Australia must support Kurdistan

October 9, 2020

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has unleashed another assault on the country’s battered democratic institutions targeting, yet again, members of the left-wing HDP (Peoples Democratic Party). More than 80 of the party’s MPs, mayors and prominent activists have been targeted for arrest.

This comes after he prevented 90 democratically elected HDP mayors and deputy mayors from taking up their positions, or forcibly removing them from office, in 2019. Of these, 46 remain in jail.

The success of the HDP, particularly in the predominantly Kurdish south-east of the country, but extending into wider Turkish society, is clearly a threat to Erdoğan.

The crackdown on the party has been coupled with an all-out assault on Kurdish society across Turkey’s borders, with Erdoğan launching invasions of Rojava (northern Syria) and northern Iraq (south Kurdistan).

Attacking Kurds and other ethnic minorities is a founding element of the nationalist mythology of the Turkish state: it is the default weapon of mass distraction deployed by right-wing Turkish politicians of both the secular and Islamist variety.

The existential threat to Erdoğan and other authoritarian regimes is that the Kurdish liberation movement has transformed itself into a left-wing, multi-ethnic and feminist beacon in the region, one that has put its ideas into practice in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (also known as Rojava).

Coupled with Turkey’s intervention into the Libyan civil war and its stoking of war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, commentators have talked about Erdoğan’s seeming desire to recreate the lost greatness of the Ottoman Empire.

But Erdoğan’s repression and strongman antics are also a function of Turkish capitalism’s weakness.

While Turkey has a relatively developed economy, compared with most countries of the Global South, it is still less industrialised than Western Europe, the United States or Australia — countries where capitalism has more wealth to share with a section of the working class to buy social peace.

Of course, the still-limited democratic freedoms in the wealthy imperialist countries are also the product of working people’s struggle.

Nevertheless, in conceding universal suffrage and some democratic space, capitalism delivered them wrapped up in an implicit social compact that is a foundation stone of these societies — more freedom at home in return for supporting exploitation and war abroad.

A contemporary expression of this is the nationalistic sense of superiority about “Australian values”, living in the “best country in the world” and imaging that we are one of the “good guys” on the world stage — even though Australia joined the illegal invasion of Iraq causing more than 1 million people to die, laying waste to its society and creating the material and political conditions for the rise of the Islamic State (IS).

It is here that the Kurdish liberation movement and the real fruits of Australia’s foreign policy collide.

The heroic Kurdish liberation movement turned the tide on the murderous IS regime at enormous cost. The West was keen to put a leash on the monster it helped create, giving limited support to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the battles raged in Kobane, Raqqa and elsewhere.

But Erdoğan was and is far more threatened by the multi-ethnic democratic society in Rojava and funnelled support to IS. With IS mostly defeated, the US (and Australia) washed their hands of the SDF, and issued only a feeble reprimand to Turkey after it launched its invasion.

Last October’s statement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne claim to be “deeply troubled by Turkey’s unilateral military operation into north-eastern Syria”.

While they note that “the Syrian Democratic Forces have been steadfast partners for the international Coalition in the fight against Da’esh, and have borne a significant share of the sacrifice”, they also give a nod to Turkey’s “legitimate domestic security concerns”.

Since then, they have not sanctioned Turkey over its brutal crackdown on its own citizens or its invasion and ethnic cleansing operation in Syria. Meanwhile so-called Western democracies continue to sell weapons to Erdoğan.

It is mistaken to separate the Kurdish resistance movement in Syria from that in Turkey: they are two parts of the same thing.

While Australia continues to list the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is based in Turkey, as a “terrorist” organisation, it is the PKK that declared a ceasefire in 2013 — initiating a peace process that opened up unprecedented democratic space in Turkey.

This breakthrough, initiated by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from his Turkish prison cell, also led to the creation of the democratic, ecological, multi-ethic and anti-patriarchal experiment in Rojava. It was this society, its administration and fighting force that was capable of stopping IS in its tracks where all others failed.

This is why Green Left is committed to supporting the Rojava revolution, despite the enormous difficulties. It is why we call on the Australian government to condemn the Turkish government’s actions, to expel Turkey’s ambassador and to ban the sale of military equipment to the Erdoğan regime. We are also part of a growing international campaign calling for the unconditional release of Abdullah Öcalan.

We also have much to learn from Rojava in our own attempts to create a just and democratic society that lives in peace with the planet. Help Green Left to spread the word by becoming a supporter and making a donation.

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