Stand with Rojava, oppose Turkey’s war
The threat of yet another war looms over northern Syria once again. Turkish troops and their Islamist mercenaries are massing on the borders of the self-governed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the predominantly Kurdish regions also known as Rojava. They are gearing up for an invasion that unavoidably will cause many deaths and the displacement of tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The situation on the ground is extremely tense. The populations of Manbij and Kobane have formed human shields in protest against the Turkish invasion and have been readying themselves for war. The People’s and Women’s Defense Units (YPG and YPJ) as well as local militias are not just defending their lands, but they are also defending hope. Hope for a better life that extends far beyond northern Syria. A hope that has inspired many internationalists from all over the world to come to Rojava and join the revolutionary struggle.
This coming weekend they are calling for global days of action to speak up and protest against the threat of a Turkish invasion.
“Sand and death”
Shortly before Christmas, President Donald Trump announced that he ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, thus clearing the way for the long-anticipated invasion of Rojava by Turkey and its Islamist proxies.
Why this sudden change of direction? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main concerns of the US and its allied NATO partners in the Middle East have been to assert their control and influence and to weaken the position of Russia and Iran in the region. In achieving these goals, NATO states have waged wars throughout the region, lent their support to Islamist groups, established militias and backed dictatorial regimes.
Today, this strategy lies largely in ruins, while Russia and Iran have successfully expanded their influence in the region. With the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US is pretty much on its own now that NATO-ally Turkey, too, is turning its back on the coalition and actively seeking rapprochement with Russia and Iran. In this regard, it would make sense for the US to broker a deal with Ankara to bring them back into the fold, sacrificing northern Syria in the process. According to Trump, there is not much for the US to gain there anyway, beside “sand and death.”
Admittedly, many among the US establishment see this differently; they do not want to leave the stage to Iran and Russia and do not want to rely exclusively on Turkey. As soon as Trump had finished his call with Erdoğan and put down the phone, he found himself in a crossfire of criticism and quickly had to back down. Not least because of the predictable scenario that played out next: Bashar al-Assad announced that the Syrian army would take the place of the US — of course with the backing of Iran and Russia.
In response to Trump’s surprise announcement, France declared that its troops would remain in Syria, and Trump quickly backtracked on his earlier statements agreeing to slow down the withdrawal process. After a suicide attack later claimed by ISIS killed several US troops in Manbij on January 16, Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the so-called Islamic State had been defeated was further undermined. It appears that for the time being, coalition forces will maintain a presence on the ground both to continue the fight against ISIS and to protect their Kurdish allies from the Turkish threat.
Setting back the clock?
Does this mean the people of Rojava and their revolution are safe now? Not at all. Neither Assad, nor Russia, nor any of the Western powers are concerned with the protection of the population of northern Syria, nor with the safety of the Kurds and other minorities of the region, and certainly not with the liberation of women and the democratic revolution underway in Rojava. This became all too clear last year, when Afrin was invaded by the Turkish army and its allied jihadist groups with the consent of both Russia and the West.
This time, too, it is Russia that holds the cards. If a deal between Moscow and Ankara were to be brokered, then Putin could order Assad to withdraw and give the green light to Erdoğan’s invasion. This deal would concern the situation in Idlib, one of the last regions in Syria that have not yet been brought back under regime control. Erdoğan could agree to withdraw his Islamist proxies of the National Liberation Front (Jabhat al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir) from the Idlib region, thus allowing for an offensive by the Syrian regime against the Islamist stronghold. In return, Assad would hand over Rojava to Turkey.
Rojava, in short, remains in great danger. To imagine what another war would mean for the people living there, one only has to look at the situation in the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey or in occupied Afrin. Especially for the women, an occupation by clerical fascist forces would be a disaster. As in Afrin, they would set back the clock and nullify all that has been achieved in terms of women’s liberation.
Countless appeals against the war have been made in recent weeks. The demand is for states and companies involved in the war in Syria to stop Erdoğan and to stop selling arms to Turkey. Further appeals were made to establish a no-fly zone against Turkish jets. These appeals are all extremely urgent, but it is doubtful whether foreign states and corporations will lend them an ear. If they do, they will not do so out of human kindness, but only because they are forced to do so. And that will not be possible without significant pressure from below.
Protecting Mesopotamia’s ecology
“We too will defend Rojava,” explains a French internationalist in one of the videos published by the Internationalist Commune under the hashtag #resistancediaries. And not only in Rojava there is resistance against the fascism of the Turkish state. Dozens of Kurds and their allies have been on indefinite and rotating hunger strikes, demanding an end to the isolation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan. Actions in solidarity with the hunger strikes have been organized worldwide, involving many Kurdish activists and politicians currently locked up in Turkish prisons — first and foremost the HDP MP Leyla Güven, who is currently on the 78th day of her hunger strike.
Next Sunday and Monday, there are solidarity actions with Rojava planned in many different countries. In addition to the Internationalist Commune and the German feminist initiative Gemeinsam Kämpfen,many ecologist groups have joined the call for solidarity, above all the Make Rojava Green Again campaign and the Mesopotamia Ecology Movement, but also ecology activists from Canada, British hunting opponents and the German anti-coal movement Ende Gelände.
In recent years a colorful, diverse and, by times, radical ecology movement has taken root in Mesopotamia. This movement has developed in response to the ecological devastation across the so-called Middle East as a result of imperialist wars, environmental neglect and regional politics. Oil production, the construction of hydro-electric mega dams, deforestation, desertification and the immense havoc wreaked by the burning of oil wells, the bombing of industrial plants and the use of depleted uranium weapons during the wars in the past decades are just a few examples.
The movement is still small, but it is raising some very important questions. People in the region have also found answers. From the outset, the radically-democratic resistance in Rojava was also conceived as an ecological revolution, pursuing the goal of a decentralized, self-governing society in harmony with nature. The aim is to achieve decentralized agriculture, energy supply and waste disposal in the municipal system. A vision already conceived by people like the eco-socialist Murray Bookchin.
Revolution and reforestation
Unfortunately, in many cases these ideals remained just that: ideals. Due to the dire economic situation, the embargoes and the war, ecological initiatives were often sidelined. Nevertheless, there was some progress in Rojava, especially with regards to reforestation. Over the past decades, the Syrian government cut down the what little forest remained in the region, leading to desertification and a severe lack of water supplies. But along with the revolution, the trees are slowly coming back too.
This process is supported by the internationalist campaign Make Rojava Green Again, which is building a tree nursery on the site of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava. The internationalists have already planted thousands of trees, and there are plans to tackle the water and garbage problems. Model projects for water reprocessing and recycling are currently being developed by the local municipalities.
Above all, the water shortage must be tackled urgently in northern Syria and in the Middle East as a whole. The war for power in the Middle East is always also about water. The shortage of water has become a pressing problem. The farmers in the region have always been dependent on water from the rivers that originate to the north in Turkey before flowing south, through Syria and Iraq.
Erdoğan knows this: whoever controls the water, controls life. The Turkish state has for many years been building hydroelectric mega dams in the southeast of the country, like the one in Hasyankeyf. As a result, the water level of the most important rivers in the region — the Euphrates, Tigris and Xabur rivers — is decreasing all the time. Entire regions are being turned into deserts, not only in Rojava, but also in Iraq.
There is, however, a partial solution to this problem: reforestation can significantly reverse the drying up of the soil. And then there are filter systems that prevent the water from getting dirty and wasted. The Internationalist Commune is also researching this through the development of a black- and grey-water system.
Strengthening the resistance
But even the tender seed of the ecological awakening in Rojava is now threatened by Erdoğan’s war. This war would not only cause immense material damage and human suffering, but it would also destroy the ecological livelihood of the people. In Afrin, the Turkish army set fire to the olive groves during its invasion a year ago.
Not only the war over Syria, but also the Iran-Iraq war and the two invasions of Iraq have left huge damage. The smoke from the oil wells lit during the US military invasion contained several tonnes of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. In addition, there were carcinogenic heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium and lead. Air bombardments hit Iraqi industrial plants: refineries, pipelines, chemical and fertilizer factories, dams and power stations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of sheep and tens of thousands of camels died from air and water pollution.
And last but not least, the tons of uranium ammunition fired are still polluting the region’s water and soil today. To this day, thousands of children suffering from cancer are hospitalized in Iraqi hospitals. Their diseases are caused by radiation from the remains of uranium ammunition.
A similar picture emerges in Syria: in recent years, oil fields have been ignited again and again, various conflict parties have used chemical warfare agents such as sarin, or incendiary agents such as white phosphorus. The struggle for water and the warlike destruction of nature make it clear why ecology and the struggle against war and imperialism belong together. This is why so many ecological groups support the call for action on January 27 and 28. Erdoğan’s war must be prevented to save many lives, to protect the revolution, and to stop further ecological destruction.
Our response to the threat of war must be to strengthen the resistance. And the days of action show in which direction the resistance should develop. It must be made clear: northern Syria concerns us all. Rojava is not only an issue for the anti-war movement or the Kurdistan solidarity initiatives. It concerns everyone. If we behave wisely, we can turn Erdoğan’s threats into an offensive of progressive forces. And use the threat of war to bring feminist, ecological, socialist and libertarian forces together.
Posted on Roar Magazine January 24, 2019.