Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 29, 2014

In response to “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm

If a link to Margaret Sarfehjooy and Coleen Rowley’s article “Selling ‘Peace Groups’ on US-Led Wars” had not been posted on Marxmail, I probably would have missed it since Robert Parry’s Consortium website is not part of my daily tour of pro-Assad propaganda. The World Socialist Website is about all I can bear, especially since I don’t want to do anything to bring my blood pressure up to worrisome levels.

The article is a smear job on Minneapolis peace activists who have had the temerity to oppose Bashar al-Assad. But before getting into the article, some words about the authors are in order.

Coleen Rowley is well known for being an ex-FBI agent who became something of a whistle-blower after 9/11. She faulted the FBI for not acting on information about the hijackers that the Twin Cities office had supplied. Her intervention led to her being co-named Time Magazine “Person of the Year” in 2002. Despite becoming a peace activist and a critic of governmental abuse, there is some connection between her present-day activism and the vigilance she displayed after 9/11—namely a belief that “jihadist” terrorism has to be exposed and fought wherever it rears its ugly head. She might oppose the “war on terror” but by the same token sees most forms of Muslim resistance to oppression as outside the pale. For example, in an article on the Boston Marathon bombings, she decried the FBI’s failure to arrest the Tsarnaev brothers prior to the terrorist attack but shows little interest in what would cause Chechens to resort to such desperate measures. By analogy, you cannot write about the rise of ISIS in Iraq without understanding how Sunnis were being oppressed by the Shiite government.

Her co-author Margaret Sarfehjooy is an Iranian-American with clear affinities for the Islamic Republic. For example, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York in 2010, she was part of a delegation that included Brian Becker of the ANSWER coalition, a pro-Assad outfit. That Ahmadinejad’s cops had been torturing the men who were trying to organize a bus driver’s union in Tehran did not seem to discomfit them.

As might be expected, Sarfehjooy is one of those people who saw the Syrian revolt as the first stage in a military assault on Iran:

A new geopolitical monster, NATOGCC, includes the key role of Qatar and the UAE in the NATO invasion─and destruction─of Libya. After the NATOGCC win in Libya, they are on a roll. The GCC strategy of regime change in Syria is the preferred way to weaken Iran.

If this was bullshit in 2012, think how much more so it is in 2014 when the USA, Syria and Iran are in a de facto coalition against Sunni rebels. If in Rowley’s eyes, “jihadism” is a major threat to world peace and security, why not sling mud at activists in Minneapolis who took up the cause of Syrian rebels? And if it requires writing lies about them, so be it. The ends justify the means, doesn’t it?

All in all, the article reminded me of what someone told me on Facebook in late 2013 during Obama’s empty threat about crossing “red lines”: even if the accusation that Syrian rebels gassed their own people in East Ghouta was false, it doesn’t matter as long as it benefits the antiwar movement. I have a different attitude toward such matters. If the left is seen as capable of telling lies, it will lose its credibility. That is one of the reasons the CPUSA lost 90 percent of its membership after the Khrushchev revelations.

Let me now roll up my sleeves, don some wading boots and turn to the article itself.

It purports to be an exposé of a Quaker group called “Friends for a Nonviolent World” (FNVW) and a group it helped launch, the “Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria” (CISPOS). Both are based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, as are their accusers. Most of the attacks are on CISPOS but FNVW comes off as willing dupes: “Do the real pacifist members approve? Or even know?”

They write: “In Minneapolis, FNVW and its spin-off CISPOS hosted several events with Syrian expats who were on record as supporting the U.S. bombing of their country.” This charge stopped me dead in my tracks. As Michael Karadjis noted in a comment about this article on Marxmail, this is a charge they had an obligation to back up but did not:

Yet the only “evidence” provided in the article is “In Minneapolis, FNVW and its spin-off CISPOS hosted several events with Syrian expats who were on record as supporting the U.S. bombing of their country.” Read it again – that’s it! No names, no details, not even another sentence to elaborate. We take the authors’ seedy words that other speakers were allegedly “on record” for calling for bombing Syria. Is it even true? And if, so, what meetings? Were the meetings about bombing Syria? Was it a discussion, where some speakers advocated bombing Syria, while people like Mohja Kahf, who is well-known to oppose bombing, speaking against this view? Was it a meeting where those who the authors allege “are on record” supporting bombing perhaps didn’t discuss that issue at all? Who knows? Who can judge? No-one, because the authors are just slimy slander-mongers, so they think detail is irrelevant.

The brunt of Rowley and Sarfehjooy’s attack is directed at Mohja Kahf and her ex-husband Najib Ghadbian, who are likened to the Iraqis who met with neocons in the years leading up to the invasion in 2003:

Often Syrian “experts” speaking to peace groups, such as FNVW/CISPOS’s upcoming speaker, Mohja Kahf, have ties to the early destabilization of Syria. This American Prospect article documents how Najib Ghadbian, Kahf’s husband of over 20 years (apparently up to last year when they divorced) was one of the Syrian dissidents who attended the early 2006 meeting with Liz Cheney (then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter), along with other Syrian dissidents to plan how to destabilize Syria and topple its government. Like some Syrian version of Ahmed Chalabi, the neocons’ choice to run post-invasion Iraq, Kahf’s husband apparently got himself invited to Liz Cheney’s “Iran-Syria Operations Group” by having signed the “Damascus Declaration” in 2005, the year before.

There’s so much here that is crap, one hardly knows where to begin. To start with, the “destabilization” of Syria must be a reference to the peaceful protests that Kahf hailed in any number of her articles. In fact she is committed to nonviolence and regrets that an armed resistance was formed. As a reminder of how those protests were dealt with by the Baathist dictatorship, here’s a reminder. In February 2011, after schoolchildren from Dara’a wrote anti-Assad graffiti, the cops arrested 15 of them and took them to jail where they were tortured. All of them were 16 years old and younger. Had these kids met with Liz Cheney? Inquiring minds want to know.

Dara’a was an agricultural center, a hick town in other words It might be useful to recall what drove people in such towns remote from the glittering capital of Damascus to rise up. Ironically you can find the facts on the World Socialist Website, which before it became a mouthpiece for the Baathist dictatorship was capable of distinguishing black from white as this article written just before the uprising began indicates:

The situation in the agricultural areas is dire. Twenty percent of Syria’s economy derives from agriculture. According to government and UN estimates, 1.3 million people have been affected by drought over the past three years, mainly in the north and east of the country where 800,000 have been severely affected. Up to 80 percent of them live mostly on a diet of bread and sugared tea, which does not meet their daily calorific and protein needs.

Unable to afford to feed their animals, many herders sold all their livestock at low prices, while an estimated 5 to 7 million animals died, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. People have left their homes for the towns and cities. So great has been the distress that the UN World Food programme has signed an agreement with Syria to provide US$32 million to provide food, seed, animal fodder and other assistance to 300,000 people.

That’s what destabilized Syria, not anything that Mohja Kahf and or her ex-husband wrote or did.

Now to the question of Mohja Kahf advocating American intervention in Syria, which is coyly implied in the article but not openly stated since that would cross the line into Big Lie territory. It is worth looking at her Facebook page, where you will search in vain for any statement in support of American bombing.

I also invite you to visit the Facebook page for CISPOS, where you will not only find no calls for bombing Syria but instead a post that calls for just the opposite:

Screen shot 2014-12-29 at 12.51.43 PM

Does this matter to Margaret Sarfehjooy and Coleen Rowley? I am sure it doesn’t because the real crime of CISPOS is not advocating “regime change” in Syria but calling attention to the genocidal policies of the Baathist tyranny. It is quite depressing that people on the left can stoop so low as to sweep its crimes under the rug but a lot of this has to do with Islamophobia. As the term phobia implies, there is fear and hatred of the Syrian poor who invoke Islamic rhetoric in a desperate struggle to keep their spirits up in a war that has cost 200,000 lives. If Syria were as populous as the USA, this would equate to 3 million dead, all within four years.

The pro-Baathist left has taken up a cause that is remarkably reactionary. Assad’s soldiers, particularly the more fanatical Alawite detachments, post graffiti stating, “God, Bashar, Syria and Nothing Else” and “Al-Assad or we burn down the country.” It looks like they are making good on their promise.



  1. Louis, why do folks on the Left think that any leader in the world not singing with or hugging US politicians are anti-imperialist? Be it Assad, Putin, Qaddafi, or whomever is the flavor of the month anti-imperialist is, a whole section runs to the defense of that leader; ignoring his history and suspending reality & the facts that are a part of it. Also I wonder what is the Left’s current fascination with Bonapartist like leaders. Just thinking out loud.

    Comment by Jim Brash — December 29, 2014 @ 8:24 pm

  2. Very few people on the left do support Assad or Qaddafi but they make useful straw people for the larger and more vocal groups on the Western left who think that the overthrow of Qaddafi was a revolution and that the FSA in Syria is some kind of revolutionary vanguard.

    Comment by Tony — December 29, 2014 @ 9:52 pm

  3. Tony, which people on the left believe that a revolution took place in Libya? Or that one is taking place in Syria? Or even more nonsensically, who has ever referred to the FSA as a “revolutionary vanguard”?

    Perhaps you read my review of Gilbert Achcar’s “The People Want”, which carefully avoids using applying the term “revolution” to the Arab Spring uprisings. You have an odd tendency to belittle the FSA. I only wish you were half as rigorous as Michael Karadjis who develops his ideas with great care and sourcing. This sort of superficial jibe hardly befits someone who I imagine would like to think of himself as a serious journalist.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

  4. I won’t spend a lot of time rebutting this nonsense. Just a couple points.

    Proyect writes “If this was bullshit in 2012, think how much more so it is in 2014 when the USA, Syria and Iran are in a de facto coalition against Sunni rebels.”

    Since the US has been covertly arming the rebels from the beginning and the US Congress, at Obama’s urging, has passed legislation (H.J.Res.124) that approves arming the rebels, it’s difficult to understand how the US is part of a coalition against the rebels.

    Since the population of Syria is 74% Sunni, it’s difficult to understand how Assad has managed to keep control. Or is it possible that a large part of the Sunni population supports him and does not side with the rebels.

    Perhaps Mr. Proyect should not be so unrepentant.

    Comment by Gregory Stricherz — December 29, 2014 @ 10:17 pm

  5. All my articles articles are sourced. Comments on facebook or blogs are another matter. Far from belittling the FSA, the main thing wrong with a lot of my articles about Syria was desperately trying to focus on any progressive elements I could find remaining in the Syrian Arab opposition while paying insufficient attention to the seriously revolutionary events taking place in Rojava. In recent months my articles have sought to rectify this error.

    Comment by Tony — December 29, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

  6. So you are scrupulous about your sources? What was your source for this? “However, in reality the FSA was never more than an uncoordinated network of independent brigades whose commanders often became little more than bandits and warlords.”

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

  7. Too many to list, frankly.Does anyone actually still claim the FSA is a single entity? And if you want sources for the fact that some FSA groups became predatory you can start with Wikipedia! I can’t remember which article that sentence comes from but I was probably trying to cram a lot of information into 2 sentences and may have confused some people who missed the word “often”. I was not trying to say the FSA as whole became predatory. To say the FSA, as a whole, became anything would be ignoring that it has always been more of a brand name than a structure, which was probably the point I was trying to make when I wrote that sentence

    Comment by Tony — December 29, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

  8. Since the population of Syria is 74% Sunni, it’s difficult to understand how Assad has managed to keep control.

    The same way that minorities always rule, through a combination of co-option and repression. Just look at the British in India. Or the French in Algeria. I suspect that a good 20 percent of the Sunnis backed Assad. This meant that he ruled the country with a base of about 40 percent of the population. Not enough for Western style hegemony but sufficient to keep a lid on things until the economy crashed in the mid 2000s as the WSWS article indicates.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

  9. In fact there is only a single instance of banditry mentioned in Wikipedia. Some Turkish trucks were seized by the FSA at the border and their contents looted. Considering the amount of time they have been in the field and their desperate conditions, they are pure as the driven snow compared to most guerrilla groups or the Red Army for that matter.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 29, 2014 @ 11:11 pm

  10. Well there’s more.. Perhaps you just looked at one Wikipedia page. But this isn’t the point. When I wrote that sentence I wasn’t passing moral judgement. Without the context of the sentence not sure what exact point I was making. Possibly explaining how the more hardline Islamist groups got support in some places.
    The point about the FSA being a brand name used by many different brigades and coalitions of brigades — good, bad and ugly — is more important. The one thing all these groups seem to have in common is absolute contempt for the Western-backed government-in-exile that supposedly represents them.
    Anyway, not sure who you have in mind when you say how pure the FSA are compared with “most guerrilla groups” but the YPG and YPJ are definitely purer. More importantly, the YPG and YPJ are part of a revolutionary movement that is actually creating an alternative that can offer a path forward

    Comment by Tony — December 29, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

  11. Tony, there was ample evidence that the FSA and its noncombatant supporters were striving to build something just as important as the Kurds in a place like Kobani until the jihadists overran Raqqa. I recommend that you and anybody else read Anand Gopal’s article in Harper’s:


    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 12:02 am

  12. Mr. Proyect, I’m not sure where you came up with the 20% figure. Even FOX News gives Assad more Sunni support than that. http://tinyurl.com/ncbxr6n

    I’d truly like to hear your reasoning that the US is part of a coalition against the rebels, given the legislation by the US Congress and Obama’s long-lasting support.

    Comment by Gregory Stricherz — December 30, 2014 @ 12:44 am

  13. Were striving. Without any ideological coherence. Gopal’s picture of level of coordination between local committees seems a little over-optimistic. While he observed a definite egalitarianism there was no sense of any attempts to revolutionise society at the grassroots level to overcome things like oppressive family structures, ethnic and religious prejudice, etc — not a word about the participation of women.
    In short, it doesn’t compare with Rojava, which builds upon decades of Kurdish revolutionary struggle (including terrible mistakes from an overly militaristic emphasis in the 1990s — but they learned from this). There’s plenty of stuff in English coming out of Rojava and the deep going revolutionary transformations occurring there are on a whole different level.
    Significantly, Rojava revolution is not seperatist. Worth noting that Arabs (along with Assyrians, Turkmen and the rest of Syria’s ethnic mix) are part of the YPG and YPJ. In addition some FSA units (the “Euphrates Volcano” coalition) have been drawn into Rojava’s orbit. They are fighting alongside YPG/J in Kobanî, although only comprise a small proportion of the fighters defending the city. Other FSA units were sent to Kobanê with the (Kurdish pro-Western) peshmerga in early November, at the West’s behest as part of the compromise that allowed the YPG/J get access to some heavy weapons. These other FSA groups have not participated in the fighting.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 1:10 am

  14. Lou trying to set the record straight on the various actors in the Syrian Revolution is perhaps even trickier & more frustrating than Trotsky clarifying the Stalinist slander against the Left Opposition re: the USSR for crying out loud! When you weed out the class actors though it’s less complicated.

    Bottom line is that lost in this whole fuckstorm of miasmatic blowhardism is the fact that the FSA has indeed been very consistent and pretty goddamned pure under circumstances almost as tough as the Viet Cong faced. But at least Charlie got some meaningful help willy nilly via Moscow & Beijing (a poor guerilla could sure use a degenerated workers’ state right about now) whereas the FSA gets shit & shoved back in it. That HJ Res 124 law hasn’t amounted to jack shit for the proletarian grunt volunteer heroes battling barrel bomber choppers attacking working class apartment buildings — and here’s why it never will.

    Fact is none of this rumored military aid to the FSA ground fighters (all rumors & virtually impossible to imagine being meaningful from an incorrigible cynic like Uncle Sam) won’t amount to squat unless it’s in the form of shoulder fired SAMs like the Stingers that the US supplied to Osama Bin Laden when he was working for Uncle Sam in Afghanistan during the 80’s. Those Stingers were DECISIVE in the Soviet withdrawal as they’re the only thing that consistently made widows out of Soviet chopper pilots. Get it. Medical aid & MRE’s are no substitute for shoulder fired missiles that heat seek chopper exhaust and detonate on impact.

    Those ubiquitous rocket launched grenades might get one in a thousand choppers they aim at since it has to be a close and carefully aimed direct hit which is lucky at best, and the FSA is currently out of ammo.

    Uncle Sam only unleashed such decisive SFSAM weapons to the mujahadeen with strict inventory requirements. Each one was accounted for, the ammo that is. That’s why virtually zero from after the Afghan War the Soviets lost were ever found deployed again like in Iraq or wherever years later. We know of no US Made shoulder fired SAM unleashed to the anti-Soviet Jihadis ever being used against a US aircraft, the exception proving the rule. That’s because Uncle Sam isn’t stupid despite his hubris & bloated Pentagon bureaucracy. He had that deal pre-dickered.

    Note that The Chechen language would today be as exterminated as the Dodo bird if it weren’t for Soviet made shoulder-fired SAMs for had not the Chechen’s some inventory then their genocide at the hands of the post-Soviet “free & democratic” Moscow may have surpassed that of the Jews under Hitler.

    I’m sure back in the 40’s there were a bunch of HR Resolutions to send help to the Soviets during the Blitzkrieg since the USSR was a supposed “ally” after all. Back in the early 90’s a DSAer sociology professor of mine who mentored me during grad school said “that WWII HR Resolution aid to the Soviets was decisive in beating the Nazis.”

    “Really US aid was decisive in the Soviets beating the Nazis”, I asked? “What was that aid exactly?” I was curious and really didn’t know. He said “Uncle Sam supplied 10,000 Dodge trucks”. I said: “you mean 10k trucks churned out of Detroit in a month or 2 saved Europe from Fascism?”

    He said: “Well….it made a difference.”

    I said: “Not a damned bit to the final outcome” and we left it at that.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — December 30, 2014 @ 1:43 am

  15. First, great article, and second, I agree with every word of Karl Friedrich’s contribution to this discussion. “That HJ Res 124 law hasn’t amounted to jack shit for the proletarian grunt volunteer heroes battling barrel bomber choppers attacking working class apartment buildings.” This line itself is a pretty good description of the *class* forces involved in Syria, reason itself that the US will make sure no amount of window dressing will ever amount to real support for the FSA.
    More on class, I love this by Gregory Stricherz: “I’m not sure where you came up with the 20% figure. Even FOX News gives Assad more Sunni support than that. http://tinyurl.com/ncbxr6n.” What is the meaning of the word “even” in that sentence? That grubby Fox article simply took the declaration of the Ministry of Truth in a totalitarian state, that 88% of Syrians had participated in the election, at face value. What idiot would do that? So did Mobutu also get 99% of the vote just because the MoT of Zaire said so? Did Saddam Hussein really get 99%? Did Mubarak really get 97%? Their MoT’s said so. I can’t believe my eyes when I read this in a left-wing discussion.
    Actually that article gives no figure for the amount of Sunni support, except for Fox naively believing (as naive as many “leftists”!!) the election circus “results”. It only suggested it was “substantial.” And here is where the article is interesting. “Saleh’s comments were echoed by others interviewed by The Associated Press in a Sunni-dominated, middle-class neighborhood of central Damascus.” Of course we don’t know how many “others”. But we do know it was the “middle class” part of Damascus that is in government hands. Being in government hands does not necessarily mean all there are pro-regime. But as is well-known, the divide between regime-controlled and rebel-controlled halves of both Damascus and Aleppo follow class lines so closely that it is equivalent to a sociological survey.
    So of course plenty of Sunni support the regime: the most enthusiastic supporters of the regime are of course the Sunni mega-capitalist class!! Followed by important sections of the upper middle class. Meanwhile, the wretched of the Earth – the working class Sunnis, the vast, impoverished, dispossessed Sunni peasantry, the ex-rural semi-urban dwellers of the vast shantytowns around Damascus and Aleppo – are the revolution!
    Does the US support an armed uprising based among the impoverished peasantry and semi-proletarian layers against a mega-capitalist plutocracy? No. But some apparently believe so: Stricherz: “Since the US has been covertly arming the rebels from the beginning”. No, it hasn’t. You just made it up.
    “And the US Congress, at Obama’s urging, has passed legislation (H.J.Res.124) that approves arming the rebels.” It approves setting up a new force and “training” it over a period of 18 months beginning some time in 2015 for the explicit purpose of fighting ISIS and explicitly NOT to fight the regime and these will be individuals individually “vetted” by the US rather than actual FSA brigades, I suggest this is largely irrelevant and small fry (or no fry) in comparison to years of deliberately blocking its allies from supplying any useful arms to the FSA.
    “Since the population of Syria is 74% Sunni, it’s difficult to understand how Assad has managed to keep control.” Really??! Even with daily use of tanks, MiG warplanes, helicopter gunships, ballistic missiles, barrel bombs, napalm, chemical weapons, starvation sieges “it is difficult to understand how the regime keeps control”?? Even with this arsenal being continually re-supplied by the unlimited international intervention (Russia, Iran and Iranian proxies), including thousands of sectarian troops from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon? Well, it has only been 3-4 years, the South Vietnamese dictatorship kept control for 20 years using Assadist methods; the Salvadoran dictatorship kept control for the entire 1980s, a whole decade of revolution, even with a crystal clear revolutionary leadership fighting to overthrow it – and maintained control. Look around – you might find that you now believe all kinds of bloodthirsty tyrannies have mass support since they magically manage to “keep control”.
    A better question would be how the FSA and its allies have managed to maintain the fight and to hold on to as much as they do, including making advances here and there, in the face of such overwhelming odds, as well as being the main force actually fighting ISIS as well, thus fighting on 2 fronts, and indeed throwing ISIS out of some 5-6 provinces at the beinning of this year!
    “I’d truly like to hear your reasoning that the US is part of a coalition against the rebels, given the legislation by the US Congress and Obama’s long-lasting support.” Some of my contributions on this: http://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/syrian-rebels-overwhelmingly-condemn-us-bombing-as-an-attack-on-revolution/; http://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/as-nusra-plays-at-isis-lite-the-us-excels-as-assads-airforce/; http://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/as-assad-and-us-play-two-step-bombing-raqqa-assad-demands-us-bomb-more-efficiently/; I’d also note that, just days ago, Assad killed some 60 civilians bombing al-Bab in ISIS-controlled east Aleppo province and then a day or so later the US killed dozens of civilians and some 25 detainees in an IS prison with Tomahawks https://twitter.com/TahrirSy/status/549664662946840578.

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 30, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

  16. Tony: “useful straw people for the larger and more vocal groups on the Western left who think that the overthrow of Qaddafi was a revolution and that the FSA in Syria is some kind of revolutionary vanguard.”
    Louis: “Tony, which people on the left believe that a revolution took place in Libya? Or that one is taking place in Syria? Or even more nonsensically, who has ever referred to the FSA as a “revolutionary vanguard”?”

    Yes, Tony’s creation of people who think the FSA is a revolutionary vanguard is of course a straw person extraordinaire. But as for who thinks a revolution is taking place in Syria, I do, as do countless other observers and supporters of the Syrian revolution. But of course it all *depends on your definition of that term*. And that is a discussion that we can have, but would take us too far off-course to get into it here.

    Tony: “the main thing wrong with a lot of my articles about Syria was desperately trying to focus on any progressive elements I could find remaining in the Syrian Arab opposition”. How do you define “progressive”? Is it limited to those carrying out a socialist-style transformation as in Rojava?

    Louis: “What was your source for this? “However, in reality the FSA was never more than an uncoordinated network of independent brigades whose commanders often became little more than bandits and warlords.”
    Tony: “I was probably trying to cram a lot of information into 2 sentences and may have confused some people who missed the word “often”. I was not trying to say the FSA as whole became predatory.”

    Yes, the word “often” was there. But this was about the only line in the entire article – on events in Syria – that referred to the FSA. So when you summarise the vast body of committed democratic revolutionaries who have sacrificed their lives for years fighting a bloody dictatorship as “never more than” something who were “often” bandits and warlords, then you have to admit on reflection that this was extremely shabby treatment of the FSA? How “often”? What is even the point? The point, was, of course, to make an absurd contrast between the new kid you found on the block, the PYD, which apparently is angelic and pure and can never be accused of any “banditry” by any of its members etc, and this uncoordinated morass of bandits called the FSA. I tend to agree with Karl Friedrich that, given the incredible circumstances, the FSA has held up rather well – which does not for a moment mean that various members, or commanders, or units, haven’t engaged in banditry or unacceptable behaviour here and there – I don’t believe inn angels in revolutionary situations, not even in Rojava – but unfortunately this is the norm and I have seen nothing to suggest that this is a good overall definition of the FSA.

    Apart from the fact that there were other errors in that article, including the assertion (sourced?) that the FSA arose and launched the armed struggle partly due to an exaggerated hope that the imperialists would help them – all you have to do is read and watch countless stories and videos of what actually happened as units of the genocide-army defected and read out statements that they refuse to kill their brothers and sisters any more and instead will – go help us! – protect them! After months of being slaughtered! That’s how the armed struggle began. But never mind – I was going pen a reply at the time, but our articles since then, while still error-prone on various points, have at least shown more nuance on the FSA, so I dropped it.

    Tony: “Does anyone actually still claim the FSA is a single entity?” I’m not sure why you continually raise this red herring. Who ever said that in the first place (noone that I’m aware of) and what is the point of it?

    “To say the FSA, as a whole, became anything would be ignoring that it has always been more of a brand name than a structure. The point about the FSA being a brand name used by many different brigades and coalitions of brigades — good, bad and ugly — is more important. The one thing all these groups seem to have in common is absolute contempt for the Western-backed government-in-exile that supposedly represents them.”

    The FSA is not a fully united, coordinated structure and neither is it merely a “brand name”. It is not “from the top” precisely because it arose as a genuine grass-roots armed expression of the masses on the ground, good, bad and ugly. You see, that’s revolution folks. And the fact that it is not run by the external-based coalition and often shows contempt for it is partly a strength – the external leadership is more under the pressure of imperialism and regional states, the FSA on the ground more under the pressure of the revolutionary masses. For example, most large FSA units and coalitions have opposed the US intervention as an attack on the revolution while the Syrian Coalition welcomed it.

    On the other hand, the official loyalty to the SOC is not irrelevant either. It is not as if “just anyone” can call themselves the FSA. There is an official external-based military leadership of the FSA as well, which is connected to SOC, and it is regionally divided to allow better coordination with the actual forces. The official loyalty means being in the FSA means supporting, in general terms, the SOC program of a secular, democratic, multi-ethnic, non-sectarian Syria for all its peoples, a rejection of “extremist” (ie, fundamentalist) ideologies, demand for return of Golan and commitment to “Arab causes” (ie Palestine) etc etc.

    It is not an accident that when a number of larger Islamist-influenced brigades which had been considered part of the FSA (and loyal to the external leaderships) formed the Islamic Front in October 2013 which called for an “Islamic state” based on “sharia” etc (regardless of what this even means for them – and they have since junked all that) – that this also meant rejecting the external leadership AND no longer being part of the FSA.

    Moreover, the “uncoordinated” bit overlooks the often strong degree of regional coordination (ie, the only real coordination possible in the circumstances), such as the formation of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, Harakat Hazm, the 5th Corps etc in the north (which played the main role of driving ISIS out of Idlib, Aleppo and Hama in January 2014), or the magnificent Southern Front in the south.

    As for comparisons with the PYD – so what? Of course a leftist leadership (the PKK) that has been around for decades will have more “pure” socialist program than the practical, grass-roots revolutionaries that arose out of nowhere from the barren political environment of a tyranny. Yes, we know that. That’s good. Rojava is very inspiring. Whether or not it is “definitely purer” I’m not sure – any accusation of wrong-doing against the PYD is met with “how dare you?” groans. There’s plenty of dirt on the PYD, just as there is on the FSA. I don’t use that to moralise and judge the PYD any more than the FSA. But purity is fantasy.

    Even the ambivalence of the PYD about its relations with the Assad regime is not simple slander. The PYD leadership gave support to Assad’s blood elections and accused the opposition of gassing their own kids in Ghouta. I could go on but won’t. That doesn’t damn them or their revolution. You’re allowed to be wrong. But in my view, the PYD’s official “neutrality” between regime and uprising is not a revolutionary option, it is a disastrous error, just as is the FSA and SOC refusal to unambiguously recognise Kurdish self-determination.

    “More importantly, the YPG and YPJ are part of a revolutionary movement that is actually creating an alternative that can offer a path forward”.
    Yes, that’s good. But your point that the various revolutionary councils and other civic formations that arose as part of the Syrian revolution “doesn’t compare with Rojava” is both true, and completely context-free. You omit the fact that in Rojava the PYD “is actually creating an alternative” because the Assad regime, for pragmatic reasons, decided to leave it alone, for now. Whereas it was somewhat more difficult to keep on “creating alternatives” and even developing feminism etc when the revolutionary councils elsewhere in Syria had to face warplanes, ballistic missiles, barrel bombs, starvation sieges, chemical weapons etc.

    Of course, one might say, OK, that is so, but since it has allowed a clearer revolutionary leadership to develop in Rojava, why not welcome it as an alternative leadership to the Syrian revolution as a whole. OK, let’s go with that. But us wishing for that doesn’t make it happen; and Tony Iltis, an Australian socialist, proclaiming that the PYD is the “real vanguard” or “real leadership” of the Syrian revolution, on a discussion page, does not make it so. So ask yourself why it isn’t. Since the example of Rojava appears to be so good, why isn’t is spreading?

    You note that some FSA brigades (four different brigades in fact) have come to help the YPG in Kobane, and play it down (they “only comprise a small proportion of the fighters defending the city”). You do not say how many PYD militia are actively aiding the FSA resisting brutal criminal sieges by the genocide-regime in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus suburbs etc etc. You know very well there are none. Maybe that’s OK. They need to look after their own Kurdish turf. As does the FSA. At a time when Aleppo is under imminent attack and is jointly besieged by Assad and ISIS while the US coalition does nothing to help (actually it has bombed Nusra inside liberated Aleppo), some FSA units leave Aleppo to help the PYD in Kobane. Small numbers. Perhaps it is symbolic. A show of … solidarity. A very good thing politically.

    And the reason so many other FSA units have been either ambivalent about this, or hostile, is not simply due to Arab chauvinism (though this may also play a role). It is because they ask, “where was the PYD” during x siege, x offensive, by the genocide-regime, against us?” And so why should we be donating troops to them when we are in such desperate straits? And it seems to me that here is your answer to the question above: the PYD’s excellent internal revolutionary politics have not, to date, been matched by well-thought out, solidarity-based, external politics.

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 30, 2014 @ 3:13 pm

  17. Michael: Firstly, if you’re going to write a comment under a blog post responding to a few short comments I made that is longer than a Green Left page, don’t expect me to answer all of it immediately. Or even much of it, ever.
    Secondly, try not to be personally abusive — I have never claimed that my stating something makes it so. You suggesting that I did is nothing more than personal abuse and dishonesty.
    Thirdly, the PYD opposed Assad’s elections. To say otherwise is an outright lie.
    Fourthly, as you know I have written a number of articles about Syria. You are aware that in some of them I wrote a lot about the FSA and Local Coordinating Committees and made only passing reference to developments in Rojava. That you get so outraged when I write an article that focuses on Rojava making only passing reference to the FSA says a lot about your unbalanced perspective on Syria, which is amplified by the fact that the many elementary errors you make in regard to Rojava suggest that you rarely read anything written by the Kurdish left.
    Fifthly, the FSA groups that became Euphrates Volcano moved to Kobanê because — sandwiched between Islamist and regime forces — they would have been annihilated if they’d stayed where they were. To paint it as motivated by revolutionary solidarity is being a bit cute.
    Sixthly, there have been YPG/YPJ forces (there’s no such thing as PYD forces, by the way) fighting alongside FSA groups in Aleppo, and other places.
    Seventhly, I know revolutionary purity is a fantasy. Your admirer, the unrepentant owner of this blog, described the FSA as “pure as the driven snow compared to most guerrilla groups” and I responded “not sure who you have in mind when you say how pure the FSA are compared with ‘most guerrilla groups’ but the YPG and YPJ are definitely purer”, so you can drop your dishonest trope that I was demanding purity.
    I could go on.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  18. I find Michael Weiss’s coverage of Syrian events most useful, particularly on how the FSA ended up in Kobane:


    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

  19. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2013/10/syria-kurds-assad-solution-salih-muslim.html
    Syria Kurdish Leader: Solution Must Include Assad
    October 29, 2013

    Salih Muslim, co-chairman of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said a solution in Syria
    without President Bashar al-Assad is not easy. “A solution without Assad means the death of 2 million
    Alawites,” he said.

    Muslim, who gave an exclusive interview in Rojava to Hilmi Hacioglu of the popular Turkish TV news
    program The 32nd Day, said his party wanted to participate in the Geneva meeting not as part of the
    Syrian National Coalition but as an independent Kurdish movement. Yet, some countries, including
    Turkey, were trying to block this.

    Muslim said a solution without Assad would have been possible two years ago, but it was now
    impossible. “All Alawites now support Assad. Insisting on a solution without Assad means the death of 2
    million Alawites in the country,” he added.


    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

  20. Syrian Kurdish Group Linked to PKK Kills Protesters

    Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/07/syria-kurds-pyd-amuda-protest.html

    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

  21. http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/print/13185
    With Backing From Damascus, PYD Has Free Hand to Repress Syria’s Kurds
    By Eva Savelsberg, Aug. 23, 2013, Briefing

    For more than a year, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Defense Forces (YPG) have exercised state-like power in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Supported by Iran with weapons and ammunition moved through central Iraq, the PYD—a Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—controls large parts of the border region between the Kurdish areas of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Activists criticizing or not cooperating with the PYD have been abducted, tortured and sometimes killed. The PYD imposes taxes on gasoline, collects border fees and has established a system of courts. Since summer 2012, the Syrian regime has handed over the administration of an increasing number of cities and villages to the PYD. The fact that the PYD took over all the cities they now control without any significant fighting indicates that there was a deal between the regime and the PYD and PKK.

    There are several reasons for the Syrian regime’s cooperation with the PYD. First, the PYD has, particularly in the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, violently suppressed dissident demonstrations on behalf of the regime, for example in Afrin. This allowed the Syrian army to concentrate on fights elsewhere and avoid having to open a second front against the Kurds, back then hesitant to join the revolt.

    Second, since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist groups have started to operate in Kurdish areas, handing over control of those areas to the PYD means the YPG—not the Syrian army—is fighting the armed opposition there.

    Finally, Syria is once again playing its Kurdish card against Turkey. In summer 2011, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) angered Damascus by siding with the opposition. Like his father before him, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is using the Kurds to apply pressure on Turkey. The AKP cannot afford—politically or militarily—for the PKK and PYD to establish a major stronghold in Syria.

    Syria’s other Kurdish parties, most of which are members of the coalition Kurdish National Council (KNC), are helpless in the face of the PYD’s violence. The KNC was founded in 2011 to unite the Kurdish parties, to profit from the popularity of youth groups and to more effectively voice Kurdish demands. It has not succeeded. The KNC is deeply divided between those political parties aiming to more openly support the Syrian revolution and those hesitant to do so and between parties loyal to and dependent on Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties and the PKK. As a consequence, the KNC never became a member of the Syrian National Council, nor did it join the National Coalition, founded in November 2012 and currently the most important Syrian opposition group. The KNC’s decision to establish a Supreme Kurdish Committee in cooperation with the PKK and PYD to mutually administer the Kurdish regions ultimately backfired, making it difficult for the KNC to adopt a political strategy independent of the PYD.

    Even though a number of Syrian Kurdish political parties have started to maintain armed units, and even though Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is providing military training to Kurdish refugees from Syria, the YPG’s military supremacy has not been seriously challenged. As long as KRG President Massoud Barzani’s Syrian-Kurdish peshmerga forces remain in Iraqi Kurdistan, the YPG will be by far the strongest militia in the Kurdish area of Syria, and therefore able to dictate the rules of the game.

    In late-June 2013, the YPG attacked demonstrators in Amuda who were protesting the YPG’s kidnapping of independent activists. At least six people were killed; dozens of activists were kidnapped and tortured; and the offices of other Kurdish parties, as well as youth and cultural centers, were burned down. Since then, no anti-regime demonstrations have been organized in Syria’s Kurdish regions anymore—the PYD has successfully silenced other political actors.

    The Amuda incident represents the height of the PYD’s totalitarian policies thus far and cost the group no small amount of sympathy among the Kurdish population. However, Amuda was soon forgotten when the PYD started to report attacks by Islamist units against Kurdish civilians and to present itself as the only force acting against such attacks. Civilians have indeed been killed in fighting between the YPG and various Islamist units; however, according to independent activists, the conflicts are often provoked by the YPG, not vice versa.

    The high number of civilian casualties from Islamist attacks reported by the PYD is also unconfirmed. Reports from late-July alleged high numbers of civilian casualties in an FSA attack on a PYD unit in Tal Hasil and Tal Aran, but documentation of the attack appeared suspect. Similarly, the reported killing of 450 Kurdish civilians near Tal Abyad at the beginning of August also has yet to be confirmed.

    A Kurdish commission formed by Iraq’s KRG sent to Syria on Aug. 19 to investigate reports of massacres is unlikely to elucidate the affair, as some of the commission’s members belong to the PYD or PKK and are therefore not neutral. In any case, there will be no social peace or democratic development in Syria’s Kurdish regions as long as the PYD can recklessly enforce its claim to exclusive representation.

    The PYD’s monopoly of power must be broken if Syria’s Kurdish regions are to democratize. For this to happen, the Iranian and Iraqi governments need to cease providing weapons to the YPG. Turkey can use its ongoing peace process with the PKK to pressure the PYD to share power with other local Kurdish actors, and the KRG can assist by ramping up military training of Syrian Kurds in order to establish a counterweight to the YPG. The international community should politically isolate the PYD’s leadership until basic human rights standards are preserved—or otherwise brand the PYD as what is: a criminal, if not terrorist organization. Last but not least, the Syrian Kurdish parties in the KNC should try to establish alliances with the Syrian Arab opposition in order to develop a sustainable solution for the future of the Syrian Kurds.

    Eva Savelsberg is co-founder, president, researcher and project coordinator at the European Center for Kurdish Studies (ECKS) in Berlin and responsible for the website http://www.kurdwatch.org, which reports on human rights abuses against the Syrian Kurds.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

  22. Great post, and very informative comments by Michael Karadjis and Karl Friedrich.

    Indeed ‘pure’ does not exist. As far as revolutionaries go, we can probably assume that those western ‘leftists’ who berate FSA would, back in the day, have considered Ho Chi Minh as a good example of ‘pure’ as pure can get. If these commentators and analysts were around in 1945, they would have had to make excuses for Uncle Ho for having reached a temporary compromise with the French (the French, mind you, who were colonizing Indochina at the time) to get rid of the Chinese forces that had invaded in September of that year. They would also have had to make excuses for Ho for being an agent of OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to CIA) during the WWII, in an effort to get rid of the Japanese. And then again, when Ho was begging Truman for recognition of an independent Vietnam. For after all, was Ho stupid not to realize that American imperialism was the ascendent power while French colonialism was on the wane?

    But, ‘purity’ issue is just a cover for doing nothing, or worse to side with the powerful; it is basically beside the point. There is something far more troubling going on. Most importantly, it seems these so-called leftists have forgotten what the left is supposed to support, namely the poor and the oppressed. And the poor and the oppressed don’t always take to the streets with fully spelled out communist programs, under social conditions where there are no communist organizations around due to decades of brutal repression and physical elimination of all progressive forces. The masses reach a point that they can’t take it anymore and they take to the streets filled to the brim with outrage, disgust and grievances. When they do take to the streets in masses, a political space is opened for the more articulate forces to step forth and try to organize the people’s struggle in different organizations. The problem with these western ‘leftists’ is that they think they are professors grading student projects, not actual agents whose intervention could actually help one faction or another. So, what they always end up doing is actually intervening on behalf of the brutal powers that control state power: in Syria they have to side with the butcher Assad, and in Iran they side with a theocracy (a *theocracy* mind you), and so on.

    Comment by Reza F. — December 30, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

  23. Another thing, Michael. What the fuck is with accusing me of creating “a straw person extraordinaire” when I asserted that there are people who think FSA is some kind of revolutionary vanguard when you go on to spend the next 1700 words argue that the FSA is leading a revolution?

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

  24. The article from World Politics Review is transparently dishonest pro-imperialist propaganda. The idea that Iran would be providing arms to the YPG is ludicrous considering the bloodthirsty zeal with which the Iranian regime is attempting to exterminate the PJAK.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

  25. http://rojhelat.info/en/?p=7586

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

  26. Iranian socialist who follow the political developments in Iran since 1977 (e.g., myself, ever since participating in the Iranian revolution to oust the Shah) can tell you that while the mullahs have been zealously crushing Kurdish aspirations inside Iran, they actively embraced using Iraqi Kurdish forces as allies in their fight against Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war, especially during the second phase of the war (after 1982), after the Iraqi forces had been driven out of Iranian soil and the war turned into an aggressive war of invasion of Iraq by Iranian forces. So, though I don’t know for sure one way or another about their relation with Syrian Kurds, I would not be surprised to learn that the Iranian regime is supplying Kurdish forces who are fighting against ISIS.

    Comment by Reza F. — December 30, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

  27. Those Iraqi Kurdish forces you refer to, the PUK and KDP, are precisely the same forces that the World Politics Review are supporting and painting as the democratic opposition to the PYD.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

  28. http://rojhelat.info/en/?p=7978

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

  29. http://www.todayszaman.com/diplomacy_iran-supports-pyd-for-immediate-interests_323776.html

    Iran supports PYD for immediate interests
    August 18, 2013

    Even though Syrian Kurds’ carving out an autonomous region in Syria is something that Iran does not want to see in the long term, the Shiite country is determined to support the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) — a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offshoot — for its short term interests in Syria, experts have said.

    “Iran promised to back [Salih] Muslim [the PYD leader], if it comes to an agreement with [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. Iran wants to use divisions in the Syrian opposition to benefit Assad,” said Abdulla Hawez, a freelance journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

    Both Iran and the PYD oppose the hard-line Salafi groups in Syria that fight against Assad. So they have mutual interests for now. Hawez said that although Iran is trying to reach an agreement with the Syrian Kurds, the PYD — the Kurdish group controlling northern Syria — is aware that Iran is not an actor “to be trusted” for any Syrian opposition group in the long term.

    Tehran’s Foreign Ministry invited Muslim to talks last week on the situation in northern Syria, where the PYD is in a fierce battle with the al-Qaeda proxy group the al-Nusra Front.

    “Iran asked how they could support us against al-Nusra [in the Tehran meeting]. Kurds are an important force in Syria. Everyone understood that Kurds are not an obstacle they can jump over,” said Muslim in remarks to Turkish media after his Tehran visit. But he did not specify whether the PYD agreed with Iran on any kind of support in Syria.

    Tehran also invited another Syrian Kurdish leader, the chairman of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), Abdulhakim Bashar, alongside Muslim.

    After visiting Tehran, Muslim also came to İstanbul on Tuesday to have a round of talks with the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s officials. This was Muslim’s second visit to Turkey in one month.

    Turkey has already warned the Kurdish group that it would not allow a de facto autonomous Kurdish administration in Syria, which the PYD could create through the opportunity of the Syrian conflict. The PYD, in return, assured Turkey that such an administration would only be a temporary measure to meet the needs of the population in that area. In his most recent visit, the PYD leader again assured Turkish officials that there is no declaration planned for unilateral Kurdish autonomy in the region, Turkish diplomatic sources confirmed.

    Iran did not invite anyone from the Kurdish Freedom Party (Azadi), affiliated with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani, to Tehran.

    Hawez said Iran believes that while different groups in Syria are fighting each other, the only one that can benefit is Assad. “Iran would offer support to both the PYD and al-Nusra. It only wants the fight not to be over,” he maintained.

    On the other hand, the Iranian media are not fans of the fragmentation in Syria. Iranian-affiliated Hezbollah-head Hasan Nasrallah said there are plans to fragment Syria into sectarian mini-states. The incumbent regime and its backers play for control of all of Syria.

    Although the Shiite regime is not very predictable in its policy on Syrian Kurds, it is aware that Kurdish autonomy in Syria could help Israel eventually, recent Iranian media reports also said.

    “The only thing we know is that Iran wants Assad to stay, and they want to use the Syrian Kurds for this and push them into the Assad-Iran-Russia axis,” Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Middle East specialist and advisor to the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), noted.

    Ali Semin, an Iraqi-Turkish analyst from the Turkish think tank the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), said Iran has always known how to “deal with Kurds without allowing for any provocation against itself.”

    He said negations between the Iranian government and the PKK proxy the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iran, which started in the early period of the Syrian conflict, would be long-lasting.

    “Iran is determined to close the Kurdish front against Assad. So, a Kurdish autonomous region is not a more pressing issue by itself than supporting the Assad regime,” Semin stated.

    “Iran looks at the bigger picture. It also has a Kurdish threat inside its own territory, but it could ignore the beginnings of a future Kurdish state [that would in the long term also pose a threat to Iranian territorial integrity] to save its interests in Syria,” explained Semin.

    Tehran, under heavy economic sanctions from the international community for its insistent but controversial nuclear program, has much at stake in saving the Assad regime. Any breakdown in its Shiite Crescent — composed of Shiite Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — in the Middle East is an eventuality that would scare the Iranian regime, observers say.

    The current picture shows that Iran has an interest in playing up the al-Nusra card in order to benefit the Assad regime. In Iran, the Basij militia sent a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon to condemn the massacres of Kurds and Alawites in the Syrian region of Latakia. The only aim of Iran’s “sudden” sensitivity to the massacres in Syria is to stalemate al-Nusra and underscore that Assad is required for the country’s stability, Wilgenburg also said.

    ‘Iran would like to sabotage settlement process’

    In an interview last week, Cemil Bayık, the president of the PKK’s urban wing the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Executive Council, also asserted that Iran is trying every method to achieve the best possible result from the Syrian crisis and says that Iran is surely using Turkey for this end.

    Meanwhile, Iran’s perception of Turkey as a rival in the Middle East must also force it to impede Turkey’s terrorism settlement process with the PKK.

    “Iran would like to sabotage [the settlement] process. It will try every way to do this. In order to avoid negative developments, Turkey should take quick steps to advance the settlement process,” Bayık also said in the same interview.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 6:59 pm

  30. Here is a link to a piece from Al-Arabiya, August 2014, quoting Barazani, saying, “We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons”:


    Again, I am not as familiar as others in this exchange with all the tiny details of the different Kurdish factions in Syria, but if Barazani is receiving prompt aid from Iran, then it is very likely that the Iranians would, logically, help out the Syrian Kurds against ISIS, too.

    Comment by Reza F. — December 30, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

  31. The differences between the KRG parties and the Kurdish left are not tiny details. The only thing they have in common is their nationality. One difference is that the Barzani-led KRG’s entire strategy has been based on collaboration and a willingness to pursue an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan at the expense of the Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria. Do you know who is the main economic partner of and investor in Barzani’s Iraqi Kurdish statelet? Turkey!

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

  32. Tony, yes, I do know about the history of Barazani’s collaborations. But, my point was to draw attention to the political calculations from the Iranian mullha’s side: THEY (the mullahs) are a pragmatic bunch. Now that ISIS is threatening their beloved puppet Iraqi regime, they will do anything to fight against ISIS. That’s the point. They have made deals in the past with the Americans and the Israelis when they saw advantages in doing so (remember Iran-Contra Affair).

    Comment by Reza F. — December 30, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

  33. Just noticed, the Today’s Zaman article that Louis posted up, which confidently predicts a long-lasting truce between the Iranian regime and the PJAK, was written five days before the Hawar News Agency reported the clash in which 7 Iranian regime soldiers were killed.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

  34. The Iranian regime, like the Turkish, has more to fear from the Kurdish left than it does from its other enemies. No regime has anything to fear from Barzani.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

  35. Reception of PYD rule by Syria’s Kurds has been mixed. Suspicion toward all political
    parties has deepened since the 2011 uprising, especially among the younger generation,
    frustrated with the divisions and what they see as manifestly self-serving policies of
    Syrian Kurdish parties.75 Among those who live in areas under its control, there is
    widespread appreciation for the YPG’s ability to provide protection, particularly as
    attacks by jihadis grow in number and intensity.76 Still, the movement – which had
    scant support prior to the uprising – has won few converts.77 Many who rallied to the
    PYD-administration or joined YPG forces did so chiefly for lack of a viable alternative.
    A Kurdish resident from Tell Tamr said: “If it weren’t for the YPG, there would
    be no Kurds left in al-Jazeera. But, to tell you the truth, no one understands the
    Apuciin [followers of Apo, an Öcalan nickname]. Many join YPG forces to ensure
    their own self-defence, to defend their families and land”.78

    Attitudes toward the PYD are shaped by several factors: its presumed cooperation
    with the Syrian regime; the PKK’s outsized influence; and the perception of aspiration
    to hegemonic rule. Concerns include the fear that the apparent alliance with
    Damascus will poison future relations between the Kurds and other Syrians79 and
    that the regime is pursuing a divide-and-rule strategy, backing the PYD to create disunity
    among the Kurds. A KNC member from Qamishli said: “The regime splits each
    community, then chooses proxies among Kurds, Arabs and Christians.80 Among Kurds
    it chose the PYD, pitting Kurds against Kurds. This [PYD] administration is nothing
    but an administration of regime allies.”81

    full: http://tinyurl.com/nsnv3ga

    Comment by louisproyect — December 30, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

  36. http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

  37. KNC → Barzarni’s supporters in Rojava. These are the allies of Iran and the USA in Rojava. Any Iranian support will be going to them. What a KNC member from Qamishli said to a Western think-tank is not a reliable source.

    Comment by Tony — December 30, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  38. Tony I apologise that some of my frank discussion caused offense and that is not the intention. That particular article ate at me and I think we can both be frank. As I said, while I still disagree with some formulations in your articles, I’m glad there is more nuance on the FSA. It is not the fact that you wrote so little on the FSA in an article on Rojava, it was the fact that the tiny bit you did write presented an over-the-top negative picture on the “brand name” representing tens of thousands of dedicated fighters. Don’t forget that if these tens of thousands of fighters had not been laying down their lives there would have been no shield between the regime and Rojava and the barrel bombs would have been busy obliterating the Rojava alternative, indicating the importance of unity and solidarity between different parts of the overall revolutionary struggle.

    Just on your last comment – about whether the FSA is a “revolutionary vanguard”, again I suppose it depends on definitions. We all come from a political tendency that used that term in a particular way, as you well know. At the very least, it implies some kind of unity of revolutionary purpose and program. Of course that cannot be applied to a broad movement like the FSA which, as I said, essentially is the armed expression of a grassroots movement, the “good, the bad and the ugly” but that this is “revolution.” The FSA is the main force, and the most politically acceptable force, leading the armed resistance to the regime at this time, it would seem absurd for western leftists to not see them as “revolutionaries” in this general sense, but it is not a political party that has a coherent program – beyond the conquest of basic democracy – that could politically lead the revolution onto the next stages if the regime was defeated, although I would like to think that some sections, or individuals, within it might develop that way.

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 31, 2014 @ 1:32 am

  39. Re the PYD on Assad’s blood elections http://www.mesop.de/pyd-assad-can-run-for-elections-in-kurdish-syria/

    05.05.2014 – BasNews, Erbil – The leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim confirmed that presidential elections are set to take place in the Kurdish regions of Syria and that government troops would be welcomed in the area on condition that Bashar al Assad accept Kurdish rights in Syria.

    In an interview with Kurdish Press news website – linked to the Iranian government – Muslim said: “the Syrian regime can allocate a number of ballot boxes in Syria’s Kurdish cities.” – “Assad can deploy and spread his troops in Syrian Kurdistan but only if he accepts Kurdish rights,” added Muslim. The PYD leader explained that the presidential elections of Syria will have polling stations near Qamishli airport and areas of Hassakah but did not mention whether voting would take place in other Kurdish cities like the Kobane and Efrin cantons. Muslim stressed that Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan are likely not to vote for Assad as they are currently busy with their own elections within the three autonomous administrations of Cizire, Kobane and Efrin

    The same report used to be on BasNews (https://basnews.com/en/Category/List/Media/93/Sayfa/8) but has since been taken down. I’m glad they changed their opinion and found it embarrassing enough to take it down.

    Of course, my point is not, I repeat, the slander the PYD. Likewise LP’s various links no doubt. They indicate that things are complex, that’s all. They are leading a valiant struggle against ISIS fascists. The fact that people like Tony and Dave H have “discovered” the social transformations taking place is great work. Let’s just keep things in perspective. As you say now you agree that there is no purity. Good. Same applies then to Syrian revolutionaries who are up against far more dramatic circumstances and need support from the sections of the left that are not groupies of the fascist regime.

    Likewise, another error, in my opinion:
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not be “so stupid” as to use chemical weapons close to Damascus, the leader of the country’s largest Kurdish group said.
    Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said he doubted the Syrian president would resort to using such weapons when he felt he had the upper hand in the country’s civil war, Reuters reported.
    He suggested last Wednesday’s attack, which the opposition says was carried out by government forces and killed hundreds of people, was aimed at framing Assad and provoking an international reaction.
    “The regime in Syria … has chemical weapons, but they wouldn’t use them around Damascus, 5 km from the (U.N.) committee which is investigating chemical weapons. Of course they are not so stupid as to do so,” Muslim went on to say

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 31, 2014 @ 1:54 am

  40. Tony: “Fifthly, the FSA groups that became Euphrates Volcano moved to Kobanê because — sandwiched between Islamist and regime forces — they would have been annihilated if they’d stayed where they were. To paint it as motivated by revolutionary solidarity is being a bit cute.”

    The article Louis sent (https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/564212-fsa-fighting-alongside-kobane-kurds) on how the FSA ended up in Kobane is more useful than the one often quoted (http://www.warscapes.com/reportage/extremists-and-moderates-kobani) which is so full of factual errors that it is embarrassing. But even the Weiss article has the same post-modern view that putting dates on events is boring.

    For example, the article quotes RRF commander Abu Saif: “Initially, we started out actually fighting against the YPG or the PYD, and then when Daesh moved on Raqqa, we stopped fighting against the YPG and shifted into fighting Daesh. Then Daesh pushed us out of Raqqa and we had to withdraw from the city and into the northern suburbs of Raqqa, which are close to Kobane.”

    Yes, but when did Daesh take over Raqqa and expel the FSA and all other non-Daesh from the city? By July-August 2013 at the latest. And on August 1 2013 the Raqqa region FSA (ie, essentially the RRF) declared war on Daesh. The FSA as a whole had already declared war on Daesh a few days ealier after Daesh assassinated an Idlib FSA commander. The new war between the YPG and Daesh/Nusra broke out on July 28, 2013 when Nusra hijacked a bus in Rays a-Lin and the YPG responded by expelling the non-YPG forces from the half-Kurd, half-Arab border town. So for quite separate reasons, even if not allied, the FSA has been fighting Daesh, both in that region and throughout Syria, for as long as the YPG! Context is everything. So the discourse of “being forced” means forced into alliance with PYD/YPG, not forced to fight Daesh which they were already doing. Both sides – FSA and PYD – found solidarity then. It probably came as a surprise to both.

    However, my reference to FSA units acting in solidarity by taking the shirts off their won backs and going to Kobani while Alleppo is under siege wasn’t about the Raqqa Revolutionaries Front, but about other FSA units who deliberately went there, including the Dawn of Freedom Brigades, and the fighters sent with FSA Colonel Akaidi.

    Comment by mkaradjis — December 31, 2014 @ 2:13 am

  41. What is wrong with left-wing Kurdish sites as sources? More credible than the Turkish or Lebanese capitalist media, I would have thought. The FSA fighters led by Colonel Akaidi went to Kobanê with Western encouragement, the YPG/J and Kobanî self-administration seemed slightly suspicious of them when they first heard reports and claims but no FSA turned up, then later reported that half of them remained in Kobanî but were not participating at all in the fighting while half had left because of disagreements among themselves. Kurdish spokespeople have been at pains to point out that the departures were because of internal disagreements not disagreements with the Kurds and have expressed bafflement as to why those remaining haven’t participated in the fight.
    On the other hand, Kurdish comments about the Euphrates Volcano FSA groups have been a lot more positive and have become increasingly enthusiastic over time.
    It’s also worth noting the large number of Arab Syrian fighters in the YPG/J including entire units from Arab majority communities in the autonomous cantons.

    Comment by Tony — December 31, 2014 @ 2:55 am

  42. Just noticed Michael’s reports from Kurdish capitalist news outlets. They don’t seem 100% reliable. Just to repeat: The Rojava self-administration did not participate in the Assad elections. Because the Rojava self-administration controls territory if they had wanted to they could have arranged for voting in Assad’s poll to take place in this territory. But they didn’t. In every interview I’ve seen, when asked why not Kurdish spokespeople have responded because the elections (and the regime) were not legitimate. (This is often in the context of stressing that the Rojava revolution is NOT separatist).
    Michael may not be aiming to slander the PYD but I don’t think the sources he and “LP” quote are 100% committed to truth and accuracy.

    Comment by Tony — December 31, 2014 @ 3:18 am

  43. YPG releases statement on the clashes in 2014
    Sunday, 28 December 2014 13:21 hawarnews
    E-mail Print PDF

    GIRKÊ LEGÊ – The People’s Defence Units (YPG) have announced statistics relating to 2014, saying during 2014 nearly five thousand gang members have been killed in clashes and operations in different parts of Rojava.

    The YPG’s official spokesperson Rêdûr Xelîl held a press conference at the Trade Union hall in the town of Rimêlan, at which he announced statistics relating to 2014.

    Xelîl said that throughout 2014 there had been fierce clashes between YPG forces and ISIS gangs in different parts of Rojava, and that as far as they had been able to ascertain, 4,964 gang members had been killed in these clashes. 228 corpses had been taken by YPG forces, while 11 gang members were taken prisoner.

    The YPG spokesperson evaluated the military situation and recent developments, saying the YPG forces had successfully come through 3 historic phases, adding:

    “The first phase was the rescuing of tens of thousands of Yazidis from ISIS gangs in Sinjar and the opening of a humanitarian corridor so that 150 thousand Yazidis could reach Rojava. The second phase was the historic resistance against overwhelming odds in Kobanê that has astonished the world. The third phase was the ‘defence and cleansing’ operation we carried out from Tel Hemis and Serêkaniyê on a broad front including the town of Mebrûka and villages of Aliya.”

    The YPG spokesperson stressed that the historic resistance of the YPG/YPJ fighters had not just aimed to protect the Kurdish people, but also the Arabs, Syriacs, Armenian, Chechens living in Rojava. He added that the resistance of the YPG/YPJ forces in 2014 had proved that they were the principal force that would smash ISIS.

    ‘Resistance against the gangs will grow’

    Rêdûr Xelîl said they would step up the resistance against the gangs in 2015 by developing their forces both numerically and qualitatively, and would also consolidate relations with relevant forces.


    Xelîl listed operations carried out against ISIS gangs in Rojava in 2014 as follows:

    According to YPG data:

    YPG forces carried out 337 military operations against ISIS gangs in 2014.

    There were 414 clashes.

    4,964 gang members killed

    228 corpses of gang members taken by YPG forces and 11 gang members captured.

    ISIS carried out 74 suicide attacks.

    Equipment destroyed

    167 military vehicles, 13 tanks, 8 vehicles with guns mounted, 7 Hummer armoured vehicles, 3 panzers, 26 anti-aircraft guns, 4 vehicles, two 57 inch artillery units, one Katyusha launcher, 6 motorcycles and 3 mortar launchers were destroyed.

    Equipment seized

    16 vehicles, 3 panzers, 4 Hummers, 316 Kalashnikov rifles, 48 sub-machine guns, 60 RPG-7s, 8 M16s, 3 AKS, one sniper rifle, 2 Bruno rifles, 1 mortar, 3 anti-aircraft guns, one 23.5 calibre anti-aircraft gun, 14 heavy guns, 19 pistols, 31 wirelesses, 287 mines, 450 hand grenades, 114 cartridge belts, 24 pairs of binoculars, 3 suicide vests, one computer, one camera and thousands of rounds for Kalashnikov and sub-machine guns. Many military documents were also seized by YPG forces.

    537 YPG/YPJ fighters died

    YPG spokesperson Rêdûr Xelîl said that during the year 537 YPG/YPJ fighters had died in clashes, 14 of these being from forces affiliated to the Burkan Al-Firat Joint Operation Centre.


    Comment by Tony — December 31, 2014 @ 4:38 am

  44. http://rojavareport.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/ypj-star-today-is-our-day-organize/

    YPJ-Star: Today Is Our Day, Organize!
    Posted on November 21, 2014 by —


    Women fighting with the YPJ in the resistance in Kobanê have spoken to JİHNA about the importance of their movement and the upcoming actions planned for November 25th on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women according to a new piece appearing in Özgür Gündem

    As the women of the YPJ continue their resistance against ISIS and their supporters in Rojava, major demonstrations are planned for Amed (Diyarbakir), Wan (Van) and Colêmerg (Hakkâri) in North Kurdistan The women of the YPJ told JİHNA that they were not only fighting against ISIS, but for the liberation of women everywhere. They made call for women in Kurdistan and around the world to unite in solidarity, saying “Our struggle is against male hegemony. Let us organize.”

    Show Them Your Will

    Dalya Ömer

    Dalya Ömer, a member of Yetkîtiya Star and the Council Board of the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM), said that the struggle which was being waged in Kobanê under the leadership of the YPJ was also a struggle against the mentality of male hegemony. She made this call to women who would come to the border at Pirsûs (Suruç): “We are calling on women everywhere to come together and struggle against all forms of violence against women, in the same way that we Kurdish women have come together against the attacks of ISIS. We thank everyone who is already resisting against this violence.”


    Zilan, a YPG fighter who has for years advocated on behalf of women who are abused in society, said “what is being experienced here in the emergence of women’s representation and their will. This is the principal along which we wage our struggle. The war that has been waged against the YPJ here is in fact the same way war which is being waged against women all over the world. The ISIS attacks which have taken place here are designed to break the will of women. We too are struggling against this.” Zilan went on to call for women around the world to participate and commemorate November 25th, saying “I call on everyone to take part in these actions and to put the will of women forward.”

    We Have Taken Up Arms Against Barbarity

    Agirî Yılmaz

    Agirî Yılmaz, another fighter with the YPG, said “In the mentality of ISIS women are deficient. They cannot fight. However when they hear the shouts and calls of the YPJ women they leave their positions and their weapons and they flee. They are afraid to fight against women. They tell themselves ‘let me die fighting a man, not a woman.’ This comes from their conception that women cannot do anything. But our conception is of women who organize themselves, manage themselves and are organized.” Agirî Yılmaz made it clear that they did not make this call, from the,women of Kurdistan: “Today is our day. If we do not do this then all of our labor will be denied. It will all be like five years ago. We are not only taking up arms and fighting. We are not in love with weapons, and we won’t be recognized this way. We are in love with our ideas. We are in love with our freedom. But there is a savage enemy facing us. We are forced to take up arms. We took up arms so this barbarity does not go on. For this reason we making a call that goes far beyond picking up weapons. We need to organize in every sphere and to do our share.”

    Comment by Tony — December 31, 2014 @ 4:44 am

  45. I would like to take the opportunity to most humbly suggest that everyone do a bit of research into what the left-wing Kurds themselves say, including their theoretical work and philosophy.

    Comment by Tony — December 31, 2014 @ 5:27 am

  46. I agree with Tony that that we need to take the PKK/PYD project in Kobane seriously and to listen to what they have to say. But the situation between the different Kurdish groups is highly factionalised, and there is no point dismissing what one faction has to say only to swallow wholesale the version offered by another. The PYD has often described itself as trying to follow a “third way” between the regime and the armed opposition (it is formally a member of the National Coordination Committee) and for most of the conflict has stayed on the sidelines. There has been a symbiotic relationship between the regime and the PKK in Rojava – a deal that effectively allowed the YPG/PYD to take control in the Kurdish areas in exchange for not joining the armed struggle against Asad. In order to enforce that policy in areas under their control the YPG has on occasion engaged in very repressive actions against pro-revolution Kurds. Michael has documented some of the statements of Saleh Muslim that emerged from that orientation (although Tony is right that in the event the PYD blocked Asad’s blood election in Rojava.)
    That situation has clearly shifted with the onslaught of ISIS (although I think the FSA-YPG reconciliation was actually forged some time previously in Aleppo – hence Aqidi’s insistence on sending forces to Kobane despite objections from his commanders.)
    The PKK certainly talk a good talk – but how much do we know about how things are actually being implemented on the ground? How were the cantonal elections conducted and what were the outcomes? There is lots of evidence from the PKK’s factional opponents of tensions in the the areas under their control, but none of this is ever reflected in the reports from western visitors to the area.
    I am bemused by Tony’s account of “the large number of Arab Syrian fighters in the YPG/J including entire units from Arab majority communities”. I’ve never seen any reports of this and its at variance with my understanding of the socio-political dynamics in Cizire (where the entire canton probably has an Arab majority). I would be interested to see his source for this.

    Comment by magpie68 — January 2, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

  47. Thanks for the link, Tony. But I don’t see anything in this article that supports your claim. Are you sure you have the right source? The only thing that even loosely bears on the subject is the statement that “The governing assemblies as well as the self-defense forces are characterized by gender quotas and representation of all populations according to ethnic and religious identification (Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian Christian).” This vague statement doesn’t corroborate the rather specific claims you made. Its also either misleading (with respect to the assemblies) or false (“regarding the defence forces, if it means to say what it appears to.)

    Comment by magpie68 — January 8, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

  48. I think Tony’s last post was of general interest, not a response to a query of yours. I deal with that article in my latest.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 8, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

  49. […] is a curious omission, however, which was noted by commentator Louis Proyect: That just a few weeks before they were smeared by a former federal agent […]

    Pingback by Trend Watch: Former feds smearing antiwar activists | Free Charles Davis — February 23, 2015 @ 2:05 am

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