For their part the Syrian Kurds appear to have been hoping that the United States or France would provide protection against a Turkish attack by raising the matter at the United Nations Security Council; despite past rhetoric about supporting the Syrian Kurds neither power has proved willing to do so.

Power games

Faced with the wilting of its Western allies, the Syrian Kurds have fallen back on an ineffectual call for international solidarity with its nation building project, which it presents as a radical form of decentralised democracy. ″We are calling on all democratic forces and peaceful people to show strong solidarity with our people against brutal and inhuman attacks on Afrin,″ the PYD wrote in a public statement.

In truth the Syrian Kurds have long been playing a double game in international diplomacy. While working directly with the United States in its north-eastern Jazira canton around Hasakah, they have simultaneously attempted to play the U.S. and Russia off against one another in search of international support in Afrin canton.

Russia and the Syrian regime, provoked like Turkey by the announcement of U.S. plans to employ the Syrian Kurdish military as a border guard, have now also withdrawn any tacit protections intimated to the Syrian Kurds in the past, opening the field for the Turkish incursion.

As a result, Afrin is fast becoming a quagmire for Syria′s Kurds. A withdrawal from Afrin in the face of the uncertainties of U.S. policy would be a humiliation but may ultimately secure an autonomous federal region in north-eastern Syria. Refusal to cede Afrin would mean fighting on against the Turkish force alone and potentially losing U.S. backing in Syria′s north-east.

In attacking Afrin Turkey is not merely trying to establish itself as a permanent fixture in northern Syria, it is attempting to destroy the possibility of any Kurdish power centre emerging – even at the cost of strengthening the Assad regime. That a sizeable portion of the Syrian opposition supports the attack is an indictment of both its degraded state and the times.

Tom Stevenson

© 2018

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