Middle East (OpenDemocracy) – Rather than a unified Kurdistan across borders, a single ethnic group with multiple sovereign territories is more likely to be the political foundation of the modern Kurdish Middle East. In early December 2016, the burning of a…
Turkey (Sputnik) – Ankara could forbid Washington from using its Incirlik airbase if the United States cooperates with the Kurdish forces, such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Popular Defense Units (YPG). The Yeni Safak newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing…
The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) will participate in the formation of the new government on condition they agree to lay down arms and support Syrian territorial integrity, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday.
Ankara considers the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG, to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey as well as the United States.
With Turkey’s incursion (or invasion) of Syria this week; Kurdish fighters have been ordered to stand down. Some in the West are disappointed by this turn of events but historically it’s just another instance of the Kurds being used as a political prop by U.S. when it’s to their advantage.
Since the escalation of the war in Syria, The United States has been supplying Kurds in Syria with weapons and support in order to combat the Islamic State. The Kurdish YPG have proven themselves to be a competent force in fighting extremism and managed to gain significant amounts of territory.
For a lot of younger people in The West just waking up to geopolitical events this may be the first time they’ve learned of the Kurdish population in the border region of Turkey, Iraq and Syria. If you’re just hearing of the Kurdish struggle for autonomy then you’ve missed the U.S. turning a blind eye to their slaughter for decades and constantly using their plight whenever it’s convenient.
Kurdish fighters allegedly backed by the US, have crossed the Euphrates River in Syria and have moved against fighters from the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIS) holding the city of Manbij. The city is about 20 miles from Jarabulus, another Syrian city located right on the Syrian-Turkish border. Jarabulus too is held by ISIS.
The initial push toward Manbij came from the Tishrin Dam in the south, however, another front was opened up and is hooking around the city’s north – successfully cutting off the city and its ISIS defenders from roads leading to the Turkish border – including Route 216 running between Manbij and Jarabulus.
Planning an assault on an urban center requires that an attacking force cut off city defenders from their logistical routes. Doing so prevents the enemy from fleeing and regrouping, but also diminishes the enemy’s fighting capacity during the assault. It is clear that the fighters moving in on ISIS in Manbij have determined that Jarabulus and Turkey just beyond the border, constitutes the source of ISIS’ fighting capacity.
The demands pushed forward in both parts of Kurdistan are almost identical, both demonstrating an attempt at formally installing a confederal municipal system into the region.
Back in the 1990s Murray Bookchin, exponent of libertarian municipalism, articulated the need to develop a “new politics”, which is “unflinchingly public, electoral on a municipal basis, confederal in its vision and revolutionary in its character”.
The creation of a free “commune of communes” – something anarchists, especially Bakunin and Kropotkin, have fought for over the past two centuries – has always been envisioned as an ultimate manifestation of anarcho-communism, hence of a “new politics” based on libertarian municipalism.
Today, more than two decades later and in a completely different geography, the Kurds in Rojava/Northern Syria and Bakûr/Southeastern Turkey have become the new avant-gardes of the “commune of communes”.
While the current phase of the conflict in Syria has consumed numerous lives, it also has enabled the Kurds, who are scattered in the Middle East, to raise their political significance to a level hitherto untouched since the notorious Sykes-Picot treaty. While the question of Kurdish independence has become as important as elimination of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, there are countries in the region, such as Turkey, who, despite the successful Kurdish resistance against ISIS, continue to desist their emancipation. It was, in this context, only two days ago when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went on to call a hypotactic approach on the part of the US to openly support the YPG fighters in Syria. Should this support be necessarily seen as an American soft-corner for an independent and sovereign Kurdistan?
While the U.S. may not have expressed such support and despite the fact that the U.S. has classified the PKK as a “terror group”, Turkey continues to see in co-operation between the U.S. and YPG a ‘conspiracy’ being hatched to eventually establish Kurdistan. Without directly calling it some ‘conspiracy’ against Turkey, the foreign minister did, however say, “It is unacceptable for the soldiers of the United States our ally which is very assertive in the fight against terror to use or wear the badges of a terror organisation, ` Cavusoglu said. The minister decried what he said was the approach of `a terrorist organisation I can use and a terrorist organisation I cannot. ` `You wear the insignia of a terrorist organisation on your shoulder, put up its flag in your capital. Of course we will not succeed in the fight against terrorism through this understanding as it is today, ` he said.
It is quite apparent that Turkey has a definition of ‘terrorism’ different from that of the U.S. or even Russia and China. It is this disagreement over classifying all Kurds as ‘terrorists’ or potential ‘terrorists’ that has made the U.S. resist intensive lobbying from Turkey to also outlaw the YPG and stop working with the group in Syria. He also insisted that in private talks with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry the United States had said the YPG `are not reliable` and vowed Washington would `stand by Turkey in the fight against terrorism.` `And then they wear the badges of the terrorist organisation responsible for the last two attacks in Ankara,` he complained.
Rahila Gupta meets the women fighters who are helping to stop the advance of ISIS while also leading a radical democratic charge against capitalist ideology. Welcome to the Rojava phenomenon.
It is no exaggeration to say that a strip of land along Syria’s northern border with Turkey is home to the most radical experiment in democracy and gender equality, not just in the Middle East, but in the whole world. Western Kurdistan, or Rojava, ‘the land where the sun sets’, first entered popular consciousness in that lopsided way that news from elsewhere hits Western TV screens, when Kurdish women fighters liberated Yazidi women and children from ISIS on Mount Sinjar in August/September 2015. When the might of the US, the Free Syrian Army and the other regional armies in Iraq were unable to stop the advance of ISIS, young women in military fatigues and floral scarves defeated men who can barely tolerate fully covered-up women. Such film footage was undeniably eye-catching. Yet rather than leading to further information and analysis of the Rojava phenomenon, it was appropriated for the purposes of capitalist consumerism. H&M tried to sell a range of clothing based on the women’s uniforms, provoking outrage in the Kurdish community for trivializing their struggle.
So who are the YPJ (Women’s Defence Units), and what kind of society are they defending? Inspired by the evolving ideology of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in Turkey, and triggered by the ‘Arab Spring’, the Kurds of Rojava began their struggle for autonomy in 2011, and their autonomous self-administration was formally set up in November 2013. Öcalan, unlike any other male freedom fighter to date, has placed women at the centre of his vision of a liberated, democratic society with a system of co-presidentship, a man and a woman sharing power at every level. The political vacuum created by the chaos in Syria allowed this experiment to flourish compared to similar attempts in southeastern Turkey, which have been met with the brute force of the Turkish government.
Located over territories spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, Kurds are facing multiple challenges on the road to Kurdish statehood. A major problem is the absence of a united Kurdish national movement. The two major power blocks in Kurdish politics, Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP and Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party PKK ( designated a terrorist group by the US, EU and Turkey), have been vying for political dominance over Kurdish nationalism for many years, and are as divided as ever. The Syrian conflict has brought significant changes to the power dynamics between the two, expanding the power of the PKK at the expense of the KDP. This development itself is very critical for Kurdish politics and the direction it is taking.