Robin Yassin-Kassab

A Letter Concerning Afrin

with 10 comments


Turkish-allied Syrian rebel militia destroying the statue of Kaveh, a figure of symbolic importance in Kurdish culture

A group of western leftists wrote a letter calling for US intervention on behalf of the PYD in Afrin. Many of these people never noticed the crimes committed by Assad and his allies in the rest of Syria. Many of them slandered the Free Syrian Army as tools of imperialism when they begged (largely in vain) for anyone at all to send them weapons to defend their communities. Some signatories are genocide-deniers. If their engagement with the PYD was in some way critical, and if it was matched by critical solidarity with the larger Syrian revolution, it wouldn’t look so much like fetishisation.

Anyway. I’ve written (in haste – no doubt I’ve missed things out) what I think is a more balanced letter:

We deplore the historical persecution of Kurds (and other minority groups) by regimes in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. We call on all concerned, in particular the Syrian revolutionary opposition, to unambiguously recognise the Kurdish right to self-determination in areas where Kurds are a majority.

While recognising the extreme difficulty of acting on principle when lives are at stake, we call on both the Syrian opposition and the PYD to carefully consider their alliances with regional and international imperialists. What appears tactically intelligent may turn out to be strategically disastrous.

We condemn the Turkish state’s self-interested intervention in Kurdish-majority Afrin, as we condemn the self-interested interventions of Russia, Iran and the United States in other parts of Syria.

We call on Turkey to resume peace talks with the PKK, and to ensure more rapid and comprehensive progress towards ensuring the human, cultural and civil rights of Kurds in Turkey.

We call on Turkey to immediately allow all residents of Afrin to return to their homes in safety. Elections should be held in Afrin as soon as possible. All Kurdish parties (including the PYD) must be allowed to field candidates. The elections should be internationally monitored. The elected body should run the affairs of Afrin.

We warn against any plan to change the demographics of Afrin by ‘returning’ Syrian Arab refugees in Turkey to the area. This will sow the seeds of future conflict which will hurt everybody. In the same way, we condemn the PYD’s occupation and depopulation of Arab towns in the Tel Rifaat area (now handed back to the fascist regime). Indeed, we call for the right of safe return for all those expelled from their homes in Syria – from Wadi Barada, Daraya, Aleppo, Harasta, Douma, Zabadani, Baba Amr and elsewhere. Until this right is guaranteed to all Syrians, the refugee outflow will continue to destabilise the larger region and provide fuel for the extreme right resurgence in the west.

While acknowledging negative aspects of PYD governance (imprisonment of dissenters, violence against protestors, forced conscription, child soldiers), we urge solidarity with the very positive aspects of its programme, most particularly the local democracy practised through the commune system, and the sustained effort to increase women’s participation in the social, economic and political spheres. Likewise, we urge critical solidarity with the larger Syrian revolution. While acknowledging and condemning the criminality, extremism and authoritarianism of rebel militias whenever these occur, we recognise the remarkable efforts made towards self-organisation and democracy in the beseiged and continuously bombarded rebel-held areas. Specifically, we salute the local councils, the women’s centres, the free media, and the many various civil society initiatives without which life in these areas would have stopped completely.

We condemn all assaults on civilians and civilian infrastructure, whatever their source. We recognise that the vast majority of civilian casualties and mass displacements have been caused by the Assad regime and its allies. The Assadist extermination of revolutionary communities is the first cause of Syria’s spiraling ethnic, sectarian, regional and inter-state conflicts. We call on all concerned to recognise this central fact, and to work out a strategy which addresses it.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 24, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Kurds, leftism, Syria

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10 Responses

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  1. Can we call “democracy” a system where only one party (PYD) rules? Where other kurdish political organizations (KDP and others) where expelled? I have total sympathy for the Kurdish people in Syria, Turkey and Iran, mas its is a terrible injustice to Kurdish democrats to support the lenninist PKK / PYD as a credible representative of the kurdish people.

    • I agree. I mean, I think it’s worth supporting the communes in PYD territory to the extent that they allow people at the grassroots to get involved in decisions concerning their areas. This is a great improvement on Assadist misrule. But of course any expression of solidarity with the communes which doesn’t also point out the over-riding PYD single party control over key military, economic and political decisions is deeply suspect. Moreso when the westerners who idolize the PYD totally ignore the local councils outside PYD areas.

      Robin Yassin-Kassab

      April 24, 2018 at 6:32 pm

      • There are about 25 political parties operating in the Democratic Federation of North Syria.

        The PKK/PYD is not ‘Leninist’, you are living the 80s.

        KDP-S, like KDP, is a Barzanist organization and thus prepared at any time to act as Erdogan spies to advance the Barzani family. They actually spread Erdogan propaganda about Afrin! They made one muted statement against the Afrin Nakba. A KDP spy intervened at the Merkel-Yildirim conference to spread old pictures of Aleppo atrocities as if they were from Afrin so that Yildirim could say “These are fake, these are from elsewhere”.

        Mark S.

        April 25, 2018 at 1:12 am

      • It certainly is Leninist, whatever the rhetoric, in terms of the cult of the leader and top-down control. Your nonsense about ‘spies’ shows an anti-democratic inability to tolerate pluralism. The KDP and every other party has as much right as the PYD to operate. The ‘spies’ language is Assadist. The PYD established a dictatorship, banned parties, imprisoned and tortured dissidents, shot at protestors. These are facts.

        I can’t comment on the KDP incident you refer to, but I know all sides have engaged in propaganda, and chief amongst them the PYD, which endlessly pretended pictures from the Assad extermination were of Turkish attacks in Afrin.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        April 25, 2018 at 12:20 pm

  2. “PYD, which endlessly pretended pictures from the Assad extermination were of Turkish attacks in Afrin.” is quite false. It amazes me that you could fall for such naked Turkish propaganda. Turkey operates //hundreds// of ‘Kurdish’ accounts on Twitter, the recycling of Aleppo pictures from these sites began //within hours// of the beginning of Olive Branch. The ‘exposure’ of the fake pictures began //minutes// later. See e.g. https://twitter.com/oztrk_aydn/status/954761690360492032 https://twitter.com/FactCheckingTR/status/955456799393681408 Note that the originating accounts were promptly deleted, for the most part – or else they are Iraqi. It amazes me that you think that ‘PYD’ was running this operation. All YPG accounts had to exhaust themselves keeping naifs from retweeting the Turkish propaganda. I could write a book about this, but will spare you.

    It is not at nonsense about spies, I’m sorry. I mentioned the Merkel-Yildirim conference, where if you look into it you will see a very typical bit of Olive Branch propaganda, with a Barzanist journalist Armanc Nêrweyî acting as if he cared about Afrin, //in order to discredit all reports of atrocities from Afrin.// This is a Kurd! There are countless pictures of him with Erdogan and Barzani. The leading picture he showed was of course //the famous Aleppo image, the very first one Turkey spread and discredited.// Yildirim IMMEDIATELY says “These are other places” … with Godlike knowledge. Again, I can give you more details of that spectacular case, in which E Higgins was alerted to expose the lies, without (at first) seeing whose lies they were.


    Leninism is not characterized by a cult of the leader. The ignorance involved in thinking so is extraordinary, but not as bad as failing to see elementary Turkish propaganda. The so-called ‘cult of personality’ was found in the cases of Stalin and others. It is actually quite widespread in quite different ideological systems. I don’t think you would call Assadism Leninism, but Ghouta children are being forced to say ‘Bashar is God’ as the SAA enters. Nor was revolutionary Iran Leninist.

    In the present case, the leader has been imprisoned for decades and is, for all one now knows, dead. It is more like having Jesus Christ as supreme leader, or the Prophet. The cultus of Öcalan and all the pictures are of a piece with the characteristic cultus of martys and all those pictures. The whole thing should be compared to Catholic iconography. Öcalan was able to have ideological importance in the first 10-15 years of imprisonment, but it was entirely wholesome. Now he is past.

    Top down control, which you exaggerate of course, is characteristic of every military formation that can succeed. The reason why so many egalitarian revolutions collapse into authoritarianism is of course the incapacity to make the transition. The trouble is you are not capable of holding together all the immense forces operative. There is a civil war in Syria. There are massive genocidal forces operative in the country. The yellow areas are in fact the only areas that have been remotely stable, apart from the homelands of Assadism, and we know how their stability is achieved.

    Afrin proved quite well the worst suspicions about so-called FSA militias: they are simply genocides, right down to the core, with every bone in their body. They are even Assadists, as we saw from their acting in execution of Erdogan’s decree that Afrin would be unmolested only the YPG dissolved into SAA. It is because YPG didn’t become SAA, that they punished it! This was explicit! Like Assadists they cannot grasp that 15-20% of Syria is Kurdish – and always has been, despite continual Arabization once Arab nationalism took hold (thus e.g. the tribes of Raqqa are in fact 1/2 Kurdish by Ottoman design, but forcibly forgot Kurdish after the 20s and that it had existed after the 50s. See e.g. Myriam Ababsa, Raqqa …)

    Mark S.

    April 26, 2018 at 10:32 am

  3. There was propaganda on both sides. If you are blind to it, I can’t help you. Indeed, you are spreading propaganda yourself. There was no genocide in Afrin, and the FSA are not genocidaires.

    All political parties, and independents, should have a right to operate. Including ones that talk to Erdogan (you do know that lots of Turkish Kurds vote for Erdogan?). The PYD (or its western fanboys) don’t have the right to decide who is a good Kurd and who a bad. Let the people vote freely for who they think best represents them.

    However much you polish the cult of the leader, it’s still a cult of the leader. And it’s still shit.

    When you say the PYD controlled (and occupied) areas have ben relatively stable… that’s because they were spared Assad’s aerial bombardment and scorched earth because of pyd deals with Assad). The Turkish move on Afrin and the ISIS attack on Kobani are the big exceptions to this.

    You can make arguments for authoritarian, single-party, top-down rule, but I won’t agree with them. I am an anti-authoritarian and I support those in Syria who are anti-authoritarians.

    15 to 20% of Syria being ‘Kurdish’ is a remarkably high number. In any case, all of Syria belongs to every Syrian.

    Robin Yassin-Kassab

    April 26, 2018 at 10:57 am

    • The ‘remarkably high number’ is due to Fabrice Balanche. Check Institut Kurde and divide by the google population of Syria and you will get higher. Assad inflates numbers of Christians and deflates both Kurds and Turkmen – and you believe him.

      I am an anti-authoritarian and I support those in Syria who are anti-authoritarians, as well; you know as well as I do that the program of YPG is anti-authoritarian. But no military organization is internally anti-authoritarian. The tFSA are not anti-authoritarian they are genocides, this is not a military phenomenon, but an ideological feature. At random https://twitter.com/Kendal_Uzun/status/954762083278774274 There are million of these, you have stopped up your ears.

      The use of the word ‘fanboy’ for defenders of the Kurdish people is a genocidal meme, it is one of the sickest most disturbing phenomena of the last several years. It is a reduction of the Kurdish people to a musical fad, and those who use it will of course burn in the eternal fire. Every single use of it is demonic.

      TFSA has produced an expulsion on the same order of magnitude of Nakba ; the problem of Afrin will last just as long and be just as loud as the problem of Palestine. People try to justify this to themselves, e.g. blaming the leadership or PKK or whatever. This is exactly what hasbara says about the expulsion of the Palestinians.

      Again, the cult of personality is absurd, but no more dangerous than Christianity or Islam. Dear Leader doesn’t exist, or basically doesn’t.

      Mark S.

      April 26, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      • I am of course engaged in propaganda, but am not lying. Your claim that PYD was willfully spreading false pictures of Afrin is in fact a lie. There was an immense social effort to keep every fake picture down and to declare anyone circulating Aleppo or Gaza pictures to be an enemy. You didn’t notice this for the same reason you didn’t notice genocidal chants by tFSA soldiers. The result in Afrin was indeed not ‘a genocide’, it was a Nakba – its results will still be felt in a century.

        Mark S.

        April 26, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      • No, I am not aware that the PYD is anti-authoritarian. It runs a single-party statelet, imprisons opponents, shoots at protestors, forcibly conscripts men, women and children. All this has been proved. Your denial of it makes you a PYD fanboy.

        It appears you think I’m trying to defend Assad. You should read the letter again, and everything else I’ve written on Syria. I see Assad as the first cause of all the disasters of the last seven years.

        There has not been a genocide in Afrin, nor a Nakba (a Nakba-like situation may yet ensue, if Turkey refuses to allow civilians to return long-term, and if it moves in hundreds of thousands of Syrian Arabs. My letter warns against that disaster). Your shouting about genocide doesn’t help win support for Kurds in Afrin. The FSA are not guilty of genocide. It’s an absurd accusation. When you accuse them of genocide you make yourself feel good and set up positive vibes in your own echo chamber, but when talking beyond your own clique you actually do your cause damage. FSA fighters committed real crimes in Afrin. Shouting ‘genocide’ will just make informed people switch off.

        Please be aware that my first source for information and opinion on PYD rule comes from Kurds who have experienced it. When we wrote Burning Country I was very careful to interview Kurds, not Arabs, on this issue. And when my co-author interviewed Syrian Kurdish refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan, very many said they were fleeing PYD forced conscription.

        As this isn’t a debate, and your comments immediately descend into stupid (and racist) overgeneralisations, I won’t be approving any more of your comments.

        Robin Yassin-Kassab

        April 26, 2018 at 1:18 pm

  4. Very good piece Robin.

    Weren’t some of these signers to the Open Letter that is now calling on the US to “continue military support for the SDF” among the Leftists that were quick to condemn the Libyan thuwar for calling for the NATO no-fly zone that kept Libya from being in the same situation Syria is today, most likely with a 100K+ dead and still counting instead of ~30K plus or minus the 1 Libyan most mourned by the US Left.

    The Kurds would have done well to follow the example of the Libyan thuwar. They accepted NATO air support but never let them get their grimey boots on the ground, and that made all the difference in the political influence NATO could have. Libya today has plenty of problems, but they are, by and large, Libya’s problems.

    The Libya thuwar also demanded that NATO conduct what was probably the “cleanest” air war in history. Smart weapons were used exclusively. Major infrastructure was spared and there were less than a hundred unintended civilian causalities. Compare that to how they destroyed Raqqa to save it. Funny how the Left is on record as opposing one western military intervention “on principle” and now supports another “on principle.”

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