There is little about United States President Donald Trump that one can truly be surprised by at this stage in his presidency. Buffoonery and delusion — not to mention racism and the incitement of violence — have become normalised during his time in office to a frightening degree.
Still, even if we take the most jaw-dropping quotes of his more than two-and-a-half years in office into account, there is something remarkably horrifying about the comments he has made in recent days since he de facto supported Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria.
That green light was one thing. Another was the so-called “ceasefire” brokered between his administration and Turkey on October 17, several days after the invasion began, and hundreds of casualties later.
This “deal” was quite strange, since the US is not party to the conflict, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — who are a party to the conflict as the invaded — were not invited to any negotiations.
Much has been written already about the absurdity of the agreement that Trump hailed, which really amounted to a demand for the SDF to fully capitulate by leaving their lands, and allowing Turkey’s ironically labelled “safe zone” to become a reality.
Trump seemed eager to pat himself on the back for saving “millions of lives”, and to parrot the language and arguments of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, telling reporters that what he called an “incredible outcome” was necessary because: “You have a 22-mile strip, that for many, many years, Turkey, in all fairness, they’ve had a legitimate problem with it, they had terrorists, they had a lot of people in there that they couldn’t have. They’ve suffered a lot of loss of lives also, and they had to have it cleaned out.”
This was the US President explicitly using the language of ethnic cleansing, which was essentially repeated a few days later in a tweet, where he mentioned the apparent progress that had been made as “new areas are being resettled by Kurds”.
In his view, this is supposedly a positive development, since the Kurds “have a lot of sand to play with”.
It is almost certainly not a positive development if you are one of those families that have lost their home. An estimated 300,000 people have now been displaced, in what was previously among the most stable parts of Syria.
In classic Trumpian fashion, it is an accomplishment to “get something done” that previous administrations could not — which in this case is presumably crimes against humanity, coupled with the resurgence of Daesh [ISIS].
PKK the biggest terror threat?
Trump does not seem to care too much about Daesh. In his view, they are not the most significant terror threat in the region, and he seems to think they have no chance of being revived (queue his oft-regurgitated tweet about the US being responsible for destroying 100% of the Caliphate).
Trump raised more than a few eyebrows by instead choosing to denounce the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), saying: "Now the PKK, which is part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror, and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS."
That is certainly a way to show your NATO pals in Ankara that you have their back. It is a statement that sounds as if he had just walked out of a briefing with the Turkish Defence Ministry, and definitely a bit more reassuring than the “don’t be a tough guy, don’t be a fool” letter he penned to Erdogan the previous week.
The PKK leadership was quick to respond, writing an open letter to Trump and the American people, which clearly articulated not only the reasons for the organisation’s existence, but provided a concise history lesson on the oppression of the Kurdish nation.
The letter pointed out that not only are comparisons between the PKK and Daesh ridiculous, but that the two groups are diametrically opposed in ideology and in action: “When ISIS began its campaign of terror across Syria and Iraq, we knew we had to respond. The group threatened not only the ideals we have fought so many years to defend, but the safety of tens of millions of people…
“In August of 2014, we carried out a humanitarian campaign in Sinjar, Iraq, where ISIS was committing atrocities against the Yezidi community that the United Nations would subsequently recognise as a genocide.”
It is a part of history that perhaps Trump has forgotten — or never really understood. But there are some in the liberal establishment in the US who may remember that genocide, but are selective in their memories as well.
Despite the shockwaves that Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement created in Washington, one thing that US imperialism has been bipartisan in supporting is the labelling of the PKK as a terrorist organisation. On that front, the US war on the Kurdish Freedom Movement has never stopped.
And while concerns are raised in the Republican and Democratic parties about possible US complicity in war crimes, because of Turkey’s war in Syria, how many of these politicians batted an eye when the same Turkish military was burning children alive in basements and flattening Kurdish cities within Turkish borders in the country’s south-east in 2015–16?
As the PKK pointed out in its letter, they are an organisation committed to the principle of self-defence in the face of such massacres: “We are not guilty of terrorism; we are victims of state terrorism. But we are guilty of defending our people.”
The Resistance Must Go On
The 120-hour “ceasefire” is soon due to come to a close.
The SDF has withdrawn from Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) after waging a heroic resistance to Turkey and its Free Syrian Army proxies for more than a week. Gire Spi (Tel-Abyad) is also in the hands of the invaders. But according to the “deal” reached last week, this will not be sufficient for Erdogan — or for Trump’s administration.
The SDF is supposed to withdraw from all of the major cities that straddle the Turkey-Syria border, such as Amude, Qamishlo and Derik. These areas are the beating heart of Rojava, and there is little doubt that SDF forces will choose to stay and fight, rather than surrender their lands. Erdogan is aware of this, making the US-Turkey deal all the more clever.
SDF refusal to accept ethnic cleansing and occupation will be called a violation of the agreement they had no role in drafting. They will be framed as aggressors, much in the same bizarre way they have been referred to by the Turkish state — and now by Trump — as a terrorist threat.
The progressive people of the world have been steadfast in standing in solidarity with Rojava so far, organising sometimes huge demonstrations against the war, as well as blockades and other direct actions.
The coming days will once again be critical for the survival of the Rojava experiment that fascistic forces are so intent on crushing.