The destabilized Syrian and Iraqi hinterlands have given rise to a bewildering constellation of organizations, warlords, and opaque borders, the causes of which are complicated and manifold. Out of that fog has risen a new kind of state, centered on a mélange of anarchist, socialist, and other skeins of broadly leftist ideologies – the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, colloquially known as Rojava. It is an eminently worthy and important experiment.
This most recent manifestation of an autonomous leftist region is under siege. However, its existence isn’t very well known by the general populace. This shouldn’t be too surprising – to most, they are just one of many entities existing within the context of a civil war in Syria that is barely comprehensible and not worthy of too much scrutiny. ISIS are the bad guys, and aside from them, the surrounding states, and the meddlesome West, the other entities are virtually indistinguishable. One is reminded of the confusing and fluid state of Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001.
In the past several centuries, it’s taken war to provide the unique and varied set of circumstances necessary for revolutionary attempts at sovereignty. Just about all were either eliminated in the cradle or transformed into authoritarian regimes that were never able to implement their specific ideology’s lofty ideals. Of the ones that persisted, the justifications for their betrayals varied from place to place, but in the end, they only offered funhouse mirror images of the excesses of capitalist states: “the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy.”
Rojava is somewhat comparable to the Catalan anarchist-controlled areas during the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the similarities between the mujeres libres and Rojava’s Women’s Protection Units. More broadly, both were born during the chaos of war. Both were (and in the case of Rojava are) obviously imperfect in implementing their utopian ideals, but this should be expected as their existences have occurred during the trauma and destruction of warfare and surrounded by a variety of powerful enemies. Rojava has even attracted would-be revolutionaries from the West, echoing the exodus of leftists to Civil War era Spain, and contemporarily paralleling the modern-day allure of ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups to disaffected Muslim youth.
Currently, they are on the verge of being crushed by the considerable might of their Turkish neighbors to the north. Taking a page from the Bush-Cheney handbook of giving military exercises Orwellian names, the offensive is called “Operation Olive Branch.” This has been on the horizon since its inception – the Turks have long had an uneasy coexistence with the Kurds within and adjacent to their borders. They could scarcely have picked a worse person to get their inspiration from than Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Anti-Kurdish sentiment is something they have in common with every other state in the vicinity, all of whom are hostile to the idea of a pan-Kurdish nation state. It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder why Kurds wouldn’t want to remain under the watchful eye of authoritarian regimes that hate them.
As of today, Afrin has yet to fall. I glossed over this earlier, but the area is a veritable hornets nest of competing interests. The US are content to give funds and munitions to the Kurds (as they have for decades) but oppose any kind of Kurdish state. Turkey is simultaneously backed by Russia and collaborating with the remnants of ISIS, while seething over US support for the Kurds. Syria wants its territory back. NATO has remained silent. The UN is powerless. Obviously, the preceding snapshot is not entirely correct and certainly missing key narratives (this is a good summary of the geopolitical situation). But the underlying theme is that a good thing is in peril. I don’t really know how else to end this other than to say that this sucks.