The Character of the Turkish War and the Need to Defend the Right of Self-determination
The political aim of the Turkish attack is to liquidate the political and military structures of Kurdish self-governing in Rojava. But there is another, domestic policy goal that is of growing importance: to rid Turkey of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees currently living in the country, if necessary by force, and resettle them in northeast Syria where today mostly Kurds live.
The stateless Kurdish people were divided into four parts as part of the imperialist order after World War I (Sykes-Picot agreement). Since that time, the Kurdish question has remained unresolved in four countries (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran). For these occupying powers, the political disenfranchisement of their Kurdish populations is a principle of their nation-states. Kurdistan thus has always been unable to exercise its right of self-determination.
The civil war in Syria has called the Sykes-Picot agreement into question. In the course of the war, the Kurdish nation has achieved some autonomy in the region. The administration in West Kurdistan (northern Syria) has pursued an approach of combating national and patriarchal oppression in a kind of democratic co-existence with the occupying powers. This has meant that Kurdish fighters have entered into a military alliance with U.S. and European forces and been used to defeat ISIS, at least in its territorial form (the so-called “caliphate”). In exchange, the Kurdish political-military leadership had been given “protection” from Assad and especially from Erdoğan by its imperialist “partners.”
Donald Trump’s dissolution of that military alliance has pushed the Kurdish movement into a military alliance with Assad and Putin. But even this military alliance between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Assad against the Turkish attack, under the auspices of Putin’s Russia, was not enough to stop the advance. On Thursday, the United States and Turkey signed an agreement for a “ceasefire” according to which the Turkish army would pause its attacks in return for an end to economic sanctions, allowing the Kurdish population in the cities of Serekaniye (Ras al-Ayn) and Tell Abyad to leave. According to the Kurdish press, however, the fighting in Serekaniye continues unabated despite the declared ceasefire.
The Turkish occupation of the Syrian-Kurdish border region to establish a buffer zone is an expression of settler-colonialism. Weakened by economic stagnation, the Turkish bourgeoisie hopes to gain huge profits through mega-projects. The Turkish bourgeoisie believes that it can establish itself as a regional power if it brings the Kurdish areas under its control. In the face of this emergency situation, more than 200,000 people from Rojava are already on the run.
With the “buffer zone,” the Turkish state wants to change the ethnic composition of an area of nearly 9,000 square miles permanently. The idea is to build new villages for 2 to 4 million people. For this purpose, the jihadist militias allied with Turkey are ready as shock troops of the future settler population. This foreshadows that the Turkish state intends to resettle Syrian refugees by force. The Turkish Bonaparte Erdoğan promises Turkish nationalists he will send the refugees to the occupied parts of Syria. It is an ethnic cleansing operation.
Trump’s Retreat and the Hypocrisy of European Imperialist Powers
Trump’s withdrawal takes place in the context of a broader paradigm shift. Multilateralism—that is, different bourgeoisies pulling in the same direction and avoiding major conflicts—has become dysfunctional in a period of declining neoliberalism. France and Germany, for example, want to sanction Turkey separately from European Union structures, since a uniform line could not be reached within the EU.
Legitimizing war with terms such as democracy, human rights, and so on no longer works with the same propagandistic force it once had internationally, especially after the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile Trump considers U.S. Middle East policy a failure and has practically annulled the consensus. With his decision, he has shaken the Pentagon and the Democrats, who advocate a longer occupation of Syria. Trump used the slogan “mission accomplished” to open an escape route from Syria and shift his attention to the Asia-Pacific region. As Trump himself has said, U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East is a “strategic issue.”
But to do that, U.S. imperialism must ensure that its interests are safeguarded, and for that, Washington needs reliable and capable allies, especially as Iran expands its influence in the region as a result of its successes in the Syrian civil war. Israel and Saudi Arabia, two fundamental pillars for maintaining the imperialist order in the region, have their own problems, both internal and external. It is not far-fetched to say that Trump decided to put his relationship with the other historically strategic ally in the region, Turkey, on a new footing. After all, the alliance with the Kurdish forces always had a tactical character, one that conflicted with the interests of a NATO ally. The “betrayal” of the Kurds by the United States was, in this sense, only a matter of time.
Turkey felt encouraged to invade by the withdrawal of U.S. troops. For a moment, it looked as if Turkey would lose its Western partners, despite the importance of the Turkish army to NATO. The agreement announced by the U.S vice president shows, in the end, the support of U.S. imperialism for its ally Turkey. Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, the agreement legitimizes the Turkish invasion and will allow for an “orderly” withdrawal of troops as Trump announced.
Although this type of agreement is not necessarily the most reliable, as has been shown repeatedly during the eight years of the war in Syria, it strengthens the positions of various actors. Russia and Assad now control Syrian territory that had been in Kurdish hands, and slow down the further advance of Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey is pushing to expel the Kurds and establish a “buffer zone” into which it can forcibly relocate millions of Syrian Arab refugees.
Erdoğan has exploited the strength of his position: the refugee deal with the European Union and the geopolitical position of Turkey.
In this context, the attitude of the European imperialist powers toward Turkey has been more than hypocritical. It is the EU itself—and especially Germany—that has armed the Turkish army in recent years. Turkey has received billions from the refugee deal with the EU, sealing Europe’s external borders with Erdoğan’s help. Turkey is the main customer for German arms exports and, in 2018 alone, acquired weapons from Germany worth 242.8 million euros—almost a third of all German arms exports. That number is likely to be even higher in 2019. Even more hypocritical is that the arms embargo announced by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas applies only to newly requested arms exports, not to those already approved.
Erdoğan knows this and can thus hold the Syrian refugees hostage to maintain his policy towards the EU. To block critical voices, he threatens to cancel the refugee deal with the EU.
The Kurdish structures in Syria that are supposedly defended by Germany and France are being fought by these same imperialist states within their own borders. The Kurdish organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) remains designated as a terrorist organization, which is why Kurdish activists in Europe suffer from repression and criminalization. The People’s Defense Units and Women’s Defense Units (YPG and YPJ), Kurdish militias in Syria, are not excluded from this. Kurdish activists in Europe are de facto prohibited from organizing effective solidarity networks against the Turkish invasion.
The democratic demagogy of European governments is an expression of the panic they feel due to domestic pressure from the right. They have allowed the Turkish government to exacerbate repressive laws against the Kurdish people, the working class, and refugees through treaties, arms, and capital exports. As the instability of the Erdoğan regime continues to produce crises, they spread across Turkey’s national borders into European countries. Turkish Bonapartism has been worn down while attempting the historic task of transforming Turkey into a regional power—and so Erdoğan, tethered to this Bonapartist task, also tries to discipline the Turkish bourgeoisie by rallying it behind acts of war against the Kurdish people. At present, Erdoğan is succeeding with this chauvinistic project of national unity.
For the Defeat of the Turkish Invasion! For the Expulsion of all Colonial, Regional, and Imperialist Powers from Kurdistan!
We support the victory of Rojava in this Turkish war of occupation. But the policy of the Kurdish leadership has reached its limits. Its compromises with the Western imperialist states in exchange for recognition of the “grassroots autonomy” in Rojava have severely hampered the possibilities for social change. The Turkish state has repeatedly signaled in recent years that it wants to colonize Rojava. The current situation, in which the Kurds were cornered and either had to accept a genocide or a pact with all the devils, shows that those who portrayed the imperialist states as protectors or even as allies of oppressed nations have left the Kurdish people with neither the tools nor the strategy for national liberation.
The Turkish invasion destroys nature and the basis for human life with its air force. This region will first be bombed and then reconstructed in the interests of imperialist corporations. The Turkish army marches in with German tanks to conquer the region. It is the imperialist corporations that profit from the war machine and bear primary responsibility. For capitalism, profit matters above all else: more than human lives, the survival of ecosystems, and the future of the planet as a whole.
The role played by Assad, and above all by Putin, is also terrible for the self-determination of the Kurdish people and for the rights and interests of all the oppressed and exploited in the region. Far from being interested in the national rights of the Kurdish people, Putin and his vassal Assad seek to benefit from the situation, to recapture territories and thereby strengthen their positions relative to their rivals and international allies/competitors. All of this comes at the expense of the Kurdish people. In this sense, it cannot be ruled out that both Assad and Putin will soon come to an agreement with Erdoğan regarding the “Kurdish question” in Syria.
However, a new wave of international solidarity with the Kurdish resistance also shows where the seeds of progress lie. With their heroic struggles, the Kurdish militias have won the sympathy of oppressed peoples and internationalist activists. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Europe in recent days to show their solidarity and to denounce the complicity of imperialism, including the young activists of Fridays For Future.
At the same time, a key to the defense of Rojava lies in the alliance with the exploited and oppressed in the region itself. In Iran, working people in many cities have mobilized in the streets and gone on strike. In Iraq, the social and political crisis has taken on a new dimension, with the masses taking to the streets against unemployment and corruption. In Turkey, the political and economic crisis has even reached Erdoğan’s party, where two leading figures have announced their intention to found their own party after leaving the AKP (Justice and Development Party). High unemployment, a corrupt state apparatus, and low wages have led to discontent in Turkey. Before the invasion, Erdoğan’s Bonapartism was crumbling politically and economically, but now he seeks to restore national unity and discipline every sector of his own bourgeoisie. The Turkish state has no interest in withdrawing the Turkish military and police from northern Kurdistan, lest it lose its de facto inner colony. Nor will the Turkish state yield to the pressure of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) to come to the negotiating table. The weaker Erdoğan’s position on the foreign stage becomes, the more he feels the need to expand his domestic reign of terror. Moreover, the Turkish bourgeois parties always act unanimously when it comes to suppressing the Kurdish people.
At this stage in particular, the appeal of a revolutionary, socialist policy—one that calls for bread, work, and housing for all, counteracting the chauvinist divisions between Turkish and Kurdish workers—is tremendously strong. The unity of the working class with the oppressed is central to the defeat of nationalist reaction. The fight against the common enemy reveals who seeks to overcome the chauvinist divisions between the Kurdish and Turkish working classes and who is the warmonger.
In the imperialist centers, we must do everything we can to oppose the complicity of our own governments and the arms industries that fuel war. Following the example of the longshore workers of Genoa, who blocked supplies of arms to Saudi Arabia because of its war in Yemen, the European working class can put its weight on the scale and strike against arms exports. The massive youth movement can multiply its solidarity and paralyze schools, universities, and the streets until the imperialist governments abandon their support for the war of aggression.
Our solidarity is with the Kurdish resistance. We demand:
- Down with the Turkish invasion! For the expulsion of all colonial, regional, and imperialist powers from Kurdistan!
- The EU-Turkey refugee deal must be canceled completely and instead dignified conditions for all refugees seeking asylum in Europe must be established.
- Repeal of the ban and an end to the repression of the Kurdish organizations PKK, YPG, and YPJ. The PKK must be removed from the lists of terrorist organizations.
- Release of all Kurdish and Kurdistan solidarity prisoners in Europe.
- International mass mobilization of workers, women, and youth, along movements such as Fridays For Future and the feminist movement, against the Turkish invasion and imperialist interventions across the region.
- To achieve these goals, we fight for the establishment of an anti-imperialist movement within the trade unions. The strategic perspective is to develop mass movements and general strikes against the war and imperialist interventions.
Germany: Internationalist Revolutionary Organization (RIO)
France: Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR) in the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA)
Spanish State: Revolutionary Workers Current (CRT)
First published on October 19
Translation: Scott Cooper