A Sober View on the US-YPG Affair
By: Paul Antonopoulos – CSS Project Director; MENA and Latin America Research Fellow.
he most confusing aspect of the Syrian conflict has been the response from most of the Western Left and anti-imperialist organisations. Whereas most post-colonial states and their respective Leftist Parties, as well as former Soviet states, have supported the Syrian government from the onset of the war, the majority of Western Leftist groups, with the exception of a small number of non-Trotskyite communist organisations, have supported reactionary militant groups in Syria.
The Western Left look at the war in Syria as an internal revolution by progressive forces to overthrow a brutal dictatorship, while the majority of the Left in post-Colonial states recognise the external factors and imperial ambitions occurring in Syria. Whereas the Western Left masquerades as anti-imperialist, they refuse to acknowledge imperialistic designs on Syria from the United States, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. For this reason, it is only ample that they are referred to as the “Imperial Left”.
As most of the Imperial Left in the West do not have historical memories of being colonised by imperial powers, they generally view the world through the paradigm of only a class struggle between Capitalists and Workers. Therefore, with the eruption of the Syrian War, they failed to acknowledge the external factors at play and believed it to be a Workers’ struggle against a dictatorship that tolerated a bourgeois class. This simplistic view of not acknowledging external factors also meant the Imperial Left’s support for the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi. It is through this simplistic mechanism that the Imperial Left apply their White Saviour Complex and view the post-colonial world as consisting of two types of people – dictators and victims.
It is the enthusiasm for the YPG to play the part of victims that has won the hearts of the Imperial Left. The YPG are presented as resisting against extremist groups, especially ISIS, and against the so-called brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad. By having women pose with guns and Che Guevara flags, they are presented as a progressive force with Marxist and secular values. Whereas the US was contradictory by supporting a branch of an organisation they identify as a terrorist organisation, the YPG are contradictory by presenting themselves as anti-imperialist Marxists but are a wholly reliant and allied to the US Empire. The Imperial Left ignore this contradiction and continue to support the YPG blindly.
The YPG have made it clear that they want to federalise Syria, with more extreme elements within the organisation wanting complete independence. Although the YPG claim to be tolerant of ethnic minorities, reality has seen the murder of Assyrians in Qamishli and Arab villages being ethnically cleansed. In addition to the goals of separatism and ethnic cleansing, the Imperial Left ignore that the YPG also use child soldiers. The YPG have not even attempted to hide the fact that they use child soldiers and often publish poster displays of child martyrs.
A father of a 14-year-old girl near the northern Syrian city of Qamishli revealed how his daughter went to fight with the YPG. He states: “My daughter went to school and was taken from there by a group of YPJ. We knew nothing about her until a YPJ commander called and informed us that she had joined YPJ (Human Rights Watch, 2015).” On 5 July 2015, the YPG issued a circular to commanders and heads of recruiting centres saying they were not to recruit or accept anyone under 18 and those who fail to comply will face “maximum disciplinary measures (Ibid).”
However, the US, in its annual report on human trafficking, stated that:
“Despite having signed a pledge of commitment with an international organization in June 2014 to demobilize all fighters younger than 18 years old, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) recruited and trained children as young as 12 years old in 2016 (U.S. Department of State, 2017).”
Bias cannot be questioned, considering that the YPG are the closest allies to the US in Syria, and their startling revelations have revealed the continuous use of child soldiers in Syria. The Imperial Left choose to ignore this gross war crime by the YPG.
They also choose to ignore their implementation of ethnic cleansing. Amnesty International researchers visited 14 towns and villages in al-Hasakeh and al-Raqqa provinces in northern Syria, controlled by the YPG, in July and August 2015 to investigate the forced displacement of residents and demolition of homes (Amnesty International, 2015). The United Nations, however, countered the claim made by Amnesty International, stating that:
“Though allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ continued to be received during the period under review, the Commission found no evidence to substantiate claims that the YPG or the SDF ever targeted Arab communities on the basis of ethnicity, nor that YPG cantonal authorities systematically sought to change the demographic composition of territories under their control through the commission of violations directed against any particular ethnic group. Across northern Syria, SDF or YPG forces displaced communities in order to clear areas mined by ISIS during their withdrawal (Antonopoulos, 2017).”
However, the evidence is that only Arab communities were evacuated under the guise that they were going to be targeted by US-led coalition aircrafts, and Amnesty International provided satellite imagery that showed entire building blocks destroyed that were not a result of fighting against ISIS (Amnesty International, 2015). One such satellite image showed the scale of the demolitions in Husseiniya village with 225 buildings standing in June 2014 but only 14 remaining in June 2015 – a shocking reduction of 93.8% (Ibid). One eye witness stated: “They pulled us out of our homes and began burning the home… they brought the bulldozers… They demolished home after home until the entire village was destroyed (Ibid).”
The towns were destroyed as the YPG believe that Arabs in the region are sympathetic towards and supporters of ISIS. This provides the pretext for the YPG to ethnically cleanse non-Kurdish villages and towns, creating a demographic shift in their favour. Once again, the Imperial Left deny these war crimes and ethnic cleansing and still see the YPG as a progressive and tolerant force, when in reality their aims are for a homogenous Kurdish state.
The most confusing aspect of the Imperial Left’s support for the YPG is the contradiction of US support for the militia group. The Imperial Left champions themselves as a progressive movement that is anti-imperialist; however, the YPG, who also portray themselves as a Marxist-Leninist group, are wholly reliant on the greatest imperial power in the world today, the United States. This contradiction is overlooked by the Imperial Left who directly support Washington’s foreign policy against Syria….
Amnesty International. (2015) SYRIA: US ALLY’S RAZING OF VILLAGES AMOUNTS TO WAR CRIMES, [online] 13 October. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2015/10/syria-us-allys-razing-of-villages-amounts-to-war-crimes/ [accessed 17 October 2017].
Antonopoulos, P. (2017) UN report counters Amnesty International’s claim that Kurds are ethnically cleansing in Syria, Al-Masdar News, [online] 15 March. Available at: https://mobile.almasdarnews.com/article/un-report-counters-amnesty-internationals-claim-that-kurds-are-ethnically-cleansing-in-syria/ [accessed 17 October 2017].
Human Rights Watch. (2015) Syria: Kurdish Forces Violating Child Soldier Ban: Despite Promises, Children Still Fight, [online] 15 July. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/10/syria-kurdish-forces-violating-child-soldier-ban-0 [accessed 17 October 2017].
U.S. Department of State. (2017) 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report: Tier 3, Available at: https://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2017/271293.htm [accessed 17 October 2017].
About the author: Paul Antonopoulos is a Research Fellow of the Center for Syncretic Studies. He has an MA in International Relations from Western Sydney University. His main research interests are international relations and the political economy of the Middle East and Latin America, as well as Great Power Rivalry. He is the co-author of Syria: The Hegemonic Flashpoint Between Iran and Saudi Arabia.