Workers Vanguard No. 1127
9 February 2018
Turkey Attacks Kurdish YPG: NATO Partner vs. U.S. Tool
U.S. Out of Syria!
On January 20, Turkey launched a cross-border military assault on the Kurdish-controlled canton of Afrin in northwestern Syria. As tanks, artillery and U.S.-supplied warplanes bombarded their homes, thousands of desperate civilians found themselves trapped, unable to cross the border into Turkey and blocked by Syrian government checkpoints from fleeing south to the city of Aleppo. Ankara’s stated aim is to create a 30-kilometer buffer zone by driving back the Kurdish nationalists of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military arm, the People’s Protection Committees (YPG), which Turkey calls a “terror army.” In Turkey itself, the bonapartist regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues its war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the PYD’s mother organization.
The YPG has served as ground forces for the U.S. military intervention and bombing campaign in Syria directed mainly against the Islamic State (ISIS), for example, by calling in the coordinates for U.S.-led airstrikes that helped drive ISIS out of Raqqa in October. Yet Washington gave a green light to its NATO ally Turkey to attack Afrin. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cynically cautioned Ankara to “show some restraint,” while emphasizing that U.S. forces do not work directly with the YPG in that slice of northwest Syria.
Moscow also approved of Turkey’s offensive, withdrawing its military personnel from Afrin and allowing Turkish strikes in airspace that Russia controls. While Turkey and Russia have divergent interests in Syria, with the latter backing the Bashar al-Assad regime, they agree with the U.S. on maintaining Syria’s “territorial integrity”—i.e., no independent Kurdish state.
Moscow no doubt relishes the fraying of relations between the U.S. and Turkey as America’s NATO ally engages in a military confrontation with Washington’s Kurdish proxies. Turkey attacked Afrin just days after Washington had announced plans for a 30,000-strong “border protection force” in an area of northeastern Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (essentially the YPG with some Arab forces added in). Erdogan has announced that after Afrin, he intends to turn his fire on the city of Manbij, the gateway to that area, where there are a few thousand American troops.
Behind Erdogan’s bluster is his attempt to pressure the U.S. to drop its Syrian Kurdish proxies, one of the main sources of the growing tensions between Ankara and Washington. For its part, the U.S. is putting out mixed signals about its intentions. After Erdogan hit the roof over the border proposal, Trump administration officials immediately began to backtrack. Nonetheless, the Pentagon continued to back the plan, with the New York Times (23 January) declaring that “the Syrian Kurds will most likely serve as the backbone of the allied forces on the ground in Syria for months to come.”
The backdrop to the U.S. military deployment in Syria is the civil war which, beginning in 2011, has pitted Islamist and other opposition forces against the Assad dictatorship. Most of the rebel groups have been armed by the U.S., including Turkey’s favorite, the Free Syrian Army, which is currently fighting the YPG. As Marxists, we have no side in the reactionary and communalist civil war, including in clashes between Washington’s Turkish (nominal) ally and its Kurdish tools.
Where we do have a side is against the U.S. and other imperialist powers. Last month, the White House confirmed that the U.S. intends to maintain its military presence in Syria indefinitely. The U.S. has already established ten bases in northeastern Syria and is developing another in southern Syria near the borders with Iraq and Jordan. The latter would serve as a barrier to overland support by Iran for Assad and for Hezbollah in Lebanon and as a point of pressure on the Iraqi government, which is serving both the U.S. and Iran.
Workers in the U.S. must demand: All U.S. troops and bases out of Syria and the Near East now! While our main opposition is to U.S. imperialism—the greatest force for organized terror on the planet—we call for the regional powers Turkey, Russia and Iran to get out as well.
Opposition to Imperialism: Crucial to Kurdish Liberation
The national liberation of the Kurds, who are divided among and oppressed by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, is a historically just cause. We call for a united, independent Kurdistan encompassing all the Kurds, and would also support Kurdish independence from individual capitalist states. The struggle for Kurdish self-determination is a crucial part of our perspective to mobilize the proletariat in the region in the revolutionary fight for a socialist federation of the Near East that would include a Socialist Republic of United Kurdistan. The necessary prerequisite to any such struggle is uncompromising opposition to imperialism.
Just as the Kurdish nationalist forces have done for many years in Iraq, the PYD/YPG leadership in Syria has betrayed the Kurdish masses by subordinating their desire for national liberation to the YPG’s role as foot soldiers for the U.S. And now YPG spokesmen fear that the U.S. will abandon the Kurds to attacks by Turkey. Indeed, once the imperialists decide they no longer need their Kurdish nationalist stooges, they will discard them, as they have repeatedly done before.
The U.S. imperialists are committed enemies of Kurdish self-determination. The situation in Iraqi Kurdistan is a case in point. After siding with the U.S. in its 1991 war against Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) consolidated autonomous rule in northern Iraq as U.S. warplanes enforced a “no fly zone” overhead. In the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation, KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan forces served as ground troops for Washington, helping to crush resistance to the imperialist occupation. Kurdish forces then joined with the other U.S. proxies—the Iraqi army and Shia militias—in the war against ISIS. In the U.S.-led war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we Marxists stressed that every blow ISIS struck against the U.S. and its proxies coincided with the interests of the U.S. and international proletariat. This understanding does not lessen in the least our Marxist opposition to everything that those arch-reactionary cutthroats stand for.
Last September, with ISIS largely defeated in Iraq, the KDP held a referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, with Kurds almost unanimously voting “yes.” We welcomed the referendum and its result while maintaining our political opposition to the bourgeois nationalists. The KDP had no intention of implementing the independence vote. But this did not matter to the KDP’s paymasters in Washington, who denounced the referendum and, in its aftermath, assented to the Iraqi army’s seizure of the historically Kurdish city of Kirkuk and its oil-rich province (see “Iraqi Kurds Vote for Independence, Baghdad Seizes Kirkuk” [WV No. 1120, 20 October]). Tens of thousands of Kurds were subsequently driven out.
With ISIS now on the ropes in Syria, the YPG might already be losing its usefulness to the imperialists. A portent of what might befall them was captured by a New York Times (25 January) article headlined “Allies or Terrorists: Who Are the Kurdish Fighters in Syria?” Making a grotesque and provocative amalgam that PKK/PYD leader Abdullah Öcalan is “viewed by Turks the same way Americans viewed Osama bin Laden,” the article reported that “American officials have told the Kurds that the United States will not fight Turkey for them.” We recall that in July 2015 the U.S. gave Ankara the green light to launch airstrikes in northern Iraq against the PKK in return for Turkish permission for the U.S. to use the Incirlik air base to launch bombing attacks on ISIS. As the all-sided conflict in Syria enters a new phase, the Kurds may well be among the main losers.
Left liberals and ostensible Marxists in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere have been the biggest cheerleaders for the PYD, presenting the Rojava Kurdish autonomous region as a bastion of women’s emancipation, democracy and religious pluralism. There is a cruel irony in the left-nationalist PYD’s embrace of American imperialism. In “Dark Victory in Raqqa” (New Yorker, 6 November), Luke Mogelson noted a case of the “many strange bedfellows” produced by the Syrian civil war, including that “in Rojava, Kurds often refer to Donald Trump as Bâvê şoreş—‘Father of the Revolution’.” Pointing to how the YPG “lost thousands of our brothers and sisters in the war against the Islamic State,” a New York Times (29 January) op-ed piece by Nujin Derik, a leader of the YPG’s female unit in Afrin, now calls on the U.S. to impose “a no-flight zone over Afrin and the rest of Rojava.”
The YPG has been open about its alliance with U.S. imperialism. Not so its fans in the reformist Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI, whose U.S. affiliate is Socialist Alternative). Most recently, the CWI’s British affiliate issued a declaration upholding the Syrian Kurds’ “right to defend themselves” against the Turkish intervention. In the declaration, the CWI coyly speaks of the YPG fighting “alongside airstrikes from Russia and the US” against ISIS, thereby concealing—and certainly not opposing—the YPG’s role as spotters and ground troops for the U.S. (“Erdogan Regime Launches Bombing and Ground Invasion Against Kurds,” 26 January). The article hails the war against ISIS for supposedly creating “the possibility of breaking down imperialism’s borders” in the Near East. In fact, with the help of the YPG, the U.S. imperialists have extended their reach even further in the Near East, promising yet more horrific bloodshed.
Turkish Proletariat and Defense of the Kurds
The CWI’s line of siding with the YPG in Syria against the assault by Turkey is in sharp contrast with its refusal to defend the PKK against the Turkish military in Turkey. In the summer of 2015, at the start of a Turkish government offensive against the PKK that would kill hundreds of civilians and displace some half a million people, the CWI’s British group published an article that condemned the PKK’s “individual armed actions” as “counter-productive” without so much as hinting that the international proletariat has a side in Turkey in defense of the PKK (socialistworld.net, 28 July 2015).
Why does the CWI defend the PYD in Syria but not the PKK in Turkey? Because these social democrats lend their support to those whom the “democratic” imperialists support. As Marxists, we defend the PKK against the Turkish state, as should the workers movement in Turkey. At the same time, we oppose the PKK’s petty-bourgeois program, which does not even call for Kurdish independence but raises at most the prospect of autonomy within the Turkish capitalist state.
In Turkey, the Erdogan regime is cracking down on anyone opposing the attack on Afrin, rounding up hundreds of people in the name of fighting PKK “terrorism.” Anti-Kurdish chauvinism is a defining element of Turkish nationalism and a key prop of capitalist rule there. If the proletariat in Turkey is to ever liberate itself from capitalist exploitation, it must take up the fight for Kurdish self-determination. Kurdish struggle in Iran could shake up the structure of that theocratic prison house of peoples, where the Persian-chauvinist regime presides over a population nearly half of which is non-Persian.
The struggle for Kurdish national liberation, combined with the fight against imperialist occupation, could be a motor force for a proletarian upsurge in the region. By championing Kurdish self-determination, the working masses of the Near East would be taking a stand against their own capitalist exploiters and helping to undercut U.S. imperialism’s capacity to manipulate the Kurds’ grievances to further its interests. The key task for Marxists is to build revolutionary workers parties that champion the cause of the Kurdish people, women and all the oppressed in the struggle to overthrow capitalist rule. The perspective of the International Communist League is to win class-conscious militants to build such parties as sections of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
The fight for the emancipation of the exploited and oppressed in the Near East and the rest of the Third World would be incomplete and reversible without the perspective of workers socialist revolution in the imperialist centers. In Germany, Kurds as well as Turks represent an important component of the working class, and can constitute a bridge between the struggles of workers in the Near East and those in the imperialist centers. In the U.S., the multiracial working class has every interest in opposing the depredations of its exploiters. The capitalist rulers’ drive to assert their domination of the oil-rich Near East and the rest of the globe goes hand in hand with their insatiable drive to wrest ever more profit out of the labor and lives of working people at home. As the U.S. section of the ICL, the Spartacist League dedicates itself to building a multiracial revolutionary workers party committed to proletarian rule.