Where is the international embrace of this courageous and proud new nation?
Rojava’s emergence –and success– is an extraordinary testament to what can be done with a clear, unyielding commitment to civil liberties, gender equality, and secular governance — even in the face of war, unspeakable atrocities and genocide, and international obstruction and indifference.
The problem, of course, is the nascent, nation of Rojava is clearly a wrench in the works in the ongoing project to destabilize, dismantle, dissolve and ultimately destroy the nation – states of the Middle East.
Teenage Muslim girls are laying waste to ISIS jihadists in northern Syria. A made-for-Hollywood moment, ignored by the media. And our Western ‘leaders’ hang them out to dry.
Historical and Investigative Research – 28 March 2016 (last revised, 2016.04.07) by Francisco Gil-White (research credit: Nigel Waddington) http://www.hirhome.com/iraniraq/rojava-revolution-01.htm
Picture this. Emancipated Muslim girls. And women. With guns. Training in the hills. Crawling in the brush. Fighting door to door. Fighting together with supportive, democratic, egalitarian Muslim men. Fighting to defend their rights and freedoms. Pushing ISIS back. Making ISIS run! Setting the Syrians free, one town at a time. Hailing the Syrians, Muslims and others, to their banner: freedom and democracy. Inspiring Westerners to come and fight the forces of darkness.
What a great fantasy novel! you say. Where can I buy it? Who is the author?
But this amazing story, one that no novelist has yet imagined, is fact—not fiction—in northern Syria. It is the story of the Rojava Revolution, perhaps the most democratic, gender-equal movement in the entire world, led by the—mostly Muslim!—Syrian Kurds.
It’s an anomaly.
As the fictional Dr. House—imagined as Sherlock Holmes in the hospital—always points out to his underlings: anomalies contain important clues. To understand the system under study, we must pay attention to them. Cherish them. This is one reason (among many) to cherish the anomalous Rojava Revolution in northern Syria.
If we wish to understand the world geopolitical system, and in particular US—and more broadly Western—foreign policy in Syria and the wider Middle East, we would do well to study the Rojava Revolution. For Western policy towards this movement, and towards its archenemy, ISIS, can teach us a great deal about Western power-elite ideology, intentions, and goals. We have here an interesting and useful natural experiment that may help us decide between competing geopolitical theories.
To properly appreciate the Rojava Revolution, we must begin with its surrounding context. That’s ISIS.
After ISIS apparently claimed responsibility for another major terrorist attack, this time in Brussels (22 March 2016), I was interviewed on Milenio TV (Mexico). I was asked: Can the attack in Belgium be interpreted as evidence that the fight against terrorism is failing and ISIS is winning the war? As with so many questions that are put to me, I could not answer it, for I was forced to dispute the premise. The attack in Belgium, I replied, justifies a different question: Are the Western power elites really fighting ISIS?
This question is fair, particularly if you consider that ISIS was a direct consequence of US (and secondarily British and French) policy.
As HIR documented in an earlier article, ISIS emerged from the US military prison system in Iraq, where the mingling of criminals led to secular Baathists (originally non-religious fascists) acquiring jihadi radicalism, and jihadi radicals acquiring Baathist organizational skills. Result: Al Qaeda in Iraq, which soon became ISIS.
Is this what the US power elite wanted?
This sort of question is supposed to be absurd. Of course not! And yet, to the expressed astonishment of former prison detainees (some of them defectors from Al Qaeda in Iraq), the US authorities running this enormous prison system allowed secular Iraqis and jihadists to mix, and tolerated a takeover of the prison’s social life by a jihadist regime that coerced any newcomers into its ideology. As the prisons burgeoned to overflowing they became Islamist/terrorist schools—the man in charge, Maj. General Douglas Stone, himself called it “jihadi university.”
After five years—a bachelor’s degree—“jihadi university” was closed down and its graduates were simply let go. Running free, ISIS criminals caused a civil war in Iraq that spread to Syria.
Claiming to have discovered ‘democrats’ among the ‘Syrian rebels,’ the US announced it would seek ‘regime change.’ But according to a key military intelligence document, since made public, the Pentagon knew the Syrian ‘rebels’ to be a combination of ISIS and surrogates of other jihadi powers.
And yet the specific ‘rebels’ under the US, British, and French collective wing—the Syrian National Council (SNC) and its military branch, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)—were apparently not Islamist enough, for these Western powers took the trouble to reorganize them, after which Islamists dominated both groups. Once equipped with US-sponsored training and weapons, the reorganized FSA defected en masse to ISIS.
For her part, German chancellor Angela Merkel decided to import a staggering multitude of Syrian ‘refugees’ (most of them combat-age men) into Europe, in fact declaring that she would not limit their number. No rocket scientists were needed to point out that ISIS terrorists claiming to be ‘refugees’ would be entering Europe by the cartload—but Merkel persevered.
Such large investments justify the hypothesis that the Western power elites wanted ISIS.
The competing hypothesis says no: they simply ‘goofed’; yes, it turned out bad, but they faced an impossible situation with scant alternative (besides, they are not too bright). This is the dominant hypothesis, which you may confirm by opening almost any mainstream media or academic publication. It never appears as a hypothesis, however, but as an obvious truth, and as such it is never defended.
In order to do geopolitical science, we must not prejudicially pronounce any particular hypothesis as the winner before it has survived some interesting challenges. The most obvious challenge to the dominant hypothesis begins with a question: Was there really no obvious alternative to the Western policies that gave birth to ISIS?
Yes, there was.
First, after some press reports mentioned the complaints of Iraqi ex-detainees about how mixing everybody together in the US military prisons amounted to a recruitment program for the jihadi terrorists, General Stone announced that he would now separate the jihadists from the rest. So this policy was an available alternative. But Stone began doing this just a few months before dismantling the prison system. Why not earlier?
Second, when the prison system was closed, and the criminals were let go, the local sheiks and the Iraqi government protested loudly. They asked for the relevant intelligence on the worst criminals so they could arrest them and keep them in jail. So this policy was an available alternative. But the US insisted on releasing them.
Third, given that Angela Merkel and other European Union stalwarts were willing to foot the bill for absorbing vast numbers of Syrian refugees, they could have simply paid for their resettlement closer to their Syrian home, making support to other Middle Eastern countries in the fight against ISIS conditional on their receiving the Syrian refugees. So there was a conceivable alternative. Why wasn’t it even attempted?
Finally, were the US, Britain, and France really forced to choose between evils in the Syrian civil war? Was there no alternative to supporting jihadi terrorists against fascist dictators and other jihadi terrorists? Wasn’t there a truly democratic force in that war that they might have championed? There was. The Western powers could have supported the Rojava Revolution in northern Syria. But they didn’t.
Who are the Rojavans?
|Women fighters of the Rojavan YPJ|
The Rojava Revolution, led by the Syrian ethnic Kurds (most of whom are of Muslim faith) but including also Assyrians, Arabs, Armenian Christians, and others, is a movement in northern Syria that, starting from the principle—almost unheard of in the Muslim world—of full equality between men and women, aims to build a democratic and liberal society based on widespread participation, limited power, and the abolition of all forms of ethnic and religious intolerance.
At core is the idea of “democratic confederalism,” which Abdullah Öcalan, its libertarian ideologue, explains “is open towards other political groups and factions. It is flexible, multi-cultural, anti-monopolistic, and consensus-oriented.” Accordingly, the Rojavan constitution stipulates autonomous cantons, and calls for “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.” In line with strict gender egalitarianism, “The Legislative Assembly must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex.”
The fighting forces of the Rojava movement are the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) which in Kurdish means People’s Protection (or Defense) Units, and the Yekîneyên Parastina Jin (YPJ) or Women’s Protection Units. The latter is an all-female force that works together with the YPG. YPG and YPJ officers are elected by the rank and file. Women soldiers, in particular, have become important not only as a symbol of gender equality but also as a special battlefield asset, for ISIS soldiers apparently are quite scared that a woman—to them, a ‘subhuman’—might kill them, as this would mean going to hell instead of paradise.
The Rojavans have done better than hold ISIS off—in fact, ISIS is running scared, and the Rojavans have made significant territorial gains at the Islamists’ expense, and appear to be much better at this than any other group in Syria.
The Rojavans have accomplished all this under extremely difficult circumstances. Outgunned by ISIS and various other Islamist groups, the land-locked Rojavans must also contend with a severe economic blockade imposed by the Turkish state.
|Map of Syria (modified from Wikipedia), showing the Rojava region in the north, as two separate territorial units (in yellow).|
So why didn’t the Western power elites, from the beginning, support the Rojavans? One answer might go like this.
Ever since the Turkish state decided to abolish Kurdish language, identity, and culture (it even became a punishable crime to say ‘I am a Kurd’),[5a] the Kurds in Turkey have had an on-off violent conflict with the Turkish state. The Turkish government is worried that the newly-found autonomy of the Rojava Kurds may inspire the Turkish Kurds, who may be as much as 30% of the Turkish population. This would threaten the integrity of the Turkish state. They are equally worried about the autonomous Kurds in Iraq, who also share a border with Turkey. For this reason, Turkey has a policy to impede the formation of autonomous Kurdish proto-states, both in Iraq and Syria. Thus, since the Western—NATO—power elites are allied with Turkey, a NATO member state, it is awkward for them to support Rojava.
|Map showing the geographical distribution of Kurds along Turkey’s southern border.|
That is all well and good. But ‘not supporting Rojava’ is not the same thing as ‘supporting ISIS.’ NATO powers, including Turkey, have supported ISIS.
Why does that make sense? Well it makes perfect sense to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s current president, former prime minister, and the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Because Erdogan appears to be an Islamist.
“The AKP was established in the ashes of the Welfare Party, a blatantly Islamic vehicle that Mr Erdogan served as mayor of Istanbul. The re-engineered AK Party depicted itself as the Muslim equivalent of the centre-right Christian Democracy parties of Europe” (my emphasis).
Nobody much seems to believe the AKP’s new claim to be a modern, secular—albeit conservative—democratic party. It is widely considered to be an Islamist Trojan Horse, and there is no question that, under its rule, more and more laws consistent with Sharia or Muslim religious law have been enacted in Turkey. This almost led Turkey’s highest court to ban the party in 2008 (but the AKP solved that in 2010 by eliminating the independence of the judiciary).
As HIR has shown, there is simply no question that the Muslim Brotherhood is a jihadist organization, so it matters that the AKP is a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, as this justifies the claim that AKP’s avowed commitment to secular, democratic politics is a thorough con.
And the relationship between the Turkish AKP and the Muslim Brotherhood is of great relevance to the Syrian conflict. For though the Western media tried mightily to insist, in the beginning, that Syria was the stage for ‘another’ democratic ‘Arab Spring,’ the claim is as dubious in this case as in others. For the main sponsor and agent of these ‘Arab Springs’ has been none other than the Muslim Brotherhood, as was made painfully clear in the case of Egypt.
In Syria it is the same. As far back as 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood was staging large uprisings in Syria, and attempting already to take over.[7a] In 2005, the New York Times wrote that “the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood [is] the most popular organization among Syria’s majority Sunnis.” Later that same year the Times wrote—now quite disingenuously—that, “an unusually diverse collection of politicians and activists” were calling for ‘democracy’ in Syria, and among them was “the London-based Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Syria for more than two decades but is believed to enjoy continuing popular support.”[7b] But if the Muslim Brotherhood was already the most popular organization in the largest Syrian demographic, then it was not simply one more organization among many—it was leading the supposed call for ‘democracy.’ Just as in Egypt, the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria was never what the Western media claimed.
Since Turkey is so friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood, it matters that the Brotherhood is quite friendly with ISIS.[7c] It matters, too, that the US power elite also appears quite friendly with the Muslim Brotherhood. And look: the CIA weapons for the ‘Syrian opposition’ were “funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood,” to be received by the Free Syrian Army, which, after Obama’s reorganization, ended up with a “composition… two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.” These are the weapons that ended up in ISIS hands when the Free Syrian Army joined ISIS en masse.
But Erdogan doesn’t merely serve as a channel for US help to ISIS. His AKP government has been a major direct sponsor of these radical Islamists.
As a Washington Post investigation detailed, ISIS fighters used “the border region of a NATO member—Turkey—as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war.” They were also healed in Turkish hospitals. But that is not all. According to a team of researchers from the United States, Europe, and Turkey, led by David L. Phillips (a former Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of State), the Turkish government also provided ISIS with military cooperation, weapons, logistical support, and financial assistance. Not impressed yet? Consider this: “On Sept. 20, 2014, Demir Celik, a Member of [the Turkish] Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), stated that Turkish Special Forces had joined ISIS in the battlefield.”
The Washington Post will have you believe that this was all because Erdogan was “eager to aid any and all enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” But Erdogan did not eagerly aid the Rojavans—the only secular democrats in the region. Quite to the contrary.
In fact, Turkey threatened the Rojavans with dire consequences if they crossed West of the Euphrates river. Why? Well, because if they do this (which they have now done), they may succeed in uniting their territory with the—also Rojavan—territory of the Afrin Canton, and if that happens, they will seal ISIS off from Turkey (see map).
If that were not quite enough, Turkey has also shelled the Rojavans.
It makes sense, because the Rojavans represent the most democratic Muslim movement—perhaps the most democratic movement, period; and Erdogan and the AKP, godfathers to ISIS, are lightly disguised jihadists. But the political grammar is getting tricky, because Turkey is now supposedly fighting ISIS!
The political grammar is especially tricky for the US power elite. Why have they been supporting ISIS? Are they also covert jihadists in democratic clothing?
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True, the US power elite has made a few pro-Rojava statements, and they have even helped a little (for example, there were some US airstrikes to help the Rojavans hold Kobane). But we must look closer: the Rojavans were not invited to the recent ‘peace talks’ in Geneva. The terrorists did go! And the US has officially frowned on Rojava’s declaration of autonomy.
In our hypothesis, the limited US assistance is a grammatical forcing. As Westerners find out about the Rojavans, they fall in love, and turn them into a cause célèbre, forcing the power elites—grammatically—to pronounce themselves in favor. But we must look closer: these same power elites are still assisting—and more vigorously—Rojava’s Islamist enemies. Consider what The Spectator reports:
“…the US-led coalition is bombing in aid of a Syrian [Rojavan] Kurdish militia called the YPG, the most effective ground force against Isis… They are advancing not just against Isis but against a range of rebel groups, including some armed by the Americans. In Syria, the US is involved in a proxy war against itself.”
It seems to us, despite the tepid pro-Rojava noises heard recently from some US officials, that the geopolitical picture is anti-Rojava. The Rojavans will be sacrificed, just like Republican Spain was sacrificed in the prelude to World War II. If and when that happens, the—grammatically obligatory—narrative will be that they could not succeed, that the terrorists did them in, etc. But look closely, and I predict that you will find a combined Western/Turkish policy to destroy the budding—and amazing—Rojava proto-state.
If we wish for a different outcome, we must raise our voices in favor of these Muslim democrats. As was the case for Spain, a lot is at stake. We will explain that in a piece to follow.
FOOTNOTES AND FURTHER READING
 “Quiet Capitulation: Merkel Slowly Changes Tune on Refugee Issue”; Spiegel Online International; 20 November 2015; by Melanie Amann http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/angela-merkel-changes-her-stance-on-refugee-limits-a-1063773.html
 This is enunciated in the preamble of the Rojavan ‘Charter of the Social Contract’ (Constitution) which states:
“We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens, freely and solemnly declare and establish this Charter, which has been drafted according to the principles of Democratic Autonomy.
In pursuit of freedom, justice, dignity and democracy and led by principles of equality and environmental sustainability, the Charter proclaims a new social contract, based upon mutual and peaceful coexistence and understanding between all strands of society. It protects fundamental human rights and liberties and reaffirms the peoples’ right to self-determination.
Under the Charter, we, the people of the Autonomous Regions, unite in the spirit of reconciliation, pluralism and democratic participation so that all may express themselves freely in public life. In building a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs, the Charter recognizes Syria’s territorial integrity and aspires to maintain domestic and international peace.
In establishing this Charter, we declare a political system and civil administration founded upon a social contract that reconciles the rich mosaic of Syria through a transitional phase from dictatorship, civil war and destruction, to a new democratic society where civic life and social justice are preserved.”
 Öcalan, Abdullah. 2011. Democratic Confederalism. Transmedia Publishing Ltd. (p. 21). http://www.freeocalan.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ocalan-Democratic-Confederalism.pdf
 As enunciated in Article 47 of the Rojavan ‘Charter of the Social Contract’ (Constitution), which states:
“There shall be one member of the Supreme Legislature Council per fifteen thousand (15,000) registered voters residing within the Autonomous Region. The Legislative Assembly must be composed of at least forty per cent (40%) of either sex according to the electoral laws. The representation of the Syriac community, as well as youth representation in the election lists, is governed by electoral laws.”
 “A member of the group seated next to the leader intervened and said they are ‘a democratic popular militia’ because they elect their own officers in their units coming from the different neighbourhoods.”
‘We all get together and we run elections from within and then elect who the comrades think is good for the job,’ he said.”
SOURCE: “A Rare Glimpse into Kurdish Armed Forces in Syrian Kurdistan”; Ekurd Daily; 6 August 2012; By Rozh Ahmad http://ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/8/syriakurd578.htm
[5a] “Veli Bayrak, a prominent Kurdish writer and journalist, told Al-Monitor, ‘I grew up in a suburb of Ankara where there is a sizable Kurdish population, so I did not feel strongly discriminated against in my neighborhood. However, for the same reason our community was the target of harsher police tactics. While growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I witnessed people being arrested because they owned Kurdish music recordings or papers in Kurdish.”
SOURCE: “Kurdish identity becomes more acceptable in Turkish society”; Al Monitor; 22 September 2014; by Pinar Tremblay http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/09/turkey-krg-iraq-kurds-anti-kurdish-discourse-hdp.html#
“Seraffettin Elçi, and ethnic Kurd and former public works minister, summed up the situation by stating that,
When I was a minister and stated in public I was a Kurd, the whole society was shaken. It was treated as a manifesto. The whole state was in turmoil, and I was punished under article 142. Now, when someone says he is a Kurd there is no reaction. Things have changed, but this doesn’t mean that ‘Kurdishness’ has a legal status.”
SOURCE: Human Rights Watch. 1999. Violations of Free Expression in Turkey. New York: Human Rights Watch. (p.95)
 “Turkish court considers ban on ruling party hours after blasts”; The Daily Telegraph (London); 29 July 2008; NEWS; International; Pg. 13; by Damien McElroy
“The ‘Hidden’ That Never Was: After a decade of undisputed power, AKP can no longer be accused of pursuing a hidden agenda. The agenda was never hidden; it was actually obvious”; Reflections Turkey; May 2012; by Nebil Ilseven http://www.reflectionsturkey.com/?p=436
 “Support for Muslim Brotherhood isolates Turkey”; Deutsche Welle; 21 August 2013; by Ayhan Simsek http://www.dw.com/en/support-for-muslim-brotherhood-isolates-turkey/a-17037906
[7a] “Syrians unite under fire from Assad clan’s ‘ghost’ militia”; The Sunday Times (London), April 3, 2011 Sunday, NEWS; Pg. 24, 593 words, Hugh Macleod ; Uzi Mahnaimi
“Memory of 1982 massacre casts a pall over Hama, Syria, as town rebuilds”; Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), March 27, 1984, Tuesday, International; Pg. 7, 698 words, By Conyers A. Moye, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
[7b] “U.N. is expected to pass measure pressuring Syria”; The New York Times; October 31, 2005; Monday, Section A; Column 6; Foreign Desk; Pg. 1, 1264 words, By WARREN HOGE and STEVEN R. WEISMAN
“Syria’s Opposition Unites Behind a Call for Democratic Changes”; The New York Times; 20 October 2005 Thursday; Late Edition – Final; BYLINE: By KATHERINE ZOEPF; SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Foreign Desk; Pg. 15; LENGTH: 574 words; DATELINE: DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 19
[7c] “The link between Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS”; posted by Eman Nabih; last updated 31 January 2016 http://www.emannabih.com/the-link-between-muslim-brotherhood-and-isis/
 “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition”; New York Times; 21 June 2012; Page A1; by Eric Schmitt http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?_r=0
 “Syrian rebels elect head of new military command”; 8 December 2012; Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/08/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE8B70AJ20121208
 “In Turkey, a late crackdown on Islamist fighters”; The Washington Post; 12 August 2014; by Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/how-turkey-became-the-shopping-mall-for-the-islamic-state/2014/08/12/5eff70bf-a38a-4334-9aa9-ae3fc1714c4b_story.html
 “Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey Links”; Columbia University in the City of New York, Institute for the Study of Human Rights; 9 November 2014 (updated 7 March 2016); by David L. Phillips http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-l-phillips/research-paper-isis-turke_b_6128950.html
 “Syrian Democratic Forces Cross over the Euphrates and Turkey’s ‘Red Line’ ”; Kurdish Question, ANF-Kobane; 26 December 2015 http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/west-kurdistan/syrian-democratic-forces-cross-over-the-euphrates-and-turkey-s-red-line/1301-syrian-democratic-forces-cross-over-the-euphrates-and-turkey-s-red-line.html
 “Turkey shells Kurdish-held air base in Syria’s Aleppo; Bombardment comes after Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu says Ankara may take military action against Syrian Kurdish fighters”; Al Jazeera; 15 February 2016; by Diana al Rifai http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/turkey-shells-kurdish-held-airbase-syria-aleppo-160213160929706.html
 “Syria airstrikes: everything you need to know”; The Guardian; 1 December 2015; by Matthew Weaver and Julian Borger http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/01/syria-airstrikes-everything-you-need-to-know
 “UN snubs most powerful Kurdish group at Geneva talks”; Al Jazeera; 30 January 2016; by Basma Atassi http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/01/snubs-powerful-kurdish-group-geneva-talks-160130192756199.html
 “The myth of the plucky Kurdish warrior: Our favourite allies in Iraq and Syria have problems and divisions of their own”; The Spectator; 27 February 2016; by Paul Wood http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/02/the-myth-of-the-plucky-kurdish-warrior/