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US pullout in Rojava: Imperialist rivalry fans flames of war and genocide in Syria

By Linda Averill

Originally published in Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 40, No. 6, December 2019-January 2020


To hear some pundits, Donald Trump’s pullout of troops from northern Syria is just another diplomatic blunder. Or is simply designed to distract attention from the impeachment proceedings. 

Through October, some congressional members expressed shock that the U.S. would betray the Kurds, its ally against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or Daesh), pretending the U.S. hadn’t abandoned them before. Experts decried U.S. policy as “hazy.” And Trump claimed it was necessary to stop “endless wars,” even as he redeployed troops to “defend oil fields” in Syria. 

This contradictory web of lies — called “U.S. foreign policy” — is spun to hide the ugly truth. U.S. wars and bloodshed are the messy cost of pursuing big business interests abroad. And it’s practiced under every president, Democrat or Republican. 

Deals among thieves. 

In the lead up to Turkey’s invasion of Rojava, U.S. and Turkish officials met in September to discuss a potential trade agreement worth $100 billion. In October, Trump chatted with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; within days U.S. troops left Northeast Syria and Turkey invaded. Erdogan’s objective: a buffer zone along the border to contain Syrian Kurds under military dictatorship. This treachery set off a humanitarian crisis, displacing 275,000 people and putting the Kurds at risk of genocide. 

Until October, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party had established a haven of hope and multi-ethnic egalitarianism in a region devastated by imperial rivalry, war and corrupt governments. In Rojava, made up of three cantons, Jazira, Kobane, and Afrin, ethnic, cultural and religious minorities lived peacefully and women shared leadership. Their people’s militias, including all-female battalions, had defeated the Islamic State forces. These reactionaries terrorized and pillaged the region with a fascistic agenda that included the total subordination of women and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities. The Syrian Democratic Army, led by Kurds, drove them from Rojava with the aid of U.S. air cover at a cost of 11,000 lives.

Now Turkey’s invasion of Rojava has created a humanitarian catastrophe and sets the stage for their resurgence. 

So what did the U.S. get for this sell out? Improved relations with NATO partner Turkey.

This partnership includes lucrative weapons sales and Incirlik Airforce base, a key U.S. outpost in the Middle East. It also greases the wheels for a Free Trade Agreement. Writes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: its “strategic location at the confluence of Europe, Asia, and Africa gives Turkey access to a $25 trillion regional economy that is home to 1.5 billion consumers.” In short, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. are drooling to have Turkey as a platform to export their goods and services to the world. 

What Erdogan gains is the whipping up of nationalism against the Kurds. Representing 20 percent of Turkey’s population, Kurdish political parties wield sizable influence. And tarring their aspirations for freedom with a terrorist brush fortifies Erdogan’s iron rule.

A people under siege. 

From the start, the Democratic Union Party’s project of building a self-governing region in the midst of civil war was an uphill battle. Yet the Kurdish drive to survive dictates such action. The Kurds are an indigenous people caught in the crossfire of rivalries between the super powers and their regional partners. Historical Kurdistan spans Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Its 35 million people are spread across four nations and the world in diaspora. They are the largest indigenous population in the world without their own land and, like Native Americans in the U.S., confront persecution, discrimination, land theft, and forced assimilation.

Erdogan has continued his country’s long history of persecution against Kurds, and in turn this has fueled their radicalization. One expression of that is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a guerrilla campaign for self-determination. Labeled terrorist, the PKK is used by Erdogan to justify the criminalization of Kurdish political activity on the Left, and to bolster the hegemony of his own Justice and Development Party (AKP). Yet all this repression can’t stop growing discontent over his police state tactics and Turkey’s tanking economy. 

The war’s cynical free-for-all. 

To help contain revolt, Erdogan has nurtured reactionary groups within the Free Syrian Army and in Turkey. For its part, the U.S. has fought reactionary elements like ISIS for control of oil; meanwhile the CIA funnels money and weapons to the Saudis who use them in Yemen to oppose Assad’s ally Iran.

And now resurgent Russia is further fanning the flames of war in Syria with weapons sales and troops, competing against the U.S. for the position of top dog. As Turkey takes advantage of Russia’s growing influence to chart a more independent path, economic and shooting wars are proliferating. All this is creating a refugee crisis of mammoth proportions, with women and children bearing the brunt.

Crisis and opportunity. 

As in World War I, misery and bloodshed are also breeding revolt. The Arab Spring that broke ground in Syria in 2011 has continued, one revolutionary expression being the Rojava experiment. Now protest with a clearly anti-capitalist character is consuming Iraq and Lebanon

Thousands of young people are hitting the streets of Baghdad and Beirut to demand the removal of their corrupt governments — and the overthrow of capitalism. Their demands for bread, jobs and peace echo those raised by Russia’s workers and peasants, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, right before they toppled the Czar and established the world’s first workers state. 

This rebellion is good news for the Kurds. Their best chance for freedom can be found in the solidarity of other working class people who are struggling against similar tyrants for a more humane future. But to make permanent progress, the Kurds need international solidarity and a global, antiwar movement with the objective of rallying around self-determination for all oppressed nations and overthrowing capitalism — the breeding ground of permanent war.


  • U.S. troops out of the Middle East; end all arms sales!


  • Rescind the terrorist designation of the PKK so that humanitarian aid can reach those who need it!


  • For Kurdish self-determination! 


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