New Cold War.org, May 30, 2016
The following two commentaries are recently published in the online journal Kurdish Question. They are posted here on New Cold War.org for the information of readers. New Cold War.org does not necessarily endorse all the views expressed. We do not share the view of the second commentary that a “strategic cooperation” is underway between Syrian Kurds and U.S. military forces. Washington’s agenda in Syria is to overthrow the Syrian government, regardless of the further chaos and humanitarian suffering that would result beyond even current levels. It will take advantage of any political opening towards Kurds to further that overriding goal.
Washington, the Syrian government and the anti-government armed resistance in Syria are all opposed to any Kurdish autonomy arrangement in Syria, as are NATO member Turkey, Iran and the U.S. client states in the Persian Gulf. The continued denial of the national rights of the Kurdish people is a fundamental obstacle to peace and justice in the Middle East, just as is the case with the national rights of the Palestinian people by U.S. and European Union ally Israel.
The information provided in New Cold War.org concerning the war situation in Syria and the civil war of Turkey against the Kurdish people of that country is provided in order to further an understanding of the NATO threats and military buildup against Russia, Ukraine and the other peoples of eastern Europe. The editorial decisions concerning the Middle East are guided by four principles:
* Opposition to all imperialist military intervention and presence in the Middle East, including the ‘regime change’ agenda of the United States seeking to overthrow the government of Syria. Any overthrow of the Syrian government by the United States, the imperialist countries of western Europe and their allies in the Middle East (including Israel) would be a grave setback to the people of Syria and the other oppressed peoples of the region.
* Support to the long-standing struggles of the Kurdish people and the Palestinian people for national rights and national homelands (in the short-term and longer-term political forms that become possible). Support to the right of the Kurdish people and Palestinian people to defend themselves from attack.
* Support to the proposal made in March 2016 by Kurdish forces in Syria for a federal republic in that country. Under this proposal, the Kurdish territory of ‘Rojava’ in northern Syria would be a constituent of that republic while the issue of an historic homeland of all Kurdish people in the broader region is discussed and decided.
* Opposition to the repression and civil war being carried out by the right-wing government of Turkey against the Kurdish people and the other progressive forces in that country.
Turkey-Syria talks, Algiers Agreement and the plot against Rojava
By Aram Shaswar, Kurdish Question, May 27, 2016
On March 17, 2016, the Syrian Kurds and allied communities declared their areas the “Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava”, and announced that democratic federalism is a viable alternative to the detrimental politics of both the Syrian regime and the jihadist opposition.
Syrian Kurds of the Rojava region called on the international community on the same day to support the establishment of their federation as a project that would pave the way for the formation of a democratic federal Syria, arguing that democracy, devolution of power and diversity can end the sectarian civil war that has destroyed the country for over five years now.
But almost all the major players involved in the bloodbath of the Syrian civil war, except for Russia, rejected the Syrian Kurdish political move to save what is left of the war-torn country and secure a democratic future for its generation lost in war.
Interestingly, the rejection of the Syrian Kurdish federalism project has since turned into a focal point for unity among almost all the opposing forces involved in Syria’s civil war, revealing that these forces are not so different from one another when it comes to their shared racism and fascistic concern over the basic democratic rights of the Kurdish people and others living in the Rojava region.
The Syrian government and the country’s main opposition that have been at war for over five years quickly united in rejecting the Kurdish-led federalism and labelled it as a move that would result in the “partition of the country”.
Turkey called the move “separatist terrorism” and threatened to invade Rojava and “annihilate” the Kurds.
The shared fear over the Syrian Kurdish move for federalism eventually resulted in Ankara and Damascus beginning a process of “discreet talks” in Algeria to unite around an anti-Kurdish agenda despite their deep differences over all else on Syria’s civil war.
Turkey, Syria “discreetly” unite in Algeria
The prominent, private Algerian French daily Al Watan newspaper on 8 April reported that Algeria was busy making “discreet mediations” between Turkey and Syria. The Algerian daily quoted a senior Algerian diplomatic source as saying that the declaration of federalism by the Syrian Kurds “encouraged” Turkish and Syrian diplomats to exchange alarming concerns on the Kurdish issue.
The North African and Middle East media outlets have since termed the negotiation between the two sides as “discreet talks”.
“Despite all the tensions between the two sides, they [the Turkish and Syrian governments’ officials] wanted to exchange around the Kurdish issue and the will of Syrian Kurds to create an independent state,” the Al-Watan daily quoted the senior Algerian diplomatic source as saying.
“The diplomatic advances achieved during these discussions were featured in detail in the recent visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem to Algiers,” the diplomatic source added.
The consequences of the “discreet talks” in Algeria have since resulted in simultaneous deadly attacks by the Turkish and Syrian states against the Kurds of Rojava.
Turkey, Syria troops attack Rojava Kurds
Turkey has since increased its artillery attacks against the Syrian Kurdish civilians of Rojava and the Turkish army has been busy building walls and trenches on the Rojava border to cut-off the region from the neighboring Kurdish region in Turkey.
Turkey-backed jihadist armed opposition groups have led an extensive military campaign of indiscriminate bombardment, killing and wounding hundreds of Kurdish civilians mostly women and the children in the predominantly Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsoud in northern Aleppo.
International human rights organizations have said that the Turkey-backed jihadists used chemical weapon in their indiscriminate bombardments, deliberately targeting civilian Kurds in the Sheikh Maqsoud area.
Meanwhile, Syrian government troops and their affiliated militias attacked Kurds in Rojava’s unofficial capital, Al-Qamishli, right after the negotiations with Turkey had begun in Algeria.
Several days of deadly clashes between Syrian government troops and Kurdish forces resulted in Kurdish fighters capturing more territories from the Syrian government and taking over the notorious Alaya Prison in Al-Qamishli.
Kurds recall 1975 Algiers Agreement
The Kurds have compared the Ankara-Damascus “discreet talks” in Algiers to the 1975 Algiers Agreement between the then regional rivals Iran and Iraq, which put a bloody end to a five-year official Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq.
The 1975 Algeria Agreement meant that the then-Iraqi and Iranian governments put aside their differences so that the central government in Baghdad could put an end to Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. Despite the bitterness that existed between them regarding control of territories including the fate of the Persian Gulf, they had no qualms uniting against Kurds.
The Kurds are now saying that the Ankara-Damascus “discreet talks” resemble the regional plot against the Kurds made in 1975 in Algiers, but this time to put a bloody end to the Kurdish autonomy and federalism of Rojava in northern Syria.
Iran, Saudi Arabia also team-up against Kurds
Iran “condemned” the Syrian Kurds and said that the self-declared federalism was a “violation of Syria’s territorial integrity”, although the Kurds announced their federation as part of the united geographical boundaries of Syria.
The Sunni-led Arab League and officials of the Gulf States under the leadership of Saudi Arabia also rejected the Syrian Kurdish move and described their attempt to establish democracy and federalism as “an attempt to split Syria”.
The anti-Kurdish agenda uniting those two regional rivals is deeply rooted in the racist, arguably fascistic denial, of the democratic rights of the Kurdish people of Rojava.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are leading the deadliest proxy wars against each other in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere across the Middle East, and it is amazing to see how their shared fascistic instincts against the Kurds ingrained in the mentality of their top officials can so easily unite them.
U.S., Russia limbo dancing over Rojava
The U.S. has also joined the Saudi-led Sunni camp and the Iran-led Shiite crescent in rejecting the Syrian Kurdish political proposal for the establishment of democracy and federalism in Syria.
American officials have since made it clear that they will not politically back the Kurdish-led project. Although the U.S. continues to militarily back Rojava as its most effective ally on the ground fighting and defeating Islamic State (IS, ISIS/ISIL) and the other jihadist groups on a daily basis, it seems political support is one step too far.
The U.S. stance against Syrian Kurdish federalism was also pure irony in the sense that America itself is a federal state. Yet U.S. officials in Washington have not shied away from outright rejection of the Syrian Kurdish move for democracy and federalism as a viable alternative to end the Syria war crises.
Russia has so far remained as the only country willing to politically back the Syrian Kurds and their call for a federal democratic Syria, but it’s not yet clear how long this will last and how faithful Moscow would remain to the Syrian Kurds of Rojava given that the Kremlin also has strategic aims with both Damascus and Tehran.
Despite the intensity of the multiple political and military attacks against the Kurds from all sides, they do not appear frightened or shocked by these developments; in fact they appear more determined and insistent on their demand for autonomy and a federal system.
Their determined fightback at all costs on multiple fronts against the onslaughts led by both Turkey and Syria has sent a clear message to the whole world that they will not accept life under the jackboots of the Turkish and Syrian states.
Will history repeat itself?
The 1975 Algiers Agreement led to short-lived cooperation between Tehran and Baghdad, which ended official Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq that had been established under the leadership of Mela Mustafa Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iraq (KDP).
In the same year, thousands of Iraqi Kurds were killed or imprisoned and hundreds of thousands fled abroad.
However, a Kurdish movement that was much stronger and more militantly determined was born in northern Iraq also in the same year. A year later, the movement formed a united front of Iraqi Kurdish forces that continued to fight until they secured autonomy in 1991.
And three decades after the 1975 Algiers Agreement, they played a key role on the ground in toppling the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
As for Iran, the Iranian Shah fled the country amid a popular uprising in 1979 and a year later the Iran-Iraq war broke out and lasted for eight years.
It’s hard to see today’s efforts in Algiers producing a better outcome than the one triggered by the agreement in 1975, especially when today’s Kurds of Rojava in northern Syria are much stronger and organised politically and militarily in comparison to the Iraqi Kurds of 1975.
But most important of all is the fact that the Kurds are no longer an “internal security issue,” as international and regional key players labelled Iraqi Kurds in 1975. Given that today’s Kurds, particularly those based in Rojava, have proved themselves as the world’s only hope on the ground to defeat Islamic State (IS), Al-Qaida and all those forces that use unprecedented terror to target global stability and peace, it is safe to say Kurds cannot be dismissed as an active agent once more.
Rojava’s strategic cooperation with USA: Good, bad or neither?
Commentary by Ed Sykes, published in Kurdish Question, May 29, 2016
With the newly-launched Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) offensive aimed at pushing Daesh (Isis/Isil) out of its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, the world has seen perhaps the closest cooperation yet between the USA and armed forces from Rojava, raising the question: is such a development good, bad, or neither?
First, some context
Originally, Rojava was completely isolated – and effectively rejected – by a USA which seemed much happier to support chauvinist forces (whether Islamist or nationalist) in Syria. Two years after Rojavan autonomy from the Assad regime in 2012, however, the vicious Daesh assault on Kobani brought the revolutionary experience of Rojava into the international limelight (if the impressive rescue of Yezidis from Sengal in Iraq had failed to do that a month earlier).
With Rojava’s defence forces – the YPG and YPJ – heroically resisting Daesh advances on Kobani, the USA could no longer keep looking away (primarily because the media was on the Turkish side of the border watching as Daesh advanced and the US-led anti-Daesh coalition did nothing). As a result, there was increased strategic cooperation between Rojavan ground forces and US-led air forces from late 2014 onwards.
Some international supporters of the secular, gender-egalitarian, and directly democratic revolution of Rojava began to feel very uneasy about this cooperation, particularly as the USA has for many decades been the number one imperialist power in the world, doing its best to destroy any movement that smelt even slightly like socialism. This wariness, therefore, was completely justified.
But the main issue was always how much influence the USA would actually have on Rojava. Would the superpower push the region into compromises in its radical political project? Or would it only cooperate with Rojavan forces in a temporary alliance based entirely on defeating Daesh (which its own allies (and possibly even its own secret service) had embarrassingly had a hand in creating in the first place)?
It’s in this context that we can determine the value (or lack thereof) of US special forces being on the ground during the current Raqqa offensive.
Good, bad or neither?
Rojavan territory is still isolated by both Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish blockades, meaning that without the arms and air support that the USA can provide, the revolution’s hopes of surviving would decrease significantly – although Russia has also shown an interest in Rojava in recent months, and could potentially step in if US support dried up. While an alliance with the USA may be far from ideal, then, it may be simply a matter of life or death.
Meanwhile, the fact that sections of the US establishment have deemed Rojava worthy of military support – temporarily at least – definitely boosts its chances of coming out of the Syrian conflict intact. And unless its progressive political process deteriorates significantly as a result of the strategic alliance, its survival must be seen as a positive.
The chances of the USA, given its woeful historical foreign policy record, just ‘letting the Rojava Revolution be’ are low. While the extent of interference will depend on a number of factors, Washington will almost certainly try to encourage the Rojavan administration to undertake certain political compromises in exchange for its support. If Rojavan leaders conceded such ground to the USA, it would clearly be a negative for any supporter of radically democratic politics.
At the same time, US presence in Syria also gives both Daesh and Assad the chance to say: ‘Hey, look! The Kurds are puppets of the imperialist pigs!’ The propaganda benefits of this for both nationalist and Islamist forces in Syria could be very significant.
Another point is that some less-informed forces on the ground may begin to believe that the USA is intrinsically a force for good in the region, which it most definitely is not. We only need to look at the anti-Kurdish war crimes being committed by the superpower’s NATO allies in Turkey – who are also attacking Rojava – to realise that US policy is at its heart both hypocritical and self-interested. The fact that a number of countries (including Russia) have opened representative offices for Rojava and the USA has not is also a strong indicator of the USA’s reluctance to support Rojava politically.
As Kurdish Question has recently pointed out, the declaration of the Federation of Northern Syria–Rojava on 17 March 2016 was rejected by almost all major players in the Syrian conflict, apart from Russia. And the USA was one of these players. American officials have made it clear that they won’t back the project politically, which is ironic (to say the least) given the fact that the USA is itself a federal country. The big reason for shunning the experience in this way is that Washington still wants to maintain its close alliance with Turkey – which is heavily opposed to any type of Kurdish autonomy (whether at home or in Syria). Ankara’s recent criticism of US troops wearing YPG insignia in Syria, for example, forced a US military spokesman to point out that American troops had not been authorised to do so, and that they had been ordered to remove them. This is a strong indication of Washington’s commitment not to get on the wrong side of Ankara’s increasingly authoritarian regime too much.
Weighing up all of these factors, there are both strategic positives and strategic negatives, so it’s difficult to call US-Rojavan cooperation either good or bad. Essentially, though, the presence of a few dozen US special ops troops on the ground is likely to make very little difference anyway.
The vast majority of fighting will still be done by the SDF. The rebuilding of communities after liberation from Daesh will still be done by people influenced or inspired by the Rojava Revolution. And the glory of defeating Daesh will still go to the SDF. Any attempts by the USA to take the credit for any of these things would be incredibly arrogant, and anyone with any sense would see straight through them.
One final point. It is very possible that the USA is only helping the SDF for propaganda reasons – to show that the Obama Administration does care about defeating Daesh and that the President is taking the clear but limited military action which many Americans want to see. That may be Washington’s main focus. And the long-term effects that a temporary US presence might have on Rojava may turn out to be minimal. At the same time, Rojava could really benefit from this strategic support – regardless of Washington’s true intentions.
Whatever happens in the coming months, this strategic alliance is definitely a development we need to be aware of, and whose progress we need to follow very carefully. But there is also cause for a very calm and measured analysis of the situation, as jumping to conclusions could see some of Rojava’s international supporters turn their backs on one of the most progressive political processes ever to develop in the Middle East, and even the world.