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…]
The New York Times reports: Nationalist and pro-government throngs filled the streets of Istanbul and Ankara for two nights last week, chanting “God is great” as they stormed a prominent newspaper and set fire to the offices of a Kurdish political party.
Turkey’s economy, long an emerging market darling, has cooled, and the value of the Turkish lira slips by the day. Cruise ships have stopped docking in Istanbul, and many residents avoid the subway because of bomb threats.
A sense of unease is spreading in Turkey as the decades-old conflict flares between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces in the volatile southeast. Fears are growing that the country could return to the dark days of the 1990s, when the conflict was at its height.
The upheaval in major cities has prompted Turks, especially Kurds, to share pictures on social media comparing their own cities to ravaged areas in Syria.
In recent years, Turkey has sought to influence and shape the Middle East, portraying itself as everything the region is not: democratic, prosperous and safe. But economic and political instability are deepening before the interim government holds a snap election in November — the country’s third national poll in a little over a year. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: Turkish warplanes struck 64 outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in overnight raids on northern Iraq, dropping 80 bombs, according to reports on Sept. 11.
At least 60 PKK militants were killed in the strikes, carried out by 21 Turkish F-16 and F-4 warplanes, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported, quoting security sources.
The toll could not be verified independently. The strikes, which ran from late Sept. 10 to dawn Sept. 11, are the latest in a relentless air campaign aimed at crippling the PKK, which has staged a string of attacks in Turkey in recent weeks. [Continue reading…]
The National reports: As the sun drops in this town on Turkey’s border with Syria, young Kurdish men pull black balaclavas over their faces, load their Kalashnikovs with a click and leave the courtyards and homes they were resting in for the streets.
At the entrances of residential neighbourhoods here, roads are cut with sandbagged barricades and trenches filled with dirty, stagnant water. Sheets, blankets and tarps are strung up overhead to protect against Turkish government snipers.
On quiet days, children play on the barricades with simple toy guns fashioned out of plastic pipes. But at night, these barriers become the domain of the young fighters of the YDG-H, a local militia affiliated with Turkey’s main Kurdish nationalist guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Towns like Cizre, Silopi and Sirnak in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority south-east are in open revolt today, with militants fighting against a government they say has oppressed the country’s Kurds for too long. [Continue reading…]
The Telegraph reports: Violent mobs have attacked Kurdish and other targets in towns across Turkey as the fighting between the government and PKK guerrillas worsens, prompting fears of renewed civil war.
Headquarter offices of the main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has 80 seats in parliament, were set on fire in the capital Ankara, the southern city of Alanya and more than 100 towns across the country.
There were also attacks on newspaper offices, with the headquarters of Hurriyet, one of the country’s biggest papers, surrounded by a mob chanting slogans in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They accused the paper of misquoting the president in a report on a speech which discussed the crisis.
With Turkish troops in the middle of a fierce crackdown on Kurdish towns and villages, and the PKK killing scores of soldiers and police in recent attacks, the HDP’s charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas said November’s scheduled general election was at risk. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Turkey will deport a Dutch journalist accused of assisting terrorism, officials and a lawyer said on Wednesday, in the latest clampdown on international correspondents covering the escalating conflict between the state and Kurdish militants.
Frederike Geerdink, a Turkey-based reporter for almost a decade who recently focused her coverage on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, was detained with a group of more than 30 Kurdish peace activists early Sunday, while interviewing them in the Hakkari province bordering Iran and Iraq, said her lawyer, Davut Uzunkopru.
Ms. Geerdink was initially detained for “breaching public order and aiding a terrorist organization.” Her lawyer said she was taken to the airport in the eastern city of Van, suggesting authorities want to expel her immediately even though she is seeking to appeal her deportation.
“She will be deported, the decision has been issued, and it will be implemented very quickly now despite our appeal that would have given her 15 more days in Turkey,” Mr. Uzunkopru said. [Continue reading…]
Aaron Stein and Noah Blaser write: Nearly two months after renewed fighting between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces dashed hopes for an historic ceasefire, a deadly cycle of violence gripped Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, recalling the darkest days of the three-decade-long conflict.
But two deadly attacks by the PKK have recently seen the government pledge to escalate the conflict further, raising alarm before scheduled national elections on November 1.
On Sunday, 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack – the deadliest strike yet in tit-for-tat violence that has killed 113 security officers and scores of civilians since July. That attack was followed by the death of at least 10 police officers in an improvised explosive device attack near the small town of Igdir on Tuesday.
Riding a wave of national anger that saw attacks on Kurdish businesses and political parties this week, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the government’s intent to “wipe out” the PKK fighters.
Already, there is fighting inside many Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey’s southeast. On Sunday, Turkey’s pro-government media reported that Turkey’s military would respond to the attacks by deploying 5,000 police and military personnel to each of Turkey’s 20 most restive, pro-PKK towns and cities. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: An angry crowd on Tuesday attacked the Ankara headquarters of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, in a night of nationalist-tinged violence across the country, reports and officials said.
Dozens of nationalist protesters marched on the the headquarters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Ankara, throwing stones and ripping down the sign outside, pictures broadcast by the CNN-Turk channel showed. [Continue reading…]
— Firat G (@FiratG1) September 9, 2015
The location data actually strengthens a core PKK argument about being the only group capable of protecting Kurds https://t.co/ezbMiTZ4lr
— Aaron Stein (@aaronstein1) September 9, 2015
Today’s Zaman reports: Cutting short a trip to a number of European Union countries after the news broke that 16 Turkish soldiers had been killed in an attack by the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Dağlıca area of Hakkari province on Sunday afternoon, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş called on Turks and Kurds to join forces to bring an end to the violence in Turkey and said that “peace will win at the end” after arriving at İstanbul Atatürk Airport on Monday.
Speaking to journalists upon his arrival, Demirtaş said the death of the 16 soldiers had saddened millions of people in Turkey and that the country mourns the deaths of all members of the security forces who are killed. Demirtaş also called on all Turkish nationals not to break their brotherhood, saying that peace was the best option for everyone. [Continue reading…]
Meanwhile, The Independent reports: Growing numbers of young Iraqi Kurds are joining the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), despite the breakdown of the rebel group’s ceasefire with the Turkish government, which has unleashed repeated air strikes against its bases in northern Iraq.
The PKK is considered a terrorist group by the US and the EU as well as by Turkey, but young Kurds say they want to join its fighters in the battle against Isis – partly out of frustration at the perceived failings of their own government in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. Young Kurds appear to be undeterred by the risk of attack by Turkish forces – which sent ground troops into northern Iraq without Kurdish permission for the first time since 2011, in what was described as a “short-term” operation to hunt down Kurdish rebels.
Two battalions from Turkey’s special forces were said by officials to be in “hot pursuit” of those involved in a roadside bomb attack that killed 16 soldiers on Sunday. A further roadside bomb blamed on the PKK killed 14 police officers in eastern Turkey on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]
Burak Kadercan writes: Put simply, ethnic tensions are rising and [Turkey’s President] Erdogan plays an important role in their escalation (or, could have done more to keep a lid on them), but he is not the sole driver of the crisis. We are looking at a multi-player game of chicken where different actors are speeding toward each other with no intention to step on the brakes. Erdogan is driving the largest vehicle, but it takes more than one driver to cause a pileup.
Turkey’s Kurdish question is no longer a domestic affair. In fact, thanks to the rise of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia and an organic affiliate of PKK, what happens in Syria will have direct implications for the future of the Kurdish question in Turkey. Universally championed as a capable and willing fighting force against ISIL, the YPG is gaining ground not only in Syria, but also in the hearts of many in the international community. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Across the Kurdish lands of southeast Turkey, a bitter war that had long been stilled by a truce has suddenly come roaring back, threatening to undo a hard-won economic turnaround here and adding a new battlefield to a region already consumed by chaos.
Cafes in this city that usually stay open until midnight now close at dusk. Jails are filling, once again, with Kurdish activists and officials accused of supporting terrorism. Residents say they are stocking up on weapons, just in case.
In the mountains, Kurdish guerrillas hastily set up vehicle checkpoints and then dissolve into the rugged terrain in a game of cat and mouse with Turkish soldiers. In the countryside, burned and mangled vehicles blight a landscape blackened by forest fires set by the Turkish Army — a tactic that destroys militant hide-outs but also apple and cherry orchards and stocks of feed for villagers’ cows and goats.
“It shouldn’t be like this,” said Kudbettin Ersoy, 66, who sells watermelons here from a wooden cart. “I was hopeful that peace would come and the blood would stop flowing. We are all citizens of this country.” [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: Turkish courts on Sunday remanded in custody five mayors from the Kurdish-dominated southeast on charges of seeking to destroy national unity by allegedly supporting calls for regional self-rule, reports said.
The investigation comes as Turkey carries out its biggest operation in years against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who have responded by tearing up a 2013 ceasefire and staging daily attacks against the security forces.
A court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir placed under arrest the co-mayors of the city’s central Sur district, Seyid Narin and Fatma Sik Barut, the official Anatolia news agency reported. [Continue reading…]
Joseph V. Micallef writes: On July 21, 2014 IS militants announced that all Kurdish inhabitants had to leave Tal Abyad or they would be killed. Thousands of the town’s inhabitants, including Turkmen and Sunni Arab families, promptly fled. Islamic State militants systematically looted the abandoned homes and resettled displaced Arab refugees from the surrounding region.
A year later, on June 15, 2015, the town was recaptured by a combination of YPG, Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces and a variety of Arab militias operating under the umbrella of the Burkan al-Furat (The Euphrates Volcano), the YPG-FSA “joint operations room”, supported by air power from the U.S. and its coalition partners. Following the battle, U.S. officials praised YPG troops as being the most reliable of the ground forces working with the U.S. to roll back the Islamic State. The victory was seen as striking proof of how the combination of overwhelming American air power and effective and reliable boots on the ground could decisively defeat Islamic State forces.
The capture of Tal Abyad had another consequence. By combining Kurdish control of the Kobani and Jazeera cantons it created a “Kurdish corridor” extending from Iraqi Kurdistan all the way to the city of Kobani in north-central Syria. It thus linked up two of the three current autonomous Kurdish zones in Syria, in the process forming the nucleus of, what the Turkish government of President Recep Erdogan fears, will, potentially, be a Kurdish controlled zone that could someday serve as the core of an autonomous Kurdish state. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Islamic State militants likely used mustard agent against Kurdish forces in Iraq this week, senior U.S. officials said Thursday, in the first indication the militant group has obtained banned chemicals.
The officials said Islamic State could have obtained the mustard agent in Syria, whose government admitted to having large quantities in 2013 when it agreed to give up its chemical-weapons arsenal.
The use of mustard agent would mark an upgrade in Islamic State’s battlefield capabilities, and a worrisome one given U.S. intelligence fears about hidden caches of chemical weapons in Syria, where Islamic State controls wide swaths of territory.
It raises new questions about the evolving threat posed by Islamic State and the ability of U.S. allies on the ground to combat it. Frontline Kurdish, Iraqi and moderate Syrian forces say they aren’t getting enough U.S. support now to counter Islamic State’s conventional capabilities. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: The Obama administration is still publicly counting on a $500 million rebel army to beat ISIS in Syria. But privately, the Pentagon brass long ago moved past its own proxy force, The Daily Beast has learned. They’ve found another group to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State instead.
In recent weeks, the handful of fighters in the administration-backed rebel army — the so-called “New Syrian Force” — have been killed, kidnapped, or fallen off the proverbial radar. But the Pentagon maintained a brave face, even after these 54 fighters (out of what was supposed to be a total of 15,000) were decimated by Islamist attacks. “We continue to see volunteers want to be a part of this program,” Air Force Colonel Pat Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters Friday.
It’s a public stance that has left many in the administration and in the defense establishment scratching their heads.
“I don’t understand why we are still training, other than to inoculate criticism. … [The administration] cannot admit it is a complete disaster,” said one senior defense adviser familiar with the U.S. approach. Even after the U.S.-trained fighters vanished, “there was no receptivity to new ideas.”
But what Ryder didn’t say is that, in the eyes of the administration, a better force had emerged — already trained, competent, organized — that posed little risk of abandoning the fight or worse yet, switching sides. They are the Syrian Kurdish militia — the Popular Protection Units or YPG, by their Kurdish initials. And they have successfully wrestled Syrian territory out of ISIS’s hands.
“We knew it would be a challenge but we didn’t expect them to confront the fight they did,” said a second senior defense official, referring to the New Syrian Force. On the other hand, “the YPG is the most effective fighting force in Syria.”
According to one group, the YPG has so far reclaimed at least 11 villages from ISIS, including in the Syrian city of Kobani, one of the biggest victories in the year-long campaign. And in June, the YPG regained control of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, cutting off a key ISIS conduit to weapons and supplies. Like the New Syrian Force, the YPG can call in coalition airstrikes as needed.
Rudaw reports: The jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, has called on the PKK and Turkish government to end ongoing clashes and resume negotiations, which were planned to lead to permanent peace in the country.
The Civil Peace Department, a government-backed organization which supervises the peace process between Ankara and the PKK, published a letter written by Ocalan in which the jailed leader slammed the negotiating partners for the “bloodshed.”
“Our (PKK) fighters, leaders of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Turkish government’s officials failed to administer and commit themselves to the peace negotiations,” Ocalan wrote from his prison on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara, calling for an immediate ceasefire. [Continue reading…]
Rudaw reports: Recent Turkish airstrikes against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in northern Iraq have killed 390 PKK members and injured 400, Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency on Sunday quoted unidentified security sources as saying.
“Turkish security sources are claiming to have killed a total of 390 militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a series of recent air strikes against rebel targets in northern Iraq,” the agency said.
“An anonymous security force source also told Anadolu Agency that 400 PKK insurgents were injured in the attacks,” the agency added. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Two women shot at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Monday and at least eight people were killed in a wave of separate attacks on Turkish security forces, weeks after Ankara launched a crackdown on Islamic State, Kurdish and far-left militants.
The NATO member has been in a heightened state of alert since starting its “synchronized war on terror” last month, including air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq. It has also rounded up hundreds of suspected militants at home.
A far-left group that killed a Turkish security guard in a 2013 suicide bombing of the U.S. embassy in Ankara claimed it was involved in Monday’s attack.
The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey, said one of its members was involved in the attack, and called Washington the “arch enemy” of the people of the Middle East and the world. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Iraq’s Kurdish region has begun to sell oil independently of the central government, a move that is exacerbating divisions in the country as it struggles to turn back Islamic State militants.
The Kurdish region last month stopped transferring oil to the state as it had promised to do under a landmark deal in 2014. Kurdish officials argued that payments from Baghdad had not been sufficient. Instead, the region exported more than 600,000 barrels a day itself, Kurdish and Iraqi officials said, a step that Baghdad considers illegal.
The dispute threatens to widen differences in a country already effectively split into three parts: the Kurdish north, areas in southern and central Iraq controlled by the Shiite-led government, and territory in the north and west seized by the Islamic State.
The collapse of the oil deal also risks ruining one of the key achievements of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who was credited with improving relations with the Kurds after years of acrimony. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Newal Bulut grew up in war, and now she fears it could return. She is a 27-year-old graphic designer from the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey. Sometimes she asks herself whether that night in June, when the pro-Kurdish party HDP won seats in the Turkish parliament thanks in part to Turkish voters, was only a beautiful, ephemeral dream?
Bulut spent several nervous months with Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the HDP. She applauded at his speeches, and convinced friends and relatives to support the young party leader, who not only promised but also embodied change in Turkish politics. At school and later at university, Bulut saw how friends who had advocated for more rights for Kurds, were arrested as suspected terrorists. She hoped that the HDP’s success in the June 7 election would help Turkey become a peaceful, pluralistic country.
Just two months later, Bulut walks through downtown Diyarbakir, wearing black leggings, dark nail polish and piercings. She strolls past armored police cars as fighter jets roar overhead. Anti-government protesters erected barricades and set cars on fire the night before. The words “Kobane is everywhere” and “Freedom for Öcalan” are spray-painted on walls. “I was naïve,” says Bulut.
The same ritual repeats itself night after night: At around 9 p.m., fighter jets take off from the military base outside the city to conduct air strikes against positions held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq, and its offshoots in Syria. Only a few of the air strikes target Islamic State (IS) positions. At the same time, young Kurds are setting downtown Diyarbakir on fire. Where roadblocks are erected, the police respond with water guns and tear gas. But the protesters are not easily deterred. They chant: “This is only the beginning.” In Istanbul and other cities, violent clashes with police have erupted, resulting in injuries and death.
The Kurdish Spring has turned into a hate-filled, violent summer. Many people in Diyarbakir believe that civil war is inevitable. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Orhan Gonder was a quiet, studious Kurdish teenager who went out of his way to help people, according to those who knew him in this small Turkish city near the Syrian border.
So when he started frequenting a tea house known as an Islamic State recruiting center last year, his parents went to the police and implored them to detain their son before he could do any harm. On June 5, the 20-year old set off a bomb at a Kurdish political rally in the nearby city of Diyarbakir, killing four people and injuring dozens, officials said.
And two weeks ago, another young Kurd from Adiyaman blew himself up in the middle of a rally of student activists, killing 31 people preparing to go help rebuild Kobani, the Syrian-Kurdish town that overcame a long Islamic State assault in January.
The two attacks exposed a troubling phenomenon: Islamic State appears to be successfully wooing young Turkish Kurds, while their kinsmen in Iraq and Syria — for the most part — are taking up arms against Islamic State. Kurdish militants in Syria, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have become the single most effective fighting force on the ground against the extremist group. [Continue reading…]