[Marxism] The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

Chris Slee chris_w_slee at hotmail.com
Sun Sep 24 07:23:30 MDT 2017


Michael Karadjis says:  "As I pointed out in my previous post, which Chris has not really
answered, the Turkey/FSA/rebel action under Euphrates Shield cleared
ISIS out of a vast swathe of territory, bordered by Azaz, Jarablus and
al-Bab."

Turkey sent its troops into this region, not because it was worried about the presence of ISIS, but because it was worried about the advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which had captured Manbij from ISIS, and were advancing on Jarablus.

The Azaz/Jarablus/al-Bab area is now under Turkish occupation.  It is  doubtful that the people are much better off than they were under ISIS.  Kurds are particularly oppressed, but Arabs are also oppressed:

https://anfenglish.com/rojava/first-isis-then-turkish-tyranny-21751

MK:  "The SDF was not present in any of these areas. The only
FSA-SDF clashes were some brief “border” clashes in the region between
Manbij and Jarablus, near the outset of the operation, which the US
put a stop to. "

Turkish plans to advance on Manbij were thwarted by a warning from the US.  However the Turkish army and its allies have continued harassing the SDF by bombardment of towns under SDF control.

MK:  "Of course it is true that one of the motivations of the Turkish regime
in helping the FSA drive ISIS from this region was to prevent the YPG
from carrying out its potentially catastrophic irredentist plan to
“link” Kurdish Afrin with Kurdish Kobani by seizing this 6 thousand
square mile stretch of non-Kurdish territory."

The result of Turkish intervention is that the Turkish army is now occupying Syrian land.  Given that this area was formerly part of the Ottoman empire, this policy is sometimes called "neo-Ottomanism".  It could also be called irredentism.

MK:  "But in taking part, the
FSA/rebels were not carrying out Turkish orders, as they were acting
entirely in their own interests in recovering this Arab- and
Turkmen-majority territory from ISIS, which had conquered it from
these same rebels earlier."

The area is ethnically mixed, and includes Kurds as well as Arabs and Turkmens.  Amongst the rebels present in the area before ISIS took over was Jabhat al-Akrad (Kurdish Front), which was initially considered  part of the Free Syrian Army but later joined the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Another group based in the area which also joined the SDF was the Northern Sun battalion.

MK:  "Chris is correct that *some* of the
former SRF/Hazm cadre joined the infamous Jaysh al-Thuwar militia,
which allied to the YPG and often spearheaded Russian-backed attacks
on the rebels in late 2015. Their hard line (at one point, when the
YPG and FSA drew up a truce in December, JaT rejected the truce signed
by its own YPG allies) may have been related to a vengeful streak
among these folk."

Michael has previously complained about the predominantly Kurdish YPG taking over Arab majority areas.  But here he is saying that the predominantly Arab Jaysh al-Thuwar played the leading role in initiating the fighting that led to the capture of these areas by the SDF.

The desire for revenge may be one factor motivating the JaT members, who had been attacked by Jabhat al-Nusra in 2014-15.  But they would also be motivated by a desire to free their home towns from the oppressive rule of Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies.

MK:  "More generally, Chris has had a tendency in his contributions here (in
some cases more blatantly than here), of grouping the entire gamut of
non-YPG, non-Nusra rebels into two categories: one he labels
“Turkish-backed” rebels, who he thinks are mere puppets of the AKP
regime, and the other are those he thinks are still loyal to the
original democratic aims of the revolution and so have joined the SDF.
There is little in between, and little complexity within, according to
this schema."

I am sorry if I gave an over-simplified picture.  I am sure that many rebels who are not in the SDF are sincere democrats (e.g. many of those in the Southern Front).

The SDF is open to new groups joining it.  For example, Liwa al-Shimal, a group from Deir Ezzor, recently left the Turkish-controlled Euphrates Shield alliance and joined the SDF:
 
http://anfenglish.com/rojava/former-euphrates-shield-group-joined-sdf-21916

The SDF is politically quite diverse, so it is not surprising that groups which were part of it sometimes break away.  Probably in some cases mistakes by the YPG leadership contribute to this.  But overall the SDF is growing, and has a growing Arab component.

Michael cites a report in Der Spiegel saying that the Raqqa Revolutionaries Brigade has left the SDF, and claiming that:  "The final break came when [RRB leader] Abu Isa and others demanded that Raqqa be
liberated by rebels from the city and that residents be allowed to
choose their own city council."

I would be cautious about accepting Der Spiegel's version of events uncritically.  Fighters from Raqqa are amongst the SDF members fighting to liberate the city.  Elections for a local administration will occur after fighting in the city comes to an end, mines are cleared, residents who have fled are able to return, and some degree of normality is restored, as is happening elsewhere in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria:

https://anfenglish.com/rojava/people-voted-in-democratic-northern-syria-federation-elections-22286

In the meantime, there is a Raqqa Civilian Assembly that is ready to act as a provisional government for the city once the fighting stops:

https://anfenglish.com/features/raqqa-civilian-assembly-co-chair-we-will-govern-ourselves-19593

MK:  "Anyway, getting back to the similarly fraught alliance of sorts the
other FSA/rebels have with Turkey, labelling the bulk of rebel groups
“Turkish-backed” rebels is crude debating device. The aim is to
simplify, and hence slander. What Chris forgets is that if we want to
play that game, then every time we refer to the YPG or SDF, we should
call them “US-backed” fighters, as the western media now does (at
least it is more honest than using that term for the FSA, but still
incorrect). The SDF alliance with the US is much tighter than that of
other rebels with Turkey; in fact it is probably the tightest
relationship of any two forces anywhere in Syria. Yet as a rule, I do
not use this debating trick, even if I think it somewhat justified.".

The SDF has a military alliance with the US, based on a common desire to defeat ISIS.  But the US does not support the SDF's political goal of a democratic Syria.  It has failed to insist on the SDF's right to attend peace negotiations.  This is in contrast to Russia's consistent support of the Assad regime.

Turkey's intervention in Syria is not just a matter of giving military support to selected rebel groups.  Turkey has had a strong ideological influence on the rebel movement.  This has been explained by Loubna Mrie as follows:

"The relationship between Syrian Arabs and Kurds deteriorated as a result of transnational and foreign interests and regime tactics in the context of war.

"We cannot understand the root causes of such divisions without looking closely at the proxy powers and their funding of Sunni Arab rebel forces. Turkey, which has long backed the FSA, is the chief country through which support has been channelled. Unfortunately, Turkey's suppression of its own Kurds has coloured the way it views Syrian Kurds, and thus has aggravated ethnic divisions in Syria.

"Because the Syrian opposition desperately needs Turkey's support, it has been compelled to embrace Ankara's stance - which is sometimes at odds with the greater good of the Syrian people.

"One of the Syrian opposition's greatest mistakes was to buckle to Turkish pressure and exclude the Kurdish opposition from the Syrian National Council (SNC). This, in turn, led to the political under-representation of Kurds, even though there was a robust Kurdish political opposition that was eager to join the SNC. 

"It is very important to note here that Turkey was not only supporting the armed opposition, but was also the only country that offered a safe space for the Syrian political opposition to meet. This dynamic forced the Syrian opposition to give up on a Kurdish role in the political opposition, or rather, to turn a blind eye to the Kurdish struggle because they did not want to risk their relationship with Turkey. 

"In effect, Turkey played a major role in widening Arab-Kurd divisions."

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/8/22/the-demise-of-arab-kurdish-solidarity-in-syria

Of course, the SDF's alliance with the US has dangers.  It could lead to cooption.

If the democratic revolution in northern Syria remains isolated, it could degenerate.  Cooption by the US is one possible form that such degeneration could take.

Chris Slee






________________________________
From: mkaradjis . <mkaradjis at gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, 22 September 2017 1:24 AM
To: Chris Slee
Cc: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
Subject: Re: [Marxism] The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

Now, onto Turkey, SDF etc.

Chris:

“I would not criticise any rebel group that adopted a similar policy.
What I am criticising is the fact that some rebel groups have become
instruments of a Turkish intervention that is directed against the
Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.”

Elsewhere, Chris disputes my statement that rebels were transferred
north to Euphrates Shield to fight ISIS, claiming they went to fight
the SDF. He claims that Turkey’s claim that its intervention was
directed against both ISIS and the YPG “was a smokescreen,” because,
he claims, Turkey had previously collaborated with ISIS against the
YPG in the northeast.

This seems strange logic. I will leave aside whether or not Turkey
“supported ISIS” in the past - Turkey heavily supported anti-ISIS
rebels, but at a certain point may have maneuvered with ISIS against
the YPG in Kobani, as any self-respecting Machiavellian regime might
do to look after its interests. Such tactical preferencing of one
enemy over another should not be confused with actually “supporting”
ISIS. But regardless, even if in the past Turkey “supported” ISIS, how
is that an argument against what it was doing now?

As I pointed out in my previous post, which Chris has not really
answered, the Turkey/FSA/rebel action under Euphrates Shield cleared
ISIS out of a vast swathe of territory, bordered by Azaz, Jarablus and
al-Bab. The SDF was not present in any of these areas. The only
FSA-SDF clashes were some brief “border” clashes in the region between
Manbij and Jarablus, near the outset of the operation, which the US
put a stop to. How anyone can describe this as an attack on the SDF
while just using “fighting ISIS” as a “smokescreen” I have no idea; it
defies reality.

Try to remember the Stalinist origins of the PKK, comrades - they may
have moved on, but some of their propaganda style reflects old habits.
I recommend we be aware of this and try not to repeat it.

Of course it is true that one of the motivations of the Turkish regime
in helping the FSA drive ISIS from this region was to prevent the YPG
from carrying out its potentially catastrophic irredentist plan to
“link” Kurdish Afrin with Kurdish Kobani by seizing this 6 thousand
square mile stretch of non-Kurdish territory. But in taking part, the
FSA/rebels were not carrying out Turkish orders, as they were acting
entirely in their own interests in recovering this Arab- and
Turkmen-majority territory from ISIS, which had conquered it from
these same rebels earlier. It had never before been controlled by the
YPG, and the YPG had no special “right” to take it.

Finally, Chris rejects my description of the Menagh-Tal Rifaat region
as "occupied Arab territory" which "The rebels [by which he means the
groups allied to Turkey] have the right to re-take [their territory]
from the YPG-SDF". This is the Arab/Turkmen-majority region of
northern Aleppo that was violently conquered from the rebels by the
YPG in February 2016, with the invading Russian imperialist airforce,
when it wasn’t slaughtering the length and breadth of Syria, bloodily
softening up these rebel towns for the YPG to seize.

On reflection, calling them occupied “Arab” territory, on account of
their Arab majority, was a mistake, Just as Kurdish-majority territory
is not “Kurdish.” In both cases, it is Syrian territory, and it is up
to the locals, of whatever ethnic majority, to decide who runs the
place, and how. But apart from the word “Arab”, everything else I
wrote about this occupied territory was correct.

Chris does not address the bloody conquest, the role of Russian
imperialism in this conquest, the resistance of the FSA/rebels in
these towns, the expulsion of the populations, the demands of the
expelled populations for return, the YPG gloating over FSA corpses in
Tal Rifaat during the conquest, etc etc. Rather, he claims:

“This ignores the fact that the SDF has a strong Arab component, and
that many of its Arab members come from a Free Syrian Army
background.” To back this, he notes my discussion in my MLR article of
Nusra’s suppression of two large FSA coalitions, the Syrian
Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm, and notes that I do not
“mention that some of the survivors of Nusra's attacks fled to Afrin,
where they helped form a new, predominantly Arab, group called Jaysh
al-Thuwar (Revolutionary Army), which later combined with the mainly
Kurdish YPG/YPJ to form the Syrian Democratic Forces.”

Therefore, he concludes: “Thus the "rebel" groups allied to Turkey
cannot be considered the sole representatives of Arab people in
northern Syria.  Tal Rifaat is not "their territory", which they are
entitled to "re-take".”

This is actually quite appalling Chris, on many levels. Before I get
to what is wrong with the “facts” and assumptions here, what stands
out again is the refusal to deal with the real world. The role of the
bloody Russian airforce in helping the YPG violently conquer this
region remains unmentioned; Chris thinks the Arabic ethnicity of a
fraction of the SDF means the actual populations who lived there and
the actual rebel formations that were based there, based among those
populations, who now live in Azaz or Turkey, are not entitled to
re-take their own towns from an occupying force that was imposed by an
invading imperialist airforce.

Let’s reverse that: seeing as some of the FSA/rebels are of Kurdish
ethnicity, if they invaded Afrin (not occupied Tal Rifaat, but actual
Afrin) with the direct participation of the invading Turkish army and
airforce, and the populations and SDF fighters were pushed out, then
according to Chris’ logic, they would not be entitled to re-take
Afrin, as long as there is a sprinkling of Kurds among the rebel
forces.

Anyway now to the specifics. Chris is correct that *some* of the
former SRF/Hazm cadre joined the infamous Jaysh al-Thuwar militia,
which allied to the YPG and often spearheaded Russian-backed attacks
on the rebels in late 2015. Their hard line (at one point, when the
YPG and FSA drew up a truce in December, JaT rejected the truce signed
by its own YPG allies) may have been related to a vengeful streak
among these folk. While many FSA cadre do not like the YPG, they tend
to respect them as fighters for their own cause, whereas they have a
rather lower opinion of JaT.

However, *other* former SRF/Hazm cadre, who had taken refuge in
Turkey, joined the Euphrates Shield operation (the official bodies of
these groups did). But a great many, probably majority, simply stayed
in Idlib or Aleppo and joined other FSA or rebel formations. Jamal
Maarouf himself, the former SRF leader and long-tome chief rebel
leader in Idlib till expelled by Nusra, openly spoke out against JaT
from his Turkish refuge.

More generally, Chris has had a tendency in his contributions here (in
some cases more blatantly than here), of grouping the entire gamut of
non-YPG, non-Nusra rebels into two categories: one he labels
“Turkish-backed” rebels, who he thinks are mere puppets of the AKP
regime, and the other are those he thinks are still loyal to the
original democratic aims of the revolution and so have joined the SDF.
There is little in between, and little complexity within, according to
this schema. But this is simply a PYD-centred binary view of the
world.

A relatively few tiny rebel groups have joined the SDF. A majority of
rebel groups, including the majority of democratic, non-sectarian
rebel groups, have not joined the SDF. Most are loosely allied to
Turkey, only to the extent that Turkey continues to provide them a
lifeline, as has been the case throughout the conflict; almost none of
them have ever picked up arms against the YPG to act as Turkish
proxies (though some have fought the YPG at times, where neither side
has necessarily had clean hands, for their own reasons). Of these,
some are in Euphrates Shield, indicating a closer alliance with Turkey
at this point; but even the majority of these are not Turkish pawns,
but rather have simply not been forced (yet?) by Turkey to go to war
against the YPG/SDF or against HTS. A much smaller group within
Euphrates Shield may be described as outright Turkish proxies (eg
Sultan Murad).

There is also great variation within the ranks of the SDF, of course;
the historically most significant FSA ally of the YPG, the Raqqa
Revolutionaries Front, has continually had a very up and down
relationship with the YPG, but in the Raqqa region there was simply no
alternative for them: it was ISIS or Assad or SDF, so they made a
logical choice. Now, however, they have almost ben fully sidelined by
the Ocalanist clique who effectively run the SDF despite all the local
democratic structures (geez, when haven’t we seen that kind of
structure before?):

“The same is true when it comes to the liberation of Raqqa: Only those
who display obedience are allowed to take part. The result is that one
rebel group -- which has fought against IS longer than any other,
doesn't belong to the Islamist camp and took part in extended
negotiations for American support -- is being kept away from the
fighting by force of arms.

"Things actually began quite cooperatively," says Abu Isa, a leader of
Raqqa Revolutionaries' Brigade who is basically under village arrest
in the Kurdish region of Syria. He can receive visitors, but he isn't
allowed to leave. "We set up a joint operations headquarters together
with the Kurds, just as we had done with the Free Syrian Army. But
following the victory in Kobani, everything changed. The YPG officer
with whom we had negotiated our cooperation was transferred and his
successor said he knew nothing about it and was just following
Öcalan's orders. The Americans wanted to support us, but they then
changed their minds. Sorry, they told us, but our only allies now are
the Kurds."

“The final break came when Abu Isa and others demanded that Raqqa be
liberated by rebels from the city and that residents be allowed to
choose their own city council. "That's why we took to the streets in
2011, for freedom and rights," Abu Isa says. Everybody in Raqqa knows,
he adds, that the Arabic-Kurdish military alliance, the SDF, is just a
guise for the PKK-allied Syrian Kurdish party and its militia, the
YPG. "How do the Kurds hope to control Raqqa? It's an Arab city. It
won't go well."
(http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/kurdish-pkk-expanding-grip-on-northern-syria-a-1151451-2.html)


Anyway, getting back to the similarly fraught alliance of sorts the
other FSA/rebels have with Turkey, labelling the bulk of rebel groups
“Turkish-backed” rebels is crude debating device. The aim is to
simplify, and hence slander. What Chris forgets is that if we want to
play that game, then every time we refer to the YPG or SDF, we should
call them “US-backed” fighters, as the western media now does (at
least it is more honest than using that term for the FSA, but still
incorrect). The SDF alliance with the US is much tighter than that of
other rebels with Turkey; in fact it is probably the tightest
relationship of any two forces anywhere in Syria. Yet as a rule, I do
not use this debating trick, even if I think it somewhat justified.






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