Turkey has “joined the war against ISIS”, according to US politicians and the corporate media after a July 23 deal between the US and the Turkish government. The deal gives US war planes and drones access to Turkey's Incirlik airbase from which to conduct air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
The reality is very different. The US and NATO have actually given a green light to Turkish air strikes against the most effective resistance to ISIS — the left-wing Kurdish-led forces.
They have also foreshadowed supporting Turkish plans to create a buffer zone occupied by Turkish soldiers or Islamist proxies in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Turkey's aim is to achieve what ISIS — also known as ISIL or IS — failed to do: prevent the spread of the liberated area of Rojava under the left-wing Kurdish-led Democratic Autonomous Administration.
Ignoring growing evidence of collusion between the Turkish state and ISIS, the US hailed the Turkish state's recent crackdown on leftist and Kurdish activists as a “crackdown on terrorism”.
In fact, this response to Turkey's repression of the forces actually in the front line against ISIS reveals the West's “War on ISIS” as a lie.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby told a July 27 press conference: “We are grateful for Turkey’s cooperation against ISIL to include now use of some of their bases for coalition aircraft to go against targets, ISIL targets, particularly in Syria …
“Separate and distinct from that, Turkey has continued to come under attack by [Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)] terrorists, and we recognise their right to defend themselves against those attacks.
“And it was in retaliation for recent attacks by the PKK that Turkey conducted these most recent strikes … I understand the coincidence of all of this, but it is just that.”
In response to questions about whether the US endorsed Turkish air strikes against the Kurdish-led Peoples Protection Units (YPG), Kirby denied they took place. The YPG, which is leading the resistance in Rojava to ISIS attacks, is ideologically aligned to the Turkish Kurdistan-based PKK.
Instead, Kirby insisted that while Turkey was targeting the PKK and its allies in Turkey and Iraq, it was only targeting ISIS in Syria.
Kurdish resistance targetted
However, a July 26 YPG statement said: “Instead of targeting IS terrorists’ occupied positions, Turkish forces attack our defenders' positions. This is not the right attitude.”
The targeting of YPG and Womens Protection Unit (YPJ) positions has been verified by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Turkish strikes against ISIS have been a feint. Al-Monitor said on July 27: “The attack on IS was a single sortie against limited targets and closer to the Turkish border, while the one against the PKK was much different.
“The air force dispatched 75 F-16s and F-4E 2020s in three waves during July 24-26. Some 300 smart bombs were dropped in 185 sorties against approximately 400 PKK targets.”
The PKK and the Turkish government have been in long-term peace talks, with a ceasefire in place since 2013. Both have now broken down.
The contradiction in Washington's stated attitude is startling. The crucial role of the YPG and YPJ in combating ISIS is widely acknowledged. Furthermore, the Kurdish-led leftist revolutionaries' policies of ethnic and religious inclusion and gender equality are in stark contrast to those of other forces fighting ISIS.
The US response to Turkey's attacks reveals that opposing religious and ethnic communalism, and supporting human rights, were only ever the pretexts for the US-led intervention in the region.
The military effectiveness of the YPJ and YPG stems from their strong popular support in the areas of Rojava liberated from the Syrian dictatorship — and now defended against ISIS terrorists.
Three cantons under Democratic Autonomous Administration were established in 2012. They are based on participatory grassroots democracy, religious tolerance, ethnic inclusion and aspire towards an ecologically sustainable socialist society.
The revolutionary movement includes several mass organisations, women's organisations and political parties, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The latest US-led intervention began in August 2014 in Iraq and the next month in Syria.
In September 2013, attempts by the Obama administration to intervene directly in Syria after the Assad regime used chemical weapons against opposition armed forces and civilians were abandoned in the face of opposition from Western parliaments.
After a mass uprising against Assad in 2011, Western military aid to the opposition, mostly channelled through its regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, created a civil war. But Assad was not brought down.
Rise of ISIS
The drip-feeding of military aid, and US ally Israel's interest in a weakened and divided Syria, suggests this outcome was as the US intended. The Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey ensured that Islamist forces were the main beneficiaries of aid.
ISIS originated as an attempt by an Al Qaeda-affiliated Iraqi group to take over the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda franchise in the Syrian opposition.
When this takeover bid was condemned by Al Qaeda's international leaders, ISIS embarked on its path of projecting itself as the most hard-line Islamist group in the world.
The group renamed itself “Islamic State” last year and declared a global caliphate. This was a statement it considered all other Sunni fundamentalist forces as illegitimate unless they recognised its global authority.
When ISIS forces swept into Iraq in 2012, it threatened the fragile, dysfunctional state the US created during its 2003-2011 occupation. This state is also backed by the main regional rival of the US, Iran. It is based on sectarian Shia militias, whose persecution of Sunnis aided the advance of ISIS.
ISIS is notable for extreme violence against civilians and prisoners of war – and its willingness to publicise its atrocities. Other participants in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts are no strangers to extreme violence, but ISIS is unique in its willingness to advertise its crimes.
Much of its propaganda – such as grisly execution videos of Western hostages – aimed at provoking Western intervention, which the group hoped would boost its legitimacy. The paradox of the war between ISIS and the West is that both adversaries gain legitimacy from the conflict.
Western anti-war sentiment has meant that the US-led intervention has been limited to air strikes. An air war alone was always going to be insufficient to push back ISIS, leaving the West dependent on local allies.
The forces of the Iraqi government and its autonomous component, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), have been the main beneficiaries of both Western and Iranian arms, logistical support and training.
In Syria, however, the situation is more complicated. Iran supports the Assad government while the West supports the opposition Syrian National Coalition. The SNC is nominally in command of the armed opposition, but its component forces mostly operate independently and there are key groups outside its umbrella.
The Democratic Administration in Rojava was initiated by the PYD, YPJ and YPG to avoid being occupied by either regime or opposition forces, who are often hostile to Kurds and other minorities.
Ideologically aligned with the PKK, the Kurdish-led forces in Rojava are organisationally independent.
When ISIS swept into Iraq, the Kurdish Yazidi religious minority in Sinjar (Shengal) were subjected to genocidal oppression: mass killings, rape and women and children being literally sold into slavery. This was the catalyst for the US-led air war. However, the air strikes did not save the Yazidis and Iraqi government and KRG forces abandoned them to their fate.
At this point, the YPG, YPJ and PKK intervened to rescue the survivors and in the process set up democratic instruments of self-rule and a local militia, the YBS.
The KRG, whose neoliberal semi-democratic statelet dominated by feudal families contrasts with the inclusive democracy in Rojava, have condemned the establishment of the YBS but have to deal with the reality that the YPJ, YPG and PKK forces also prevented ISIS from invading their territory.
In Syria in September 2014, ISIS concentrated its forces on besieging Kobane, the main city in one of the three liberated cantons in Rojava that were then geographically separated. During the five-month siege that followed Turkey gave direct support to ISIS.
Turkey's aim was to allow ISIS to destroy the Democratic Autonomous Administration, massacre the population, then send its own troops in to occupy the whole of Rojava under the cynical pretext of creating a “safe haven” for survivors.
Initially, the US seemed willing to go along with this plan. Secretary of State John Kerry frequently referring to Kobane's imminent fall as a tragic inevitability. US air strikes initially did not target the ISIS forces amassing around Kobane, the largest concentration of forces in the group's history.
However, Kobane did not fall. Its tenacious resistance was assisted by a global solidarity campaign by the Kurdish diaspora. The contradiction between its propaganda and the reality that the Kurdish-led leftist forces success in combating ISIS led eventually to US air strikes targeting ISIS in coordination with the YPG and YPJ.
US support to the YPG and YPJ never extended to allowing them to procure heavy weapons. However, the US has continued to coordinate air strikes with them. Turkey, however has continued to support ISIS.
Polat Can, the representative of the YPG to the US-led forces, told the Washington Kurdish Institute on July 24: “The Turkish government has imposed a tight blockade on our territory for years, but at the same time they opened their official and non-official border crossings with ISIS …
“Turkey demands that all the Syrian parties work against us in order to allow them to operate on their territory or to provide them with the required support …
“Previously, the whole world saw large trucks loaded with weapons and projectiles that were sent by Turkey to terrorists in Syria under pretext of humanitarian and medical aid. Turkey is also the main gateway for the transit of terrorists to Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“According to reliable information that we have recently obtained, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s daughter (Sümeyye Erdogan) oversees the committee handling the treatment of ISIS terrorists in Turkish hospitals.”
The US cannot be unaware of these links. Journalists have verified ISIS forces attacking Rojava and fleeing from YPG/YPJ forces across the Turkish border.
The July 26 Observer quoted a “senior Western official” describing information on hard-drives captured by US special forces: “The links [between the Turkish government and ISIS] are already so clear that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara.”
However, the US has consistently turned a blind eye to this.
The US and Western allies such as Australia classify the PKK as a terrorist group, but treat the PYD, YPG and YPJ as separate non-terrorist entities. The Turkish government explicitly categorises the Kurdish-led forces in Rojava as an extension of the PKK, and therefore terrorist.
In welcoming Turkey into its “war on ISIS”, the US ignored recent statements by the Turkish government that it sees the liberated areas in Rojava posing as great a terrorist threat as ISIS.
The US also ignores the role played by the PKK in Iraq. By supporting Turkey's onslaught against the PKK, it is strengthening the position of ISIS in Iraq.
The situation dramatically changed in June in both Syria and Turkey. On June 15 in Syria, the YPJ, YPG and their allies took the town of Tell Abyad from ISIS. They linked up two of three liberated cantons and cut one of the border crossings through which Turkey supplied ISIS.
On June 25, ISIS forces attacked Kobane from across the Turkish border. The YPJ and YPG drove them off after they massacred 233 civilians, mainly children.
Since then, the YPJ and YPG have been advancing on Jarabalus. They are aiming to link up the third liberated canton, bring the area under Democratic Autonomous Administration into a single geographic territory for the first time and cut ISIS off from the Turkish border entirely.
It is precisely in this area that the Turkish government is proposing setting up a buffer zone.
HDP under attack
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Freedom Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority in June 7 elections, while remaining the largest party in parliament. This was due to the strong showing of the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).
The HDP is a Kurdish-led party that brought together a coalition of ethnic and religious minorities, most of Turkey's far-left parties, feminists, LGBT activists and the youth-led civil rights movement that emerged after the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
His position threatened both in Syria and domestically, Erdogan took drastic action. On July 20, an ISIS suicide bombing in the town of Suruc targeted a press conference of young Turkish and Kurdish socialists travelling to Kobane to assist in its reconstruction, killing 32.
Evidence of state complicity is compelling: the suicide bomber was able to enter the site despite intensive searches of journalists and the young socialists. After the bombing, security forces attacked survivors.
Cynically, Erdogan used the Suruc bombing as the pretext for the crackdown on terrorism that targeted leftists and Kurdish activists. The crackdown left the extensive network of barely secret ISIS safe houses in Turkey virtually untouched.
On July 29, deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said of the 1300 people detained in the crack-down, only 137 were suspected of links to ISIS, AP reported the next day. The remainder were suspected leftists or Kurdish freedom movement activists.
“All fifteen IS suspects, including 11 foreign nationals, detained in raids at a low-income Ankara neighbourhood this week were released, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported,” AP said.
The HDP has been targeted. Several of its activists have been arrested and the prosecution of its parliamentarians for terrorism has been foreshadowed. On July 30, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas was charged over having taken part in protests last September in support of Kobane against the AKP government's pro-ISIS bias.
With no party able to form government after the June 7 elections, the constitution calls for new elections. Erdogan could be hoping that the crackdown, repression of ongoing street-protests that has claimed at least 30 lives, and the resumption of war with the PKK, will diminish HDP support.
However, opinion polls conducted by Avrasya since the crisis began suggest that the HDP's support is rising. Another possibility is banning the HDP or declaring emergency rule.
In Syria, the Kurdish-led forces have vowed that they will resist Turkish incursions or a US-Turkish backed proxy force, as much as they resisted ISIS.
PYD leader Saleh Moslem told Firat News Agency on July 28: “Everyone should know very well that the YPG and YPJ are there to protect the people. We will be resisting all of the policies which anticipate leaving some certain regions to ISIS or its brother organizations and which target the Kurds.
“Just like they resisted the regime and ISIS so far, the YPG and YPJ will continue resisting anyone targeting them.”