The New York Times reports: A newly appointed spokesman for the alliance briefed reporters in Syria beneath a yellow banner bearing its name in Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian. But the meeting took place inside a Kurdish militia facility because the alliance does not have its own bases yet, nor flags to put on its cars or a defined command structure, said the spokesman, Talal Sillu.
The combined force is to be commanded by a six-person military council, Mr. Sillu said. But he acknowledged that only one member had been selected so far — Mr. Sillu himself.
Last week, President Obama announced plans to deploy dozens of Special Operations troops to support the new alliance. And before that, American officials said 50 tons of ammunition had been airdropped for Arab fighters with the new group.
But already, things have not always gone as planned. Since the ammunition airdrop, American officials have privately acknowledged that the Arab units it was intended for did not have the logistical capability to move it. So, again, the Kurds were called to help.
An array of smaller groups have allied with the Kurds, including Arab and Turkmen rebels, Christian militias and Bedouin fighters loyal to a sheikh who considered the Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi a friend.
While these groups hate the Islamic State, most are small, and some have been repeatedly routed by the very jihadists the United States now hopes they will defeat.
While the Kurds have become used to securing territory, with uniformed forces and a clear chain of command, their Arab allies often leave teenagers with Kalashnikovs at checkpoints who stop and release cars at random, scaring drivers.
A commander of one Arab group lamented that while Kurdish commanders could simply order their fighters to move, he could only make suggestions and hope his men complied. [Continue reading…]
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayip Erdoğan, appears to have strengthened his grip on the country after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority in a snap election just five months after an inconclusive poll. It is a result that will shock and frighten many in the country.
Unofficial preliminary results, appeared to give the AKP 49.3%, followed by the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 25.7%, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) on 12.1% and the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on 10.5%. The AKP is predicted to take 312 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 135 seats, the HDP 60 and the MHP 43.
This result is a big surprise, since pre-election polls forecast a result not much different from that of the June election – and it undoubtedly owes a lot to the toxic atmosphere in which the election was held.
As reported widely around the world, the campaign was anything but fair. The AKP not only controls the army, but also holds sway over the judiciary and much of the media. The party and President Erdoğan effectively dominated pre-election airtime on the country’s public broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which once again displayed blatant favouritism toward the government and Erdoğan.
More worryingly still, reports are circulating of vote-rigging. The news agencies announced the results very rapidly. The election was called for the AKP within only a few hours, despite the fact that many votes were not even delivered to the counting boots. Social media was abuzz with allegations of election fraud, as angry Turks documented their claims with photographs and videos.
The Guardian reports: International observers of Turkey’s parliamentary elections have criticised the climate of “violence and fear” that preceded the vote, saying the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and stifling of press freedoms combined to make the campaign “unfair”.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said he deserved respect from the whole world following Sunday’s result. But the international election observation mission that monitored the polls expressed serious concerns at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.
“This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, the Swiss head of the mission representing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace).
In a stunning victory that secured 317 seats, the Justice and Development party (AKP) which Erdoğan founded and which is led by the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, regained the outright majority it had lost in June’s inconclusive election. Saying the Turkish electorate had voted for stability, Erdoğan on Monday urged the international community to accept the election results. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Angry young Kurds clashed with police here in the de facto capital of the country’s Kurdish southeast as it became evident on Sunday that the party backing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would regain its lock on power.
Young men set up barricades and fired bullets into the air, accusing the government of fraud. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disburse the activists as Kurdish hopes of expanding their political clout suffered another setback.
“Now Turkey will become a one-man state,” said Elif, a university student in Diyarbakir, as she watched election results on television. “The peace process was also just to boost his own power. I don’t believe he will restart [peace talks].”
The unexpected triumph for Mr. Erdogan’s loyalists in Parliament undercut Kurdish politicians who have been trying to bring an end to a renewed conflict. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: When Islamic State fighters fled this northern Syrian town in June, they took with them the electricity generators, the water pumps, the hospital equipment and pretty much everything else that had helped sustain the semblance that they ran a functioning state.
They left behind their graffiti, their instruments of torture, the block of wood on which they beheaded their victims, the cage in which they punished smokers — and a community riven with suspicion and distrust.
Today, Tal Abyad is a tense and troubled place. Its new Kurdish masters are seeking to assert their control over a mixed town that, at least until recently, had an Arab majority — some of whom were not entirely unhappy to be governed by the Islamic State.
“As long as you didn’t bother them, they didn’t bother you,” said Sarkis Kaorkian, 60, who is one of the town’s few Christians who remained behind and is now deeply relieved the Islamic State is gone. He claims he drank and smoked his way through the group’s 17-month rule by staying out of their way and paying on time the $100 tax, or jizya, leveled twice a year on Christian residents. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Turkey looked set to return to single-party rule after the Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to victory in a general election on Sunday, a major boost for embattled President Tayyip Erdogan but an outcome likely to sharpen deep social divisions.
Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu tweeted simply: “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to god)
Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir as results filtered in, with support for the pro-Kurdish opposition falling perilously near the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.
In June, the AKP lost the overall majority it had enjoyed since 2002. Erdogan had presented Sunday’s polls as a chance to restore stability at a time of tension over Kurdish insurrection and after two bombings, attributed to Islamic State, while critics fear a drift to authoritarianism under the president. [Continue reading…]
Christopher de Bellaigue writes: In the autumn of 1990, 16 years into the Kurdistan Workers party’s (PKK) insurgency against the Turkish state, a political activist named Vedat Aydin rose to his feet to address a human rights conference in the capital, Ankara. When Aydin began to speak, it was not in Turkish, the official language of the state, but Kurmanji, a Kurdish dialect that had for decades been effectively banned in public places. The result of this gesture was pandemonium. The moderator of the conference demanded that Aydin switch to Turkish; a fellow Kurd came mischievously onto the platform to translate. Around half those present walked out, and Aydin was detained by police and briefly jailed.
Eight months later Aydin was arrested again, back home in the city of Diyarbakir, in what is effectively the capital of Turkish Kurdistan. Two days after that, his mutilated body was discovered in the countryside outside the city.
Turkish security forces perpetrated thousands of extra-judicial executions of Kurdish activists in the 1990s – along with village clearances and torture on a massive scale – but few provoked the anger of ordinary Kurds more than the killing of the man who had achieved notoriety by standing up to the linguistic proscriptions of the state. On 5 July, 1991, the day of Aydin’s funeral, they came out in their tens of thousands in Diyarbakir.
Among the mourners that day was an 18-year-old local boy called Selahattin Demirtaş, the second son of a plumber and his wife who had given their seven children as stable an upbringing as they could manage in the dirt-poor regional capital.
To Tahir and Sadiye Demirtaş this had meant acquiescing to the official claim that all citizens of the country, bar a few tiny minorities, were Turks. It was only from school friends that Selahattin had learned of the existence of the Kurds, a people that had been living on the mountainous intersection of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor long before the first incursions by Turkish nomads in the 11th century. State propaganda and the collusion of his parents had left Demirtaş unsure as to whether he was a Turk or a Kurd. On 5 July all ambiguity was removed.
The first that Demirtaş saw of the violence that day was when he was swept up in a wave of youngsters being chased by plainclothes policemen wielding planks of wood. Later on, as he recalled in an interview last year with a Turkish newspaper, “they opened fire on the crowd from all sides … the wounded couldn’t be treated because if they went to hospital they would be arrested. And despite all this the newspapers depicted the people of Diyarbakir as responsible for what happened!”
According to the government, eight people were killed that day. Kurdish sources put the figure at more than 20. For Demirtaş, the Diyarbakir killings were an epiphany of the kind that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have experienced over the past 40 years – generally in response to a government atrocity. Such incidents have secured continuous support for the PKK’s war against the Turkish state. “That day,” Demirtaş has said, “I became a different person. My life’s course changed … although I didn’t fully understand the reason behind the events, now I knew: we were Kurds, and since this wasn’t an identity I would toss away, this was also my problem.”
A quarter of a century later, Demirtaş is the embodiment of the Kurds’ political aspirations in Turkey. He is also the exponent of an inclusive politics that is startlingly new, and that owes much to the liberal traditions of the west – so much, in fact, that an admiring ambassador in Ankara recently described him to me as “the only Turkish politician that would not be out of place in a European capital”. But Demirtaş is also the civilian adjunct of a brutal armed movement, caught between bomb and ballot box – a man in the middle. [Continue reading…]
The National reports: Police armed with water cannon, tear gas, and a court order, forced their way into the headquarters of a media group in Istanbul on Wednesday, just days ahead of fresh parliamentary elections.
Earlier this week, Turkish authorities effectively seized control of the media group’s parent company, Koza Ipek Holding, by placing it under the management of a panel of trustees. The company has been placed under investigation over its links to the Gulen movement, an Islamic group opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Prosecutors have accused the two TV channels and two newspapers run by the company of spreading terrorist propaganda.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, called the police raids “a particularly disturbing illustration of the dangerous path Turkey has undertaken in recent months as regards its stance on media freedom”.
The press in Turkey is no stranger to censorship and intimidation. Top officials, including president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are known to order editors to pull content and sue unsympathetic cartoonists. Journalists shy from investigative reporting, particularly when it comes to corruption, for fear of treading on tender corporate toes. Those who rub government bigwigs the wrong way are routinely let go.
But in the run-up to Sunday’s election, poised to determine Mr Erdogan’s political future, and amid renewed fighting in the Kurdish south-east, the media crackdown has grown increasingly fierce. Some of the Turkey’s most renowned journalists have been placed under investigation for allegedly defaming Mr Erdogan in opinion columns or on social media. A leading cable provider has removed seven channels, all run by companies linked to the Gulenists, from its platform. [Continue reading…]
Joshua Meservey writes: In 2012, Syrians fleeing their country’s brutal civil war began arriving in significant numbers in Iraqi Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous enclave of ethnic Kurds in the north of the country. Two years later, ISIS vaulted out of northern Syria and swept across swathes of Iraq, scattering millions of Iraqis. Many of them, in addition to fleeing to Europe, made their way to the Kurdistan region and the protection of its military forces, the peshmerga, which have, for now at least, turned back ISIS’s attempts to overrun northern Iraq’s last sanctuary.
In contrast to many countries, the Kurdistan region has not hesitated to accept large flows of displaced people. Part of this is because nearly all of the Syrians who fled to Kurdistan are ethnic Kurds themselves. So too are members of several religious minorities sheltering in Kurdistan, such as the Kaka’i and the Yazidi, who faced annihilation last year at the hands of ISIS before escaping to Kurdistan.
However, the Kurds have also welcomed non-Kurds fleeing ISIS. Arab Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the latter considered heretics by ISIS, have found protection in the territory, as have the Turkmen, Shabaks, and Assyrian Christians, who have been virtually cleansed from their ancestral home in the Nineveh Plains region.
The cost of caring for so many dispossessed people is straining Kurdistan’s modest resources. Its estimated 2013 GDP was $25 billion, compared to Europe’s 2014 GDP that was more than $16 trillion. Its oil-dependent finances were already being squeezed due to plunging global oil prices, and there is the cost of fighting a war along a more than 600-mile front. The regional government also accuses the Iraqi government of withholding for more than a year its federal budget share, which Baghdad had already slashed in February 2014. The Kurdistan region, with a native population of only 5.4 million, now hosts more than a million refugees — many of whom require shelter, food, and medical care. [Continue reading…]
McClatchy reports: After the failure of its $500 million program to stand up a Syrian volunteer force to battle Islamic State extremists, the Obama administration has begun an effort to enable Arab militias to fight alongside a Kurdish force that has gotten U.S. air support for the past year.
The stated U.S. aim is to oust the Islamic State from its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. But if the Shammar tribal militia, the biggest in Hasaka province, is any example, many Arab forces on the ground have a different agenda. For that matter, so does the Kurdish People’s Protection Force, or YPG, which dominates this area and has worked closely with the United States since the siege last year of the border town of Kobani.
The road to the palace of Sheikh Humaydi Daham al Hadi, the head of the Shammar tribe, winds through vast wheat fields in this isolated corner of eastern Syria, past checkpoints manned by YPG fighters, and then by his own guards.
Hasaka, an oil, gas and grain producing area, is now part of what the YPG calls Jazera, one of three cantons that comprise Rojava, or west Kurdistan, a 200-mile-long corridor on Syria’s border with Turkey. The Syrian government, which still has troops in at least two cities, has acquiesced to YPG control.
Because Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group and has closed its borders because of the YPG’s affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the only way into Rojava is by a ferry across the Tigris River from Iraq and hours of driving on secondary roads.
Welcoming visitors in his vast reception room, Sheikh Humaydi says his goal is to lead a Shammar tribal uprising against the Islamic State “to liberate Syria, Iraq and beyond.” But he also wants to carry on a 2-century-old struggle against conservative Wahabi Islam, which he said destroyed the last Shammar emirate, and he favors the breakup of Saudi Arabia, where the puritanical sect dominates. “We are already working on that,” he said. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Muhammad Hassan Abdullah al-Jibouri had little hope that he would ever make it out of the Islamic State’s jail alive, and he had not even seen the sun in more than a month. Then, early last Thursday morning, he heard the helicopters overhead.
The 35-year-old police officer heard bursts of gunfire, and shouts in Kurdish and in English. Suddenly, the door to his cell was battered open.
“Who is there? Who is there?” a soldier yelled, first in Kurdish and then in Arabic.
“We are prisoners!” Mr. Jibouri’s cellmates yelled back.
Mr. Jibouri was one of 69 Arab prisoners of the Islamic State freed in a military raid near the northern Iraqi town of Hawija last week, the first in which American Special Operations forces were confirmed to have accompanied their Kurdish counterparts onto the battlefield.
On Tuesday, in their first interviews since being brought to the Kurdish autonomous region by American Chinook helicopters, four of the former prisoners described life under the thumb of the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]
Hassan Hassan writes: Ever since they expelled ISIL from Tal Abyad in mid-June, Syria’s Kurds have been at the centre of many rumours. In particular, there has been talk of upcoming battles against ISIL in northern Syria, including Kurdish-Russian cooperation.
The idea of a Kurdish-led offensive to capture Raqqa has been widely discussed in policy circles in western capitals in recent weeks. The idea has became more relevant since the Russian intervention, which many thought would include a campaign to retake Palmyra so Moscow could have a public-relations win over the US.
Fighting between ISIL and the Kurdish and Shia militias has become less intense in recent months. ISIL has turned to low-scale attacks in vulnerable or less strategic areas to avoid air attacks, primarily in Syria where the Russian air campaign has targeted groups that fight on two fronts against the Assad regime and ISIL.
This new reality, along with the recent breakthrough between Ankara and Washington about a Kurdish role in the war, spurred talk of a major offensive against ISIL in northern Syria, building on the success in Tal Abyad. The fact that the Kurds control key areas near ISIL heartlands in both Iraq and Syria, and that Syrian rebels have all but vanished from eastern Syria, leaves the Kurds and the regime as the only forces that could potentially provide ground troops for any air campaign. [Continue reading…]
Luay Al Khatteeb writes: A capital city in Iraq is in turmoil. The government has been hit hard by collapsing oil prices and is under pressure from an array of activist groups to reveal the fate of missing oil revenues, and be far more transparent.
At the helm is a man many have long accused of intimidation and close links to one of the worst dictators of modern times. This government is seen by some as a primary ally in the war against the so called Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh).
In this troubled region, protesters clamour for change on the streets of major towns, with recent fatalities as the security services (including a secretive unit run by the ruling party) try to keep order. Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders and Human Rights Watch have all noted the intimidation of political opposition. Journalists have even been arrested and TV stations have been closed.
On the battlefields, an existential battle against genocidal terrorists is hampered by factionalism, with units failing to work together against the fanatical enemy, with the result that the front line has frozen in some places.
In parliament there is deadlock, while international oil companies complain they are owed vast sums of money. A leader clings to power, two years beyond his constitutional mandate, as national bankruptcy looms. Surely the above description refers to the beleaguered government in Baghdad?
Those who herald the story of astounding Kurdish success, like Thomas Friedman, should be shocked to find that the above description accurately relates to the government in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI). [Continue reading…]
Turkish voters will go to the polls on November 1, still reeling from the horrific bombings at a peace demonstration in Ankara on October 10.
The labour, peace and democracy rally in Ankara was planned as an intervention into the cycle of conflict that has engulfed the country since the parliamentary elections in June. Those who gathered did not get the chance to shout their calls for peace. A dual explosion went off, leaving at least 97 dead and more than 500 wounded.
In the aftermath of the attack, there have been mass protests against the government. The public anger, it seems, is being directed not at the perpetrators of the attack but at the people in charge of the country.
Iraq Oil Report: The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) ruling party has begun using its control of security forces to unilaterally expel its most potent political rivals from government – dramatically destabilizing a region already roiled by war, economic crisis, and popular discontent.
Security forces answering to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani, who continues acting as president after the expiration of his term on Aug. 19, prevented KRG Parliament Speaker Yousif Mohammed, a member of the rival Gorran party, from passing a checkpoint into the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Monday. KDP-aligned forces also barred Gorran ministers from entering government offices.
“An effort has been orchestrated as a military coup d’état against the Parliament, a legitimate institution,” Mohammed said. [Continue reading…]
It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another bloody massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.
It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history, and the culmination of a dreadful wave of violence. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey nowadays without some incident of lethal political violence.
Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.
Tanya Goudsouzian writes: By the time Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji declared himself king of Kurdistan in 1922, over an area that included the city of Sulaimania and its environs, he had already fought dozens of battles; some alongside the British against the Ottomans, others against the British alongside the Arabs, and then several more against the Arabs.
From March 1923 to mid-1924, the British retaliated against Sheikh Mahmud’s perceived insolence with aerial bombardment, and thus ended the Kurds’ first attempt at full-fledged sovereignty.
In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne had dealt a definitive blow to Kurdish aspirations for self-determination in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration. Three years earlier, the Treaty of Sevres stipulated that the oil-rich Mosul Vilayet be given to the Kurds. But at Lausanne, the British and the French changed their minds and drew up a very different map, which gave rise to the modern state of Iraq. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Traveling through Turkey reveals a country divided. On the one side, there is Erdogan’s Turkey. It includes his hometown on the Black Sea, cities of Anatolia’s economic miracle, such as Kayseri, and of course Ankara, the seat of power. The other side is the land of his enemies. It stretches from Kurdish Diyarbakir, where people fear for their lives, to the Qandil Mountains, where Kurdish fighters have holed up, and finally to Istanbul, the nucleus of Turkish democracy.
Gültan Kisanak closes her eyes as the window panes in her office begin to shake. Every few minutes, fighter planes thunder over the town hall of Diyarbakir heading toward the Qandil Mountains. There, in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, the Turkish air force has been bombing positions of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) since July 24.
Kisanak, 54, is a sturdy woman whose gray hair falls down to the shoulders of her pink blazer. Since early 2014, she has been the co-mayor of Diyarbakir — the first woman to hold the job. The pro-Kurdish HDP party, which received more than 80 percent of the vote here in June, mandates that all important offices are shared between one man and one woman.
During the election campaign, the HDP billed itself not only as a party for the Kurds, but also as an advocate of gender equality and gay rights. Above all, its candidates promised to challenge Erdogan’s plan of establishing a presidential republic. As it became clear that the HDP had received a solid 13 percent of the vote on June 7, people in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, were jubilant. They danced in the streets to an endless chorus of car horns and fireworks. All that was only three months ago. Today, the mood is grim. By nightfall, it’s quiet. Stores close early and people prefer to stay home out of fear for their lives. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Cemile just wanted to get some fresh air and escape the feeling of confinement that the curfew in Cizre had brought with it. It was shortly after 8 p.m. on Sept. 4. Darkness had fallen over the city in southeastern Turkey. In the distance, Cemile could see the fire in the mountains. The soldiers were burning down the forests to destroy the Kurdish fighters’ hiding spots. “But don’t go on the street!” Ramazan Cagirga, her father, called out.
Outside, as is so often the case these days, shots could be heard. Suddenly a loud noise could be heard nearby. Cemile — 12 years old, long hair, brown eyes, with pearl earrings — collapsed on the spot. A gunshot had traveled through the wooden gate to the front yard and killed the girl. Eyewitnesses report it coming from an armored vehicle.
“We hoped Cemile would survive,” her father says. “We carried her into the house, but there was nothing we could do.” He then tried to organize an ambulance to pick up the body. But nobody came, because of the gunshots and the curfew. During the day, temperatures reached over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), so they cleared out the freezer, wrapped the body in cellophane and froze it. The girl’s body spent three days there before a car finally came to take her to the hospital in the neighboring city of Sirnak. Cemile’s family buried her on Friday.
The family had already lost relatives in an attack by Turkish security forces once before. In 1992, a grandfather, sister, aunts and uncles of Ramazan Cagirga died — seven people in total. The house — the same home where Cemile died this month — had been shot at.
It’s not just the deaths in the Cagirgas household that seem to be repeating themselves. Between 1984 and 2013, 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, died in Turkey’s bloody civil war. Now both sides are ramping things up once again, with attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), assaults by the Turkish army, a state of emergency, restrictions on news coverage and a general climate of fear and violence. [Continue reading…]