Our Open Letter
Our open letter to the New York Review of Books
A Call to Defend Rojava
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.
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
For the full list of our signatories click here.
For the original article please click here.
A Point of Clarification
There has been some confusion about one of the four points that we listed in our Open Letter. A couple of readers have suggested that our call for the US to 'continue military support for the SDF' is a call for US occupation of northern Syria, or for an indefinite US military presence in the country. This is not what we said. We simply want the US to maintain the existing support for the SDF, until the Turkish forces and its local militia affiliates withdraw from the Afrin region, and commit to no further aggression against Rojava. This support is essential for the SDF to continue the fight against ISIS, and to effectively resist the invasion. Erdoğan's move appears to have been taken in the cynical confidence that the US will soon depart—and thus give him a free hand to pursue the ethnic cleansing program against Kurds he seems resolved to carry through (within and beyond Turkey's borders). The US should correct this misperception firmly and immediately.
- Debbie Bookchin, Robert Hockett, Anna-Sara Malmgren and Meredith Tax.