International Briefing January 2019

THE KURDISH POPULATION OF SYRIA

Kurds make up between 7 and 10 per cent of Syria’s population. They only comprise a majority in
an area around Afrin in the north-west and the biggest minority in the north east – coloured mauve.

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POSITIONS OF REGIONAL COMMUNIST PARTIES ON KURDISH RIGHTS

Summary of the 22 July 2017 seminar organised by the CCCIB at the request of the CP Britain: positions of the CPs of Syria, CP Turkey, CP Iraq, CP Iraqi Kurdistan and Tudeh Party of Iran

All participants defended and had in practice, politically defended the linguistic, cultural and democratic rights of Kurdish populations. The CP Iraq and CP Iraqi Kurdistan defended the principle of federal autonomy for Iraqi Kurds. So did the Tudeh Party of Iran for the Kurdish populated area in the NW of Iran. The two Syrian CPs argued that in Syria, where Kurds were only concentrated in a couple of areas and only in one smallish area as the majority, the principle of the right to self-determination had to be considered in the context of a state fighting for survival against imperialist aggression. They therefore supported the exercise of cultural and linguistic rights, along with those of other minority ethnic groups (Druze, Ismaeli, Alawite) but not full autonomy. The Turkish CP did not support federal autonomy but did defend democratic and linguistic rights as part of a wider struggle for class unity. In terms of immediate political developments – in summer 2017 - the CP Iraq expressed concern at the possible consequences of the independence referendum organised by the government of Iraqi Kurdistan – noting the disputed oilfields and strong presence of US oil multinationals in Kurdistan.

Positions of the CPs Lebanon and Israel and the People’s Party of Palestine in discussions at Athens 17-18 November 2018

The CP Lebanon supported the territorial integrity of the Syrian state – but in the context of its reform and democratisation that guarantees the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kurds and other nationalities within a secular and non-sectarian state. They noted the importance of the Euphrates valley for its control of water resources as well as oil and the likelihood of the US acting opportunistically in terms of its relations with the Kurds. They saw the PKK as the ‘best’ of Kurdish organisations and also its suspicion of Assad because of his role in handing Ocalan over to Turkey during the previous period of tactical alliance between Syria and Turkey. The CP Israel, which leads the Hadash coalition, the third largest in the Knesset and main representative of the country’s Palestinian population, sees it as the major objective of US policy to divide Middle East states onethnic and religious lines to assist their regional control. The CP Israel points to past Israeli links, in terms of civilian and military aid and security services, with Iraqi Kurdistan and the danger of current interventions being used to divide Syria. The Palestine People’s Party, a constituent member of
the PLO (and previously the Palestinian Communist Party), took a similar position: supporting Kurdish linguistic and cultural rights in Syria but warning against attempts to fragment.

CURRENT STRATEGIC POSITIONS

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The main US military intervention in Syria has been by way of air and missile strikes and the training and arming of the Kurdish YPD. In March 2016 US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter described the ‘Kurdish Federation of Northern Syria’ (the Afrin, Jazira and Euphrates Regions) as ‘excellent partners’. In January 2018 Trump announced that the US would maintain a military presence permanently to
oust Assad (Guardian 17 January 2018). By April 2018 there were 2,000 US combat forces (together with another thousand support personnel) mainly based at Abu Kamal in the South (New York Times 11 April 2018) with a number of British special forces. French troops moved to Remelan in north-east Syria after Macron met a SDF delegation and assured them of support (Anadolu News Agency 28 April 2018). On 19 December, in a move intended to rebuild relations with Turkey, Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops. The move was queried by France and Britain and attacked by Democrats and some Republicans. Israeli politicians indicated strong disapproval and calls were made for greater French, British and German involvement. On 2 January Trump modified his position to ‘slow and orderly withdrawal’.

Kurdistan and imperialist control

Kurdish liberation movements have sought to use imperialist interventions for their own purposes. The US and others have done the same with the Kurds. The US did so in both Iraq against Saddam Hussein and currently in Iran against the theocratic regime. Historically the US opposed the PKK because of Turkey’s NATO membership and its key role as an ally of the US, standing second after Israel in funding and military supplies. After the attempted Gulem coup in 2016 relations with Turkey deteriorated as a result of perceived US backing. The breakdown in relations was intensified by the strategic alliance between the US and the YPG against ISIS. A number of US planning scenarios for the reconfiguration of the Middle East have included the creation of a Kurdish state – breaking up Iraq and Syria and creating a territorial barrier between Iran and its allies in the west (the current governments in Syria and Lebanon). This was set out by Secretary of State Tillerson 17 January 2018 and repeated by his successor John Bolton 23 August 2018. Israel has strongly supported – seeing a Kurdish state entity, if created, as seriously weakening Syria.

Turkey and Kurdish rights

The Kurds make up around 18 per cent of the population and are the biggest ethnic group. Kurds have been subject to extreme repression by Turkish governments since the 1920s. Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdish Workers Party, originally a Marxist Leninist party, led an armed struggle through the 1980s and 1990s. Ocalan was captured in 1999 and had been in prison since. In prison he has modified the ideology of the PKK to that of democratic socialism, stressing gender equality, open decision making, secular values. In 2013 he declared a ceasefire. The armed unit of the PKK was instructed to withdraw its bases to Iraqi Kurdistan. In recent elections the HDP, the People’s Democratic Party, standing for the rights of all ethnic minorities, has received around 15 per cent of the vote and secured 55 seats. Many of its representatives have been imprisoned.