opportunities for appealing to the Turkish working class against its own oppressors.
While guerilla tactics might be necessary in some circumstances, this can only serve as an auxiliary method to unified class struggle. The main pillar of Erdogan’s rule at this stage is his ability to stir up nationalist hysteria. Helped by the so-called opposition in Turkey, he is cutting through the class struggle and rallying a part of the Turkish working class behind him. The task of all revolutionaries fighting against the Turkish ruling class must be to break this artificial alliance, which is not only aimed at suppressing the Kurds, but also the Turkish working class, which in the name of national security and ‘unity’ is seeing its own conditions undermined by the Turkish capitalists.
We wholeheartedly support the struggle of the Kurdish people for the right to live freely according to their own wishes and to have their own homeland. Their struggle is the same as that of all workers and youth against the capitalist class throughout the world. The same people who are imposing austerity and attacking living standards for the vast majority, and who at the same time are accumulating immense riches for themselves, are complicit in wrecking civilised life in the Middle East and also in attacking the just demands of the Kurds to decide their own fate. The only solution is to take up the fight against the ruling class and the capitalist system it represents.