Temporary blog of the CWI

No to war in North and East Syria! 

Ras al-Ayn bombing on 10 October 2019. Photo: Wikipedia

An international movement can stop this war!

Having been given the green light by US imperialism, Erdoğan’s regime has launched a massive invasion into Northern and Eastern Syria. On October 9, warplanes of the Turkish Armed Forces started bombing the region.  The ruling elite has proved there is no limit to their cynicism, naming this war “Operation Fountain of Peace”. A wave of international grassroots based mass movements can stop the actions of this handful of exploiters, who to defend their interests are prepared to tramp on the rights of the working masses and poor of Turkish, Kurdish, Arab and other nationalities and once again, are throwing bombs and tanks against ordinary people.

Statement by Sosyalist Alternatif – CWI in Turkey

The Erdoğan regime and its supporters use the phrase “safe zone” to justify the attack by NATO’s second largest military force, accompanied by Jihadists from the region recently assembled into the “Syrian National Army”, on Northern and Eastern Syria. Just as the US and other imperialist forces have justified their wars against Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries as “bringing democracy”, the Erdoğan regime and its supporters describe this war as necessary to justify “border security”. They expect us to believe their lies. This is only and no more than demagoguery, as shown by the more than 100,000 people already displaced by the Turkish army’s offensive. During the Syria war, hundreds of thousands people have lost their lives, millions of people have fled their homes, and entire cities have been obliterated. But up to now, the North East region of Syria, up to the Turkish border had been relatively stable.

Erdoğan’s regime never lifted a finger when ISIS was burning people alive, beheading and enslaving them. The first and last operation against ISIS near to the Turkish border was carried out in August 2016 by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF – mainly consisting of the Kurdish YPG/YPJ). They moved west of the Euphrates with the understanding that they would remove ISIS, but would not take control of the region.

The main reason for this war initiated by the Erdoğan regime is the fear the Kurds in Syria will win their claims for democratic rights. He is afraid this will encourage the more than 20 million Kurds living within Turkey’s borders, who lack even the weakest of democratic rights when compared to those gained in North-East Syria in the last eight years. This explains why all the parties and all sections of the regime in Turkey, from the Kemalists to the neo-Ottomanists, the Islamists to the ultra-nationalists are lining up to support the national-chauvinist line pushed by Erdoğan. They all approved this military operation in the parliament, thus allowing the Turkish army to cross the border.

Imperialist ambitions

Erdoğan speaks about being “charged to campaign”, using terminology from the Ottoman conquest. The regime, which carefully avoided using the term “war” in the operation to conquer Afrin in January 2018 this time is whipping the media into line, stating that this is a war.

This operation is intended to be a war of conquest by the Erdoğan regime. It is aimed at acting against self-rule by the Kurds, but it also seeks to open up new possibilities for Turkey to become an imperialist power, by taking over the North and East of Syria. The regime constantly refers to the territorial integrity of Syria, but this is only a tactic. If the Erdogan regime was only interested in acting to block the Kurds, it would have agreed with the Assad regime a common approach, rather than risking an uncertain outcome.

The regime has another very clear aim: it wants to send back sections of the refugees living in Turkey to the various parts of North and East Syria creating buffer zones between the Kurdish areas, to dissolve them by changing the population structure and by pitting Arabs and Kurds against each other. This was done earlier by Hafez al Assad’s regime to create the so-called “Arab belt”. It also wants to transfer those Jihadist groups currently stuck in Idlib, in western Syria, further east in order to establish their presence in the country for the medium and long term. Naturally this also opens up the region for Turkish companies, especially in the construction sector, to revive the declining Turkish economy.

Hypocrisy of US imperialism

US imperialism, in its campaign against Assad in Syria, has been providing arms and air support directly to the YPG  (People’s Protection Units) initially during the critical siege of Kobane against ISIS, after the latter had seized a large territory and declared an “Islamic State”. But the US’s relationship with the YPG has complicated its relations with the Turkish regime, a fellow NATO member. In response, Erdoğan’s regime, which found itself allied to the US against the Assad regime, used the purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia to develop defensive tactical relations with the Kremlin. This kept the US under constant pressure to fulfill Erdoğan’s main demand – to cut its umbilical cord with the Kurdish forces. Trump’s recent decision, it seems, to allow this operation was intended to satisfy Turkey’s request, after the territory controlled by ISIS was practically reduced to nothing.

This follows, less than a month ago, US efforts to persuade the SDF to retreat further, within the framework of a supposedly “secured area” agreement with Turkey. US imperialism deceived the SDF in this way just before giving the green light to Erdoğan’s operation.

Russian and Syrian calculations

The operation to invade Northern and Eastern Syria wouldn’t be possible without the approval of the Syrian regime and that of Assad’s big brother – Putin’s regime. The calculations made by Russia and Syria are relevant when it comes to Turkey’s influence over the Jihadist groups.

When Turkey invaded the area between Kobane and Afrin in 2016, it moved Jihadist forces from Aleppo to Idlib, of such benefit to Syria and Russia that they looked the other way. Likewise, they turned their head when the Turkish army invaded Afrin, moving Jihadists from Southern Damascus to Idlib. As a result of those operations, all Jihadist groups formerly scattered around Syria were gathered in one place, Idlib.

Today, as Turkey is occupying Northern and Eastern Syria, it is likely that it will move the Jihadist forces out of Idlib, further into Northern and Eastern Syria. The Syrian and Russian regimes have been planning a comprehensive military operation into that territory with the same aim. Latest military reports, if confirmed, suggest that Russian airstrikes on Idlib territory have been carried out undoubtedly to speed up this process.

In addition, Assad’s regime is also interested in putting an end to the Kurdish people’s democratic and social aspirations and is currently quite happy to allow the Kurds to be brought into line under the Turkish threat, before being compelled to come back to be subdued under his regime.

David versus Goliath

The SDF have announced they will fight to the finish on every front, but it’s unclear how long they can stand against one of the biggest armies of NATO. Unlike in Afrin, the territory to the east of the Euphrates is flat. This means an open front war against a well-equipped military machine will not be easy to sustain. Nevertheless, the Afrin operation lasted two months, this war could take longer.

It is difficult, in the short term, for an anti-war movement to emerge in Turkey, due to the lack of democratic rights and freedom of speech, and with broad sections of the working class influenced by nationalism and war propaganda. Nevertheless, all left and socialist forces including the trade unions should act immediately. Circumstances will change as the war drags out and all its contradictions and consequences will be revealed to the working class. It will become obvious that the Erdoğan regime is using the war to distract attention away from political reality in which the impoverishment of the working class, high costs of living and unemployment are all getting worse.

Initially, it is more likely that an effective reaction to the invasion can emerge on an international level, particularly in Europe. The European working class has a high level of awareness on this issue, particularly because of the dominant role Kurdish fighters have played in the war against ISIS. Trade unions, non-governmental organizations and the left can initiate an international anti-war movement. But it is crucial that appeals to Turkish workers and poor are made, because in Turkey, Erdoğan is painting international reactions against the war as merely “imperialist pressure”.

The invasion of Northern and Eastern Syria will not solve any of the problems facing the Turkish working class. The denial of the Kurds’ right to their self-determination where they live, in equality with other people, will not bring any positive contribution to the working class’s living conditions. On the contrary, this war will strengthen the ruling class’s hand, bringing more hatred amongst people, and provoking further ethnic and sectarian schisms.

Today the Middle East is a bloodbath where workers, the poor and the oppressed are drawn to slaughter each other in the midst of famine, pestilence, death, poverty and migration. The antidote to that bloodbath is to struggle against imperialism and capitalism, and for a genuine alternative on the basis of unity of the working class without any distinction of religion, race, sect and orientation; for a society where there is no exploitation nor national oppression, in other words a democratic and voluntary Socialist Confederation of the Middle East. Although this seems difficult today, there is no other way forward.

  • No to the war against the Kurds!
  • Stop the “Fountain of Peace” operation immediately!
  • Trade unions, NGOs and the left, in Turkey and internationally should build anti-war protests!
  • Remove support from all Jihadist groups, whether the Free Syrian Army or Syrian National Army!
  • All imperialist forces out of the Middle East!
  • Defend the right of self-determination of the Kurds and of all oppressed groups!
  • All workers, peasants, youth and women of the Middle East -unite against discrimination based on religion, language, sect and gender, under the banner of socialism!
  • Long live international workers’ solidarity!
  • For a democratic and voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East.