Requiem for Rojava
The announcement of Trump that the US would immediately stop aerial bombardments and withdraw their diplomatic personnel, while their troops would all withdraw within 3 months, officially signalled the end of the Syrian war, a war which has been portrayed as a “civil war” but one in which all of the world participated. While major powers, such as Russia, France, the UK, and the US, and regional powers such as Iran, Israel and Turkey participated directly, they had their Syrian proxies to fight against one another. The conflict, in the first place, wouldn’t have erupted without the decisive funding and support given by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey and Jordan to a frightful collection of armed jihadist lunatics.
The prospect of the Syrian war and its unspeakable bloodletting to come to an end is good news, no matter what the result. The amount of human suffering it caused by callous foreign interventionism is not justified by any grand discourse of human rights or democracy, which were rendered increasingly hollow and meaningless as the horror progressed. However, the biggest losers in the aftermath of this horrible tragedy will be the party which, at one point, promised the most: the Kurdish. When the US pull out from Syria it will be the Kurdish who will be left exposed to Turkish aggression. Quite possibly, the Syrian regime will push to recover all the territory acquired by the Kurds with US protection over the past few years.
The dependency of the Kurdish from the US, expressed in angry protests outside US military bases demanding that they stay, makes irrelevant their claims of “autonomy”. The SDF reacted to Trump’s announcement claiming that it was a “stab in the back” (didn’t they know that imperialism doesn’t have friends but interests?) and that it would leave “a military and political vacuum” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria...OJ10F )… oblivious to the fact that they were, indeed, describing the SDF minus US support as a “vacuum”. But what was Trump supposed to do? Prolong a costly war forever? Escalate regional tensions with all countries that border Syria, including a NATO ally? Break with Turkey?
He flirted for some time with the idea of the US forming a Kurdish protectorate in Syria, an idea favoured by the Pentagon, to access the oil fields in Deir ez Zor, to counter Iranian and Russian influence, and to have military bases in a geostrategic region. As a matter of fact, recently the Kurdish were calling in unequivocal terms for the US to permanently occupy the Eastern region of Syria so as to form a protectorate in all but name. However, the big elephant in the room is Turkey, a NATO member. In spite of all the stupid claims that Trump is playing in the hands of Russia or that his decision will benefit the geopolitical rivals of the USA, had he decided to create this protectorate, the results would have been catastrophic for the imperial interests of the USA. This would have caused a crisis in NATO, as Turkey would have likely escalated military actions against the YPG, and it would have thrown Turkey into the arms of Russia, a scenario which Trump wanted to avoid at all costs. Continued support for the Kurds, from the imperial interests of the USA, was too costly.
The first signs of this shift appeared when some weeks ago the USA put a price on the head of the top PKK commanders. Then, some days ago, the USA Syria envoy, James Jeffrey, announced that the USA did not have “permanent relations with sub-state entities” (https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/u...syria ). These two moves, coupled with a recognition that regime change in Syria was no longer in the agenda, showed clearly that the USA was moving away from the idea of the protectorate. The last sign, was when two days ago, the USA agreed to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey, after they had agreed a deal with Russia to acquire S-400 missile systems (https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2018/12/19/tu...-row/ )
Now, the end of the protectorate dream means also the end of the “autonomy” project of the Kurdish, who put all of their eggs in the USA basket. The Kurdish will not be able to resist for a second a full-scale Turkish offensive. Afrin was the pilot experience –and then the USA didn’t move a finger to stop the invasion. Without USA military support, the Kurdish proved as an incompetent army as Afrin fell like a house of cards. Eastern Syria will fall even quicker: after all, Afrin was a region with an important Kurdish population. Eastern Syria, on the contrary, is mostly Arabic, except for the Kobane and Cizire cantons. They have gained the animosity of Arabs, who do not welcome them and see them as USA proxies, they have gained the animosity of Christians in Qamishli and Hasaka whom they have antagonised, they have earned the animosity of Syrian nationalists when they have supressed the use of the Syrian flag, they have gained the animosity of the elements of the regime with ambushed and skirmishes against the small pockets of Assadists in Qamishli and Hasaka. They have made enough enemies inside Eastern Syria and outside it to guarantee a quick fall in the likely event of a Turkish invasion. The Kurds overstretched themselves out of the three Kurdish cantons, were they should have stayed all the time. It is unbelievable that they didn’t foresee this possible scenario and that they were too overconfident of their “friends” in Washington. Quite possibly, Assad will let the Turkish deal with the SDF in the north, and take advantage in the south of Eastern Syria. The Kurdish have no capacity to resist: the PKK in Turkey and in Qandil in Northern Iraq is decimated, and when the Syrian rear-guard is annihilated, Erdogan will be able to decree his campaign against the Kurdish liberation movement as a complete success. The world will turn away as they did in Sri Lanka in 2009. After the Kurdish resistance is shattered beyond recovery, Assad and Erdogan will come to an agreement and the Turkish territorial gains will be devolved to Syria, paving a stabilisation on terms acceptable to Erdogan. Turkey failed on their goal of removing Assad, but will manage to end up the Kurdish threat, at least for a very long time.
Could have this been different? In late 2015 and throughout 2016, there was a real chance of a pragmatic agreement between the Russians (who were in a deep crisis with Turkey after the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkey), Assad (who was in a much weaker position, and likely to make more concessions than he is now) and the Kurdish who were still in a strong position. This way the war would have finished long time ago, with a more progressive result that could have guaranteed a minimum of direct democracy, and sparing thousands of lives. Instead, the Kurdish overplayed their hand, flirting with the opposition (until Afrin), rejecting any approach to the regime, acting in open hostility and attacking Assad forces in Deir ez Zor, and throwing themselves into the arms of the USA. Now, as the Turkish invasion of northern Syria seems imminent, they call for Assad to defend the lands they declared autonomous, and they enter into quick negotiations to see if they can save anything. But now it is too late. Assad is in a much stronger position and he won’t be willing to make any concessions at all. The Kurdish, indeed, are in no position now to ask for any concessions, and should be thankful if Assad helps them just enough to avoid a full-fledged slaughter. At this stage, however, both the international community and the Syrian people, by and large, seem to agree that the war needs to end at any costs. And the bulk of the cost will be paid by the Kurds.
As the demise of the Rojava project seems imminent, it is important to learn the lessons left by this experience. Blind faith in imperialism can only lead to disastrous results for progressives. But we should also remember the premises of the project, of gender equality, of an ecological society, of direct and participatory democracy. Nothing should obscure the merits of this utopian society that flourished in the middle of an atrocious war, only to become the victim of its own success. In the end, the idea of the protectorate signalled the demise of the utopian Rojava: the USA and Saudi Arabia, two key allied of the Kurdish, would have never allowed such a society to exist. Although Rojava will formally be finished in the coming weeks or months, its demise had already started in 2016 with the strategic partnership formed with the USA. Sooner or later, the USA was to decide between the NATO partner and the "substate entity".