Kurdish News Weekly Briefing, 4-10 July 2015
In partnership with Peace in Kurdistan Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
photo credit: Press TV
The recent advances by Kurdish militias in northern Syria, seizing key territories from the Islamic State extremist group, have spooked Turkey, which has amassed troops and tanks along its border with its embattled neighbour.
Ankara worries the gains will fuel nationalist sentiment among its own Kurdish minority at home, according to analysts. It is also panicked that changes along the border with will cut off supply lines to the Syrian rebel groups it supports in Aleppo, just as those forces launch an offensive in the city against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.
Syrian Kurdish forces have clashed with Turkish soldiers close to a border crossing between Syria and Turkey, a report says. The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that the deadly clashes involving Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) took place near the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad. The UK-based group said several Kurds were killed in the fierce fighting. It has not provided further details of the battle. Kurdish fighters had recently liberated Tal Abyad in Raqqa Province. The town had been under the control of ISIL. In January, the YPG forces also liberated Kobani, a Kurdish town in the border region.
Turkey appears to be ready to deploy an army of 18,000 soldiers in Syria and occupy an area of 33 km between the Syrian cities of Kobane and Mari in an effort to contain Islamic state, which is trying to conquer the northern part of Syria. But the real target might be less IS and more the Kurdish forces, who are fighting and scoring victories against IS and political victories in Ankara while remaining Turkey’s principal preoccupation. On June 28, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, representing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s same AKP party, said that Turkey “is ready for all options in the event of a threat to our security.”
Turkish armed forces and Kurdish fighters are clashing regularly in low-grade firefights in southeastern Turkey, and soldiers are targeting local mules, which the authorities claim are used by Kurdish fighters for lucrative cross-border smuggling. Last week a Turkish pro-Kurdish lawmaker accused the military of slaughtering many mules after raking a village with gunfire in the Uludere district. The district is a hotbed of cross-border smuggling, the profits of which go to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Turkish troops have begun digging trenches between the predominately-Kurdish towns of Nusaybin and Qamishli as a security precaution and to prevent illegal passage across the border. However, Nusaybin’s Kurds, being cut off from their cousins just meters away in Syria, are unhappy with the measures and staged a demonstration against the trenches Sunday night. Organized by the Turkey’s Kurdish political parties’ local administrations as well as the Nusaybin city assembly, the protest began with a large crowd of several dozen gathering at the central Abdulkadir Paşa neighborhood and marched while carrying torches down to the Yeşilkent neighborhood just 20 meters away from the Syrian border.
Amnesty International has released a report on human rights failures during protests in Turkey and North Kurdistan in solidarity with Kobanê in October 2014 in response to the advance of ISIS gangs on the predominantly Kurdish city on Syria’s border with Turkey. AI recalled that demonstrators protested against the ISIS and those they claimed to be its supporters within Turkey and its government, who they alleged to be allowing the ISIS to advance. A week of protests and linked large-scale violence, left more than 40 people dead, including Kobanê protestors, political opponents they accused of supporting ISIS, bystanders and three police officers.
DBP Party Assembly members released a declaration after their meeting today and said that the process of resolution would not go any further as it is today and the next phase of the process must begin. Party of Democratic Regions (DBP) Party Assembly held a meeting in Amed and released a declaration afterwards. DBP members stated that the process would not go any further by HDP delegation's visits to İmralı Island and Mr. Öcalan, an important partner of the process, should no longer be imprisoned. DBP members said that they would be organizing a series of events in order to change Mr. Öcalan’s imprisonment conditions.
Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) organised a wide ranging discussion of Rojava, Kurdish autonomy and the attempts to build peace in Syria on 30 June 2015. Held in the Houses of Parliament, the event was hosted by the independent cross-bench peer Lord Hylton. Lord Hylton has recently returned from Rojava and is the first member of the UK parliament to visit the self-declared autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria.
Syrian Kurdish fighters have recaptured more than 10 villages seized by Islamic State north of its de facto capital of Raqqa city, aided by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Tuesday. Intensified air strikes across northern Syria and clashes on the ground have killed at least 78 Islamic State fighters since Sunday night, the Britain-based Observatory said. The strikes are some of the most sustained since they began in September, according to U.S. officials who say they are aimed at curbing the militants' ability to operate out of Raqqa and to prevent it from fighting back against Kurdish advances.
ISIS fighters stormed a Syrian town held by Kurdish-led forces near Raqqa city Monday, part of a wider offensive by the militants two days after their de facto capital was hit by some of the heaviest U.S.-led airstrikes in the conflict. The Kurdish YPG militia said it was fighting to expel ISIS fighters who had attacked Ain Issa, captured from them only two weeks ago with aerial support from the U.S.-led military alliance. Ain Issa sits on a major east-west highway from Aleppo in the west to the Iraqi city of Mosul. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday a flurry of U.S. airstrikes around Raqqa over the weekend was aimed at disrupting the ability of ISIS fighters to parry advances by Kurdish forces.
Hundreds of people from Lebanon’s Kurdish community marched in Beirut Sunday in solidarity with their fellow nationals fighting ISIS (Daesh) in northern Syria. Carrying Kurdish flags and pictures of the incarcerated co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party Abdullah Ocalan, demonstrators accused Turkey of supervising ISIS’s massacring of around 150 Kobani residents last week. “Since the liberation of the city of Tal al-Abyad, the Turkish state launched a strong propaganda campaign against the victories of the democratic nation to create ethnic strife between Arabs and Kurds,” a statement by the protestors said.
Senior U.S. officials have urged Turkey to do more to stop jihadists crossing its border with Syria, and the two NATO allies appear divided on the role of Kurdish militias in fighting Islamic State. Retired General John Allen, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to build a coalition against Islamic State, held talks in Ankara on Tuesday and Wednesday with his Turkish counterparts on joint efforts to fight the Islamist militants. Turkey has been a reluctant partner in the coalition, arguing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also needs to be forced from power and fearing territorial gains by Kurdish militias will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurds.
Nearly a year into a bombing campaign intended to degrade and destroy the Islamic State group, the United States finally may have found a reliable partner on the ground in Syria. In comments Monday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged that Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia are identifying bomb targets for U.S.-led airstrikes. It was the first public description by a senior Obama administration official detailing the cooperation between the United States and the militia, to which NATO ally Turkey has objected. The militia’s success is one of the reasons the United States is intensifying its bombing campaign against Islamic State in Syria, Carter said.
The U.N. refugee agency said the number of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria has topped 4 million, making Syria the world’s biggest refugee crisis in a generation. With no solution to the conflict in sight, the UNHCR said it expects the number of refugees to exceed 4.25 million by the end of the year. The U.N. refugee agency said this milestone comes barely 10 months after the 3 million refugee mark was reached. In June, more than 24,000 Syrians fled to Turkey, which already is the world’s largest refugee-hosting country.
The unexpected rout of Islamic State forces across a wide arc of territory in their northeastern Syria heartland has exposed vulnerabilities in the ranks of the militants — and also the limits of the U.S.-led strategy devised to confront them. Islamic State fighters have been driven out of a third of their flagship province of Raqqa in recent weeks by a Kurdish-led force that has emerged as one of the most effective American partners in the war. The offensive, backed by U.S. airstrikes, has deprived the militants of control of their most important border crossing with Turkey and forced them onto the defensive in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa city, something that would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago.
Purported supporters of the hardline Islamic State group hacked the website of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog on Wednesday and threatened its Syrian director who has documented abuses on all sides of Syria's war. The Britain-based Observatory, which tracks the conflict using sources on the ground, took down its website after the online attack from a group calling itself "The Cyber Army of the Khilafah". The cyber attackers had posted the face of Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman superimposed over a hostage wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling next to an Islamic State militant holding a knife, according to the SITE monitoring service.
COMMENT, OPINION AND ANALYSIS
Visibly, the Turkish state is failing to formulate a consistent strategy toward the Kurds. In a sense, the Kurdish issue is perplexing Turkish politics. On the one hand, the Kurdish party -- the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) -- got 13 percent of public support in the latest nationwide election. The HDP has become the third biggest party in İstanbul. Note also that the Kurdish party has a strong constituency in many Kurdish cities. On the other hand, in northern Syria, there are Kurdish cantons with increasing international legitimacy. Being trapped between these two sides of Kurdish politics, Ankara seems desperate. Some key actors in Ankara support a military incursion into northern Syria to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state. But is that realistic?
2 July 2015 / Al Monitor
Newspapers are overflowing with scenarios that send Turkey into Syria after the expulsion of the Islamic State (IS) from Tell Abyad by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG). A flurry of speculation about operational plans followed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s declaration that Turkey will never allow establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Syria. According to a report by government mouthpiece daily Yeni Safak, 18,000 Turkish soldiers are to enter Syria through the Karkamis and Oncupinar crossings and set up a buffer zone 28-33 kilometers (17-20 miles) deep and 110 kilometers (68 miles) long.
This week's guest for Monday Talk says that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not want the Rojava cantons to get united and that's why he is considering creation of a buffer zone across the border, where Kurdish militia and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants vie for control. “Since the beginning of the Syrian war, the Turkish border has always had a security threat. Why now? We know the answer. Erdoğan does not want the Rojava cantons to get united,” said academic Ayşe Betül Çelik, who focuses on the Kurdish issue and reconciliation.
After a life in Germany, Ziya Pir decided to return to Diyarbakır and run for the political elections in the ranks of the HDP. His vision on Turkey: After over 35 years in Germany, a successful career, and a well-established dental clinic, Ziya Pir starts from scratch and will be running in the ranks of the HDP in the district of Diyarbakır – or Amed, as the Kurds prefer to call it. He is not Kurdish, but Turkish and with a very special family history. In the late seventies his uncle Kemal Pir, along with the more famous Abdullah Öcalan and other college students, founded the Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known as the PKK. Kemal Pir died in 1982 in a prison in Diyarbakır, following a unger strike he started with other militants.
From his fields in Turkey, farmer Hüseyin Özdemir can see Islamist militants digging trenches and planting mines as they ready for battle around the northern Syrian town of Jarablus. Like many villagers along this stretch of Turkey's 900-kilometer (560-mile) border, Özdemir welcomed the arrival of additional Turkish soldiers to bolster security in recent days but fears the consequences if they cross into Syria and intervene. Wary of advances by both Syrian Kurdish forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants as fighting north of the Syrian city of Aleppo intensifies, Turkey has sent extra troops and equipment to this stretch of the border as the risk of spillover rises.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Edward Corrigan, a political commentator in Ontario, to ask for his insight on Turkey’s military deployment on the Syrian border. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: First of all, talk to us about Turkey’s massive military deployment along its borders with Syria.
Corrigan: The Turks are very much afraid of any sort of independence Kurdish movement whether it’s in Turkey or in Syria or Iraq or anywhere else.
Kurdish fighter Seewar Sofi still wears his uniform. It matches those of his comrades in the photo taped above his hospital bed. The fatigues he was issued as a member of the YPG, or the People’s Protection Units, are now folded over the stumps of his legs, both amputated above the knee. The rolled-up sleeve of his shirt reveals a right hand that resembles a claw.
On June 16, Kurdish fighters in Syrian Kurdistan captured the town of Tel Abyad from the Islamic State (ISIS). The Kurdish victory in Tel Abyad prevents ISIS from having a direct route for importing fighters and supplies, and puts serious pressure on Raqqa, the de facto "capital" of the Islamic State. As Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, noted, the capture of Tel Abyad was "the biggest setback to ISIS since it announced its caliphate one year ago." Although this success by the Kurds must have been welcomed by people horrified at such a genocidal terrorist group, Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state in the region. "I am addressing the whole world," he said: "We will never allow a state to be formed in northern Syria, south of our border."
Turkey and the Kurds share the aim of ending their long-standing conflict. So what of the so-called peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK, especially their imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan? And what is the potential role of Kurdish diaspora groups in ‘peace-making’, ‘peacebuilding’ and ‘reconciliation’ processes with Turkey? I have been exploring the experiences of Kurdish individuals and families in diaspora, specifically looking at involvement in homeland politics, conflict and peace between April 2014 and May 2015 for my research, facilitating five focus groups and securing interviews with those from different parts of Kurdistan now living in the UK and Germany. In total, my research involved 60 Kurdish adults, of whom 29 were women, and 31 were men, building on work on the Kurdish diaspora in the UK and Germany since 2008.
The Middle East is a slippery region; relations and interests are intricate and complicated. It is the sphere of influence of global powers; the allies of each global power observe different interests and priorities. Those who want to be involved in Middle East politics and be ranked as a regional power have to consider these delicate features of the region. What happens when you don't do so? The answer to this question can be found in where the Justice and Development Party (AKP) policies brought Turkey to.
The chances of a military operation by Turkey to establish a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border — with the primary aim of preventing Syrian Kurds from establishing an autonomous entity in the region — have receded as the political difficulties and security risks that would be involved dawn on Ankara. Meanwhile, the alliance between the United States and fighters attached to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish group in Syria, has deepened Ankara’s quandary with regard to its overall Syrian policy.
In Chapter 4 of "Rocky Harbors: Taking Stock of the Middle East in 2015," published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Paul Salem chronicles and analyzes the shifting fortunes of political Islam in the region. For political Islamic groups, the past four years have been the best of years and the worst of years. In this period, the Arab world’s oldest and largest political Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), had its biggest ever victory in its homeland of Egypt, followed a year later by its biggest defeat. In the same period, a jihadi-salafi group, the Islamic State group (ISG), conquered large swaths of these two countries and announced the establishment of the Islamic State and the restoration of the caliphate in the person of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.