by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 15.10.2018, www.thecommunists.net
Yesterday, Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the most significant petty-bourgeois Islamist movement fighting against the Assad tyranny in Syria, has finally released its official statement on the Sochi Deal.
This deal has been concluded between imperialist Russia and Turkey, with the consent of Iran and the Assad regime and praised by the Western Great Powers, on 17 September. As reported, it obligates the rebels to remove all heavy weapons and to withdraw all intransigent fighters (i.e. the so-called “extremists”) from the 20 km-deep “Demilitarization Zone”. This zone is exclusively applied within the rebel-held territories and encompasses about half of the remaining liberated territory in the North of the country. Furthermore, Russia insists that the highways Aleppo-Hama and Aleppo-Latakia, running through the rebel-held areas, shall be re-opened again under the joint supervision of Russia and Turkey.
As we have explained in past statements, the Sochi Deal, if fully implemented, would represent a tragic defeat for the glorious Syrian Revolution. It only weakens and disarms the liberation forces so that they will be less capable to resist the inevitable invasion of the Russia/Assadist aggressors. It is therefore crucial that all supporters of the Syrian Revolution – in Idlib as well as internationally – decisively reject the Sochi Surrender Deal and organize resistance against it. (1)
A Summary of the HTS Statement
Unfortunately, the HTS statement is deliberately ambiguous reflecting a compromise between opposing wings inside the organization. (2) The statement, which has been published by HTS-related Telegram Channels, basically says the following: (3)
1) HTS will continue its Jihad and the struggle for the goals of the revolution, i.e. the overthrow of Assad, freeing of the prisoners and the return of the refugees. ("We have not abandoned our choice of jihad and fighting towards implementing our blessed revolution.")
2) It stresses its solidarity with the foreign fighters in the ranks of the liberation movement. (Russia and Turkey pressurize HTS to expel all foreign fighters.)
3) It refuses to give up or hand over its weapons as they are crucial for the protection of the people.
4) It algebraically defends the necessities to apply “political tactics” as well as to make “agreements” and “internal and external arrangements in order to protect civilians and liberated areas.” ("We appreciate the efforts of all those who strive inside and abroad to protect the liberated area", a formulation which can be interpreted as a reference to Turkey.)
5) At the same time HTS warns against trusting the “Russian occupiers”. ("But at the same time, we warn of the deceitfulness of the Russian occupier.")
6) They finally call for international solidarity with the Syrian Revolution.
Hence, while the HTS statement emphasizes the necessity to continue the struggle against the Assad tyranny and its Russian master, it does not elaborate concretely its stand on withdrawing its fighters and its heavy weapons from the so-called Demilitarized Zones in Idlib or to hand over control of the highways to Russia and Turkey. It neither commits itself to implement these demands of the counterrevolutionary Sochi Deal agreed by Russia and Turkey nor does it explicitly refuse to do so.
Tensions within HTS
The ambiguity of this statement is the result of the combined pressure of Russia, Turkey and the pro-Turkish rebel faction (organized in the JWT/NFL alliance) to liquidate the liberation struggle. This pressure has created enormous tensions inside the organization. On one side, there exists a pragmatic wing which seems to be prepared to adapt to the Turkish pressure and to go along the Sochi Surrender Deal. On the other side, there also exists another, more hard-line wing which insists on continuing the liberation struggle against the Assad tyranny. On the day before the publication of the official HTS statement, one of its leaders, Abu Malik al-Tali, issued a statement denouncing the Sochi Deal. (4) This is only the latest in a series of public statements of HTS leaders along these lines. (5)
There is a strong possibility that HTS will split: one wing might join the capitulationist sectors of the pro-Turkish rebels which are prepared to stop the struggle against Assad and to administer Idlib as a local police force under the directives of Ankara. Another wing, which is determined to continue the liberation struggle, might join forces with other hard-line, petty-bourgeois Islamist movements like Tanzim Hurras al Din, Ansar ad-Din and the Turkistan Islamic Party and launch a guerilla struggle.
Developments on the Ground
As reported, the Sochi Deal requires all factions to remove their heavy weapons from the Demilitarized Zones until 10 October. It also demands that the so-called “extremist” factions (i.e. those who are not willing to give up the struggle against the Assad tyranny and the Russian occupiers) remove all fighters from the Demilitarized Zones until today (15 October).
Reports from concrete developments on the ground are contradictory. While some observers suggest that all factions – including HTS – have removed their heavy weapons from the Demilitarized Zones, it seems that HTS and other intransigent factions have not removed their fighters, or only a few, by now. (6) Turkish security sources, quoted by the Middle East Eye, report that only about 1/5 of the HTS fighters stationed in the Demilitarized Zones have been withdrawn until now. (7)
Another sign of an incomplete fulfillment of the Sochi Deal is the fact that there have been exchanges of fire by mortar shells between rebels and Assadist forces on 13 October. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, two Assadist soldiers have been killed in this incident. (8)
Decisive Days and Weeks
As the RCIT has explained in numerous articles, these days are decisive to determine the fate of the Syrian Revolution. The purpose of the Sochi Surrender Deal is the liquidation of the liberation struggle. In fact, ending the Syrian Revolution is not only in the interest of the Assad regime as well as the Russian and the Iranian governments. It is also a goal of the Erdoğan government as well as U.S. and European imperialism.
The deal obligates the rebels to withdraw from significant parts of the still-liberated areas in the north of the country and hand over control of crucial highways. This shall prepare the conditions for the final defeat of the revolutionary forces. Turkey is mobilizing all means – persuasion, bribes, threats and assassinations – in order to make the rebels comply. It acts as a counterrevolutionary force from behind.
The coming days and weeks will show if HTS – or at least one wing of it – will comply with the Sochi Surrender Deal or not. They will show if the Assadist and Russian forces will launch attacks on the intransigent liberation forces. And they will show if Turkey, fulfilling its role as a servant of the imperialist Great Powers, will attack itself these intransigent liberation forces.
The RCIT repeats that it is urgent that all supporters of the Syrian Revolution oppose the Sochi Surrender Deal. We call for a broad rejectionist united front of all forces – in Idlib as well as internationally – which agree to continue the struggle against the tyranny! Long live the international solidarity with the Syrian Revolution!
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The RCIT has published a number of booklets, statements and articles on the Syrian Revolution which can be read on a special sub-section on this website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/
(1) See the RCIT’s analysis of the most recent developments in Idlib and the grave dangers for the Syrian Revolution caused by the treacherous Sochi Deal we refer to several articles of Michael Pröbsting published in the past weeks: Syria/Idlib: Turkish Army Attacks HTS in Implementing the Sochi Surrender Deal, 09.10.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/turkish-army-attacks-hts-in-implementing-sochi-surrender-deal/; Syria/Idlib: For a Broad Rejectionist United Front against the Sochi Surrender Deal! 04.10.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-for-a-broad-rejectionist-united-front-against-the-sochi-surrender-deal/; Syria/Idlib: Down with the Sochi Surrender Deal! Brothers and Sisters in Idlib: Reject the Deal between Putin and Erdoğan! Do not Hand over Weapons! Turkey’s Army is not your Ally! Continue the Struggle against the Regime and Russia! 18.09.2018 (6.30 UTC Time), https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/sochi-deal-on-idlib-is-surrender/; Syria/Idlib: News Confirm that the Sochi Deal Means Surrender! An additional Analysis: What are the Assadist and Russian Plans behind the Sochi Deal? What has been the Reaction until now of the Rebel Leaders to the Sochi Deal? 18.09.2018 (19.30 UTC Time), https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-idlib-news-confirm-that-the-sochi-deal-means-surrender/; Syria: Mass Rallies in Idlib against the Regime and Russia. Support the Undaunted Revolutionary People resisting against the Final Onslaught of Assad and imperialist Russia against the last Citadel of the Syrian Revolution! 15.09.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/mass-rallies-in-idlib-against-the-regime-and-russia/; Erdoğan Offers “My Dear Friend” Putin to Disarm the Syrian Revolution, 08.09.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/erdogan-offers-putin-to-disarm-the-syrian-revolution/; Syria: Towards the Final Battle in Idlib. Assad, Russia, Iran and Turkey prepare for the final onslaught on the last Citadel of the Syrian Revolution, 04.08.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-towards-the-final-battle-in-idlib/.
(2) For our characterization of HTS see e.g. RCIT: Denounce the US terror listing of Syria’s Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham! The Trump Administration delivers another blow to the Syrian Revolution. Continue the Solidarity with the liberation struggle of the Syrian people! 03.06.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/denounce-the-us-terror-listing-of-syria-s-hts/; Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/; Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings, February 2018, Chapter V, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/chapter-v/.
(3) We quote from the summary provided by the usually well-informed and reliable “On the Ground News”, https://twitter.com/OGNreports/status/1051536329140523008. See also Ebaa News, October 11, 2018, https://ebaa.news/news/news-details/2018/10/17544/
(4) Abu Malik al-Tali of HTS Calls for the Opening of the Fronts for the Rukban Camp, 2018-10-14, https://www.reddit.com/r/SyrianRebels/comments/9ntydp/abu_malik_altali_of_hts_calls_for_the_opening_of/?utm_source=reddit-android, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/257245
(5) We have reported on them in our past articles on the Sochi Deal (see footnote 1 above).
(6) See e.g. Al Jazeera: Deadline passes for Syria's Idlib buffer without fighters leaving, 2018-10-15 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/deadline-passes-syria-idlib-buffer-fighters-leaving-181015004653045.html; Reuters: Syrian jihadists signal acceptance of Idlib deal, October 14, 2018 / https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-idlib/syrian-jihadists-signal-acceptance-of-idlib-deal-idUKKCN1MO0TT; AFP: Jihadists 'still in Syria's Idlib' as withdrawal deadline passes, 2018-10-15 https://www.france24.com/en/20181015-syria-jihadists-still-idlib-buffer-zone-deadline-passes
(7) Harun al-Aswad: Syria's buffer zone: Rebels, Turks and civilians rush to implement the Sochi deal, 12 October 2018 https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrias-buffer-zone-rebels-turks-and-civilians-rush-implement-sochi-deal-1057847362
(8) Shells fired from Syria buffer zone, soldiers killed: SOHR, 2018-10-14 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/shells-fired-syria-buffer-zone-soldiers-killed-sohr-181014082752917.html