The “anti war” Left is Wrong on Syria

Turkey, with US in support, has been given a green light to start a long and bloody war against the people of Northern Syria

US Troops and YPG commanders, in an act of detterance to Turkey, tour damages after deadly Turkish airstrikes on YPG/YPJ positions in 2017

An army of thousands of right wing Islamic Jihadists, including former Al Qaeda members and members of fascist organizations[1], have amassed on the borders of Rojava, backed by the Turkish military and led by autocrat Recep Tayipp Erdogan. They have announced a major attack into the Syrian territory known officially as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria[2](Rojava), controlled by a group of multi ethnic and multi gendered autonomous movements (collectives, councils and political parties), spearheaded by Northern Syria’s leftist Kurdish movement and their popular militia the YPG/YPJ.

Left wing Kurds have been the main enemy of two major forces of reaction in the region; ISIS and the Turkish state. The left mostly failed to publicly get behind the democratic socialist forces that were routing ISIS in Syria where thousands of Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs, and international leftists died freeing the region from their tyrannical reign. Outside of small circles, their sacrifices have mostly been ignored, not fitting a convenient political flow. The Kurds didn’t choose ISIS as their enemy who, during their peak of power, were vicious in their onslaught, beheading dozens of female fighters alive outside one of their last strongholds in Kobani. Without US air support, Kobane might have fallen and genocide would have ensued. Rojava was saved, in part, by this just intervention. An alliance with the US against ISIS ensued. Genocide is not hyperbolic, as one only needs to look what happened when ISIS invaded Yezidi territory just across the border in Iraq. The Yezidis, an ethnic minority like the Kurds but smaller in number, were systematically slaughtered while woman and girls were sold for rape and slavery by ISIS. It was the YPG/YPJ who intervened to free them. The left wing Kurds are fighters, they have had to do it all their lives, either in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, or against the oppression of the Assad regime in Syria. Being correctly labeled by the US military “the most effective forces on the ground against ISIS”, has practical implications for the actual people on the ground suffering form ISIS. This is not a fault. The alliance with their forces was helpful in their bitter war against ISIS and remains a needed buffer from Turkish aggression.

With ISIS mostly defeated by the YPG/SDF, Turkey remains as the biggest threat to peace in the region. You would think that now, with US ally Turkey being the prime force of reaction with a bloodlust for Syrian Kurds, that the US left would reject Trump’s green light for war. Wrong. From Glen Greenwald to Medea Benjamin and even the more level headed Matt Taibbi, the cheers to Trump for helping start Syria’s next war grow louder every day.

Despite what arguments are made about what the US’s actual intentions were in Northern Syria (Countering Iran and Russia, etc), there is no real doubt that Trump’s move is to pave the way for Turkey’s invasion and occupation. Erdogan and Trump spoke by telephone on December 14th: “You know what? It’s yours,” Trump said of Syria.[3] Erdogan had been pushing for US withdrawal from Syria for sometime, solely to launch and expand his own war. I have no illusions about US or Russian imperial aims, but there is no question that Trump’s move was a victory for the forces of war, reaction, and imperialism.

Erdogan’s army, and their allied jihadists, attacked the Afrin region of Rojava in North Western Syria last January. The US had no presence there and a small contingent of Russians withdrew at the request of Erdogan. For several months, and in a backdrop of deafening silence form the “anti war” left, the Turkish air force had unrestricted access to the region and mercilessly bombed civilian and military targets killing hundreds of civilians. Many fighters lost their lives, including friends, in airstrikes that they were defenseless against. The YPG withdrew to stop further bloodshed and Afrin city fell at the end of March 2018.

By any measure, the former democratic, revolutionary and peaceful oasis from one of the world’s bloodies wars has been forcibly converted into a violent pit of suffering and death, ethnic cleansing, and reaction. [4] Torture, murder, a refugee crisis, kidnappings for ransom, and the burning of theft of olive trees (sound familiar?), reign supreme. In other words, we don’t have to guess what will happen when this war expands.

I honestly believe that most people supporting Trump on this have little to no understanding of what is happening in Rojava or the relationship of Erdogan to the Kurds, or his imperial and pro war aspirations in Syria. It is not surprising as there has been a media and political blackout of left Kurds unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime.

I spent time defending olive trees in the West Bank and believe in a free Palestine. And I understood then, that in the big political picture, one Israeli life was worth about 50 Palestinian lives. I spent time defending Rojava, and the larger world, from ISIS as well. I understand now while that ratio remains true for a Palestinian, you can go further and say that one Palestinian life is worth that of 50 Kurds.[5] The only difference is that this maxim exists well outside the reach of the mainstream media and has deeply penetrated the American left.

I don’t have time to debate that the political program of the Rojava revolution is worth defending, that its feminism is groundbreaking and catching on in a region recently in the grips of the most extreme patriarchy the world has seen in the modern age. Feel free to imbibe on the tenants of democratic confederalism[6]on your own. I don’t have time to debate that the Kurdish fight against ISIS was just and that the US support, particularly in helping to stop the fall of Kobane, was necessary and a good thing. I don’t have time to debate that Trump’s move will help ISIS (which is bad), currently counteracting hard against the free forces of Northern Syria near Hajin. What I do have time to do, however, is call on those outside of Northern Syria, those who are backing Trump and Erdogan on this move, to actually listen to the people of Northern Syria.

In all the pro Trump pro Turkish occupation war pieces on Syria, and there are lots circulating around in the left, I did not come across one, that even mentioned or was concerned about what the actual people of Northern Syria actually want. You know, the people who will have life and death repercussions from these actions. TEV — DEM (movement towards democracy) the most popular political movement in Northern Syria:

“After the threats issued by Turkey that it will attack democracy and Kurds in Northern Syria came the announcement that the US is to sell Turkey $ 3.5 billion-worth missile and weapons. At the same time the US announced that they would withdraw their troops from Northern Syria.

All these developments raise suspicion of dirty plans and games. All over the world the message has been read clearly: The United States said Turkey ‘we’re pulling out, you can go ahead with the occupation’.

US authorities have the right to make such a decision; as long as this decision is not part of a dirty plan falling on oppressed peoples.”

Here, TEV-DEM, hits the nail on the head. This plan is dirty, and it does fall directly on oppressed peoples. It is those oppressed peoples whose voices we should be listening to PRIMARILY. It is them, who sacrificed so much already, who are going to be facing imminent war. Unfortunately they don’t even make the cut to be listened to at all, let alone acknowledged. Acknowledged for their sacrifices against ISIS, acknowledged for their coming deadly fate, and acknowledged as oppressed peoples. Their voices have been erased.

The Syriacs[7]and the SDF[8]also have similar positions. Lastly, although not from Northern Syria, international aid organizations have sounded the alarm that millions of civilians are at risk as a result of this war, and millions could be pushed south in the desert and turned into refugees with little access to water or food.[9]This also, seems irrelevant to those pushing for this new war and backing Trump on Syria.

The people of Northern Syria do not want this war, and they will suffer immeasurably because of it. They did not want the war against ISIS either, but they fought it bravely. Now that it is over, Northern Syria deserves peace and the chance of freedom.

The pro war Turkish regime specifically requested more war of Trump, and he happily obliged. These are facts, not assumptions. There is no other reason for the withdrawal other than war, both stated by the warmongers themselves and backed by recent history. For once those on the left and right need to prioritize the voices of the people who are most affected by the decisions that we make.

This was not, and still not might be, a done deal. There are strong currents in the US armed forces that actually do care about the people of Northern Syria and the Kurdish forces they literally watched die battling ISIS. Clearly Trump and large segments of the US ruling class do not care about the Kurds, we get that, but this was not a consensus call. Mattis resigned because he was both against knifing the Kurds in the back and the Turkish invasion to come. His resignation is not insignificant and more will follow. This is not an argument that Mattis overall has some humanitarian record, but to highlight that stopping the coming war is more possible than we might think. Massive segments of even the US armed forces are against it. Trump is for it, ISIS is for it, Erdogan is for it, Putin is for it and most importantly the people of Rojava are against it. We have a saying in the labor movement: Which side are you on?

I am a labor organizer based in the US and former volunteer with the YPG.


[2]Rojava, Kurdish for West, was replaced by the DFNS due to the region’s multi ethnic tendency, however it is still popularly known as Rojava.


[4]One could say actual war, outside of the guerilla campaign, is ongoing as the Turkish backed invaders continue to fight each other. Just one month ago the city center in Afrin was the scene of vicious infighting, including heavy weaponry.

[5]One should look at images of Kurdish Turkish border cities flatted and compare it with images of Jenin in the West Bank.

[6]The anchoring philosophy of the Kurdish left and heart of Rojava. A pro feminist, anti capitalist and de centralized, multi ethnic, ecololigical centered politic. Google Murray Bookchin.

[7]The Syriac Union Party, a party of Syriac Christians in northern Syria is allied with the YPG/TEV-Dem

[8]the SDF is the umbrella of Rojava’s armed forces, comprised mainly of Syrian Arabs aligned with the Kurds, Syriacs, and Yazidis.


Labor Organizer in PA, International Solidarity, History, Labor Politics, Single Payer Activist, Democratic Socialism.