The Illegal Entity of Rojava and Imperial “Divide and Rule” Tactics

Part 2 of 2 part series: "A Liberated Area in the Middle East"?: Western Imperialism in Rojava

Rojava supporters may point out that YPG fighters worked with Syria and Russia which allowed the final victory in the liberation of Aleppo last year and note with pride the statement of Hediye Yusuf, the co-chair of Rojava’s Constituent Assembly, who said that they seek autonomy, but do not want Syria to be destroyed. However, there is no doubt that the “good” Kurds are still hostile to the Syrian government: the YPG has killed SAA soldiers in past years (2012-2016 off and on) in “revenge” for purported attacks, even surrounding “enemy” soldiers at certain points, resulting in some counterattacks.1

The illegality of Rojava

The Iranians and Syrians have stood against an autonomous entity like Rojava. Recently, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Bahram Qassemi, said that Kurds secured many rights in Iraq’s constitution (see articles 4, 117, 141), and that Iran “will strongly stand against any measures taken with the aim to tear Iraq into pieces.” As for the Syrians, duly elected President Bashar Al-Assad has, in the past, said that “Kurdish demands expressed by certain parties can be discussed nationally,” he has also said that these demands need to be “within the framework of Syria’s unity and the unity of the Syrian people and territory,” and that “Kurds are part of the Syrian fabric…[and] patriotic people” along with saying that they are not “allies at this stage.” More recently, the Syrian Ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, has argued that “the Kurds are an integral part of the Syrian people,” having the “same rights and obligations as the rest of the Syrian people,” but that many Kurds are strongly opposed to a federation, canton, or other form of division.

This is buttressed by Syrian government envoy Bashar Jaafari saying that “it’s completely unacceptable for a group of people to decide to create a statelet and call it federalism,” referring to Rojava, of course, and the Syrian government’s clear rejection of the Russian proposal for a Kurdish federation. Adding to this, Assad, in an interview last month, noted that “talking about self-control or confederation or anything like this, when you don’t have war, when you have a normal situation, it’s going to be related to the constitution” and said that “the vast majority of Syrians…never believe in self-governance or confederation or anything” while adding that a few people in Syria, mainly among Kurds, want to remove the word Arab from the country’s name, but that its not a big issue.

Adding to this are the numerous Kurdish groups within Syria who ally with the government in its fight against Western and Gulf-backed terrorism. The Kurdish National Movement for Peaceful Change has said that a coalition to fight Daesh inside Syria without approval of the Syrian government “constitutes a violation of the Syrian sovereignty and would bring further support to terrorism.” There have also been meetings over the years by such Kurds, who the US and West may consider “bad” for allying with the Syrian government, which have asserted solidarity with the latter government, saying Kurds are an “integral part of Syrian national fabric.” The truth is that the “bad” Kurds probably constitute the majority of the Kurdish population, especially in the region, and hence the “bad” Kurds are the minority. The former prime minster of Syria, Wael al-Halqi was also quoted as saying that Ayn al-Arab, considered as a “part” of Rojava, is “dear to the hearts of all Syrians” and that the Kurds are “an inseparable part of the Syrian society.” Most directly, the National Kurdish Movement for Peaceful Change has strongly rejected “any divisive or federal project in Syria.” They specifically said that the Rojava entity “is illegal and violates the Syrian constitution,” adding that promises made by Western capitalists cannot be trusted as they “only serve their personal interests and the interests of Israel.”

Starting with Rojava constitution, acclaimed by certain parts of the international “left,” this document recognizes territorial integrity of Syria but contradicts that by declaring, in the preamble, “a political system and civil administration founded upon a social contract…a new democratic society.” As the constitution goes on, it says there will be a “renewed social contract between the peoples of the Autonomous Regions” (Article 1), authority within the region “exercised by governing councils and public institutions elected by popular vote” (Article 2), asserting that “Syria is a free, sovereign and democratic state” but also making the “autonomous” Rojava regions seem separate (Article 3), and allowing “all cities, towns and villages in Syria which accede to this Charter” to become part of the region (Article 7). The constitution also says that “all Cantons in the Autonomous Regions are founded upon the principle of local self-government” (Article 8), that “cantons may freely elect their representatives and representative bodies” (same article), asserts that “the Autonomous Regions…[are] a model for a future decentralized system of federal governance in Syria” (Article 12), and says that the YPG “is the sole military force of the three Cantons,” defending the region “against both internal and external threats” (Article 15). Finally, there’s Article 45 which says that “the Legislative Assembly in the Autonomous Region is elected by the people by direct, secret ballot” and Article 81 saying that “the Charter applies within the Autonomous Regions” and can “only be amended by a qualified majority of two-thirds…of the Legislative Assembly.”

While this may seem nice and dandy to Rojava supporters, it clearly violates the Syrian Constitution and is, hence, an illegal entity. This document is straightforward and clear, showing that Rojava sovereignty in clearly illegitimate:

  • The Syrian state is a “democratic state with full sovereignty, indivisible, and may not waive any part of its territory, and is part of the Arab homeland” (Article 1)
  • The people of Syria “shall exercise their sovereignty within the aspects and limits prescribed in the Constitution” (Article 2)
  • “Every citizen shall be subjected to the duty of respecting the Constitution and laws” (Article 35)
  • “Defending the territorial integrity of the homeland and maintaining the secrets of state shall be a duty of every citizen” (Article 46)
  • “The state shall guarantee the protection of national unity, and the citizens’ duty is to maintain it” (Article 47)

Furthermore, not only is the entity of Rojava, not even an internationally recognized state by any measure, illegal, but Western support of it violates sections of the UN Charter. Article 2 asserts that all UN member states must “refrain…from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” which is relevant since this illegal entity is within the “domestic jurisdiction” of the Syrian state. Adding to this, under Article 51, Syria has the right to engage in “individual or collective self-defense” against such entities or attacks by Western or Gulf-backed terrorists. Creation and maintenance of this illegal entity does not fall within the purview of Article 73 as its existence does not promote “international peace and security” by any reasonable measure.

Putting Rojava in context and the reality of “divide-and rule” tactics

It is important, before closing this article, to provide appropriate historical and geopolitical context to more accurately understand this subject. Stephen Gowans provides this to an extent. He notes that numerous US politicians, including but not limited to Joe Biden, have floated the idea of dividing Iraq into “Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states,” as the US occupation authority organized elections along sectarian lines, with most Iraqis opposing such partition, and only a slim majority in Northern Iraq favoring such division. He adds that in the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians provided “aid to the Kurds” to fight the Republic of Iraq headed by Saddam Hussein, that the Kurds have waged a “struggle for autonomy” for which the “Turkish state has waged war to annihilate,” but the US does not support their struggle by any means. With such dynamics, it comes as no surprise that the FARC sent a message of solidarity to the PKK and Kurds. It is worth noting that after the US invasion in 2003, things changed for the Kurds in Northern Iraq who had already “carved out an enclave that was protected by a no-fly zone backed by a U.S.-led coalition” after 1990.2 The Kurds became, as one Reuters article claimed, “more powerful” and are now expanding their territory.

The support for the “good” Kurds, not the “bad” pro-Syrian government Kurds, is part of US meddling in the country. There has been previous US support for the Syrian National Council (SNC), a vehicle for the Muslim Brotherhood, along with falsely “moderate” Syrian opposition groups/terrorist organizations. More recently this manifested itself in the Free Idlib Army (FIA), a division of the FSA which would theoretically fight “jihadist groups and pro-government forces in [the] northwestern Idlib province” even as it faces likely targeting from such “al-Qaida-linked factions,” even though it has coordinated with them before. The FIA entity, consisting of 30,000 to 35,000 people, is undoubtedly, as one analyst put it, “100 percent an American project,” with weaponry, financial aid, and more, funneled through Müşterek Operasyon Merkezi (MOM), an operations center based in Turkey, operated by the CIA with the supervision of the Turks. Such destabilization measures in the country will continue even with the “de-escalation deal” signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the latter of which has “joint industrial projects in the fields of cement, tractors, buses and trucks assembly, cables production lines, pharmaceuticals, and dairy products” with Syria.

The plans to break-up Syria fit-in with imperial logic. The country’s government is anti-imperialist, even participating in a “celebration held by the Russian forces, working in Syria at Hmeimem base, on the 72nd anniversary of the victory over Nazism,” as they want to show that they remember their history, with Assad recognizing this in a recent interview, saying that “without the victory of the Soviet Union, the Normandy landings for Western states wouldn’t have been possible.” However, there is a further reason for support of the “good” Kurds by the Western states. It has to do with the oil and gas resources in the region. Of course, this in and of itself is not the only reason for the imperialist destabilization of the country and region, which revolves around putting in place more friendly governments that don’t buck destructive Western agendas.

Rojava has set up “ministries dealing with the economy, agriculture, natural resources and foreign affairs” which isn’t surprising since the region, even as humanitarian imperialist Human Rights Watch, admitted years ago, is “resources rich,” with petroleum (“oil”) reserves, cotton, and grains.3 According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), just north of Rojava is the Southeast Anatolian Basin which extends for 32,100 square mile area, containing the Silurian Dadas Shale, which has had “about 100 oil field discoveries to date,” specifically under exploration by “the Turkish national petroleum company, TPAO, and international exploration companies.” This doesn’t necessarily show imperial objectives, but only Turkish ones. A map overlay of an EIA map and the claimed territory of illegal entity of Rojava, shows that oil and natural gas pipelines snake through it, including one north from Aleppo, and others going through the heart of the territory in Northeast Syria where there is also a concentration of oil and gas fields.

ExxonMobil, along with Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Total SA, and BP, showed interest in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a registered branch office in the region, and signed, in 2011, six production sharing contracts “covering more than 848,000 acres” in the region, with Rex Tillerson, the current US Secretary of State, having a role in, as one article put it, “placing the company’s financial interests above the American goal of creating a stable, cohesive Iraq.”4 The agreements that ExxonMobil made were strongly opposed by the Iraqi government. Even though ExxonMobil pulled out of half its holdings in 2016, like other companies had years before due to violence in the region, it would be no surprise that they want to exploit the oil in Syria, whether or not what Nafeez Ahmed says on the subject has any degree of validity.

A conclusion

While Turkey recently threatened “military action against Syrian Kurdish fighters allied with the United States,” buttressing their “public anger to the U.S. move to arm the Kurds,” even as the US stands by Turkey and Mattis declared that “we do not ever give weapons to the PKK. We never have and never will,” the Syrian government is caught in the middle.5 They are surrounded by enemies on many sides, thankful for the help from the Iraqi, Iranian, and Russian governments, along with Hezbollah, as they fight to defend their state sovereignty. While some may cry with distress that I don’t stand with the “revolutionary” Kurds, it should be clear that their struggle, as it stands now, would not be possible without support from Western capitalists.

To be even more straightforward, Rojava would not be in existence without the diplomatic and military support of Western capitalists and undoubtedly an illegal entity. When it comes to the PKK, they have abandoned the pretense of Kurdish nationalism and are in a sense, working with Rojava, so, I’d put them in the same category of non-support. To be clear, the “good” Kurds are not fascist in any form, but could be put into the category of deluded and easily manipulated “revolutionaries.” As for the Kurds in general, I do not stand against them like the Turkish government in their never-ending anti-Kurdish war, which has raged against the PKK since 1978, but rather stand with those who ally themselves with the respective Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian governments in a united struggle against terrorism and Western imperialism.6

The “good” Kurds can say they are independent and are simply opportunist, but that is clearly naive. As this article has shown, they are part and parcel of the Western imperialist “divide-and-rule” strategy to break-up the region into “manageable” areas for the global capitalist class. It is not possible to support these “good” (by Western standards) Kurds and support the Syrian government. Such goals are inherently contradictory, since support of those Kurds shows that one is actually supporting imperial efforts, whether they like it or not. The alternative is a much better one: solidarity with the “bad” (pro-Syrian government) Kurds, along with the Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi governments against terrorism. The same goes for standing with these governments against imperialist efforts, as one should extend the same solidarity to the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, and the DPRK, for example.

As for powerful world states like Russia and China, both of which are capitalist in their own way, people should be critical. However, it is best to not declare wildly that they are “imperialist,” a term which, when applied to them, distorts the issue of Western imperialism and muddies the waters, leaving one to engage in over-complicated “solidarity” efforts that help no one, anywhere in the world. In the end, the next steps forward are up to everyone out there reading this and especially the international “left” which needs to get its act together with a strong message of international solidarity with governments (and peoples, but not the “good” Kurds) under attack, not division on countries such as Syria.

  1. The Economist, “Assad on the offensive,” February 13, 2016; The Economist, “Too many holes to last,” March 3, 2016; Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “U.S.-Backed Kurds to Assad Forces: ‘Surrender or Die’,” The Daily Beast, August 23, 2016. There have only been certain offers of support to the “good” Kurds by the Syrian government to fight Daesh while still rejecting proposals by Syrian Kurdish figures that flies in the face of “adherence of…the Syrian Kurds to national unity and the state’s sovereignty and their rejection of foreign dictates.” []
  2. Isabel Coles and Stephen Kalin, “In fight against Islamic State, Kurds expand their territory,” Reuters, October 10, 2016. []
  3. Virginia N. Sherry, “Syria: The Silenced Kurds,” Human Rights Watch, October 1996, Vol. 8, No. 4 (E);  The Economist, “Striking out on their own,” October 29, 2014. []
  4. Andrew E. Kramer, “Iraq Criticizes Exxon Mobil on Kurdistan Oil Pursuits,” New York Times, November 12, 2011; Jenna Krajeski, “Iraqi Kurdistan vs. Big Oil,” Slate, 2014; UPI, “Exxon oil deal with Kurds shakes Iraq,” November 11, 2011; Dmitry Zhdannikov, Isabel Coles and Ned Parker, “Special Report: How Exxon helped make Iraqi Kurdistan,” Reuters, December 3, 2014; Missy Ryan and Steven Mufson, “How Exxon, under Rex Tillerson, won Iraqi oil fields and nearly lost Iraq,” Washington Post, January 9, 2017; Patrick Cockburn, “Exxon’s deal with the Kurds inflames Baghdad,” The Independent, December 9, 2011; UPI, “Iraq’s oil rift deepens over Exxon move,” February 15, 2013; Stephen Synder, “How a Rex Tillerson oil deal nearly sparked an Iraqi-Kurdish war,” PRI, Jan. 5, 2017; Jen Alic, “Exxon Mobil, BP face off in Iraq-Kurd oil conflict,” Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2013; Peg Mackey, “Exxon breaks silence over Kurdistan oil talks,” Reuters, February 27, 2012; Martin Michaels Follow, “Kurds Assert Sovereignty, Push for Oil Deal with Exxon,” MintPress News, June 25, 2012; Kadhim Ajrash and Khalid al-Ansary, “Iraq Warns Exxon on Kurdish Deals Amid Plans for BP Development,” Bloomberg News, January 27, 2013; Nayla Razzouk, Bradley Olson and Kadhim Ajrash, “Exxon, BP Evacuate Iraq Workers as Oil Drilling Continues,” Bloomberg News, June, 19, 2014. []
  5. Kareem Fahim and Adam Entous, “Turkey threatens military action against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters,” Washington Post, May 10, 2017. []
  6. If the circumstances were different and the “good” Kurds had asked for direct support from Russia, China, and the Syrian government, instead going directly to grinning Western imperialists, then I would be inclined to engage in international solidarity with them. []

Leftist Critic is an independent radical, writer, and angry citizen and can be reached at leftistcritic@linuxmail.org or on twitter, @leftistcritic, where they tweet frequently about issues of importance relating to American empire, the environment, people of color, and criticism of the "left," whether radical or non-radical. Read other articles by Leftist.