Regarding Turkey’s attack on Kurdish Afrin, controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the Peoples Protection Units (YPG): two years ago I wrote this article condemning the YPG’s brutal conquest of the Arab-majority Tal Rifaat-Menagh region of northern Aleppo province from the democratic rebels (Free Syrian Army [FSA] and allies), in direct collaboration with the mass murdering Russian imperialist airforce, which had just recently begun its Nazi-style Blitzkrieg against Free Syria and thousands upon thousands of Syrian civilians.
In that article, I noted in passing how bad what the YPG was doing was by posing it in reverse:
“If Turkey were invading and bombing Kurdish Efrin and Syrian rebels were acting as ground troops and expelling the YPG from Kurdish areas, it should be vigorously condemned, yet this is not happening; the exact opposite of that is happening.”
This scenario has now come to pass, unfortunately, and should be condemned unreservedly; if the rebels were merely taking advantage to seize back their regions, the Arab-majority regions around Tal Rifaat that the YPG/Russia conquered then, and allow tens of thousands of people “cleansed” by the YPG to return, that would be entirely valid. But advancing instead to Kurdish-majority Afrin, where the bulk of the population see the PYD/YPG/SDF as their leadership (and it is up to them to change that if they choose), is doing *exactly* what the YPG did back then.
Clearly, the political weaknesses among both Arab and Kurdish rebels have killed solidarity and the necessary unity they will need to destroy the Assad genocide-regime, which is backed by all the world’s imperialist and regional powers. But while defending Afrin today, and condemning the Turkish invasion and the part played in it by some Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, all I can say about the sweet romanticisation of the YPG is, WOW what hypocrisy.
For years, the PYD/YPG-controlled part of Syria known as ‘Rojava’ (west Kurdistan) has been spared the fate of the rest of Syria for two main reasons: firstly, due to a pragmatic deal with Assad in 2012, they have been untouched by Assad’s years of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, incendiary weapons, white phosphorus, ballistic missiles, starvation sieges and torture archipelago that all other regions outside regime control have been flattened with; secondly, since 2014, they have become the key allies of the US in its air war against ISIS, and as such have the permanent protection of the US air force. Just last week, the US announced a 30,000 strong “border force” consisting largely of the YPG and its slightly broader front, he Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to be stationed with US troops who would remain indefinitely in northeast Syria.
Meanwhile, while enjoying this relatively enviable situation – not ideal, of course, but we are talking here about Syria, after all – the PYD and its propaganda organs constantly emit crude Orientalist, Islamophobic style propaganda, which depicts only those microscopic ex-rebel forces who have joined their ranks in the SDF as “democratic”, and everyone else in Syria in the anti-Assad camp as deranged “jihadist head-choppers,” a discourse so disgustingly dehumanising, so mind-bogglingly reactionary, that at times it leaves the average Assadist, Zionist or Neocon for dead.
Meanwhile, all those in the West who have suddenly noticed the potential for massacre in Syria now that Turkey has attacked Afrin, and believe that the last time any massacre was threatened in Syria was in Kobani in late 2014, check yourselves: is this because you view only Kurds as worthy victims, as honorary whites (in the same way as US imperialism has only intervened to defend the … “anti-imperialist” YPG in east Syria from ISIS, for many years now, but never to defend the rest of the Syrian people form Assad)? Or otherwise, what? Do you believe Syria has been a fairly peaceful place between Kobani and Afrin?
Are you aware that in East Ghouta, besieged, bombed and starved for years by Assad, the regime has slaughtered hundreds since the beginning of this year alone, both with bombs and with starvation? Or does that not matter because you think the entire population of 400,000 people there are all “head-choppers”? Are you aware that in the same period, the Assad regime, the Russian imperialist airforce, and Iranian-backed sectarian death squads have killed similar numbers in the northwest – yeh, right there next to Afrin – and driven over 200,000 people from their homes in a massive wave northwards? Or again, are these people also just all head-choppers?
If anything, one of the worst things about the Turkish invasion of Afrin and the rebel participation in it is the widespread suspicion that this was part of an Afrin for Idlib deal, whereby Turkey, dealing through its new allies … Russia and Iran, who just happen to be Assad’s allies, goaded the rebels to stop their recent counteroffensive against Assad in Idlib and instead direct them to help take Afrin – allowing Assad to reconquer all the regime had just lost. Just why a section of the rebels has agreed to go along with this is another matter. For some, it may be revenge for what the YPG did two years ago; for others, it is simply a reflection of long-time bad politics regarding the Kurdish issue, and refusal to recognise Kurdish rights; for some it may be the illusion that Turkey’s support for the rebels over these years means Turkey is a true friend, rather than a self-interested party like any other, so they need to “repay the debt”; for others it may be in reaction to years of listening to the PYD’s vile propaganda depicting them in dehumanising terms; for some it may be just the general impression, part justified, and part unjustified, that the PYD’s long-term ceasefire with Assad means they are collaborators; for still others, recent YPG provocations, such as its shelling of a mental hospital in rebel-controlled Azaz on January 19, injuring five women, might have been the last straw.
Whatever the reason, these Syrian rebels have entered a war that is not theirs, that pits Arab against Kurd on behalf of a foreign power, that allows Assad to mop up, that further consolidates the divisions that earlier events, such the YPG’s actions two years ago, have helped to create.
Meanwhile, one irony here is that while the PYD/YPG and their backers call all the rebels “jihadists” or (in true neocon-style) “al-Qaida”, the actual former al-Qaida organisation, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, which changed its name when it split from al-Qaida in 2016), now part of the military coalition Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is not taking part in the attack on Afrin, as it is not subservient to Turkish interests, and is continuing the war against Assad’s drive into Idlib.
It is not only HTS, of course; over the last few months of Assad’s offensive northwards, many FSA brigades have also been involved – but not the more firmly pro-Turkish Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham and others. But with Assad advancing in this region that Turkey, Iran and Russia had declared a “de-escalation zone”, at a certain point the pressure of the Turkish-backed rebels to join the fight – Turkey had been holding them back – forced the Turkish regime to unleash them, several weeks ago, and provide them with significant arms. The result was a dramatic turnaround, with Assad losing a large amount of ground. Aside from rebel pressure, Erdogan himself also probably saw that Assad was going too far, and wanted to remind him that there were certain lines. But it seems that, above all, Erdogan wanted to consolidate some support in order to use the rebels elsewhere.
To now stop that offensive again, and not only allow Assad to advance again, but to again leave only HTS and some more independent FSA brigades to do the fighting, has a further consequence: it allows Assad, Russia and the US to paint the Idlib battle as one against “al-Qaida”, thus “justifying” even more barbaric Assad-Russian terror bombing, with US connivance and the support of a section of the western “Old Left”. Never mind that the Assad-Russia bombing has been furiously targeting all the key centres where the revolutionary forces have continually, and successfully, resisted attempted HTS-Nusra oppression over the years: Saraqeb, Kafranbel, Maraat al-Nuuman, Atareb etc. The people know why they are resisting Assad’s genocide regime, and they are not keen to replace it with the rule of other oppressors; the armed groups have never all been HTS or “jihadists” , just as the revolution has never only been about armed groups: but they are necessary, and come in all forms, when the necessity is defence against a far more savage military force.
To hell with all enemies of the Syrian people: defend Ghouta, defend Daraa, defend the zone Idlib/northern Hama/south and west Aleppo/defend Afrin.