The renowned left-wing linguist and political thinker Noam Chomsky touched on everything from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the global suppression of Kurdish political movements in a characteristically deep interview with the Yeni Özgür Politika news and analysis site.
Chomsky condemned both Washington and Moscow’s complicity in the violent suppression of Kurdish liberation movements, and called for the release of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan from Turkey’s İmralı prison island.
Read on for the abridged text of Chomsky’s interview with Gülcan Dereli of Yeni Özgür Politika:
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being interpreted as the beginning of a new era in global politics. What kind of implications does this invasion provide in terms of understanding the parameters of the emerging new order? What do you see when looking at the current world landscape?
The major issue of global order is whether it will continue to be unipolar, dominated by the United States, or whether it will become a multipolar system with a number of centres of power. At an ideological level, the alternatives are reflected in the conflict between a “rules-based international order” (where the United States sets the rules), and a “UN-based international order.” In the US, commentary in scholarship and media uniformly supports the former, not surprisingly.
The role of Europe is central to these developments and debates. Throughout the Cold War, there have been conflicting visions of Europe’s place in the global order. The “Atlanticist vision” held that it should be subordinate to the United States. (Former French President) Charles de Gaulle was the leading advocate of the view that Europe “from the Atlantic to the Urals” should become an independent “third force.” There was some support for his position in Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and other initiatives. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev proposed the idea of a “common European home” from Lisbon to Vladivostok with no military alliances and common efforts to construct a social democratic future. The US toyed briefly with similar ideas, but rejected them, under Clinton, in favour of expansion of NATO to the Russian border, against the strong advice of virtually everyone in the higher levels of US diplomacy who had any knowledge of Russia.
Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine settled the matter at least in the short run by driving Europe into the hands of the United States, providing Washington with a most welcome gift. (French President) Emmanuel Macron tried until the last minute to convince (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to follow a different course, perhaps leading to something like Gorbachev’s vision. Putin refused. But the matter is not ended. Europe is suffering severely from hanging on to Washington’s coattails, and changes may be coming.
Meanwhile, China is quietly expanding its huge loan and development program throughout Asia, reaching also to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, soon to Europe. The United States is trying hard to prevent it from doing so, with limited success. And by now the (U.S. President Joe) Biden administration is taking strong steps to compel its allies to join it in preventing China’s technological development at home, as well as “encircling” China with a ring of states provided with advanced weapons aiming at China.
Virtually omitted from standard history about these matters are the important efforts of the Global South to become a part of the global order, including the non-aligned movement, the New International Economic and Information Orders, BRICS, UNCTAD within the UN system. Most of these efforts were beaten back harshly by the US and its allies. But they survive, and are sure to find their place in the developing system of world order, now much contested.
On the one hand, the argument is that Russia was forced into invading and that Ukraine was used as bait for which the main culprits are the United States and NATO. The other argument is that Putin saw this as an opportunity for imperialist expansion and strengthening of his regime and took action. Apart from these two interpretations, there is also an intervention that opposes both Russia’s invasion and imperialist expansion goals as well as opposing instrumentalisation of Ukraine for US and NATO imperialist interests. The general interpretation of recent developments has been clustered along these three main views. How do you evaluate and assess these interpretations?
NATO expansion was undertaken by the Clinton administration, in violation of firm promises to Gorbachev and against the advice of major figures in high-level US diplomatic circles. They almost uniformly understood that no Russian leader, including those most favoured by the West, would tolerate crossing a clear red line: incorporation of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. I won’t review again the record of US integration of Ukraine into the NATO military command, again against the strong warnings of high US officials that this was reckless and provocative.
Nonetheless, there is no justification for criminal aggression. Up to the last minute, Emmanuel Macron was offering Putin reasonable ways to reach an accommodation without resort to violence. Putin dismissed these with contempt, and chose aggression. As already discussed, this criminal act handed Washington its fondest wish on a silver platter: driving Europe into its hands. Temporarily at least.
Amid these recent developments, Turkey continues its invasive threats and attacks against Rojava and South Kurdistan. There are diplomatic attempts to repair the deteriorated relations with Western states by Turkey, seeing the invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity and preparing ground for escalating its attack on Kurdistan. While the United States is content with verbal responses to the routine attacks against Rojava, Russia seems more concessive to Turkey due to the impasse in the occupation of Ukraine. What is your perception and interpretation of the seemingly two opposite forces of Russia and USA positioning towards Turkey – sometimes in silence and sometimes in cooperation – in relation to Rojava and overall Kurdish liberation struggle?
Turkey has been relentless in its persecution of Kurds. There have been a few brief moments when the situation seemed to be changing; the early years of this century for example. But they have not lasted long. And any opportunity is grasped. (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan is seeking a major position for Turkey in the developing world order, in his eyes probably a new Caliphate, but at least a role that is not controlled by Russia or the West but that works partially with each, while also reaching to domains of Turkish influence in Asia and integration with China.
Thus, on the one hand Turkey remains a member of NATO, on the other Erdoğan happily accepts Putin’s offer to establish a new centre for distribution of Russian gas to Europe, evading NATO controls and in violation of strong US demands. For both Russia and the US, Kurdish liberation means next to nothing. Just look back a few years. The 1990s was a period of extreme Turkish violent assaults against Kurds in Turkey, one of the worst periods – relying heavily on US arms that Clinton provided in a flow that increased as the crimes escalated. And it was all virtually silenced in the US. It can still barely be discussed.
Mass women’s demonstrations which can be described as an uprising have emerged in Iran following the brutal murder of Jîna Mahsa Amini. Although mainstream media highlighted the name of Mahsa, her real Kurdish name was Jîna, though she was registered as Mahsa because her Kurdish name is banned in Iran. It is also striking that the Kurdish slogan “Jin, Jîyan, Azadî” (Women, Life, Freedom) which Öcalan stated represents the essential strength of the Kurdish women, has become a mainstay of the uprisings. How do you interpret this slogan and evaluate its spread worldwide, related to the recognition of achievements of Kurdish women’s movement in Rojava?
The central Kurdish element in this national uprising has been mentioned, but marginalized. An illustration is what you mention. In western discourse, the victim is “Mahsa,” not “Jîna,” which is never seen. And the connection to the great achievements of women in Rojava is unknown and unmentioned.
The recent uprising in Iran have now entered into its second month and continues with intensity. Although the similar past uprisings in Iran have been crushed by the regime quickly, the current uprising has now spread across the country and despite brutal measures the regime fails to suppress it. In this context, what course the potential change in Iran might take and what would be its implications and impact for the Middle East?
No one can say. The current uprising surpasses the earlier ones that were suppressed in scale, intensity, and depth. We should bear in mind, however, that it does not encompass the entire population. The conservative rural areas may well still be supportive of the regime. And we do not know whether the harsh clerical regime will resort to the means of violence that it has, recalling how the Shah’s unwillingness or inability to do so led to the fall of his regime. If the uprising succeeds, the effects on the Middle East and beyond could be far-reaching. Already it has not only aroused worldwide support but has inspired others to undertake actions where they live.
Kurdistan is divided into four parts between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Kurdish region in Iran is called Rojhilat and during the most recent uprising the Iranian regime has conducted the most brutal aggression attacks in this region. How do you see a potential/possibility that Rojhilat Kurdistan will emerge as another new experience similar to that of Rojava? Can a new door be opened for Rojhilat, just like Rojava, with the recent uprising and change in Iran this time?
There is always a potential, and the struggle to achieve it should not be abandoned. But realistically, the problem now is to preserve what has been achieved. Trump’s shameful withdrawal of a small US contingent from Rojava opened the way for Turkey to expand its murderous aggression in Syria, compelling Rojava to align with its bitter enemy (Syrian President Bashar) Assad. Turkey is expanding its attacks on the PKK in Kurdistan. There are right now few indications that Rojhilat could achieve anything like the remarkable successes of Rojava, now under severe attack.
You have called for freedom for Abdullah Öcalan. As you are aware, Öcalan has been under severe isolation for the past 24 years. What would you like to say about freedom for Öcalan? Is this severe isolation a retaliation for his thoughts and impact on democratization of the region?
He should certainly be freed from his brutal imprisonment. His ideas were clearly the prime inspiration for the impressive developments in Rojava, which all of the authoritarian regimes that dominate the region perceive – rightly – as a threat to their illegitimate power.