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Kobane was Stalingrad, make Afrin Vietnam

GARY OAK presents a letter from an Irish volunteer in the YPG facing invasion from Turkey

MY KURDISH nom de guerre, given to me by the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), is Tirpan Cudi.

I am a communist and one of three Irishmen now in Afrin to resist the Turkish invasion of Rojava, northern Syria.

I have been fighting here against Isis since 2016 as part of the International Freedom Battalion, an alliance of Turkish communist parties and international communist and anarchist volunteers.

 "Down with the Turkish imperialist invasion"
Chinese international volunteers in Afrin write: "Down with the Turkish imperialist invasion"

My closest comrades have been here since the battle of Kobane in 2014. They are mostly from Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Lenninist (TKPML) and the Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey (TIKKO). 

They have been active since 1972, mainly in the Dersim mountain range and are made up of a mix of ethnicities typical of this region: Kurds, Turks, Armenians, and people of the Allevi religion — a progressive sect of Islam that holds Mohamed’s daughter in reverence.

You realise quickly that there is not one oppressed ethnicity in the region, but alongside the Kurds, there are tens of major groups with their own languages and histories that are threatened by Turkish chauvinism. 

However, allies in great number are still thin on the ground. The only thing close to a friendly neighbour in the area is in the very south of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

Since the Kurdish referendum, the Iraqi government rolled back a lot of the KRG’s autonomy, so the relatively small assistance they were previously able to get from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party areas has gone.

Former Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is in charge of the KRG overall, and crucially that includes all of the regions that actually border Rojava.

He is an ally of Turkey and completely hostile. Even when Isis was at its strongest, he stood aside and even impeded the YPG’s fight whenever he could.

The KDP’s politics are not even Kurdish nationalist, they are feudal, tribal, opportunistically friendly with Turkey and Israel, and the party are total clients of the United States, which injects millions of dollars into its failing statelet. 

The relationship with the Syrian government is complicated but I wouldn’t describe it as hostile today. Rojava is not a separatist project, its ambition is autonomy within what the Russians propose, a new Syrian Republic.

The YPG and Syrian forces have worked together in the past in the liberation of Aleppo. Many of the city neighbourhoods of Qamishli in Rojava are under government control. But even as a foreigner you can walk or drive through the checkpoints with no problems.

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has not been obstructing us in our defence of Afrin, which it could easily do.

Russia has given a decent amount of military assistance to the YPG in the past, though less than the US. It proposes replacing the current Syrian Arab Republic with a new Syrian Republic, with Kurdish autonomy, and state recognition of all minority languages.

Russia has tried to get the Syrian Kurds a place at the table for the peace negotiations, and for the first time secured one for the planned Sochi talks.

However, Russia allowing Turkey to invade Afrin shows it is no more reliable than the US. Our alliances with it were tactical and temporary, just like the YPG said from the start. 

International solidarity is therefore vital. One party active here, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), put the Afrin resistance like this: Kobane was Stalingrad, make Afrin Vietnam.

This is how I would explain it to the anti-capitalist left in Europe and the United States who still struggle to understand and support us.

Like Vietnam, we have made alliances with the big powers in the past and played them off one another. But now we face Turkey, and therefore Nato imperialism, head on.

The YPG will fight the war, but you must conduct a huge and militant solidarity campaign back home. We need actions, protests and trade union declarations. We need slogans on the walls of the West.

Militarily, fighting a Nato army will be different to fighting Isis, like I did in Manbij and Raqqa, due to the Turkish air force. But ideologically speaking it is not so different.

Both Isis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan want the total destruction of the Kurdish people, both are Islamist and, in typical fascist fashion, both are trying to resurrect an older, glorious order. While Isis wanted a caliphate, Turkey has neo-Ottoman ambitions.

The assistance Turkey has given to Isis is well documented but it failed to crush the Rojava project. So now, to weaken Rojava ahead of the Sochi peace negotiations, Turkey is taking matters directly into its own hands with the invasion of Afrin. 

Given the 2015 Turkish campaign against the Kurds in Bakur, eastern Turkey, where they flattened large civilian areas of cities such as Cizre and Nusaybin inside Turkish borders, we can expect a complete disregard for civilian life.

However, in 2015 there were barely any journalists, independent or otherwise, covering those massacres because the Turkish state was able to close off the area.

The Rojava Kurds are more famous and have played a much better media game. Now the world is watching Afrin and asking why the heroes who liberated Raqqa from Isis yesterday are being abandoned today.

Even though we have seen some BBC reporters embedded with the Turkish side, we also have reporters on our side of the line.

In comparison to Isis there are three things I am glad I won’t have to deal with this time. The first is suicide car-bombs driven at speed towards us. Some of those were more powerful than the average air strike.

I arrived in the wake of one once. It had gone off at a crossroads and totally vapourised everything on the road and almost levelled all the apartments on the four corners.

The second is mines, booby traps. There are ridiculous amounts of mines planted by Isis. When they retreated they riddled the places they vacated with mines. In one apartment building in Raqqa we found 35 traps set with explosives.

The third thing is the suicide vests loaded with ball bearings on individual fighters. Although these could make a reappearance given that so many Isis and other jihadis have been recruited to Turkey’s side. 

Despite Turkish troop numbers and air power, I’m optimistic. Unlike most of Rojava, Afrin is mountainous and hilly. We can fight a guerilla campaign here during the invasion, and if needs be during an occupation.

Even if we lose major areas, we will either get them back as soon as Turkey withdraws, or Turkey will eventually face losses that will cost Erdogan politically.

Having removed all the people from his administration who might have talked sense into him, Erdogan’s invasion is nothing but a madman lashing out. 

The legal implications of fighting a sovereign power and Nato member state do not concern me. I’m in a sovereign state, it’s called Syria, and it’s currently being invaded illegally by Turkey. 

I’m a member of the YPG, a Syrian army that’s increasingly gaining de-facto recognition. I don’t care about the legality. Turkey and its Free Syrian Army (FSA) goons have no business here and need to be crushed in their craven neo-Ottoman Salafist efforts. We are not leaving until that job is done.

If we win, then facts on the ground makes prosecuting us unlikely, or at least very unpopular as the West will be on friendly terms with the Rojava project again. If we lose we will be dead. 

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