The Year 2022: Who Wants What in the Middle East?
Seyit Evran, journalist in North and East Syria
One thing is clear: This year will lead to many significant political developments in the world, the Middle East and Kurdistan. We can even assume that many political developments in the world and in the Middle East will emanate from Kurdistan. For it is here that relations, contradictions, and confrontations of the most diverse actors collide. From this perspective, the developments emanating from the Kurdistan Freedom Movement will also have regional and supraregional repercussions.
The year 2021 was a year full of clashes for the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, but also for freedom movements in general and for many other political actors who stand up for democracy, ecological justice and gender liberation. Conflicts between the ruling powers were also comparatively intense last year. Many of these disputes continue in the new year. Although this year is still relatively young, it has already been marked by numerous conflicts.
Just as the conflicts at the global level continue, so do the profound conflicts of the Middle East. If they are not resolved, they will continue to be with us year after year. All of these problems and conflicts often have a long history. If we want to name these problems, we can name the issue of "democratic society" or a "democratic social system" as the most important. In addition, there is the question of identities, communities, ethnicities and religious groups that have been denied, discriminated against and marginalized for generations. And, of course, there exists the central issue of women who have been denied and deprived of their rights. Without resolving these central social issues, we will not be able to seriously address their various manifestations in the Middle East. But if problems are not solved, disputes and conflicts cannot be settled either. On the contrary, where a problem is not permanently resolved, contradictions deepen and violence gains importance.
The Problems of the Middle East
The Middle East constitutes the center of the unsolved problems of the international powers. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that the international powers cannot or do not want to understand the culture, traditions and living conditions of this region. The various realities in the region are at odds with those of the international powers. This is one of the reasons why none of the political and military interventions of those powers in the Middle East has been able to achieve its intended goal. If the international actors nevertheless stick to their goals, this leads to clear reactions from the population in the region.
We must also note that the problems of the Middle East are by no means homemade. They are the result of the interest politics of external forces. The contradictions this creates lead to profound problems that not infrequently escalate.
US Interests in the Region
As a world power, the U.S. naturally pursues its own plans in the region. These were called the "New World Order" until the early 2000s and were later renamed the "Greater Middle East Project". Within this framework, the goal was to establish U.S. hegemony over the region, which was to be accompanied by control over mineral and other resources. To facilitate this project, the cultural and social values of the region were also to be transformed in line with U.S. capitalist culture. For this purpose, in turn, changes of government were to be initiated in certain countries. The U.S. had made appropriate preparations for this and had trained and supported several U.S.-friendly administrations for the Middle East. This policy was initiated for all 23 Arab states in the region, as well as for Turkey, and was implemented successfully in some cases. Today, the United States continues to pursue a similar policy, supporting political parties in the region that are friendly to U.S. interests and claim power in their country.These parties and structures have been organized, trained, and put into action, in some cases for years, by the U.S. in conjunction with NATO and its Gladio structures. In order to implement its plans with even more vigor, the U.S. itself intervened in the region after 2000. This intervention, however, required a pretext, which was finally provided by the terrorist attack by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001. With this argument in its back, the U.S. intervened first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, although it had previously cooperated with the rulers in Baghdad at periodic intervals since 1990. In this way, the U.S. not only exerted economic influence on events in the Middle East through its local "partners," but now also had a military presence there.
Like the U.S., Russia has an interest in acting as a hegemonic power in the Middle East. Moscow has a long tradition of this interest. Russia-friendly groups, forces and countries have been built up in the Middle East over the years. But after the U.S. intervention in Iraq, the influence of Moscow's rulers was limited to Syria for the time being. To break this isolation, Russia has forged a partnership with Iran, although there is a serious clash of interests between these two states over the Caspian Sea. However, their partnership is not very stable, so it hangs by a thread, so to speak. Nevertheless, both sides have maintained it until today because of the common interests against the U.S. policy in the region.
The Role of Iran
Of course, Iran is also one of the states with regional power ambitions in the Middle East. Because of these ambitions, Iran is in a permanent conflict with the United States. Those in power in Tehran are trying to maintain relations with Russia, Turkey and Arab states such as Qatar in order to be able to hold their own against the "U.S. threat". However, this is not always easy because Iran also has conflicts of interest with all the mentioned states. China, too, as an emerging power, keeps interfering in this web of relations. And the AKP government in Turkey, which has held power in the country since 2002 with U.S. support, also harbors ambitions to become the dominant regional power. These aspirations of the Erdoğan regime are to be implemented with the help of a policy of denial and extermination against the Kurds.
The USA's "Turkey Plan"
For the implementation of its strategic plans in the Middle East, the U.S. strengthened a political current that came to be known as "moderate Islam". Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was chosen as a suitable leader for this current, and he consequently founded the AKP with U.S. approval. Erdoğan was given so much support that he emerged claiming to represent the whole Islamic world. With his help, the U.S. wanted to strengthen its influence in the Arab world. This was because in the Arab countries, the U.S. reputation had been permanently damaged due to its strategic partnership with Israel. Moreover, the U.S. needed another strategic partner in the region besides Israel. The foundation and development of the AKP and Erdoğan were therefore supported by the USA.
In principle, Erdoğan played his role in the Middle East to the satisfaction of the United States until 2012. However, a rift in relations began in 2012 due to the revolution in Rojava. From that point on, the AKP began to play an independent supporting role for various Islamist groups, including the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS). With the help of these groups, the government in Ankara sought to realize its own great power ambitions in the region. Now the AKP was not only acting in line with U.S. strategy, but also seeking proximity to Russia or Iran, depending on its own interests. Erdoğan did not even shy away from repeatedly threatening the European states with the "danger of jihadism".
The Rojava Revolution in the Midst of this Situation
While the major international powers and some regional actors were engaged in distribution and power struggles in the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring broke out in Tunisia in late 2010. Initially, the ruler in Tunis was overthrown by the population, and then the protests spread to countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria. In Syria, the protests, which quickly turned into a civil war, led to a development that hardly anyone had foreseen. Shortly after, the revolution in Rojava started, which would later become a revolution in all of North and East Syria. Those in power in Syria, as well as in the entire region, had not expected that the Kurds would be able to initiate such a revolution.
This revolution has its peculiarities. It seeks to establish a system in which all peoples and cultures can represent themselves. It wants to make the brotherhood of peoples and peace in the region possible. And it pursues a democratic, ecological and gender-liberating paradigm that goes back to the Kurdish representative Abdullah Öcalan. This paradigm represents the line of democratic modernity in distinction to capitalist modernity.
Due to the Revolution, the Ambiguities Disappear!
Shortly after the revolution, work began in Rojava on building an independent system. Within a short time, the impact of the revolution radiated throughout the region. Self-governing cantons were proclaimed and their number was to grow over time.
To prevent the revolution from unfolding quickly, the IS was encouraged to fight against Rojava. The IS had previously captured Mûsil (Mosul) in South Kurdistan and North Iraq and then invaded the Ezidi region Şengal (Sinjar). Through their intervention, the People's and Women's Defense Units (YPG and YPJ) prevented the genocide perpetrated by IS against the Ezidi population from reaching an even greater scale. In response, Ezidi youth organized themselves and were trained as self-defense units for the local population. These developments are also directly connected to the Rojava revolution.
The revolution's impact also surprised the global and regional powers. As a result, some of them put aside their internal conflicts and suddenly acted together against the self-administration of Rojava. This fact makes it clear that this revolution is about something other than just getting a piece of the pie. It is about the line of democratic modernity against that of capitalist modernity. Seen in this light, the Rojava Revolution poses a threat not only to the Syrian regime or Ankara, but also to the U.S. and Russia. Even though the U.S. has been trying for years to give the impression that it is on the side of the revolution through its joint fight against IS, there is no question that it is basically in the opposing camp.
Even if actors such as the U.S., Russia or Iran oppose the revolution, they do not openly show their hostile attitude. Instead, they allow Turkey to act. With direct help from Ankara, Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the al-Nusra Front were thus initially brought into the field against the revolution. Subsequently, the fight against the revolution was transferred to IS, which in turn received extensive support from Ankara. When even this did not lead to the hoped-for success, Turkey itself intervened in the war from 2016. Initially, the Turkish army occupied Cerablus, al-Bab and Azaz. In 2018, Turkey attacked Efrîn and subjected the canton to an intense bombardment by 72 fighter jets on the first day of the attack before the Turkish army and its jihadist partners occupied the area. Finally, on October 9, 2019, the attack and occupation of Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Girê Spî (Tall Abyad) took place. The military occupation of these areas was followed by the expulsion of the Kurdish population in each case, causing the Turkish state to completely change the demographic composition of the occupied areas.
During all these attacks, the European states, Russia and the USA remained silent and approved of Turkey's actions. Thus, while the international powers are waging their fight against the revolution in North and East Syria with the help of the Turkish state, the Turkish state has also enlisted local actors for its policy of annihilation, which flank Turkey's attacks or provide the necessary support. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is Turkey's main collaborator. In the past, the KDP provided its support covertly. However, for the past two years, KDP assistance in the fight against the Rojava revolution and the Kurdistan Freedom Movement has been done openly. There are numerous examples of this.
Even though all of the aforementioned actors are pulling together in unison in the fight against the revolution of North and East Syria, this does not mean that they have put aside their contradictions with one another. On the contrary, as described at the outset, there are many issues of contention among the various international and regional powers. At present, this conflict is perhaps most clearly expressed in the example of Iraq. Parliamentary elections were held there last October. But a new prime minister has not yet been found. This is because the various external powers want to see a president in Iraq who is in their favor and not in the favor of their political opponents.When Iraq will again have a prime minister is uncertain at present.
If we take another look at the overall situation, we must note that numerous profound problems have accumulated in the Middle East over the years and will continue to preoccupy us this year. Against the backdrop of the continued silence of the international powers in the face of the Turkish attacks on North and East Syria, as well as on Şengal and Mexmûr, we can expect violent and bloody months in the spring and summer of 2022. We can call this war situation, involving so many different regional as well as international actors, a Third World War. On this basis, it is important to emphasize that the Third World War has its center of gravity in Kurdistan. But what will be the outcome of this war? This is a difficult question to answer. The actor that faces the war and the attacks of its opponents with conviction and organization will have the best chance of succeeding in the end. No one can doubt that we can see this kind of conviction, born of the power of an organized society, reflected today in the revolution of North and East Syria. It is difficult to make a safe forecast for future developments in Kurdistan and the Middle East. However, the Kurdistan Freedom Movement and the actors of the revolution of North and East Syria appear well prepared for the year 2022.
This article was first published in the March/April2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report.