In New York City’s Union Square this Sunday, a group of American activists and Kurdish expats gathered together for a “Defend Rojava” rally. Speakers took turns talking about Rojava, the portion of northern Syria currently under control by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Kurdish YPG and YPJ militias were the primary players in northern Syria during the ongoing Syrian civil war, but later, as they began to receive U.S. military support and captured areas of the country that were not traditionally Kurdish, they allied with Arab militias to form the SDF.
Today, some two-thousand American servicemen and women are deployed to Rojava in a state of limbo as President Trump appears to change his mind every few days about their status in Syria. The U.S. Special Forces teams in Syria have reportedly recently conducted a Relieve In Place as previously deployed ODAs re-deployed back home and new teams deployed to Syria to replace them. In conversations between the SDF leadership and the Green Berets, the Americans seem genuinely confused as to what their future holds in Syria–which creates frustration all around.
The speakers for “Defend Rojava” included a Kurdish spokeswoman, a representative of HDP (the Kurdish political party in Turkey), author Meredith Tax, and activist Gloria Steinem. The Kurdish speakers wanted to make it clear that an abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Syria is not a win for anti-imperialists, but rather it would be a massive defeat for a genuine democratic movement in the Middle East. With America no longer in Syria as a security guarantor for the Kurds, the Turkish military would inevitably invade and crush them as they have already done in the canton of Afrin.
The rally attracted a small but dedicated group of people, including local anarchists and anti-fascists as well as older leftist activists. With ISIS largely minimized and degraded, if not defeated, America’s attention appears to have shifted elsewhere since the jihadi beheading videos of 2015 or 2016 shocked and horrified the world. Americans are now preoccupied with tweets from President Trump and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez or by a seemingly-innocuous confrontation between a teenager wearing a MAGA hat and a Native American, all while our erstwhile allies in the Middle East are left in the lurch, wondering what the future may hold.