“Children and anybody with a free spirit have become terrorists in the eyes of the world.” My Syrian friend and I are discussing the current situation in Idlib. We are both exasperated that the world is standing idly by as thousands of innocent people are murdered or made homeless. Idlib, a governorate in North West Syria, is often portrayed as home exclusively to terrorists and violent Islamist extremists. My friend’s reference to “a free spirit” is his description of the people who participated in the Syrian revolution: those who dared to demand a free and peaceful life including the right to participate in democratic elections and to exercise freedom of speech and assembly without fear of being arbitrarily detained, tortured, executed or otherwise disappeared into the Syrian regime’s nightmarish prison system.
Since Turkey’s aggressive offensive against Rojava, an area of North Eastern Syria, began early in October 2019, at least 160,000 Syrians have fled their homes. A BBC report from the 17th October states that airstrikes and ground attacks have killed civilians on both sides of the Turkey / Syria border and quotes a UNICEF estimate that 70,000 children have already been displaced. This is a tragedy for the Kurdish citizens of Rojava, as well as the broader Middle East, given what the Rojava political project represented.
It’s been over a week since Turkey launched a fresh military offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northeast Syria. The death toll in Rojava is rising, and an exodus of civilians from the area has already reached a mass scale. Conflict in Syria thus deepens, becoming ever more complex, with the Syrian regime armed forces now reported to have moved into Kurdish controlled Manbij in order to counter the Turkish invasion. But what has sparked this new wave of insurgency? What role does the US have? What are the Kurds fighting for? And what significance does this have for the wider global justice movement?
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2012, over three million civilians have fled the country. The vast majority are currently living in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Libya. Afghanistan has been subjected to war for four decades resulting in Afghans comprising the second highest refugee population in the world, yet the vast majority of Afghan refugees live in Iran and Pakistan. This resettlement of Syrian and Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries is no anomaly: the majority of refugees around the world reside in countries neighbouring their own. These countries often have poor economies and fragility of peace and governance, yet they often accommodate millions of refugees.
CW: mentions of torture, violence, assault
For a few years now so-called leftists have been acting as cheerleaders for Syria’s President Assad. The apparent logic seems to go something like this: “American imperialism is abhorrent, so naturally we will embrace America’s enemy – Russia – and by extension, Assad as our friends.” Let me be clear: in this case, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. It is perfectly feasible to recognise that Russia is an imperialist power and serial abuser of human rights without legitimizing America’s terrible track record of imperialism, occupation and human rights abuses.
The British press has been in a frenzy recently over nineteen-year-old Shamima Begum and her desire to return to the UK from the refugee camp in Syria where she currently resides. There are probably very few people in the UK who are unaware that Shamima travelled from the UK to ISIS territory in Syria at the age of fifteen, where she married an ISIS militant, conceived and lost two children before giving birth to a third (who also passed away) in the refugee camp in Syria she currently calls home.
The red poppy/white poppy/no poppy debate has become increasingly emotive in recent years, as certain right wing groups have co-opted it for their own warped ethno-nationalist causes, bringing forth the notion of ‘poppy fascism’: If you’re not wearing a red poppy you must be some kind of terrorist sympathizer, or a communist… if you don’t like this country and what it stands for you can fuck off to another. Nice. Of course most people who wear a red poppy don’t behave like this, but the minority who do, aside from being obnoxious, are loud, determined and represented by sensationalist and divisive British tabloids, resulting in ‘poppy fascism’ spreading exponentially.