Cliché or not, the phrase “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains” rings depressingly true. US President Donald Trump’s gross betrayal of the Rojava Kurds — followed by a dirty deal between Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin — fits into a century-long history of duplicity and complicity by the outside world. The Kurds have been described as the world’s largest stateless nation, and this melancholy truism has been made possible only by the betrayals of the so-called international community.
 Turkish Imperialism
In 1919, the Kurds in the former Ottoman territories were promised a free vote on self-determination. It came to naught and has been followed by a century of oppression in the post-Ottoman lands. In 1946, the world powers conspired to allow Iran to crush the short-lived Mahabad Republic in East Kurdistan. Turkey has been a prison house of nations, but the world’s governments have acted like the Three Wise Monkeys: seeing no evil, hearing no evil, and never speaking of the evil perpetrated by the Turkish state.
Turkey’s Orwellian “Operation Peace Spring” is an act of wanton aggression. The chairs of the foreign affairs committees of the parliaments of Germany, France, the UK, the European Parliament and the House of Representatives of the United States have condemned it as “a violation of international law”. Amnesty International reports that Turkish forces and their jihadi proxies are guilty of war crimes against the civilian population. Turkish warplanes have used napalm and phosphorus bombs and the jihadis have summarily executed civilians — in violation of all the rules of war. In one instance, Erdoğan’s thugs dragged Professor Hevrin Khalaf (the leader of the Future Syria Party) from her car and shot her and her driver. They filmed the murders and posted them on social media. Turkish media gloatingly reported the crime.
Such vile acts are not the isolated actions of rogue units. They are designed to strike fear into the Rojava population and cause them to flee their homes in line with Erdoğan’s stated objective of displacing the Kurds and replacing them with non-Kurdish refugees from elsewhere in Syria. This is a declaration of intent to commit a crime against humanity and Trump and Putin have allowed him to get away with it. Neither have ever stood up for human rights and democratic values in their own countries or abroad.
In 1994, a U.N. Commission of Experts condemned “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia, where antagonists sought to “render…an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area." The Commission concluded that such acts can “constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.” If the Turkish autocrat ever finds himself in the dock at the International Criminal Court, Trump and Putin will be named as his accomplices.
Erdoğan’s crimes fall into a pattern stretching back over a century to the dying days of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish Republic. Demographic social engineering is in the DNA of the Turkish state. On the eve of World War I, the Young Turks sketched out a blueprint for an ethnically homogenous Turkish state. Under what they called a ten (sometimes five) percent rule, non-Turkish people could number no more than one in ten of the inhabitants of towns on the Anatolian peninsula and the remaining Turkish territories in Europe.
Following the outbreak of war, this racist policy escalated into a genocidal assault on the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christian populations, in which as many as one-and-a-half million people were killed. Successive Turkish governments have denied these crimes and indeed have made it a punishable offence to admit they happened—as if Germany were to make it a crime to admit the Holocaust!
After 1923, the leaders of the Turkish Republic continued policies of cultural and at times physical genocide against the country’s Kurdish population. Flouting the stipulations of the Treaty of Lausanne, which granted official status to Kurdish and other languages, the Republican leaders banned the Kurdish language and culture. Indeed, it was made a crime to describe oneself as a Kurd—the “correct” term was “Mountain Turk”. Shamefully, the world let President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his successors get away with it.
The pattern of anti-Kurdish repression has been replicated in Iran and the other Middle Eastern countries created in the former Ottoman territories by British and French imperialism. Hafez-al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian dictator, also carried out forced assimilation and demographic engineering. Syria’s official name is the Syrian Arab Republic, which belies the existence of significant ethnic minorities such as the Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, and Turkmen.
 Democratic Confederalism
In 2015, partly to divert attention from his own corruption, and partly due to his visceral Kurdophobia, Erdoğan sabotaged the peace process with the Kurdish guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Erdoğan did so despite a rethink on the national question by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Originally formed as an orthodox “Marxist-Leninist” organisation, the PKK fought a long and bloody war against the Turkish military to create an independent Kurdish state. Öcalan argued that the PKK should aim for autonomy and create a “democratic confederalist” system of grassroots democracy, secularism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and respect for women. The PKK accepted the new philosophy and sought a dialogue with the regime.
Erdoğan, however, feared democratic confederalism perhaps even more than Kurdish separatism.
Whereas he could whip up Turkish chauvinist hysteria against a Kurdish insurrection, it was more difficult to do so against a movement and a philosophy that promised to unite people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Erdoğan was also plotting to entrench himself as an authoritarian Islamist strongman and dreamed of restoring Ottoman power in the region.
In 2016, he used a failed coup by disgruntled army officers as a pretext to destroy what democratic space had opened up in Turkey. He concentrated enormous executive power in his own hands, diluted legislative power and eliminated all trace of an independent judiciary. His aim was to transform his country into a dictatorial Islamist state. Independent media has virtually ceased to exist and elections are rigged to ensure maximum success for his so-called Justice and Development Party. He has jailed tens of thousands of real and imagined enemies, including democrats, socialists, trade unionists and intellectuals.
He also launched a reign of terror in the Kurdish heartlands of Turkey’s southeast, using troops and military aviation against Kurdish towns. He was spooked by the electoral successes of the pro-Kurdish, leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP). He jailed Selahattin Demirtaş and other central HDP leaders and closed down local administrations run by the party in Kurdish towns.
Erdoğan has been terrified by progressive developments in Rojava since 2012 because they show that “another world is possible”; that there is an alternative to the reactionary Islamism and national chauvinism that he espouses. We can forget the trite formula repeated ad nauseum in world media that “Turkey considers the YPG [People’s Protection Units in Rojava] to be an extension of the PKK” and that, therefore, in Scott Morrison’s weasel words, Erdoğan has “legitimate concerns” over what happens in Syria.
Although Australia and the United States list the PKK as a terrorist organisation, it has never posed the slightest threat to either country, or indeed to any country outside of the Turkish state. It is supported by millions of Kurdish people as a movement of national liberation. As mentioned above, the PKK has rethought its aims and philosophy, and it was Erdoğan who broke the ceasefire and the process of rapprochement between the Turkish state and the guerrillas for his own squalid personal ends.
 The Syrian Civil War
In early 2011, mass popular resistance to the Assad dictatorship broke out across Syria as part of the Arab Spring. Although Syria’s Kurdish population were initially sympathetic, by mid-2012 it was clear that the upsurge was being hijacked by reactionary Islamists. The Kurds denounced the Islamists and disarmed Assad army units and escorted them to the border of Rojava. Although the Rojava Kurds are ideologically aligned with the PKK, they are organisationally independent. From 2012, they began to put Öcalan’s democratic-confederalist ideas into practice. The system they began building is not perfect, but it stands out as a beacon of enlightenment in a region marked by dictatorship, oppressive patriarchy and virulent ethnic and religious sectarianism. As the prize-winning Kurdish writer Behrouz Boochani argues, “[Rojava] is the most progressive and democratic system in the history of the Middle East [so] this attack is not only an attack on Kurds, it is an attack on democracy and democratic values”.
Caught up in an increasingly brutal civil war, there was little Assad or the Syrian jihadis could do about the Rojava Revolution. It also enraged Erdoğan because it was an example of how the Middle East could be reorganised. It is possible that he might have invaded at the time, but in the event, the meteoric rise of the Islamic State—ISIS—saved him the trouble.
ISIS, which was originally the Iraqi affiliate of al-Qaeda, was a bastard product of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2014, after it had been disowned for its extreme brutality by its parent organisation, it crushed the Iraqi army and declared a “caliphate” in Syria. Mass executions of captured Iraqi soldiers were a grim portent of its genocidal intentions. According to its twisted dogmas, anyone who opposed its ultra-Salafist version of Islam was an infidel or a traitor and deserved enslavement or the sword. With heavy weapons captured from the Iraqi army, and advised by former officers of Saddam Hussein’s military, it swept into Syria, attempting to wipe out the Yezidi Kurds on the way. In the opinion of the UN, the killings of the Yezidis were on such a scale that they merit the term of genocide. Only the intervention of the Kurdish fighters from Rojava and Turkey saved them from complete annihilation.
By late 2014, ISIS fighters had advanced to the gates of the Kurdish city of Kobanî, which lies on the border between Syria and Turkey. It seemed that the city’s lightly armed YPG and YPJ fighters would be overwhelmed by a fanatical enemy armed with tanks and heavy artillery. But the Kurds resisted desperately, and the US, realising that they were the only force capable of repelling ISIS, began to drop weapons and supplies. The siege was lifted and the Kurdish fighters steadily drove back the invaders and defeated the so-called caliphate at Raqqa earlier this year. The victory came at a terrible cost for the Kurds—11,000 of their young people died in a war that benefited the whole of humanity.
Although the world celebrated the victory and hailed the Kurds and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces for crushing a vile regime, the Turkish government was deeply unhappy with the outcome. Their tanks and soldiers had lined the frontier at Kobanî during the siege not so as to intervene against ISIS, but to block support for the city’s defenders. In fact, Erdoğan had permitted ISIS to set up medical facilities and rest stations on Turkish soil. Erdoğan’s own family sold oil from ISIS-controlled fields and there is evidence that Turkish military intelligence conspired with the terror gang.
Only the presence of US troops prevented the Turkish government from attacking Rojava and expelling the Kurdish population from their homes. As the world knows, however, earlier this month, US President Trump began to pull out the remaining US troops and gave the green light to Erdoğan to invade. Trump’s betrayal was followed up late this October when Erdoğan made a deal with Putin at Sochi to further sell out the Kurds.
 The Spanish Civil War of Our Age
It is unclear at this stage what will happen next, but things look ominous for Rojava. It is as if the Kurds are walking a tightrope suspended above a raging sea full of whirlpools, rocks, and sharks. They are confronted by the second largest army in NATO, which is armed with high-tech weapons of mass destruction supplied by US and European merchants of death. America has abandoned them and Russia, which backs Assad, is no friend of the Kurds, democracy, or human rights.
Although the Australian Senate has rightly voted to call for Turkish withdrawal and Prime Minister Morrison expresses mild disapproval of their actions, words alone will not deter the Turkish strongman. He is a bully who respects only force. Turkish aggression must be met with the strongest possible diplomatic and economic sanctions. The Kurds have asked for the creation of a No Fly Zone along Rojava’s border with Turkey and Australia must demand that the United Nations listens to their plea and stands up to any Russian or US veto.
The conflict in Rojava is the Spanish Civil War of our age. The Kurds and their allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces resisted genocide and defeated ISIS, only for Trump to abandon them to another fascist enemy that is the antithesis of everything Rojava stands for. Albert Camus sorrowed over the defeat of the Spanish Republic. He wrote “Men of my generation have had Spain in our hearts. It was there that they learned…that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, and that there are times when courage is not rewarded”. We cannot allow a repeat of that tragedy in Rojava. Everyone who loves peace, freedom, and human progress, and who respects women, multiculturalism, and democracy, must stand behind Rojava’s defenders and shout No Pasarán!—They shall not pass! Rojava must remain in our hearts and we cannot allow its enemies to win.