The Turkish-Russian agreement on the establishment of a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, which was negotiated in Sochi on 22 October, has fundamentally changed the balance of power in Syria.
First, it confirmed Russia as the undisputed, sole remaining hegemonic power. Syria has become de facto a kind of Russian mandate. The last few weeks and months have made it clear that nothing can happen in that country without Putin’s approval. Even reactionary potentates like Erdogan and Assad will only be able to implement their goals with the approval, or at least acceptance, of the Kremlin. Conversely, the deal reveals the weakness of the “West,” that is, the United States, and certainly the European imperialist powers.
Secondly, Turkey has come much closer to its goal of eliminating Kurdish self-government in Rojava. Thirdly, the Turkish invasion and the Sochi agreement between Russia and Turkey will allow the Syrian regime to regain control over the Kurdish region and thus complete its counterrevolutionary triumph.
This threatens to bring a whole series of counter-revolutionary shifts to an inglorious conclusion. The “peace” means the defeat of the revolutionary and democratic forces and the division of Syria among the forces of reaction. In particular, it means the defeat of the Kurdish people and the imminent destruction of the forms of autonomy and self-determination achieved in Rojava.
US withdrawal plans and first buffer zone
In view of Trump’s intended withdrawal of troops, Turkey threatened to open a military offensive against Rojava should there be no agreement with the US. Such an agreement was reached in mid-August: In return for a partial withdrawal of the Kurdish forces from its border with Syria, Turkey promised not to invade. On the basis of US guarantees, the Kurdish Self-Defence Forces (YPG / JPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) met this requirement.
Turkey’s promise held good for just 6 weeks. On October 9, after Erdogan obtained Trump’s approval and his agreement that he would order the immediate withdrawal of US troops from the region, Turkish troops crossed the border in the region between the cities of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
Subsequently, following the agreement reached on 22 October between Turkey, Syria and Russia, the YPG / JPG has had to withdraw completely from a 30-kilometre deep strip along the length of the border which is now under the control of Russia, together with the Syrian regime. Turkey retains sole control over the territories captured during its offensive.
War aims of Turkey
The declared aim of the Turkish invasion is to “cleanse” the entire border region of Kurdish forces and, ultimately, to put an end to Rojava’s self-government, which has de facto represented the state independence of a predominantly Kurdish region under the leadership of the PKK-affiliated PYD since 2012.
The Turkish government is aiming to deport two million Syrian refugees into the “buffer zone”, which amounts to the ethnic cleansing of these areas of Kurds. Although it is a total violation of international law, the exclusion of Kurds from this region was written into the Sochi agreement. The Erdogan regime has thus used racist hostility to the refugees to legitimise such reactionary measures and enforce its regional interests. At the same time, this will lay the foundation for a new national conflict in the Kurdish areas. Turkey’s relocation plans are in line with the Arabisation policy of the Syrian Ba’ath regime in the 1970s, which was pursued with exactly the same objective: to block the Kurdish population’s claim to self-determination.
In addition, the agreement also reaffirms the 1998 Adana Declaration, in which, under Turkish pressure, Syria to agreed to suppress all PKK activities in Syria, that is, to act as auxiliaries of the Turkish state in suppressing the Kurds.
Changed balance of power
A few days after the start of the Turkish invasion, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” agreed to allow Assad’s troops into the Kurdish areas. The Syrian regime has stressed its territorial claim to Rojava many times, but for the past 7 years it has not been able to enforce it. The most important side effect of the Turkish invasion is that it delivers Rojava into the hands of the Syrian regime as its only possible remaining ally. While the US used the Kurdish forces as temporarily useful allies and ground forces to fight ISIS, there is nothing “useful” for Assad in Rojava itself. For the Syrian regime, it is simply an illegitimate violation of its sovereignty. The only reason for Assad to spare Rojava in the past few years was that the regime had far more important war aims. With its triumphal advance in the Syrian civil war, it now has an unexpected “solution” for Rojava, which is also able to pacify the conflict with Turkey, and is recognised in the Sochi agreement.
Although the Assad and Erdogan regimes were opponents in the Syrian civil war, they have served each others interests in suppressing the Kurds. As has been clear since the 1990s, this is a sound basis for cooperation between the two governments. In short, if the self-governing Rojava is removed as the last remnant of the 2011 revolt, it will facilitate a friendly solution between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia. That’s definitely not good news.
Decline of US hegemony
As controversial as the sudden withdrawal of troops in the US was, it marked recognition of the fact that Russia, as the imperialist hegemonic power in Syria, is in control. It also means a failure of the attempt to put a stop to the Iranian quest for influence in Syria and is likely to mean that Iran will act against the remaining elements of Kurdish self-determination.
The PYD and thus the leadership in Rojava thought their participation in the anti-ISIS coalition was a guarantee against a Turkish invasion. As was only to be expected, however, US imperialism dropped its erstwhile ally – bringing Rojava to the brink of destruction.
But the Kurdish PYD was not an innocent victim of this policy, it operated under the illusion of profiting from this alliance and hoped to build a “different” social model under the cover of the US presence. This policy failed – and was doomed from the start.
The biggest problem with this alliance policy was that it prevented the defence of Rojava being linked to the class struggle in the region, and especially in Turkey. Rojava has become the subject of imperialist and regional conflicts because its mere existence touches on the territorial and power-political interests of several states. Of course, the fact that the Kurds were just pawns in the Russian-American power struggle was always part of their cynical calculations.
In this context, of course, it was legitimate, indeed unavoidable, for the PYD to exploit the imperialist rivalries in the fight against ISIS for its own benefit. However, the policy of the PYD went far beyond that, making it the ally of US imperialism’s reactionary group of forces.
This could only have been prevented if the PYD had pursued an internationalist course of active collaboration with the democratic forces of the Syrian Revolution and the Arab Spring, with the resistance in Turkey, Iraq or even Palestine. For example, the blockade against Rojava by the Iraqi-Kurdish government could have been made the subject of the class struggle by the mobilisation of the Iraqi-Kurdish masses. However, the PYD actually followed the policy of “noninterference”. They hoped to build a quasi-state reform project – a “municipality” based on a market economy and commodity production – by keeping Rojava as far as possible from the Syrian civil war and all other major upheavals. This concept had to fail, at the latest with the defeat and degeneration of the Syrian revolution and the victory of Assad and Russian imperialism.
Solidarity with Rojava! No to the Turkish invasion! No to the Sochi Agreement!
Regardless of our political differences with the PYD, we stand for solidarity with Rojava, the defence of its democratic and social achievements, such as the legal equality of women, and the Kurdish right of self-determination.
The working class, revolutionaries and, indeed, all democratic forces, should support the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces and their reactionary allies! The same applies to Russian and Syrian troops! We also categorically reject any further deployment of US troops or of UN peacekeeping forces as proposed by Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer, the German Defence Minister.
The Kurds and the people of Rojava do not need any occupation forces to defend themselves against the ISIS gangs and other reactionary forces, what they need is real control over Rojava! In order to defend themselves, they need weapons and material aid. At the same time, however, they need an end to the economic embargo enforced by Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan. The imperialist powers and regional powers, co-responsible on all sides for the devastation of the civil war and the death and destruction of their fight against ISIS, must be forced to provide real reconstruction aid.
The demand for Turkey’s withdrawal today represents a central demand of every movement of solidarity with Rojava. It must be combined with that of an immediate end to all arms deliveries and military cooperation with Turkey.
Against Erdogan’s threat to force the refugees in Turkey into the security corridor, we demand the opening of the EU external borders for the refugees. Only by combating racist isolation can we prevent the refugees from being abused for the purposes of Turkish nationalism.
We therefore call for support for all actions and demonstrations in solidarity with the Kurdish movement! We demand the lifting of the ban on the PKK and all other Kurdish and Turkish left and democratic organisations in Germany and in the EU!