The Syrian Revolution must reject sectarianism and strive to create multinational unity among Arabs, Turks and Kurds! Rally all forces against the Assadist-Iranian-Russian Aggression in Idlib!
Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 22.01.2018, www.thecommunists.net
1. Turkey’s army has launched its so-called 'Operation Olive Branch' – an attack on Afrin, a province in the northwest of Syria with a Kurdish majority population. President Erdoğan claims that the purpose of this operation is to defeat “the PKK terrorists” and to "wipe out this corridor step-by-step, starting from the west. (…) Afrin operation has de facto started in the field. This will be followed by Manbij." He also announced the goal to create a buffer zone extending 30km into Syria. Ankara also asserts that it has recruited the support of up to 5,000 fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) for the operation.
2. Erdoğan’s chauvinist propaganda and his army’s offensive are fully supported by the main opposition parties – the right-wing nationalist MHP and the social democratic CHP. This reflects the determination of Turkey’s ruling class to continue the oppression of the Kurdish minority and to suppress all efforts of the Kurds in neighbouring Syria which could encourage the Kurds to exercise their legitimate right of national self-determination.
3. The crime of the PKK/YPG leadership is certainly not that they defend the Kurdish people against the Turkish army. Their crime in the last years rather has been that they blocked the Kurdish people to join the Syrian Revolution. Instead, the YPG leadership made a deal with the genocidal Assad dictatorship and, in 2014, became merchants of US imperialism in Northern Syria. In fact, a trigger for Turkey’s attack on Afrin has been Washington’s recently announced plan to set up a new 30,000 strong border force in North Syria, recruited mostly from the allied Kurdish YPG militias.
4. Turkey’s attack demonstrates once more the weakened position of Washington, reflecting the decline of U.S. imperialism as the leading global power as the RCIT has repeatedly pointed out. On one hand, Turkey is a member of the US-led NATO alliance. On the other hand, the YPG militias (named “Syrian Democratic Forces”) have been Washington’s only effective ally on the ground in the past years. US imperialism has officially 2,000 soldiers in Syria and has created a number of military bases in the SDF/YPG-controlled areas. While Afrin plays no significant role for the US military, this is different for the YPG-controlled areas in the north east of Syria. Erdoğan’s threat to attack the YPG not only in Afrin but also in Manbij (where the US has a military bases), theoretically puts a military confrontation between Turkey’s army and U.S. forces on the agenda. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently announced plans to stay in Syria indefinitely as it wants to curb Teheran’s and Moscow’s influence the region. However, Turkey’s war against the YPG makes it doubtful if these plans are realistic. Washington, as much as it can currently operate given its embarrassing ”government shutdown”, is calling both sides for calm, however without much effect.
5. Moscow officially “calls on the opposing parties to show restraint“ and urges both sides to cease fighting. In the last years, Russian imperialism has become the dominant force in Syria since it started to intervene massively by backing up the Assad regime with its military in 2015. The Putin regime announced some time ago to hold a conference for a “political solution” of the Syrian civil war. This conference, aimed at the counter-revolutionary liquidation of the Syrian Revolution, has received the official blessing of the United Nations. After some delays, it shall now take place in Russia’s Sochi on 30 January with 1,500 delegates attending. Putin wants a pacification of the civil war rather sooner than later and for this he needs Erdoğan’s support.
6. In principle, Moscow would like to bring the Kurdish YPG also on board. In fact there has been a rapprochement between the Putin regime and the YPG and the Russia was able to open some military bases in YPG-controlled areas. Obviously, the YPG leadership would like to have a second imperialist master as a potential alternative to Washington. However, this has been met with fierce opposition by Erdoğan. Furthermore Russian imperialism does not want to waste such an opportunity to create troubles for its American rival – particularly now, when a new deadline for US sanctions against Moscow approaches on 29 January. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested in a recent interview with the Kommersant newspaper: “Many political scientists are asking why do we care and say that the worst is the best: let the United States prove its inability to find an agreement, (to show) its destructive role in global affairs, let it be in Iran or Syria and where the unilateral actions have already infuriated Turkey.”
7. It seems that Ankara and Moscow reached a tacit agreement sealed at negotiations of Turkish Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar and Hakan Fidan, the Turkish head of the National Intelligence Organization, with both Russia and Iran in Moscow on 18 January. In the end, Erdoğan’s support is more important for Moscow and Teheran than that of the YPG which is also an ally of Washington. Such an agreement between Ankara, Moscow and Teheran is demonstrated by the use of Syrian air space by Turkey’s air force in their Afrin operation. This would be impossible without Moscow’s consent. Likewise, Russia withdrew hundreds of its soldiers deployed near the city of Afrin before Turkey's operation began.
8. It is also clear which prize Ankara paid for Moscow’s and Teheran’s approval of its Afrin operation. Initially, it was agreed at the Astana negotiations that so-called “de-escalation zones” should be created in areas which are still under control of the Syrian rebels. As the RCIT warned many times, these “de-escalation zones” have always been traps aimed at the disarmament of the rebels and the liquidation of the liberations struggle. In fact, these “de-escalation zones” did not lead to a pacification of the civil war. The main reasons for this were, first, that many fighters on the ground rejected this betrayal of various FSA leaders who agreed to this “Astana deal”. Secondly, the Assad regime still hopes for a “military solution”, i.e. to re-conquer the liberated areas by a war of annihilation. Turkey was supposed to take care for the creation of a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib, the largest remaining liberated area.
9. However, this project has failed until now. Ankara hoped to implement the Astana deal as it yields strong influence among sectors of the petty-bourgeois nationalist FSA forces. However, these FSA factions lack both popular support as well as numerical strength on the ground. Instead, the petty-bourgeois Islamist Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has become the dominating force in Idlib. The HTS strongly opposes the Astana betrayal and insists on continuing the liberation struggle against the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian backers. As a result, Assad’s army – with massive support of Russia and Iran – are waging a devastating military offensive in the south of liberated zone (southern Idlib, north-eastern Hama, and western Aleppo). In addition, Assad’s forces have allowed a secret transfer of ISIS/Daesh forces through their territory so that they could open a new front in Idlib against the HTS fighters. HTS and other liberation fighters suffered massive casualties in the past weeks and lost a significant part of the territory in Idlib (in particular around the strategically important Abu Al-Dohor airbase). As a result, more than 210,000 Syrians have fled their homes since mid December 2017! Covered by much boasting, it is obvious that Ankara pressurized its allies among the rebels to desert the struggle in Idlib against the Assad regime and, instead, to help it in smashing the YPG in Afrin.
10. In the end, it seems that Ankara and Moscow (and its allies in Damascus and Teheran) have reached a deal around the following lines: Ankara will participate in the Sochi conference. It will look the other way when Assad’s army with Russian and Iranian support try to liquidate the liberation forces in Idlib. In exchange, Moscow, Damascus and Teheran will also look the other way as Ankara attacks Afrin and the Kurdish YPG. Of course, such a deal is not guaranteed in any way. Setbacks in the military campaigns, popular protests, and international pressure from other powers can influence or even destroy this deal.
11. On the surface the Erdoğan regime appears as strong as it is clearly militarily superior to the YPG forces. But in fact, Ankara launches this attack because it is politically in a cul-de-sac. At the beginning, Erdoğan verbally, and also with some material aid, supported the Syrian Revolution and called for the overthrow of the Assad regime. Its air force even shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M in November 2015. But the deterioration of its relations with Washington – in particular after the failed military coup in July 2016 and the ongoing U.S. collaboration with the Kurdish YPG – as well as the military victories of the Assad/Iran/Russia bloc in the civil war have forced Ankara to switch camps. Since one year, the Erdoğan regime is part of the so-called Astana negotiations – involving Russia, Iran, the Assad regime and some treacherous rebel factions – which aim to liquidate the Syrian Revolution. Turkey is the weakest part in this alliance vis-à-vis Russia and Iran. Erdoğan must finally sell some successes to his domestic audience in order not to undermine popular support for his increasingly Bonapartist regime. In the present situation and given the relation of forces, smashing the YPG is the only way to make his chauvinist militarism look victorious.
12. Moscow’s and Washington’s muted criticism of Turkey’s attack on Afrin shows once more the bankruptcy of the PKK/YPG leadership and its policy of acting as servants of imperialist Great Powers, as the RCIT has warned many times. This petty-bourgeois nationalist/Stalinist leadership refused from the beginning to support the revolutionary uprising of the Syrian workers and poor. They preferred to make a deal with the Assad regime. They hoped to create a Kurdish (semi-)state by collaborating with the Assad regime and by serving US imperialism (or alternatively Russian imperialism). In acting as Washington’s infantry in Syria, the YPG also occupied large Arab-majority areas (in particular in the regions Raqqa and Deir ez Zor) and became an oppressive force of one million Arabs living there. Even in the Afrin area, the YPG expelled at least 150,000 Arab residents when they captured from the Syrian rebels a number of towns and villages in the south of the region in February 2016. The crux of their reactionary policy has always been to offer their service to a stronger master and to hope, in exchange for this, to receive their Kurdish state. This has, by the way, also always been the policy of the KDP and PUK leadership in Iraqi Kurdistan. As a result they have become completely isolated and despised by most Arabs.
13. It is characteristic that numerous petty-bourgeois leftists around the world have hailed the pro-imperialist YPG in the past years, demonstrating once more the bankrupt and social-imperialist character of these reformists and centrists. An actual example for this is a statement called “Do Not Let Afrin Become Another Kobane” which is signed by various “progressive” academics like Noam Chomsky, David Graeber, David Harvey, Michael Hardt, and others (see http://theregion.org/article/12538-do-not-let-afrin-become-another-kobane-urgent-statement-by-academics-and-activists). This statement appeals to “the leaders of Russia, Iran, and the U.S. ensure that the sovereignty of Syrian borders is not breached by Turkey and that the people of Afrin in Syria, be allowed to live in peace.” It states: “The U.S and the international community have a moral obligation to stand behind the Kurdish people now. We call on U.S. officials and the international community to guarantee Afrin’s stability and security and prevent further Turkish aggression from within Syria and across the Syrian border.” This is nothing but a thinly disguised social-imperialist call for Washington (and Moscow) to intervene with their military to help its allies of the YPG!
14. What should be the position of revolutionaries in the present situation? The RCIT calls all liberation fighters in Syria to strongly oppose Turkey’s attack on Afrin. Surely, the YPG has a history of acting as merchants of US imperialism. But the Syrian Revolution must win the trust of the Kurdish people. It can only win such trust if it rejects sectarianism and strive to create multinational unity among Arabs, Turks and Kurds! To succeed in this, the liberation fighters must unconditionally oppose the attack of Ankara which acts since many decades as an oppressor power of the Kurdish people. Furthermore, Ankara, which is a NATO member and which collaborates with Russian imperialism in the Astana sell-out, is hardly an anti-imperialist alternative to the YPG!
15. Furthermore, the RCIT strongly denounces those FSA factions which participate in the attack on Afrin. What are they doing in Afrin when the Revolution is threatened with annihilation in Idlib?! They fight the YPG in Afrin, from which no immediate danger for the Syrian Revolution has emerged, instead of fighting Assad’s killers who are currently slaughtering the Syrian people in south Idlib! True, the YPG are Washington’s merchants. But those FSA factions attacking Afrin are no longer fighting under the banner of the Syrian Revolution but, instead, under the banner of the Turkish state. They are Ankara’s merchants; they are traitors of the Syrian Revolution!
16. Finally, the RCIT calls all supporters of the Syrian liberation struggle and all socialists around the world to rally their forces to aid the resistance against the Assadist-Iranian-Russian aggression in Idlib, East Ghouta and other places! We must not watch passively when the revolution is strangled by the aggression and betrayal of the imperialist Great Powers, the Assad dictatorship and reactionary regional powers.
17. Once again, we see that the working class and the oppressed must organize and fight independently of all imperialist powers and local bourgeoisie. Those reformists, Bolivarian populists and centrists, who fail to recognize the imperialist character of Russia and China, are incapable of implementing a consistent line of class struggle. Those who refuse the program of anti-imperialism and permanent revolution end up in pathetically appealing to U.S. or Russian imperialism (or both!) to intervene on behalf of the oppressed people! Authentic Marxist must denounce these pseudo-socialists and fake anti-imperialists and adhere to the banner of international socialism!
18. It is of utmost importance to understand the ongoing liberation struggle in Syria as part of the revolutionary process in the whole Middle East. This revolutionary wave started in 2011. It suffered numerous setbacks, starting with the reactionary military coup of General Sisi in Egypt on 3 July 2013 (and which was applauded by the same people who later cheered the Kurdish YPG!). However, we see an important revival of the revolutionary struggle in the Middle East in the past months. There has been a surge of the Palestinian liberation struggle against the Zionist state (first, the Al-Aqsa protests last summer and, more recently, the regular mass demonstration for Jerusalem since Trump’s announcement). There have been important popular uprisings in Tunisia as well as in Iran (where people also protested against the regime’s support for Assad). Likewise, the Yemeni people are continuing their just war of defense against the Saudi invasion. In addition, there have been militant mass demonstrations against price hikes on food in Sudan in the past weeks.
19. All these are strong indications that a new phase of upswing of popular struggles has begun in the whole region of the Middle East. The RCIT calls all revolutionaries to join forces in order to unite these struggles into a single Intifada in the whole Middle East and to fight for a socialist program of permanent revolution and working class power directed against all imperialist Great Powers (U.S., EU, Russia, China, Japan) as well as the local bourgeois regimes!
20. Comrades, brothers and sisters! The struggle for repelling the reactionary offensive of the ruling class and for the liberation of the working class and the oppressed can only succeed if it is combined with the struggle for the socialist revolution. This means nothing less than taking power by the working class and the oppressed and the overthrow and expropriation of the capitalist class so that the road towards socialism will be opened. History teaches us that all struggles of the masses for liberation will ultimately end in failure if they are not led by a revolutionary party. Such a party should organize the most politically conscious and dedicated fighters of the working class and oppressed, it must be free of any bureaucratic degeneration; and it must exist as an international party in order to avoid the dangers of national-centeredness. The RCIT calls upon all organizations which honestly strive towards the creation of a new Revolutionary World Party to join forces on the basis of a joint program addressing the key issues of the present world situation.
International Secretariat of the RCIT
For our analysis of the Syrian Revolution we refer readers to our numerous documents and statements which are collected at the relevant subsection on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/
For other documents on the revolutionary process in the Middle East see: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/
Furthermore we refer readers to the following documents:
RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: Chapter IV. The Middle East and the State of the Arab Revolution, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/part-4/
RCIT: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World: An Acid Test for Revolutionaries, 31 May 2015, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/theses-arab-revolution/