Not Kurds Alone: This War is Against All Free Syrians

On October 9th, with some US troops removed from the region and the remainder giving the go-ahead, the armed forces of Turkey mounted a fully fledged invasion of Northern Syria. No longer content with the airstrikes, brief incursions and border clashes that have defined the last three years, the Turkish government has decided that it is finally time to strike against the Syrian Democratic Forces, commonly refered to in the Western media as “the Kurds”.

However the SDF aren’t simply a Kurdish militia. They’re the military of what is commonly known as Rojava but officially bears the title of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria,. Since the foundation of the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, in 2015 they have included almost all of Syrias diverse and often disparate ethnic groups[1]. Though the Kurdish People’s Protection Units or YPG (which include the now world-famous Women’s Protection Units or YPJ) form a majority of their members the coalition also includes the Syriac Military Council – representing Assyrians, Al-Sanadid Forces – representing the Shammar tribe of Arabs, the multi-ethnic Army of Revolutionaries, and of course the Syrian Arab Coalition, representing Syria’s Arab majority[2]. This is not to mention the disparate international volunteers, either members of the YPG International Battallion[3] which is integrated directly into the command structure of the main Kurdish defence force or the International Freedom Batallion, a broad-church leftist movement consisting of European and American volunteers[4]. The Turkish Government have made it clear that they consider every member of the SDF to be terrorists and that nationality will win fighters no quarter. [5]

Of course, Kurds remain at the heart of the SDF and it is truthfully their Kurdish nature which marks them out as a target for Ankara. Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria is driven not by a fear of a democratic socialist state appearing on their border but out of a more deep seated fear of Kurdish independence. For generations and particularly since the autocratic rise of President Erdogan, Turkey has been fighting a violent struggle in its eastern provinces against Kurdish militias seeking independence, primarily the PKK, a communist group deemed terrorists by not only the Turkish government but much of the western world. This decades-long struggle has seen a deep hatred rise in the Turkish government, not only of Kurds within Turkey but also those who live in Iran, Iraq and, of course, Syria. It is this fear of the Kurds that drives the Turkish invasion a fear which has a serious threat of turning genocidal.

The Turkish attack on the SDF, which started with air raids in 2015, has reportedly been backed and supported by the far-right Grey Wolves, a neo-fascist organisation of Turkish nationalists responsible for a string of bombings, assasinations and violent attacks on Kurdish communities and others around the world.[6] The Grey Wolves are considered a terrorist group by several governments and have launched attacks in Azerbaijan (where they attempted a coup), in Kazakstan (which they claim as acestral Turkish homeland), and even in Thailand – in retaliation for Thai deportations of Uyghur terrorism suspects to China. These varied and violent attacks have at times been denounced by the Turkish Government, though officials in Ankara now seem more than willing to allow the Grey Wolves a blank check to attack and murder Syrian Kurds.

It is not just ad-hoc attacks that locals need to fear however. Erdogan has made public plans to resettled thousands of Syrian refugees into what is now Kurdish territory, forcing thousands from their homes in a plan with grave potential to shift into ethnic cleansing. As Kurds fall into Turkish hands, they become susceptible to the Grey Wolves as well as to nationalist and extremist elements of the Turkish Army and allied “Free Syrian Army“. The longer the fighting goes on, the weaker the SDF become, the more Kurdish territory falls into Turkish hands, each of these factors making the mass killing of Kurds more and more likely.

If the Turkish assault continues and is victorious which, given their overwhelming material superiority and international inaction, seems likely, it is not only Kurds who should fear reprisals, massacres, even a genocide. The Syrian Democratic Forces occupy nearly 30% of Syria [7] and their various allies and constituent parts are all likely to, at the very least, lose their autonomy and freedoms. Assyrians have long had their culture and relgiion opressed under autocratic Syrian governments and will soon see that opression return. Shammer Arabs have recently made steps to autonomy and cultural recognition, which all seems likely to slide backwards. Syrian women of all faiths and races have seen their rights and liberties expanded to never-before-seen levels and could soon be forced back into being second-class citizens. Even the majority, Syrian Arabs, are watching their best hope for human rights and democracy yanked away as the SDF is blasted to pieces by the wealth and might of the Turkish Armed Forces. At the centre of all of these groups, the Kurds have the most to lose; genocide is not just possible, it now seems more likely than not.

The new Turkish invasion, expressly allowed by the United States despite the Secretary of State’s feeble denials[8], is a disaster for human rights and for all the people of Syria. Western intervention is vanishingly unlikely, the United States has already pulled out whilst the United Kingdom is too embroiled in their current crisis and too weak internationally to defy Washington or Ankara, nevermind both. EU objections are likely as France and Germany seek to make it clear they do not approve of this action but none of this will likely be enough to stop the advance of the Turkish army. It is distressingly possible that the SDF will turn to the authoritarian governments of Russia and Iran, who have at times supported the SDF and Rojava just as much as the west have, for support. If the SDF fall into the Moscow-Tehran camp not only would it greatly enflame an already strained situation in the Middle East, it would mark an abject failure in the ability of Western Governments to support and defend democratic movements around the world.

Tonight, every Kurdish citizen of the country will live in fear but before long the situation will make itself plain. It is not just kurds who have to fear the Turkish Invasion: Erdogan’s assault is a threat to all the free people of Syria. If European and American governments do not reverse course, a genocide may be impossible to stop and this spiralling, chaotic, decade-old conflict may just grow even larger.

Sources:

[1] https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-12-10/kurdish-arab-coalition-fighting-islamic-state-syria-creates-political-wing

[2]http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/declaration-of-establishment-by-democratic-syria-forces/1179-declaration-of-establishment-by-democratic-syria-forces.html

[3] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/the-anarchists-vs-the-islamic-state-109047/

[4] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/03/german-woman-fighting-isil-killed-syria-150309153835870.html

[5] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/british-volunteers-syrian-kurd-forces-are-terrorists-turkey-says

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/23/world-leaders-brutal-attack-kurdish-afrin-turkish-army

[7] https://twitter.com/Suriyakmaps/status/1167373804026376193

[8] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/10/trump-defends-allowing-turkish-offensive-on-kurds-in-syria-they-didnt-help-us-in-ww2.html