Is Erdogan digging his government’s grave in Afrin?

by Marcel Cartier    


Delusional. Arrogant. Chauvinistic. Egomaniacal.

All of these words could probably aptly describe Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at this historical moment. In a sense, referring to him as ‘president’ seems quite disrespectful to the countries that actually have a semblance of democratic institutions. Erdogan has proven himself a ‘leader’ who aspires to be a sultan, a neo-Ottoman dictator who not only sees the Kurdish people as ‘mountain Turks’ but the Turkey-Syria border as fluid and illegitimate.

Fascist. Authoritarian. Dictatorial. The friend of al-Qaeda ideologues.

With his government’s ill-named ‘Operation Olive Branch’, the 21st century Sultan has shown his willingness to join up with the most regressive and reactionary Salafist elements that can be found in the region. His women hating agenda is frontline in this ‘operation’. The mutilation of a YPJ fighter by Turkish and jihadist forces is ample evidence of the rapist ideology at work in his colonial endeavour.

While Turkey’s official news agency Anadolu and its worldwide propaganda machine TRT World play up the tactical relationship between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the United States in order to attempt to position Turkey’s incursion into Syria as some sort of ‘anti-imperialist’ operation, the complete submission of the U.S. to Ankara’s agenda at this point – washing its hands of any association with the YPG/J in Afrin --shows that at the end of the day the Trump administration will never pick its ‘socialist’ ‘friends’ over NATO’s second largest army.

In one of the most bizarre tirades from a Turkish official, the country’s foreign minister Mevlut Çavusoglu said over the weekend, "Why are you [the U.S.] sensitive to civilian casualties from our Afrin operation [Olive Branch] but are silent to those from the YPG? Because you share the same Marxist, communist, atheist ideology".

 Strange news indeed! The fact that I wasn’t informed that when the reactionary, fascistically inclined President Donald Trump was elected president of the United States that I was on the verge of living in a proletarian dictatorship has left me seriously confused. I suppose that all of his attacks on immigrants, ethnic minorities and women can be overlooked because somehow Trump – the billionaire – in fact, exhibits some Marxist tendencies!

Contradictions are not always so easy to explain. It’s true that Trump – who I very much consider an aspiring fascist and who I have struggled against every step of the way since his candidacy for President was announced – has supported the YPG (in financial practice). This by no means that Trump supports – or even vaguely understands – the socialistic political practices espoused by the PYD. There is a reality at play in the so-called Middle East of mutual, temporary, transactional interests.

Some analysists have been quick to point out how the U.S. position on Afrin shows that Washington and the Trump administration have ‘abandoned the Kurds’. However, as Erdal Firaz, an activist of the Kurdish freedom movement in Germany has said, “In essence, an inextricable contradiction remains and since we were never friends, there can also be no betrayal.” 

This may be difficult to grasp for some western leftists who only see the technicolour politics of the region in black and white terms. I’ve pointed out on countless occasions how the forces of the YPG/J -- whose affiliates in northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) have more than 30 years of fighting the Turkish state in the ranks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – have never seen the U.S. as a friend, especially since Washington’s logistics and arms have played such as indispensable role in murdering their comrades in Turkey over the years.


An Anti-Imperialist Struggle – But Will ‘Anti-Imperialists’ Support It?

This means that in Afrin at the present juncture it isn’t the YPG/J (or SDF) fighting against Turkey in league with the Pentagon or Trump administration. It’s the YPG/J and the people of Afrin – and the Kurds who have come from across the region – fighting against a colonial aggression, while Washington and the Russian forces look the other way due to their own agendas in the country and region.

In an interview with ANF News on Sunday, the YPG commander in Afrin Manî Egid Said, "ErdoÄŸan embodies all fascist elements and wants to occupy Afrin. We consider this war a final. It will be over with the AKP if it fails in Afrin. It attacks the Kurds everywhere, but Afrin will mean their downfall. We will make Afrin a second Vietnam for the second largest NATO army."

A second Vietnam? This hardly seems like the words of U.S. imperialism! After all, the United States ruling class has never really quite recovered from losing the so-called ‘Vietnam War’ in which its forces were repelled and forced to leave the country in 1975 when Saigon fell under the control of revolutionary forces.

The 20th century’s most celebrated revolutionary communist Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara once said that the world needed ‘two, three, many Vietnams’ to fight against the imperialist policies of the U.S. When I travelled to Rojava last Spring, this was one of the topics brought forward at a class on internationalism that I participated in at an internationalist academy in Qamishlo. At that moment, I felt such an overwhelming desire to be able to share firsthand these experiences with my comrades in the west – those who struggled against imperialism – but who didn’t quite grasp then the complex, confusing dynamics of the so-called Middle East, and often saw Kurdish ‘revolutionaries’ as nothing more than pawns of the west.


The Sultan’s Fatal Gamble

It’s clear at the current juncture – more than two weeks after Erdogan’s announcement of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ (how anyone can take that name seriously is beyond comprehension) – that all is not well in the aspirations of his colonial army and its jihadist proxies.

Yesterday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that it has shot down a Turkish drone. A statement from the SDF said, “On 12 February 2018, the air defences of our forces managed to shoot down an unmanned Bayraktar reconnaissance aircraft in Qodeh village of Afrin. This is considered to be one of the finest Turkish military aircrafts, according to the Turkish state and it is capable of manoeuvring in all climatic and air conditions, as well having a night vision system and infrared technology. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan had signed the body of the plane before sending it to Afrin's sky, unaware that it would be its last flight.”

Photos soon flooded the internet showing the Sultan himself signing such a drone at a military base in Batman on February 3. Perhaps it would have been more apt for Erdogan to sign the death certificate for his fascistic government instead of drones that would subsequently be destroyed by the revolutionaries of Kurdistan.

Although it’s difficult to gauge statistics from the war in Afrin, it seems plausible that the Turkish state’s stats from the conflict are hugely inaccurate given that they have failed to advance beyond a few villages inside of Syria.

As a YPG commander has said, "In the villages and districts of Afrin, we have made preparations that are sufficient for a period of over one year. In the city centre, we are prepared for a much longer period of resistance. Should they come, they should advance a bit further, we will be waiting for them. They've been hanging around the border for over three weeks. As I said, we are prepared, logistically as well as militarily. "


Fighting With Hearts, Not Only Weapons

It’s not only that the YPG is prepared militarily, however. Just as the Vietnamese communists resisted American occupation on the basis of willpower and ideology, the Kurdish forces in Afrin also fight not merely with their weapons, but with their hearts.

This isn’t only visible in the videos the courageous YPG/J fighters who are on the frontlines resisting Turkish aggression armed with an ideology of democratic confederalism, socialism and women’s liberation, but the tens of thousands of Kurds who travelled to Afrin from the four parts of Kurdistan clutching nothing but olive branches, mocking the AKP’s absurd rationale for invasion. The arrival in Afrin of thousands of civilians shows that the Turkish ruling elite is up against far more than it gambled for in Syria.

As Manî Egid, YPG commander, has said, "The Turkish army and allied gangs are still in the border area. In some places they have penetrated three kilometres, at one point five kilometres. They succeeded only because of their technical capacity. To take a place, they use fighter jets, reconnaissance drones, grenade launchers and tanks. They trust in technology, we trust in our willpower."

History has shown that the more technologically advanced usually maintain a sense of superiority and arrogance ahead of battles. This is usually thrown into the dustbin of history as soon as forces armed with as little as Kalashnikovs – but with the wealth of ideas – strike back. This is the reality in Afrin.

When I was in Rojava, the first thing I became acutely aware of was that politics were in command here. Ideology was central. With such tremendous willpower and the absolute obsession with crushing fascism and establishing democratic autonomy, I knew instinctively that these forces could never lose. Even if individual members of the YPG/J would become shahids in the struggle for a better future, it was a small sacrifice in the context of a great battle for humanity to assert its existence in the Middle East.


Erdogan Will Meet His Downfall

Over the weekend, Turkey’s most significant opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, held its congress in Ankara. To be clear, I believe it is quite apt to say that the HDP is the country’s de-facto opposition party in light of the fact that in the aftermath of the attempted coup in July 2016, the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) has ostensibly became more integrated into the Erdogan dictatorship, going as far as to greenlight the Afrin invasion against PKK ‘terrorists’.

Just one day after the HDP congress, which was attended by up to 32,000 people despite widespread police repression outside the venue, Turkey  launched an investigation into new Party co-chair Pervin Buldan and HDP lawmaker Sirri Sureyya Onder on direction of the chief prosecutor, allegedly for the “crimes of carrying out terror propaganda, inciting grudges and enmity in the public.” One day later, Turkish prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for the co-chair of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) Saleh Muslim.

It’s not without significance that one of the speakers at the HDP congress was Leila Khaled, a member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Khaled, notorious for being one the PFLP’s airline hijackers in the late 1960s, said "I have brought you greetings from the Palestinian people. The General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is in an Israeli dungeon. I greet all our prisoners, our comrades and Selahattin Demirtas and his comrades. Prisons have no identity. They are all the same and are there to obstruct democracy and freedom. We learned that in the French dungeons. In solidarity with you, we will destroy all the dungeons in the world and build cultural centres and schools in their place. Today in Ankara I saw two different scenes. On the one hand, all the policemen who surrounded the congress hall and filled the streets. The same picture we see in Palestine. But on the other hand, I have seen here the peoples of Turkey and Kurdistan. The voices that rise in this room will drown out the shackles of all prisons and become the echo of the voices of all peoples. Wherever there is colonialism, oppression and violence, resistance will gain strength. You are resisting. You are the voice of those who resist colonialism. I greet you on behalf of the fighting Palestinian people. We also raise our voice against the war in Afrin. Wars do not promote life but lead to death. The peoples build up life and the future. From this room, I greet all the resisting peoples."

Khaled’s statement is in staunch contrast to Erdogan, who attempts to position himself as a defender of Palestinian rights while at the same time crushing the democratic aspirations of the Kurdish people. His hypocrisy has never been more apparent and more glaring.

Historic Responsibility to Fight Fascism

As the Sultan struggles to advance in Syria, the calls for the demise of his fascist government accelerate. Erdogan may have thought it wise to enter Syrian territory along with Salafist rebels. He may have thought it wise to attempt to crush the country’s democratic opposition. He somehow still thinks fighting the PKK can bring about victory. This has so far proven itself to be none other than the manifestation of delusion. In fact, it has been shown to be the apex of insanity. History will soon sweep aside the Erdogan/AKP dictatorship. In the meantime, our historic responsibility is to support those forces fighting against it.