By Leandro Albani / Source: El Furgón / January 24, 2018
“Today is not the day to build textile workshops, it is the day to build arms and munitions workshops, to create the communism of war and let it take root.”
(Abdullah Öcalan, from the island prison of Imrali, about the situation in Efrîn, in the beginning of 2016)
What the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced months back, has become a reality in the past couple of days: the military invasion of the Efrîn canton, located in the northeast of Syria, a territory liberated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) after difficult confrontations against the Islamic State.
Efrîn, that is part of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), is a region that is rich in agriculture, with a higher economic development than the Kobanê canton, and with the passing of time has transformed into a refuge for thousands of displaced, both Kurdish and Arab, expelled from their territories by an internal war that has ravaged the country for the last six years. Additionally, Efrîn is a fundamental part of the region, after it was liberated from the terrorist groups, along with Kobanê and Qamishlo are the most important cities in the Democratic Confederalism project, pushed forward by the Kurdish Liberation Movement in Syria.
In Efrîn one can observe in a clear and convincing way, the internal and external struggles that were generated when in 2012 the protests against the Syrian government began and the later appearance of the Islamic state, the military interventions from Russia, Syria and Iran, and a heartbreaking panorama where the civilian deaths are over 500 thousand.
Returning to the Ottoman Empire
The decision of the Turkish government to invade Efrîn, under the Operation “Olive Branch,” was a long time coming. For Ergodan and his political allies, the experience of the Democratic Federation of North Syria is a big obstacle in the project of converting Turkey into the new Ottoman Empire, and at the same time, a danger for the Turkish State, that sees with growing worry the process of the liberation of Kurdish people. From the beginning of the Rojava Revolution in 2012, Ergodan aimed with all his artillery with the objective of destroying the political and social experience of the Kurds of Syria. For the head of state, the momentum of the Kurdish Movement in Syria is a grand support for the more than twenty-thousand Kurds who live in the southeast of Turkey.
Erol Polat, member of the National Congress of Kurdistan (KNK is the original abbreviation) explains that historically, “the Turkish state is against the existence of Kurds anywhere, as well as against other peoples and religions. That is how the current system arose in Turkey.” At the same time, he points out that Turkey and other state in the region, reject Democratic Confederalism, the political and social system that governs the North of Syria and which is driven by the Kurdish Liberation Movement. “The Turkish State attacks in the name of all the nations that are against this system. These states know that Democratic Confederalism is the only solution for the people of the Middle East,” assured Polat.
For his part, Kurdish anthropologist Mehmet Dogan points out that the invasion of Efrîn responds to a strategy of the Turkish government that they have been developing for a while, because it is “part of the project of recovering the territories from the era of the Ottoman Empire.” This is added to the fact that Ergodan “utilizes the insecurity of the border, that the Kurds control the zone and advance towards their independence,” explains Dogan. “They are only false arguments to legitimize their intervention and at the same time, Ergodan is using the conflict between Russia and the United States to occupy Efrîn.”
The border that Dogan talks about is 900 kilometers long and imposed over a century ago, when France and Great Britain agreed on the division of the Middle East and the Kurdish people was left fragmented between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran without an own state. This border is still, although much less than two years ago, the route that Turkey uses to traffick arms that arrive to the hands of terrorist groups that operate in Syria. It is also a space of permanent dispute, since the people of the North of Syria look for the unification of the whole Democratic Federation of North Syria, but Turkey has impeded it by occupying the zones of Jarablus and Al Bab. To this panorama it is important to add that the Turkish troops entered, with the consent of the United States and Russia, until Idlib, a territory located south of Rojava. The negotiation so that the Turkish army would arrive to this zone had as a public discourse the fight against terrorism, but from the Kurdish movement denounced that the real objective was to surround Efrîn for a future invasion. As a last point, the Turkish government assured that after taking Efrîn the next step is to move to Manbij, another city that was in the hands of the Islamic State and liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Another reason that Polat finds for the current invasion is that “The Turkish government has many internal problems and with the attack on Efrîn it wants to improve its position. The Government knows that the majority of the Turkish people are nationalist and they don’t like the Kurds. Regarding the attack on Efrîn, the majority of Turks support the government decision. From nationalists to some socialists, businesspeople and unions, all of them declared their support to the army.”
The pragmatism of Moscow, Washington and Damascus
While the bombings keep falling over Efrîn, costing the lives of more than 20 civilians until now (this number has most likely changed by now), the Kurdish territory of Syria–but also the country itself–is a drawing board where Russia and the United States dispute control and power in a brutal way. For these two nations, the “Kurdish question” has taken relevance not because both powers want the Kurds to be liberated, but because the portion of territory that they control in Syria, an estimated 35%, will define the bidding between Russia and Washington with respect to a good size of the Middle East.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), conformed by the YPG/YPJ and by other Arab militias, maintain a tactical agreement with the United States, as it is defined by the Kurds themselves. Until the moment, the White House sends arms to the SDF, and it a lukewarm way, negotiates with Turkey to detain the advance on the territory. When they began the bombings on Efrîn, the government of Donald Trump only asked for “moderation” to Ergodan. The spokesperson of the Department of State, Heather Nauert, declared that the Trump administration urged “Turkey to exercise restraint and guarantee that its military operations were of a limited and scrupulous scope and duration to avoid civilian casualties.”
Even though the differences between Washington and Ankara seem to increase in the last time, the importance of Turkey in the Middle East is not foreign to the United States. As the second most powerful army in NATO, Turkey wants to force the White House so that it blocks its support to the SDF. The government of Ergodan also knows that for the United States the Kurdish autodefense forces located in the southeast of Turkey are just “terrorists,” an opinion shared with Ankara. The alliance between Turkey and the United States is based on, minimally, on two questions: with different “styles” and modalities, both administrations want that Bashar Al Assad to be overthrown once and for all; and they have the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a target to destroy. It is important to remember that since it was created, the YPG/YPJ have never carried out an attack outside the region that they control.
For their part, Russia, who maintains military presence in Efrîn and controls the airspace, led diplomatic negotiations with Turkey, Iran and Syria during the last months, so that the Kurds would participate in meetings in Astaná, Geneva and Sochi, that look to find a political solution to the profound Syrian crisis.
One week before the Turkish bombings, the general commander of the YPG, Sipan Hemo, travelled to Moscow, where he met with the authorities of this country. From Russia, Hemo confirmed that the government of Vladimir Putin “considers the Kurds as a fundamental part of Syria and does not see any reason for a crisis or problems due to the Kurdish participation” in the peace negotiations. The commander of the YPG also warned that “Turkey is trying to sabotage” the Kurdish participation in the negotiations and stated that during 2018 the war in Syria will continue beyond the dialogue between the parts.
Turkey and Russia maintain deep commercial and military relationships and the alliance between both nations survived, due to shared interests, despite different positions with respect to Syria.
With the Turkish invasion in full development, Sipan Hemo was emphatic in asserting that Russia “betrayed” the forces in the North of Syria. In declarations to the ANF News Agency, the commander of the YPG explained that “during two years, the Russian forces have been in Efrîn and have affirmed that they will resolve certain problems working together with the Kurds. They constantly said that a solution without the Kurds was not possible.” Hemo pointed out that “we had certain arrangements with Russia but Russia suddenly ignored these agreements and betrayed us. They have clearly sold us out.” The maximum military authority of the North of Syria expressed that “with the YPG/YPJ and the SDF, a new story is being written in the struggles of our people. A day will come where Russia will apologize to the Kurds for this lack of principles.”
According to Erol Polat, Russia and the United States are “the two actors in the Middle East that also don’t want the Kurds to establish Democratic Confederalism, because it goes against their systems. These two forces and Europe have their investments in Turkey and they want to lose them, this is why they let the government of Ergodan do what they want, as they want to control the Kurds at the same time.” “The Kurds must work with these two forces, because that is how the crisis in the Middle East will be resolved,” concluded the member of the KNK.
Mehmet Dogan does not share the position of a “tactical alliance” with Washington, since “how we see in the intervention against Efrîn, the United States said that they had a reason (for the intervention), that they had to advance rapidly and not much more. The only solution is to find an agreement with the Government of Syria without counting on the foreign powers.”
Assuming that the government of Assad rejects the Turkish invasion, until now it has not intervened in a concrete way to stop the attacks. Although the Kurds and the Syrian administration maintain some territorial agreements, the differences of positions in some moments seem irreconcilable.
Dogan does not think that the Assad government will intervene in Efrîn to detain Turkey and adds that “when the Turks entered Jarablus, the Syrian government committed a strategic error.” “But Syria can take advantage of this situation to attack Idlib” -explained the anthropologist-. “If Syria attacks Efrîn or uses its Armed Forces on Efrîn or any Kurdish zone of Rojava, I think an agreement between the Kurds and Bashar Al Assad would be important. Without an agreement between the Syrian government and the Kurds, with all of the demands of the Kurds to modify the constitution, transform Syria into a federal and democratic state, in this case Syria could intervene.” For Dogan, “The Kurds should negotiate with Assad so that he accepts their demands. We could live through negotiations between Syria and the Kurds and they could come to an agreement. I think this would be a solution that benefits all of the people in Syria. Without an agreement with the Syrian government, the Kurds will continue being an element between world powers.”
According to Polat, “The Syrian state sent a message and said that they would support the Kurds, but Assad does not want the Kurds to develop their own system. The government is stronger than before, after the defeat of the Islamic State, so the state says the Kurds cannot live without the control of the Syrian state.”
In these days, in the four regions of Kurdistan, but also in Latin America, Europe and the United States, the mobilizations against the bombing of Efrîn are multiplying. From the Kurdish Liberation Movement the answer to the attacks is resistance, not only on a military level, but in the case of the North of Syria, also in sustaining the continuity of the important political and economic project, where the women are the revolutionary subjects making social change, the communes are the principle form of organization and the cooperatives are the motor that slowly begin to work in the midst of a war that seems to never end.