Syrian revolutionaries have been summarily abandoned by the Western world and were never given the benefit of the doubt. Why? Spoiler alert - it's because they're Arab.
If you find yourself in the position where you only care about Syria due to the recent Turkish incursion against ‘the Kurds’, while you’ve been ignoring the genocide being carried out by Assad, Iran and Russia in the rest of Syria, you might went to reflect on what is invariably a form of chauvinistic prejudice.
What do ‘the Kurds’ have that ‘the Arabs’ don’t?
Indeed, the entire notion of conflating the PYD, with the entire Kurdish population of north Syria, as is so often done, is symptomatic of these chauvinistic and orientalist biases. For those who don't know, the PYD/YPG is the Syrian affiliate of the PKK – a designated terror organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Divide and conquer was a key component of the British Empire’s strategy of conquest against the ‘lesser peoples’ it sought to dominate – it seems this logic persists if not pervades beyond that context.
It’s the only reason I can think of to get to the root of why people in the West, and I’m speaking from local to national groups here in the UK and across the Western world, would see fit to only express solidarity with ‘the Kurds’ in Syria while ignoring the aspirations and much more brutal struggles of other Syrians.
However, this chauvinism has been something actively promoted and emphasised by the YPG since the beginning of the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war. Not only has it aided their aim at creating a one-party ethnopolitical statelet in the parts of Syria it has come to control, but it has managed to exploit Western anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia for its own benefit.
This is why you’ll find Benjamin Netanyahu issuing statements declaring that Israel is prepared to extend humanitarian aid to ‘the gallant Kurdish people’. You won’t find one message or offer of support from Netanyahu for the ‘gallant Arab people’ who are trapped in the daily hell of Idlib, never mind the severe chauvinistic cognitive dissonance of such sentiments coming from a far-right Israeli prime minister who oversees the racist oppression of Palestinians that defines the Israeli state.
The way in which Israel is fetishised as an island of western 'civilisation' in a sea of Arabo-Islamic barbarism finds its match in the way the West fetishises ‘the Kurds’. The former is mostly the domain of the right-wing whereas the latter can be found more on the political left - but neither own exclusive rights to this reductionism.
Indeed, the YPG have portrayed themselves as all things to all people: to the liberals, they are bastions of vague notions of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’; to the far-left, they are proponents of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, while to the Islamophobic far-right they are the vanguard against Daesh and, for some over-zealous Western ex-military types, a good excuse for what is essentially seen as Muslim game-hunting.
The contrast is essentially Islamophobic – the Western-friendly, allegedly secular Kurds vs the backwards, Islamic, jihadi-prone Arabs.
Even the idea—oft-repeated since Turkey began its operation—that Daesh will immediately rise from the ashes relies on the idea that Syrian Arabs must be ruled by superiors or strongmen.
Far from being democratic, the YPG rose to power by brutally eradicating all opposition to them in Kurdish-majority areas of Syria.
There was at one point genuine organic unity between Syrian Arabs and Kurds against Assad in the early phase of the Syrian revolution, mostly due to the fact that the Assad dynasty had oppressed Kurds for decades.
This was reflected by the political forces that were prominent in Kurdish areas, but the PYD had one thing these forces did not – an armed wing (YPG) which had fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The YPG crafted a pragmatic alliance with Assad, one which saw his army retreat from Kurdish-majority areas to focus on fighting the Free Syrian Army elsewhere in Syria.
In return, the YPG would run the Kurdish areas, with Assad and Iran paying the bills, while they would deny access to the north for Syrian opposition and rebel forces. The Syrian revolution was eradicated from the YPG-controlled areas, with anti-Assad revolutionaries, whether Arab or Kurdish, arrested or forced into exile.
Far from being ‘anti-imperialist’, the YPG, and perhaps this is its fatal mistake, has essentially been a willing mercenary to not one but two imperialist forces in Syria, namely the US and Russia.
Though it was, of course, necessary to defeat Daesh, the conduct of the US coalition in capturing Raqqa was conditioned more by annihilation than liberation. The US bombs struck civilian areas indiscriminately, leaving thousands, including entire families, dead – these airstrikes were called in by the main ground force, namely the YPG.
Indeed, following the Battle of Raqqa, and after the YPG had adopted the US-conceived but fittingly Stalinist guise of the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, one of the YPG’s minority Arab partners in the coalition, namely Liwa Thuwwar ar Raqqa, were so disturbed by the carnage the YPG was willing to let be unleashed on Arab civilians in the city, that they eventually rose up against them.
They were of course crushed by the YPG.
It was under the cover of Russian airstrikes in northern Syria that the YPG seized opposition-held land along the Turkish border, while it was in coordination with Assad, Iran and Russia that the YPG initiated the fall of Free Aleppo, during which it also carried out murderous acts of ethnic cleansing against Syrian Arabs.
Even the idea that the YPG was the vanguard against Daesh is incorrect, given it was the Syrian rebels who first launched an offensive against the group, warning the US and the world of the symbiotic relationship between Assad’s genocidal war and the growth of the group.
The opposition offensive faltered after Assad took advantage of the situation and the US turned a blind eye. If the opposition had been supported against Assad and his then ally Daesh, there would have been no ‘Caliphate’ and thus no need for the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’.
It takes extreme leaps in logic and reason to then arrive at the fact that ‘the Kurds’ are the ‘only good guys’ in the Middle East, which is a common refrain shared so casually in the West – especially by the left. To endorse this racist idea, you have to essentially endorse the genocidal logic of Assad-Iran-Russia’s counter-revolutionary Reconquista. You have to erase the hopes and desires of millions of Syrians while accepting – tacitly or otherwise – their literal annihilation.
I can remember during the ‘war on terror’, the righteous rejection by the left and other anti-war forces of the Bush administration and its cheerleader’s exploiting things like ‘feminism’ to garner support for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But this logic is now endorsed wholesale by the same kind of forces.
Take this excerpt from an article in the British left-wing magazineTribune, written in opposition to Turkey’s incursion into North Syria:
“In a region without good guys, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the closest thing to it. They have secured a peaceful corner of Syria, which is building a society based on democratic, communitarian and feminist principles east of the Euphrates.”
The first sentence alone is just old school orientalist racism. Imagine if you replaced ‘SDF’ with ‘IDF’? The rest is an example of the YPG’s mirror-like quality, with it immediately being singled out as reflecting the author’s own ideological agenda and prejudices.
The latter half of that paragraph wouldn’t matter if not for the first sentence, which immediately renders not just every Syrian but every soul in the region as a ‘bad guy’ unworthy of support.
The same people who told us that they can’t support the Syrian opposition because they were supported by ‘imperialists’ like the US are now lambasting the US for not supporting the YPG? What’s the difference?
The Syrian opposition never even received a fraction of the support the YPG got from the US, which actually embedded its own forces with the militia. Why is it okay for ‘the Kurds’ to have the US Air Force and Special Forces as their allies, while Syrian rebels receiving a pair of binoculars sourced from the US in 2012 makes them anathema to the left?
The reason behind it all is because the Syrian rebels were fighting to overthrow Assad.
Assad is, in turn, seen by the left, the same left who fetishise the YPG, as being a bastion against imperialism – thus, according to the twisted ideology of much of the left, the opposition are pawns of Western imperialism. This has led to a free for all, where anti-Islam sentiment is now commonly used by the left to support Assad and Russia, while racist statements like the one in the Tribune article above are now acceptable.
As long as the US isn’t supporting forces fighting to overthrow a dynastic tyrant and his Russian and Iranian imperialist backers, they’re apparently not ‘imperialist’ anymore.
Now, as if on cue, it is being reported that ‘President Assad’, as the Daily Mail calls him with a clear sense of honourable recognition (it’s clear that the genocidal tyrant Assad has been further rehabilitated in the West, while the democratically elected Erdogan is constantly vilified), has agreed a deal with the YPG to ‘assist’ it in its fight against Turkey, as was the case during Operation Euphrates Shield.
Again, the intersection between YPG fetishism and support for Assad is rooted in real political allegiances and ideological affinity.
I must say: none of what I write is about justifying war against the YPG.
This is about deconstructing the agenda of people, who face no harm whatsoever, who fetishise ‘the Kurds’ at the expense of the victims of a genuine genocide – who discount and disregard those who face the ultimate struggle for survival merely because they look, speak and think differently than them, or because they don’t meet the necessary ideals of their preconceived ideological contrivances.
It’s also because, whatever you think about the Turkish incursion or the presence of 'jihadists' in Idlib or any aspect of the war in Syria, the real source of this collectively monstrous tragedy is Bashar al Assad – the YPG-fetish narratives serve to completely erase this reality.
My own notion of solidarity stands with the oppressed of the earth, those suffering or fighting against injustice, regardless of race or creed. It’s symptomatic of the times we live in that the political left, the alleged antiracists, no longer abide by this basic principle of internationalism.
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