Turkey declares war on Syria's democratic hope

September 2, 2016

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) says 4475 people were killed in the nation's horrific civil war during July. Of these, 1289 were civilians, including 263 children.

Almost three quarters of these civilian casualties were killed in airstrikes by the government or its ally, Russia, and other attacks by the pro-government side, SOHR said.

Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than 400,000 people have been killed, between 4-to-5 million people have left Syria as refugees and about 8 million have been internally displaced.

The government is responsible for the highest civilian body count, but it does not have a monopoly on atrocities. Among their opponents is ISIS, whose sadism is well known.

But many of the other armed opposition groups, including those affiliated to the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), share a similar Islamist ideology to ISIS. Even secular affiliates to the SNC have, like ISIS, made videos advertising their own cruelty.


Amid this carnage, there has emerged a region of hope: the self-administered areas of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) and Northern Syria. This revolutionary experiment emerged in 2012 when most government forces withdrew from Rojava to defend the capital, Damascus, and the largest city, Aleppo, from falling to Islamist and Western-backed opposition forces.

After uprisings in the main cities and towns of Rojava, three geographically separated cantons were established. Under the political leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM), a system based on grassroots participatory democracy was established.

The commitment to democracy was notable. The Syrian Civil War emerged out of a democratic uprising against the Baathist dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, but the militarisation of the conflict and the rise of Sunni Islamist groups within the opposition took democracy off the opposition's agenda.

The conflict became one between a brutal, but vaguely secular, dictatorship and supporters of theocracy.

The distinction between “moderate” and “extremist” Sunni Islamist groups is determined by their relationship with the West, rather than any distinction in their reactionary social program.

By contrast in Rojava, the participatory model of democracy that developed is more democratic than representative democracy in the West.

The Islamist forces revel in their misogyny and the Baathists use mass rape as a military tactic, but women's liberation is at the centre of the revolution in Rojava and North Syria. Quotas ensure that all political bodies, from the neighbourhood level up, are at least 40% women, and parallel women-only bodies exist at all levels.

Multi-ethnic liberation

The revolution emerged out of the Kurdish struggle for national rights, but it rejects all forms of nationalism, including Kurdish nationalism. Local administration and education are conducted in all languages spoken in any given area.

Furthermore, the policy of tolerant secularism means that different religious communities, as well as ethnic communities co-exist harmoniously.

This has allowed the revolution to expand beyond Rojava, drawing support from Arab, Assyrian/Syriac, Turkmen and other communities.

The areas liberated by the revolution also host more than 1 million refugees, predominantly non-Kurdish, from other parts of Syria, as well as some Kurdish refugees, mainly Yazidi, from Iraq.

Since the ISIS siege of the Rojava city of Kobane in 2014, the Kurdish-led Peoples Protection Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ), along with non-Kurdish allies, have made considerable military advances. Mostly defeating ISIS, they have managed to link up two of the three Rojava cantons and expand into other areas of Northern Syria.

Since November, the YPG, YPJ and their allies have been united in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In March, the self-administered areas were united in the Democratic Federal System of North Syria-Rojava (sometimes referred to as the Democratic Federation of North Syria). It provides a model for the democratisation of Syria and an alternative to the endless war of attrition dividing the country on religious and ethnic lines.

However, this example is threatened by Turkey's invasion of the area around the northern Syrian town of Jarablus on August 24. Western powers have hailed this as part of the global war against ISIS, but Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies targeted the SDF and civilians rather than ISIS — who handed the town over to Turkey.

Foreign powers

The conflict in Syria cannot be understood without looking at the role of foreign powers — regional and global — in the conflict.

The Assad regime is Russia's closest ally in the Arab world and Syria hosts a Russian naval base at Tartus — the only Russian naval base outside Russia. The Assad regime is also aligned to Iran.

The militarisation of the 2011 uprising was largley due to Western interference: providing weapons, money and training to armed opposition groups both directly and through its allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

These Sunni Islamist regimes directed aid to groups with which they had ideological affinity. This ensured Islamist groups eclipsed secular groups in the armed opposition.

Turkey initially supported opposition groups with ambitions of influence in a post-Assad Syria. However, the Rojava Revolution changed this.

The PYD and TEV-DEM are ideologically close to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). They are also ideologically tied to the Kurdish-led progressive opposition in Turkey, including the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) whose electoral successes in 2015 stood in the way of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's moves to accumulate authoritarian power.

As a result, crushing the Rojava Revolution became Turkey's priority — and it funnelled support to ISIS to this end.

The military philosophy of the YPG and YPJ (and now the SDF) is one of armed self-defence — rejecting offensive campaigns, but defending territory under democratic self-administration. In its first two years, the Rojava Revolution repeatedly defeated attacks by the regime and opposition groups.


In a bid to crush the Rojava Revolution, the Erdogan regime increasingly supported first the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, then ISIS. The logistical, financial and military links between ISIS and the Turkish state are well-documented.

However, the emergence of ISIS complicated Western involvement in Syria. Domestic opposition to military adventures following the ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had limited the US and its allies from getting directly involved in the war against Assad.

ISIS, however, fiercely anti-Western and proudly ultra-violent and tyrannical, was a political gift to justify Western military interventions.

The US and other Western powers, including Australia, declared a war against ISIS and began air strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2014. In September last year, Russia used the same pretext to begin air-strikes in Syria, although often targeting US-endorsed opposition groups.

At the same time, tenacious resistance to the ISIS siege of Kobane in September 2014, combined with worldwide protests, thwarted a US plan to allow Kobane to fall and then send Turkish troops in to create a buffer zone under the pretext of rescuing the survivors.

The US and its allies continued to maintain a blockade on the liberated areas in Rojava, causing much hardship to civilians as well as preventing the YPG and YPJ from obtaining heavy weapons. But, under pressure, the US-led coalition began coordinating airstrikes with the YPG and YPJ and later the SDF.

At the same time, representatives of the Rojava Revolution made diplomatic overtures to Russia, with the aim of counterbalancing Turkey, pressuring the US to maintain its tenuous alliance and staying the hand of the Assad regime.

What changed in the past two months was the success of the SDF in liberating Manbij from ISIS — which alarmed Iran and the Assad regime as well as Turkey. The Erdogan regime was also strengthened domestically by a failed coup.

Erdogan abandoned ambitions to overthrow Assad and reached out to Turkey's former enemies — Iran, Russia and Assad. Whereas previously the Rojava revolutionary forces had pressured the West by raising the prospect of an alliance with Russia, Turkey has now done the same.

Also, the US had to recognise the SDF as the only effective force against ISIS, but was never comfortable with its left-wing, ecosocialist model. The US consistently ensured that the Rojava movement and its allies were excluded from international talks on Syria.

The prospect that the SDF would continue their advance from Manbij to Jarabalus and link up the three cantons alarmed the West.

Accompanying the Turkish invasion of northern Syria were more than 1000 fighters said to belong to the Free Syrian Army. The FSA fighters accompanying the Turkish invaders include some fighters from Turkish-backed opposition groups previously fighting in Aleppo. Kurdish news agencies have also reported that some ISIS fighters simply changed uniform.

Western complicity

US spokespeople continue to insist that the SDF and Turkey are both allies. But on August 28, Hawar News Agency reported: “Warplanes of the international coalition [took] part in the massacre which happened today in the village of Baer Kosa south of Jarablus.

“Turkish army and its mercenaries targeted civilians in the village … which left most civilians in the village dead. It was said that warplanes of the international coalition supported the Turkish army and mercenaries' group in the massacre.”

In a meeting in the European Parliament on September 1, PYD co-chair Salih Muslim condemned the Turkish invasion, and said: “The Jarablus attack didn't come out of the blue. Turkey has been attacking Rojava and Kurdish interests for years. We are in possession of documents showing their aid to ISIS. With this attack, Turkey is also attacking Syria's democratisation and the model we are trying to realise. They are on the same side as the regime in this matter.”

“There is a serious embargo against Rojava ... Because of this embargo, no aid can come from anywhere … Our cities have been torn down, we have taken in significant numbers of refugees, they have needs and these needs have to be met…

“The model we defend is a model where everyone can live freely. We want Arabs, Syriacs and Kurds to live together freely … We are paying a great price to defend these values.”

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this article is appalling you quote the sohr which has long been discredited its one guy in britain who works closely with british intelligence he used to have the free syrian army flag on his website the FSA is a loose coalition of muslim brotherhood groups ie jihadists you have the hide to blame the syrian government for most of the deaths could the western governments who have armed funded and trained 100,000 jihadists and sicced them on the place be responsible you people need to get it through your thick heads that this is not a cival war but regime change by washington using proxy forces you people go on about democracy nevermind they had elections in 2012 and the government won if you people get your wish and the syrian government falls just sit back and watch the chaos it will be libya all over again why were you people against the iraq war and not this conflict?

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