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A Call to Defend Rojava

An Open Letter
By accepting Turkey’s attack, the US has become complicit in President Erdoğan’s explicit ethnic cleansing plan to expel the Kurds from a part of Syria where they have lived for centuries, and to eradicate the democratic experiment developing in Rojava.

Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian man resting amid the rubble of a home in Afrin, March 31, 2018

When Raqqa fell in 2017, after a long siege by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it was generally thought that ISIS was defeated, save for some mopping up. But in January of this year, Turkey invaded Afrin—one of three cantons in Rojava, also called the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. This meant that scores of SDF fighters had to leave the battle against ISIS in order to defend their homes, families, and neighbors in Afrin. After extensive air strikes, the city of Afrin fell on March 18—confronting the already troubled region with yet another humanitarian crisis, as thousands fled to escape the Turkish army and its Syrian National Army allies (which include jihadist rebel groups and some fighters who are either openly aligned with al-Qaeda or even recent members of ISIS).

Many of those who fled Afrin are now sleeping in open fields or in tent cities, lacking the most elementary necessities. Those who remain have been subjected to the same kind of ethnic discrimination, looting, and sexual violence that ISIS perpetrated against the Yazidis in Iraq. At least fifteen girls have been reported as having been abducted, and their families fear they are being held as sex slaves.

We, the undersigned, are launching the Emergency Committee for Rojava as part of a global campaign to draw attention to this new crisis and to Afrin’s call for support.  

The Turkish attack on Afrin was entirely unprovoked. In fact, Afrin was so peaceful for most of the Syrian war that it became a safe haven for tens of thousands of refugees—some of whom are now refugees for a second time. In the cantons they controlled, the Kurdish-led forces had established an oasis, unique in Syria, of local self-government, women’s rights, and secular rule. Yet the Turkish government cynically claims that it is threatened by Rojava because the people leading it—who have been the US’s leading allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria—are “terrorists.”

While the attack on Afrin is a violation of international law comparable to those of the Assad government, the Trump administration has made only feeble protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s depredations. By accepting Turkey’s attack, the US has become complicit in Erdoğan’s ethnic cleansing plan to expel the Kurds once and for all from a part of Syria where they have lived for centuries, and to eradicate the democratic experiment developing in Rojava.

Encouraged by the lack of response from the US, Erdoğan is threatening to take his military campaign deeper into Syria, to Manbij, and even into Iraqi Kurdistan. It is clear that this campaign is already benefiting ISIS in multiple ways. To stop this madness, Turkey must be isolated economically, diplomatically, and militarily until it withdraws its troops and its proxy militias from Kurdish Syria. In the long run, there can be no peace in the region until Turkey is willing to reopen negotiations with its own Kurds and grant all its citizens democratic rights, including freedom of expression and the right to form political parties and win elections without reprisals.

The Emergency Committee for Rojava is calling on the US government to:

• impose economic and political sanctions on Turkey’s leadership;
• embargo sales and delivery of weapons from NATO countries to Turkey;
• insist upon Rojava’s representation in Syrian peace negotiations;
• continue military support for the SDF.

Please join us as signatories and supporters in our call for the US and its allies to end their tacit acquiescence in Turkey’s military adventure and restore peace and safety to the people of Rojava. And visit our website, to see other supporters, sign up for more information, and help organize an ongoing effort to support Rojava by spreading the word on your campus and in your community.

Emergency Committee for Rojava

Debbie Bookchin, journalist, co-editor of The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy
Charlotte Bunch, Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics Emeritus, MIT
Bill Fletcher Jr., writer, former director of Trans-Africa Forum
Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University
David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics
Michael Hardt, Professor of Literature, Duke University
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography, CUNY
Sally Haslanger, Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies, MIT
Robert Hockett, Edward Cornell Professor of Law, Cornell University
Chad Kautzer, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Lehigh University
Anna-Sara Malmgren, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University
Edress Othman, physician, Director of Afrin Fund, board member of New England Kurdish Association
Marina Sitrin, Assistant Professor of Sociology, SUNY Binghamton
Gloria Steinem, feminist writer, journalist, and activist, co-founder of Ms. Magazine
Asta Kristjana Sveinsdottir, Associate Professor of Philosophy, San Francisco State University
Latif Tas, Assistant Professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University
Meredith Tax, writer and activist, author of A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State
Michael Walzer, Professor Emeritus of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University


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