The struggle of the Kurdish forces of the YPG and YPJ that have been defending the town of Kobane against the onslaught of ISIS forces that outnumber and outgun them, has been nothing short of heroic. The fight for Kobane has been raging for more than three weeks and has intensified in the last few days as the Kurdish forces had to withdraw back into the centre of Kobane from their defensive positions outside the town. Reports are now coming in of intense urban fighting as the YPG and YPJ are resisting the advances of ISIS street by street.
Horrified by the prospect of a massacre should Kobane fall and disgusted by the collusion of the Turkish state with ISIS by allowing them to cross the Turkish border freely to resupply and receive medical help, the Kurdish population in Turkey has erupted into mass revolt against the AKP government in many major cities across Turkey.
Kobane is a town of approximately 160,000 people located on the Syrian/Turkish border. Kobane controls the Mursitpinar Turkish border crossing. It sits between two other border crossings controlled by ISIS, Tel Abyad to the east and Jarabulus to the west. The acquisition of Kobane would be of great strategic value to ISIS as it would enable them to link these two border crossings and consolidate its position in the region. It will also enable it to receive greater financial and military support from the Turkish side of border.
Control of Kobane fell to the PYD, the Syrian arm of the PKK, in 2011 following the outbreak of revolution in Syria. Assad's regime collapsed in the east and south of the country and in the Kurdish area in the north. Assad's forces had to forsake these regions, withdrawing to defend the west of Syria and fight the rebels in the major cities such as Damascus and Aleppo. Islamic fundamentalists assumed control of the east and south of the country while the Kurds proclaimed independence and self-government in Rojava, the northern Syrian Kurdish enclave.
Bravery and courage
The assault on Kobane, as part of a wider assault on Rojava, started on 15th September from three fronts with an ISIS force estimated to be in the many thousands with heavy weapons such as artillery and tanks. In spite of the YPG and YPJ's valiant efforts to resist their advance, ISIS has pushed closer and closer to Kobane, tightening its siege, until it finally took key hills around the town. From these positions ISIS commenced bombardment of the centre of Kobane as it advanced into the outskirts of the town. The Kurdish forces intensified their counter-offensive and harassed the ISIS advance.
Fighting with only small arms and some anti-tank weaponry, YPG and YPJ forces have displayed incredible resourcefulness and bravery. They have valiantly taken on ISIS tanks, destroying many of them with great efficiency and confidence. Despite being outnumbered on all fronts the YPG and YPJ have dealt heavy blows to ISIS, killing many hundreds of ISIS militants. Many Kurdish sources have likened the resistance to that against Hitler's sixth army in Stalingrad during the Second World War.
The stubborn resistance of Kobane stands in stark contrast to the ease with which Mosul fell to ISIS in June. Nobody believed Kobane could have stood for so long against the massive ISIS assault. The fall of Kobane has been announced with glee day after day for the past week by many, with the Turkish state and media shouting the loudest. But Kobane's resistance continued in the face of the bloody chorus. The reason Mosul fell so easily was because of the utter rottenness of the Iraqi regime and the complete demoralised ineptitude of the Iraqi army coupled with the resentment of the Sunni population against the government.
Kobane's stubborn resistance on the other hand, in the face of superior force, is the result of iron determination of Kurds who are defending their own homes, communities and democratic self-rule. The prospect of national liberation and the aspiration for an egalitarian and equitable society drives the defenders of Kobane to fight with great determination. In the areas controlled by the YPG and YPJ the people have been running their own affairs in a democratic manner, with mass assemblies and local committees. In this experience we have had a glimpse of what can be done when the ordinary working people are allowed to express themselves. This fact explains why the Kurds of Kobane have been left to their own devices. No power in the region wants to see a PKK-backed and controlled area establishing itself as a model to the people of the region.
However, it must be pointed out that the ideas of the Kurdish independence movement in Rojava and the rest of Kurdistan are not clear on what sort of system they wish to create, other than desiring democracy in the abstract. The hammer blows of events, however, are making the necessity for socialism and internationalism clearer for the Kurdish nation. They cannot count on the help of either US imperialism or the Turks!
Tensions beneath the surface
War tends to bring to the fore the tensions that exist under the surface in society and precipitates the contradictions at play. It also has the ability to unmask the brutal face of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. The utter complacency of the Turkish government in the face of the impending massacre only a few kilometres away from its border is clear for everyone to see. Following discussions with the Turkish government in Ankara, Salih Muslim, the co-leader of the PYD, announced that the Turkish government was not willing to even allow PYD to buy weapons and ammunition “with its own money” to take into Kobane, unless the YPG joined forces with the Free Syrian Army and fought against Assad. This highlights the fact that the Turkish state is more interested in its own imperial ambitions than the plight of a people on the verge of butchery.
There have also been reports from Kurdish sources, supported by video evidence, that ISIS forces are receiving supplies and medical support from Turkey. A video has been released showing four ISIS fighters crossing the border into Syria from Turkey close to Kobane laden with arms and supplies. They are then engaged by Kurdish forces and are killed. The YPG then proceed to park a large truck on the train tracks along the border on the Turkish side thought to be used by Turkey to supply ISIS. In a recent interview with CNN, the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, when asked if Turkey was supporting ISIS across the border, replied by stating that “no one can prove this”. In the face of the evidence this is not very convincing.
Before ISIS came to the forefront of the news agenda after its lightning advance into Iraq and horrific beheadings of captured westerners, it was well known that Turkey was supplying and supporting rebel forces in Syria including Islamic fundamentalists against Assad. Turkey was also allowing its territory to be used by these groups, including ISIS, for training and medical support.
What the Turkish ruling class fails to realise with its meddling in the Syrian civil war is that it runs the risk of spilling over into Turkey. This is a real possibility given that the same ethnic, religious and political fault lines in Syria exist in Turkey, albeit in different proportions. The battle of Kobane is already leading to major unrest across the whole of Turkey. Turkey's actions have dealt a heavy blow to the peace negotiations that were underway between representatives of the Kurds and the Turkish state to end the forty year war with the PKK. It has deepened the divide between Turkey and the Kurds and is consolidating the distrust that has existed for decades. Kurds are increasingly infuriated by Turkey's collusion with ISIS. What is particularly irritating for the Kurds is Turkey's massing of tanks on the border, watching on as ISIS pound Kobane.
To add insult to injury the Turkish army has been ordered to evacuate villages along the Syrian border close to Kobane. Turkish riot police and army have attacked the many thousands of civilians who have collected at the many villages along the border to observe the fighting and support those fleeing Kobane into Turkey. Kurdish sources state that the intention of the evacuations and assault on the observers is to clear the area so support can be given to ISIS without witnesses. The truth of this was demonstrated when a group if ISIS fighters crossed over into Turkey following US air strikes. In spite of clearly crossing the border in the full view of Turkish forces they were not engaged. They were subsequently chased back by civilians on the Turkish side of the border.
ISIS mortars and bullets also crossed onto the Turkish side hitting buildings and gatherings of civilian observers. There were many injuries and it was only by chance that there were no fatalities. Kurdish sources have pointed to the possibility of Turkish soldiers giving the coordinates of the building used by Kurdish supporters to ISIS. Regardless of the validity of this claim, ISIS had clearly fired on and in many cases crossed over into Turkish territory. In spite of this the Turkish armed forces failed to respond. This has understandably disappointed the Kurds.
The Turkish Parliament recently passed a motion allowing Turkish armed forces to join the coalition against ISIS. The motion also called for the creation of a buffer zone in northern Syria to protect Turkey against the ISIS threat. This, from the point of view of the Kurds, is a direct threat to invade and disperse their hard won gains in Rojava. Turkey’s reluctance to offer any kind of support to Kobane and watch it suffer the ISIS onslaught further reinforces this belief.
The battle of Kobane has also brought to the fore the utter hypocrisy of US imperialism. The United States, along with its coalition partners took the decision to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalists in the region following ISIS's invasion of Iraq. The aim of the airstrikes was purportedly humanitarian, to prevent ISIS from committing massacres against civilian populations in Syria and Iraq and to prevent the government of Iraq being overrun.
In the last month there has been no greater humanitarian support needed than that of the people of Kobane, who have been facing the onslaught of ISIS on three fronts and with its back to a semi-hostile border with Turkey. US airstrikes have been conspicuous for their virtual absence. What little airstrikes that did take place had little effect in “degrading and destroying” ISIS capabilities. In fact the airstrikes near Kobane seemed to have the effect of funnelling ISIS closer to Kobane. It was only in the last day that US airstrikes have had any material effect on ISIS. But this was delayed, for some reason, until the very last minute when Kobane and its defenders were virtually on their knees.
From this one can only surmise that the intention of US imperialism is to allow the PYD and the YPG to be crushed before they do something about “saving” Kobane. The Turkish government's promise not to allow Kobane to fall also contradicts their actions on the ground. Turkish forces look on as the defenders of Kobane fight a desperate battle. Kurdish officials of the PKK and PYD predict that Turkish forces will only move against ISIS in Kobane once the YPG have been defeated. The action on the ground points to this being an accurate appraisal. It is clear that Turkey would rather see Rojava crushed by ISIS lest it be an inspiration to Turkish Kurds. The battle of Kobane shows that the US is less concerned with humanitarian ambitions than it is with defending its interests in Iraq. ISIS had existed long before its invasion of Iraq and had been carrying out atrocities for many years. In facts the Kurds had repelled the Al Nusra Front – a precursor to ISIS – from Rojava in 2012 and 2013. The US only began paying attention to ISIS after it threatened its interests in Iraq. Before this it was supporting and funding them by proxy.
Kurds all over the world and those who support them, socialists and Marxists included, are appalled at the suffering of the people of Kobane. At the same time they are inspired by the valiant struggle of the YPG and YPJ fighters. Demonstrations in supports for the people of Kobane have been organised in many cities across Europe.
Everyone is talking about the need to fight ISIS, but so far very little has actually been done. The Kurds of Syria have been the most valiant fighters against ISIS, but are being outgunned by well-equipped and well-financed Islamic fundamentalists. What should be done is to supply the Kurds of Kobane with the arms they need to defend themselves. The governments of the west consider it more important to see an end to the leftist administration of Rojava, than a real fight against ISIS. However, they will not even allow volunteer PKK fighters to cross the border into Kobane to help the people there defend themselves.
In the last few days major protests, verging on insurrections, have erupted across Turkey in many key cities. Violent protests have been ongoing in Istanbul and Izmir for the past couple of days, with fires being lit in the streets and clashes with police reported. In many of the Kurdish cities of Turkey, such as Diyarbakir, Batman, Mardin and many other places, there are reports of violent clashes between protestors and police. At the time of writing, 12 protestors have been reported to have been killed in the clashes.
It is reported that demonstrators have burned down several office buildings of the Ruling AKP party in many of the Kurdish cities. Several police stations have been raided and occupied with weapons being confiscated from the police as the demonstrators arm themselves. In response, the Turkish army has been ordered onto the streets in many Kurdish towns and cities. These demonstrations were in part in response to the PKK leadership’s call to widen the Kobane struggle to all parts of Kurdistan and the world. There is also a real likelihood that PKK guerrillas may be ordered to commence fighting with the Turkish army once more, which will be the end of any peace talks.
The spark that lights the flame
The battle of Kobane could be the spark that sets the Kurdish nation once more on the move. The protests across Kurdistan and the rest of Turkey have already reached insurrectionary proportions. This could have revolutionary consequences for Turkey and Kurdistan which, in turn, could breathe new life into the Arab Spring and set the whole region alight once more.
It is the duty of Marxists to support the Kurdish people in their struggle, both in Kobane and in the rest of Kurdistan. However, it is also our duty to point out that the only way to success is not through narrow nationalism but through international socialism. It is for this reason that we call on the leaders of the Kurdish nation, the PYD, PKK, BDP and HDP, to sever their ties and stop their futile haggling with the Turkish bourgeois state. We call on the leaders of the Kurds to dispense with any illusions they may have with the USA as a saviour. We ask these leaders to call over the heads of the Turkish bourgeoisie to the workers and progressive elements in Turkish society to rebel against their own governments in the face of the atrocities being perpetrated.
The Kurdish people must place no confidence in any imperialist coalition. Neither the US nor Europe will do anything to achieve a genuine homeland for the Kurds. And Turkey will only use the Kurds to push forward its own interests in the region. What is required is an organised effort of the Kurdish workers and peasants with the support of their Turkish brothers and sisters.
The Turkish government is the enemy of both Turkish and Kurdish workers. The Kurdish people must seek and win the support of the Turkish working class and forge an alliance against the two faced and repressive Turkish state. So long as the bourgeois regime in Turkey remains in power it will use all its resources to deny the Kurds their basic democratic rights. In the final analysis a solution to the Kurdish question can only be achieved through an all Middle eastern revolution, that can put an end to all the despotic capitalists regimes in the region.