An open letter to a comrade: Why the left must support Rojava’s revolutionaries

Demonstrators celebrate the anniversary of the Rojava Revolution, in Qamishli in 2017.
Demonstrators celebrate the anniversary of the Rojava Revolution, in Qamishli in 2017. Photo: Abdulla Hawiz/Twitter

Dear Comrade,

As Rosa Luxemburg wrote back in 1916: "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism". Her words have a fresh urgency given the climate crisis we face.

Like you, I am an international socialist, aware that capitalism and imperialism threaten humanity and the planet with destruction. The banners and flags of your organisation can be seen at most progressive marches and rallies, whether in protest against the inhuman treatment of asylum seekers, the poisoning of the planet or in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

I salute you for this, yet I despair that your voices are silent on a conflict that many have called the Spanish Civil War of our age — the struggle in Rojava of the Kurdish people and their allies.

In Australia, the Socialist Alliance, along with anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and independent socialists, have stood by the Kurdish people. The Greens and trade unionists have also raised their voices in support.

So why do you remain silent? Why do you not stand together with our Kurdish comrades, whose people are faced with genocide?

Genocide

In August 2014, sectarian Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fanatics invaded Shengal (Sinjar) district, in the Ninevah governorate of Iraq, where Yezidi Kurds had lived peacefully for centuries. The invasion was accompanied by killing and rape on such a scale that the United Nations has called it genocide.

ISIS’s intention was to wipe out the entire male population and enslave the women it did not slaughter. Children were forcibly converted to the jihadis’ corrupted version of Islam.

When Iraqi authorities were unable to stop the killing, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) from Rojava stepped in to repel the killers and guide the Yezidis to safety. Their comrades in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), from across the border in Turkey, also helped.

ISIS was spawned by the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Like you, I marched in the streets to denounce imperialism and warn of the dire consequences of the criminal invasion. The United States, Britain and Australia were warned that an invasion would open up a sectarian can of worms. And so it did. Different ethnic and religious groups turned against each other in an artificially created state that was held together only by authoritarian rule.

The conflict metastasised al-Qaeda and in 2014 its Islamic State affiliate split away — considering al-Qaeda too moderate — and declared a “caliphate”. In ISIS’s ultra-Salafist vision, all who did not support its dogmas were enemies to be put to the sword or enslaved.

The ISIS uprising rapidly put the weak and corrupt Iraqi army to flight. In the process, the jihadis massacred thousands of helpless prisoners of war — an evil portent of the war crimes and genocide to come.

ISIS fighters then swept into Syria to further destabilise a country racked by civil war. In early 2011, the Arab Spring had spread from North Africa into the Arab world. In Syria, mass protests broke out against Bashar al-Assad’s corrupt and semi-patrimonial regime.

By the following year, after defections from Assad’s army, the conflict became militarised and Sunni Islamists slowly hijacked what had begun as a progressive movement for democracy.

Rojava uprising

The Kurdish population in Syria’s north wanted no truck with neither Assad nor the jihadi insurrectionists. In 2012, they expelled Assad’s troops and began to carve out a semi-autonomous zone in Rojava.

However, ISIS would not leave them alone. Armed with tanks, artillery and heavy weapons seized from the Iraqi army, ISIS fighters barrelled into Rojava, committing bloody atrocities against Kurds, Assyrian Christians and others whom they regarded as infidels.

By late 2014, the jihadis stood at the gates of Kobanî, a Kurdish city lying on the border with Turkey. ISIS had smashed all their foes to this date and it seemed doubtful that the city’s lightly armed defenders could hold out.

To many observers, the situation was comparable with the siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War, with the added twist that huge numbers of Turkish tanks and infantry lined the nearby frontier. They were not there to help Kobanî’s defenders. The Turkish authorities had turned a blind eye to thousands of jihadis crossing the border into Syria and even allowed ISIS to set up hospital and rest facilities on Turkish soil.

Even more egregiously, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s own family were shipping oil from ISIS-controlled fields, and there is evidence that Turkish military intelligence were secretly aiding the jihadis.

Erdoğan hoped Kobanî would fall and the Kurds would be slaughtered. However, the city’s defenders held out doggedly.

US-Kurdish military alliance

Realising that the YPG and YPJ were the most effective of ISIS’s foes, US authorities began to drop light weapons and supplies. The siege was lifted and the jihadis were put to flight. Earlier this year, thanks to the huge sacrifices of the Kurds, who lost 11,000 of their young people, ISIS was defeated at the battle of Raqqa.

I have heard you mutter that you cannot support the Kurdish people because they have cooperated with the United States against ISIS. The Kurds, you say, have sold out to US imperialism.

This is infantile leftism of the worst kind, spouted by someone sitting comfortably thousands of kilometres away from what was — and still is — a life and death struggle. Had they not accepted US assistance, the Kurdish people would have been wiped out. It is as simple as that.

In fact, history is full of examples of revolutionaries forming tactical alliances with imperialist forces to defend themselves against attack. The Yugoslav partisans happily accepted British weapons and advisors when they were fighting the Nazis. The Vietnamese revolutionaries worked together with the CIA’s predecessor against the Japanese during World War II.

However, there is another reason why we should support people who have been betrayed and persecuted for the past century in all of the countries of the Middle East where they live. The Rojava fighters are fellow socialists.

Socialist solidarity

In the midst of a terrible war, and in a region marked by religious and ethnic intolerance, horrible violence, corruption, greed and monstrous oppression of women, they have attempted to build a better society. It is not perfect, and it may not fit with your preconceived ideas and dogmas, but it has been a beacon of peace and enlightenment in a dark world.

Our Rojava comrades have made giant steps towards the liberation of women. They have worked for respect and understanding among all peoples in an ethnically and religiously diverse region. They have attempted to overturn the pyramid of power and put decision-making in the hands of local communities. They have recognised that human beings do not stand outside of nature but are part of it and must try to live within its rules.

Moreover, their struggle against ISIS was a struggle for all of humanity. As Iranian-Kurdish refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani wrote in his passionate defence of his brothers and sisters, "[Rojava] is the most progressive and democratic system in the history of the Middle East [so] this attack is not only an attack on Kurds, it is an attack on democracy and democratic values."

The Kurdish people desperately need our support.

The aim of Turkey’s current attack on Rojava is to expel the Kurdish population from a 32-kilometre deep strip along the border and resettle it with non-Kurdish Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. In 1994, after the war in the former Yugoslavia, a UN Commission of Experts deemed that such expulsions were a crime against humanity and fell within the scope of the UN statutes on genocide.

Already some 300,000 people have fled what will be a gigantic humanitarian disaster. What we are witnessing is a repeat, on a larger scale, of last year’s invasion of the Kurdish city of Afrin by Turkey and its Islamist proxies. Eighty percent of the city’s population were driven out or fled and have been replaced with Islamist goons and their families who have made the lives of the remaining Kurds a nightmare.

In Spain, the people resisted the fascists with the ringing slogan No Pasarán! (They will not pass!) They were betrayed by the so-called “world community” and the fascists won. We cannot allow the same to happen to our comrades in Rojava. We must not let them down in their struggle against the rampaging forces of barbarism.

[John Tully is an activist with Australians for Kurdistan.]

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