Turkish forces have invaded Rojava — the Kurdish-majority multi-ethnic territory of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AA). In a telephone call to Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, United States president Donald Trump gave the invasion a green light.
The 2018 Turkish invasion and occupation of Afrin, the geographically isolated, westernmost canton of Rojava, shows exactly what will happen — death and destruction; looting, torture and kidnappings; eviction of Kurdish residents in favour of Arabs; ethnic cleansing of Kurds and forced demographic change.
The Islamic State will undergo a resurgence. With the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military arm of the AA, focused on resisting the Turkish invasion, IS sleeper units will emerge and try to stage a comeback.
Backed by US airpower, the SDF was the main force on the ground combating the IS, at terrible cost — 11,000 dead and 21,000 badly wounded. For this reason alone, the world owes Rojava a tremendous debt.
Rojava threatens Turkey’s racist setup. It shows that there is a real and very attractive alternative.
Rejecting the idea of an independent state, the radical section of the Kurdish population, inspired by Abdullah Ocalan (jailed by Turkey since 1999) are instead fighting for self-government and democracy in the countries in which they live.
But that is enough to earn them the enmity of the autocratic regimes in Turkey, Syria, Iran and the neocolonial Masoud Barzani regime in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey’s hostility to its 25% Kurdish minority — and anyone else who is not a Sunni Turk — has been inbuilt since the republic formed in 1923.
Anti-Kurd racism is systemic. Kurdish children cannot be educated in their own language in Turkey’s public schools. The Kurdish-majority south-east is an occupied country. Elected Kurdish mayors are sacked and replaced with Turkish administrators.
The argument that Turkey has legitimate “security concerns” is utter rubbish. How can a territory with a few million inhabitants threaten a country of 80 million, which also possesses a huge army? Rojava has never attacked Turkey across the border.
The real threat that Erdogan fears is wholly political — the threat of a radical example of grassroots democracy, women’s rights, and ethnic and religious pluralism right next door to his racist, misogynist, repressive, authoritarian state.
Under extreme pressure, the AA and the SDF accepted a “safe zone” deal with Turkey and the US in August — and kept to it. Serious concessions were made but even this was not enough for Erdogan. His aim is not coexistence but to crush any expression of genuine Kurdish self-rule.
Furthermore, Turkey wants to unload its 3.5 million Syrian refugees, largely Arab, on Rojava. Turkey wants to either expel the Syrian Kurds or make them a minority in a hostile Arab sea.
The refugees should indeed have the right of return, but most of them came from other parts of Syria and the obstacle to their return is the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship — not the Kurds and their allies.
The Arab League has condemned the invasion. The European Union has also condemned Turkey’s onslaught but concrete action is needed.
The West has the power to stop Erdogan. Turkey’s military fights with US-supplied aircraft and German-made Leopard tanks. The EU gives Erdogan several billion dollars each year to keep millions of Syrian refugees away from fortress Europe. European banks help prop up Turkey’s fragile economy.
But the basic fact is that the West does not support the Rojava Revolution. It does not want a democratic, feminist, pluralist revolution in the Middle East or anywhere else. The West wants domination and control and the freedom to exploit the region’s resources.
The AA has been forced to make a deal with the Assad dictatorship, in talks brokered by Russia, its main backer. Syrian Army units are moving up to the border, but how far they will go in confronting Turkey remains to be seen.
Yet again, it is up to ordinary people around the world to stand up and force their governments to put real pressure on Turkey to halt its invasion and withdraw from Syria.
We demand that the Australian government end all military and security cooperation with Turkey and push at the United Nations for condemnation of the Turkish invasion and to secure emergency aid for refugees forced to flee.
[Dave Holmes is a founding member of Australians for Kurdistan. This article was updated October 18.]