Syria: An Investigation on the Attack on Afrin’s Al-Shifaa Hospital
In an investigation into the perpetrator of 12 June and 25 July attacks on al-Shifaa hospital, an analysis of the armaments used in the attack constitute evidence that Russian and Syrian government forces were responsible
The Attack Against Al-Shifaa Hospital
On 12 June 2021, at approximately 7:00 PM Syria local time, several artillery rockets struck al-Shifaa Hospital in the city of Afrin, controlled by Turkey and allied Syrian opposition armed groups of the Syrian National Army (SNA). The attack resulted in 15 deaths and 40 injuries, including staff, as well as devastating damage to the hospital and surrounding buildings. In the days following the attack, Turkish authorities and allied SNA groups prevented journalists from entering the hospital to cover the attack, and conflicting reports emerged alleging who was responsible for the crime.
The attack on al-Shifaa Hospital was part of an offensive against Afrin. Other attacks targeted civilian sites in the city on the same day at approximately 6:00 P.M., killing at least one person and wounding others. Tragically, many of the civilians injured in attacks earlier in the day sought treatment at al-Shifaa hospital before being killed in the strikes on the hospital itself.
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported the attack against al-Shifaa Hospital on its Facebook page and posted photos of the resulting damage. SAMS claimed that the strike was a ground attack and testified that two members of its medical staff were killed. On the same day, SAMS released a press statement condemning the attack and providing additional details on the attack.
Subsequently, the White Helmets, officially known as Syria Civil Defense, published a field report on the attack against the al-Shifaa Hospital. The report cited a provisional count of causalities: 15 deaths, including four women, a child, seven men, and three unidentified people. The report also stated that the rockets were fired from areas jointly controlled by the regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Immediately after the attack, military and political authorities in the area made differing claims on who was responsible for the strikes. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of being responsible while Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Turkish national mass media accused the People’s Defense Units (YPG) of conducting the attack with BM-21 Grad rockets and artillery shells. However, the SDF refuted the accusations through the director of its media centre, Farhaad Shami, who denied the SDF’s presence in Syria’s northwest.
Mazloum Abdi, the SDF’s commander-in-chief, echoed Shami’s refutation in a post on his Twitter account. Furthermore, a Facebook page, using Abdi’s name, accused Russian forces of carrying out the attack against al-Shifaa hospital. Importantly, this Facebook page does not belong to Mazloum Abdi and is a fake account, even though it has been cited in numerous articles on the incident.
Since the attack on al-Shifaa Hospital and as of the completion of this report (the last week of August 2021), the Turkish Army and its allied Syrian rebels (present in Afrin and Euphrates Shield area) and the Syrian Army, allied militias, and the YPG (present mainly in the Shahbaa region and rural Aleppo) have continued to exchange fire.
Locating al-Shifaa Hospital
The al-Shifaa Hospital is located on the western edge of Afrin city, among civil and military buildings of the Turkish government and the SNA. According to STJ’s field researchers and other credible sources, al-Shifaa Hospital is surrounded by the Afrin Security Directorate/Criminal Security Investigation, the Political Security Building, the governor’s guesthouse of the Hatay Wali, the Turkish Intelligence/the Public Security Directorate (in Turkish: Kent Güvenlik Yönetim Sistemi Binası), a Turkish security base (formerly Azhar Afrin School), and the Palace of Justice of Afrin/Civil Court. It should be noted that the hospital’s back door is connected to the building of the Afrin Security Directorate/Criminal Security Investigation.
Image 2 – A satellite image shows locations of the civil and military buildings around al-Shifaa Hospital. Taken on 5 August 2021. Credit: Planet Labs Inc.
STJ investigated the attacks targeting al-Shifaa Hospital between 12 June 2021 and the last week of August the same year. Relying on visual evidence and testimonies from witnesses, survivors, and medical staff, the investigation analyzed the conflicting accounts of events and played out multiple eventualities to identify the perpetrator.
Due to the limited amount of evidence available, STJ cannot definitively identify the perpetrator responsible for the al-Shifaa Hospital attack on 12 June 2021. However, after thoroughly investigating evidence of the case, STJ’s team of researchers concluded that the Syrian regime and, indirectly, Russia are the most likely culprits of the hospital attack, which killed 15 and injured dozens more — many of them civilians and medical workers.
 The al-Shifaa Hospital coordinates: 36.509754927708514, 36.85811570072415.
 The “double tap” is a bombardment tactic in which a location is struck twice; the second time occurring after first responders have arrived at the scene of the strike and that results in the largest number of dead and injured. Syrian and Russian forces are the main parties who have utilized this tactic throughout the ongoing Syrian war.
 A post by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) on its Facebook page, 12 June 2021, https://www.facebook.com/sams.arabic/posts/2356935861106289 (last accessed: 27 July 2021).
 “Two Staff Killed, Eleven Injured in an Attack on al-Shifaa Hospital in Afrin”, SAMS, 12 June 2021, https://www.sams-usa.net/press_release/two-staff-killed-eleven-injured-in-an-attack-on-al-shifaa-hospital-in-afrin/ (last accessed: 27 July 2021).
 A bloody Day in Northern Syria; 79 Civilians Killed and Wounded, Medical Facilities and Humanitarian Workers in the Area of Targeting, Syria Civil Defense, 12 June 2021, https://www.syriacivildefence.org/ar/our-reports/field-reports/%D9%8A%D9%88%D9%85-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A-79-%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%82%D8%AA%D9%8A%D9%84-%D9%88%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%AD-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%A2%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81/?fbclid=IwAR3echreOJ4KLb8F6QDA9cbcQwnybm1IXGlOj-FyMYvEKUx7LMSLgsavJUU (last accessed:27 July 2021).
 Syria’s Afrin: al-Shifaa Hospital Stopped Working after being Targeted by the PKK, Anadolu News Agency, 13 June 2021, https://www.aa.com.tr/ar/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A9/%D8%B9%D9%81%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%AA%D9%88%D9%82%D9%81-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D9%85%D9%84-%D8%A8%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B4%D9%81%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B4%D9%81%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8%B9%D9%82%D8%A8-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA%D9%87%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%81-%D9%8A-%D8%A8-%D9%83/2272465 (last accessed: 27 July 2021).
 The full tweet: “The SDF categorically denies that any of its forces were responsible for/or involved in, the tragic attack in hospital in Afrin. We are deeply saddened by the loss of innocent life. We condemn the attack without reservation. Targeting hospitals is a violation of international law.”
 Some facilities and buildings have both official and street names.
Erdoğan’s war for votes – a weekly news review
For Turkey’s President Erdoğan, every problem merits the same solution: launch an aggressive military campaign and blame the Kurds. If that campaign is against the Kurds, so much the better. As support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government plummets, along with the value of the Turkish Lira, and a struggling economy with rising inflation leaves households struggling and people drained of hope, this week’s bellicose statements directed at North and East Syria were sadly predictable. It need not have been this way. Between 2013 and 2015, peace talks with Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) offered a window of opportunity and optimism. But, since Erdoğan ended the peace talks in response to HDP election success and the Kurdish victory over ISIS in Kobanê, he has dug himself into a hole of perpetual war, and at every setback, his response has been to keep on digging. He aims to fuel a surge of anti-Kurdish nationalism, and to use war conditions to hem in opposition forces and centre himself as national leader.
The resilience of the PKK guerrillas has ensured that Turkey’s attempts to expand their military occupation in the mountains of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has failed to bring Erdoğan the rallying victory that he craves, so the Turkish military is resorting to a systematic use of chemical weapons to attempt to suffocate the guerrillas in their rock-cut tunnels. And now, Erdoğan is attempting to manufacture a case for further Turkish aggression against the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. I will concentrate this week on the Turkish threats against Syria, but I want to begin with their growing use of chemical weapons, which has been enabled by an almost total lack of international response and censor.
The PKK is reporting daily chemical attacks, with gas forced directly into tunnel entrances and gas bombs lowered down on ropes. Since 20 September, they have reported bigger explosions and new types of gas. The chemical attacks have also affected local residents – those who have tried to remain with their homes and land despite the fighting. In an area close to Turkish attacks, 548 people had to go to hospital with ‘excessive tearing of the eyes, blurred vision, sudden headaches, nosebleeds, difficulty in breathing and rashes’. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which dominates the Kurdistan Regional Government and is dependent on Turkish support, has tried to limit knowledge of what is happening, even, it is claimed, threatening to punish village headmen if they speak out about the attacks.
In contrast to the international outcry over reports of chemical weapon use by the Syrian regime, use of chemical weapons by NATO-member Turkey has gone almost unremarked. Swedish MEP, Malin Björk, raised concerns in a written question to the EU Commission, but this was brushed off in the reply by High Representative Josep Borrell. Die Linke’s Gökay Akbulut has also put a written question into the German parliament – answer awaited.
Every day sees the Turkish government and its mercenary militias break the ceasefires negotiated by Washington and Russia that ended Turkey’s last major attack on North and East Syria. Just over a week ago, in the approach to the second anniversary of the launch of that attack, a spokesperson for North and East Syria’s Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claimed that in those two years Tel Tamr, Zeran and Ain Aissa had come under 433 ground attacks with heavy weapons and drones, while the SDF had had to repel 86 attempts to advance over the ceasefire line. He claimed that the attacks were aimed at causing instability and population displacement and that they also hampered the continuing fight against ISIS. There has been no visible attempt to censor or restrain Turkey, despite protests at the lack of action outside Russian military headquarters.
Despite all these attacks, which are well-documented by the Kurdish media, Turkey is attempting to present themselves as the aggrieved party. Last Sunday, a missile hit a Turkish armoured vehicle in occupied Syria, killing two Turkish police officers and wounding three others. Munitions also hit Turkish-occupied Jarablus and an area across the Turkish border. Turkish media and the Turkish Interior Minister were quick to blame the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), which are now incorporated into the SDF.
On Monday a car bomb exploded in Afrîn. People on the ground reported that it “was coming from the city of Idlib from the areas controlled by HTS [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] and was monitored by several cameras and was destined to detonate a building containing members of Jaysh al-Islam of the Turkish occupation forces” But Turkish media blamed the YPG and this was repeated by Russia’s Sputnik News.
The SDF categorically deny involvement in these attacks – and have always attempted to avoid any action across the border, which would clearly be dangerously provocative. A statement made by the SDF on Friday concludes, ‘Although it is the Turkish occupation that is constantly attacking our safe areas, it is trying to twist the facts by showing our forces as attackers. We call on the international public opinion, and first and foremost the Turkish people, to verify facts and expose lies.’
It will have come as no surprise when, following Monday’s cabinet meeting, Erdoğan warned, “The latest attack against our police and the harassment targeting our lands have reached the bottom of the glass. We will take the necessary steps as soon as possible. We have no patience for some places that are the source of terrorist attacks against our country from Syria. We are determined to eliminate the threats arising from these places either together with the forces active there or by our own means.”
Erdoğan’s threat was reinforced by his Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who told press on Wednesday, “We will do whatever is necessary to clear these regions of these terrorists.” In Çavuşoğlu’s propaganda-speak ‘Each of our actions against PKK/YPG, like our actions against ISIS, is also important for Syria’s border and territorial integrity.’ Thus he not only equates the PKK and the Syrian-based YPG (and classifies both as terrorists) but also presents Turkey as against ISIS when they have been shown to have assisted them, and tries to portray Turkey’s invasion and occupation of parts of Syria as somehow preserving Syria’s territorial integrity.
As Ferda Çetin explains in Yeni Özgür Politika, the current rhetoric is very similar to that used by Turkey before their last invasion. The target this time appears to be Tel Rifat. Russia has been putting pressure on Turkey to keep their agreement to withdraw from Idlib and the adjacent M4 highway, and the suggestion is that they could allow Turkey to move into Tel Rifat in exchange. Turkey has already built up their troops in the area.
What happens will depend on the whether Russia and the United States allow Turkey access to the airspace. Both want to keep Turkey on side. Russia, as allies of the Syrian regime, does not want to see more of the country under Turkish occupation. They have used Turkish pressure as a tool to force concessions from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, but in recent weeks, Russian forces have increasingly targeted Turkish-occupied areas. After Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US troops allowed the last Turkish invasion and produced widespread accusations of the betrayal of the Kurds, the withdrawal was partially reversed. The 900 US troops now in the region are expected to function as a guarantee against further invasion, but it hasn’t stopped the constant low-level attacks. Both the US and Russia allowed the 2018 invasion of Afrîn.
The military alliance between the United States and the SDF has provided a major source of tension between the US and Turkey, and the US has never given whole-hearted support to the Kurds. Asked about Erdoğan’s threat, the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, told the press that they ‘condemn[ed] the cross-border attack against our NATO Ally, Turkey’, and observed – in an example of the dangers of false equivalence – “It is crucial for all sides to maintain and to respect ceasefire zones.”
In an interview with Mezopotamya News Agency, Hişyar Özsoy, Foreign Affairs co-spokesperson for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), injected a more optimistic note, “Turkey may soon find the USA and Russia against its policies that prolong this war and deepen the contradictions. Syrian authorities have begun to speak loudly for Turkey to leave the region. It seems that there is an agreement between the great powers in Syria. This has significantly reduced Turkey’s range of action,”We must hope that, this time, diplomats are working hard for a peaceful solution.
With Turkey’s previous incursions into Syria, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was an enthusiastic cheerleader, but the pro-Kurdish, leftist HDP have been quick to make public condemnation of Erdoğan’s threats. HDP co-chair, Pervin Buldan, told a party meeting, “There is a power that clings to war as it loses power… The economy has collapsed, the government says war. People say elections, power says war. People say livelihood, they say war. We say; The people don’t want you, they don’t want your war policies.
In a timely reminder of what the Turkish occupation of Syria has brought, an Afrîn human rights organisation has announced that for the months of August and September they documented 291 abductions and five murders in occupied Afrîn.
In parallel with their external aggression, Turkey continues an internal oppression that somehow manages to keep finding new ways to inflict cruelty. Sunday was the anniversary of the suicide bombing of a mass peace rally in Ankara in 2015. The rally was called by the HDP and Trade Unions – three weeks before the November election – to protest Turkey’s ongoing war against the Kurdish towns in the country’s south-east. The bombs killed over a hundred people and wounded over five times that number, and while blame for the actual bombing is generally agreed to lie with ISIS, the EU intelligence unit has concluded that, “Given the circumstances such as the lack of search of the buses carrying the demonstrators and the almost complete absence of police at a massive rally, there is reasonable reason to believe that the AKP forces specifically deployed Daesh militants in this case.”
Police tried to prevent people attending the commemoration of the massacre, which was held outside the railway station where the bomb went off, and people who wouldn’t be turned back were detained. One journalist who had gone to record the event reported that he was threatened by police, with one policeman declaring ‘I will cut you into four pieces’.
This week saw more round-ups of politicians and activists, and more people imprisoned. Yakup Almaç, deposed HDP co-mayor of Van’s Özalp district was sentenced to eight and a half years. Film maker, Veysi Altay, was sentenced for a year for the poster for his film on three women fighters in Kobanê, which included a YPG flag. And police raided an Ankara wedding on the grounds that some of the guests were wearing traditional Kurdish clothes. The mistreatment of prisoners is growing, with prisoners increasingly isolated. Seriously ill prisoners, such as the former mayor of Cizre, are denied medical treatment.
Meanwhile – and much more in the international public eye – there has been a general election in Iraq. Although this was held early as a concession to the major demonstrations against the government in 2019, there was little faith that it would be able to bring the needed changes, and many people did not vote. The official turnout was 41%, but many people did not even put their names on the register. This low turnout enabled the well-organised party of populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to make substantial gains – despite their brutal role in suppressing the 2019 protests. While Sadr is sympathetic to Iranian religious politics, he is against any external interference in Iraq – from Iran or the US. The biggest losers in the election were the pro-Iranian groups linked to the pro-Iranian militias. Among the Kurdish parties, the KDP gained seats – though on a lower total number of votes – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – which has been undergoing internal power struggles – lost seats, Gorran, which had once posed as an alternative to the latter two, ended up with nothing, and the New Generation Movement of businessman Shaswar Abdulwahid gained seats. As before, bigger parties were able to manipulate the system that is supposed to give representation to minorities, and use it to get in candidates that they backed. Coalition negotiations are expected to take months.
The Yazidi Freedom and Democracy Party (PADÊ) has called for the Şengal result to be cancelled. They claim major problems with unrecognised registrations, polling station locations, and coercion.
This has been a worrying week for what has happened, for what could happen and – yet again – for the silence of international organisations and world powers. Last weekend, people across the world demonstrated their support on social media for Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdish freedom movement. This support will need to be converted into action if that silence is to be broken.
YPG Spokesperson: Erdoğan wants to attack Rojava to save himself
YPG spokesperson Nûrî Mehmûd responded to the latest statements from Turkey’s president Erdoğan signalling a new operation against North and East Syria: “Erdoğan is preparing a new ‘invasion’ against our lands to save himself from the crisis he is in.”
“The Turkish government sees the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria (AANES) as an obstacle,” said YPG spokesperson Nûrî Mehmûd to Yeni Özgür Politika in an interview.
Medyanews has already reported the controversial statements made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last Monday and the message he sent about a possible operation. Speaking to the media after a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Erdoğan signalled a new military operation in Syria.
“We have run out of patience. Turkey is determined to eliminate the threats from northern Syria, either together with forces active there, or by our own means,” he said.
Nuri Mehmûd, spokesperson for the People’s Defence Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel – YPG), discussed Turkey’s possible new attacks on North and East Syria and the latest developments in the region. In response to Erdoğan’s threats, Mehmûd stated that the YPG sees the people of Turkey as separate from President Erdoğan, but pointed out that Erdoğan has seized control of all the institutions in Turkey.
“Recently, Erdoğan’s statements have been accepted as law. He acts alone in Turkey’s name, leaving all institutions dysfunctional,” he said.
Noting that Turkey is becoming increasingly isolated due to the economic crisis it is struggling with internally and its loss of standing in external diplomacy, Mehmûd said, “Erdoğan did not get what he wanted from Biden or Putin either. With his latest statements he plans to create grounds for attacking Rojava in order to secure his power.”
Mehmûd stated that the deep crisis created by Erdoğan affected the Middle East as well as Russia, Europe and the US.
“I don’t think the US will listen to Erdoğan much any more. And Russia will not give up its interests,” he stated.
Nuri Mehmûd said that for a long time, everyone has been aware that Erdoğan’s plans A, B, C, and D are all to expand Turkey’s borders and in this context eliminate the status of the AANES.
“When he saw recently that ISIS had failed in this, he himself entered the field using the recources of the Turkish state. Erdoğan is using Turkey for his own aims. He sees it as a tool. Turkey’s internal security and external security are mere tools to Erdoğan. He seeks to establish the ‘Sultanate of Erdoğan’. He aims to increase his influence in the Middle East and strengthen his domination of the region.”
Mehmûd also gave examples from the two operations launched by Turkey in the previous years.
“Erdoğan is constantly looking for reasons to attack the Autonomous Administration. He has gathered around himself the remnants of ISIS and other gangs. He aims to finish the business quickly as he did in Afrin (Efrîn) and Ras al-Ayn (Serêkaniyê).”
Mehmûd reiterated that “the threats Erdoğan talks of from time to time, such as refugees and terrorism, have never been an issue at the border with Rojava”, though he mentions them occasionally, trying to convince the world, ready for further attacks.
He defines the operations as an invasion:
“Rather than aiming at Turkey’s interests and those of the Turkish people or destroying terrorism, he is conducting this invasion in order to save himself. Erdogan’s main purpose is to increase his votes and maintain his power by creating turmoil and an extraordinary situation.”
Explaining that it is Turkey that lays the plans for the actions of armed groups in the region, Nûrî Mehmûd said: “Gangs that are not accepted in Libya and Tunisia are protected by Turkey in Idlib and Aleppo in the Middle East, and used against the people of the region. Erdoğan is trying to make himself prominent through guarantorship, using the diplomatic weight of the Turkish state internationally. However, in practice, he is committing crimes against humanity.”
He also criciticised Russia and the US for remaining silent in the face of crimes committed by Turkey.
“As guarantors, the attitude of America and Russia is highly inadequate. They do not want to see what Turkey is doing in Efrîn, Jarablus, Ras al-Ayn and Aleppo. They are not fulfilling their role as guarantors against Turkey’s attacks.”
Finally, Mehmûd emphasised that Turkey does not like the idea of the establishment of national unity among the Kurds.
“Turkey aims to break the connection between Rojava and Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey does not like the idea of national unity among the Kurds” he said, but added that Turkey cannot launch any attacks without NATO granting permission for the operations.
Joe Biden’s pledge of support reassures Syria’s embattled Kurds
October 1, 2021 4.26pm BST
Author Cengiz Gunes Associate Lecturer, Faculty of Social Science, The Open University
The hasty and badly organised US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August prompted fears among Washington’s other allies about the durability of US friendship. Kurdish troops in northeastern Syria, facing multi-pronged opposition from Islamic State fighters as well as the Assad regime and the prospect of Turkish incursion, have felt particularly vulnerable.
So recent meetings between senior US officials and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which resulted in a pledge by US president, Joe Biden, that the US would not abandon them have gone a long way to allaying those fears.
There are about 35 million ethnic Kurds living in Kurdistan, an area comprising parts of northeastern Syria, northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey and western Iran. At various times groups in different parts of this area have pressed for independent statehood, but on the whole the majority – at present, at least – are relatively content to occupy autonomous regions. In Syria this is the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) otherwise known as Rojava.
US involvement in Syria and military support for the Kurdish-led forces has paid significant dividends for both sides. Supported by around 2,000 US troops on the ground and an air campaign, the SDF has proved to be an most effective buffer against Islamic State in Syria and played a decisive role in ending its territorial control in March 2019. But there has been an ever-present fear that the US will pull out, leaving them at the mercy of their enemies. This fear was stoked in October 2019 when former president Donald Trump ordered US troops to withdraw from the region, effectively giving the green light to a Turkish invasion and capture of a large area of AANES territory. In the event, Russia brokered an agreement between Turkey and SDF. Turkey got a safe zone along the border and SDF agreed to withdraw 20 miles south of the border. The US, meanwhile, maintained enough of a military force to continue supporting the Kurds’ efforts to stabilise the region. But the possibility of an abrupt US withdrawal has been shaping Kurdish actions ever since.
The election of Joe Biden in November 2020 raised the hopes that the US would adopt a steadier approach in its dealings with the Kurds in Syria. And it seems that, on appearances at least, the US is willing to do so. Meetings between US state department officials and the SDF leadership in August and September 2021 ended with the US emphasising its “commitment to the campaign against ISIS and stability in the region” and assuring the SDF that “there will be no changes in Syria” in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
What’s in it for America
The US military support and security umbrella it provides may have been a critical factor behind the Kurds’ success, but safeguarding Kurdish gains is not the reason behind the Biden administration’s decision. There are several other factors at play. Firstly, the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continues, despite the group’s loss of its territorial control. Iraq’s short and medium-term security and stability remains a key US priority and an abrupt withdrawal from Syria would aid the resurgence of IS in Iraq.
The US military presence in Syria is also needed to curb Iran’s influence in both Iraq and Syria and address the security concerns many US allies – particularly Israel – in the region feel as a result.
The continuation of the US military support and financial aid is crucial to the region’s stability and could act as a springboard for accommodating Kurdish rights and the inclusion of the AANES into Syria if political pluralism and a decentralised governance model is accepted.
AANES’s prospects are closely tied to its inclusion in the UN-led peace process for ending the civil war in Syria. So far, its efforts have not managed a seat at the table. A more concrete commitment from the US in the form of political support for the inclusion of AANES representatives at the UN peace talks could change the situation in its favour.
Thwarting Turkey’s plan
But AANES has more urgent concerns. Turkey continues to threaten, seeing the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas that it has been battling in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan since 1984. Turkey invaded the Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria in 2018 and 2019, and small-scale attacks by Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian groups on the rural areas of AANES territory continue daily, as do the human rights violations committed against the Kurdish civilians in the areas under the control of the Turkish-backed Syrian groups. On August 19, drone attacks by Turkey killed three SDF commanders and two fighters.
Eliminating the influence of the SDF in Syria remains a key objective for the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But the US presence, and its commitment to the region’s stability, will act as a deterrent against a new large-scale Turkish military operation. Previous Turkish attacks in the AANES territory were made with Russia’s tacit support and encouragement, something which is thought less likely to be granted now the US has clearly stated its support for the SDF. And US troops on the ground in eastern Syria will also deter the Assad regime from destabilising AANES in a bid to take its territory back under full control.
US military support means Turkey’s attempts to label the SDF as “terrorists” are less likely to succeed. Erdoğan has used Turkey’s military operations against the Kurds in Syria as a sop to his strongly nationalist base – and he has repeatedly used western support for the Kurds as an example of the west’s antipathy towards Turkey.
With the likelihood of a Turkish military operation lessened, Erdoğan’s ability to please nationalists with an easy victory against the Kurds is less likely. Erdoğan retains a firm grip on power in Turkey, but there are reports that Turkey’s opposition parties are working with Kurdish groups. If a united opposition can inflict defeat on Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party in the next election in 2023, then this would be one more step towards a peaceful future for the Kurds
Ilham Ahmad uncovers SDC policy in Washington Institute
WASHINGTON, US (North Press) – On Monday, the president of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ahmed, uncovered several political titles that the SDC will follow for the next stage, most notably the openness to dialogue and the holding of general elections in the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
Ahmad’s speech came at a conference hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington D.C, where an SDC delegation is visiting it.
An SDC delegation had held meetings in Washington with members of the Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress and officials in the US administration.
Dialogue with Turkey and the “Syrian regime”
Ahmad expressed the Syrian Democratic Forces’ readiness to dialogue with Turkey and to resolve all disputes with it through peaceful means and dialogue.
She added that this is in exchange for ensuring the handling of issues related to the Kurdish people and the occupied Syrian territories by Turkey, such as Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain), Tel Abyad and Afrin.
The SDC official urged the international community to ensure an open and inclusive dialogue between the Kurds in Turkey and the Turkish government, pointing to the ability of such an understanding to establish a long-term stability and security in the region.
Answering a question by North Press about the US administration’s vision of the relationship with the Syrian government, Ahmad said that the Autonomous Administration officials reiterate that they do not oppose any dialogues in the interest of the political solution in Syria.
She pointed out that they share the US administration’s fears of “the strict positions of the Syrian regime and its adherence to the centralization of Syria.”
She considered it necessary for the US and Russia to cooperate in the matter of dialogue with the “regime” and to push it to accept the involvement of other political parties.
Ahmad stated that she had high-level meetings with officials of the US administration who confirmed that the US will remain in northeast Syria, contrary to what was rumored in Washington after the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We heard pledges from the administration officials regarding the continuation of the US presence in north and east Syria, and providing economic support to the region.”
She noted to the symbolism of the US presence in Syria, which “establishes a kind of positive balance in the Syrian issue” and its difference from the war in Afghanistan.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
Responding to a question by David Pollock, the symposium organizer, about the SDF’s relationship with the PKK, Ilham Ahmad said that it is important to remember that the PKK was originally established to defend the rights of the persecuted Kurds in Turkey. “Its goal was also to establish a kind of democracy in Turkey so that the Kurds and other communities, that suffer from oppression, enjoy it.”
“The PKK confronted terrorism and extremism in several areas where the Kurds are present, sacrificing everything including the death of its fighters,” Ahmad added.
She believed that this puts them in front of a “moral attitude towards the party.”
“We, as peoples of northeast Syria, are Syrians of different backgrounds and orientations. We rule part of the territory of Syria, and we have no enmity towards Turkey,” she noted.
The SDC official indicated that they intend to hold an upcoming electoral process that “will be open to all communities of the region to participate in.”
She confirmed that the Autonomous Administration welcomes an “neutral international monitoring to ensure the democracy and transparency of the elections.”
Regarding the intra-Kurdish dialogue, she said that its suspension will not push the Autonomous Administration to stop or postpone the elections.
She explained that it is not fair to make the communities of the region, such as the Arabs, who constitute a large part of the region’s population, waiting for elections and their democratic representation until the Kurdish parties come to an understanding.
Ilham Ahmad stressed that “we decided to hold the elections and make it open to every party that wants to participate.”
Reporting by Hadeel Oueiss
People of Tirbespiyê praise work of Autonomous Administration
The people of Tirbespiyê said that communal life has developed with the cooperation and social participation of institutions affiliated to the Autonomous Administration.
- Saturday, 4 Sep 2021, 12:24
The Syrian crisis has had an impact on all of Syria, especially Northern and Eastern Syria. The war that started in March 2011 has meant destruction and plunder for the past ten years.
The Autonomous Administration, which was established in the Jazira Canton on 21 December 2014, started organization and service projects based on the commune system. As a priority, it started to work to meet the basic needs of society, such as services, bread, water and electricity.
In the villages of Tirbesipê, work was carried out to ensure the participation of the people in social activities. The people, in solidarity with each other, established condolence houses in more than 50 villages and football fields in more than 10 villages with the support of the Autonomous Administration.
At the same time, the people supported the public municipality to work on road maintenance and sewer infrastructure. In some villages, such as Beyandor, the Autonomous Administration provided assistance to families in need through committees affiliated with the communes.
Fesîh Hisên, a resident of Tirbespiyê district, pointed out to ANHA the importance of social work and said that they will continue their efforts to find solutions to the current problems in all provinces and districts.
Giving an example of the projects and service works they have realized through social participation, Fesîh Hisên noted that the people living in the villages of Sîtka and Etbê helped the institution to solve the electricity problem experienced after a storm in the region. Hisên called on all segments of society to participate in social life activities in order to solve their problems and develop service and economic projects.
Another citizen named Kadar Hisên, who lives in the village of Şîtka, said that they helped the institutions affiliated to the Autonomous Administration and worked day and night to rebuild the football field. Hisên added that, after the success of the first project, they are now trying to open a park and a culture-art center in their village
Olives stolen from Afrin on the world market
The main source of income for the Turkish occupation regime in Afrin is the theft of the olive harvest. The “yellow gold” from the Kurds’ mountain is brought directly from Turkey to the world market. Germany serves as a cornerstone for distribution.
- MAXIME AZADI
- NEWS DESK
- Monday, 2 Aug 2021, 12:49
Since the occupation of Afrin in March 2018, the Turkish state has established a regime of looting and exploitation. Olive and olive products were the main source of income in the region before the invasion. With the Turkish invasion, Afrin’s olive groves have been plundered and have become a source of funding for militiamen from the Turkish-established mercenary “Syrian National Army” (SNA). The SNA militias loot the region’s olive production and bring it to the world market via Turkey. The pirated goods range from “organic products” such as the so-called Aleppo soap from Afrin in health food stores and drugstores, to olive oil in German supermarkets. While the resellers do not respond to press inquiries on the issue, the German government admitted that there are no hurdles for the official import of olive products looted from Afrin. Aleppo soaps are joined in Europe by new products from the occupied territories, most of which are sold in Arab-, Turkish- or Kurdish-owned supermarkets. On many of the products, the place of production is directly named as “Afrin”, countless other looted products from the formerly self-governing canton go on sale under other labels.
The wealth of Rojava in the eyes of the colonialists and occupiers
Before the war began, Rojava had represented the breadbasket of all of Syria and was exploited by the Baath regime in a colonial manner. While the regions in Cizîrê served wheat monoculture, mainly olives were cultivated in Afrin, as well as fruit for the Syrian market. Before the war that began in 2011, Rojava had supplied 40 percent of agricultural production in general and 60 percent of cereal production in Syria. Today’s autonomous region of northern and eastern Syria has 80 percent of the country’s oil reserves. The colonial relationship is exemplified by the wheat monoculture imposed by the regime. For example, the wheat produced in Cizîrê was not processed in the region, but in the Syrian metropolises, only to be reimported to Rojava, sometimes more expensively, as flour. Therefore, despite the vast quantities of grain, the lack of grain mills posed a serious problem for Rojava after the revolution. However, not only the regime laid claim to the exploitation of the wealth, but also the neighboring states, first and foremost Turkey, which is trying to claim all of northern Syria for itself on a line drawn roughly at the level of Aleppo.
Thus, it was Turkey that first invaded Syria with the aim of occupying it. To this end, Ankara initially supported groups such as ISIS, al-Nusra and other jihadist militias and then intervened in the war itself after their military defeat. Afrin was bombed by over 70 warplanes in early 2018, only to be occupied and looted by the Turkish army and a conglomerate of far-right and jihadist mercenaries. Since then, the Kurdish population has been systematically displaced and those who remain are exploited through robbery, protection and ransom extortion.
Robbery worth hundreds of millions of euros
There were at least 18 million olive trees in Afrin before the invasion. In addition, the region’s olives are used to produce the world-famous “Aleppo soap.” For centuries, Afrin’s olive oil has been considered the “yellow gold.” Ankara and its mercenary troops share the revenues, while the families who remained in the region after the invasion can keep only a fraction of the proceeds for themselves. The value of the looted “booty” was put at about 90 million euros. This included the cannibalization of soap production facilities and the extortion of ransoms through countless kidnappings. The actual amount is therefore likely to be much higher.
According to economists, olive oil production in 2018 in Afrin was around 50,000 tons and was estimated to be worth 130 million euros. The French magazine Le Point published a research report on the subject in January 2019, stating that 20,000 tons of olive oil from Afrin worth 60 million euros had been sold in Turkey.
Entire factories put at the service of the occupation regime
In November 2018, ANF published documents showing that the Turkish state and its mercenaries had concluded an agreement on the looting. This protocol promised the mercenary groups the revenues from olive oil production in 2018 and 2019. Thus, $22 million in revenue was to be generated for the mercenaries from the sale of olives to Spain alone. Thus, the exploitation gained its international level, which is still prevalent today. The looted factories in the city were put at the service of the occupation regime. A June 28, 2021, ANF report noted that the owners of 50 of the city’s 100 olive oil factories remaining in Afrin fled to Shehba and Aleppo. Their factories were confiscated.
Necib Şêxo, who owned one of the olive factories and formed an interest group with other displaced olive oil producers, told ANF in June 2021, “They put pressure on the population and force them to sell the olive oil produced in Afrin at a very low price. It is collected at the Nûri Arap factory in Jindires. From there, it crosses the border into Turkey through the opposite crossing in the village of Hamam in the Turkish province of Hatay.”
Germany is cornerstone in distribution of looted products
Today, olive oil stolen from Afrin is sold in almost all European countries and in the United States and Canada. Germany is one of the main pillars of the looting and thus the financing of mercenary groups of the SNA. This is not by chance, because Germany is also the most vehement supporter of Turkish fascism.
Looted olive oil is distributed from Magdeburg
Germany is the hub for the distribution of oil via the Internet, virtual media and markets. Thus, “Zêr Afrin” (gold from Afrin) is openly offered in Germany. The olive oil is collected and distributed from a large depot in Magdeburg. The products looted from the occupied Kurdish region are first brought to Turkey and transported to Europe by the Turkish Standards Institute (TSE). “Syria” is stated as the country of origin of the products. The company, located at Liebknechtstraße 99 in Magdeburg, did not respond to inquiries.
The Wuppertal-based company Salet Al Ghouta also sells olive oil stolen from Afrin. Here it is sold under the name “Jibal Afrin” as “olive oil from the mountains of Afrin” for 15.28 euros in two-liter canisters.
Robbery through official channels
The olive products are brought to Europe on trucks and ships. They appear to pass through customs through official channels.
The answer of the German government to corresponding inquiries to the Ministry of Agriculture confirms this. The answer says that companies from third countries exporting to the EU do not need a permit to import non-animal food products. Customs and state authorities alone make “assessments” in individual cases. Statistically, the imports are not recorded.
Similar inquiries to the French and Belgian authorities were not even answered. None of the companies selling olive oil responded to corresponding press inquiries either.
Sales in Canada, Denmark and France
The “Jibal Afrin” brand products looted from Afrin are also sold in Canada. Syria is stated as the country of origin. The products bear the seal of the Turkish standards authority TSE and the label states a company called “Mir Paketleme İTH. İHR. VE TİC. LTD. ŞTİ.” This group is based in Hatay, a Turkish border province with occupied Afrin. On the website of “Jibal Afrin,” olive oil looted from Afrin is offered for $13 per liter. Nine kilos of “organic, green soap” are said to cost $75.
In France, olive oil stolen from Afrin is sold under the name Yaman on a website called Mira. “Syria” is given as the place of production of the oil. The description speaks of “first-class natural olive oil of the Yaman brand (Afrin-Aleppo),” where 13.50 euros for three liters, 22.50 euros for five liters and 81 euros for 18 liters of olive oil are demanded.
Another company is “Jobri Food“, which operates in Denmark with headquarters in Viborg. This company sells “Afrin products” and also has a German network. The products are packaged and tested in Turkey. From the presentation of the company, it appears that it has representatives throughout the European Union and its owner is from Afrin. Jobri Food presents itself as one of the leading companies in the EU. A note states, “We are proud to offer food of the highest quality from well-known Afrin crops.”
All olive oils produced in Turkey are suspect
Similarly, olive oil products looted from Afrin have been found in the U.S. and many other countries in Europe. There are a large number of Internet users who advertise the purchase of such products on digital networks. Many products that do not bear the name “Afrin” also come from looting. This makes it difficult to determine the true extent of the export of looted goods. All olive-based products manufactured in Turkey or approved there should be considered suspect in this light.
EU states aiding and abetting terror financing
The failure of European states to take action against this makes them accomplices to the crimes in Afrin and helpers in terror financing. This is because the products stolen from Afrin finance both an oppressive regime and groups that commit the most serious war crimes, including members of the so-called ISIS, al-Nusra, and far-right and jihadist SNA militias such as Ahrar al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which was most recently placed on the U.S. sanctions list. Thus, the sale of these products may constitute both a war crime and a crime under national law.
Europe does nothing
Following a decision by the EU Court of Justice, EU states are obliged to label products from occupied Palestinian territories as such. This regulation aims to inform consumers correctly about the origin of the products. Since the same practice does not apply to products looted from Afrin, it is not difficult to imagine that many consumers are unwittingly supporting looting and occupation.
Lawyer Malterre: The crime can be charged
Jean-Louis Malterre, a lawyer with the Paris Bar Association, states that the looting and marketing of Afrin products violates the international law of war. He says, “It violates the conventions that regulate military actions; this is looting.” Malterre recalls the LafargeHolcim case. The multinational cement company had continued to operate its Çelebiyê site in southeastern Kobanê until 2014, paying money to third parties on the ground to negotiate deals with Islamist groups to keep production going. Thirteen million euros in baksheesh reportedly flowed between 2011 and 2013 alone. The bribes continued even when ISIS overran parts of Syria in June 2014 and proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate.
Against this background, LafargeHolcim is accused of “complicity in crimes against humanity” for its activities in Rojava. According to lawyer Jean-Louis Malterre, the sale of the looted olive products could have similar consequences.
Malterre explains that the products brought into the EU from Afrin are also “products of looting and theft,” adding that “those who directly participate in the looting and those who profit from the looting can be prosecuted.” To get the process rolling, however, he said, criminal charges must be filed by those involved.”
Autonomous Administration of NE Syria demands recognition by the UN
The construction of a self-determined social model began nine years ago with the Rojava revolution. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is demanding official recognition of the autonomous region by the UN.
- NEWS DESK
- Sunday, 18 Jul 2021, 13:26
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is demanding official recognition of the autonomous region by the United Nations (UN) and signaling its willingness to work with all sides for democracy and justice in Syria.
The statement released by the Autonomous Administration on Sunday includes the following:
“Syria has experienced great pain due to the centralist system of government in the Baath period. In the last ten years, the people have been denied and displaced, and the country has been turned into a center of crisis and chaos by the regime. The people of Syria have been living in very difficult conditions for ten years. Terror and occupation have been increased, Syria has become the center of the third world war. The people’s desire for democracy and change remains an unfulfilled dream. There is no solution and no stability. Syria is an area where regional and international powers are trying to impose their interests.
On July 19, 2012, the revolution of Rojava began and spread to all areas in northeastern Syria as it progressed. This revolution is oriented towards democratic change in Syria, self-determination of society, defending the unity of the country through the project of fraternity of peoples and building a democratic nation. In order to realize the dreams of the Syrian people indiscriminately and initiate a peaceful change, this revolution relies on the development of a decentralized system, which it has presented as an alternative.
“Fraternity of peoples as a fundamental principle”
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the Rojava revolution has seen itself as a social revolution and has avoided power struggles. It is fighting for a united and democratic Syria and rejects all other options. Unfortunately, the regime and the forces calling themselves the opposition are pursuing a different path. Even today, they are against serving Syria and its people. Along with this, they are preparing plans that will increase the pain of the people of Syria and prevent a solution and stability.
The essential principle of the July 19 Revolution was the brotherhood of peoples and the building of a democratic system. Thus, it referred to the need of all peoples in Syria – first as the Democratic Autonomous Administration, and later as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Shortly after the Syrian crisis began, the people established their own system and fought terrorism. They have defeated ISIS and women have taken a leadership role in society.
“Until the occupied territories are liberated”
As the Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria, we dedicate the ninth anniversary of the July 19 Revolution to the entire population. We will continue to pursue the free and democratic revolution and the goals of the martyrs. We insist on defending the gains won at great sacrifice of the people and will continue to work to liberate the occupied areas around Afrin, Serekaniye and Gire Spi and to allow the return of the displaced people.
Just as we fought ISIS in the past years starting from the revolution of Rojava and thwarted all plans of destruction, we will succeed now. We call on the peoples of northern and eastern Syria to unite and defend the project of brotherhood. At the same time, we call on all parties in Syria to work for justice, democracy and the liberation of the occupied territories.
As the autonomous Administration of North and East syria, we are ready to cooperate with all Syrian parties for justice and democracy in Syria. We hereby state that we remain committed to the UN Decision No. 2254 to resolve the Syrian crisis. We appeal to the UN to recognize the region of northern and eastern Syria.”
Between the 31st of March and the 1st of June, violent protests erupted in Manbij, which left at least three civilians dead and over a dozen injured. Concurrently, Russian troops attacked a security point of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), and the Turkish army shelled and continues to shell the villages around Manbij. In its aftermath, the local administration established public discussions; a fact-finding committee to investigate possible misconduct by their security forces; and a higher committee, consistent of representatives from a variety of civil and military institutions, as well as tribal representatives, in order to discuss 17 demands the public had related to the Tribal Council. During a visit to Manbij in mid-June, RIC found relative calm in the city, where all institutions we spoke to, including the Tribal Council, were eager to work together to resolve the issues which lead to the protest. It also found that the protests were, to a large extent, directed and encouraged by outside forces – namely, the Damascus government (GoS). Nonetheless, the issues the protesters riled around are domestic and by no means entirely a construct of foreign actors. Issues surrounding conscription, high prices for basic goods, and arbitrary arrests of civilians are indeed present, though not insurmountable. More worryingly, RIC recorded an uptick in frontline attacks emanating from Turkish-controlled territory. It seems apparent that both GoS and Turkey are actively attempting to destabilize Manbij and undermine the AANES.
Manbij region lies on the western banks of the Euphrates river and is home to no more than half a million people. The population is mainly Arab, though Kurds, Turkmen, Circassians and Chechens make up significant minorities. Besides the major city of Manbij, 8 small towns and 360 villages dot this region. Echoing its stature during the Hellenistic period, when ancient Ieropolis/Hierapolis served as a chief station of the Seleucid Empire, modern Manbij’s location is strategically appealing to all parties to the Syrian conflict.
As a nexus point between trans-Euphrates North and East Syria (NES) and the Kurdish-dominated regions of Afrin, Shehba, and the Aleppo neighborhoods of Sheikh Maqsud and Ashrafiyeh in Syria’s northwest, as well as housing Tishrin dam to the southwest of the city, Manbij is of crucial importance to the Autonomous Administration. Likewise, the Damascus government and Turkey eye Manbij as a likely target for invasion, due to the aforementioned location and Arab-majority population. Uniquely, Manbij is beset by a double frontline: to the north and west, the Turkish-backed ‘Syrian National Army’ (SNA) constantly threaten the region, with Turkey proper not 12km behind. On the southern flank, the government of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, seeks to widen its influence.
During the course of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, the Free Syrian Army controlled Manbij from July 2012 to the spring of 2013, when al-Qaeda offshoot al-Nusra Front took possession of the city. ISIS overran the region in January 2014 and remained in power until June 2016. During this time, Manbij served as the caliphate’s main marketplace for plundered antiquities, which were sent to the city and sold on to buyers in Turkey and the West. This lucrative business made up a large part of the group’s initial funding. Starting on May 31st, 2016, the newly-created Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Manbij Military Council (MMC) – a coalition of Manbij-native former FSA and Kurdish factions – liberated most of Manbij at great cost to their troops with the help of (US) Coalition forces. This initial sacrifice won the SDF, the MMC and the AANES widespread acclaim among the local population, who largely saw the soldiers as liberators.
Having been liberated the earliest – only a year after the defence of Kobane – Manbij region has seen the most reconstruction and development out of the four Arab-majority regions of NES (Manbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor). One of the Administrations greatest achievements has been the peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Manbij’s diverse communities, such as Kurds and Circassians, who had remained unrecognized and oppressed under both GoS and ISIS control, as well as the blending of its own democratic paradigm with an indigenous tribal system encompassing 64 different tribes. Women, too, have experienced autonomy and political freedoms unknown to them during the rule of Assad, let alone the years spent under brutal jihadi-salafist groups. The AANES has furthermore introduced multiple lasting civil structures, such as democratic assemblies and autonomous women’s institutions.
Yet problems were also soon apparent. Before ISIS rule, during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War, Manbij had elected its own democratic council and hosted Syria’s first independent trades union. Local activists complained that these gains were not restored, but rather replaced by the AANES’s own councils. The lack of adequate water and electricity provision due to Turkish-water blockage has also taken its toll. In addition, residents complain about high prices for fuel and other necessities compared to neighboring regions. Overall, a distrust of the new democratic paradigm is apparent among some residents.
Insurgents, SNA & Turkey
As with most of the Arab-majority regions, Manbij has experienced a spike of insurgency-style attacks following ISIS’ defeat, before the United States (US) withdrawal. The remnant of ISIS represent an ever-looming menace and it enjoys some popularity across certain parts of the Manbij countryside. Though less active than in other Arab regions of NES, ISIS sleeper cells are nevertheless present here. RIC recorded 8 confirmed sleeper cell attacks in Manbij in 2020.
Nonetheless, although US forces withdrew from the city in October 2019, local officials say Manbij has been relatively stable both before and after the Turkish 2019 invasion of northern Syria. Yet Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) militias in regions Turkey occupies in Al-Bab and Jarabulus often shell positions of the MMC, while the MMC regularly detains sleeper cell members with links to Turkish intelligence services and Turkish-backed militias. The fact that Turkey is looking to do more than destabilize the region is not a matter of conjecture. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had signaled Manbij as Turkey’s next target in Syria in 2019.
SAA & Russian Involvement
Following a 2019 SDF-Damascus agreement, Syrian Arab Army (SAA) troops numbering up to 10,000 have been deployed along the border; along the frontlines of the zone of Turkish occupation; in garrisons outside Manbij, Tabqa and Raqqa; and along supply lines leading from Damascus-controlled Syria up to the frontline with Turkey. SAA troops are banned from entering the cities themselves, and confined positions along the contact line outside Manbij and the Turkish border, and outside of the cities themselves.
MMC spokesman Sherwan Darwish told RIC that “coordination centers” have been set up with both Russian and SAA troops. Russian forces entered a former US base near Arima in October 2019 – formerly one of the Coalition’s largest – which has allowed “the same level of coordination” that the MMC enjoyed with the American forces. “Our joint efforts [with the Russians] have been positive,” Mr. Darwish said in 2020, while adding that locals remained fearful of further violence. Russia maintains three known military bases in Manbij region, all west of the city.
Yet the relationship between AANES and Damascus/Russia, if ever truly cooperative, has recently deteriorated. Officials in Manbij accuse the GoS of attempting to destabilize the region by inciting the Arab population, especially Arab tribes, to reject the AANES’ system. A recent US intelligence report suggests this might be true. Likewise, the relationship with Russia has soured, as AANES officials believe the superpower is colluding with Turkey to expel the SDF. In February 2021, Russia had pulled its troops out of neighboring Ayn Issa, on the frontline with SNA-occupied territory, because the SDF refused to let SAA troops in to defend against Turkish-backed attacks. Russia soon redeployed its soldiers, though the threat of a Russian withdrawal, which would allow for a Turkish advance, remains.
Nonetheless, Manbij – away from the frontlines – has so far remained relatively undisturbed. Visitors to the city are witness to rapid reconstruction (though perhaps not as rapid as neighboring Kobane) and a lively downtown. Yet beginning on May 31st, the region saw protests demanding and end to military conscription, as well an improvement of the economic situation.
Chronology of the Events of Early June 2021
A week after Syria’s presidential elections, during which the AANES had cut access from NES to SAR (territory under Bashar al-Assad’s rule), 25 people in the city of Manbij congregated for a protest after prayer, and many more in Hedhud, a village more sympathetic to Assad, 7km northeast of the city. There, a military vehicle was attacked by protesters, which lead to a death and three injuries as the soldiers inside opened fire. The The Manbij Military Council (MMC) and SAA both allege the vehicle was the other side’s.
In the aftermath of these casualties, nearby villages came together and marched on the NES military recruitment center in Tal Rafay, next to Hedhud, and scorched it, a security point, and a nearby car. MMC consequently imposed a 48-hour curfew.
On the internal border between SAR and NES at Tahya, a thousand of SAA troops amassed at the border, though not further action was taken.
East of the city, in Mashrafah, up to 500 people overran an Asayish checkpoint and set fire to surveillance cameras and a car. On Facebook, a person claiming to be a relative of the car owner alleges it was a civilian vehicle. Yet the car’s blue license plate reveals it to be a military vehicle. A firefight ensued as protesters stormed the checkpoint, which Asayish and GoS security forces share. The MMC told us they are unsure who began the shooting – whether protestors, the Asayish, or GoS scurity forces. In footage of the event, prolonged and heavy shooting can be heard from multiple weapons, though it is not visible who the shooters are. This firefight left 2 civilians dead and 15 injured.
Using the unrest as justification, Russian troops entered the city in violation of their agreement with the AANES. In a consequent firefight between Russian and SDF troops, one SDF soldier was injured.
In the aftermath of the morning’s protest, people congregated once more to march on the hospital in which the injured were being treated, smashing storefronts and surveillance cameras along the way, as well as throwing rocks at Asayish forces. Videos show Asayish forces retreating from protesters so as to prevent a confrontation.
The MMC releases a statement condemning the “criminal cells attack on security and military headquarters, receiving instructions from external parties, which resulted in casualties and injuries.”
The Manbij administration met with tribal elders, who put forward a 3-point plan to end the protests. The demands were the halting of military conscription for the inhabitants of Manbij region, the release of some prisoners (including some arrested before the protests), and establishing an investigative committee to make clear what transpired. Special Forces (HAT) were deployed to the city.
The MMC allege that agitators connected to the GoS attempted to further incite mourners during funeral prosceedings.
In a press statement, the AANES’ Tribal Council called for peace and blamed the Damascus government for “wanting to fuel unrest in Manbij in the wake of the election, to destabilize the region.”
Tribal sheikhs and notables put together a list of 17 demands and submit them to the Civil Administration of Manbij. They are:
1. The need to satisfy the families of the wounded and martyrs materially and morally, and to hold the soldiers who attacked peaceful demonstrators accountable by a fair and public trial
2. Abolition of compulsory conscription in Manbij region and end to conscription of young men in all regions of northeastern Syria
3. Cancellation of the customs value on all pharmaceutical and medical supplies
4. Installing all the teachers’ agents and securing school supplies for the success of the educational process
5. Stop arbitrary arrest and limit it to the court’s decision, and inform the detainee’s family about the place of his arrest and the crime against him within a week of the period of his arrest
6. Ending the work of the political police and the phenomenon of masked soldiers
7. Effectively activating the role of the Health Committee, according to competencies, following up on drug prices, and securing medication for chronic diseases for free
8. Securing fuel and domestic gas and distributing electrical energy in a fair manner
9. Improve the material of bread and increase its quantity, knowing that at the present time it is not suitable for human consumption
10. Preventing the army from roaming with their weapons between residential communities and not using them as shields for them in the border areas
11. Facilitating the work of humanitarian organizations in Manbij and working with them to compensate the owners of buildings damaged as a result of the hostilities
12. Returning confiscated property, homes and real estate to their owners
13. Return of the people of the town of Al-Shuyoukh to their homes, properties and lands
14. Compensating the owners of buildings that were intentionally demolished by bulldozers in the recent hostilities
15. Return the documents confiscated by the SDF to their owners
16. Considering the guarantee valid without a specific period of time and reducing the burden of renewing it on citizens
17. Repeal all laws that conflict with Islamic law, such as the penalty for polygamy and inheritance
As a result, conscription was temporarily halted across NES. A 20-member higher committee to discuss the 17 points was assembled, including a representative each of the MMC, the Manbij Civil Council, the Legislative Council, the Asayish, the Committee of Religious Affairs, the Intellectuals’ Union, the Reconciliation Committee, and an elder chosen by the tribes, as well as the 12 representatives of the tribes. After almost two weeks of deliberations, the tribal leaders could not agree on the staffing of an investigative committee. Thus, the investigations will carry on without tribal involvement. Nevertheless, the full demands will be discussed by all parties in the higher committee.
In the week following the protests, a series of roadside IEDs led to a death and one injury among NES security forces. Since the protests, and especially in the past week (of late June 2021), the front with Turkish-backed SNA has seen a sudden spike in violence. The SNA has shelled various towns north of Manbij, as well launched recurrent land assaults against the region, which have all been repelled. The reason for this escalation is heretofore unknown, though some analysts have speculated that Manbij may be the sight of a coming invasion.
Fact box: understanding the tribal system in NES
The tribal system is crucial for understanding the situation in the Arab regions of NES, since the tribes constitute the main building-bloc of local society. They are top-down and patriarchal in structure, with loyalty to the tribe and bloodline superseding other concerns, resulting in frequent and deadly feuds between tribes. Some tribes are close to the GoS, while others have long had an antagonistic relationship with the central government.
Particularly following the collapse of central government in Syria, tribes have played a key role as local power-brokers, maintaining their own armed forces and providing for their members, though ultimately most tribes have been forced to bow to more powerful state and non-state actors as they have gained and regained control over the tribes’ traditional territory. Weakness and competition within the tribal structure left the population extremely vulnerable to exploitation by jihadi Salafism, although ISIS was ultimately unable to rally lasting support from the tribes.
Tribes are a fact of life in Arab regions like Deir ez-Zor. Despite their top-down, patriarchal structure and conservative outlook, they can also play an important role in promoting ideas of local self-determination and community justice which are prioritized by AANES. In Manbij, representatives of the tribes sit in the executive, legislative and justice councils. If the AANES can bring tribal sheikhs onside, they will have a much easier time governing these challenging regions. Due to their size, many tribes have several components, and keep their cards close to their chest by negotiating with both the AANES and the GoS. Yet some tribal leaders are also persecuted and unable to return to GoS because of their cooperation with the AANES.
Tribes occupying the hinterland between Kurdish-majority and Arab-majority territories have helped to ensure continued practical contact between the GoS and AANES to keep utilities and oil flowing, while some major tribal militias (notably the al-Sanadid forces) have long been allied with SDF against ISIS and Turkey.
All institutions RIC spoke to in Manbij said the Tribal Council was critical in ending the recent protests. In Manbij, the 12 largest tribes sit in this council, out of a total of 64, though the two largest tribes, Bou Sultan and Bou Bena, have historically closer ties to Damascus and have a strained relationship with the Administration.
RIC spoke to multiple institutions on the ground. MMC, Asayish and the SDF’s Military Conscription Office told us the conscription issue was used as a pretext for protests which were about economic issues, though also instigated by outside forces. The Damascus government, especially, they said, is using NES’ comparatively weak economic situation to sow discontent among the population. Conscription has been practiced in Manbij since 2017. The attempt at forcing the Administration to halt military conscription from among Manbij and other Arab areas is because “outside forces do not want the people to feel attached to this political project, they don’t want them to be able to defend themselves,” as per an official at the Conscription Office. He pointed out that, if Manbij were to come under Damascus’ control, more rather than less of its citizens would be forced into military service. Meanwhile, an Asayish official alleged that unspecified sleeper cells storm into houses in Manbij dressed in their uniforms in order to evoke hatred for the Asayish. All three institutions told us the people of Manbij have been disillusioned by what they see as the Damascus government’s apparent effort to manufacture discontent.
We also spoke with the leaders of Manbij’s largest tribes. They say their tribesmen are in fact worried by military conscription, as this interferes with many young men’s education, business and marriage. The root cause, they say, is that the presence of the AANES is still perceived to be temporary. “The Administration cannot provide Manbij’s residents with national identity cards or passports,” says one sheikh. Parents are thus reluctant to let their sons serve in their armed forces and lose the opportunity to access GoS services if the region were to come under Damascus’ control once again. If they can, parents send their children to GoS universities, but the AANES does not waive military service for students enrolled in these universities. In addition, the tribal elders tell us the people of Manbij tend to marry younger, and resent the fact that newly-wed young men must spent time apart from their wives.They also bring up the fact that, for families with only one son, having him conscripted can be detrimental to their business. “Solving the issue of conscription,” the tribal leaders tell us, “is the most important thing.”
Nevertheless, other factors do play a role. Manbij citizens were angered by AANES’ recent price increases for fuel and gas, though these were quickly walked back after widespread condemnation. Yet the cost of Diesel and cement remains high, compared not just to when Manbij was under GoS control, but also to neighboring areas of NES, where these goods are cheaper. “Cement goes for $140/t in Manbij, but only $115/t in Raqqa,” one sheikh told us. The tribes also reiterated the people’s other main demands: the release of prisoners held for unknown charges, having those killed be declared martyrs, and an official apology.
Yet the tribal leaders also pointed to outside interference. Of Manbij’s 64 tribes, 2 in particular are close to Damascus – Bou Sultan and Bou Bena. It is from these tribes, the leaders told us, that the protesters come from. Their homelands stretch east and south of Manbij city. Bou Soultan, in particular, is centered around Hedhud, the sight of the first major demonstration. “70% of the problems have been resolved,” one of the Council’s sheikhs said, “but they [Damascus] use the persistent problems to destabilize.” Disinformation plays a considerable role. For instance, one of the 17 demands outlined by the protesters called for revoking laws which conflict with the Islamic Shari’a, highlighting polygamy. Yet polygamy – a practice banned in the Kurdish areas of NES – is perfectly legal in the Arab areas, save for persons working in the AANES or their armed forces. Rather than betraying the Administration’s authoritarian intentions, the current legal status of polygamy in Manbij is a testament to the AANES’ democratic attempts to marry traditional local practices with their vision of women’s liberation. Similarly, contrary to the popular opinion, the MMC’s long-standing policy is that young men from families with only one male offspring are not conscripted into military service.
The rise of Damascus-linked sleeper cells has been a common denominator across all of NES’ Arab regions. Asayish officials in Ayn Issa tell RIC that the GoS is playing similar games in their city. For the moment, Manbij exists in a delicate tension between Damascus, Moscow, and Ankara. Both the GoS, as well as Turkey would like Manbij to come under its control. Russian and the SAR are unlikely to let Manbij fall into the hands of the SNA, though the sudden pull-out of Russian troops out of Ayn Issa in February demonstrates that they are not above gambling on the AANES’ fear of another Turkish incursion. All parties, including ISIS, see Manbij as ground ripe for intrigue and popular revolt. It is therefore likely that these outside influences will continue to effect sometimes violent rejections of the current democratic system. As we publish this piece, local protests are staged in the wake of every Friday prayer, demanding the SDF leave Manbij – most likely, internal sources tell RIC, at the behest of Turkey.
Nevertheless, it is also worth noting that, for all of the Administration’s shortcomings both before and during the protests, the number of people who took to the streets in the first week of June 2021 were anything but representative of Manbij as a whole. As previously stated, most protesters seemed to belong to one of the two defiant tribes. It is also worth pointing out that women, for the most part, did not participate. More importantly, in the aftermath of these protests, the AANES hosted a public dialogue, and continues to be involved in the investigative committee, as well as the higher committee to address the people’s demands, proving their commitment to a democratic resolution.
Invariably, the greatest hurdle facing the AANES’ democratic paradigm is the lack of belief in its longevity. Outside interference and attacks, even if not able to conquer the region, nevertheless disturb people’s confidence in the current political system. RIC finds a closer collaboration with tribal leaders is necessary, not only because they played a crucial role in ending the protests, acting as the bridge between the people and the Administration, but also because their sacrifice – some having lost their lives to ISIS sleeper-cell attacks, others persecuted in SAR for their involvement with the AANES – can be essential in instilling much-needed faith in the current political project. July 1, 2021/
Aldar Xelîl: Occupation of Iraqi Kurdistan will overwhelm Rojava
Aldar Xelîl, the Co-leadership Council member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has stated that Turkey’s operations in Iraqi/South Kurdistan pose a national security problem for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria: “If South Kurdistan is occupied, Rojava will be overwhelmed.”
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) Co-leadership Council member Aldar Xelîl responded to questions from ANF regarding the detention in Erbil (Hewlêr) in South/Iraqi Kurdistan of Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and PYD representatives and the reported presence of Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) representatives at their interrogation. He also answered questions about the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP’s) violations of border-crossings at the Simalka (Sêmalka) border point and the aims of Turkey’s ongoing military operations in the Zap, Metina and Avashin regions of Iraqi Kurdistan.
As Turkey’s attacks of occupation continue, why did the KDP feel it necessary to send the media to the defence areas, and how would losing in South Kurdistan affect the Kurds and Rojava?
The purpose of the attacks currently against South Kurdistan is occupation. Erdoğan wants to occupy South Kurdistan. Their plan is to occupy all of South Kurdistan including Rojava, north-east Syria before the end of 2023. The only reason this has not happened yet is because of the resistance. If we had not resisted, Erdoğan would have reached Mosul and Kirkuk by now.
One of the reasons that South Kurdistan has been protected so far is the resistance in Rojava, another is the resistance of the guerrillas in the mountains of Kurdistan. The resistance now in Avaşîn, Zap and Metîna is also the resistance to protect the achievements of South Kurdistan.
South Kurdistan struggled for years to liberate itself from Saddam’s regime. It sees that Erdoğan’s regime is coming for it, that this is still more dangerous and that it will annihilate the Kurds. However, the attitudes of the forces of South Kurdistan and of the government, who ought to stand against this, differ from each other. In particular, the KDP currently supports these attacks. When the Turkish state attacks, it does not raise its voice and complain to the United Nations, to Baghdad, to the Arab states, to international institutions and say, ‘Why is the Turkish state coming to our mountains? Why is it bombing our villages?’ Theirs is not an attitude worthy of Kurdistan. The national attitude of Kurdistan is to stand up for its people, its country and its soil.
Erdoğan, the President of the Turkish Republic, conducts military interventions in various regions, always with the excuse of ‘national security.’ All well and good, but does not the occupation of South Kurdistan and Rojava create a national security problem for the Kurds?
Why did Erdoğan go to Libya? Erdoğan says, ‘In my opinion, if the changes in Libya did not happen, it would be damaging for Turkey’s security,’ and for this reason, he goes and intervenes. He goes there and gets right inside. In Somalia … He even went to Sudan before the Sudan regime changed. He does the same thing everywhere. He says, ‘I am protecting my security’.
If we think of Rojava being North-East Syria, is our national security damaged when Erdoğan attacks the guerrillas in the mountains of Kurdistan? It is also a part of Kurdistan. So, our security is damaged. Basically, if Erdoğan gains in Europe, it is not good for us. If he gains in Africa, it is not good for us. If he gains in America, it is not good for us. It will damage us.
Erdoğan has occupied Afrin (Efrîn). He has occupied Ras al-Ayn (Serêkaniyê), Tell Abyad (Girê Spî), Jarabulus, (Cerablus), al-Bab (Bab) and Azaz (Ezaz). Erdoğan is threatening us.
First: He comes to South Kurdistan and attacks the guerrillas. Second: He evacuates the villages in South Kurdistan. Third: He shoots civilians. Fourth: He establishes military bases. Fifth: He expands these bases. South Kurdistan is, in any case, not a large area. What is the meaning of establishing 30 bases? It means that he is occupying South Kurdistan. There will be no government left in South Kurdistan tomorrow. If the South falls, is this in the interests of Rojava? We do not want the South to fall and be broken. We do not want it to be occupied by the Turkish state. We do not want the South to be occupied any more than we want Afrin to be occupied. If they are occupied Rojava will be overwhelmed.
The Autonomous Administration (AANES) and PYD representatives were detained in Erbil. They were detained two weeks ago. Why were they detained? They represent the Kurds and the people there. They have not done anything bad, anything wrong, they have not committed any offence. They have not interfered in anything. They have not meddled with any internal affairs.
On 10 June, KDP forces detained AANES and PYD representatives in Erbil, and they have not been heard from since. Why is the KDP organising special receptions for the enemies of Kurds and detaining Rojava’s representatives?
Rojava’s representatives are in custody and we do not know what has happened to them. In fact, according to information I have received (I’m not 100% certain), Turkish intelligence officers came and interrogated our colleagues. This is a dangerous situation. We do not know where our colleagues are now. We do not know what kind of interrogation they are under, what they are being asked.
What is happening at the Simalka border point, what practices have the KDP introduced there?
We are also experiencing great difficulties at Simalka. The questions prepared for people going to and fro are intelligence related questions. They are humiliating questions. People are shocked when, crossing a border, they are asked questions like, ‘How many people are there in your family? What are you thinking? What do you eat? Who are your relatives and tribe? What party are you involved with and what are your duties to them? When do you hold meetings? Who is your supervisor? What neighbourhood do you live in? What is the name of your [political] commune? Where is your assembly?’
They are using these questions to pressurise our people. The people do not accept this and are unsettled. The issue of Simalka is a serious problem. All the forces of Kurdistan should stand against this. The PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) is also there, and what the PUK are doing there, I don’t know. The PUK is also a partner in this government. The duties of the PUK are not just to make political speeches in Rojava and develop relations with the Rojava parties. It should have a role within the government. Why are the governments taking our people, why are they treating us like this at the border point?
Women going to and fro are searched in a way that is not done anywhere else. There is always respect for women. There is sensitivity in the searching of women everywhere. An attitude of unity and solidarity displays opposition to these violations. Anyone can create good sentences and pull them together in speeches, addresses and leaflets. The most important thing is the practical attitude.
The Simalka problem, the representatives detained in Erbil and the KDP’s support for the Turkish attacks on the guerrillas are all making us uneasy. We cannot normally see. We, the people of Rojava, Northeast Syria, are forced to see this reality and danger.
Mazloum Abdi appeals to International Coalition to repatriate ISIS families from camps in North and East Syria
Mazloum Abdi, the General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has appealed to the International Coalition to repatriate ISIS families from camps in North and East Syria.
Mazloum Abdi, the General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), shared a message he sent to the International Coalition that is meeting in Rome to discuss the nature of the struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Abdi urged the Coalition to repatriate tens of thousands of ISIS members and their families who are currently being housed in North and East Syria. “The anti-ISIS Coalition will meet tomorrow to discuss progress towards the enduring defeat of ISIS. To ensure sustainable victory, we must not forget that tens of thousands of women, children and ISIS fighters remain in SDF and North and East Syria internally displaced people (IDP) camps and detention centres,” said Abdi onTwitter.
Abdi appealed to the Coalition to help return the ISIS families and members to their home countries as well as to “fund education and de-radicalisation programmes, and support stability and strong economic recovery in the liberated areas to address the root causes of extremism.”
Italy will co-host and co-chair (with the US) the Plenary Ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS alongside the United States on Monday in Rome. Hosted by the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio, the meeting primarily aims to discuss how to sustain pressure on the remnants of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and how to counter ISIS networks elsewhere, including in Africa.
More than half of the 83 members of the Coalition will be attending the meeting at ministerial level, two years after the last formal meeting took place.
A statement by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) on 18 March called upon the international community to continue with its repatriation efforts for children and their mothers from al-Hol Camp, which it deemed “insufficient”, Rojava Information Centre reported.
AANES furthermore reiterated the need for international expertise to assist in setting up a criminal court to try ISIS members. Netherlands on 5 June repatriated four Dutch citizens, a woman and three children from Roj Camp.
This was the second time that the Netherlands has repatriated citizens from camps in North and East Syria: two Dutch orphans had previously been repatriated in June 2019.
Uzbekistan on 30 April also repatriated 24 women members of ISIS and 68 children from AANES.
Kurdish authorities have called for an international tribunal to bring ISIS suspects into its custody. This proposal has never been taken seriously by the international community.
Having not been officially recognised, AANES – where the majority of foreign ISIS members are detained – has not been able to prosecut ISIS members. Although the Kurdish-led coalition has repeatedly appealed to countries to repatriate their nationals detained as ISIS members in AANES, most countries have refused to act.
HRE: 7 invaders killed, two bases destroyed
A soldier, a staff member and 5 mercenaries were killed, while 3 mercenaries were injured in the actions carried out by HRE in Mare, Shera and Azaz.
- Friday, 25 Jun 2021, 17:09
The Afrin Liberation Forces (HRE) reported that at least one soldier, one personnel and 5 mercenaries were killed, and 3 vehicles were demolished in their latest actions against the invading Turkish state forces.
The HRE statement detailing the actions between June 19-24 includes the following:
“Based on legitimate self-defense, our forces continue to respond to the attacks of the invading Turkish army and their mercenaries. Our troops organized actions against several targets in different regions.
On June 19, our forces organized an assault against a base of the invading Turkish army in Mare, which Turkey seeks to reactivate. A construction machine was destroyed, and another was hit in the action. Furthermore, a soldier and a staff member of the invading Turkish army were killed.
We carried out an effective action against a mercenary group in Mare on June 20. Multiple mercenaries were killed while several others were injured. Detailed information on the number of dead and injured could not be obtained.
On 20 June, an action against the mercenary group ‘Asif al-Shimal’ was carried out in Omer Simo village of Shera district. 3 mercenaries were killed, and one other was injured during the action. Moreover, a military base where the mercenaries are stationed, and a vehicle were demolished.
On June 24, an effective action was carried out against a group of mercenaries gathered in the village of Kefr Xoşer in Azaz. One mercenary was killed, and 2 others were injured during the action. The base where the mercenaries are stationed was also destroyed.
A soldier, a staff member and 5 mercenaries were killed, while 3 mercenaries were injured in the actions carried out by our forces in Mare, Shera and Azaz. In addition, 3 vehicles and 2 bases were destroyed.”
SOHR: 140 Turkish-backed mercenaries return from Libya to Syria
Back-and-forth transfer operations: 140 Turkish-backed mercenaries return from Libya to Syria, while 200 others leave Syria to Libya.
- NEWS DESK
- Sunday, 20 Jun 2021, 19:37
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that nearly 140 Syrian fighters of Turkish-backed factions have returned from Libya to Syria in the past few days. The sources of SOHR have also confirmed that the return of this batch has not been a part of a plan to evacuate Turkish-backed mercenaries from Libya, as nearly 200 other mercenaries have been sent to Libya instead.
The observatory noted that all the fighters of the batch transferred recently to Libya are of the factions of al-Amshat, Sultan Murad and al-Hamza Division. Accordingly, the withdrawal of Turkish-backed mercenaries form Libya has been still suspended, despite all international appeals and Libyan-Libyan understandings.
On June 7, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the return of a group of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries from Libya to Syria. In the previous 48 hours, nearly 95 fighters affiliated to the factions of “al-Hamzah Division, al-Majd Brigade, Sultan Murad, al-Muatasem Division.”
SOHR added that the return of those fighters was a part of back-and-forth transfer operations, as another group of 100 fighters from the same factions were dispatched by the Turkish government to Libya.
On the other hand, SOHR reported that al-Hamzah Division arrested several fighters who returned back with the latest patch after committing severe violations in Libya.
The back-and-forth transfer operations coincided with the international continuous demands to withdraw mercenaries from Libya. However, such demands met with Turkish government’s indifference, despite the considerable coverage by media, especially by SOHR.
This was the first time for the return of a large number of fighters since May 25, as the return process was limited only to individual returns under fraud medical reports.
On May 27, SOHR reported that foreign mercenaries were present in the Libyan territory, despite the Libyan-Libyan understandings, the ongoing international calls and the media coverage. Moreover, the return of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries was completely suspended, except for some individual returns by some mercenaries who provided falsified medical reports and bribed the leaders of Turkish-backed factions, amid widespread discontent among the Turkish-backed “mercenaries” in Libya over the suspension of their return and the unpaid financial dues in return for the services they provided for the Turkish government.
On the other hand, the Syrian mercenaries who were recruited by the Russian” Wagner” company for protecting and serving the Russian interests in Libya, haven’t retuned back, reported the observatory.
On April 28, SOHR reported that the return of Syrian mercenaries from Libya is still suspended, whether Turkish-backed “mercenaries”, or those who were recruited by the Russian “Wagner” company and sent to Libya.
SOHR said that only a small number of mercenaries returned to Syria, after they provided medical reports and falsified some of them by bribing the leaders of Turkish-backed factions, amid widespread discontent among the Turkish-backed “mercenaries” in Libya. Their return to Syria still suspended since March 25, since the return of last batch of fighters about five weeks ago, after a complete suspension of the return of these mercenaries since mid-November.
In mid-April, SOHR reported that fighters of Turkish-backed factions, who are in Libya, were paying bribes to doctors in order to falsify medical reports enabling them to return to Syria.
On March 8, SOHR reported the Turkish government sending patch of 380 mercenaries to Libya.
On the other hand, SOHR affirmed that the return of the Russian-backed Syrian mercenaries who had been recruited by the Russian “Wagner” company and sent to Libya, has been also completely suspended.
American internationalist: Fighting ISIS is not enough
US internationalist Sipan Van Spronson pointed out the necessity of fighting not only against ISIS, but also against Turkish fascism, and said that joining the YPG was an opportunity for him.
- MUSTAFA ÇOBAN
- Saturday, 12 Jun 2021, 08:51
The Rojava Revolution is a revolutionary process that embraces not only the peoples of the Middle East, but all the peoples of the world. Internationalists from all over the world have joined the revolution. One of those affected by the Rojava Revolution struggle is American internationalist Sipan Van Spronson. Van Spronson, who came to Rojava 15 months ago, spoke to ANF about his choice to join the YPG and his experience in Rojava.
Van Spronson said: “I came because I believe in the ideology of this movement, I believe in the establishment of a stateless democracy based on the liberation of women, and I believe in self-defense for the people of the middle east against ISIS and Turkish fascism.
When I first arrived in rojava its almost difficult to describe; there was such an intense feeling of freedom that I felt, being here with my comrades who I knew were here to fight for the same things as I, and even within the society it was clear that there was a much more democratic and liberated approach to life and it was truly wonderful to just be within a system and within a people who decide to live that way.”
The internationalist continued: “For me, joining the YPG was a wonderful and invaluable experience. It was an opportunity to fight for something I believe in. In opposition to such a violent and repressive way of life. This nationalism, this hyper religious approach, this idea of one flag one people one state. And, to be able to participate in a movement that instead fights for the liberation of women for the creation of an autonomous peoples, and an autonomous way of living.”
Addressing the American people Van Spronson said: “I guess if I were to say something to the American people, or all people in the west even, I would say that we are running out of time. The time for complacency is over, if we truly care about freedom, about liberation, about basic equality and basic democracy then we can no longer rely on the work and the blood of others; it must be done with our hands and our own blood. So if we want to call ourselves revolutionaries, fundamentally human, even, then the time is now to get out there, to work, to do something. You don’t have to join a military force but we can no longer be complacent. One other thing I would like to talk about is the importance of the ecological approach within this movement. Especially as a young person I really think a lot about climate change, about the horrible catastrophes that this will, and already is beginning to bring to the people around the world. And so that aspect of it is also really important to me, to fight against this capitalist consumption of the environment, of the land around us.”
The internationalist reminded that “the fight against ISIS is ongoing, and in spite of these frequent reports from the American government, the American military that “we’ve done it we’ve defeated ISIS” and so on, its not true. First off, a lot of the work that’s being done is by our forces, and the work is far from over. We still have sleeper cells that are beheading civilians and doing horrible acts of violence and so I think that what needs to be understood is that if we start a job, we have to finish it, and finish it in its entirety. And that includes our approach to the Turkish state as well, who not only in the past has actively supported ISIS but even now within the various chete groups, the various jihadist groups they support in northern Syria there are ex ISIS members that are just simply looking to to restart their movement, and you can see that within the free Syrian army and many of the other groups that turkey supports. I mean what’s important to understand is that this is a fight that’s ongoing, and we will fight to the very end.”
Van Spronson said: “I think one of the other things we’ve seen is a tendency for America to forget its allies, for instance in Afrin and Serekaniye, these places where the American army basically paved the way for Turkish invasion. And I think that from an international perspective, and an internationalist perspective I think it’s important to understand that if we as, for instance Americans, if we want to see freedom for the Kurdish people, for the people of the middle east then we need to come and actually do something about it because its clear that our states will continue to only work for themselves.”
German doctor Michael Wilk reports from Rojava
Dr. Michael Wilk, a medical doctor from Wiesbaden, reports from the tent cities of Waşokanî and Serêkaniyê near Hesekê on the situation of the people in the autonomous region of northeastern Syria, which is characterized by Turkish attacks and lockdown.
- Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021, 08:18
The Waşokanî camp for refugees houses 14,000 people in tents under the most adverse conditions. The second camp, Serêkaniyê, with 11,000 residents, is also located near Hesekê, a city/suburb with a population of approximately one million. The camp is named after the city of the same name, which was invaded by Turkish army and Islamist troops of President Erdogan in October 2019. Serêkaniyê was a beautiful, Kurdish-majority town located right on the border of Turkey. On the other side of the political demarcation line, Kurdish people also live, separated from their relatives in Syria by a border drawn by victorious powers after the end of the Ottoman Empire.
Example of social change
The Kurdish population was oppressed on both sides. However, with the increasing loss of power of the ruler Assad, starting from the Arab Spring, a self-determined autonomous movement was able to establish itself in the north of Syria, which declared grassroots democratic principles and the equality of men and women as its goals. It subsequently succeeded not only in driving out the terrorist Islamist ISIS at great cost, but also in asserting itself against the Assad regime. The expansion and consolidation of the area in northeastern Syria, the inclusion of all ethnic groups living in the area in the attempt to create a self-determined society and, above all, the changed social position of women developed positively. This is a much-appreciated example of social change in self-determination, in extreme contrast to the social structures of the surrounding countries and virtually a nightmare for the Islamists and the authoritarian autocrats of Erdogan’s ilk.
Alliance commitments to the Erdogan regime
Rojava’s badly damaged infrastructure was partially rebuilt, and houses, schools and even clinics were repaired, largely under the government’s own steam and with the help of international donations. State aid from abroad was almost completely absent, the high toll in the fight against ISIS with over 10,000 dead and 20,000 injured was not repaid with reconstruction aid, the alliance obligations to the Erdogan regime, the NATO partnership, the economy and above all Turkey’s gatekeeper function towards refugees weigh too heavily.
Germany and EU are complicit in Turkish crimes
The West’s ducking and stalling policy continued even when Erdogan invaded Rojava’s territories militarily several times. The invasion of Afrin in spring 2018 and that of the area between Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî in 2019 displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their ancestral territories, leaving many dead and seriously injured. The EU and the German government did nothing and not only made themselves complicit in the invasion and crimes by continuing to supply weapons. Thousands who could not find accommodation with relatives or have the means to build a new house are still living in schools, or worse, in tent cities. Like just here in the Waşokanî and Serêkaniyê camps with 25,000 people.
Economic burden due to lockdown
Next door, in the Corona Clinic of the Kurdish Red Crescent (Heyva Sor a Kurd), people are struggling to breathe. The nurses of the Kurdish Crescent are doing everything they can with scarce resources. The declared lockdown is necessary, but economically burdensome for the region, which is exhausted by the war and Erdogan’s attacks.
If nothing else, the use and distribution of the saving vaccine reflects the global relations of power, privilege and domination. So far, about two-thirds of the vaccine has been delivered to just six countries worldwide. Here in the Waşokanî camp, no vaccine has yet arrived, nor has it reached the rest of the region. Yet it is so urgently needed. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NoVm7juAFCM?rel=0
HEVAL TEKOSIN COMMUNIQUE
The following history complements all of the other more formal, Positivistic(1), aspects of the revolution. It paints a picture of an important and powerful aspect of the Rojavan revolution. It cannot be seen from outside. It cannot be held, defined or quantified. It has no process, no direct material certainty, no written system or rules. This history is an attempt to explain why the system of governance in Rojava is not, has not and will not develop in to an Oligarchy. It is the riddle of human kind, Michel’s Iron Law of Oligarchy(2), and for the second time(4) in history that I know of, it is being defied.When I use Woman™ and Man™ in this text it does not literally mean women and men. The Rojavan revolution, “The Friends”, Abdullah Öcalan, invites everyone equally, irrelevant of ethnicity, Class™, background, intelligence, wealth, men and women; to adopt the concepts that it gathers in its social construct Women™, and to reject the brutal ideas that it gathers in its social construct Men™. For example, it rejects Male™ concepts of superior and inferior, domination by anyone, competitiveness, individualism and insecurity, positivism(19), authority and especially the Nation States that men created. In Rojavan revolutionary networks men are just as welcome as women, there is no distinction or bias.
A dominant woman is rejected just as a dominant man is. As a man living and working in Rojava for a year now I can confidently report that this culture frees men and women together, it does not place them in competition in any way. This proposed method is especially relevant, welcome and effective in the context of the Middle East.Imagine a war happened in your country. Far away from you on the other side. And that all the State soldiers and police left your area leaving behind substantial amounts of weapons(1) and equipment. Your side of the country is also full of crude oil, hidden under endless dusty wheat fields, unprotected and unmanaged(23) now that the soldiers have left. Enough to sell, and independently power a society with(16).You and your friends take control of the oil fields. That is, the people you watch movies and eat popcorn( 8 ) with. Many friend groups do this, copy this, join in with you and you are all connected up, and growing as a huge friend group network. One of the friend groups buys 1000s of white people carrier cars, all the same, and distributes them to any friend group that is interested, with blue number plates to indicate that it is a vehicle belonging to “The Friends”.
No one sets up any official rules, no one gets elected, no one writes “Government” on any buildings, everyone meets only at everyone else house(15). The rest of Society with its free markets continues as normal, but without Nation State interference now. I often stand at the road as the sun goes down watching The Friends continually zoom back and forth(9) in their white people carriers. 1000s of them visiting each others houses, discussing, planning, thinking, reading, watching movies and eating popcorn.Rooms in the Middle East, rich and poor, are very minimal. Around the edges, patterned soft sleeping mats, generous cushions and big fluffy blankets where people sit to chat, and later sleep. Huge central shared trays appear with omelettes(20), roaming-goat cheeses and fresh spun breads. Olives from Afrin and oils from Kobane. The conversation is often loud, always curious and excited, occasionally with singing. The mornings often look like a party happened, with people scattered around all the rooms, crashed out.Some Friends are asked to take responsibility for some things by some other Friends. Sometimes life and death important things. No one ever votes. No one ever brings an agenda, on paper or in their minds. Everything is agreed between Friends, often with neighbors popping in and joining in, and must be agreed that way. So understandings slowly and gently assemble themselves, flowing through the symbols and constructs in the free and ever developing languages(3) uninhibited by the dictates of dictionaries. This is what Rojavans mean when they say Social-ism. This is how Woman™ organises.”Villages are noisy places Tekoşin!” – Heval BK explaining that real democracy is loud. It is necessarily human scale like a village or city small neighborhood, intimate and face-to-face, where people are always talking with each other, always in each others houses or between, always excited.
The Friends then begin developing relationships with economic infrastructural organisations: farms, engineering business, logistics, warehouses, shops, etc. When a business joins The Friends network, everything changes for them. The people working there get over-flowing Veg Boxes and all household necessities delivered to their homes every week, according to what they say they need(10). Their rent and bills are paid for them(11) and they get weapons(21) and free cigarettes(6). Other Friends across the network visit and work with them. Trust, positivity, intuition, intimacy, emotional intelligence and education replaces money and property within the networks of networks. “Accounts are a cold thing and building and organising is a warm thing” – Rojavan education 2021(18). So the revolution deals with all accounting needs for teams(7), leaving them to build, organise and create. Excited young women, fresh out of Rojava University, run around installing and teaching Open Source accounting software for engineering companies and farms alike. It virally spreads through the society. Communities and links strengthen in society generally and the economy runs more and more on friendship as the edges between the revolution and the society blur. This is how Woman™ carefully and patiently abolishes money and property.”There is only one law in Rojava Tekoşin. You must be our friend” – Heval AIn 2013, one year after the revolution, Heval H returned from technology work in Dubai to protect his family home in Qamishlo, Kurdistan and one of The Friends approached him to explain the revolution. He was easily convinced. He got some close friends together, armed themselves, and began convert operations surveying Turkish-ISIS military positions and activities using their own cars and false IDs to visit other cities under or near enemy control.
After a few months they found other friendly military units and started supplying them with information. The team also started buying, developing and using technology from the local Souke (market) to improve their capabilities. No one asked or told anyone, filled out any official forms, joined anything, asked for or received uniforms, because that is not how this society works. The information was extremely popular and Heval H’s division grew quickly, other groups helped fund it or joined in, and it became an integral part of the military operations here in Rojava. The SDF (Syrian Defence Forces) is the umbrella group for whatever it is that the people are doing to protect themselves. This is how Woman™ protects herself against the Nation States of Men™, in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society, aware of the chaotic reality of war.”Half the people in this şehid lik (graveyard) were my personal friends Tekoşin, all killed by Turks. I *hate* them. But I cannot allow myself this hate because we *must* go forward together” – Heval AAANES (Autonomous Administration of North East Syria) is the administrative umbrella group for all the activities civilian society is choosing to do.
Rojava has a thriving free-market economy. One that is progressively de-monopolising and moving away from money and property. The freedom of the market was never the problem in Capitalism. Rojavan business owners do not wake up with times, numbers and graphs in their minds. They do not “supply” “customers” with “services”. The have their community friends in their minds. The feeling of safety and happiness of their families is related deep down to their friendship in the community, not to their profit-loss account. Women™ can free Men™ from the pains of Capitalism.In 2019, after 8 years of revolution, The Friends did something unprecedented. They directly intervened in the economy. The Friends never forced people to stop using money under threat of jail. They never frightened landlords with violence. They didn’t frighten business owners and their families by forcing them to obey prices or forcibly taking their life long business ventures away from them.
All these things, that previous revolutions have done, require violence and create fear and conflict. It is not The Friends’ style. This is not the way Women™ do things.The Turkish embargo on Rojava had created a smuggler-trading class that was growing big and powerful. So The Friends reluctantly started trading and transporting products themselves as well and opening cheap supermarkets providing all basic needs to the people in all the major cities The Friends lived in. It was carefully and patiently introduced and widely welcomed. No one protested, no one attacked anyone, no opposition armies formed.”Social Construction is more powerful than any army or police Tekoşin.” – Heval SI arrived in Rojava a year ago in February 2020 with no understanding whatsoever of what I present in this article. Some theories from Bookchin, Öcalan and the like gave me better eyes, but no understanding of what it actually felt like in practice. During that year I have often sat in meetings next to people with enormous responsibilities in Rojava. I never realised because they don’t wear any medals, rarely say anything and they certainly don’t directly make decisions or proposals. A Friend with great responsibilities in the revolution often sleeps on my couch at the moment. He is there in his jeans and un-tucked shirt in the morning with a big smile, makes tea and asks me what I need. I was very surprised when Heval H told me what his responsibilities were. He is so calm. “You have a lot to learn about our culture Tekoşin…” It seems that the “higher up” people are in this society, the less they speak and the more attentive they are. They always make me so aware of my own spiralling, uncontrolled, embarrassing optimisation and egotism. Or “acis” as the Kurds say, which also means powerless. It will be a long time before anyone regards me as fit to take on responsibilities in this society.
It is like the reverse of the Capitalist system, where the higher up people go in Capitalism, even the first step, the more arrogant, dogmatic, charismatic, aggressive, confident and stupid people become. And the wisest people get thrown in jail at the bottom! The Capitalist democracy, where people vote for the wisest person, seemingly has the opposite effect to that intended.There is an intentional tacit power hierarchy in Rojava within The Friends movement. Each project or area has a “Responsible”, in both military and civilian works, and the Responsibles have Responsibles in a hierarchy. This hierarchy has substantial tacit power in it from the tops down. Many reasons, information and decisions are unknown to the people further down the hierarchy.Rojava works on Responsibility without Authority. A seemingly ridiculous and rude concept to my European mind. How can you fix something if you have no control over it?? Let alone be held responsible for the failures of people in your team who you have no control over?? But, as always, human beings do something completely different to what is expected. Responsibility *without* authority is one of the keys to ensuring attentive, humble, emotionally intelligent bottom-up democracy. Woman™ understands emotional psychology and the society organism very well. This is why millions of Woman™ were killed in the 15th century(5) to make way for Men™s Positivism(19) revolution.In Rojava it seems that the cultural keys(24) have been discovered to a good leadership hierarchy that gets things done patiently, changing and growing together into shared solutions, leaving no one behind or outside.
Democratic Confederalism is just the harmless summarising administrative patterned cloth that floats on top of this chaotic social activity. The endless, interweaving populism underneath is the intentional power system in Rojava. This is how Woman™ allows decisions to assemble themselves.”The European Anarchist idea of not having leaders is silly.” – School responsible, Rojavan Education 2021.After a year and much education, a sense of patience and endless curiosity toward others had strongly underpinned my psychology. I noticed myself naturally telling people stories instead of solutions I wanted them to adopt. I was sitting through entire meetings happily curious, completely free from the tyranny of my own ideas, interests or intentions. About 1 month ago the whole of Rojava suddenly opened up to me. Speeding around in cars with people excitedly introducing me. It really happened that abruptly and clearly. Somehow Rojava had decided that I was finally ready.”The problem is not the problem. Your attitude to the problem is the problem.” – Captain Jack Sparrow.
These vast flowing cultural under-currents(12) had always been widely and deeply present in The Middle East. Especially in rural agri-cultures like Rojava(13), excluded from Modernism. And, of course, these currents exist in many similar situations all around the world, un-suppressed still by the insidious tentacles of Nation States. Rojava had a Women™s revolution to bring forth these under-currents, formalise them into an ideology, and give them a name: Jineology, with Democratic Con-federalism as its anti-system protection network. They call this “jiyana xwezayî”, the natural life.”He is doing şerm Tekoşin!!!” – Everyone excitedly talking about my friend, the young wonderful Heval B, sitting humbly and not talking, refusing cigarettes, tea and food to demonstrate his sense of social humility in the presence of new friends arriving on the project. I miss him.The European Left has always had the right ideas with its cooperatives, communes, intentional communities, community vegetable growing and so on, but so much energy was consumed by conflict within the groups that their growth was stunted and they became much less attractive. Various painful positivistic attempts to make decisions, like Consensus decision making, failed to analyse the real fundamental epistemological(22) issue and, instead, just brought that cultural failure into sharper contrast.
Many 1970s European Feminist groups(17) did address this in a similar way to Rojava but they got lost in time as Capitalism steadily and meticulously neutralised the considerable threat they posed.”Men cannot be free until women are free.” – Abdullah ÖcalanRojava is reaching out to everyone across Europe and the world. Its new civil-society to civil-society Diplomacy sections want to talk with you. We are circumventing the dominant Men™ Nation States and talking straight to citizens and civil society groups. The path to change will be the same: to “kill the Dominant Male™” (quote from Abdullah Öcalan) within all of our personalities, men and women, to allow these cultural under-currents to blossom again. “95% of this war is against our own personalities, 5% is a mechanized war” – Rojavan Education 2021. “If our personalities are not good, we cannot create anything good.” – Rojavan Education 2021. The reverse is also true. Capitalism’s strength is inside us, and so is its downfall. Rojava will celebrate a decade of revolution next year.
A decade of survival against incredible material odds. A growing spreading society more and more devoted to its ideology as the armies of Nation States are rendered impotent against the gentle, patient, viral spread of its friendship, beauty, joy and rationality.If you are reading this then you are connected now(14). This revolution cannot and will not develop without you. Don’t worry if you do not have the same set of circumstances in your region that brought Rojava in to revolution. Every context is different, opportunities will come. Only preparation is necessary.
(1) – Some of the friend groups secure weapons. Weapons from the soldiers as they left, weapons from Lebanon, weapons from elsewhere. They call themselves the Peoples Protection Units (HPC) and they anchor themselves in the local communities they live in. They spring up everywhere, with different ethnicities, areas, uniforms sometimes, and ideas but all happy that the other groups exist and coordinating (SDF).
There are much more pressing dangers on the horizon than differences of opinion about number plate colours. Other more regional connected armies form (YPG/YPJ) over time. Some rules are created, some loosely followed, many rules are different and many rules are discussed over tea. Other groups setup “police” (Asayish) and begin making things safer. Other groups talk to them and make some arrangements for other different coloured number plates. Everyone is happy everyone else is doing stuff. ISIS-NATO try to kill everyone but fail. In the early years 40% of The Friends income was spent on security. This year finally it is substantially less. Source: The Friends
(2) – Michels’s theory states that all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies. Michels observed that since no sufficiently large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy, power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise. Source: Wikipedia(3) – Kurdish and Rojava has many inter-connected and developing dialects without centralised dictionaries. So the people develop the language together naturally as concepts and society changes. Routinely, Rojavans feel free to pick and use words from ~
3 different and changing dialects (Afrin, Qamislo, Kobane for example) and 3 different languages (Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish for example) in any single sentence, depending on their audience and direction. Source: Personal experience. I speak Kurmanji fluently and bits of Arabic and Turkish.
(4) Ancient Athens was the other one. Surprisingly there are huge differences in the way they solved it, not least with the exclusion of women and slaves. They did it within a rhetoric of extreme superior and inferior, domination over slaves and women, loud aggression, wealth disparity and competition. But, nevertheless, with harsh competition, terrible punishments and grand social rewards the poor demonstrably dominated the rich leisure class for 200 years with only 1 very temporary coup and similar social contradictions to Modern Europe. One of the important similarities with Rojava was that it was active, widespread populism of an intimate human scale (limited to 20-40,000 men). Every citizen could expect to be on the 50 citizen inner circle of government “prytany” twice in his life and almost constantly involved in 1 or more groups. Obers book, Mass And Elite In Ancient Athens (1989), is especially good on this. It suggests that the decisions in Athens were really made in the swarming down-town barbers shops, not in the famous Assemblies. The assemblies really only summarised what had already been accepted in society with its development of language, symbols, social constructs and speeches through the system of Logographers (speech writers) who mingled with the people to ensure that their speeches would be accepted in the assemblies. Ober does an incredible job of demonstrating this with network and systems theories. Osborne also writes well on this subject especially about the social reasons how the Athenian revolution developed out of a fragmented warlord past. Source: Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens: Ober 1991, Athens and Athenian Democracy: Osborne 2010
(5) – This was the witch hunts. Reports of the Number of deaths vary greatly. The period before these hunts saw Monasteries of women actively researching and educating and their active involvement in community. It also saw the beginnings of Positivism, male science, the Nation States building on the structural foundations of hierarchical religions. Source: Rojavan Education, 2021
(6) – The revolution spends substantial amounts of money on cigarettes. This is an increasingly contentious issue as Abdullah Öcalan has demanded that revolutionaries stop smoking. He also stated that “… the un-necessary slaughter of animals must stop”. Many Cadros are becoming vegetarian as a result and there are positive signs that Cadros are also beginning to stop smoking. Source: The Friends
(7) – I have visited 3 “companies” now, all doing engineering infrastructure, to install their accounting systems for them. Different systems of course, lots of receipts and variation, no central repository. Source: Personal experience( – We do actually eat a lot of popcorn in Rojava. And, in fact, last week, myself and 10 life long Kurdish revolutionaries sat around and watched Ice Age II together laughing and chatting. Of course notwithstanding critiques of Hollywood, Positivist culture, food supply chains and so on. Source: Personal experience
(9) – The Friends have their own lane at all police road blocks which is usually empty. Fuel is free for The Friends. Source: Personal experience
(10) – I always ask for tubs of chocolate. It always comes, with big smiles. My logistic store has 10 tubs in it. I need to stop eating so much chocolate. Source: Personal experience
(11) – Landlords and the housing free market exist in Rojava although slowly reducing. Rents are increasing dramatically in Qamislo to the east as refugees flee the Turkish occupied cities of Aleppo, Kobane and Afrin. Source: The Friends(
12) – The writers Abdullah Öcalan and Murray Bookchin write well on this subject. Öcalan describes a history with 2 opposing flowing rivers of cultural philosophy beginning 5000 years ago in Sumeria. That of Nation Statism and Patriarchy, and that of Communalism and Jineology. Source: The Sociology of Freedom (2020), Prison Writings The Roots of Civilisation (2007): Abdullah Öcalan
(13) – Rojava was and is 70% agriculture, almost all wheat production. Kurds especially were formally excluded from many positions in society like governmental posts and are mostly a very poor subsistence society. Source: Revolution In Rojava: Pluto Press 2016
(14) – Heval Tekosin
(15) – Interestingly the Alawi religion does this also, with no central church buildings, holding meetings only in each others houses. Source: Heval BK, head of Sterk revolutionary TV station, Rojava.
(16) – For a full list of The Friends expenditures the yearly accounting reports for AANES can be seen on RojavaInformationCenter.com. They are usually in the region of ~$120 million per year. The Friends fixed many roads, setup the RCell mobile Internet provider, and many other public services. Rojavan crude oil is sold at 10% of the market price because of the embargo.
(17) – Anecdotal. Comments ad research welcome!
(18) – Rojavan education 2021: In February this author, Heval Tekosin, attended 40 days of education, Jineology personality analysis, critiques and a platform. The process caused much self-analysis, awareness and changes in my personality and I feel much more free, patient and relaxed in my mind now. In short, the agendas, desperation to talk and impose, and optimisations in my mind have calmed. “Men cannot be free until women are free.”
(19) – Positivism is a complex term worthy of a book. In short, it is the physical, factual world, the world commonly understood in Europe as “science”. It excludes the meta-physical, that is morality, emotion, philosophy and so on. Anything that cannot be mathematically defined and measured is excluded. It allows only one human motivation, self-interest, which it regards as the single, and mathematically provable, evolutionary goal of each and every human. It turns people and society into robots and graphs, and life in to a series of numbers, TO-DO lists, times and categories. It reduces, categorises, homogenises and essentialises. The Positivist mind is caught in never ending spiralling mathematical optimisations of every aspect of its life, from time to money to happiness. The rejection of Positivism is central to Abdullah Öcalan’s and Jineology’s philosophy, where Positivistic thought and Technology are embraced as a tool rather than a master
.(20) – I am Vegan. Many many sheep wander the wheat fields in the outskirts of cities and countryside and there are many small farms with chickens, sheep, dogs and pigs. However, most of the eggs in Rojava still come from large industrial farming facilities at the moment. This is ugly to almost all of the Rojavans I have met so far and they want to move to small scale roaming free animal farms. Small scale production is also part of the Ecological ideology here. There is no understanding of the conscious state of animals yet in Rojava but there are local projects starting to try and address these issues, especially aimed at helping dogs initially.
(21) – One AK47 or M16 per person. These usually line the walls of bedrooms and work places
.(22) – Epistemological: The way we understand reality
(23) – The planned regional oil management town of Rmelan housed all the Syrian Regime management offices and staff for coordinating the regions oil down from the Northern Syrian oil fields through to Damascus by road. Once empty, taking over and re-coordinating the oil flows was clear for The Friends.
(24) – Share stories not personal conclusions, read emotions not only information, change and learn without ego and not be defensive, imagine themselves as part of a society not an individual, listen instead of waiting to impose, and consider themselves and everyone else as dynamic and capable of moral learning without needing to push.
Turkey Creates a Humanitarian Catastrophe in Occupied Syria
by Jonathan Spyer
The Jerusalem Post
Originally published under the title “Turkish-controlled Islamist Militia’s Ravaging of Afrin.”
|Turkish-backed Syrian security forces patrol the highly secured market area of downtown Afrin. (New York Times)|
Located in the northwest corner of Syria, the Turkish-controlled Afrin area is largely off limits to foreign journalists.
Turkish forces occupied Afrin in late 2018, in an operation dubbed Olive Branch, destroying the Kurdish authority which had previously ruled there.
Since that time, Afrin has been ruled by a coalition of Syrian Arab Sunni Islamist groups, with the Turkish authorities as the real power behind them. Significant Turkish investment in the infrastructure of the area, along with the frozen diplomacy of the Syrian conflict, suggests that the current situation will last for some time.
|Global media and governments have ignored very grave violations of human rights in the Afrin area.|
Evidence is emerging to suggest that very grave violations of human rights are taking place in the Afrin area, on a systematic basis. The situation remains largely ignored by both the global media and Western governments.
According to Jiger Hussein, a refugee from Afrin who now coordinates an investigation team looking into cases of kidnapping and abduction in northern Syria, “We have strong evidence indicating the involvement of the Turkish authorities and their client extremist militias in the international crime which is taking place in Turkish-occupied Afrin – including rape, trafficking, and torture to death.”
Operation Olive Branch began on January 20, 2018, and concluded on March 18, 2018, with the defeat of the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) at the hands of the Turkish military and its Syrian Arab Islamist auxiliaries.
|The Turkish takeover of Afrin led to the expulsion or flight of around 200,000 Kurds from the area.|
The immediate result of the Turkish takeover was the expulsion or flight of around 200,000 Kurds from the area, reducing the Kurdish population from an estimated 350,000 to around 150,000 today.
The vast scale of population displacement as a result of the Syrian civil war (around 13.5 million Syrians from a prewar population of 22 million have left their homes in the last decade) has served to obscure the significance of this act of sectarian cleansing. It differs from other acts of forced movement of population from Syria in that it was directed not by a pariah regime under Western sanctions, still less by an unaffiliated militia. Rather, this large-scale forced movement of a population was conducted by a NATO member state and US ally.
Following the expulsion of more than 50% of the Kurdish population of Afrin, Turkey undertook the resettlement in Afrin of Syrian Arab refugees from the Ghouta area (close to Damascus), Deir al-Zor and from the Aleppo Governorate. Around 100,00 people have established homes in the area since the conclusion of Operation Olive Branch.
|Turkey has resettled the Afrin area with around 100,000 Syrian Arab refugees.|
Conditions of life for the remaining Kurdish and Yazidi population in Afrin under the rule of Turkey and its Islamist auxiliaries in the Syrian National Army remain precarious in the extreme.
A recent report by ACAPS (Assessment Capacities Project), an independent NGO, noted: “The Kurdish population… face constant harassment by local militia groups, putting them at risk of losing their livelihoods and access to food and shelter…. The Kurdish population of Afrin is at risk of personal threats, extortion, detention and abduction from local SNA factions present in the district…. Kurdish residents in Afrin are particularly vulnerable to problems related to shelter. Kurdish residents have experienced repeated and systemic looting of their property. Those who fled their homes in 2018 are reported to have had their homes occupied by fighters and their families and by displaced people from Syrian-government-held areas.”
The US State Department “2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Syria” confirmed that “The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria corroborated repeated patterns of systematic looting and property appropriation” by SNA members in Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn, and that “after civilian property was looted, SNA fighters and their families occupied houses after civilians had fled, or ultimately coerced residents, primarily of Kurdish origin, to flee their homes, through threats, extortion, murder, abduction, torture and detention.”
The ACAPS report notes in particular confiscation of agricultural lands. The nonlocal origins of SNA fighters has resulted in widespread cases of serious misuse of resources. For example, according to a Voice of America report, no less than eight million of Afrin’s 26 million olive trees have been cut down by SNA fighters, in order to provide firewood or for trading purposes. Afrin was an area traditionally strongly associated with olive farming.
It is important to underline here that the SNA – “Syrian National Army” – despite its name, is not an independent Syrian military formation. Rather, this 70,000-strong force represents the remnants of the Sunni Arab insurgency in northern Syria, today organized, armed, financed and directly controlled by the Turkish authorities.
|Kurdish and Yazidi women are systematically targeted by Turkish backed Islamist militias.|
The widespread and apparently systematic targeting of Kurdish and Yazidi women is a particular feature of the activity of the Turkish backed Islamist militias.
According to the State Department Country Report, “The COI, STJ, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), and other monitors documented a trend of TSO [Turkish-supported organization] kidnappings of women in Afrin, where some women remained missing for years.”
Noting “multiple firsthand accounts of kidnapping and arbitrary detention” by Turkish-supported militias in the area, the State Department report named the “Sultan Murad, Faylaq al-Sham, Firqat al-Hamza, and al-Jabha al-Shamiya, and the SNA’s Military Police” organizations as cited by human rights organizations for involvement in the kidnappings.
“Victims of abductions by TSOs [Turkish-supported armed opposition groups] were often of Kurdish or Yazidi origin or were activists openly critical of TSOs or persons perceived to be affiliated with the People’s Protection Units or previous Kurdish administration of Afrin,” the report continued.
The UN Commission of Inquiry reported the transfer of persons held by the SNA factions to official Turkish custody, “indicating collaboration and joint operations between the Turkish government and the SNA which could, if any members were shown to be acting under the effective command and control of Turkish forces, “entail criminal responsibility for commanders who knew or should have known about the crimes, or failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress their commission.”
The Turkish government denied these reports.
|Since the occupation of Afrin by Turkish-backed forces in March 2018, more than 150 women and girls have been kidnapped. (Missing Afrin Women Project)|
An NGO specifically created to document the situation facing women in Afrin noted the kidnapping of 88 women by Turkish-supported armed groups in the course of 2020. As of January 2021, according to the organization’s website (missingafrinwomen.org), the whereabouts of 51 of these women remains unknown.
The organization notes that 14 of the cases involve direct allegations of torture, and three involve direct allegations of sexual violence carried out by militiamen in the employ of Turkey. Two of the alleged victims remain missing. The Hamza Division and the Sultan Murad Division are the organizations alleged to have been involved in these three cases.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Turkey to investigate these allegations. No investigation is known to be currently under way.
Syria has been witness over the last decade to some of the most heinous violations of human rights seen in recent history. The ethnic cleansing of Afrin, and the current and ongoing systematic harassment of the remaining Kurdish and Yazidi population, including the deliberate targeting of women, stand among the darkest chapters in this woeful story.
Jonathan Spyer is a Ginsburg/Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.
German internationalist in Rojava: “I can only advise you: Come here!”
Internationalist Goran Kobanê is from Germany and lives in Rojava. He advises others to come to the autonomous region of northeast Syria themselves to get involved in the grassroots democratic project and learn from it.
- MUSTAFA ÇOBAN
- Saturday, 1 May 2021, 18:48
Goran Kobanê is an internationalist from Germany and has been living in Rojava for six years. In an interview with ANF, he explains why he went to northern Syria in the summer of 2015 and what motivates him to stay there. He advises all people to come to the self-governing region of northern and eastern Syria to see and learn from the grassroots democratic project and the women’s revolution.
“I am originally from Germany and came to Rojava, to Kobanê, about six years ago, in the summer of 2015. The crucial point and motivation was the battle for Kobanê. That was in the media at the time, it was in the press in Germany, in Europe, internationally, and somehow everyone was aware of it. IS was at the height of its power at the time. They had taken so many cities in Syria, in Iraq, and Kobanê was something like the decisive battle. At the time, it was said that if Kobanê fell, ISIS would be well on its way to marching directly to Europe. And that motivated me at the time to come here and see how I could help.”
The fight for Kobanê: “It was madness”
The resistance in Kobanê was very impressive for him, says Goran Kobanê and continues: “The friends fought with simple, light weapons against tanks and a superior number of opponents. The courage that the friends had here, that was madness. They went into battle partly expecting to die, but they knew they were falling for a good cause and were willing to make that sacrifice. They knew that if they didn’t fight, then all of Kurdistan would be in danger, then Kobanê would be in danger. And who knows how many civilians would have been murdered.” Above all, he said, he was impressed that so many internationalists from different parts of the world wanted to resist.
Meanwhile, Germany continued to support the Turkish state, Goran Kobanê said, “And the Turkish state has demonstrably provided logistical support for ISIS. They took care of the wounded, they provided border crossings, and that was obvious to the world. And yet the German state continued to support the Turkish state. There was no military help, which the friends here would have needed to resist.
German society, it must be said, has already taken this on board. They followed it, they sympathized with the Kurds and with the resistance, but someone really stood up and said: I’m taking a risk, I’m taking a risk and maybe I’ll come here and help,’ that’s something very few people have done. That was another motivation for me to say: Now more than ever. I have two healthy hands, I can come here. I am healthy, why not. I have no excuse to say I can’t help here.”
The defeat of ISIS in Kobanê was like the breaking of a myth: “Until then, ISIS had only won, won, won. They were advancing and it was thought that they could no longer be stopped. And then, thanks to the heroic resistance of the Kurds and their friends, they were defeated and had to retreat. Later, they were pushed back further and further, and that was more or less the beginning of the end for ISIS. And if Kobanê had fallen, who knows how it would have turned out.”
“Germany has itself blackmailed by Erdogan”
Even after the ISIS has been defeated territorially, the Turkish state supports and protects Islamist troops, who today would only call themselves something else, the internationalist continues: “In my opinion, this has only one goal: to break the Kurdish resistance, ideally to wipe out all of Kurdistan and to destroy this really successful model of self-government. Germany nevertheless continues to support the Turkish state, even though it’s obvious that they’re committing human rights violations here, that they’re expelling people here, that they’re murdering people.”
“The German government is allowing itself to be blackmailed by the Erdogan government with the refugees in Turkey. That’s over three million. Turkey and Erdogan are constantly threatening to open the borders, and this allows Germany and the EU to be blackmailed. Pressure should be put on them very clearly and they should say: withdraw from Afrin, withdraw from Serêkaniyê, withdraw from the occupied territories, or our economic relations will be broken off. But unfortunately, the German state is not doing that. They don’t do anything. They cooperate with Erdogan as if nothing ever happened. German society could do more, it definitely has to do more. People have to go out on the streets, they have to put pressure on the politicians. What are the weapons financed by? They are financed by tax money. The bottom line is that it’s everyone’s fault that people are dying here because the weapons come from Germany.”
Germany supports Turkey primarily for economic reasons, says Goran Kobanê: “Germany makes billions with these arms deliveries. Turkey has bought dozens of tanks to use against northern Syria. Germany is making billions and doesn’t want to risk economic relations. The human lives in northeastern Syria do not count and it is accepted that hundreds of people would be killed and entire areas depopulated.
“Take to the streets, put pressure!”
Asked what he expects from people in Germany, the internationalist answers, “Take to the streets. Protest. Put pressure. Here, dozens of people are dying every day, displaced, and this is happening with Germany’s guilt. Show the politicians and those responsible what you think about it. It’s up to you, it’s in your hands.”
The German internationalist adds, “There are many internationalists in Rojava who have taken the risk of coming to the region. They are happy here and contribute their share. They can contribute a lot and learn an extreme amount here. They learn about the system of self-government, which is an example of how a democratic, good, equal world can work. How the role of women is promoted here in the Middle East, you don’t see that anywhere else. And that’s just a wonderful example of how it can be. I can only advise you to come here, check it out, even if it’s just for a few months. It’s incredible.”
How to deal with ISIS: Lessons from Rojava
The Kurdish-led administrations in both Syria and Iraq faced an existential threat from the savagery of ISIS fighters at the height of their power. Yet, in victory, the Rojava revolution in NE Syria seeks to defuse, through rehabilitation, the time bomb ticking away in the mini-ISIS caliphates being set up by cooped up prisoners – men, women and children – physically defeated but not necessarily ideologically shaken.
While across the border in KRG-controlled Iraq, the time bomb is defused by summary trials and execution.
The case for ISIS fighters to be treated humanely isn’t just future-proofing against the pent-up anger of ISIS generations to come although that would be a welcome side-effect, but is an example of what a justice system committed to transformation of society should look like.
Nassra Khalil, co-chair of the Justice Council in the Euphrates region of Rojava (AANES), explains poetically in an email interview, that their system is driven by ‘the aim of eliminating the soil in which grievances grow and working out solutions that address the root of the problems by tackling these problems and the social structure in which they arose.’ However these admirable aims are constantly undermined by the lack of resources.
British media’s frenzied interest in ‘jihadi brides’ shone a light on the dire conditions in the Al-Hol camp in Rojava which holds over 60,000 ISIS prisoners, women and children, particularly the infamous Shamima Begum who lost her last baby to pneumonia there. This fits in with public expectations of Syrian refugee camps but very few narratives dig deeper to reveal the true picture.
Many Western countries have refused to repatriate their citizens in a shortsighted case of political expedience leaving foreign fighters and the Rojava administration in limbo. Shamima Begum was stripped of her citizenship in a shameful decision by the Supreme Court in February.
Rima Berakat, Co-Chair of the Justice council, responsible for law and order in all of Rojava, outlined the scale of the problem in a Zoom interview. They have approximately 12-15 thousand ISIS prisoners (mostly Syrian and Iraqi, but including 50-80 foreign fighters) awaiting trial. Since 2014, they have tried 8000 Syrian nationals and there are 1000 prisoners on trial at this moment. There are simply too many detainees and too few resources for the overstretched Rojava administration to attempt ideological cleansing of ISIS fighters on a large scale. As ISIS fighters remain a huge security threat, with uprisings in overcrowded prisons and escape attempts, Rojava, ever-pragmatic, has been unable to put its rehabilitation programs into operation apart from the ‘most basic teaching of language, culture and philosophy’. They have adopted a conventional legal strategy of trial and conviction but with humane sentences recognizing differences between those who laid bombs or laid food on the table for ISIS.
They have introduced amnesties for low-level ISIS operatives who have served half their sentences. This is partly to avoid their further radicalisation in prison, living cheek by jowl, with hardened ISIS fighters. This does not include ISIS ideologues or those who were engaged in war crimes, drug trafficking, honour killings, and espionage. Their risk levels are assessed, which includes an assessment of theirs’ and their families’ ideological commitment to ISIS, before they are released into the community. It is also in keeping with Rojava’s ‘decentralized, confederal decision-making on the local level’ reports the Rojava Information Centre: those areas which were liberated by SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) from ISIS are mostly populated by Arabs who have historically been hostile to Kurds and also do not share their revolutionary ideals. A key demand that emerged in consultations with these communities was amnesty for low-level ISIS members.
Responding positively to that demand, according to the Rojava administration, promotes better community relations and is one way of countering ISIS ‘attempts to sow discord, sectarianism and violence.’ To date 4000 women and children and 630 odd men have returned.
Small scale rehabilitation is carried out for groups of up to 20 women who sign up voluntarily in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps by Waqfa Jin, a local women’s group. They undertake consciousness raising sessions which talk about women’s empowerment and education, subverting ISIS teachings indirectly. They also run sewing and handicraft making sessions to skill them up for life outside the camp. In the smaller, better resourced, Al-Roj camp, the women who attend must follow rules such as no ‘black clothes’ and no niqabs, the closest they get to challenging ISIS ideology head-on. Such sessions, of course, do not begin to encroach upon the consciousness of those ISIS women in the now infamous Al-Hol camp who have reintroduced the strict dress and moral codes of their previous lives on pain of death. The Rojava administration is keen to set up separate camps for those ISIS women who are showing signs of rejecting their ISIS history so as to complete their process of deradicalisation. But they lack the resources.
The limited resources that they do have, have been poured into the Huri Centre, where 100 young boys from the age of 11 upwards, known as the Cubs of the Caliphate, who were battle hardened fighters and suicide bombers are being rehabilitated. The decision to staff the centre with women with whom the boys refused to make eye contact or shake hands when they first came to the centre was their first indirect lesson in gender equality. Apart from providing a peaceful environment where misbehaviour is resolved through discussion, not punishment, the young men are exposed to music and the arts – subjects that were banned under ISIS. In fact, the biggest challenge for the administration is the diehard ideological commitment of the foreign ISIS members, be they men, women, or children. Local fighters often joined ISIS for financial reasons because of their attractive salaries or protection of their families and are generally easier to deradicalise.
Across the border in KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) which operates the same penal code as the central government in Iraq, many ISIS prisoners have been executed after a summary 15 minute trial according to Human Rights Watch. All ISIS suspects are tried under the counter-terrorism laws and no distinction is made in terms of severity of charges. The process by which they are identified as ISIS members is flawed, very little evidence is provided at trial, and confessions are extracted by torture. There are widespread allegations of ill-treatment. Human Rights Watch recommends a more conciliatory approach, similar to that in Rojava, to prevent problems in the future. It is well known that prisons have been the hothouse for incubating terrorists of the future: AQI, the predecessor of ISIS, was hatched at Camp Bucca.
The Iraqi system is corrupt: prisons are paid per inmate so there are financial incentives to delay trials; prisoners are made to pay for better food, visits from relatives and access to mobiles. Several hundred ISIS prisoners have been executed since the fall of Mosul in 2017. In November 2020 alone, 21 prisoners were sentenced to death. There has also been an unquantified number of extra-judicial killings of ISIS members by the Iraqi army, wreaking revenge after victory.
Yet the UK government has poured £31million into KRG/Iraq since 2016 via UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) but not Rojava, despite UK’s commitment to global security, its avowed opposition to the death sentence and the importance it places on stabilisation of areas liberated from Daesh’s control. The government website states ‘we will not consider providing any stabilisation assistance in Syria without a credible, substantive and genuine political process firmly underway.’ This makes no sense at all given that there is a substantive political process under way and the UK was part of the coalition which put boots, arms, and training on the ground in the battle against Daesh in Syria. That is exactly the point that Rima Berakat makes, ‘We fought against Daesh together, we captured their fighters together, we must prosecute them together also. One side cannot carry the burden alone.’
I asked the foreign office, ‘If Britain will not take back its ISIS citizens, please explain why it won’t fund the humane regime in Rojava?’ A Government spokesperson responded with an answer to a question I hadn’t asked, ‘Those who have fought for or supported Daesh should face justice for their crimes. We are clear that this should happen in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which will often be in the region where their offences have been committed.’
In fact Rojava is poised to do so. Berakat said it is ‘our right, as victims, to prosecute Daesh because they have violated the laws in this region.’ After years of calling for an international court to be set up in Rojava went unheeded, she announced their intention to put the foreign fighters on trial.
The ISIS fighters should consider themselves lucky as they are unlikely to face as humane a jurisdiction anywhere else. If they open their minds up to the Rojava democratic experiment on earth, they may find that they are no longer interested in 72 virgins in heaven.
Northern Syria’s Armenians commemorate 106th anniversary of Armenian Genocide
2021-04-24 1 minute read
HASAKAH, Syria (North Press) – On Saturday, theArmenian Social Council and Armenian military force commemorated the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Tel Goran, in the countryside of Hasakah city, northeast Syria.
24 April 1915 is held as the starting date of the genocide, since on that day Ottoman authorities arrested and deported from Constantinople (now Istanbul) to the region of Angora (Ankara) around 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. Most were murdered.
The Armenian Genocide was the systematic mass murder and expulsion of more than 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkey, according to historical documents.
Manuel Demir, the commander of northeast Syria’s Armenian military force known as the Martyr Nubar Ozanyan Brigade, said that “we, as an Armenian military force, celebrate this memory to deliver a message to the world that we have not forgotten and we will not forget what happened to our Armenian ancestors at the hands of the Ottoman Empire…we reject and denounce the ongoing Turkish aggressions, which are similar to the criminal policy of the Ottoman Empire of 1915.”
He added that the genocide was not committed against Armenians only, and that its massacres in Syria, whether by its occupation of Ras al-Ain (Sere Kaniye), Tel Abyad, or Afrin, and its continuous attacks on Ain Issa, confirm the restoration of Ottoman politics and its massacres.
Arif Qasabiyan, of the Armenian Social Council, says that “the extermination was committed against other peoples such as the Romani, Syriacs, Assyrians, and Kurds.”
“The Ottoman policy continues to exterminate the rights of other peoples and eliminate their cultures, histories and languages, as in Shengal, Sere Kaniye, Tel Abyad and Afrin.”
Its worth mentioning that the European Union parliament voted “by a wide majority” on 16th April 2015 overwhelmingly in favor of recognizing the mass-murder of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey as a genocide, commemorating the centennial of the genocide.
Reporting by Dilbreen Moosa
PYD member denounces international silence regarding Turkish attacks
The Member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Berivan Hassen, denounced the international silence about the recent attack launched by the Turkish occupation state on the house in which the leader Abdullah Ocalan stayed, and asked whether community is satisfied with the crimes Turkey is committing against the peoples of the region?
In a repeated scene of the scenario of the Turkish hostility to north-east Syria, the attacks of the Turkish occupation state continue amid international silence that may open the way to a threat that may affect global security, according to political analysts’ point of view.
In addition to the continued bombardment of Ain Issa and al-Shahba, a reconnaissance aircraft belonging to the Turkish occupation army targeted the house in which Leader Abdullah Ocalan stayed in the village of Albalur, west of Kobane city in 1979, while crossing the borders of Northern Kurdistan to Rojava, known as the leader’s house, at dawn on the 16th of this month.
Concurrently, the Turkish occupation army and its mercenaries stationed on the western bank of the Euphrates River in villages of the occupied city of Jarablus shelled with mortars Boraz village and the surrounding villages in the west of Kobane city.
The Turkish occupation army and its mercenaries continue their attacks on north-east Syria, amid the silence of the Russian guarantor and the international community, despite two separate ceasefire agreements between the Turkish occupation, Russia and America.
‘International silence is a green light for more crimes’
The Member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Union Party, Berivan Hassen, said: “Turkey’s targeting of the house in which the leader stayed is a clear indication of Turkey’s fear of the thought and philosophy of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan and the idea of achieving democracy that poses a threat to its authority.”
Berivan Hassen indicated that Turkey was not content with imprisoning the leader Ocalan and imposing strict isolation on him, but also attacked every place that has a footprint or memory of him.
Berivan denounced the international silence regarding Turkey’s attacks on the region, and said: “We see Turkey continuing to launch its hostile attacks on the region and its people, in addition to imposing strict, illegal isolation on leader Abdullah Ocalan amid international silence from all world countries and human rights organizations.”
Berivan Hassen stressed that the world powers must take a firm stand towards the violations and crimes committed by Turkey against the region and its people.
At the end of her speech, Berivan Hassen asked in an indignant tone, “Are the international community satisfied with the crimes committed by Turkey against the people of the region?” Adding, “They give the green light to Turkey to commit more crimes through their silence.”
It is worth mentioning that an unmanned aerial vehicle of the Turkish occupation state bombed a civilian house south of Kobane city on the 22nd of last January, which resulted in the injury of a civilian, and preceded it the massacre committed by a Turkish drone in Helenj village on the 23rd of June of last year.
SYRIE. Le gouvernement syrien harcèle les quartiers kurdes d’Alep
24.04.2021 à 13h40 0 35
SYRIE / ROJAVA – Le régime syrien qui a suit une déroute dans le quartier Tayy de ville kurde de Qamishli où il voulait créer le chaos, veut se venger en s’en prenant aux quartiers de Sheikh Maqsud et d’Ashrefiye à Alep abritant une importante population kurde. Selon l’Organisation des droits humains d’Afrin, les forces des forces gouvernementales syriennes représentées dans la quatrième division et la branche de la sécurité de l’État ont décidé vendredi de harceler la population de Sheikh Maqsud et Ashrefiye à Alep, à la suite des affrontements intenses qui ont éclaté en la ville de Qamishlo entre les Forces de sécurité intérieure, les Asayish et le groupe de mercenaires du régime syrien depuis mardi dernier. Après que le quartier Tayy ait été débarrassé des mercenaires de la Défense nationale, la quatrième division a verrouillé le point de contrôle de Jazira menant à Sheikh Maqsud tandis que Awaridh est restés ouvert, ce qui a créé de longues filles d’attente au milieu d’opérations d’inspection et de contrôle. Des sources locales ont rapporté que des Kurdes ont été arrêtés à Bustan Basha, Ashrefiye, Midan, Catstello et près du carrefour Jendul où des voitures ont été immobilisées et des civils à bord arrêtés. Régulièrement, le gouvernement syrien a utilisé Sheikh Maqsud et Ashrefiye comme une carte contre l’Administration autonome du Nord et de l’Est de la Syrie (AANES) chaque fois que ses milices créent des émeutes et du chaos à Hasaka et à Qamishlo.
Clashes escalate between Asayish and pro-government National Defense in Syria’s Qamishli
QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Al-Tai neighborhood, south Qamishli, northeastern Syria, has witnessed violent clashes with medium and light weapons between the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) and the pro-government National Defense forces (NDF).
Since the early hours of Friday morning, NDF snipers stationed in al-Tai neighborhood have intensified their targeting of civilian residential buildings surrounding al-Wehda roundabout in the city center.
According to field sources, late Thursday night, Asayish advanced and were close to the al-Tai roundabout.
Late Thursday night, Sheikh Hayyes al-Jaryyan, a prominent figure of the Bani Saba’a tribe, was assassinated, succumbing to his wounds after he was targeted by snipers from the pro-government NDF near his home northeast of the National Hospital.
On Tuesday, ten-year old Abdulsalam was killed by the targeting of the pro-Syrian government NDF near al-Wehda, Roundabout in Qamishli, while others were wounded.
Since Tuesday, Qamishli has been witnessing clashes between the Asayish and militants from the pro-government NDF.
On Thursday, Asayish found a quantity of weapons and ammunition in Lilo Detachment in al-Tai neighborhood, amid continuing clashes with the NDF.
The circle of clashes between Asayish and the NDF expanded to include Helko neighborhood as well, where before it was confined to al-Tai neighborhood.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are sharing control of the city with the Syrian government forces, who control a small part of it, while the SDF controls most of the city.
Reporting by Hogir al-Abdo
North East Syria Internal Security Forces: This operation aims at saving people from ISIS threats
The Internal Security Forces launched a ‘Humanitarian and Security Operation’ in Hol camp. The operation also aims at saving those living in the camp from the threats posed by ISIS members.
- Sunday, 28 Mar 2021, 09:49
North and East Syria Internal Security Forces launched an operation called “Humanitarian and Security Operation” in Hol camp. The operation is being carried out with the collaboration of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the People’s Defense Units (YPG)
Spokesperson for the SDF Gabriel Kino, spokesperson for the YPG Nuri Mehmud and the Jazira Region Assembly General Command Member Ewinar Derîk attended the statement made on the operation. The statement was read by the General spokesperson of the Internal Security Forces, Elî El-Hesen.
The statement said: “The Syrian war has been going on for about 10 years. This war resulted in thousands of victims and millions of Syrians forced to leave their homes and to migrate around the world.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeated the ISIS terrorist organization on a territorial basis with the support of the International Coalition two years ago. However, ISIS continues to pose a great threat to the whole region and the world. Secret cells of ISIS still target civil society administrators and civilians in Northern and Eastern Syria every day. The Internal Security Forces continue to fight these terrorist organizations in cooperation with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Hol Camp has represented a serious threat to the region and the world for a long time. More than 60,000 people stay in the camp, with children making up the majority of the population in the camp. There are ISIS mercenaries or members of mercenary families. These people aim at defend the ISIS organization and revive it when the time will be deemed appropriate. They are doing so by establishing a special administration for them. ISIS policemen called Al Hesbe established their own special courts. At the same time, they teach children in the camp the Islamic State precepts. This represents a big threat as aims at creating a new generation of terrorists all over the world. Children must be saved from this fate.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria met all the needs of the camp within its own means. Internal Security Forces also ensure the security of the camp with the support of SDF. However, the Hol camp has turned into a center where ISIS is being reorganized. Civilians inside the camps are attacked, murders are carried out. This situation poses a danger to everyone inside the camp. There have been 47 murders in the camp just since the beginning of this year.
Today, with the SDF, YPG, YPJ, the Internal Security Forces launched an operation called ‘Humanitarian and Security Operation’ which aims at breaking the ISIS influence in the camp. The operation will continue to protect civilians. With this operation we aim at saving the camp residents from the threats posed by ISIS.”
YPJ: Çiçek Kobanê verdict not coincidence
Women’s Protection Units, the YPJ, indicated that putting fighter Çiçek Kobanê on trial is a breach to the international law, calling on the international community to condemn this action and to release all female detainees held in Turkish State jails, assuring perseverance with fighting for the sublime human norms and feminist emancipation.
WOMAN 26 Mar 2021, Fri – 11:32 2021-03-26T11:32:00 NEWS DESK
On the verdict given by the Turkish authorities to the fighter Çiçek Kobanê, General Command of the YPK issued a statement reads:
” another blatant breach against the international human law and the Law of Armed Conflicts is being committed by the Turkish Occupation State by putting member to the YPJ Çiçek Kobanê on trial that was captured on October 21st, 2012, in a Tal Ayad village in North Eastern Syria by a mercenary group affiliated to the Turkish Occupation Army, in the Turkish Occupation Operation in the region, on which she was transferred into Turkey illegally to be receive a life imprisonment by the Turkish court on March 23rd, 2021, without committing any offense or crime against Turkey or any Turkish individual or causing it any damages”.
” since our comrade that was captured in an armed conflict, this authorizes her to be treated in accordance with all agreements and norms relevant to prisoners of war that give her protection and proper treatment”.
”Since Syrian territories were occupied by the Turkish Occupation Forces and the affiliated mercenary groups in North Eastern Syria, Syrian citizens are systematically being transferred into Turkish territory, and detained illegally, that all have been proven and condemned by the UN and other human rights associations that called on Turkey to stop all these violations but it ignored that intentionally and put our comrade on trial and gave her a life imprisonment sentence, on which we call on all active and concerned associations more notably those members to the UN, to condemn the Turkish action and to release immediately all Syrians detained illegally in Turkey”.
All these actions will not deter us, rather they will make us more determined to proceed fighting against occupation and oppression as we well know that these actions are in revenge against ISIS defeat that was sponsored by the Turkish State that is still attempting to revive it’s sleeper cells in the region, the verdict given to our comrade is not an accidence as the whole world commemorates the ISIS Baghouz Defeat”.
”we call on all women to show solidarity via condemning this action that is a revenge against all women, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention proves this, based on this, from this moment onward, we will increase our resistance and determination on the course adopted by our comrades and those in captivity in the Turkish State jails for thye sake of sublime human values and the feminist emancipation”.
Why has the Turkish state escalated its attacks on Ain Issa?
Baz Jindirêsê, one of the SDF commanders, stated that the Turkish state and its gangs had to retreat after suffering huge blows during the three-day attacks.
- HÎVDA HEBÛN
- AIN ISSA
- Wednesday, 24 Mar 2021, 07:47
WHY AIN ISSA?
Since the invasion of Girê Sipî, Ain Issa has been bombed by the occupying forces again and gain. However, the attacks have intensified since November. The villages of Mışerfe, Cehbel, Mieleq and Seyda are especially targeted. What is the goal of the Turkish state in Ain Issa?
Ain Issa has a strategic location. It connects many cities. For this reason, there have been constant attacks. However, these attacks failed because of the resistance of the SDF fighters. The attacks have intensified in the last five months. They started to carry out intense attacks on the villages of Mieleq, Mişerfe, Seyda and Cehbel around Ain Issa. Because these villages are the closest to the M4 highway. Since they could not occupy Ain Issa directly, they tried to encircle the city by trying to occupy these villages at first. All of their attempts were frustrated by the great resistance of the SDF fighters every time.
The invaders launched another aggression on March 19th. It is of course significant that they carried out this attack especially during the Newroz process. The whole world knows very well that Newroz is important and sacred for all Kurds. March 21 is celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Kurds all over the world. The occupiers specifically chose this date to destroy the enthusiasm and demoralize the people.
SDF fighters defeated them. The attacks were intense. They got very close to the Seyda village. As a result of the great resistance of our fighters, their attacks have been frustrated. They had to retreat, suffering a large number of casualties. During the attack on the 19th, two armored vehicles belonging to them were destroyed, they had 15 dead and many more injured. They attacked again on the second day. They suffered a great blow in this attack as well. Two of their vehicles were destroyed and they retreated with nearly 18 casualties. On the third day, they attacked again in the morning hours and this attack was repelled thanks to the heroic resistance of the SDF fighters. They also used fighter jets. However, despite all their attempts, the SDF fighters did not allow them to advance and occupy these villages.
TURKEY BUILT 5 BASES IN AIN ISSA
In November last year, three observation points were established under the supervision of Russia to prevent the attacks of the Turkish state and its gangs, but after the establishment of these, both the attacks and the number of military bases of the Turkish state in the region have increased. Russia remains silent as before. How do you evaluate this situation?
As we said, these attacks have been going on for a while. And their purpose was to occupy Ain Issa, take strategic road lines and separate cities from each other. However, when they failed to do so, they tried to take control by establishing military bases on the M4 international road. They have set up 5 military bases so far. The purpose of these bases is to control the M4 highway, to control transportation and to prevent the use of the road by intimidating the people.
Russia established three military observation points in partnership with the Ba’ath regime, supposedly in order to prevent the Turkish state’s attacks and to check whether the Turkish state remains committed to the 2019 agreement. However, after the establishment of these points, the situation has become even worse than before. The attacks became more intense, and the Turks increased the number of their military bases. Supposedly, these observation points were established to ensure the safety of the people and to enable them to live more comfortably in their villages. However, it was also seen in the attack on the 19th that this is by no means the aim. People fromthe Seyda and Mieleq villages wanted to return to their homes. We then tried to provide the conditions for them to return to their villages. The Russians also accepted this so that the people would not be harmed and that they could return home safely. While the people were going back to their villages, the Russians supposedly accompanied them. However, as soon as the people returned, they were attacked by the Turkish forces and allied gangs. Although the Russians saw these attacks, they remained silent.
EVERYONE SEES OUR RESISTANCE AND DEDICATION
Does Russia’s pressure to give the area to the Ba’ath regime continue?
Some time ago, news was disseminated by the Ba’ath regime and some media outlets close to Russia that the SDF would give Ain Issa to the Ba’ath regime. These fake news were made by Russian hand. Actually, this is what Russia wants. Our people and everybody know very well that the SDF would not easily hand over a place where it shed its blood. Russia’s aim is to strengthen the Baath regime in the field and to leave the control of the area to the regime. Russia wants to put pressure on us through these attacks. Thus, it wants to strengthen the regime’s hand in the field. Russia paves the way for these attacks and remains silent on the attacks of the Turks. However, whenever an attack is launched, they witness the resistance of the SDF fighters. They also see very clearly that our lands will not be given away so comfortably. Our resistance will continue until there is only one person left. We will continue to protect our people until the end. There have been attacks on the area for a long time and these attacks continue. Our attitude is clear. We will never back down. We will keep the promise we have made to our people until the end, and we will always continue to follow our martyrs, we will protect these lands.
SDF: 34 Turkish-backed mercenaries killed in Ain Issa
SDF published a balance sheet on the three days of fighting around the northern Syrian town of Ain Issa. According to the report, four SDF members were martyred, and there were at least 37 casualties in the ranks of the occupation forces.
- NEWS DESK
- Monday, 22 Mar 2021, 19:52
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) published a balance sheet on the fighting around the town of Ain Issa from March 18 to 20. According to this, at least 37 members of the Turkish and allied jihadist occupation forces were killed in the clashes. Another 18 attackers were injured.
“In an attempt to justify their attacks against Ain Issa, the Turkish occupation state and its mercenaries spread claims that they were attacked by our forces and heavy casualties were suffered in our ranks. These statements do not correspond to the facts in any way. The side that is both attacking and suffering heavy casualties is the Turkish state. Such statements serve the sole purpose of hiding their own losses and distorting the truth,” emphasized the statement by the SDF.
The SDF continued, “The Turkish occupation army and its mercenaries carried out intensive attacks on the M4 highway and on the north of Ain Issa in the period between March 18 and 20. Our forces displayed unprecedented resistance to the attacks carried out with heavy weapons and repulsed them in the spirit of Newroz.”
According to the statement, 16 mercenaries were killed and 7 others injured as SDF fighters responded to the attacks on the villages of Seida and Mealik on March 19. The occupation forces targeted civilians with heavy weaponry, killing a child and injuring five civilians.
Having suffered heavy losses during clashes, the Turkish forces and allied mercenaries carried out attacks with tanks, howitzers and mortars on March 20. The response of our forces left 10 mercenaries dead and another 4 injured in the Seida village. On the other hand, 8 mercenaries were killed and 5 others injured in the village of Mealik. In addition, 2 panzer vehicles were destroyed and another 2 damaged.
On the same day, sabotage by SDF fighters killed 3 mercenaries and injured 2 others.
On March 21, Turkish army heavily shelled the villages of Misherfa, Seid, Mealik, M4 highway and vicinity of ain Issa. Sporadic clashes took place till the noon.
During three days of clashes, 4 SDF fighters were martyred, and 4 others injured.
SDF chief welcomes Europe call for Turkey to withdraw from Syria
yesterday at 08:46 Rudaw
A+A- ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Sunday welcomed a recent European Parliament decision condemning Turkey’s military occupation in northeast Syria and abuses against the Kurdish population.
“We welcome the EU parliament’s resolution calling for the withdrawal of the illegal Turkish occupation forces from northern Syria and share the EU parliament’s concerns over ethnic cleansing attempts by Turkey against Kurds in Syria,” tweeted SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi early Sunday morning.
He was reacting to a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Thursday that called on “Turkey to withdraw its troops from Northern Syria which it is illegally occupying outside of any UN mandate.”
Turkey, with its Syrian proxies, has conducted three offensives into northern Syria since 2016. The first, Operation Euphrates Shield, saw Turkey seize control of territory in northern Aleppo province from the Islamic State group (ISIS). The goal of the operation was to push ISIS militants away from the border with Turkey and prevent Kurdish forces from taking control of the territory.
The second, Operation Olive Branch, was in 2018 against Kurdish forces in the northwest enclave of Afrin. The most recent operation, Operation Peace Spring, was also against Kurdish forces along the Syria-Turkey border between the towns of Gire Spi (Tal Abyad) and Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain). That offensive ended with ceasefires brokered by Washington and Moscow that gave Turkish-backed forces control of the territory seized during the operation with Russian and Syrian regime forces acting as a buffer along the border.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes because of Turkey’s military operations.
Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies are accused of committing human rights violations in the territories they seized. Charges include hostage taking, torture, rape, destruction of property, arbitrary arrest, and pillaging. A United Nations commission in September 2020 said these charges may amount to war crimes and called on Turkey to reign in its proxies.
The European Parliament said it is “worried that Turkey’s ongoing displacements could amount to ethnic cleansing against the Syrian Kurdish population” and stressed that “Turkey’s illegal invasion and occupation has jeopardised peace in Syria.”
Turkish-backed forces are also accused of illegally transferring tens of people to Turkey to face trial on alleged links to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish armed force that Ankara believes is a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Human Rights Watch documented at least 63 cases of illegal transfers.
The European Parliament condemned the transfers as a violation of international law and urged “that all Syrian detainees who have been transferred to Turkey be immediately repatriated to the occupied territories in Syria.”
The parliament also condemned the Syrian regime’s “long-standing discrimination against Kurdish Syrians.” Under the regime, tens of thousands of Kurds in Syria were denied citizenship as part of systemic discrimination against the minority.
Why is Syrian military deploying in Kurdish-held areas?
The Syrian government seeks to strengthen its military presence in Ain Issa and the area overlooking the M4 international highway, which are under control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. A Russian soldier stands guard as troops escort a convoy of Syrian civilians leaving the town of Tal Tamr in the northeastern Hasakah province, to return to their homes in the northern town of Ain Issa in the countryside of the Raqqa region, via the strategic M4 highway on Jan. 10, 2021. The town of Tal Tamr is on the front line between the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian factions supported by Turkey. Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images. Khaled al-Khateb
Mar 12, 2021
ALEPPO, Syria — The Syrian government, with the support of Russia, is trying to boost its military presence in the areas of northeastern Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which can be considered a violation of the agreement signed by the regime with the SDF under the auspices of Russia in October 2019. The agreement provides for a specific deployment for the regime’s army and without heavy weapons along the Syrian-Turkish border to prevent a Turkish offensive.
The regime allegedly violated the agreement by sending in early March a military convoy heavily armed with weapons toward Ain Issa and the outskirts of the M4 highway connecting the governorates of Hasakah and Aleppo, which heralds the return of arrests and escalation between the two sides.
Khaled al-Homsi, a journalist who works for the opposition-affiliated Orient website in the Tell Abyad area near Ain Issa in the northern Raqqa governorate, told Al-Monitor, “The regime’s military reinforcements began to reach the area adjacent to the M4 highway in the countryside of Raqqa and Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria since the beginning of March. These reinforcements have so far included some heavy artillery bases, missile bases and troop carriers. The regime forces have also implemented a new redeployment operation, and the largest force is stationed in the villages of al-Maalak, al-Hoshan and al-Khalidiyah, which are adjacent to the M4 highway. The regime forces are also stationed in the Electricity Company in the vicinity of Ain Issa.”
A military official in the SDF stationed in Ain Issa told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The SDF leadership is not pleased with the Syrian regime bringing in military reinforcements with heavy weapons to the area even though these reinforcements are so far relatively modest. The regime cannot just change the balance of power on the ground. Some leaders in the regime forces said the reinforcements are to counter any attempt by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Turkish army [to attack the area], but the SDF fears that the regime will continue its policy of strengthening its military presence in the area with Russia’s support.”
It seems that the Syrian military is trying to pressure the SDF and impose a new military reality in the Ain Issa area, as long as it has not achieved — with Russia‘s help — what it has been aiming for since the end of 2020, which is forcing the SDF to withdraw from Ain Issa and preventing the opposition factions and the Turkish army from taking control. The regime strengthening its military presence near the M4 highway prevents a military operation by the opposition and the Turkish army in order to expand and control the area. The efforts of the Syrian regime reflect its interest in the vital and strategic roads that it cannot afford to lose in light of the stifling economic crisis.
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Col. Mostafa Bakkour, a defected Syrian regime officer, military analyst and researcher living in Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “The SDF will not respond to the pressure of the Syrian regime and will not allow it to expand and boost its military presence in its areas of control. If the regime continues to send reinforcements and heavy military equipment, tension will erupt between the two sides in the area. As a result, Russia would intervene as a mediator, despite its public support for the regime. Russia is pursuing a policy of mediation, or at least so it claims, to preserve its interests and at the same time exploit any action and disagreement between the conflicting parties.”
Ali Tami, spokesman for the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, told Al-Monitor, “The regime’s military moves in the Ain Issa area and near the M4 international highway aim to further pressure the SDF to resume oil exports to the Syrian regime, which is trying to boost its military presence in the area in order to prevent oil exports from the SDF to the Syrian opposition areas in the countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. The regime and Russia do not want the oil to flow to the opposition areas.”
On March 5, Russia struck the Hamran crossing linking the SDF with the opposition near al-Bab and the rudimentary oil refining stations in the countryside of Aleppo. The attack may also point to the regime’s plan to pressure the SDF to stop exporting oil to the opposition and resume exporting to the regime-held areas.
Firas Faham, an Istanbul-based researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, told Al-Monitor, “The regime’s attempt to reinforce its military presence near the M4 highway comes in the context of pressuring the SDF to withdraw from Ain Issa. There seems to be a Turkish-Russian understanding; either Russia expels the SDF from Ain Issa, or Turkey launches a military operation.”
Faham added, “Yet it seems that Russia is trying to avoid a Turkish military operation because it does not welcome Turkey’s growing influence, especially since the Turkish army and the FSA making their way into more areas would pave the way to connect the Peace Spring area with the Euphrates Shield area in the countryside of Aleppo. This is why pressure is being exerted on the SDF to withdraw or at least reduce its military presence in Ain Issa, which will lead to the return of the regime’s institutions to the area.”
It seems that the SDF understands Russia’s intentions in northeastern Syria, and the Russians prefer to avoid the military option to keep channels of communication open with the Kurds and not allow the United States to use this against them and turn the Kurds into enemies. The SDF is also well aware that Russia does not welcome the expansion of Turkish influence and will thus not allow for any military operation. At this point, the SDF will show resistance to the regime’s demands regarding its control of Ain Issa.
More from Khaled al-Khateb
Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/03/syria-regime-russia-deploy-kurdish-forces-turkey.html#ixzz6oyLrJVLJ
YPJ fighters celebrate March 8 in Hesekê
Fighters of the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) in Hesekê celebrated March 8 with an impressive military ceremony. The highlight was an address by YPJ General Commander Newroz Ehmed.
- Sunday, 7 Mar 2021, 16:01
Fighters of the Women’s Defense Units (ku. Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ) celebrated International Women’s Day March 8 with an impressive military ceremony in Hesekê on Sunday. The spectacular performance by hundreds of female fighters was attended by numerous personalities from the military structures, civil society and the local population. The highlight was a speech by Newroz Ehmed, one of the general commanders of the YPJ.
Ehmed began by thanking Clara Zetkin as the initiator of International Women’s Day and all other women pioneers for women’s rights and equality. “But we don’t limit women’s struggle merely to celebrations like those of today,” Ehmed continued. “March 8 has become a symbol of all human values and an achievement for all humanity in the person of women. However, the attacks of the male-dominated mentality continue. However, it should not forget that women have fought for their rights at great sacrifice. March 8 is not a day that the patriarchal mentality has ‘graciously’ left to us.”
Capitalist modernity wants to destroy women’s liberation struggle through well thought out methods, said Newroz Ehmed and continued, “We as women in Northern and Eastern Syria know this approach from Afrin, Serêkaniyê and Girê Spî in the form of patriarchal violence, rapes and kidnappings by the fascist Turkish state and its mercenaries only too well and will not forget it. This fact underlines that a free life will not be possible as long as the male-dominated mentality continues to exist. In order to end the existence of the patriarchal mindset, we must continue to educate and organize based on the memory of our fallen companions who sacrificed themselves to defeat this mentality and defend the revolution in this way. As women, we are closer to freedom today than ever before. If there is to be a life, it must be a free life. This freedom can only be achieved with the participation of all sectors of society.”
“The fact that the YPJ’s paradigm – “Free women are the basis of a free society” – is the right path to a free life is also shown by the international support for this idea. The participation of women from all over the world in the resistance for free life, first and foremost friend Lêgerîn (Alina Sanchez), highlights once again the importance of women’s values in building a society. The struggle of the YPJ in northeastern Syria will pave and enlighten the way to freedom for all women of this world,” said Ehmed.
After the speech, there was a cultural program, including a theater performance, folklore performances and a performance by a choir. The celebrations were concluded with joint Govend dances.
Salih Muslim: The conspiracy against Öcalan and the Kurdish people has failed
Salih Muslim, a member of the PYD co-presidency council, said: “Every moment Leader Apo continues to remain under those conditions is a great shame for us.”
- SILTAN TEMO
- Saturday, 13 Feb 2021, 11:02
Reminding that the conspiracy forces wanted to destroy the Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan after 1990, PYD co-presidency council Member Salih Muslim underlined that “the Kurdish people have reached the mechanism to develop democracy in the Middle East. Those forces could not tear the head off the body. That is why the aggravated isolation imposed on the Leader has been going on since 2015. They do not allow a single word of the Leadership to come out, because under all circumstances he continued to lead the people and the Movement.”
PYD co-presidency council member Salih Muslim spoke to ANF about the anniversary of the international conspiracy which led to the capture of Öcalan.
What was the purpose of the forces involved in the international conspiracy?
First of all, we condemn the international conspiracy against Leader Apo once again on the 22nd anniversary. It is a dark day for the Kurdish people. The Kurdish people’s leader is still in their hands, and the conspiracy continues as long as his captivity continues. In this sense, we have to do everything we can. The conspiracy was made against all Kurds and peoples of the region in the person of the Kurdish people’s leader. In time, it became clear what the purpose of the conspiracy was and who planned it. In fact, it had already been mentioned and evaluated by the Kurdish people’s leader many times.
The peoples of the region needed democracy and freedom. Hegemonic powers wanted to rule these peoples as they wanted. In the 90’s they were talking about the redesign / restructuring of the Middle East. They were working on a restructuring plan in 1995 to consolidate their interests. These forces feed on conflicts and contradictions between peoples to achieve their interests. In this way, they would strengthen their rule over the peoples. The Kurdish people, on the other hand, were experiencing an awakening with the Kurdish Freedom Movement and was leading this process.
The Kurdish people actually served as a dynamo force for the people’s struggle for freedom and democracy. Of course, it was leader Abdullah Öcalan who provided all this and brought the people to this situation. Therefore, they wanted to eliminate him. The leadership was leading the peoples with his idea, philosophy, discourse and ideology. For this reason, it was an obstacle to the plans of the hegemonic powers.
After 1980, all peoples started to rise up and joined him. The Kurdish people tied all their hopes to this revolution and acted accordingly. There was both ideas and ideology and a force to mobilize this idea and ideology; and that force was the Kurdish people. For this reason, they first wanted to eliminate the Kurdish people’s leader and then dismantle the organizational unity formed within the Kurdish people. In this way, they would be able to rule the people as they wanted.
The biggest defenders of this conspiracy were international forces. The Turkish state was given the duty to be the guardian in this conspiracy. At that time, we remember Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit saying, ‘They dropped a bomb in our lap, we don’t know what to do’. The laws on Imrali today are neither the laws of the Turkish state nor the laws of Europe; are special laws. In fact, we cannot even speak of laws, because there is no law. The conspiracy was not successful. They could neither eliminate Leader Apo, nor split the Kurdish people. The conspiracy did not achieve the desired result, but it goes on. Of course, we also see this and we are fighting in this direction. The struggle of the Kurdish people continues.
How did the Kurdish people’s leader play the role of spoiling this conspiracy?
After 1990, their only effort was to destroy Leader Apo. The Leader, while protecting the movement and himself, carried the struggle to such a position that the Kurdish people have reached the mechanism to develop democracy in the Middle East. The Leader managed to send his defences to the people through its lawyers and courts. The enemy could not tear the head off the body. That is why the aggravated isolation on the Leader has been going on since 2015. They do not allow a single word of the Leadership to come out, because despite all circumstances he continued to lead the people and the Movement.
Therefore, the conspiracy is still going on. They want to prevent the Kurdish people from using their dynamism to lead the struggle for freedom and democracy, they want to eliminate this force. They can’t do that, however. The revolution taking place in Rojava is obvious. The leadership’s democratic nation project is being put in practice in Rojava. This project seems to be the best model for the people. For this reason, they are getting more and more nervous and increase their attacks. These attacks are against the democratic nation project. The democratic nation project will develop not only in Rojava, but throughout Syria and the Middle East.
What should be done to protect the Rojava Revolution and its achievements?
Of course, the more you claim, protect and struggle, the more success you will achieve. This is possible with the organization of the people. The victory of Kobanê was the result of this. Although there was not the level of organization we would like, there was some degree of organization. For this reason, the Kobanê resistance took place, it was claimed, it was successful. The more we expand this organization, the more we can include other peoples, the more successful will be this struggle.
However, there are many forces in Syria: America, Russia and other states and powers. We should never stay away from them. It is necessary to have a political experience and a political view. You have to meet and be in dialogue with them for your own benefit, just as they give and take for their own benefit. You will give and receive according to your own opinion and philosophy, but your door will also be open to everyone. The North East Syrian administration, has not interrupted dialogue with anyone until now. If we are to be hostile, let’s know why we are hostile, and if we are going to be friends, the same applies.
Our top priority task is the organization of peoples and change in mentality. If we can achieve this, it is possible to live within the framework of the democratic nation project with our own culture, beliefs and colours. At the same time, we should not forget that every moment that Leader Apo spent in such conditions is a great shame for us.
Syrian Kurds ready to accept U.S.-led talks with Turkey, commander says
- Feb 26 2021 01:06 Gmt+3
- Last Updated On: Feb 28 2021 04:00 Gmt+3
General Mazlum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spoke to Mutlu Çiviroğlu of Voice of America about recent developments in North and East Syria, often referred to as Rojava.
The transcript below has been translated and amended from MedyaNews for clarity.
I would like to ask your opinion about the new U.S. administration and especially your relations with U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS). I also want to ask about the operation you started against ISIS in Deir-Ez-Zor. And what situation is now in Rojava?
As you know, ISIS has not been defeated and their attacks continue. Recently, they targeted our civilian workers, and two women political leaders were martyred. As the attacks continued, we launched a major operation against ISIS.
The ISIS group consisted of six people and attacked our friends, we killed four of them, one of them managed to disappear and we caught the other one. Many other people were also arrested in the region. In general, I can say that the danger of ISIS continues and the terrorist organisation is trying to revive itself. They are coming from territory under the control of the Syrian regime, and Iraq. But with our operations with our allies from the US-led coalition against ISIS continue successfully.
The widespread opinion was that ISIS was defeated. Former U.S. President Donald Trump frequently made statements about the end of ISIS. What has happened now ISIS can launch attacks again? The U.S.-led coalition made statements that the alliance with you will continue. What role should U.S. politicians take against these attacks?
Coalition forces withdrew after Raqqa and Kobani were liberated from ISIS and the group benefited from this withdrawal and recovered. As I mentioned, they come to our region from territory under the control of the Syrian regime, and Iraq. The political future of the region has not yet been clarified, so ISIS benefits from that as well. In order to prevent the resurrection of ISIS, we need to first clarify the political future of the region. Coalition forces should continue their work. If they support the civilian administration in the region, we can wage a more effective fight against ISIS.
It is known that President Joe Biden and his administration are aware of the Kurdish problem. You said that the situation in Syria should be resolved politically. What are your political expectations from the new U.S. administration? What can this administration do differently from the past as part of the solution process in Syria?
We welcomed the new administration. We hope that the wrong policy in the past will be set right. We hope the United States will play an important role in the solution process in Syria. Following a solution, the Syrian regime should have a status in the regions we liberated from ISIS with the help of the coalition. The rights of the Kurdish people and the rights of other peoples in our region should be protected by law and the problems in Syria should be solved completely. We want Washington to conduct an effective policy on this issue.
You said that some mistakes were made under the previous administration. Trump’s desire to withdraw U.S. forces generated strong reactions in Washington and across America. What was the effect of the decision on you and on civilians?
There were some issues we dealt with during the previous administration. The people here, Kurds and Arabs, relied heavily on the U.S. forces, and this trust still exists. But this trust was damaged when the United States allowed Turkish forces to attack Serekaniye and Afrin.
We are trying to restore the trust between the U.S. forces and the people. Hundreds of thousands of people in Afrin had to leave their homes and now live as refugees. There were 90 to 95 percent Kurds in Afrin, but now that rate is around 30 percent. The Turkish state implemented demographic changes through Turkmen and Arabs.
Hundreds of thousands of people from Serakaniye and Gira Spa had to migrate during the attacks in 2019 and now they are staying in refugee camps and their condition is not good. They are waiting to return to their homeland. A new policy conducted in this new period should see people returned to their homes and regions returned to their natural state.
What can the new administration do concretely in a short time? If you had the opportunity to meet Biden, what would you request concretely?
We want the problems in the region to be resolved through dialogue. We ask the United States to assist this dialogue and to ensure peace in the region. We are waging a fight against terrorism here and they can support us against attacks from our neighbours, which is urgently needed. Unfortunately, the previous administration paved the way for threats to the region. This should not be repeated. In order for the struggle against ISIS to be effective, the United States has to provide support to the political administration here.
You talked about attacks from neighbours. Turkey says that Kurds in Syria pose a threat to its security. Are the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Kurds a threat to Turkey?
We have said this before, we pose no threat to Turkey. Turks know this better than we do. The Turkish state attacked our lands. We are not a party to the war waged by the Turkish state against other Kurdish forces. We want to solve the problems with the Turkish state through dialogue. I think the United States can play an effective role in advancing this dialogue, and we remain open to it.
So you are ready to respond positively to the Biden administration’s call for a dialogue with the Turkish state?
Of course. We have lands occupied by the Turkish state. We want to solve the problems with the Turks through dialogue, we are ready for dialogue and there is no serious obstacle to this. We want to solve problems without fighting.
White House National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan previously touched on the rights of the Kurds and called for a new settlement process between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Does the SDF see such a process positively? Would you take part in this process?
The truth is, the situation in all four parts of Kurdistan is interconnected. The Kurdish political movement has had a great impact in Turkey. It is difficult to have a solution in other parts without a solution in Turkey. The solution in Rojava is also related to the solution in Turkey. A solution initiated with (Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader) Abdullah Ocalan will have a positive impact on other parts, especially Rojava. This is the best method to solve the problem between the Kurds and the Turkish state.
Why do you think that such an initiative would be important for the safety of the American people? Why would the United States support a political solution in Syria?
If the problem is solved in our region, it will impact the world. We think that if the problem in northeast Syria is not solved, the problems in the whole country will not be solved. If there is no solution, ISIS and other elements will become stronger and continue to threaten the security of the American people.
I would like to ask about the situation of Yazidi Kurds and Christian minorities in the region. According to reports from Afrin, the situation is severe. What would you like to say about the current situation of Christians and Yazidis?
The representation of Christians and Yazidis in the SDF is high. ISIS and other Islamic radical groups attacked Yazidis and Christians. They were severely persecuted. They joined the SDF to protect themselves. Our people in Shengal were also subjected to persecution due to the attacks in Serakiniye and Afrin. Their villages were plundered and they faced the threat of genocide. Now they are living under pressure in other areas, some of them stay in refugee camps in our region. We know that Yazidi and Christian minorities are on the agenda of democratic organisations. They must protect the struggle of minorities.
You mention that the situation of the Kurds is interconnected. How are your relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (in Iraq)?
We have a close relationship with (Iraqi) Kurdistan, including growing commercial relations. The Kurdistan Regional Government (in Iraq) can provide political and commercial support to Rojava. They have (autonomous) status there and have experience and opportunities. Of course, Rojava needs their support. Some negotiations are happening, we want a stronger relationship. We know that the Turkish state wants Kurds to fight against each other. The Turkish state wants clashes between the forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces.
Despite this, the fact is that (Iraqi Kurdish) Peshmerga forces do not want to be part of such a game. We want the Kurdistan Regional Government to develop good relations with all parties, especially with Rojava.
How are your relations with the Syrian government? There have been some conflicts recently.
The Baathist regime has not changed its policy yet. They want the region to be same as before 2011 and don’t recognise Kurdish rights or the rights of other minorities. Our people immigrating from Shehba, Afrin, and Aleppo were encircled, placed under embargo, and had civilians arrested. We protected our people and then some problems occurred between us and the regime. We do not want to be at war with the Damascus government. We want to solve our problems through dialogue, for them to accept the rights of Kurds, and recognise our region.
Some criticised you and said you are unable to utilise the friendships of the United States and other great powers. How do you evaluate this criticism?
We get support from our American friends for the SDF and Rojava, and we are grateful for this. The United States has supported us in difficult times. U.S. politicians and soldiers supported our struggle. We are aware of some of our shortcomings. We want to be in close contact with the Unite States more frequently, especially in 2021. We want our political forces to negotiate with U.S. senators and other political forces. There were some bureaucratic obstacles in front of us, and we hope that those obstacles will be cleared.
Last year, the U.S. Congress invited you to visit. If there is an opportunity, do you have any plans to visit Washington?
We were at war at the time and there were some bureaucratic problems. But now is the time to discuss with the Americans. If I have the opportunity to meet with U.S. politicians, and if I can discuss the problems here with them face to face, I would of course be delighted to.
You were in contact with Trump several times. Have you ever had contact with Biden? Or do you expect contact in the coming period?
We talked with the new U.S. administration. I hope we will have a stronger relationship in the coming days and we can start talks at a higher level.
A new book titled”The Daughters of Kobani” was published recently. You also spearheaded the war in Kobani, which was important in letting the world know about Kurds. What would you like to say about these works and Kobani?
Many thanks to the author of the book, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. She also interviewed me when she came here. I told her my views on Kobani. Friends in the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and SDF also helped her. She wrote a very important and valuable book. I think it is worthy of the women who resisted in Kobani. We are honoured with these works and wish them to increase.
The New York Times Whitewashes Turkey’s Occupation of Northern Syria: A Reality Check
by Debbie Bookchin
A recent article in the New York Times whitewashes the ethnic cleansing, displacement, and abuse of women that has brought misery to what was once a thriving, largely Kurdish region in Northern Syria. The Times piece was first published online as “Turkey’s Army Invaded Syria. Now, It’s a Lifeline for Millions There,” (February 16, 2021) before undergoing two headline changes and eventually landing on the front page of the print edition on February 17, 2021 as, “A Safe Zone That Can’t Protect Against Misery.” Violating basic principles of journalistic ethics—principles that include interviewing people on the receiving end of a war zone invasion—the article reads like a press release from the Turkish regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ignoring the enormous suffering endured by the thousands of original inhabitants of Afrin as a result of the Turkish-led occupation.
Prior to the Turkish invasion in January 2018, Afrin was part of the broader, Kurdish-led area known as Rojava or more formally, the Autonomous Administration of North and east Syria (AANES), whose fighters have been our best allies in the defeat of ISIS. The AANES, a region of about 5 million people, is a pluralist democracy that enshrines the rights of all ethnic minorities and has been especially effective in promoting women’s rights. Practices like forced marriage, polygamy, child marriage, and honor killings are outlawed. Laws mandate autonomous women’s councils, and the inclusion of at least 40 percent female representation in every legislative body, as well as female co-chairs in all administrative positions.
The invasion of Afrin by Turkey in January 2018, caused an estimated 180,000 people, mostly Kurdish, to flee their homes; most of them now live in internally displaced persons camps in other parts of Syria. Today, as Amnesty International has documented about those who remained: “Residents in Afrin are enduring a wide range of violations, mostly at the hands of Syrian armed groups that have been equipped and armed by Turkey (including) arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and confiscation of property and looting to which Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye.” The intentional destruction of Kurdish and Yezidi religious and architectural sites, forced demographic changes including relocation of Arab families to Afrin from other parts of Syria, and compulsory use of Turkish language, even in schools, have been widely documented and signal Turkey’s intent to annex the region permanently.
The most egregious violations by Turkey have been against women. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria describes Turkey’s war on women in Afrin as creating a “pervasive climate of fear which [has] in effect confined them to their homes.” The 25-page report adds: “Women and girls have also been detained by [Turkish-backed] Syrian National Army fighters, and subjected to rape and sexual violence – causing severe physical and psychological harm.” To humiliate and demoralize the population, the Turkish-backed militias have engaged in such practices as forcing detained men to watch the gang-rape of a female minor, the report notes, saying it amounted to “torture.” Women’s rights researchers have documented that in 2020 alone, 88 women and girls whose identities are known were kidnapped by Turkish-backed armed groups, a rate of approximately one incident every four days. This included six minor girls of whom five were still missing as of January 1, 2021.
The Turkish invasion of Afrin has been a humanitarian catastrophe. No amount of propaganda from the authoritarian regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can erase the evidence on the ground of the grotesque human rights violations being perpetrated by Turkey, and it is shameful that the Times so completely missed the real story.
The AANES has long sought political recognition and autonomy within the borders of Syria. If the U.S. truly stands for human rights—and particularly women’s rights—it is time for the Biden administration to demand the withdrawal of Turkish forces from this area, grant the AANES political recognition, and press for the AANES to have a seat at the negotiating table on the future of Syria.
Debbie Bookchin, a long-time journalist and author, is a member of the steering committee of the Emergency Committee for Rojava. She was in Rojava in March and April 2019.
Medya News speaks to SDF spokesperson and Catholic Assyrian Christian, Gabriel Kino
- January 29, 2021
Mr Gabriel Kino, spokesperson of the SDF, is a Catholic Assyrian and was a leading representative of the Syriac Military Council (SMC) during the early days of the Syrian Civil War. The SMC was established to protect the Assyrian Christian people from the attacks and persecution from the Islamic State and Jihadist groups that had established themselves in Syria.
He oversaw the formation of the Syrian Democratic Front, which included a wide section of Syrian society, including different Arab tribal and secular groups, Assyrian, Yazidi and Syriac groups, and the YPG and YPJ defence forces.He led military campaigns with the SMC and SDF and was one of the leaders that led the military offensive to liberate the ISIS HQ of Raqqa and went on to accept the defeat of ISIS at Baghouz in Deir Ezzor.
He very kindly agreed to an interview for Medya News.
Kino Gabriel has personally witnessed the sacrifice of his people and forces in the fight against ISIS in Syria and knows, first hand, the consequences of any invasion and attack by Turkey and their affiliated radical Jihadist gangs for the hard-won religious freedoms that the Autonomous Adiministration of North and East Syria (AANES) are respected for by religious rights groups around the world. I began by asking him about the threats to religious freedom following the ISIS attacks near Hasakah.
Following the murders of Hind Latif Al Khadir (Head of the Economy committee of Til Shayir) and Sa’da Faysal Al Hermas (Co-president of Til Shayir People Council) by forces affiliated to ISIS, what threat does Turkey’s continuous attacks on North and East Syria pose to the religious freedoms enjoyed by the people of the SDF-controlled Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES)?
Gabriel Kino: I think the threats that Turkey is making and the military operations that Turkey has launched so far in areas such as: Northern Syria; Afrin; around Manbij; the Northern countryside outside of Aleppo, and the area between Tal Abiyad and Ras al Ayn, has already threatened and reduced the religious freedoms of the peoples in these areas.
This reduction in religous freedoms is something they are already living through. The situation has already deteriorated for several religious groups in those areas occupied by Turkey including the Yazidis and the Christians including other prominent groups living in those areas, especially the Yazidis in the areas around Ras al Ayn and Afrin. And also the other Christian communities and groups based around Ras al Ayn and also other Kurdish Christian groups who were living in Afrin.
Of course, the continous threats made by Turkey are adding to the problem of people’s fears of a new military operation. And yes, I think, those threats is mostly problematic for those groups such as the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis the Armenians, and others who live in North and East Syria.
Of course, it also affects the Arab population also, although the other groups are mainly feeling more threatened because the Turkish military threats are directed specifically against them. On the other hand, the groups who are supported by Turkey, which are known for their terrorist and extremist radical mentality, they pose a threat for those groups in particular of North and East Syria in particular, we have witnessed what they have done. We have seen how these groups, including Jabat al Nusra and ISIS have been part of the military operations and attacks launched by Turkey and part of the groups and militias supported by Turkey.
It is widely recognised that the AANES has been able to build a tolerant inclusive society in NE Syria, unparalleled in the Middle East, promoting and enjoying religious freedom, gender equality, and human rights. Do you think that this model could be a positive example for the wider region?
Gabriel Kino: I think the democratic administration is really a unique example and experience in the Middle East. Different groups that previously had problems with each other have been able to come together, work together in order to make this administration work. This is completely unique, and I think we can take this positive example and look for where we can apply it to other parts of the Middle East and other parts of Syria so other groups can benefit.
I think this way of administration could potentially be a solution for the Syrian crisis in general. Of course, I think we need more work and more support in order to be more inclusive and more able to develop our political and administration experience, but again I think the work that has been done is great.
And with the support from democratic countries and Europe I think we can make the administration even better than what we have now.
Despite almost daily attacks by the Turkish state on NE Syria, especially recently around the town of Ain Issa, and the recent indiscriminate bombing of Tel Rifaat with civilian deaths, we do not hear condemnation from any of the anti-ISIS coalition members that the SDF have been fighting with, nor from Russia, which is supposed to be a guarantor of the ceasefire agreed last year. How do you interpret this silence?
Gabriel Kino: I think it is safe to say that it is not just about North and East Syria. I think it is the worst Syrian situation that has been governed so far by complicated relations and complicated intersections of global and regional interests/powers and governments involved in the Syrian crisis.
I think this is one of the main reasons there is so direct condemnations of Turkey for their attacks on North and East Syria.
Lastly, are you able to give us any indication on the progress of any talks with the Syria government on any possible negotiated agreement on autonomy and protections of religious freedoms, hard-won since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War?
Gabriel Kino: I think mainly and have to say that this is not my area of expertise or knowledge. I think it is a question for the political administration, but as far as I have information there isn’t really any progress in the talks.
There have been several attempts to have mutual talks or talks that were to be mediated by Russia but I think so far they have not worked out.
I think in the future we will see more progress and development but again I think this question is better suited for the Syrian Democratic Council or the Executive Council of the Administration of North and East Syria.
Syria: Are water supplies being weaponized by Turkey?
Around 1 million people are suffering from water outages in the Al-Hasakah region
Around 1 million people in the Kurdish-governed region of Al-Hasakah in Syria’s northeast have again had their water supply cut off — as they have around 20 times in the past 12 months.
“This is a humanitarian disaster,” Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch, told DW. As of this Sunday, some parts of the region are experiencing the eighth straight day without water.
Problems with the supply from the nearest water station, Alouk, have been growing since Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel proxies took charge in October 2019, after the so-called Operation Peace Spring that targeted the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the region. While the water station has been under Turkish control since then, it relies on the SDF-controlled Mabrouka Electricity Station for its power. Turkey’s objective behind Operation Peace Spring was to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) wide “safe zone” under Turkish control inside Syria.
Water from tanks is not only up to three times more expensive but also of inferior quality, leading to diseases
“Since then, a cornerstone of humanitarian capabilities has been repeatedly cut off, and water outages create ramifications across the entire population,” Kayyali told DW.
Syria claims that Turkey is behind the water outages, and accuses Turkey of having a major interest in destabilizing the region with the (mainly Kurdish-Syrian) population of around 1 million in cities such as Al-Hasakah, more than 45 villages and many official and unofficial refugee camps. Officially, Turkey doesn’t take any responsibility for the repeated outages and claims they are due to technical issues.
“I have to note that Turkey denies the accusation of cutting water to the region and says the Alouk station has merely been under maintenance and faces a lack of electricity from a dam not under Turkish control,” Guney Yildiz, a political analyst and IPC-Stiftung Mercator Fellow at the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW.
“On the other hand, Turkey openly declares its intention [in Turkish media — Editor’s note] to eradicate the administrations set up in northeast Syria and is most probably willing to use various means to accomplish that. Destabilizing the region is part of that strategy,” Yildiz added. Watch video 02:08
Turkey’s public position on the northeastern Syrian administrations remains unclear. DW contacted the head of media and communications for the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, for clarification, but has received no response so far.
“The threat of an independent Kurdish region near Turkey is an idea that may encourage more uprisings from within Turkey’s sizable Kurdish population, so Erdogan is looking to prevent a Kurdish state in Syria,” Charles Flynn, a researcher at the region’s Rojava Information Center, told DW.
Flynn considers fears of an independent Kurdish state as one of three reasons. “With the creation of Turkish-backed militias that recruit from extremist groups such as ISIS, Erdogan can’t have these militants come home to Turkey and start operating. And economically, war is always good for the economy, and the Turkish economy hasn’t been doing so well with the US sanctions and the COVID-pandemic,” he said.
Humanitarian crisis amid pandemic
The latest overview from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Syria, dated January 12, reported 12,462 COVID-19 cases. Some 8,227 cases were reported from northeast Syria, as of January 9.
“Access to water is all the more critical in [the] context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN continues to advocate to the relevant parties to ensure the provision of water from Alouk in line with international humanitarian law, and across Syria, to ensure that all civilians have access to basic services,” Danielle Moylan, OCHA’s spokesperson, told DW. Watch video 09:44
As early as last March, UNICEF’s representative in Syria, Fran Equiza, warned of the consequences of leaving 1 million people without water and relying on temporary solutions, particularly in times of a pandemic. “The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk. Hand-washing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Temporary responses organized by local authorities and human rights organizations, such as tankers carrying water to surrounding villages, are no real substitute. The water is more expensive, of a lower quality and is not suitable for drinking.
“This issue is difficult to solve without international intervention to end this human suffering for the people in those areas,” Taha Odeh Oglu, a researcher of Turkish affairs and international relations, told DW.
As of Friday afternoon, Alouk’s water station is reported to have started operating again. However, it will take up to three days for the water to arrive to the people in the Al-Hasakah region.
Why Is America Still In Syria?
Trump brought chaos to a region already on the brink, and the unintended consequences of his actions will reverberate for years to come.
(U.S. soldiers patrol near an oil production facility in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah Province; Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
In September 2020, a Syrian rebel group called the Hamza Division showed up in an unexpected place: the disputed post-Soviet territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, 600 miles from Aleppo. The rebels had been offered $1,500 per month each to fight for Azerbaijan against Armenia in the two countries’ border war over that disputed territory, several different news outlets reported.
Sayf Bulad, commander of the Hamza Division, has an interesting past. He served as a commander in a CIA-backed rebel group, appeared in pro–Islamic State propaganda, trained with the U.S. military, and fought other U.S.-backed rebel groups in Syria on behalf of the Turkish government. Now he was helping two former Soviet republics fight each other for money.
Bulad’s story is a symbol of the chaotic U.S. policy toward Syria and its unintended consequences.
U.S. policy toward Syria was torn between two often-clashing goals during the Obama administration: The CIA and State Department were focused on ending the Assad family’s decadeslong rule, while the U.S. military was trying to crush violent religious extremists such as the Islamic State.
President Donald Trump inherited this awkwardly stitched-together policy and added in an element of chaos. The president himself said he wanted to end “endless wars” and claimed he was ready to pull U.S. forces out of Syria at the first opportunity. But he hired a collection of hawkish advisers who thought of Syria as a battlefield on which to make Iran and Russia bleed.
“He hasn’t been able to bring American troops home, because his own bureaucracy resists him,” says Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “He never set up a bureaucratic process to actually implement what he wants to do.”
The result has been a disaster.
In 2018 and 2019, Trump ordered U.S. forces out of Syria, only to walk back the order both times. The Kurds have been left in a deadly limbo, unable to count on U.S. protection from Turkey but also blocked from looking to outside powers for help. Meanwhile, American troops have found themselves in increasingly dangerous confrontations with their Russian counterparts in the country.
U.S. policy has not only failed to stop the conflict; it has helped prolong it, leaving millions of Syrians at the mercy of White House palace intrigue. President-elect Joe Biden will have to find a way to extract the United States from Syria without reigniting the civil war—or getting sucked back in.
‘The Time Has Come’
The United States began backing Syrian rebels because many in the Obama administration believed that they could help quickly bring down an oppressive tyrant. Instead, the U.S. intervention fed into a bloody, yearslong international conflict.
U.S.-Syrian hostility dates back decades. Syria is a close ally of Russia and Iran and helped support the insurgents during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. But direct U.S. involvement in Syrian internal politics began with the Arab Spring.
As in other Arab countries at the time, Syrian activists rose up in protest against corruption and political repression. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cracked down with brute force. Part of the Syrian army deserted, and the uprising became a full-blown civil war.
U.S. officials “looked at Bashar al-Assad as a hapless dictator who was not going to survive any of this,” says Frederic Hof, who served as an envoy for Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations at the time. President Barack Obama declared in August 2011 that “the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” although he also made it clear that “the United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria.”
Nevertheless, in an effort to hasten Assad’s end, the Obama administration imposed economic sanctions banning nearly all trade with Syria. The Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush administrations had previously imposed some sanctions on the Syrian government for supporting terrorism, but the new sanctions put the entire country under a blockade.
Other countries lined up more forcefully behind the anti-Assad opposition. Saudi Arabia, seeking to hurt Assad’s ally Iran, sent arms to the rebels. So did Turkey and Qatar, who saw the uprisings of the Arab Spring as a way to increase their own influence.
In 2013, Obama gave the CIA a green light to join in directly arming Syria’s rebels. Many details of the “Timber Sycamore” program remain classified, but it reportedly cost billions of dollars over four years. Assad’s forces lost control of much of the country in this time.
Hof and Robert Ford, the last U.S. envoy in Syria, claim that the U.S. arms program was not a decisive factor. It was “overwhelmed by support provided by regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” Hof says. Other experts, including Stein, disagree. In particular, they say, U.S.-made anti-tank rockets played a key role in helping the rebels push back the Syrian military.
But the regime did not fall.
“Rather than Bashar capitulating,” Stein explains, “he said, ‘I’m going to the Russians and the Iranians'” for help. “It was the boomerang of the success of the CIA program.”
Ford had believed early in the conflict that Assad could not win a war of attrition—and that the opposition could convince Assad’s allies in Russia and Iran to stay out of the fight. This prediction turned out to be incorrect. Iran soon began sending military advisers, volunteers, and mercenaries to back Assad. By late 2015, Russian jets and combat troops were also in the country.
“We made a terrible, terrible analytical mistake,” says Ford.
Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime eventually retook most of Syria’s major cities through years of brutal siege warfare. As many as 200,000 civilians died in the process, in addition to the tens of thousands who perished in Assad’s prisons during this period, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights and the British-funded Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The chaos also allowed religious fundamentalists to take a prominent role in the Syrian opposition. Syrian nationalist rebels vetted and backed by the United States fought alongside sectarian Islamist groups.
“We effectively created auxiliaries to these hardline groups that were taking territory,” Stein says. “Even though the hardliners were smaller in number, they were more effective.”
These “openly sectarian figures…just scared the hell out of Syrian minorities, who as a result stuck with Assad,” explains Hof, who resigned from the government in 2012 and now teaches at Bard College.
Religious fundamentalists became especially powerful in Eastern Syria, where U.S. military intelligence warned in August 2012 that Al Qaeda in Syria was going to “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” according to a declassified report.
At the same time, Syria’s long-oppressed Kurdish minority was starting to take up arms. They were led by a left-wing guerrilla group called the People’s Defense Units (YPG).
The YPG began to clash with Al Qaeda, whose Syrian branch broke off to form the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in early 2014. The Kurdish militants sought autonomy for their region under a secular system of self-rule, while Al Qaeda and later the Islamic State wanted to establish a pan-Islamic theocracy—just as the U.S. military intelligence report had warned.
U.S. diplomats were flying blind when it came to the region, according to Ford, now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. American intelligence agencies had not even been able to provide him with “two pages” on the political dynamics of northeastern Syria. But pressure was building on Obama to act, especially as the Islamic State executed journalists on tape and began a genocide against the Yazidi minority in neighboring Iraq.
The administration did not really understand which factions it could work with in Syria, according to Alexander Bick, then the director of Syrian affairs at the White House National Security Council. But eventually, the American military saw that the YPG was drawing Islamic State fighters “like a magnet” to the besieged northern Syrian city of Kobanê in late 2014. The United States opened a line of communication with the Syrian Kurds through intermediaries in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the YPG began helping direct U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State.
At the same time, the U.S. military was trying to work with other Syrian rebel groups. It spent $500 million on a program to train and equip a new army of pro-America, anti-Assad fighters. The results were disastrous. The first batch of fighters was quickly defeated and robbed by Al Qaeda in July 2015. Other alumni of the program, including the Hamza Division, went on to fight as mercenaries throughout the region—turning up, eventually, in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We would hear, ‘I have 5,000 men’…and it turned out there would be like 20,” said former Middle East envoy Brett McGurk during a October 2019 speech at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Or the forces that we wanted to work with were so riddled with extremists that our military repeatedly said, ‘There’s no way we can work with these people.'”
Finally, the U.S. helped the YPG form a coalition with Assyrian Christian and Arab fighters called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). With minimal U.S. involvement—mostly in the form of military advisers and air support—the coalition sliced the Islamic State into pieces.
SDF fighters found themselves at the gates of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, by October 2016.
Obama had launched two interventions in Syria. The first, a covert attempt to overthrow Assad, failed miserably. The second, the war against the Islamic State—which sought to fix problems partially created by the first—succeeded only when the administration set limited goals, employed modest means, and relied on a campaign led by locals.
‘Orderly Transfer of Power’
Trump may have criticized America’s interventions abroad during the 2016 election, but his administration picked up almost exactly where Obama had left off. McGurk stayed on as the White House’s point man for military operations in Syria and Iraq, and Trump signed off on his roadmap, with a few important adjustments.
The new administration launched airstrikes against pro-Assad forces in April 2017 and April 2018 in response to chemical weapons attacks on civilians. Trump saw himself as reestablishing a “red line” that Obama had muddled.
Trump also started backing the YPG, who were still the most effective fighters in the SDF, more directly. American weapons flowed to the Kurds, while about 400 U.S. Marines joined the front lines in Raqqa, the first-ever conventional U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. “Donald Trump wanted to end the war in Syria as fast as possible,” says Stein. “That’s why he signed off on arming the YPG directly.”
The international coalition declared victory at Raqqa in October 2017 and moved on to hunt down the remnants of the Islamic State in the oil-rich, Arab-majority rural province of Deir al-Zor, Syria. The campaign there, which dragged on for more than a year, was temporarily put on pause when Turkey invaded the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin in January 2018. American officials described the Kurds’ mini-war with Turkey as a “distraction,” but the conflict would later become a major headache for the United States.
Trump then began to talk about withdrawing from Syria—while at the same time escalating against Iran.
In April 2018, the president appointed longtime hawk John Bolton as his national security adviser and promoted CIA Director Mike Pompeo to secretary of state. Both saw Iran rather than the Islamic State as America’s greatest enemy in the Middle East. They began a “maximum pressure” campaign meant to roll back Iranian influence across the region, which included forcing Iranian troops out of Syria.
Pompeo put two hawkish officials in charge of Syria policy: James Jeffrey, a veteran cold warrior who had served as U.S. ambassador to both Turkey and Iraq, and Joel Rayburn, a retired Army officer who had helped advise the U.S. military “surge” in Iraq.
McGurk supported brokering a peace deal between the Syrian Kurds and the Russians, but he met opposition from the new faction of Iran hawks in the administration. Jeffrey even asked the Kurds not to make a deal with Assad, telling them to rely instead on U.S. protection, the Daily Beast later reported. The hawkish faction also saw the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces as a “terrorist group,” as Bolton put it.
The YPG was close to an insurgent group in Turkey called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ironically, U.S. diplomats had predicted confidently in November 2007 that the Syrian Kurds would “not rally around the extremist tendencies of the PKK,” according to a cable later published by WikiLeaks. But in fact, both the PKK’s “libertarian socialist” ideology and actual PKK veterans held enormous influence over the Syrian Kurdish rebellion.
By 2018, Turkey was extremely unhappy with the growing power of the SDF, which it saw as an extension of the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got Trump on the phone to complain about it in December 2018. Trump, eager to fulfill a campaign promise to bring American troops home, agreed to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, which would leave Turkey free to invade. Photo: The nearly deserted Syrian city of Kafranbel, south of Idlib, during a pro-regime offensive; Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images
That decision set off a bomb within the administration. Many officials felt blindsided by the sudden announcement and anxious about “betraying” the SDF to Turkey. McGurk quit in frustration. So did Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Bolton, Pompeo, Jeffrey, and Rayburn stayed, however. The Iran hawks were now in full control.
The hawks began to work on an agreement called the “safe zone,” a project to let everyone have a cake and eat it, too. The deal would bring Turkish troops into northern Syria as part of an international peacekeeping force, which could push the Kurdish YPG away from the border. American forces would stay in the short term to help implement the plan.
“While we played this string out, or developed a better idea, which might take months, we had a good argument for maintaining U.S. forces,” Bolton later wrote in his memoir. He added that he had hoped an “orderly transfer of power” from U.S. forces to Turkish troops would prevent Assad, Iran, and Russia from retaking northeastern Syria.
Turkey and the United States finally agreed to a deal in August 2019, and the SDF coalition dismantled its fortifications along the border with Turkey.
Trump’s advisers were hoping they could keep U.S. forces in Syria to fight Assad without angering Turkey—all while appearing to bring American troops home. Bolton wrote in his memoir that he was “deliberately vague” to both Trump and the media when it came to the number of Americans that would be necessary to implement the safe zone.
In an interview he gave to DefenseOne shortly after resigning from the State Department following the 2020 election, Jeffrey admitted that he had been “playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” As part of that effort, U.S. military leaders and Bolton pushed to count U.S. forces at Al-Tanf, a remote desert base far from the SDF-controlled zone, separately from the rest of the U.S. deployment to Syria.
Trump wanted out of Syria, but instead of organizing an orderly withdrawal, his advisers tried to take the fight against Assad out of the public eye.
As part of an effort to resurrect the anti-Assad rebellion, Trump administration officials had pushed the SDF to work with Turkish-backed Islamists against Assad. The effort didn’t go well. In one tense September 2019 meeting, according to a report from The National Interest, Rayburn screamed and broke a writing utensil in frustration after Syrian Kurdish officials refused to join forces with the Islamic hardliners.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, was publicly agitating to expand the safe zone. He got his wish and more during an October 6, 2019, call with Trump, when the U.S. president gave him a green light to invade Syria outright. It remains unknown what exactly the two leaders said, but the White House announced immediately afterward that “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.”
American forces had dismantled the SDF’s anti-tank fortifications as part of the safe zone deal two months earlier, rendering the Syrian Kurds defenseless. Now the United States was ushering in Turkish tanks and Turkish-backed militants.
Over 100,000 Syrians fled the invasion. They had seen the same forces unleash chaos, mayhem, and ethnic violence on Afrin a year earlier.
“I’ve met numerous people who were displaced when Turkey invaded in October  and personally blame Trump,” writes Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson -International Center for Scholars, from Syria.
The Trump administration was willing to allow Turkey to invade northern Syria. But the administration did not want the Syrian Kurds to turn to Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime for help, which would undo years of efforts to roll back the influence of Assad and his allies. U.S. policy, in other words, was not only to refuse to protect the Kurds but also to deny them protection from others.
A U.S. diplomat tried to convince SDF leader Mazloum Abdi to hold off on asking Russia to step in. Turkish forces were only going to move 30 kilometers into Syria and the invasion would stop after that, he claimed.
The Kurdish general was not having it. “You will not protect us and you won’t let anyone else protect us. Your presence has turned everyone else in Syria against us,” Abdi responded, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable leaked to CNN. “Either you stop this bombing [by Turkey] on our people now, or move aside so we can let in the Russians.”
The SDF signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Assad regime soon after, allowing Assad’s troops to join the fight against the Turkish invasion. Russia and Turkey then agreed to a safe zone of their own—along the same lines as the U.S. proposal—and the Syrian Kurds watched as Russian troops moved into their region as protection against the Turkish Army.
The Trump administration had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead of planning for an orderly U.S. withdrawal and encouraging the Syrian Kurds to negotiate a peace deal with other factions in the country, Trump’s advisers tried to use the SDF to continue their anti-Assad campaign. Their efforts ended not with a Kurdish-led rebellion against Assad but with the Kurds looking to Assad and his allies to shield them from their archrival Turkey.
‘Take the Oil’
Trump’s pullout of Americans from Syria following his deal with Erdoğan was short-lived. U.S. troops eventually moved back in, including to areas near the Turkish border now guarded by the Russians. Trump repeatedly claimed that their mission was to “take the oil” or guard the “oil region.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.) and other hawks had used the promise of oil profits to sell Trump on their plans to keep U.S. forces in the region, according to Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which lobbies for the Syrian opposition in Washington.
“If you want to feed the baby medicine, you put the medicine in candy or something. That’s what happened with the oil,” Moustafa told me in November 2019. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you want to take the oil? Yeah, take the oil. We’ve got to take the oil.’ So that ended up becoming the reason that he would keep anyone there.”
The actual oil in the region is not worth much. Syrian petroleum production was falling even before the civil war, and the Islamic State at its peak only made about $1.5 million per day from Deir al-Zor’s wells.
But its location is important. Deir al-Zor lies right along the line of contact between the SDF and the Assad regime. By holding that “oil region” as well as the U.S. base at Al-Tanf, U.S. forces can surround Iran’s military supply lines on two different sides. This makes Iranian forces in Syria vulnerable to an attack by U.S. forces or allies.
Assad is also sensitive about the oil, as his regime has had trouble meeting its people’s fuel needs. Russian mercenaries attacked the SDF on Assad’s behalf in February 2018 to try (unsuccessfully) to take the oil fields in Deir al-Zor.
To make matters more complicated, foreign companies are forbidden from dealing with the oil under European and U.S. economic sanctions. So the Syrian Kurdish oil ministry has been forced to rely on smugglers, whose leaky storage tanks and backyard refineries have become a serious threat to public health.
The situation looked as if it could change in April 2020, when the U.S. Treasury Department issued a special sanctions exemption to a little-known company called Delta Crescent Energy. Jeffrey and Rayburn then met with politicians in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan to discuss opening a route for Delta Crescent Energy to export the oil, The New Republic later reported.
Graham and Pompeo finally went public with those discussions during a Senate hearing in July 2020. “I talked to General Mazloum yesterday, with the SDF,” Graham said. “Apparently they’ve signed a deal with an American oil company to modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria. Are you supportive of that?”
“We are,” Pompeo responded. “The deal took a little longer, senator, than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation.”
Delta Crescent Energy partner James Cain told Politico that the company’s goal was “to get the production back up to where it was before the civil war and sanctions.” But there was a problem: The Syrian Kurds, who control that land, were not completely on board. Ahed Al Hendi, a Syrian-American activist who works with the SDF, called Pompeo’s announcement premature. Abed Hamed al-Mehbash, the Arab co-chairman of the SDF’s civilian administration, told local media only that he planned to “study requests by many Russian and American companies.”
Mazloum Abdi, the Kurdish general, later confirmed to Al-Monitor that Delta Crescent Energy was involved in northeastern Syria but said that talks were “advancing slowly.”
The SDF knew that announcing an oil deal with America—and no one else—would be provocative. Indeed, it has been. Assad’s foreign ministry quickly denounced the agreement as a scheme to “steal Syria’s oil” and “an assault against Syria’s sovereignty.”
In August 2020, an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at a U.S.-controlled oil field in Syria. That same week, pro-Assad gunmen got into a shootout with U.S. troops at a checkpoint in Qamishli, near the Turkish border.
The week after, a Russian armored truck rammed into a U.S. humvee, injuring at least four Americans. Russian and U.S. troops in Syria had seen tense encounters with each other before, but this was the first violent clash between the two armies.
Russia and Iran did not tie the clashes directly to the oil deal, but the message was clear: A more entrenched U.S. presence in Syria would meet harder resistance.
According to a September 2020 report by Eva Kahan at the Institute for the Study of War, Russia, Iran, and Turkey have also been secretly backing Arab insurgents against the SDF in Deir al-Zor. Russia hopes to use the instability “to compel senior SDF leadership to accept a new deal in Syria that constrains U.S. forces or ejects them,” Kahan wrote. In other words, the continued U.S. presence has induced Russia to play good-cop, bad-cop with the Kurds.
Several local leaders have already died in mysterious shootings. In response to the violence, U.S. forces have beefed up their presence in Syria, deploying Bradley Fighting Vehicles and advanced radar systems in September.
One bad decision after another has led to the current situation. The failed U.S. effort to take out Assad helped open the space for the Islamic State, which was only defeated when the U.S. pivoted to supporting Kurdish forces. Instead of allowing the Kurds to consolidate their gains and negotiate with Assad, the U.S. tried to use them as proxies against Assad and to make a quick buck from their oil. The situation has angered both Turkey and Assad’s allies, causing them to set aside their differences and turn their sights on pushing out the U.S. presence.
National security officials kept pushing grandiose goals even as U.S. leverage crumbled away. “This isn’t a quagmire,” Jeffrey said at a May 2020 event at the Hudson Institute. “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.” He later praised “the stalemate we’ve put together” as “a step forward” in the region.
As Rayburn explained at a June 2020 event hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Trump officials think they can use sanctions to “deny the [Assad] regime access to international financial markets until a political solution can be reached.” Pro-Assad and opposition negotiators have been meeting in Geneva to work on a new Syrian constitution, although the SDF and the Kurds have never been included in those talks.
But Ford—the former U.S. envoy who learned the hard way that Iran and Russia were unlikely to abandon their interests in Syria—is skeptical that U.S. economic sanctions will be enough to pressure Assad into accepting anything. “I think we are trying to do something with tools that will not deliver the results we want,” he says. “They can sanction the hell out of the Assad government. He doesn’t give a shit about his people!”
Syrians have faced massive inflation, fuel shortages, and breadlines over the past few months, in addition to a spiralling coronavirus crisis. (A banking crisis in nearby Lebanon is partially to blame for their woes.) But the U.S. is unlikely to lift the economic pressure: Congress passed even more sanctions aimed at deterring foreign reconstruction investment under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019.
The Biden administration may not change other aspects of the strategy, either.
Antony Blinken, the president-elect’s nominee for secretary of state, gave a speech to the Meridian Group in May 2020 outlining his approach toward Syria. “Any of us—and I start with myself—who had any responsibility for our Syria policy in the last administration has to acknowledge that we failed,” he said. “We failed to prevent horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent massive displacement of people, internally in Syria and of course externally as refugees. It’s something that I will take with me for the rest of my days.”
And yet his prescription was more of the same.
Blinken claimed that the United States still has “points of leverage,” including troops on the ground near oil-rich regions and the ability to marshall resources for Syria’s reconstruction, that could lead to better outcomes next time around. He argued that U.S. leaders should demand “some kind of political transition that reflects the desires of the Syrian people” and said that it was “virtually impossible” to imagine normalizing relations with Assad’s government.
Hof, another Obama administration alum, believes that the United States can turn the SDF-held zone into “an attractive alternative to Assad” for all Syrians. U.S. diplomats could push for this new government to take over Syria’s seat at the United Nations while U.S. forces stay to carry out a “stabilization” mission and “keep the Iranians and the regime and the Russians out.” (“We also have the ability to respond militarily to the regime with great effect and force if it resumes a program of mass civilian homicide,” Hof says. “We can do a lot of damage with cruise missiles.”)
But Ford wants America to focus on the “only really useful things we can do” at this point: to help refugees fleeing the civil war and to “negotiate with the Russians some kind of deal” that would allow the Kurds to govern themselves in peace.
Ford has recently taken a liking to the writing of Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War who later became a critic of the war effort. “Vietnam was a problem that ultimately we could not fix,” Ford says. “That’s kind of where I’m at with Syria right now.”
A Year for Building Stability and Peace
By: Sinam Mohamad On: January 15, 2021
During the year 2020, North and East Syria faced a wide variety of challenges — war, occupation, terrorism, and instability, a sharp economic downturn, a global pandemic, and more. However, we have met these challenges with determination and commitment to our people. We have acted not only for our own people, but to protect the world from the global threat of ISIS terrorism, and to act as a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East. Our hearts still beat with the desire to bring democracy, peace, stability, equality, and prosperity to the Middle East. We are still standing — it is the strength of the people of North and East Syria that is the rock we stand on.
That’s why 2021 is the year that the people of North and East Syria are calling upon the international community for inclusion in talks on the future of Syria. We ask to be recognized as a key player in the solution to the Syrian crisis. We are one-third of Syria. We call at minimum for the inclusion of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in the UN peace talks mandated by UNSCR 2254, as well as in the Syrian Constitutional Committee.
We have consistently acted through the Syrian crisis to benefit our people, the Middle East, and the world. We ask now for a seat at the table, a stable place in global coalitions, and acknowledgment as an indispensable part of a democratic Syria.
The challenges that we have overcome this past year in North and East Syria have been brutal. While most of the world faced the pandemic, we have faced the onset of Coronavirus with little to no trained personnel, few medical facilities, and a lack of testing machines and personal protective equipment. Our health infrastructure had been left in disarray following a decade of war and instability. But with an early unified response, including stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and public sanitization, we have kept our case numbers much lower than they may have been.
We have endured continued attacks and human rights violations by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed militias, while the rest of the world looked the other way, unable to admit that Turkey might commit these atrocities. The ongoing Turkish occupation of our region — Afrin, Serekaniye, and Gire Spi — has come with theft, murder, kidnapping, and other violations. Although Turkey may be losing favor in the West, it is still able to gain enough currency to continue to wage genocide and territorial expansionism against the Kurds and the people of North and East Syria. The people of North and East Syria have weathered Turkish attacks with the same determination with which we defeated the ISIS “caliphate.”
In 2020, our economy crashed as never before. The Syrian pound remains low. Our people are facing even higher rates of poverty. Hunger and food insecurity are soaring. We are committed to overcoming these challenges, and the administration of North and East Syria is working every day to provide food aid and water, stabilize prices of basic goods and necessities, and secure the medicines and nutrition that our people need.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is an authority governing about one-third of Syrian territory and five million people. The AANES provides daily services to millions of Syrians including education, electricity, water, sanitation, and security in North and East Syria. Its security forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are a steadfast ally to the United States and a partner to the US State Department’s Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Known in the West for its Kurdish Protection Units and women fighters, the SDF’s defeat of the ISIS “caliphate” was announced by President Trump in March 2019 and celebrated across the world.
So it is time that we were included in talks on our future. Inclusion in talks on the future of Syria will help us build upon our mission for a democratic Syria, receive humanitarian aid, expand the capabilities of our governance, and reduce the harm and suffering many are going through. It will help us rebuild after a decade of war and instability, much of which occurred as we battled the ISIS “caliphate” and kept the rest of the world safe from its violence and oppression. It will help us build momentum to recover our territory from the Turkish occupation, restore human rights and dignity to our region, and allow displaced people and refugees to finally return home.
We wish for our people, at the end of a long and bitter decade of hardship, to have the kind of stability and certainty they need to pick up the pieces of their lives. In many cases, these are pieces that they left scattered in all four corners of the world, as people became refugees elsewhere. They are still our people, whether they still reside in North and East Syria or whether they return there only in their dreams at night. So many long to return. Inclusion in talks on our future will give many the assurance they need to plan their return trip.
We wish to bring true democracy to a unified Syria, a Syria that respects the diverse communities, ethnicities, and religions of its people, a Syria that upholds equality, women’s rights, and human rights. We call for a decentralized Syria that allows communities to have power over their local governance, elected officials, and shared resources.
We are a necessary part of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict, we are a force for democracy that is growing brighter each day, and we are an integral part of the future of Syria.
Is the Islamic State coming back?
In the past few days there have been a series of large-scale ISIS attacks in Syria. Is the Islamic State coming back?
- ERSİN ÇAKSU
- Thursday, 14 Jan 2021, 09:51
After the many attacks in Syria and Iraq in the last few days, the question for many is whether these attacks announce a comeback of the Islamic State or whether there are other factors that prompted this increase.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ended the territorial rule of the so called ‘caliphate’ with the liberation of Baghouz in March 2019. Even if thousands of ISIS jihadists have been arrested, underground, clandestine structures have formed in Iraq and Syria. In provinces such as Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa and Hama in Syria and Kirkuk, Baghdad and Anbar in Iraq, these networks have been carrying out attacks from time to time. The frequency and quality of these attacks has increased significantly in the last few days.
Dozens of attacks since early December
Since December 2020, the Islamic State has carried out eight attacks in Deir ez-Zor, eight in Raqqa, ten in Hama, five in Homs and two in the Aleppo area. Shortly before the end of the year, ISIS bloodiest attack took place, leaving at least 28 Damascus soldiers dead on the road between Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) speaks of dozens of Syrian government soldiers and militia killed in ISIS attacks in the desert near Hama.
Damascus is not doing anything serious against ISIS
The presence of the Islamic State in the desert to the west of Deir ez-Zor, i.e. in the area under the control of the Assad regime, has never been a secret. However, as it is, the Damascus regime and its supporters have never waged a serious fight against the Islamic State presence there. According to observers, this was because of the plan to put pressure on US-backed groups in the Tanef region on the Jordanian border. It must also be noted that this region is on the route from Bukemal, the main route of Iranian militias to Iraq, something which led to a wide range of speculations.
Turkey’s Role in Reviving ISIS
The biggest factor that led to the resurgence of ISIS, however, was the invasion carried out by the Turkish state in northern Syria. Following this invasion, many ISIS members withdrew to the areas under Turkish rule. Many of them escaped from internment camps and prisons in northern Syria with the help of Turkey. The presence and reorganization of the Islamic State in the areas under Turkish control is an open secret.
SDF operations continued
The SDF carried out targeted operations against the Islamic State networks and were able to discover and neutralise several jihadist cells, especially in the Deir ez-Zor region. In 2020, two large-scale SDF operations and 25 targeted operations against these cells took place in Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa provinces. Hundreds of alleged Islamic State members were arrested and large quantities of weapons were confiscated.
The areas under ISIS control
Siyamend Elî, press officer at the YPG, said in an interview with ANF that ISIS was tolerated by various forces involved in Syria, precisely in the places where the attacks are taking place, and added: “After the neutralisation of ISIS in Baghouz, it continued to exist mainly in al-Bukamal, Deir ez-Zor, Palmyra and Hama. In fact, some forces have allowed ISIS to continue to exist there in order to be able to use it as a tool in the future.”
ISIS used this phase as a time for training and reorganising and also to change its strategy, said the YPG representative adding: “ISIS is now carrying out many more surprise attacks and has increased its forces.”
Russia focused on Northern Syria
Elî recalled that Russia and Iran came to Syria allegedly “to protect Syrian territory”, but that both forces are not concerned with rural areas, but rather focused on “cities that are strategically important for them.”
Elî said: “Russia’s concentration on Til Temir and Ain Issa, and on Northern Syria in general, gave ISIS the opportunity to carry out these attacks.” He underlined that ISIS is not a priority for Russia. Israel’s attacks on Iranian armed forces have led to an increased of attacks by ISIS in these regions, said the press spokesman for the YPG, noting that the regime would not be able to wage war without Iran and Russia.
“Coordination with the SDF necessary”
Elî said: “Russia and the regime should coordinate with the SDF in the fight against ISIS and the small groups that appear under different names. If this does not happen, the situation east of the Euphrates will become very serious. That is why ISIS has been able to act by surprise against Russia and the regime.”
The attacks put a strain on the regional balance of power
Journalist Nazım Daştan is also following developments in the region closely and does not see the increase in ISIS attacks as a coincidental development. To speak about a revival of ISIS is “still a little too early” but, said Dastan: “ISIS is coming to the surface again. Even if I don’t think this will happen on a large scale, it can put a strain on the balance of power in the region. The attacks may increase further in the coming days.”
“The international powers neutralize each other”
Daştan pointed out that the United States and Russia continued to try to define their territories and thus determine the borders in Syria. This results in a space from which ISIS can carry out its attacks. Daştan said: “We can see this as a process in which the international powers and regional powers measure each other anew for the year 2021.”
As for the position of ISIS, Daştan added: “It will be difficult to revive such a discredited force on an earlier scale. However, ISIS can use this process, in which international forces are actually busy weakening each other, as an opportunity for its reorganization and strengthening.”
ISIS increases attacks in Raqqa as Turkish-backed forces shell Ain al-Issa
One expert noted that the Russia and Syrian regime attempts to push the SDF to withdraw from the Ain al-Issa area and shelling by Turkish-backed rebels is “giving ISIS cells greater ability to conduct attacks deep behind the SDF lines.”
Wladimir van Wilgenburg January 12 2021 02:05
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The so-called Islamic State has claimed seven terrorist attacks in Syria’s Raqqa province in the past ten days, amid increased shelling of Kurdish-led security forces by Turkish-backed groups in the town of Ain al-Issa.
The attacks terrorist attacks included improvised explosive device (IEDs) bombings and hit-and-run assaults against the Internal Security forces (ISF), also known as Asayish, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) both inside Raqqa city and the province’s countryside.
The Raqqa Asayish has confirmed at least two of the incidents. According to the ISF, one of the attacks occurred on January 6, in eastern rural of Raqqa, resulting in the deaths of two of their Arab members. Another one took place on January 4, later claimed by the Islamic State inside the city, resulted in the injury of several civilians.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also reported that a civilian was injured in an IED explosion that targeted a vehicle in the al-Malahi area of Raqqa city on Sunday.
“The considerable increase in attacks in Raqqa is a significant indicator of ISIS’s rising capability of conducting attacks beyond its active operating zone of Deir Ez-Zor,” Mohammad Ibrahim, a Syrian researcher and analyst who focuses on northeast Syria, told Kurdistan 24.
“ISIS repeatedly proves its swift resilience and ability to hit various regions whenever it finds security gaps. The ISF and SDF are currently hugely distracted in northern rural Raqqa, in Ain Issa, where there are daily clashes between SDF and Turkey-backed Islamist armed groups,” he added.
Over the past two months, there have been increased Turkish-backed shelling and fighting near the Ain al-Issa town in the Raqqa province.
According to Ibrahim, the increasing pressure by Russia and Syrian regime forces to push the SDF to withdraw from the Ain al-Issa area and shelling by Turkish-backed rebels is “giving ISIS cells more ability to conduct attacks deep behind the SDF lines.”
Raqqa was liberated from the Islamic State in October 2017 by the SDF with support from the US-led coalition.
Despite the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the US-led coalition announcing the defeat of the extremist group’s so-called caliphate on March 23, 2019, Islamic State sleeper cell attacks continue in areas that were liberated from the militants, including in Raqqa.
In 2020, most Islamic State activities took place in Deir al-Zor province, with Raqqa province coming in second place. The terror group’s propaganda outfit, al-Bayan, suggested that it had claimed 389 attacks in Deir al-Zor in 2020 and another 59 in Raqqa.
Charles Flynn, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Centre(RIC), told Kurdistan 24 that the Islamic State has also increased its attacks in the southern Raqqa countryside, controlled by the Syrian government.
“We’ve seen increasing number of Russian airstrikes against ISIS targets west of the Euphrates, as well as several ambushes conducted by ISIS that have produced large number of casualties against the SAA (Syrian Arab Army).”
Editing by Khrush Najari
The US Is Trying to Undermine the Kurds’ Revolutionary Ambitions
By Edward Hunt New Jacobin
The US government claims to be supporting the Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS. But it is attempting to bring a more moderate leadership to power in a bid to weaken the Kurds’ revolutionary project in Rojava. Washington will never be a friend of self-determination.
Last September, the United States began sending additional troops into northeast Syria, where hundreds of US soldiers are helping Kurdish forces fight the remnants of ISIS. The move represented a sharp change for the Trump administration, which had pulled US forces from the Turkish border the previous year, facilitating a brutal Turkish attack on the Kurdish homeland of Rojava.
Yet despite predictions that Trump’s betrayal would bring an end to the Kurds’ leftist social revolution in Rojava, the Kurds have been remarkably resilient. Not only have they managed to endure more than a year of ongoing Turkish attacks, but they have continued forging an inspiring experiment in direct democracy, drawing praise from observers who visit the area.
Rojava “has the best religious freedom conditions in the Middle East and has the best conditions for women,” said Nadine Maenza, a US commissioner for religious freedom, when she visited Rojava this past October.
While the Kurds have defied the odds, they are now facing new threats — particularly from the United States. Over the past year, US diplomats have been calling on Kurdish leaders to share power with rival politicians who do not hold the same revolutionary views.
Participants portray recent talks as a well-intentioned effort to create Kurdish unity.
But the talks are more accurately seen as a bid by Washington to appease Turkey, maintain a foothold in Syria, and, perhaps most crucially, moderate the Kurds’ revolutionary ambitions.
The Syrian Kurds, Trump’s Betrayal, and the Aftermath
For the past several years, the United States has been working with Kurdish forces in northeast Syria in the war against ISIS. By providing the Kurds with arms, money, training, air cover, and logistics support, the United States has enabled them to wage an effective military campaign that has left the group defeated and largely dismantled.
This partnership has ramped up tensions with Turkey, which has been waging a decades-long war against the Kurdish people. The Turkish government has accused the Syrian Kurds of being part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant Kurdish resistance group, and portrays both the PKK and Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists who must be destroyed.
Although Trump has periodically praised the Kurds for their military courage, he has repeatedly enabled Turkish aggression.
The international left has largely supported the Kurds, inspired by their efforts to lead a leftist social revolution in Rojava. As the Syrian state withdrew its forces from northeast Syria during the early stages of the country’s civil war, leftist Kurds began transforming the area into an autonomous region. They empowered women and ethnic minorities to participate in local and regional politics and promoted a vision of “democratic confederalism” rooted in egalitarian economics and political participation.
The Kurds’ vision of democratic confederalism has led them to begin building a revolutionary new society that is democratically administered by small, decentralized self-governing units. Local communities and ethnic groups participate in communes, neighborhood councils, and district councils, where they decide how to run their communities and manage their resources. By adopting the principle of dual leadership, the Kurds have empowered men and women to work alongside each other as equal partners at all levels of society. If Rojava is successful, it could become the basis for a new kind of egalitarian and self-governing society.
Officials in Washington have always harbored serious concerns about their partnership with the revolutionary Kurds. They have refused to recognize Rojava as an autonomous region within Syria and have displayed a reckless disregard for Rojava’s security, looking the other way as Turkey periodically launched attacks like the brutal invasion of Afrin in 2018.
The Trump administration has been one of the greatest threats to Rojava. Although Trump has periodically praised the Kurds for their military courage, he has repeatedly enabled Turkish aggression. When administration officials announced in October 2019 they would begin drawing US troops away from the Turkish border, they cleared the way for Turkey’s right-wing nationalist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to launch a military operation that killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Turkey “had to have it cleaned out,” Trump said, justifying the ethnic cleansing.
But Trump’s decision sparked a backlash, including from many US officials, and he backtracked by keeping a small contingent of US troops in northeast Syria. After Russian and Syrian forces moved into the area, administration officials announced that about five hundred US soldiers would continue working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to guard the region’s oil and fight the remnants of the Islamic State.
“We’re still partnering with the SDF,” then secretary of defense Mark Esper acknowledged several weeks after Turkey’s invasion. “We’re still providing assistance to them.”
US Support for Leftist Revolutionaries?
Many US officials have commended the Kurds for building a stable political system in a war-torn country.
In recent months, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has taken the lead within the US government in highlighting the Kurds’ achievements in Rojava. In its annual report, a public hearing, and an op-ed, the commission praised the Kurds for creating an inclusive society that provides religious freedom to its diverse residents.
US commissioner Nadine Maenza, who visited Rojava in October and November, repeatedly extolled the Kurds for creating a system of self-government that empowers the local population.
“They set up all these committees and they start literally meeting the needs of the community,” Maenza said. “They did it in a way that promoted ethnic diversity, religious diversity, acceptance of one another. . . . It created conditions that are unique to the rest of the Middle East.”
More recently, some high-level officials in Washington have offered similar words of praise. “They seem to be somewhat successful in bringing all these pockets of different ethnic backgrounds together under one sort of democracy that actually seems to be working,” Texas representative Michael McCaul, a Republican, said at a congressional hearing earlier this month.
But as the Kurds well know, US officials often have other motives in mind when showering them with praise — namely, their military prowess.
When ISIS forces began rampaging across northern Syria and western Iraq in 2014 and 2015, US officials discovered that Kurdish militias were the only forces that could hold back the onslaught. “They were the only people who could fight effectively against ISIS at the time,” a State Department official told Congress in 2019.
Over the course of the war, Kurdish fighters made great sacrifices, losing more than ten thousand soldiers. “We outsourced the dying to them,” one US official later admitted.
Now, with ISIS mostly vanquished, Washington has presented a new rationale for supporting the Kurds. Because the Kurds control about one-third of Syrian territory, US officials believe they hold significant leverage over Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. As long as the Kurds remain in command of Rojava, US officials wager, Assad will not be able to reestablish control over Syria.
Rojava “is the United States’ greatest single point of leverage in Syria,” the congressionally mandated Syria Study Group (SSG) noted in a major report in 2019.
This was one of the main reasons Turkey’s attack on Rojava in October 2019 upset some US officials. The president’s “approach has ceded U.S. leverage over a future political solution in Syria,” Florida representative Ted Deutch complained. The co-chairs of the Syria Study Group agreed, condemning the Trump administration for “forgoing an important source of leverage.”
With US forces once again working alongside the Kurds, many US officials believe they have salvaged that leverage. Even if Trump’s actions weakened the United States’ foothold in Syria, they remain convinced that Washington can use what remains of Kurdish control of Rojava to pressure Assad into a political agreement that results in him leaving office.
Antony Blinken, who is slated to become secretary of state in the incoming Biden administration, views Rojava as a key element of US strategy. “That’s a point of leverage because the Syrian government would love to have dominion over those resources,” Blinken said last year. “We should not give that up for free.”
US Opposition to Leftist Revolution
Viewing the Kurds as strategically important partners, US officials have been reluctant to criticize them. Only rarely have they revealed their opposition to the Kurds’ revolutionary aspirations.
In December 2017, former US diplomat Stuart Jones sent one signal when he urged Congress to make sure Washington’s partnership with the Kurds “does not create a political monopoly for a political organization that is really hostile to U.S. values and ideology.”
Many US officials and establishment thinkers are doing what they can to bring a less revolutionary Kurdish leadership to power.
In 2019, the Syria Study Group provided another sign when it complained that the main revolutionary Kurdish party in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), had been using the SDF’s cooperation with the United States to establish a civilian government at odds with US preferences. “The United States never explicitly pledged support for Kurdish autonomy or self-rule in Syria,” the study group insisted.
One of the clearest signs of US opposition came during a congressional hearing in October 2019, when US senator Jeff Merkley repeatedly asked then State Department official James Jeffrey about his views on the revolution.
“There was, to be fair, a widely circulated vision of Rojava,” Merkley explained. The Kurds envisioned a “self-governed autonomous area with a whole philosophy of democratic control.”
Jeffrey responded by agreeing with Merkley’s characterization of the Kurdish vision, even suggesting that the Kurds might achieve their revolutionary goals, but insisted that the United States did not back the revolution. “I want to emphasize that this vision, which is the vision of our partners, was never the American vision,” Jeffrey said.
And US officials are keen on making their own vision come to fruition. Many US officials and establishment thinkers are doing what they can to bring a less revolutionary Kurdish leadership to power.
In a 2018 policy brief, the Brookings Institution argued that the United States should encourage the PYD to share power with the much smaller Kurdish National Council (ENKS), an opposition umbrella group hosted by Turkey. The brief suggested that a power-sharing agreement could prevent the PYD from creating an autonomous region inside Syria. The United States could adopt “a posture that is accommodating of Turkish national security concerns,” the brief noted.
Turkey’s attack on Rojava in October 2019 put significant pressure on Kurdish leaders to take Washington’s concerns into consideration. Shortly after the assault, SDF commander Mazloum Abdi agreed to begin talks with opposition leaders, and US officials urged the two sides to create a unity government that incorporated ENKS leaders.
US diplomat William Roebuck, who played a central role in facilitating the talks, noted in an internal memo that he wanted to see Rojava’s political structure “evolve” by “including Kurds outside the PYD and more empowered, independent Arabs.”
After several rounds of negotiations in early 2020, one of which Roebuck attended, the two Kurdish sides came to an agreement. On June 17, Kurdish leaders announced they had reached a “common political vision” over how to govern Rojava.
Roebuck, who participated in the ceremony, praised both sides for their efforts. “They have shown flexibility and intelligence in the way that they have dealt with this,” he said.
The US Embassy in Syria agreed, issuing a statement that described the agreement as “an important first step towards greater political coordination between Syrian Kurdish political factions with the support of the United States.”
Although it remains unclear whether the deal will create a pathway for ENKS leaders to acquire political power, the accord is a major political victory for the United States — and a blow to the Kurds’ revolutionary ambitions.
The Future of Rojava
Despite the Kurds’ many achievements, the future of Rojava remains in doubt. Even if the revolutionaries find some way to withstand growing US pressure, the Kurds still face an existential threat from Turkey.
Turkey’s invasion in October 2019 expelled hundreds of thousands of people from numerous towns that Ankara’s forces and their allied militias continue to occupy. As part of the military operation, Turkey drove a huge wedge between the western and eastern parts of Rojava.
US officials insist that they are trying to create unity among various Kurdish political parties, but what they are really trying to do is create a more moderate Kurdish leadership. They want to appease Turkey, maintain US forces in Syria, and bring the revolution in Rojava to an end.
Turkish leaders continue to back militants that launch periodic attacks on the Kurdish people. The very day that the Kurds in Rojava announced their unity deal, Turkey launched a major offensive against the Kurdish region of Iraq, even receiving encouragement from the Trump administration. Recent reports indicate that Turkey is preparing to mount another attack on Rojava.
The Kurds have also lost much of the leverage they had over the Syrian government. After Turkey invaded Rojava in October 2019, Kurdish leaders had no choice but to invite Syrian and Russian forces into the area for protection. US officials estimate that between four thousand and ten thousand Syrian forces now occupy various parts of northeast Syria.
Russia has also been pressuring the Kurds, despite the fact that Russian military forces initially came to their assistance during the Turkish attack. Russian leaders are intent on bringing Rojava back into the orbit of the Syrian government, which Russia has been backing in the Syrian Civil War. In early 2020, Russia closed an Iraqi border crossing that had been supplying Rojava with about 40 percent of its medical aid.
The coronavirus and economic woes are still another challenge for the Kurds. Reports indicate that the virus is spreading through Rojava; officials have periodically placed cities into total lockdown. On the economic side, rapid inflation has made it difficult for people to purchase basic goods and essentials. Farmers are struggling to find buyers for their crops. US sanctions have worsened the crisis.
“Ordinary people are having trouble buying the basic goods that they need to survive,” US diplomat William Roebuck acknowledged last August.
Through it all, officials in Washington insist they are still supporting the Kurds. They continue paying the Kurds to manage several camps that are holding about ten thousand detained Islamic State fighters and about seventy thousand civilians, many of whom are the wives, children, and family members of ISIS fighters.
Hundreds of US soldiers remain on the ground in Rojava, where they continue working with Kurdish forces to target remaining pockets of jihadists. Although the Trump administration has announced troop drawdowns in Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan, US officials have indicated that they will maintain a military presence in Rojava.
The incoming Biden administration remains something of a wild card, but president-elect Joe Biden has signaled he intends to keep working with the Kurds. In 2019, Biden said that “it makes a lot of sense” to keep several hundred US troops in Rojava “to protect the Kurds and provide for security in the region.” Other US officials have indicated that there will be no immediate changes in US policy under the Biden administration.
Much more quietly, however, Washington continues meddling in Kurdish politics. US officials insist that they are trying to create unity among various Kurdish political parties, but what they are really trying to do is create a more moderate Kurdish leadership. They want to appease Turkey, maintain US forces in Syria, and bring the revolution in Rojava to an end.
In short, the United States has begun a major new battle for Rojava — and Kurdish liberation is their last concern.