Dec 2, 2022
The situation in Rojava is critical. The Turkish army is bombarding the revolution, perhaps determined to see Kobane fall. Such a defeat would be brutal, a repeat of the Afrin scenario writ large, but to where would the revolutionaries run? They are surrounded by enemies, their backs are up against a wall. We see once again the intimate connection between sovereignty and controlling the sky. We say that self-determination, in practical terms, requires controlling what falls from the sky, on the one hand, and what gets extracted from the soil, on the other. The two-fold fact that the revolutionaries of Rojava stand on oil fields, and that they are at the mercy of the American air force up above, renders their project of self-determination very vulnerable, indeed, per chance illusory, in the end.
If we scope out to focus on the broader picture, we see not only Rojava under assault, but also Qandil, where the Turkish army stands accused of employing chemical weapons against the guerrillas, in an effort to flush them out of the mountains. An all-out war against Kurdish forces is being waged by the Erdogan regime, whose grip on power remains reliant on a coalition with the full-fledged fascist MHP. There are elections coming up next year, and so it seems that Erdogan will try to play to Turkish nationalist sentiment by a show of force against the Kurds. Distant are the days when there was a peace process on the horizon. Now Erdogan’s strategy is what some refer to as the Sri Lanka scenario, in which guerrilla forces are demolished and utterly defeated. No matter that over four decades of war have not produced such a result. Now, in this moment of the unfolding of the terminal crisis of capitalist modernity, the days of death and destruction may finally approach.
Meanwhile, Öcalan remains utterly isolated on Imrali. It’s been over 16 months since he has had any contact with the outside world. Nobody even knows for certain if he is still alive. His road map for peace remains the only viable and desirable way forward in the longer run. A democratic resolution in which a Kurdish collective identity is officially recognised need not necessarily constitute an existential threat to the Turkish national imaginary, though it may certainly seem far-fetched these days. But it was not even a decade ago when peace and reconciliation appeared plausible, and an end to the ongoing nightmare could be envisaged by the power brokers in Ankara and the guerrilla in the mountain alike. When even Öcalan’s freedom seemed within our grasp.
Öcalan will not live forever, he is over 70 now. His will for peace provides an opening, he is the only person capable of providing a credible commitment that the PKK will put down its arms. But for that to happen, there needs to be a will for peace on both sides. In 2015, the peace negotiations broke down fundamentally because the dynamics of war in Syria spilled over into Turkey. The assault on Kobane by ISIS in late 2014 proved a turning point. The dynamics of the election in 2015 also played a part in the demise of the prospect for peace. Moreover, ever since the failed coup in 2016, an all-out war has been declared.
An optic that interprets these developments in the long-standing war between the Turkish state and the PKK through the lens of the terminal crisis of capitalist modernity, as Öcalan himself would encourage, would situate the local and regional dynamic within a more comprehensive, global dialectic. One in which we see the rise of neo-fascism, in Europe and the US, in India, Brasil, and the Philippines, for example, not to mention the Ukraine. The conflict in the Ukraine, with Russia, has given Erdogan’s own neo-fascist coalition increased leverage in its bargaining with the “West.” The era in which the European Union could hold out the carrot of membership in exchange for a peaceful and democratic resolution to the Kurdish question is long gone. Now it is Erdogan who can threaten with the stick of the so-called “refugee crisis,” not to mention flirtation with Putin. The balance of carrots and sticks has definitely changed immensely over the past several years.
The fact that, on the ground, the Kurdish forces from Rojava have played such an instrumental role in the push back against ISIS, could not save Afrin from invasion; nor, when push comes to shove, does it appear capable of saving Kobane from the threat of an all-out Turkish assault. The cost of further alienating the Erdogan regime has been carefully weighed, and deemed too pricey, by the Pentagon, whose priorities have shifted. No longer does the logic of the “War on Terror” alone dictate Washington’s priorities; for now, a renewed “Cold War” with Russia, and an impending confrontation with China, factor in as crucial calculations as well. In sum, what we see is the birth of a new era of open inter-imperialist rivalry, in which the declining hegemonic power of the US is being challenged, and a re-equilibration of the global balance of power is underway. This is the scenario through which the rise of neo-fascism should be interpreted. And it is a scenario in which a neo-fascist Turkey can dictate the terms of engagement with refugees as well as with its existential Kurdish enemy. Washington will have to look the other way while Ankara does its very best to put a definitive end to the Rojava revolution, and to bomb Qandil mercilessly, even with illegal weapons of mass destruction.
All that remains for the Kurdish revolutionaries is the prospect of another fight for survival in Kobane. But this fight is fundamentally different from the one they waged successfully against ISIS a few years ago. The basic difference being who controls the sky. Up against ISIS, the Kurdish forces could rely upon the aerial support of the American military; now Turkish weapons of iron maiden heavy metal Armageddon are falling from on high.
The Kurdish revolutionaries certainly understand that for their revolution to survive, ultimately it must spread. But that is easier said than done. The wave of neo-fascist reaction seems not to have peaked just yet. The prospects for a revolutionary change in Turkey remain far-fetched, despite the many difficulties faced by the Turkish economy. So too do the winds of Thermidorean counter-revolution continue to blow across the Arab world. As a result, the Kurds find themselves cornered. Their dance with the devil may be over; it’s time to pay the pied piper.
It remains to be seen whether the scenario of defeat that we witnessed in Afrin will be repeated. It also remains to be seen just how far the Turkish military is willing to go in its aerial assault. But if worse comes to worst, and the revolution is defeated, what will be the lessons that can be drawn? There is of course the truism that revolution in Turkey is a must. The fate of the Kurds is ultimately and intimately tied with the fate of Turkey. In this respect, the dream of national liberation, and the construction of a Greater Kurdistan, was always a utopian project, in the bad sense of the term. Öcalan was certainly right to repudiate that dream, and to replace it with the more realizable dream of the “democratic nation.” And in this respect, the HDP’s consistent commitment to help build support for a democratic and multicultural political culture within Turkey, despite the legal and extra-legal harassment and intimidation it has confronted, remains most admirable. However, the institutions of people power envisioned within the democratic confederal project need to be built from the bottom up, and given the state of the monistic hegemonic political culture in Turkey, the realization of such a project seems a far, far way off.
What, then, is to be done? To step up the campaign for the Freedom for Öcalan would seem one important task for those of us in the “West.” This alongside providing additional momentum for the ongoing effort to decriminalise the PKK, to recognise them as legitimate political actors in an armed conflict, as a Belgian court has quite recently condoned. Freedom for Öcalan, delist the PKK, and rise up for Rojava, the latter of these campaigns tied to an effort to stop arming Turkey. These are the three fronts in which our campaigns for international solidarity should continue to operate, with ever more enthusiasm, so as to expose and denounce our own governments’ criminal complicity with the annihilationist policies pursued by the Erdogan regime against the Kurds.
But it will not suffice to focus on the crimes of Turkey alone. The task ahead of us is enormous, for we must ultimately be engaged with the effort to spread a democratic confederalising agenda across the globe. Up against the unfolding catastrophes accumulating in the terminal crisis of capitalist modernity, we must engage local civil society, and be present among the students, the trade unionists, other activist communities, and even the churches, to help provide an overarching interpretive framework for understanding the contents and contours of our current conjuncture. We must not shy away from an evangelical mission to spread the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan far and wide. With a purpose not to impose from above and from outside a democratic confederal model, but rather, to engage in a dialogue with actually existing initiatives and inject a democratic confederalising momentum wherever we can. As I have stressed elsewhere, this evangelising dimension of our calling must be characterised by the embrace of a syncretic and ecumenical sensibility, that is, by an ability to forge organic ties and to affect a fusion of horizons among a network of grassroots coalitions operative around the globe.
Dr. Thomas Jeffrey Miley
Lecturer of Political Sociology
Fellow of Darwin College
The University of Cambridge
Thomas Miley firstname.lastname@example.org