Trotskyist Faction Statement
Just a little over a week ago (5th March 2020) saw a meeting in Moscow take place between Presidents Putin of Russia and Erdoğan of Turkey, which came on the back of a disastrous week for Turkey that saw 33 Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib with many more injured. Circumstances around the air strike are hazy but there are suggestions that the Russian air force was involved despite the claims from both the Turkish and Russian military that it was the result of a Syrian airstrike. Syrian forces were involved in heavy fighting against Turkish backed militia when a one-and-a-half-ton demolition bomb was dropped from the air on a building.
Claims by Turkey that it had shared the co-ordinates of its forces with the Russians were met with counterclaims by Russia. This debacle proves that events on the ground (and in the air) are not always under control and under these circumstances’ mistakes can be made, some potentially ending with disastrous unintended circumstances. This led to outrage in Turkey from both the critics of Erdoğan speaking out against his disastrous foreign policy, and from hawks angry that Turkish blood was being spilled in Syria.
Protestations to the Russians from the Turks and an insistence that Russian forces ‘step aside’ saw the NATO member pound Syrian government targets with a threat of all-out war developing. This was short lived and if anything, merely confirms what many already understand, Turkey cannot do anything in Syria against President Assad and the Syrian government forces without Russian approval and collaboration.
Both the US and the Europeans have taken up lukewarm positions with Turkey and its foray into Syrian sovereign territory, despite western Imperialist aggression being threatened against Assad and the Syrian government early in the conflict. Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds to Turkish aggression, the confusion of the US’s foreign policy being announced by Trump on the hoof with US troops being withdrawn, quickly followed by an announcement that the US was blatantly confiscating Syria’s oil fields in Deir al-Zor has put the Europeans very much in disarray.
Russian objectives have been achieved; namely to prevent Assad being removed from power, stop Syria from further destabilisation, and secure the Russian naval base at Tartus, a naval base that it has used since 1971 as a response and counterbalance to the US Sixth Fleet based in Italy.
Syria is now fully reliant on Russian support from Putin, and to a lesser extent Iran, with the only other player (and western ‘backed’ proxy) now in the country to contend with being Turkey. Turkey is caught in between a rock and a hard place, much being of its own design. From 2011 onwards it called for the removal of Assad and encouraged and allowed fighters to flood into the region providing logistical support with arms, etc. It now finds itself isolated with its militias hemmed in and surrounded in the last remaining rebel stronghold of Idlib. Turkish advances into Syria to clear what it saw as a threat from Kurdish autonomy merely drove the Kurds into the arms of Assad and have bogged the Turks down in a stalemate with another refugee crisis developing.
Defend the Refugees!
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees with another 1 million threatening to cross over from Syria due to the desperate situation now unfolding. The EU acting collectively for its Imperialist components has decided that it wants nothing to do with refugees. It came to an agreement with the Turkish government in March 2016 to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey with a bribe of €6 billion to be paid by 2018.
Syrian refugees in Turkey live in a precarious situation with no or little prospects: the number of work permits granted to Syrian temporary protection beneficiaries from 1st January 2016 to 30th September 2018 was 27,930, which encourages many to enter into the exploitative labour black market, languish in poverty, or make the perilous journey by boat through the Mediterranean with profit to people smugglers. As with all conflicts it is often the working class, women, children, the elderly that suffer.
Erdoğan is now attempting to use the refugees in a cynical political attempt to gain leverage with his Western ‘allies’ either through military support, or else to gain additional funding, by opening the Turkish/Syrian border and allow refugees to pass through to Europe. Appalling treatment has been met out by Greek border guards, who shot dead one refugee caught crossing into Greece on 2nd March 2020. Two children were also found in the water after their boat capsized off the island of Lesvos the same morning upon which one died.
Greek border guards have been firing tear gas at refugees with film footage being published online of the coastguard threatening to ram boats filled with refugees, with one film showing attempts to puncture an inflatable dinghy with a boat hook. This week there have been reports of a warehouse housing supplies for refugees being been burnt to the ground on the Greek island of Chios and a school for refugees on the island of Lesvos being torched. Many of these camps on the Greek islands are overcrowded with people living in inhumane conditions with a complete lack of medical care.
According to UNHCR, more than 4,000 people eligible for transfer were stuck on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Samos in November 2019. Syrian refugees fleeing a conflict that has raged for 9 years are not pawns or collateral damage in a game of brinkmanship. The demonisation of refugees has led to nationalists being emboldened to take things into their own hands, often with impunity with fascists even travelling to the islands from as far afield as Germany and Austria to stir up hate.
Turkey, Russia and Iran in Syria
To de-escalate the situation an agreement has been struck between the Presidents of Russia and Turkey (in line with the Sochi Agreement that was signed in 2018). Part of this new deal includes the setting up of a ‘corridor’ along the M4 motorway with joint military patrols. However, anyone witnessing the press conference in Moscow could plainly see the differences that still exist between the two sides. Turkey still sees the creation of a safe haven in Syria to return refugees as a priority; how this materialises with Turkey acting as guarantor is difficult to see and reconcile with the Russian and Syrian government positions of retaking Idlib Province. Russia views the ‘rebels’ in Idlib as terrorists and that the area be retaken back as an integral sovereign part of Syria.
A Turkish retreat will be a difficult pill to swallow for Erdoğan both domestically and regionally and it is obvious that Russia intends to allow Turkey to disengage without losing face, in what is a valuable relationship with a country that it has developed closer economic with ties recently. Turkey has become reliant on Russia, which has built the new TurkStream natural gas pipeline across the Black Sea (from Anapa to Kıyıköy) and is building a nuclear power plant in Mersin; the building of the Akkuyu power plant, at a cost of $20 billion USD, is a joint project between the Turkish government with Rosatom and puts Turkey with a heavy dependency upon Russia for its increasing energy needs.
Turkish attempts to flex its muscles and vie for geopolitical dominance in a region where US dominance is being questioned have been met with resistance and are symptomatic of capitalism in complete crisis. The power struggle involving Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt can be seen being played out in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the dispute over the Cyprus gas fields with the maritime disputes in the Mediterranean. While much of this has taken on a religious dimension, it is ultimately a battle over resources and territory.
Turkish involvement in Syria has been costly with the dog biting the hand that has often fed it with bombings in Istanbul, Ankara, Reyhanlı, Diyarbıkır and Suruç from the hands of Da’esh. Turkish soldiers coming home in body bags is not what the Turkish people will stomach and Erdoğan’s foreign policy in Syria is being severely questioned domestically; over half of the population oppose Turkish involvement and the war in Syria. The Turkish economy is not in good shape and is more of a concern to the ordinary citizen than terrorism, which has often been the rallying cry as justification for Turkish involvement.
However, what must not be forgotten in all of this is how the Syrian crisis unfolded and led to civil war in the first place. This is a tragedy for the Syrian people, and it is they who are at the heart of the suffering. After 400 years of Ottoman rule, an empire that was multicultural allowing a certain amount of religious autonomy under the ‘millet’ system, Syria then found itself ‘free’ of the Ottoman yoke after the British encouraged and assisted an Arab revolt.
However, with the aftermath of WWI and the carving up of territories by the Imperialist powers with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Syria then soon found itself under French colonial rule. The western carving up of territories failed to consider religious and ethnic lines and has been much of the reason for tensions throughout the region ever since, often exacerbated and exploited by outside interference.
Bashar al-Assad’s ascension to the Presidency on 17th April 2000 followed the death of his father, Hafez. The Assad dynastic rule has not been one free of authoritarianism with uprisings that have been brutally suppressed; in 1973, 1980, 1982, and then of course 2011 that led up to the civil war.
For Permanent Revolution in the Middle East!
Against the backdrop of the ‘Arab Spring’ on 28th January 2011, a 36-year-old man, Hassan Ali Akleh, set himself alight in protest in the town of Hasakeh in north east Syria. This act of self-immolation came 6 weeks after a similar protest in Tunisia (when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight outside the local governor’s office) sparked protests throughout the Arab world. Both were acts of desperation against the economic hardship and conditions that these two individuals found themselves in.
This was then followed by a protest in the central neighbourhood in Damascus, Hareeqa, on 17th February followed by a second ‘Day of Rage’ on 15th March when thousands came out onto the streets across Syria, in towns like Hama, Hasakeh, Deraa and again in Damascus. The Syrian government’s response involved arrests, beatings and live fire with triggers that enraged people further; 15 schoolboys were arrested in Deraa on 6th March for graffitiing anti-government slogans and tortured. Protests against the detention of the children on 18th March resulted in the first deaths of protesters on the streets. The Omari Mosque saw thousands gather, who by now had demands on the government. These demands were again met with live fire and 15 people killed. Protesters set fire to the Baath Party HQ and the SyriaTel building.
This was the lighting of the touch paper that resulted in protests throughout Syria on 25th March in solidarity; Homs, Hama, Raqqa, Baniyas, Aleppo, and Lattakia all saw protests. After further protests the Syrian government responded with tanks being put on the streets of Deraa on 25th April, the city was in lockdown and government soldiers were given orders to shoot to kill on sight. The social unrest, the government’s brutal response and the unfolding political collapse and vacuum provided the conditions that were exploited by outside powers.
It didn’t take too long before arms and fighters were flooding into the country and on top of members of the Syrian Army deserting and joining the FSA led to further chaos on the ground. The instability and inability of the Syrian government to keep control allowed the rise of radical Islamist groups like Jabhat al Nusra and several smaller groups later taking control of areas, the most notorious being Da’esh. The Syrian government from early on relied on support from Hezbollah and fighters from different Iranian militias fighting under Iranian command to prevent the government completely collapsing.
Russia provided political support and military aid from an early stage in 2011, eventually with direct military involvement from 30th September 2015 onwards. Russian involvement has brought stability to the government and has allowed it to hold on to power and recapture lost territory with only the last rebel held area of Idlib remaining.
We consider that despite the initial genuine democratic and anti-neoliberal thrust of the Arab Spring uprising in Syria, that was fairly quickly buried beneath a major US and pro-Zionist proxy war funnelled mainly through Saudi-backed jihadists. To the bulk of the Syrian people, and to ourselves, a situation evolved where Assad, the initial target of the protests, became the obvious lesser evil even to the Kurds, and the intervention of Russia and Iran, progressive interventions by non-Imperialist, semi-colonial bourgeois nations defending Syria against an imperialist regime-change attempt by proxy.
As socialists we oppose Imperialism and the foreign intervention and destabilisation of a sovereign country in a region that has already seen constant conflicts. We say no to Turkish involvement, the removal of foreign fighters from Syrian soil and no to EU racism and discrimination towards refugees fleeing from Imperialist wars.
Until the working class of the oppressed nations throughout the region, can rise up and form governments that expropriate the means of production from private to collective ownership; a permanent revolution that mobilises all the oppressed layers of the population behind the working class in a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat, then nothing will change. This must go hand in hand with a world-wide revolution. Imperialism feeds off the constant cycle of decay that capitalism brings, the two are evil conjoined twins. Either socialism or barbarism……down with Imperialism and the capitalist class!