Following Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that he is withdrawing US troops from Syria, we’ve received the following message from an anarchist in Rojava, spelling out what this means for the region and what the stakes are on a global scale. For background, consult our earlier articles, “Understanding the Kurdish Resistance” and “The Struggle Is not for Martyrdom but for Life.”
I’m writing from Rojava. Full disclosure: I didn’t grow up here and I don’t have access to all the information I would need to tell you what is going to happen next in this part of the world with any certainty. I’m writing because it is urgent that you hear from people in northern Syria about what Trump’s “troop withdrawal” really means for us—and it’s not clear how much time we have left to discuss it. I approach this task with all the humility at my disposal.
I’m not formally integrated into any of the groups here. That makes it possible for me to speak freely, but I should emphasize that my perspective doesn’t represent any institutional position. If nothing else, this should be useful as a historical document indicating how some people here understood the situation at this point in time, in case it becomes impossible to ask us later on.
Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria is not an “anti-war” or “anti-imperialist” measure. It will not bring the conflict in Syria to an end. On the contrary, Trump is effectively giving Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan the go-ahead to invade Rojava and carry out ethnic cleansing against the people who have done much of the fighting and dying to halt the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS). This is a deal between strongmen to exterminate the social experiment in Rojava and consolidate authoritarian nationalist politics from Washington, DC to Istanbul and Kobane. Trump aims to leave Israel the most ostensibly liberal and democratic project in the entire Middle East, foreclosing the possibilities that the revolution in Rojava opened up for this part of the world.
All this will come at a tremendous cost. As bloody and tragic as the Syrian civil war has already been, this could open up not just a new chapter of it, but a sequel.
This is not about where US troops are stationed. The two thousand US soldiers at issue are a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of armed fighters in Syria today. They have not been on the frontlines of the fighting the way that the US military was in Iraq.1 The withdrawal of these soldiers is not the important thing here. What matters is that Trump’s announcement is a message to Erdoğan indicating that there will be no consequences if the Turkish state invades Rojava.
There’s a lot of confusion about this, with supposed anti-war and “anti-imperialist” activists like Medea Benjamin endorsing Donald Trump’s decision, blithely putting the stamp of “peace” on an impending bloodbath and telling the victims that they should have known better. It makes no sense to blame people here in Rojava for depending on the United States when neither Medea Benjamin nor anyone like her has done anything to offer them any sort of alternative.
While authoritarians of various stripes seek to cloud the issue, giving a NATO member a green light to invade Syria is what is “pro-war” and “imperialist.” Speaking as an anarchist, my goal is not to talk about what the US military should do. It is to discuss how US military policy impacts people and how we ought to respond. Anarchists aim to bring about the abolition of every state government and the disbanding of every state military in favor of horizontal forms of voluntary organization; but when we organize in solidarity with targeted populations such as those who are on the receiving end of the violence of ISIS and various state actors in this region, we often run into thorny questions like the ones I’ll discuss below.
The worst case scenario now is that the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), backed by the Turkish military itself, will overrun Rojava and carry out ethnic cleansing on a level you likely cannot imagine. They’ve already done this on a small scale in Afrin. In Rojava, this would take place on a historic scale. It could be something like the Palestinian Nakba or the Armenian genocide.
I will try to explain why this is happening, why you should care about it, and what we can do about it together.
First of All: About the Experiment in Rojava
The system in Rojava is not perfect. This is not the right place to air dirty laundry, but there are lots of problems. I’m not having the kind of experience here that Paul Z. Simons had some years ago, when his visit to Rojava made him feel that everything is possible. Years and years of war and militarization have taken their toll on the most exciting aspects of the revolution here. Still, these people are in incredible danger right now and the society they have built is worth defending.
What is happening in Rojava is not anarchy. All the same, women play a major role in society; there is basic freedom of religion and language; an ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse population lives side by side without any major acts of ethnic cleansing or conflict; it’s heavily militarized, but it’s not a police state; the communities are relatively safe and stable; there’s not famine or mass food insecurity; the armed forces are not committing mass atrocities. Every faction in this war has blood on its hands, but the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) have conducted themselves far more responsibly than any other side. They’ve saved countless lives—not just Kurds—in Sinjar and many other places. Considering the impossible conditions and the tremendous amount of violence that people here have been subjected to from all sides, that is an incredible feat. All this stands in stark contrast to what will happen if the Turkish state invades, considering that Trump has given Erdoğan the go-ahead in return for closing a massive missile sale.
It should go without saying that I don’t want to perpetuate an open-ended Bush-style “war on terror,” much less to participate in the sort of “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West that bigots and fundamentalists of both stripes have been fantasizing about. On the contrary, that is precisely what we’re trying to prevent here. Most of the people Daesh [ISIS] have killed have been Muslim; most of the people who have died fighting Daesh have been Muslim. In Hajin, where I was stationed and where the last ISIS stronghold is, one of the internationals who has been fighting Daesh longest is an observant Muslim—not to speak of all the predominantly Arab fighters from Deir Ezzor there, most of whom are almost certainly Muslim as well.
For the full article, visit CrimetheInc.