A hospital, grain silos, a market, a power plant: civilian infrastructure is a target for the renewed Turkish military operation against Rojava, the Syrian Kurdistan. On Saturday, the offensive, which had been feared for months after the repeated threats of the Turkish government, was expected in a matter of hours: the attack of November 13 in Istanbul and Ankara’s “certainties” (that “the order came from Kobane”) did not allow for any other possibility.
The first bombs began to fall on northeastern Syria at 10:45 p.m. Saturday night. Warplanes and drones have not stopped since, from Kobane to Darbasiyah, from Gire Spi to Manbij. At least 30 civilians, among them two journalists, and 13 Syrian soldiers have been killed. Meanwhile, bombings intensified over the northern mountains of Iraq, the military and ideological base of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The response of the population was immediate: on Monday, in Derik, thousands took part in the funerals of the victims, while the shops in the canton of Jazera remained closed. We spoke to Nilufer Koc, the spokeswoman for the international affairs office of the KNK, the Kurdistan National Congress.
For months, President Erdogan has been threatening a new operation to occupy more parts of Rojava. What is his goal?
The attack on Rojava and Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) is closely linked to the deep crisis in which the Turkish regime finds itself. Unable to weaken the Kurdish movement, it is trying to occupy two of its parts, Rojava and Bashur. Erdogan has said it several times already: that by October 2023, a century after the founding of the Turkish Republic, he intends to recreate “Greater Turkey.” 2023 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne: the Turkish president has never hidden the fact that he wants to take back what he says Europeans took away from the Ottoman Empire. His strategy is military occupation through low-intensity warfare: attack, rest, attack again. It is psychological warfare.
Is that why Turkey is targeting civilian infrastructure?
The aim is to empty Rojava out by scaring people off and forcing them to flee: that way, they will only need to use the air force and then occupy empty territories by land.
In the past months, Russia and the United States had curbed Turkish bellicosity. What has changed?
These latest attacks got the green light from Russia and the US, that was a necessity: parts of the bombed areas are under Russian and US control. Erdogan certainly got a green light at the G20 in Bali. He showed up touting the Istanbul bombing, blaming the YPG and YPJ [the Kurdish popular units of northeast Syria], as he needed something to negotiate the upcoming offensive. Moscow and Washington both want to keep Turkey on their side, given the unclear role it has been playing for years, and particularly at this time. The big powers don’t really care how many civilians lose their lives – we’ve seen that in Ukraine. More important is keeping Turkey on their side, the US wanting to solidify NATO, Russia wanting to weaken it.
At stake is a revolution that has shown a different face of the Middle East over the past decade.
It is important to defend Rojava, because Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians in wartime have created a democratic alternative that does not threaten any state. They have created peace. Our fear is that the end of this experience would pave the way for a new attempt at a caliphate like ISIS: Turkey now controls large territories in Syria and thousands of jihadists from the Free Syrian Army, while tens of thousands more are held in northeastern Syria. If Rojava falls, them being freed, together with the role of pro-Turkish militiamen, will lead back to the situation of 2014, even worse than Afghanistan for women and minorities. This is a global threat, not just one against us.
Will the YPG, YPJ and Syrian Democratic Forces be able to resist Turkish attacks?
They will resist – they have accumulated great experience against Turkey and its proxies and they will have the support of the other Kurdish armed forces in the region and that of the diaspora which has already mobilized, particularly in Europe. But the world should not remain silent. Ankara is invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter and claiming it is responding to an aggression against it. The YPG has never attacked Turkey. The silence reflects the Darwinism of the international community: the right of the strongest is actually in force, not international law. We have reached a paradox: Turkey is allowed to use international law to justify an aggression. That is why pressure from the media and public opinion, which are the only ones capable of forcing their respective governments to intervene, is essential.
At the same time, Iran is striking Iraqi Kurdistan.
Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have been at risk of collapse, in serious crisis. They have never reformed, but have centralized their structure and used armies to shore up the system. In Iran and Turkey, women, minorities, workers are demanding freedom and the state is responding with violence. In both cases, a change of system is needed, not just regime change. This is why both Tehran and Ankara are bombing the Kurds: in Kurdistan, a change of system has taken place, not just a move from authoritarianism to social democracy, but an alternative form of radical democracy, based on secularism, feminism, direct participation.
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