The fall of Rojava
Amid the horror of the Syrian civil war it had seemed that there was one shining beacon of hope. In the north of Syria Kurdish militants, inspired by the political thought of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, filled the vacuum when the Assadist forces abandoned most of the Kurdish regions, and were combatting and defeating the seemingly unstoppable Islamic State.
The nature of the new regime being created under the protection of the YPG/PYG was greatly attractive to leftists and anarchists. Ocalan in prison had been influenced by the writing of Murray Bookchin and other anarchist-inspired writers and this had shifted the PKK and its allied Kurdish parties away from a rigid and military Stalinism towards a polity which stressed mutualism and participatory democracy.
The vision of this communitarian experiment becoming flesh in the villages and towns of Syrian Kurdistan in the teeth of Islamist obscurantism and Turkish militarist assault galvanised solidarity. Recruits came from all over the world to embattled ‘Rojava’ (the Kurdish word for ‘west’ as the western part of the wider region, spanning several countries, inhabited by Kurds). One volunteer unit renamed themselves the Bob Crow Brigade after the British rail union leader.
At the time voices urging a certain caution tended to be drowned out or were silenced by the sheer enormity and barbarity of the opposition that the Kurdish forces faced. For socialists, as long as the capitalist world system exists, there can be no ‘islands of socialism’. No matter what the wishes or intentions or, no matter how sincere the participants are, eventually the logic and demands of the capitalist state system will prevail.
Rojava, trapped within a spider web of competing Great Powers and local powers, either faced extinction or acceded to this logic and took its own place as a junior partner to one or other of the great military powers. Becoming the armed fist of the US effort against ISIS must have seemed a sure bet; arms, advisors and money poured in, at a time when the democratic Syrian opposition was being starved of support and the rebel cities were being pounded into rubble by Assad and his Russian allies.
The abandonment of Rojava to Turkey by Trump’s Twitter diplomacy led to an almost ritualised ‘changing of the guard’, as Russian troops took over on patrol where US special forces had been just days before. But this masked a more brutal exchange as Kurdish forces abandoned Syrian villages to Assadist forces and the brutal Mukhabarat secret police.
With America’s betrayal and Turkey threatening its very existence, it is unsurprising that the nascent state of Rojava would be drawn to the siren call of Putin’s Russia. The alliance with Assad may shock a few of their Western cheerleaders, but nationalism, however it justifies itself ideologically, will always be first and foremost a movement for the establishment and defence of a nation within a capitalist world system; Rojava’s principles would always take a second place to this.