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Kurdistan and the US war on Iraq and Syria

Leilaye Leili

October 27, 2014

Yet again Western imperialism is bombing Iraq and yet again it claims to be helping the Kurds. But Western intervention created ISIS, and Turkey is facilitating its attack on Kurds. The Kurds are not only resisting ISIS but also setting up their own democratic structures, and this ongoing struggle for self-determination is incompatible with imperialism.
Kurdistan "Land of the Kurds"; is a roughly defined geo-cultural region wherein the Kurdish people form a prominent majority population. Contemporary use of Kurdistan refers to large parts of eastern Turkey (Turkish Kurdistan), northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), northwestern Iran (Iranian Kurdistan) and northeastern Syria (Syrian Kurdistan). Some Kurdish nationalist organizations seek to create an independent nation state of Kurdistan, consisting of some or all of the areas with Kurdish majority, while progressive groups  campaign for greater Kurdish autonomy within the existing national boundaries.
Kurds in Turkey are the largest ethnic minority in the country. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, there have been several Kurdish rebellions. Kurdish movements include both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds in Turkey as well as armed rebellion and guerrilla warfare, including military attacks aimed at Turkish military bases, demanding a separate Kurdish state.
Following Turkey's industrial development during the 1950s and 60s, there were numerous workers strikes and factory occupations. Numerous socialist groups and organizations arose. During the 1970’s, the separatist movement coalesced into the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)—founded by a group of radical Kurdish students led by Abdullah Öcalan—a militant organization that has fought an armed struggle against the Turkish state for cultural and political rights and self-determination. With the help of US intelligence, Turkey captured and imprisoned Öcalan in 1999 and lobbied the European Union and US to declare the PKK a “terrorist organization.” In late 2012, the Turkish government began talks with Öcalan for a ceasefire, which was announced in March 2013, and peace talks continue.
The PKK’s ideology was originally a fusion of socialism and Kurdish nationalism, but while imprisoned Öcalan has led to a transition away from calling for an independent country. As he wrote: “It has become clear that our theory, program and praxis of the 1970s produced nothing but futile separatism and violence and, even worse, that the nationalism we should have opposed infested all of us. Even though we opposed it in principle and rhetoric, we nonetheless accepted it as inevitable.” Influenced by the American political philosopher Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, and movements like the Zapatistas in Mexico, Öcalan calls for “democratic confederalism.”
As he describes it, “The democratic confederalism of Kurdistan is not a State system; it is the democratic system of a people without a State... It takes its power from the people and adopts to reach self-sufficiency in every field including economy. The democratic confederalism is the movement of the Kurdish people to found their own democracy and organize their own social system... The democratic confederalism is the expression of the democratic union of the Kurdish people that have been split into four parts and have spread all over the world... It develops the (notion of) a democratic nation instead of the nationalist-statist nation based on strict borders.”
Öcalan’s democratic confederalism claims to work toward a “democratic, ecological, gender-liberated society,” or simply “democracy without the state in which the three basic elements “capitalism, the nation-state, and industrialism” are replaced with a “democratic nation, communal economy, and ecological industry.” This entails “three projects: one for the democratic republic, one for democratic-confederalism and one for democratic autonomy.” Achieving citizenship and civil rights for Kurds, including the ability to speak and teach their own language freely, a bottom-up, participative administrative body, from local to provincial levels, freedom of speech and organizations, all are part of this theory.
Syria and the revolution of Rojava Kurdistan
The Kurdish People are the second largest ethnicity in Syria. They have contributed to the liberation and building up the modern republic of Syria; however the successive Syrian governments after independence in 1946 have denied the legitimate right of self-determination for Kurdish people.
As the Syrian revolution was undermined by both the Assad regime and sectarian forces armed by the West, the Kurds led by the PYD have refused to take a side because neither recognizes the Kurdish people's natural and democratic rights. As a result the Kurds have started to face an onslaught from Syrian sectarian forces led by al-Nusra. The PYD has stated that Syrian Kurds do not support either the government in Damascus or the sectarian groups, but only seek to protect themselves from massacres and ethnic cleansing.
On 19 July 2012, the Kurdish People's Protection Unit (YPG) stormed government buildings in the Kurdish city of Kobanê and forced government forces to leave the city. The same later happened in two other Kurdish border towns, Efrîn and Cizrê: both towns were ceded to the people. This was known as the Revolution of Southwestern Kurdistan (Rojava Kurdistan).
The autonomy geographically divides northern Syria's predominantly Kurdish region (Western Kurdistan) into three main constituencies: Cizire Canton, Kobane Canton and Afrin Canton. Male and female co-leaders run the council of ministers of each government with three deputies representing the local diversity. An Assyrian woman, Elisabeth Korean, was elected co-leader of Cizire Canton and Kurdish woman Hevi Ibrahim was appointed Prime Minister of Afrin Canton. The ministers, led by women, gave an oath of office in Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian, but first in their mother tongue and each used their own holy books.
Imperial powers have claimed that people in the region have inherent divisions based on religion and ethnicity and can’t live together without fighting—therefore justifying imperial intervention. But the first article in Rojava’s constitution states that “We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter, which has been drafted according to the principles of Democratic Autonomy.”
The locally organized pro-Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) and Women's Defence Units (YPJ) act as the cantons' official defence forces. Kurds, Arab Muslims, Assyrians and other Christian minorities have joined the ranks of those militias renowned for having simultaneously clashed with Syria's regular army as well as Islamist rebel groups. But for the past year they have mainly engaged in fierce clashes with ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.
The fight against ISIS
ISIS emerged from the Islamist forces the US and EU armed in Syria to overthrow Assad and undermine the revolution. When ISIS began attacking Iraq, the KRG forces (Peshmerga)—a repressive force tied to corrupt political parties, including former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and current president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barzany—fled. If it were not for the People Defence Units (YPG) and Women Defend Units (YPJ) and later PKK, ISIS easily could have invaded the capital of Kurdistan, Irbil. If ISIS had occupied Irbil then the rest of the Kurdistan towns would have fallen in their hands. While failing to confront ISIS, Barzany used the attack to call for US re-intervention in Iraq. NATO started their campaign to bomb Iraq, and what they were looking for the last few years: bombing Syria.
But it has been the Kurds themselves who are resisting ISIS. In September ISIS started to advance toward the border city of Kobanê, which is a strong hold of YPG & YPJ. Hundreds of Kurdish fighters from across Kurdistan crossed the border to defend Rojava from ISIS, but Turkey has done everything in its power to prevent Kurdish fighters from Iraq and Turkey from joining the fighters in Kobanê. Turkey refused to let Kurds cross the border to help defend Kobanê, because it would like to crush the autonomous Syrian Kurdish cantons that have been established by the PYD. It seems that Turkey’s government is already engaged in a proxy war against them by facilitating the travel of international jihadists across the border to fight alongside the Islamists. Turkey was actively helping ISIS by allowing wounded ISIS fighters to receive treatment in Turkish hospitals, allowing ISIS to cross the border and sell oil from the oil-fields it controls on Turkey’s black market, blocking the experienced PKK-forces from crossing into Syria to help defend Kobanê and fight ISIS, blocking weapons and other necessary supplies, and bombing PKK positions in the southeastern Dağlıca district when they were in fight with ISIS.
The Kurds of Kobanê tried to get their voices heard by the whole world, most notably the EU, US and Russia. Yet these countries—that continue to label Kurds as terrorists—ignored ISIS’s advance on Kobane for a month, repeating that it was not a priority for the US. When Kurdish fighters resisted ISIS, the US military took all the credit. The US finally became involved in Kobanê for propaganda reasons only. With the U.S. announcing it will destroy ISIS, and the eyes of the world on Kobanê due to the bravery of the Kurdish fighters and the activism by their supporters all over the world, a massacre in Kobanê would have dealt a blow to US credibility.
But the US war in Syrian Kurdistan will result in killing of innocent Kurdish people, sharpening ethnic tensions, and threatening the revolution of Southwestern Kurdistan. The only winner in the wars will be the big companies that sell weapons and war equipments, while the poor people lose.
False allies
In June 2014, Pointing to the mayhem in Iraq, Netanyahu called for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan, saying “we should ... support the Kurdish aspiration for independence,” and that the Kurds are “a nation of fighters have proved political commitment and are worthy of independence.” This is pure hypocrisy coming from the butcher of Palestinians, but it highlights the imperial interest in Kurdistan.
The Kurdish region is rich in water, oil and gas. In Syria oil wells and gas are concentrated in the region of Jazeera (Canton of Cezire) and Israel seems to be interested in separating Kurdistan from Syria, with the nationalist government of Barzany having close ties to Israel. The US is also brokering a deal between Kurdistan authorities and the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army to create a united front against Assad, which the repressive Saudi dictatorship is opportunistically joining. 
But Kurdish interests are diametrically opposed to those of the US.  The cornerstone of US Middle East policy has always been the support for stable regimes that could successfully block any calls for democracy or national control over the country’s natural resources—which includes Kurdish democratic zones.
The Kurds need hardly to be reminded of the 1991 betrayal of Iraq’s Shi’ites and Kurds when US—in full control of Iraqi airspace—stood by and allowed Saddam Hussein to break the no-fly zone and use helicopter gunships to suppress the uprisings and slaughter Kurdish and Shi’ite civilians. Thirteen years of sanctions by western countries against Iraq—including Kurdistan—as well as the 2003 invasion and occupation, followed by free market policies, have not helped Iraqis or Kurds.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for the last 22 years dominated every aspect of people’s life in Kurdistan. They have worked on changing the mentality of the citizens to be corrupt, to be materialistic, and to lose their own self-confidence and independence to be dependent on them mentally and financially. The Iraqi Kurdistan’s model is not what the leftist movement in Syria has been fighting for. Moreover, Turkey’s cooperation with NATO and US forces does not give us a healthy picture of what seems to be the plan US has for Syrian Kurdistan.
PKK and PYD must act against continuation of US/NATO intervention in Syria; the best way to get rid of ISIS will be done by people themselves. Outside interventions are proven to fail and make the condition worse. Kurds are aware that what US is after is incompatible with their own revolutionary ideas to build a society free of all forms of oppression. The Kurds in the end can only count on themselves to protect the social revolution in Rojava—but we can lend solidarity by opposing the latest imperial intervention from our own governments.

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