The purpose of this article is to provide a critique of the Rojava project through a close examination of the discrepancies between the rhetoric surrounding the endeavour and the realities governing its implementation. By "Rojava project" we refer to the endeavour to establish Kurdish nationalist sovereignty in northern Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG), later transformed into the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Our substantial focus is on the ways in which Kurdish nationalist leaders and parties in Syria and Iraq have simultaneously oppressed Assyrians--revealing the fundamentally ethnocentric and nationalistic nature of the politics behind the Kurdistan project in both countries--and co-opted Assyrians in order to propagandise the supposedly ethnically-inclusive nature of their politics. We will also examine the rhetorical, political, and media strategies behind the Rojava and KRG projects, particularly in relation to Assyrians. The particular geographical focus of our analysis is "Rojava", but an analysis of Kurdish politics and the fate of the Assyrian people requires a transnational perspective. The "Dawronoye" ("Revolutionaries"), an Assyrian political movement which operates under PYD and PKK control, will be assessed as a force serving to advance Kurdish nationalist interests in Syria and Iraq and to burnish the rhetoric surrounding those interests. The participation of the Dawronoye in the Rojava project and the SDF--backed by a substantial rhetorical and media strategy--and the readiness of western governments to accept them as valid representatives in order to ethnically "pluralize" the SDF and legitimize them as an ally means a comprehensive account of the nature, operations and capabilities of the Dawronoye is needed. Our thesis is that the policies of Rojava's Kurdish self-administration and its Assyrian proxy, the Dawronoye, are actively harming the prospects of Assyrian survival in Syria. In support of that thesis, we document a range of abuses by the Kurdish self-administration and the Dawronoye, which include:
- Extensive harassment and intimidation of Assyrians who resist the policies of the Kurdish self-administration;
- Physical violence committed by both the PYD asayish and the Dawronoye Syriac Military Council (MFS) security forces against Assyrians;
- Forced conscription and parallel tax systems;
- The imposition of Kurdish nationalist ideology through an overhaul of the education system;
- Attempts at land confiscation and the annexation of Khabur by Kurdish nationalist forces;
- Manipulation of rhetoric and propaganda that seek to fully absorb the Assyrian experience into the Kurdish nationalist cause as articulated by the PYD/YPG, paving the way for the long-term absence of any Assyrian representation outside or apart from the Kurdish self-administration.
"…the Syrian Kurds have built a coalition with Arabs, Syriacs, Christians and others in the northern slice of Syria that they call Rojava (or, more officially, the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.) They want pluralistic, democratic self-determination for themselves and others in a newly federated Syria, discarding the nationalist project that led to the Iraqi referendum."Further in Graeber's view, this coalition operates under the auspices of a "Syrian Kurdish freedom movement that... has pursued an entirely different vision from that of the Kurds in Iraq: It does not wish to change the borders of states but simply to ignore them and to build grass-roots democracy at the community level." The claims made by Graeber about the distinction between "direct democracy" within already-existing national borders as practiced by the PYD/YPG and the nationalist separatism of the Iraqi KDP are closer to being true in reverse. The Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum--pushed forward by Masoud Barzani despite significant local and international criticism and held Sept. 25, 2017--was, in fact, not intended to produce a sovereign nation-state for Iraqi Kurds. Every indicator pointed to this: from the profoundly dysfunctional institutional apparatus, plagued by near absolute levels of corruption and partisanship, to the obvious advantages for the KRG of remaining in Iraq and the obvious nonsense of a direct link between the referendum result and the actual declaration of an internationally recognized sovereign state. The referendum push was instead a gamble aimed at reinforcing existing systems of patronage and power, with both major sides of the KRG also having one eye on aggrandizing the extent of their own control of the KRG in relation to external patrons and/or the Iraqi state. The nationalist vision of the KDP is therefore a tool serving several connected ends, but it is not an unswerving political vision or a true telos. The PYD/YPG preoccupation with shifting power and demographic dynamics within Rojava, however, is little different in nature--even if circumstances entail serious discrepancies of execution--than the manipulations and agendas of the KRG. Though party hegemony serves as the vehicle of implementation for both PYD and KDP agendas, the PYD's actions are molded to the task of enforcing ethnic supremacy. From the anti-imperialist, anti-American lens of many pro-Rojava observers, the thorny question of American support is dealt with as follows. American support for the YPG/SDF has served as a source of material and symbolic vindication of the project, even if America has officially opposed Rojava's declaration of autonomy. Many pro-Rojava observers in the West also oppose American support for the armed rebellion against the regime, so the distribution of American support across favorable lines can be seen as a temporary corrective measure for excesses elsewhere in the country and region. But when American support dwindles--as it did crucially during the Turkish invasion of northern Syria in August 2016 and again in Afrin most recently--it can be identified as a sign of the opportunism, "insincerity", and inconsistency of American support for the YPG, coupled with a return to the eternal clich