- Created: Sunday, 21 December 2014 11:04
- Written by Trevor Rayne
Islamic State (IS) forces attacked Kobane canton in Rojava, west Kurdistan, Syria on 15 September 2014. Better armed than the Kurdish resistance, by early October IS had reached the centre of Kobane city. With his troops across the border from Syria, gazing on the battle before them, Turkish President Erdogan said, ‘Kobane may fall very soon.’ Eight weeks later and IS has been driven into retreat; the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units), peshmerga from south Kurdistan and some members of the Free Syrian Army have fought heroically. Their fight is for all the oppressed people of the Middle East. Trevor Rayne reports.
At the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire was being carved up, the two greatest losers were the Palestinian and Kurdish peoples. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne divided the Kurds up between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. These four states were founded upon the oppression of the Kurds. The British and French ruling classes drew the borders that imprisoned the Kurds. The Kurdish people’s struggle for self-determination is central to the struggle for democracy in the Middle East.
In January 2014 the predominantly Kurdish area of Syria declared autonomy in Rojava, consisting of three cantons: Cizre, Kobane and Efrin. The leading political party is the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has waged armed struggle for self-determination against the Turkish state since 1984, although since March 2013 it has observed a ceasefire. 40,000 people have died in this struggle. Rojava, like the PKK, is seen by the Turkish government as a challenge to its regional power and ambitions.
The Kurdish-led resistance in Kobane demonstrated it is the only effective force on the ground confronting IS. It would have been embarrassing to the US and ridiculed its strategy of reliance on aerial force if it had allowed Kobane to succumb to an IS massacre before the eyes of the world. The US Air Force delivered arms and medical supplies for the resistance on 19 October. Peshmerga from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), south Kurdistan, Iraq arrived in Kobane on 29 October. US planes began airstrikes on IS positions in and around Kobane, with the YPG providing coordinates for attacks. The IS assault on Kobane concentrated its forces, providing US jets with vulnerable targets. Over 11-12 November the resistance fighters drove IS from its headquarters in the east of Kobane city.
There are up to 3,000 Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobane, a third of them women. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that between 16 September and 15 November, 27 Kurdish civilians were killed in Kobane, 17 of them executed by IS, and 387 resistance fighters and 712 IS had also been killed. However, IS does not declare its dead. Approximately 1,000 Kurdish resistance fighters have died fighting jihadists in the past year.
Turkey revives Ottoman ambitions
When Turkish troops sealed the border to prevent Kurdish volunteers travelling to Kobane’s defence, Erdogan explained, ‘Turkey stands against terrorism in all its forms. Turkey is as much against PKK terrorism as it is against ISIS.’ Even the Financial Times remarked, ‘Comparing the PKK to ISIS is grotesque,’ (15 October 2014). Turkish soldiers shot and killed both Kurds trying to cross from Turkey to Kobane to defend it and people fleeing from Kobane. Demonstrations erupted in towns and villages across Turkey between 6 and 8 October. 44 people were killed, 3,000 arrested and 600 remanded in custody. On the occasion of funerals for protesters killed in Diyarbakir, President Erdogan said, ‘The fact that [a demonstrator] was a child does not concern us. He will pay the same price as those who sent him there.’ Turkish police suppressed anti-IS demonstrations, but left pro-IS gatherings alone. On 13 October for the first time in two years Turkish military aircraft attacked PKK positions.
Turkey is accused of allowing IS recruits to reach Syria via Turkey; providing weapons and medical treatment to IS; letting IS transport oil to Turkey for funds; providing engineers to help it operate oil wells and refineries; passing satellite images to IS; allowing its soldiers to fraternise with IS jihadists and inserting special forces into IS ranks. On 29 November IS?suicide bombers travelling from Turkish territory attacked Kobane and its crossing into Turkey.
The Turkish government intends to use chaos and fragmentation in the Middle East to strengthen its position within the imperialist camp. Its priorities are the overthrow of the Syrian government and to weaken the Kurdish movements for self-determination. Turkey refuses to allow the US to use the NATO base at Incirlik, a few hundred miles from Kobane, for operations against IS. It said conditions for such use were a Coalition commitment to establish a no-fly zone against Syrian government aircraft and a buffer-zone in Syria along its border with Turkey. The Turkish government wants the PYD listed as terrorists alongside the PKK. The Turkish government would prefer IS over the survival of the Rojava autonomous region.
Turkey has considerable investments in the KRG (see Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241, October/November 2014). However, when IS attacked it in August 2014 the KRG was shocked that Turkey rejected its appeal for help. The PKK came to the KRG’s defence.
This October, in a gesture of self-aggrandisement, Erdogan inaugurated a $608m, 1,000-room palace for himself in Ankara, far bigger than the White House or the Elysée Palace. The palace is built on protected forest land, in defiance of court orders. Erdogan also bought a $185m official jet. Turkey’s prime minister defended the building of the palace: it would demonstrate Turkey ‘rapidly taking the place it deserves in the world’.
Repression is growing in Turkey; Erdogan condemned the new ‘Lawrences of Arabia’ (the British agent who encouraged Arabs to rebel against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War). Erdogan was referring to journalists, preachers and sympathisers with the PKK. ‘According to the Committee to Protect Journalists Turkey last year jailed 40 journalists, more than any country… for the second year in a row,’ (Financial Times, 7 May 2014). Erdogan says that he does not believe in equality between men and women and said that women should have at least three and preferably five children. Violence against women in Turkey is increasing, laws intended to punish it are not enforced.
Three military coups in Turkey, in 1960, 1971 and 1980, each claimed to be suppressing ‘separatist movements’ and communists. The Kurdish people have risen, they will not be put down, they have something real to fight for, they have defended a trench for humanity. We salute the resistance of Kobane!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015