Rojava after Rojava
mashriq / arabia / iraq |
imperialism / war |
opinion / analysis Friday December 27, 2019 23:46 by Fouâd Oveisy - ROAR
Turkey’s attack on Rojava forced the SDF to choose between its own survival and protecting Kurdish territories, putting the future of the revolution at risk.
Painting by Janet Biehl
I used to have this daydream. Back in 2015 I pictured myself in a free Rojava, perhaps as a teacher in a decolonized critical theory school with colleagues who fought in the Syrian civil war and led the feminist revolution in Rojava.
In this dream my students and I read Abdullah Öcalan together and argued fiercely but comradely over the future of the revolution. Beyond the classroom’s windows, I could see Afrin’s mountainous landscapes.
In this dream, I would occasionally think back on the friends and lovers, credit cards companies and well-intentioned racists, and even the meaningless jobs and alienated citizens of the capitalist metropolises that I had left behind forever.
In this dream I had no regrets.
By 2015 the revolution in Rojava had withstood the test of time and averted catastrophe, despite all odds stacked against it. Many leftists and revolutionaries across the globe had come to view it as an enduring, Middle East-changing, radically democratic political alternative. The legendary People’s and Women’s Protection Units (the YPG and YPJ) had driven the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Kobanî with the help of coalition air support.
The staunch and militant feminist–anarchist experiment was forging ahead. Internationalist volunteers were traveling to the region to help with the ecological projects and join the escalating war against ISIS. Rojava was no utopia but it persisted in a time out of time like few other places.
After ISIS was forced out of Rojava, the late 2015 transformation of the YPG into the United States-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) heralded the beginning of a new era, one that culminated in removing ISIS from its last bastion in Bāghūz in early 2019. By then Turkey and its jihadi proxies had invaded Afrin; its local YPG forces were not part of the US–SDF agreement and could not defend the area on their own against NATO’s second largest army.
Elsewhere in Rojava, the grassroots work of the ecological and women’s movements carried on, but, as witnessed during the defense of Afrin, the revolution’s political and strategic decision-making was increasingly centralized in the SDF and according to the priorities of its cooperation with the US. Retooled and rebranded to wage war against ISIS, the SDF’s rise to dominance coincided with the reproduction of state institutions inside anti-state Rojava, in order to meet the logistical demands of a historic military campaign that no other force in the region had the will to carry out.
With Turkey’s attack on Rojava in October of 2019 came the risk that the SDF would choose its own institutional survival over the core mission of defending the revolution’s original enclaves along the Syria–Turkey border. The Americans had exploited Turkish phobias as well as the SDF’s strengths and weaknesses as a vanguard political class to force it into this double bind. The dream of a free and autonomous Rojava was in danger.
THE ROJAVA (COUNTER-)REVOLUTION
The formation of the SDF was in part a response to Turkey’s role in sponsoring the rise of ISIS as a proxy to eliminate the Kurdish populations in northern Iraq and Syria. Until then, the US had sponsored an inefficient and anti-Kurdish Syrian opposition and was in no rush to change course. After the Russians entered the Syrian civil war in 2016, the Americans could no longer afford to back a losing side.
The SDF’s plan was to eliminate ISIS in its entirety in order to nullify Turkish efforts to use the group as an anti-Kurdish proxy in the region. If Turkey was to attack Rojava from the north and ISIS resurged from the south, the consequences would be catastrophic. ISIS control over the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria also bankrolled the group’s armies in Iraq and Syria.
However, the necessities of this offensive required further militarization of society and the economy, and the centralization and consolidation of strategic decision-making power in military organs connected to the US, i.e. the SDF. This new status raised the security profile of the YPG, the leftist and majority Kurdish backbone of the SDF, which Turkey deems “terrorists.”
Turkey exploited the pretext of alleged “Kurdish domination” in northern Syria and executed a multi-step containment strategy to dissect, isolate and eliminate Rojava’s autonomy.
Turkey’s offensive began in 2016 with the expansion of Operation Euphrates Shield into north Syria to separate the cantons of Afrin and Kobanî. The occupation and ethnic cleansing of the isolated Afrin canton followed in 2018. The September 2019 “safe zone” agreement between Turkey and the Trump administration envisioned a 30 kilometer–deep, 120 kilometer–wide strip at the Rojava–Turkey border “cleared” of the YPG and its defense structures. This zone separates the cantons of Kobanî and Jazira.
Weeks later, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan climbed the podium of the United Nations General Assembly and promised to resettle the three million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey in this zone. The SDF responded by ceding a strategic five-kilometer stretch of the proposed “safe zone” to Turkey as a buffer area, but this compromise only led to a temporary and staged withdrawal of the US military from northeast Syria. With its defenses dismantled, the YPG was in no position for a sustained resistance across the border, against common US and Turkish interests in Syria.
The following week the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and its jihadi mercenaries embarked on a campaign of bombing and looting towns and villages in Rojava, displacing 400,000 people in the process. So far, 350 civilians have been killed and countless more wounded. Shortly after the fall of the key border towns of Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) and Geri Spi (Tell Abyad), SDF commander Mazlum Abdi brokered the surrender of Rojava to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Assad’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA) moved into areas under attack and together with the SDF they defended the north for a few days until Mike Pence brokered a “ceasefire” deal in Ankara. The US–Turkey agreement ordered the SDF to retreat 30 kilometers from the border and was violated from the get-go through Turkish chemical warfare. The SDF retreated from the border per instructions and resumed calls for the US to stay in Syria. Erdoğan then agreed on another permanent ceasefire, this time with Vladimir Putin. Shortly after, the Americans returned to northern Syria after a hiatus spanning the time between the first Turkish attack and the Russian brokered ceasefire. In facilitating the piecemeal surrender of Rojava to Assad and Turkey, the US had managed to severely undermine the autonomy of the only leftist administration in the Middle East in just two weeks.
Rojava found itself in this situation because the US foreign policy strategy of both Trump and Obama before him was to craft a careful counterrevolution in Rojava. Arming and transforming the SDF into an “anti-ISIS” instrument was central to this atrocious strategy. The alliance with the SDF enabled the US to become a powerbroker in Syria, with less than 1,000 American “boots on the ground.” Once the Americans set up bases anywhere in the world, as they did in 21 different locations in Rojava, not a single army in the world can muster up the audacity to force them out. The specter of an empowered SDF also served as an American stick to contain and steer Turkey’s pivot to Russia. The SDF’s growing power alarmed the Turkish army’s top brass increasingly and prioritized militancy over diplomacy in Rojava.
This vicious cycle ultimately forced the SDF into a decisive war with Turkey. The Americans’ last options were always going to be between sponsoring Rojava’s reintegration into Syria at the expense of US interests (a nonstarter) and guaranteeing Rojava’s independence from Syria (a nonstarter for Turkey). This was a contradiction that the US cultivated and harvested because Turkey could better serve American interests in the region after it sidelined the SDF, because the Americans were never going to withdraw from Syria and never planned to lose key ground in Syria to the Russians either.
Indeed, during the week of the Turkish invasion Washington think tanks murmured quietly about the inevitability of the SDF’s retreat to a region south of Rojava — the Arab-majority area known as the middle Euphrates river valley. Things did not go as planned, but once the US foreign policy machine had fully reacted to the SDF–Assad pact, a so-called reverse course strategy was drawn up (as plan B) to push the revolutionary SDF to reconstitute itself as a Kurdish–led, Arab–majority proxy in the middle Euphrates river valley. While initially refusing this role, the SDF eventually decided that a US presence in the middle Euphrates river valley would counterbalance Russia and Assad’s newfound foothold in Kurdish Rojava.
With its defense forces exiled from Rojava and resettled for now in predominantly Arab eastern Syria, the fate of the revolution in Rojava after the SDF’s de facto banishment from Rojava hangs in the brute balance of imperialist interests.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
As I write, demographic engineering of the Turkish-occupied “safe zone” is well underway. The regime forces and Russian military police patrol the enclaves of Kobanî and Qamishli on either side of the zone. Per Trump’s tweets, the Americans are “securing the oil” as a smokescreen for securing the Syria–Iraq border and obstructing Russia’s land access to Iraq and the Gulf region. Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are shaking with protests and the Iran hawks are hedging their bets in Syria, which is Iran’s land bridge to Lebanon and Israel. Maintaining this land bridge also enables Iran to mobilize its interlinked regional proxies for different aims, such as the coup against the 2017 independence referendum in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Withholding oil revenues from Damascus through supervising Trump’s so-called petroleum venture serves as the SDF’s double-edged sword for securing its own and Rojava’s future. Because Assad needs oil to reconstruct Syria after the civil war, he will be tactful with rolling back freedoms in the Kurdish areas that are now under his control again. And if he does not play along, the SDF might clone the US–sponsored autonomy of the KRG, this time in Syria’s middle Euphrates river valley.
On the downside, the SDF is more reliant on the Americans than ever. The US and France are pushing the SDF to improve relations with the neoliberal Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in charge of the KRG. The idea is to re-functionalize economic and logistical supply lines through Iraq, in exchange for giving the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), the KDP’s Syrian sibling, a role in the administration of areas surrendered to Assad. The KDP and ENKS are on good terms with both the US and Turkey and will work to roll back the radical aspects of the revolution in Rojava to appease all concerned parties.
The loss of Rojava was also bad news for the Kurdistan Workers Party’s (PKK) headquarters in the Qandil Mountains in northeast Iraq, because it meant a restriction of their access to escape routes and recruiting grounds in Kurdish Syria. The Turkish army has been gearing up to finish off the PKK’s old guard and liquidate its check on Erdoğan’s hostility toward the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the political wing of the Kurdish resistance movement in Turkey. Without the PKK’s armed specter, the HDP’s minoritarian parliamentary politics will not last long in Turkey’s militarized, pan-Turkist, and increasingly religious democracy. Choosing between survival and irrelevance, Qandil ditched its earlier position against the Syrian Kurds ceding their lands to the occupiers and even toned-down its understandable hostility toward its old right wing nemesis, the KDP.
All in all, it appears that the leftist Kurdish resistance movement is cornered by imperialism, at least for the time being. The SDF will retain its numbers by working with the US and postpones a definitive settlement with Assad. Maintaining American presence in the middle Euphrates river valley prolongs the deadlock in north Syria and enables the SDF to retain the control of Syria’s border with Iraq, in order to force the possibility of ending the war with Turkey on the SDF’s terms. The PKK may leverage the borrowed time and wiggle room to encourage a peace process in Turkey.
If the SDF times the Americans’ eventual exit from Syria with shifting its allegiance to the Russians, it might be able to extend its lifeline as a proxy force in central Syria and keep both Assad and the ENKS from meddling too much in Rojava. Signs of recent rapprochement with the Russians are encouraging, but making such a transition is difficult for reasons that follow later in this analysis.
One way or another, the revolutionary phase in Rojava has come to an end because the SDF opted to retain its military institutions, as opposed to mounting a decisive resistance against the Turkish-led invasion. Four years into the era of Rojava’s war against ISIS I mourn the loss of Kurdish land and yet another displacement of the Kurds. I mourn the revolutionaries I admired and civilian lives lost to the daily violence of Turkey’s settler-colonial scheme. I mourn a daydream that no longer comforts me. Abandoning Kurdish land and people is not in the spirit of a Kurdish resistance movement and the SDF has confronted its revolutionary base with a fait accompli.
However, it is in such moments that there is a choice to be made between abandoning a dream and fealty to an event of Rojava’s magnitude. With two imperialist forces as watchdogs and with the likes of Assad and ENKS as rivals, I see a resilient and civilian praxis of dual power as the radical way forward for saving the utopian remnants of the revolution in Rojava. The SDF is instrumental to safeguarding these remnants in this context — if it evolves to become more than the revolution’s military command.
In order to envision this radical future we must take a detour through the Rojava revolution’s origins in the early years of the PKK and the thought of Abdullah Öcalan or “Apo,” as he is affectionately known by his followers, the movement’s intellectual uncle and strategic mastermind.
PLAYING THE GRAMSCIAN GAME
The Kurdish resistance movement is marked by the contradiction that, as Gramsci put it in The Prison Notebooks — The Modern Prince, “whatever one does one is always playing somebody’s game.” In view of this inevitability Gramsci advises: “The important thing is to seek in every way to play one’s own game with success.” The YPG and SDF’s forebears in the PKK turned Gramsci’s motto into political artistry, in order to lay the foundations of their political hegemony in the four corners of Kurdistan.
For example, women were part in the founding of, and fighting for the PKK. But in addition to empowering women, the recruit of women into to the PKK’s ranks was to recognize patriarchy as an obstacle to the political success of the organization. The Turkish military armed and co-opted conservative Kurdish tribes in its war against the PKK, and since guerrilla war against Kurdish tribalism could not be avoided, the feminists in the PKK deployed women’s emancipation as a tool of destroying Kurdish tribalism, which had traditionally placed women at the bottom of the tribal hierarchy. Kurdish patriarchy prevented political recruitment and the military hegemony necessary for the emergence of a new society in which women would take part equally. Ethical and effective organization fused in this savvy strategy.
Fast-forward to 2015, when the women of the PKK and YPJ liberated the Yezidis enslaved by ISIS in Iraq’s Shingal. The battle itself, the grief of the guerrillas upon arriving in Shingal, and the Yezidi women’s joy after liberation is the stuff of legends. But by expelling ISIS from Shingal, the YPG regained control of highways in Iraq that served as major supply routes to ISIS strongholds in Syria. And with this control also came the ability to circumvent the Turkish commercial embargo on Rojava, which Turkey exerted through commercial highways controlled by its unholy ally, the KDP. In other words, at one stroke the YPG–PKK tandem liberated the Yezidis from ISIS and Rojava’s economy from its Turkish yoke. This ingenious strategy provides, in theorizing a revolutionary Kurdish realpolitik, a blueprint that is equally moral and strategic.
The danger in this Gramscian game is that one might become too prone to playing another’s game. The 2015 formation of the SDF was characterized by a systematic and celebrated inclusion of Arab, Armenian and Syriac forces, among others, alongside the mainly Kurdish YPG. In June 2019, local SDF military councils were set up all over northeast Syria to decentralize its defense forces, in what appeared to be a second revolution in Rojava. Like all other PKK–YPG stratagems there was, behind the SDF’s genuine ethical pluralism, a clever and long-term political move.
Months later, once the Syrian army and Russian military police were deployed in Rojava after the Turkey–Russia ceasefire, it was apparent that Putin and Assad were exercising uncharacteristic patience with continued SDF presence in these areas. They acted with restraint because of the SDF’s military councils. No matter the regime forces’ expansion throughout northeast Syria under the terms of the SDF–Assad deal, the regime forces were stretched too thinly to really threaten the SDF’s military councils, as they add up to about 100,000 men and women distributed in independent local units in a region the size of Denmark. The SDF leveraged this imbalance of forces to ward off Assad hostility toward the revolutions’ politicians and civilians, especially in the abandoned Kurdish regions.
All the same, the SDF’s pluralist realpolitik did not stop the US or Turkey from taking advantage. The US “reverse course” strategy forced the YPG to choose between staying in charge of the SDF or being replaced piecemeal with the localized Arab military councils.
Manned by Sunni tribes in former ISIS strongholds such as Deir ez-Zor, these councils prefer American patronage to Assad’s return. Indeed, Arab forces make up 60 percent of all SDF forces and not all of them share the YPG’s cherished leftist beliefs. Ultimately the YPG was forced to choose the survival of the SDF as an institution in eastern Syria, over defending the revolution back in Rojava.
This is the same YPG/YPJ that a decade before the onset of the Syrian and Rojava revolutions carried out the underground work to educate the urban and rural Syrian Kurds on the tenets of Öcalan’s democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy. Such has been the cunning of history and US foreign policy.
APO VERSUS UNCLE SAM
Öcalan’s ideological frameworks of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy prescribed the means to civilizing war amid a civil war. The idea behind this hybrid framework was to skillfully play the Gramscian game — by overturning the gameboard.
The framework was the product of Öcalan’s reflections on his mistakes in over four decades of resisting Turkish colonialism and militarism. As the PKK’s leader, Öcalan’s politics in the decades prior to the experiment in Rojava were aimed at reinvigorating the recognition of the Kurdish identity in the Middle East and establishing a Kurdish nation-state by decolonizing Turkey’s Kurdish areas. But Öcalan realized that as a postcolonial movement in a postcolonial region, the Kurdish resistance movement could not wage a war for international recognition against recently postcolonial states such as Syria and Iraq.
In the first place, since Kurdistan is divided into four parts, a resistance movement in one colonized part of Kurdistan is treated as regional war against four state enemies. The size and number of these wars and enemies often surpass the strategic capacities of Kurdish resistance movements. This strategic deficit is exacerbated because Kurdish resistance movements find no allies outside Kurdistan. The Kurds’ state enemies wield a monopoly over the production of the postcolonial discourse within their territories, which they use to mobilize genuine anti-imperialist sentiments in the region as testament to their territorial sovereignty. This is a discourse that attracts the international and postcolonial left and produces a political recognition of postcolonial state sovereignty as an end in itself. However, this recognition often comes at the expense of misrecognizing genuine minoritarian movements within these postcolonial states as “imperialist” vehicles for destabilizing national and postcolonial independence.
Against this distorted backdrop, a radical change in the Middle Eastern politics of assigning meaning to land was a matter of strategic necessity. Öcalan’s late theories reinvest the melancholy of stateless movements for sovereignty in a desire for egalitarian redistribution of power, where power and legitimacy come not through recognition by the international state system but through living in common and away from the state and its territorial logic.
Rojava’s implementation of Öcalan’s theories translated into practical advantages in the Syrian civil war. Working within the stateless framework of democratic autonomy, the Syrian Kurds were not ideologically and strategically mandated to seek independence from the Syrian Arab Republic as Kurds, saving themselves from Bashar Assad’s butcheries throughout the civil war. The Syrian Kurds’ democratic confederalist approach to sharing power made them attractive to the region’s other minorities, and the powersharing inoculated these minorities against the overtures of the region’s other sectarian actors in Iran, Iraq and Turkey. If the contradictions of sectarian war could not be avoided, Rojava deployed those contradictions against sectarianism.
However, Öcalan’s frameworks were designed for a gradual transformation of life and politics in Syria and the Middle East over many decades — and the Americans were aware of this limitation. Their push for the SDF’s aggressive southward expansion forced the surrounding states actors to rally around common interests threatened by the US–SDF alliance, and the mounting regional hostility only increased Rojava’s reliance on the US for protection. As Mazlum Kobanî professed in 2017, “the main reason that our relations with Turkey broke down…is the strategic relationship that developed between us and the United States. This aggravated Turkey’s phobias, its fears.”
The increasing role of the US in Rojava also heightened the hostility of the surrounding nation-states’ leftist blocks and strengthened the perception of the revolution in Rojava as a “Kurdish-led,” “American-sponsored” project to “divide the Middle East,” stunting the revolution’s regional appeal and influence.
The SDF’s own class dynamics as a military vanguard facilitated this vicious dynamic between reliance and isolation. The SDF suffered from a crisis of legitimacy in northeast Syria after the rapid southward expansion into the conservative and tribal middle Euphrates river valley. The Arab militias that formed the majority of the SDF were mostly tribal and their allegiance to the SDF was geared around tactical alliances made possible by continued American presence in Rojava.
Meanwhile in Rojava, the YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), never enjoyed political hegemony. Despite their growing popularity and hegemony, many Syrian Kurds remained conservative and trusting of the ENKS. As for the important members of the Syriac and Armenian communities, they constitute the traditional bourgeoisie of the Rojava region and their interests were subject to the maintenance of their class interests. Managing the escalating threats of ISIS and Turkey allowed the SDF to manufacture hegemony in this new climate.
The territorial logic of these wars, and the logistical necessities imposed on Rojava’s politics by territoriality, undermined the capacities of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy for countering the centralizing tendencies of the state. Centralization of the revolution in its military command facilitated the US priorities in the region and rolled back on Rojava’s program of civilizing war. Culturally, the radical imaginary of a revolution that had set itself the task of ending war in the Middle East by changing men was reduced, through the dictates of the US-led strategy, to that of a security instrument that saw ISIS as nemesis and dialectical other.
It is only understandable that the traumas and sacrifices of battles against ISIS and the Turkish army and its proxies have congealed, in Rojava’s popular imaginary, into a collective drive to prevent such catastrophes in the future. ISIS was and is no specter or excuse for war but a real enemy of all Middle Eastern people and women. But this is also an anxiety that reinforced the mandate of the SDF to protect the region by all means necessary, as well as the US coalitions’ narrative to “defeat terror.” From behind the scenes, despite appearing to support Rojava’s war of position in Syria, the Americans had in fact been wielding a corrosive war of maneuver.
ROJAVA AFTER ROJAVA
The alternative to US-sponsored autonomy was a return to life under Assad, in whom the lineage of apartheid against Syria’s Kurds culminates. Rojava’s dream scenario was a peace agreement between the PKK and Turkey mediated by Öcalan, to ease Turkish pressure from across the border. The nightmare scenario was the Turkish occupation of Rojava. Between these scenarios, the second was as impossible as the other two were dreadful. Knowing this, the US, Turkey, Russia, Assad and Iran all took part in the same atrocious approach: forcing Rojava into difficult situations where its civil and military leadership was forced to prioritize and centralize power to defend Rojava.
This imperialist strategy aggravated the disjunction between “Bookchinizing” life inside Rojava and the Marxist-realist approach of the SDF to what might be called Rojava’s foreign policy. The revolutionary work at the grassroots in Rojava continues unimpeded, but it is increasingly excluded from the SDF’s decision-making processes.
Disconnecting the grassroots from decision-making processes led to the popular perception that working with the Americans was necessary to extract constitutional concessions from Assad, when in reality the Americans only discouraged the SDF from entering the peace process. Along with Iran, Turkey and Russia, the Americans also excluded Rojava from the UN-sponsored talks regarding Syria’s constitution.
Assad’s difficulties in conquering opposition-held villages in the Idlib province were a clear sign that he might refrain from testing the military might of the 100,000 strong SDF. Had the SDF negotiated with the regime from a position of strength well before the Turkish assault, the prospect of retaining an autonomous local militia to protect the political administration in Rojava would have been a strong possibility.
Critically, the current dynamics of the stalemate between Assad and SDF are not irreversible. Cracks might emerge in the SDF’s hegemony in the middle Euphrates river valley if the Middle East’s biggest tribes that are based there resume calls for reconciliation with Assad. And if the Russians become less tolerant of the SDF’s alliance with the US, they might choose to weaken the SDF by using Kobanî as leverage in a future deal with Turkey, and by replacing local councils aligned with the YPG and SDF in the border areas.
If they manage to fully control the city of Ayn Issa, where the headquarters of the SDF’s political wing the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) are located, the Russians might also try to encourage an equally weary SDC to split. In any event, the international left’s loyalty should remain with those who stay behind to defend the revolution’s remnants in order to organize for its next phase; to create “a democratic system for all Syrian peoples and spreading this model to all of Syria,” in the words of the SDC’s Fawza Youssef. Bonding with Syria’s sidelined Sunni opposition remains the most challenging and strategic, but rewarding task for the revolutionaries in Rojava.
Turkey will push to extend its stay and the territory under its control in northern Syria for as long the US–SDF partnership continues, in order to force the SDF to further rely on the US and so to prevent the development of an understanding between the regime and the SDF. But while the US troops will stay in the Deir ez-Zor and al-Tanf bases in eastern Syria for the foreseeable future to keep Russia and Assad in check — securing oil or no oil — the Americans will remain hawkish in northern Syria and across the border with Iraq, for as long as the Islamic Republic remains defiant. It is likely that a reconciliation between Iran and the US-led neoliberal world order is on the horizon, rather than further isolation and sanctions.
The removal of fuel subsidies — which sparked the last round of Iran protests — is likely part of a larger program of surgical austerity politics in Iran that prepares the country’s rentier state economy for the deregulated “free market.” The SDF’s window of opportunity to find an alternative to American patronage, and to prepare the self-administration and civil society in Rojava for Assad’s return, is between now and such a transition in Iran. The situation in Syria is too unpredictable to speculate beyond this point.
Iran’s impending transition to neoliberal legitimacy — marking the end of an era of rogue states — and the tightening of the international state system’s chokehold on the Kurdish resistance movement’s different manifestations should serve as a wakeup call and reality check for the SDC/SDF tandem. They must evolve culturally and strategically to navigate the new climate in Syria; it is time for another revolution in Rojava.
For example, the recent drop in expressions of international solidarity with Rojava, which previously won Rojava its media war against the Turkish occupation, is a reminder that Rojava inspires global solidarity insofar as it retains the alternative discourse and third-way politics inspired by Öcalan’s politics. The drop in solidarity was partly due to the SDF/SDC’s parroting of the neoliberal discourse of establishment politicians in capitalist metropolises. If the SDF/SDC has no choice but to engage such politicians in dialogue, Rojava’s leaders should respond from the mantle of revolutionary polemicists.
The drop in expressions of international solidarity was also related to the opacity of SDF/SDC’s decision-making process, not only vis-à-vis the grassroots in Rojava but also towards external allies who might reconsider their support for a revolutionary vanguard that makes little effort to communicate its true aims and intentions.
To address this deficit, the top down hierarchy between strategic and tactical decision making in Rojava should be reversed: the grassroots should decide on long-term decisions and leaders on the temporal tactics pertaining to collective decisions on strategy. The idea is to educate the next generation of grassroots revolutionaries on the art and science of strategy and, to that extent, open up and democratize the space and possibilities of effective international solidarity to everyone. These are no easy tasks to accomplish in an enclave occupied by Turkey and controlled by no lesser evils than Iran, Russia, Assad and the United States. But the most commendable aspect of the Rojava project was always the utopian will to push the boundaries of the politically possible.
I conclude my reflections at this critical juncture in the life of the leftist resistance movement in Rojava and wider Kurdistan, which, as its mantra goes, never stops resisting. But I also believe it is time for the Kurdish resistance movement to shed its resistant stance and impose its own will and necessities on the Middle Eastern disarray.
Such a proactive approach does not require an offensive war of position in the name of survival or war on terror. It entails returning to the groundbreaking capacities of Öcalan’s dual-power framework of democratic confederalism and democratic autonomy, by way of theorizing and redeveloping these capacities for sustained, effective, and democratic self-defense against capitalist and imperialist counterrevolution.
In Öcalan and the PKK’s games of organization, war and morality, and in the lessons of Rojava’s bittersweet legacy, we find the counter-counterrevolutionary blueprints for a Kurdish and leftist realpolitik.