Interview With Jana Nakhal, Lebanese Communist Party Member, On Occupation Of Afrin By Turkish Forces And Takfiri Fighters
Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola welcome Jana Nakhal, who is a member of the central committee of the Lebanese Communist Party and an independent researcher, to the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast.
Nakhal recently traveled to the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwest Syria, which was recently occupied by Takfiri fighters backed by the Turkish army. They have looted villages, raped women, and targeted and killed Kurdish inhabitants, as well as others.
In this interview, Khalek asks Nakhal to describe what she witnessed on her trip to Syria. She talks about how the Takfiri fighters are ex-ISIS or ex-Nusra fighters mobilizing under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. They have an extreme hatred for Kurds.
Nakhal addresses the silence throughout the world as mass killing and destruction takes place in Afrin with the support of Turkish armed forces.
Later in the interview, Nakhal outlines the position of the Lebanese Communist Party on Syria and speaks about her identity as someone who was born in Syria and how the LCP has no love for the Syrian regime, which has targeted, tortured, and killed LCP members.
To listen to the interview, click on the above player or go here.
Below is a partial transcript of the interview, edited for clarity in a few parts.
KHALEK: I want to start with your recent trip to Afrin in northern Syria about a week or two ago before it was under Turkish occupation, which just happened. Afrin is a Kurdish city in northern Syria that’s been under horrific bombardment and siege by the Turkish army as well as Turkish-backed [Free Syrian Army] mercenaries.
We haven’t really talked much about Afrin on our show so Jana can you give our listeners a basic overview of what happened there and your interpretation of what’s going on based on your experience on the ground?
NAKHAL: The area of Afrin is located in the northwest of Syria, and it’s basically on the border with Turkey. The importance of Afrin for Turkey is that it doesn’t only have a majority of Kurdish inhabitants but also it’s part of the Kurdish political and military project of having a semi-independent region of their own from which the Kurds can also have political and military activities, which are anti-Turkish. Around two months ago, the Turks started occupying the Syria lands from the region of Afrin.
I was there around eleven or twelve days ago. The situation was—When I was there, the fact that the Turks had occupied, along with Takfiri mercenaries, they had occupied around 114 villages and towns, marching into the city of Afrin, which was welcoming around 500,000 migrants from all over the region.
Now the problem is that in less than a week, meaning last week, the Turkish army and the Takfiri mercenaries were able to occupy more than 360 additional towns and villages. It caused a large number of casualties among inhabitants, destroying and burning down the cities and villages, looting these villages, killing and torturing the women and the people, and also killing resistance fighters from Kurdish and Arab villages.
What we are facing now is a Turkish and Takfiri presence occupation in the northwest part of Syria in a way which is also around 50 kilometers from Aleppo, which has been freed only last year. So there’s a lot of tension about what’s happened and what’s going to happen, why this happened, why the Syria Army was not able to intervene there. The only groups who have resisted are guerrilla fighters amongst the Arab and Kurdish villages.
Two days ago, the Turkish army actually attacked and bombed a Syrian army checkpoint near Afrin. Until now, we do not know how possible it would be for the same Takfiris—who were in Aleppo and who are now part of the group supporting the Turkish Army—how possible it is for them to march down to Aleppo and re-occupy the city.
KHALEK: When you talk about Takfiris, these are basically former rebels, as the U.S. likes to call them, who are very, very sectarian; basically, like Salafi jihadists. And they’re all lining behind the Turkish army and doing their bidding. Can you explain the threat they pose? They have an extreme hatred, especially for the Kurds, as well as other minority groups. But the Kurds are high on their list of people they like to kill.
NAKHAL: First of all, to explain who these [Takfiris] are, these are ex-ISIS, ex-Nusra fighters, who have regrouped under different names and different groups, all under the name of the Free Syria Army. They’re all Takfiris and they’re all Salafists. The point is they’re the ones fighting on the ground in the region so the Turkish army just fights from their aircraft, and they follow after the Takfiris have looted and killed and kidnapped and raped the women there.
Of course, they’re Takfiris, meaning they’re against everyone who is not like them in the region, but specifically the Yezidi Kurds. There’s a huge number of Yezidi, which is a pagan community amongst the Kurds in the area. According to the Takfiri ideology, Yezidis are not human beings. They can be killed, and they can be treated like slaves. And this is one of the biggest problems that we’ve had with Yezidi women being used as slaves all along Syria and Iraq for the past couple years. This has been the biggest threat for the communities in the region.
For them, the looting that’s going on there is a form of revenge but also about producing money out of occupation. We’re talking about Afrin. It’s a very rich city. It was the resort in north Syria. For the past years, it wasn’t attacked during the war. So it became the refuge for bourgeois people from Aleppo to go and live there so they built these villas.
The looting that’s taking place—we’re talking about them stripping the house of the cladding that is there, the door knobs, the doors, everything that they can get out of the city not only to destroy it but also to get money off it.
KHALEK: When you say these are ex-ISIS, ISIS specifically enslaved Yezidis. So these are people who literally get to do it again under the backing of a NATO ally. It’s just crazy. It’s absolutely insane, and it’s getting almost no coverage in the U.S.
NAKHAL: Yes, silence everywhere, not even in Lebanon where you’d usually have hashtags, profile pictures changing into different colors calling for Aleppo to stop burning, etc. No one is talking about Afrin. Afrin is mentioned nowhere. Until this week, it is only us, the Lebanese Communist Party, who has been publishing about this every week to talk about these descrepancies, of what is going on, the details, and also what does this mean politically. Specifically, that Kurds are an integral part of this region, and it is not okay to say that their fight is not ours.
KHALEK: I want to talk to you about that. There is this fracture especially over the last few years that has been intensified by what is happening in Syria and Iraq, fracture between Arabs and Kurds. It’s kind of always existed several decades. Does that explain why there’s a lack of concern from the Arab side? Am I wrong to say that?
NAKHAL: The lack of concern is just because this is Turkey and this is the Free Syrian Army, which is supposed to be this cute kind of rainbow flag-holding army, which is not the case actually.
Generally, the “activists” who are generally talking about the issues, that is, what is going on in Syria, and who are creating the hashtags about what is going on in Syria—They don’t want to talk about this Free Syrian Army, what it has developed into being. And they don’t want to talk about Turkey, because unfortunately for them, Turkey is an ally.
So what we see in Afrin, what we see all around the region—I want to highlight this very much, that this is not really Kurdish area. This is Kurdish as much as Arab. It’s Alawite. It’s Shi’a. It’s Sunni area. It’s very diverse there. When you talk about marginalizing and dismissing what is going on in Afrin, it’s very much political. It’s because my own ally is doing this so I’m not going to talk about it. I’m not going to tweet about it. I’m not going to change my profile about it.
KHALEK: I did some fans of the FSA tweeting about it and what they were tweeting is that the FSA were returning some things that were looted by some “bad apples.”
But I want to shift for a moment to the fact that you’re someone who is an elected member of the central committee of the Lebanese Communist Party, a leftist party in Lebanon. You’re involved in politics. You’re involved in activism. You are a native of this region, born and raised here. And you also speak English fluently so you and I talk about this quite often, about the coverage of the region and the conflicts taking place in leftist circles and leftist publications in the U.S. and how completely distorted and messed up it is.
I’m going to throw in some identity stuff here. As a leftist in the region from a leftist party, what is your perspective on the way these conflicts get covered, particularly with Syria? What is your stance and the Lebanese Communist Party’s stance on Syria? Because the way it is presented in U.S. leftist circles is that leftists in the region are all for the revolution, for the uprising, and want the overthrow of the Syrian government.
Obviously, you don’t speak for all leftists, but you do speak for a significant faction of them that get let out of the conversation.
NAKHAL: I have two things to say. First of all, as the LCP’s position is currently, definitely with the liberation and freedom and well-being of all peoples of the region—We support the people’s demand to a better life, but what’s going on in Syria now has no connection whatsoever to people’s well-being. We’re talking about killing. We’re talking about an actual war. It’s a very, very destructive war. I was telling a friend a couple days ago that I think that the Thirty Year War in Lebanon had only a similar effect to the seven year-old Syria war, when I saw what is going on there.
It’s destruction. We’re talking about people going out of their houses and coming back just fearing or hoping they’re not going to die, or even staying in their houses and asking God not to let them die. This is the dream of everyday life of ordinary people in Syria.
As LCP, what we demand in such a case is for peace, for all the military actions to stop, definitely for the liberation of all the lands. We need the different communities of Syria to write down, to decide what they want, to decide what kind of opposition they want to create, to decide what kind of different regime or similar regime or more radical regime or whatever kind of regime they want to propose. There needs to be peace for them to stay alive and to organize and to connect with another.
What is there in Syria currently is different and very, very small left that is not able to organize or actually move around. So what we’re talking about is a change for the left to be able to produce itself because there is no actual left working and organizing on the ground now, and to be able to reap its own reality and connect to the people and propose its own solutions and projects.
Going back to your identity politics note, it’s important for me to talk about this. I’m originally Syrian. My father was born there. His father too. My father has Syrian citizenship. So this region is very important for those who fetishize identity politics. Because if we want to follow identity politics the way the West follows it, which means if I’m not “Syrian” I should not be talking about Syria, it means that we’re actually following the colonial borders, which were created here. Because Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine have been separated through Sykes-Picot [Agreement], which is a colonial project.
For me to be anti-colonial and to Marxist means that I also refuse such a border, refuse that Lebanese only know about the Lebanese situation, Palestinians only know about the Palestinian situation, etc. The biggest proof to this is the LCP has always been the biggest supporter and biggest military fighters against the oppression and occupation of Palestine.
KHALEK: I always get people telling me you’re not Syrian. You’re not Palestinian. You have no right. You’re just Lebanese. I’m like, wow, thanks for imposing European identities.
And it wasn’t like the Syria uprising happened and the Lebanese Communist Party was like, we love Bashar. Let him stay in power. It’s a lot more complicated. The Lebanese Communist Party has no reason to love the regime in Syria. There’s a bit of history that you should mention. There were members of the LCP killed. Can you talk about that?
NAKHAL: When people talk about our position, it’s as if they don’t read history and they don’t know that historically we have been the first people to be against the regime in Syria, meaning not only us but the leftists and Marxists and communists in Syria itself. We’re talking about a regime that has actually killed one of our first general secretaries, which is comrade Farajallah el-Helou.
For us, between us and this regime, it has never been peaceful. It has never been that we perceive it as a friendly regime. Lebanese communists as well as Syrian communists have been tortured in the prisons of this regime for years; specifically, when the Syrian army was in Lebanon.
For us, this is an oppressive regime. It’s been our enemy for years. But what’s going on now it’s a different case. It’s a different scenario for which we say we oppose Takfiris. We oppose an American project. We oppose American intervention to destroy Syria. I don’t care about the regime. I don’t support the regime. I support Syria. I don’t want Syria to become Libya. I don’t want the destruction of the state.
Politicians can be changed, but I don’t want the destruction of the state of Syria and people’s connections and understanding of what is until now, when we talk about education, when we talk about health, when we talk about food sovereignty, Syria has been the model of independence in this region. So this is what we want to save and we want to push forward for a radical regime and a regime that realistically represents people.
*For the rest of the nearly 40-minute interview, click on the above player or go here.